Why Should We Remember the Year of the Missing Toilet Paper?

As I’m sure you do, I have some vivid recollections from 2020: grabbing the last dozen eggs (only to find that three were broken), figuring out which type of mask doesn’t drive me absolutely crazy after 10 minutes, and gazing at miles of empty toilet paper shelves. I now have enough toilet paper in the cupboard to last through “snowstorms of the century” like those I saw in my younger days.

I remember one of those storms vividly: the blizzard of 1993. More than a foot of snow accumulated in just two days in March. My daughters and I woke up to an amazing amount of snow piled on our second-story deck, which we promptly pushed off. The snow was also drifting, so we ended up with a massive pile right behind our house at the top of a steep slope. We had a small plastic toboggan that could fit two of us at a time, and we spent the entire day riding down the slide that we built out of snow in the backyard.

Other than a few vacations, I don’t remember a more concentrated time of pure joy with my children. They are long grown and launched into their own lives, but they still mention that wonderful day.

“There Is Nothing Either Good or Bad but Thinking Makes It So”

That quote comes from Act II of Hamlet, in which Shakespeare had the tragic title character tackle one of the great mysteries of being human: How can people experience the same situation so differently? While I was thrilled to have my daughters take turns with me in that little plastic sled, my neighbors alternated between being frustrated and terrified as they realized we would be stuck at home for a long time—same situation, vastly different experiences.

I’ve been lucky this year. The residents of the continuing care facility where my 97-year-old father lives have avoided the spread of COVID-19. My youngest daughter, a doctor who works with highly compromised patients, hasn’t been infected, either. While our occasional in-person gatherings have been odd—sitting eight feet apart and wearing masks indoors—her fastidious attention to safety has paid dividends for all of us.

But for me, two of the greatest gifts of 2020 have been greater mindfulness and appreciation.

The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded me how fragile life is and how precious the time with our loved ones can be. It has reminded me that the modern comforts we take for granted are also fragile and that supply chains can be disrupted by bigger events than a local snowstorm. Having a few extra supplies tucked away is always a good idea, and it’s worth a little effort to be prepared.

As advisors, the pandemic gives us another reminder: our clients live complex financial lives and will inevitably leave many parts of their financial plans incomplete or ignored. The events of this year provide a poignant moment of awareness that things change, life is complicated and fragile, and being thoroughly prepared really does matter. What great inspiration to bring up those unfinished areas of a client’s financial plan!

Is There Anything Worth Appreciating About 2020?

Another great gift of this year has been the time it has given me. I’m a bit of an introvert, and my previous four-days-a-week travel schedule often robbed me of the time I needed to recover and recharge. This year granted me the opportunity to read, write and visit with a few people in my “safety circle.” I’ve also renovated my house and expanded my garden. Those investments of time and energy will pay off for years into the future. I’ve been lucky. Despite the year’s challenges, I’ve found some green shoots in the hard experience.

Unfortunately, I believe we’re only about halfway through this hard time. Although the anticipated vaccines are working through approvals and the supply chain is gearing up, we still have a long way to go before the difficulties of 2020 fully fade into the past.

As a client-facing advisor, this presents you with some important choices: Do you embrace the gifts that this time offers you and your clients and take advantage of the mindfulness that empty toilet paper shelves stimulate in everyone you work with? Do you invest some meaningful time to reinvent your value proposition and refresh your business model? In a world that has forced you to slow down your social life, do you develop a high-touch approach to your relationships with clients? Is 2021 the year you become that character of great significance in the lives of your clients because of the way you comfort, lead and inspire them with a higher Standard of Care?

I can’t get that magical day in 1993 back again. Even if I could, my daughters and I wouldn’t fit in that little toboggan. But I can remember the day vividly and remind myself that we found that magic by the way we noticed the snow piling up as we pushed it off the deck. As I look forward to a new year, I am hopeful that the same magic is waiting for all of us—if we ask ourselves the right questions.

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