This time last year I posted an article entitled “Why 2020 is going to be amazing (and really full-on)”. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s quite comedic, isn’t it?
In that article I wrote about how I was going to travel the world doing a Nuffield Farming Scholarship exploring how to create a more vibrant ecosystem of AgTech Entrepreneurs.
What I actually achieved was 4 days of meetings and 2 days of the “Contemporary Scholars” conference in March. Then the world began to implode and I hot footed it back to the UK, isolation in the attic, then lockdown. From then until now, keeping the wheels on has taken priority, and the scholarship was largely parked.
So, 2020 wasn’t amazing in the way I hoped. It had some very low lows – cherished plans in tatters, staring into the livelihood abyss, family life difficulties, consequences of others’ poor leadership. But there were also wonderful highs – seeing colleagues perform miracles, securing a major contract, emerging to spring sunshine after isolation, discovering resilience I didn’t know I had.
Everyone’s experience of 2020 has been different, and the tough times are not behind us, but reflecting on that title, I thought I’d share a little about why 2020 was full-on even if the amazing things in it were not what I expected.
Face Down the Tough Times
During the first lockdown in March one of my businesses, Duraweld, lost 90% of its turnover. I am sadly not the only business owner who knows that sickening feeling – literally no work for staff who’ve been with us often for 15, 20 or 30 years, in an area that even in good times has high unemployment.
The partner of one of our team works in the NHS and knew of the PPE shortage. To help her, we pivoted within 48 hours, designing and testing an inexpensive at-cost visors to meet their needs. Our visor was tested and certified to BE and CE standards, and after a protracted due diligence process we landed a 6 month contract to produce for the NHS (despite a lack of political contacts!). We thought this would be a godsend. We helped with the PR. Unfortunately the contract has, in turn, created a wealth of new agonies.
What I learnt:
Team, team, team. I knew I had a great group of colleagues but my appreciation of them collectively and individually has redoubled. Each brought their own technical contribution, but the collective energy, positivity and trust when the going got tough was awesome and sustained us all.
Silver linings are everywhere. Truly, everywhere, if you look for them. Finding them has become a muscle that has strengthened over time. The positives sometimes help emotionally – to soften a blow – but they also make me more alert to new opportunities.
Roll with the punches. I have definitely felt the knocks. The sickening lurch of the stomach, or the suffocating weight of yet another challenge. But without minimising the pain, I found could get up again. And again. It turns out that I have reserves I didn’t know existed.
Professional support I have never spent so much on advice, expertise, support as this year. I have not regretted it one jot (NB, privilege appropriately checked).
Innovation Finds a Way
Less conspicuously impacted by the pandemic are PBS International, CHAP and the other Agri-Tech organisations I work with. Plants will grow and food needs producing but this didn’t insulate these organisations from a series of frustrations we had to innovate our way around. How do we plan for Brexit – in a 98% export business – when we don’t know what it will involve? How can you show me why that component on the prototype isn’t working – across a language and distance barrier?
So, we experimented and found new approaches. For PBS International, I recorded Plant Breeding Stories, a new podcast (imminent!). We hired and on-boarded colleagues remotely, published two papers and conducted trials in 4 countries, redesigned our processes and methods. We are about to, finally, launch our new range of pollination control tents. Progress is still possible, and often comes in new and maybe even better ways.
What I learnt:
The Great Outdoors. Walking, walking, walking. Not just for paying attention to the wonderful scenery and plants on my doorstep, walking frees the mind for creativity and new perspectives. Nonetheless, outdoor meetings in Northern England …apparently, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes. Ahem.
“If you didn’t laugh you’d cry”. Things go wrong. Often. Sometimes tears are needed, but where there’s a choice I’d opt for laughter every time. It buys goodwill and patience. Plus, swearing creatively at Get Ready for Brexit adverts is great source of relief.
Focus on what you can influence. I am usually pretty good with change but found the visceral discomfort of uncertainty without any influence really horrid. What helped me was either making a plan and leaning in, or explicitly deciding I could not and would not try to change a situation.
Something is better than nothing. As part of my Nuffield experience I was supposed to do a six week world once-in-a-lifetime GFP trip with other agriculturists from around the world. It was reduced to 5 x early morning zoom calls. That sucks. Yet, I still learnt something. It was still better than nothing.
Embrace the Inner Battle Axe
This is not the place for the family life rollercoaster or a dissection of the political landscape. Nonetheless, outside of work 2020 taught me things that gave me the resilience I have needed … and will continue to need as we roll into 2021.
What I learnt:
Diverse friendship groups are underrated. The people who often pulled me through the toughest times were often on the periphery of my friendship circle – people I hadn’t spoken to for years, different generations, or new friends.
Good enough is good enough. And that’s fine. Perfectionism in all areas is a fool’s errand. I learnt afresh the value of everything I have, however imperfect it might be – home, health, family, friends, love, livelihood.
I will Build Back Better. I am sickened by the complacency, self serving attitudes and selfishness I have seen from some in 2020, particularly from those in positions of power and privilege. I have been inspired by the difference that individuals can and do make. In my Nuffield study, my personal aspirations, my businesses I am even more resolved to use my energies to try to bring about change for the better.
In summary, 2020 was not that amazing, although it had some amazing things in it. It was definitely full-on. Just not in the way I imagined!!
Hannah Senior, PBS International Managing Director