2020: Well, damn. Just take a break.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

This picture of my turnip harvest says it best. 2020 has not lived up to its hype and expectations. Here I was, expecting 2020 to be epic AF but it's feeling like a dud.

It's been 5 months since someone turned on "disaster mode" on this game that we call Life. I've finally had enough time to mentally digest what's going on. I'm feeling a lot less reactive than I have since March and I'm starting to come to appreciate just how epic 2020 has been so far.

Memories fade -- I want to make sure that I can look back at these blog posts decades from now and remember how 2020 was a meaningful year of growth for me and hopefully for humanity as a whole.

Before I get into it, here's a poem that resonated with me:

What if 2020 isn't cancelled?
What if 2020 is the year we've been waiting for?
A year so uncomfortable, so painful, so scary, so raw --
that it finally forces us to grow.
A year that screams so loud, finally awakening us
from our ignorant slumber.
A year we finally accepted the need for change.
Declare change. Work for change. Become the change.
A year we finally band together, instead of
pushing each other further apart.

2020 isn't cancelled, but rather
the most important year of them all.
-Leslie Dwight
When I think about 2020, there are 4 themes that emerge for me:
  • Jan-Feb: Life as "normal" (Everyone needs time to relax and take a break right now)
  • Mar-Apr: COVID-19 Madness (Eyes Wide Open USA)
  • May-Jun: Black Lives Matter (My Social Justice Journey)
  • Jul-Aug: Search for Meaning (My Mental Health Journey)
In today's blog post, I'll focus on Life as "normal" and why I think everyone needs to give themselves the space to take a break right now.

On a personal level, this year has been a blessing for me because it's forced me to stay grounded (literally because of COVID) and has given me a bit of the breathing room that I've been craving. It sounds like there are others out there who feel this way too.

I read an article today -- "Sweatpants Forever: Even before the pandemic, the whole fashion industry had started to unravel. What happens now that no one has a reason to dress up?" by Irina Aleksander on the New York Times.

It's a great article that that talks about the current state of fashion retail and why it is failing (for example, stores like Barney's has been going bankrupt even pre-COVID). Irina paints a good picture for why that is, and then COVID as the spotlight that exposes and amplifies the cracks of the whole ecosystem.

Here's a fun infographic that I made to break it down for you:

My biggest takeaway from the article? The internet and social media has affected consumer expectations on how quickly they have access to pieces shown at fashion shows that pre-internet, only happened twice a year. In the most recent years, designers are being asked to produce up to seven collections in a year to keep consumers interested and spending. (Here's the part where I disclose how I've also contributed to all this madness as someone who worked on the launch of YouTube.com/Fashion last September, making Fashion Media more and more accessible than ever.) 

The article isn't saying that the access to fashion shows is bad. But what is bad, is how this access has snowballed into an unsustainable ecosystem. Of course, the switch from two collections to seven didn't happen overnight. It was a gradual change, and the change feeds into a cycle that affects the whole ecosystem. More consumer demand (real or not) = more collections = more fashion shows = more clothes to stock at a retail store = more expectations from everyone involved on an annual bias.

They pulled a quote from a Vogue interview with Designer Marc Jacobs that helps echo why this is broken:
We’ve done everything to such excess that there is no consumer for all of it,” Jacobs told Vogue. “Everyone is exhausted by it. The designers are exhausted by it. The journalists are exhausted from following it.” He added, “When you’re just told to produce, to produce, to produce, it’s like having a gun to your head and saying, you know, Dance, monkey!
What stuck out to me the most about the NYT article is that you can think about the internet having that effect in ALL systems of our daily lives. None of us operate in a silo so the acceleration has spun up this vicious cycle of consumption and production for all parties involved. It's just a lot of pressure that did not exist pre-iPhone circa 2007 and I don't think humans are supposed to operate at this speed on a consistent basis.

You take something as simple as e-mail and work deadlines. The amount of collaboration that we have available to us now is wonderful. It's made us all a lot more productive and has enabled a lot of us to work from home during this pandemic -- something that a lot of industries thought was impossible to do just a year ago. But the consequence of this newfound productivity is that there's an increased expectation that everything's supposed to get done this quickly.

So you can get the project done in 3 months instead of a year? Great, here's 3 more projects for you to have to fill your time. Is it needed? Eh, who cares?

The next thing you know, you're landing in a spot pretty similar to what's happening in the fashion industry. You're out producing 7 collections per year and burning everyone out in the process.

Here's the kicker. When you're caught up in an ecosystem like that, it's SUPER hard to stop for a moment to think about what's happening. That is why I'm thankful for COVID this season. Without this forcing function, I think all these industries would have continued to spin in circles with no clear purpose and all just fueling each other to go harder and faster.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think that just because COVID is happening, my work life has suddenly gotten better by any means. If anything, it's gotten worse because now I'm constantly in front of a screen to have meetings with people and we're still trying to be as productive as we were pre-COVID.

I'm very lucky that I work in tech and at a company that's not as impacted by COVID. So, I want to be grateful that I have a job but I also want to make sure the work that I do have meaning. I don't want to participate in a system where we're all just driven to produce, to produce, to produce, without REALLY taking a little bit more time to understand what's going on around us.

A lot of industries are going to change in the next few years and have to redefine itself. What's clear to me is that "the way things were" is long gone. I think that it's okay. I love that industries are being disrupted and we have a chance to reinvent the status quo.

It's an exciting time ahead. There's definitely going to be growing pains. Personally, I just want to make sure I'm in a good position to not be working for the sake of working all the time. Because like Marc Jacobs, I'm exhausted. 

I'll end this post with a reminder for me and anyone else who might need to hear it. I know things feel overwhelming right now. The systems we have around us are breaking, but there is some silver lining to all this. What gets torn down will be built back up, and hopefully for the better.

And if all else fails, just take a break. ❤️️

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