Work Life Has Forever Changed for Black Professionals in 2020

 


may not be Miss Cleo, but I can make the following forecast about the future with confidence: Anyone who lived through 2020 will have a story to tell about it for the rest of their lives. There are people who are not even born yet (shoutout to quarantine babies!) who will learn about 2020 in history classes throughout their public school years. It will be discussed the way today’s generation dissects things like 9/11, the Great Recession, Barack Obama’s historic rise to the presidency, and — whether we like it or not — Donald Trump’s election in 2016. But whereas each one of those events defined the year in which they happened, 2020 feels like a year that defined us. Certainly, it was a year that defined me.

Covid-19 changed life as we knew it — terms like “social distancing” and “flatten the curve” were introduced into the cultural lexicon, you couldn’t leave home without a mask, and remote work became the new normal (another instant cliché). The summer of social justice protests prompted by the death of George Floyd and amplified by the deaths of many other Black men and women such as Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery sparked a racial reckoning from coast to coast. A historic presidential election saw states like Georgia and Arizona flip to Democrat, ushering in the arrival of the first Black and Asian female vice president in U.S. history. These are historic moments that shaped many of us and will continue to reprogram American living for years to come.

Before this year, if you were to tell me that my company was going to implement a policy in which working from home was not only allowed but encouraged, I might forget all of my codeswitching and start breakdancing on the spot.

As this calendar year thankfully comes to a close, I’ve been feeling reflective. Throughout all of the fuckery, I’ve learned so much about myself, my career, and my colleagues — lessons that will continue to shape my identity as a Black professional. Goodbye, and good riddance, 2020. Here’s what you taught me.

Gratitude is a winning attitude

When I consider my own lived experience in 2020, I’ve really been too blessed to be stressed. I’m still gainfully employed (regardless of how much my coworkers can sometimes irk me). I haven’t caught coronavirus, nor have any of my immediate family members. My friends who did get the ‘rona survived it. As the pandemic shook humanity to its core, I’ve managed to maintain by remaining safe, all while burying myself in work and doing my part in the fight to beat the hell out of systematic racism. Bless up.

There’s only so many coworkers can do

I appreciate the sentiment of a company leader who makes an attempt to foster a family-like environment at work. Sure, it sounds great — especially when paired with a request to work well into the evening or weekends — but I’ve never bought into the idea that work is home and our colleagues are family. This year drove that point home. The only family business is if you and your actual family start an LLC.

There are some distinctions between me and my coworkers that became even more pronounced this year (imagine that!). When nationwide protests of police brutality were especially prolific, the conversations with some of my un-melanated colleagues solidified the reality of living in two Americas. I’d occasionally find myself explaining why the protests were happening and how they could be better allies — additional emotional work that didn’t merit any overtime pay. Patience is a virtue, sure, but I’m all out of it when it comes to coaching some of my peers how to be anti-racist.

Working from home has its pros and cons

Before this year, if you were to tell me that my company was going to implement a policy in which working from home was not only allowed but encouraged, I might figure to hell with code-switching and start breakdancing on the spot. But in practice, WFH isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Sure, I’ve made changes to my living space and lifestyle so that both accommodate my professional and personal lives, but finding that work-life balance continues to be my personal Sudoku. Turns out, sometimes being the only Black guy in the office is better than being the only person, period, in my house. I miss the change in scenery and energy that comes from IRL human contact. The social experiment that is 2020 has broken me.

Vacation time is more important than ever

At first, I felt funny about taking advantage of my paid time off. Washington was one of the first states hit hard by a coronavirus, and as a result, things have been mostly shut down around these parts for a good portion of the year. Still, that time to unplug is crucial — especially when you’re having trouble pulling yourself away from your work. Even if I wasn’t risking it all for a vacation, I learned the importance of using time off that would otherwise go to waste — even if it means keeping things living-room local. Please believe when masks are less necessary and vaccines are in steady rotation like a Travis Scott single, I’m chucking the deuces and booking a three-week trip somewhere that’s… not Seattle. See you soon, Tulum!

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