Let’s Make 2021 a Year for Self-Honesty

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What if instead of fueling our instincts to be heroic, intensifying our dopamine-drenched feeling of being indispensable that comes from finishing that report at 2 am, we acknowledged that we have limits?

2020’s tumultuous story exhausted, terrified, and infuriated us—and broke our hearts. It also summoned us to live lives of greater truth, justice, and purpose. Now, as 2021 has unfolded, an insurrection at the capital, a pandemic that seems to be mutating and intensifying before it wanes, it may be hard to stay motivated to stick to commitments we’ve made to 2021 goals. Resolutions are already fading. 2020’s hangover hasn’t worn off yet. We’re grasping for anything that will amplify our fresh start and propel us as far from 2020 as our emotions will let us feel.

Reconciling the best and worst versions of ourselves in 2021 will require more of one thing more than any other that you still have control over: self-honesty. If we want to be more true to ourselves this year, then we need to start being more true about ourselves. And that starts by owning up to some of the lies we told ourselves and others, perhaps more than ever in 2020. Any of these sound familiar?  “I’m fine.” “His behavior isn’t that big a deal. It’s probably me.” “I’m not biased, I respect everyone!” “I doubt that’s in the cards for me.” If they do, here are four ways you can replace them with more self-honesty in 2021, and still discover your best life yet.

Be honest about your limitations. 2020 blew away work-life boundaries. Working from home lengthened our workdays and weeks, damaging mental health. By late June, 40 percent of adults in the United States reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse. Forty-eight percent of Americans consider themselves workaholics. Seventy-five percent of workers reported feeling burnout, with 40 percent of them citing COVID-19 as a major factor. 2020 swung open the doors of mental health in the workplace, mainstreaming the conversation to a greater degree than ever.

What if 2021 allowed us to be more honest about our own mental health? What if leaders set the example for their teams by appropriately talking about anxiety, depression, and feelings of being overwhelmed? What if instead of fueling our instincts to be heroic, intensifying our dopamine-drenched feeling of being indispensable that comes from finishing that report at 2 am, we acknowledged that we have limits? Not with shame or feelings of inadequacy, but with peace and confidence. What if we said “no” more often when our physical and mental fatigue was begging us to? In 2021, let’s be more human and less superhuman.

Be honest about your relationships. Whether a significant other, boss, colleague, or friend, most of us have at least one relationship that needs repair, if not complete amputation. This study shows that 28 percent of workplace stress comes from interpersonal struggles. Instead of silencing our frustrations toward our micromanaging boss or our credit-hogging teammate, what if we found respectful, honest ways to address them? How might our performance and satisfaction improve if we learned to confront these struggles in a productive way? How might we help our boss or colleague that everyone is talking about, but no one is talking to? And at home, how did 2020 impact our relationships with significant others, kids, siblings or parents? With couples and families crammed together in close quarters, relational strain, domestic violence, and pandemic-induced divorces were on the rise.

While in some cases the pandemic caused this relational decay, in most cases, it just revealed it. Are there toxic relationships you’ve long known you need to work on or exit, but keep making excuses not to? Compounding difficult relationships, 2020’s painful isolation also showed us how much we need healthy connections to others, and how lonely it feels to go without them. Cigna’s loneliness index revealed that 61 percent of adults reported they are lonely. What if 2021 was the year we invested in deepening mutually beneficial, soul-nourishing relationships that allowed us to contribute to other’s wellbeing and be nurtured by them in return?  In 2021, let’s be more connected to others in healthy and meaningful ways.

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Be honest about your biases and privileges. One of 2020’s darkest truths was the scab-ripping reveal of racial and civil unrest around the world. Many of us were forced to look hard at an unlevel playing field, especially for people of color. It took a global pandemic for us to finally acknowledge the criticality of frontline jobs we’ve long overlooked. Mass rioting and protests tore our civic fabric as relationships between police and communities, organizations and workers, politicians and constituents, sports management and players were called into question. Workplaces made bold declarations and doubled down on being more inclusive and equitable, promising to address systemic racism and inequality. Underrepresentation in the workplace, higher management, and government, due to systemic hiring biases has been well documented.

2020 invited us all to examine our contributions to these challenges by being more honest about our biases and privileges, especially the ones we’re certain we don’t have. Every organization has roles, functions, and yes, identities, that it privileges. Tech companies privilege engineers. Brand companies privilege marketers. And each of us has a “they” we sneer at. What aspect of your life enjoys privileges that others don’t? If you lead a team, who have you (even unconsciously) favored? Who is your “they?” Who have you “othered” because of a difference in values, personality, or identity? In 2021, let’s make our “they’s” part of our “we’s,” and let’s do what we can to share the privileges we enjoy with those who don’t.

Be honest about your deepest desires. The bleaker 2020 became, the more we struggled to keep hope, and the more we put dreams on hold. Finding that dream job, buying that first home, finding a significant other, writing that book, or taking that once-in-a-lifetime trip went from “maybe one day” to “yeah, right.” We didn’t lose the desire for these dreams, though, we just lost faith in their possibility. But denying or suppressing those desires is one of the most destructive forms of dishonesty, because it puts as at war with the hope of our lives becoming more fulfilling and joyful. Being cynical about our desires ever panning out is easy and safe. Mustering the hope to believe in them, and then act upon them, is risky because we have to face the possibility of disappointment. After a year like 2020, who wants more of that? 

But our dreams play a critical role in shaping lives of significance. Learning or accomplishing something new, forging new relationships, and having new experiences are the parts of life that give it purpose, that get us out of bed with a sense of anticipation instead of dread. What desires did you squelch in 2020? What ambitions could you resurrect, exchanging “wasn’t meant to be” resignation for a “this is my year” leap of faith? In 2021, let’s embrace our longings that demand the most hope. 

If you want to live your best life in 2021, let’s accept the invitation 2020 sent each of us to be more honest about our limitations, relationships, biases and privileges, and desires, and lie to ourselves just a little less.

Ron Carucci is an Advisory Board member of Ethical Systems as well as cofounder and managing partner at Navalent, working with CEOs and executives pursuing transformational change for their organizations, leaders, and industries. He is the bestselling author of eight books, and his work has been featured in Fortune, CEO Magazine, Harvard Business Review, BusinessInsider, MSNBC, BusinessWeek, and Smart Business.

Reprinted with permission from Forbes.