Settling Into 2021

Finding satisfaction in accomplishing small steps along the way. 
#leadership #editorial


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Coating and Finishing in Aerospace

One bright spot of 2020 was what our space program has accomplished. Those giant leaps for mankind are powered by the small steps taken by engineers, technicians and other professionals every day.

I have found that one of the strangest things about producing a magazine is writing a column about what’s on your mind each month, and then having that piece lead off the issue several weeks later. The way the past year has been, and the way 2021 is starting out, so much happens so quickly that you can easily feel like the moment of relevancy for anything you might have to say has already passed. We were all so ready to put the events of 2020 behind us, yet 2021 gave us a jolt of news right out of the gate with the riot at the U.S. Capitol. It was an instant reminder that the events of 2020 were much more than just a bad year and that it’s going to take a bit more work than some ritual to dispel bad juju performed on New Year’s Eve.

This year promises to hold plenty of its own challenges as the world continues to struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic and everything that comes along with it. Political and economic factors contribute to the uncertainty that we are all facing. Despite our increased comfort levels with online meetings and the like, we are all yearning for more opportunities to connect with people in person. Tradeshows and networking opportunities hover on the horizon seemingly just out of reach.

The first month of 2021 seemed charged with frenetic and haphazard energy. Everyone around me – virtually around me, I should say – seemed filled with a heightened determination that things would be better. They just had to be. We were all riding the wave of “putting an end to 2020.” Then slowly, as the month of January wore on, we began to settle into reality.

The holidays come to an end. Girl Scout Cookie season ramps up. Valentine’s Day merchandise replaces the detritus of Christmas. Our desperate individual acts of renewal that most of us kick off any new year with – eating more oatmeal, perhaps – begin to settle into something more realistic and maintainable. The cycle of a year begins and truly hits its stride in February.

My job of producing content is driven by recurring deadlines. Because of that, I find myself thinking a lot about the cycles and rhythms that we can all find ourselves caught up in. There’s the weekly cycle of longing for Friday only to start worrying about work on Sunday, the stresses of the looming week threatening to overtake the last day of your weekend. There are monthly and quarterly deadlines. We are all conditioned to look for finish lines. We are forever driven onward by the proverbial carrot before the cart.

The daily routines, weekly cycles, rituals of the year – all of these things meant to keep us ever trudging onward  – can, in fact, drag us down. Each deadline accomplished is replaced by another one. We constantly find ourselves wishing for the next payday, the next three-day weekend, the next vacation, the next holiday. If we can just make it until… what, exactly?

I find my moods unconsciously driven by the schedules and routines I’m caught up in. We all do. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Successes shouldn’t only be measured by hitting those marks. Your satisfaction shouldn’t be dictated by your finish lines. The reward is not the carrot dangled ahead of you, but instead in the good work and good deeds we do each day.

Like everyone, I’m trying to look ahead more than I look back at what can seem like a lost year. However, some of the bright spots that I’m reminded of as I do think of the events of the year are the accomplishments of our space program. In 2020 we saw a return to manned spaceflight for the U.S. and the launch of a new Mars rover. Launches of such missions are only possible because of individual days of good work put in by engineers and technicians. For any of these missions, each part is carefully crafted and fine-tuned. Each test has to be passed. Each task is a success in and of itself. Care is taken with each small step, ultimately contributing to forward progress.

As February settles in and your work, your life, continues, my wish for you is to find such satisfaction in the little things. The satisfaction of a job well-done and days well-lived.