December is generally a time for reflecting on the past year and setting personal and professional goals for the new one ahead. In 2020, however, the year-end ritual takes on an entirely new meaning. Daily life and work has completely turned upside down for millions of Americans across the country, whether they were called to the front lines of a devastating pandemic, took on new care responsibilities in the home, adjusted to an entirely new way of working under distressing circumstances or were suddenly without a job in one of the worst economic downturns in decades.
Still, through the ups and downs of the year, others have found great meaning in their work and are carving out their purpose to rebuild with their sights set on the eventual end of the pandemic. To help make sense of it all, CNBC Make It spoke with career coaches on the best advice they're giving people right now who are in search of reflection, meaning and inspiration to move into a hopefully brighter 2021.
Let go a little bit
Given the twists and turns of 2020, Claire Wasserman says her biggest piece of advice to others is to recognize that you can't control everything, and to come to terms with it. With that said, the Ladies Get Paid founder and author likes to remind people that they do have more say in their life and career than they may think, and that keeping an open mind can lead to new and unexpected opportunities.
"Accept what's going on and think, 'What's one thing I can do?'" she says. Some paths to opportunity can be done on your own, like learning a new skill or attending a networking event. Others, she adds, can be easier if you build a support network that helps you move forward.
Take control where you can
Jackie Mitchell, founder of Jackie Mitchell Career Consulting, is more straightforward in her advice to clients right now: "You have to take responsibility for your career," she says. "Hands down."
Sitting back and reacting to certain events as they happen to you, like being frustrated you haven't been promoted in three years, isn't the best approach, Mitchell says. She recommends people reflect on whether certain events are happening to them, or if they are the result of choices they make in their work.
The goal of her tough love approach is to empower clients to take control, Mitchell says. "A lot starts with self love and self care — how do they feel about themselves and their self worth?" Building confidence and sticking to your values, she says, can help you better communicate with your manager that you want to take on new responsibilities, grow in your job, set boundaries of how you work best, or work toward a raise or promotion.
"Take control of what you want and get it," she says. "It may not look specifically how you defined it, but you'll get close."
Show up for yourself every week
Randstad RiseSmart career coach Wendy Braitman's biggest advice to people right now is simple: "Hang in there." For people out of work, she says, "it's a different market with a lot of people competing for the same jobs, but despair is the enemy."
Her best piece of advice to keep going is to set tasks that you can complete on your own and aren't dependent on hearing back from someone else.
"Do what you can to show up every week," Braitman says. "The people who are going to be successful in their job search are the ones who hang in there."
Have a plan for when things go wrong—and also when they go right
Nobody could have planned for what transpired in 2020, says author and Earnable founder Ramit Sethi, which is why he says his biggest piece of advice to people is to have a plan for when things go wrong.
"This year has really presented the widest range I've seen of opportunities and of risks," he says. "If you are confronting these things day by day, it's very difficult to see that and know what to do."
Sethi's plan for weathering the pandemic meant having an emergency fund to care for his family. Afterward, he turned to his employees and offered a $1,000 coronavirus stipend, then provided customers flexibility to freeze their membership payments. When things started to stabilize for his business and finances, he announced plans to donate $25,000 to Feeding America.
Consider planning for your next move if and when thing go well, he adds, such as if you're presented with the opportunity to take on a new role at work or earn a promotion.
Welcome a new path forward
"Despite the year being so challenging, people are still focused on the path forward," says Sarah Sheehan, co-founder of the coaching app Bravely.
The path forward may look entirely different from what you envisioned for your life or career, Sheehan adds, and she advises people channel how they've responded to this year's events into rethinking what their professional lives look like moving forward.
Sheehan uses herself as an example: She was four days back from maternity leave when offices shut down in March. Working from home without child-care help and leading a company that saw increased user demand made her reevaluate her work style. Although it was tough for her to take a step back from micro-level tasks, like brainstorming new ideas for the app, she says she and her colleagues are better served when she manages others to do their best work instead.
"There's nothing we can do to change what 2020 brought us," she says, "but we can learn from the resilience we've built in the new normal we're living in and apply that to a brighter 2021."
Put your own mask on first
Referring to the standard airplane emergency guidance, Alexi Robichaux says his biggest piece of advice to others right now is that they take care of themselves first, which means prioritizing their physical and mental health during the pandemic.
The CEO and co-founder of the coaching platform BetterUp adds that, for managers, part of their job as a leader is to put on their mask first, so to speak, and demonstrate to employees that they are taking time for themselves to recharge and stay grounded.
He recommends people make it a priority to schedule in times to reflect, not just at the end of the year or looking back on times of crisis. "Inner work is the part of the job that's easiest to forget as a leader, because it's introspective and often done in crisis," he says. "But it's important even when it's not urgent."
Start making plans for the future again
Making plans in general, let alone pursuing goals, has taken a back seat to world events this year, and rightly so, says Akhila Satish, CEO of the leadership training program Meseekna. But with vaccine distributions on the horizon, she says her advice to people right now is to be ready to start thinking about their goals in the long-term again.
That may involve a shift from reactive decision-making to proactive decision-making, Satish says, which will require practice: "As you make decisions, whether that's accepting a new job or taking on new clients, make sure to think about what this means for you a few years from now and not just for the immediate future during the pandemic."