Lessons from a Challenging Year: Looking Back at 2020

Shane Melaugh
January 19, 2021

What were the biggest lessons & takeaways we took from 2020?

This was the year in which our small team started ikario, despite the difficult circumstances. It's the year in which a small, rag-tag team from around the world had to figure out how to build a business, during a pandemic, against the odds.

As it turns out, this year full of difficulties was also a year full of challenges & growth experiences. What the video to see what myself & some of the ikario team members have to share, about our lessons learnt.

The Lessons, Summarized

Here's a quick summary of the 7 key points shared in the video.

1) Challenge is Opportunity

The original plan we had for ikario involved a lot of in-person stuff. We wanted to get the whole team together, we wanted to organize live workshops and events and we wanted to collaborate with other people on various projects that would have required travel.

Needless to say, it became clear that none of that was going to happen in 2020. The first thing we had to do as a team was reinvent ourselves. But we decided to do just that, instead of abandoning the project.

A greater challenge also means a greater opportunity for learning and skill building. The key idea here was: "rise to the challenge" and you can see a hint of that in one of the early videos we created in 2020.

2) Fight!

Okay, so we decided to take on the challenge of building a new business in 2020... but how exactly do you do this, when all your original plans are off the table? How exactly do you rise to the challenge?

This is where Abhi's lesson comes in: step 1 is to keep going, even if you don't have all the answers. To throw yourself at a challenge and not look to someone else to tell you what to do next.

Back when I was a martial arts instructor, this is something I noticed in my students. Some peopel have fight in them. When you tell them to wrestle an opponent, they go for it, they try their best even if no one taught them any technique yet. Other people feel paralyzed. They throw up their hands and give up immediately. They're waiting for someone to tell them "approach your opponent like this, move like that, try this technique"...

The kind of student who has fight in them can usually become a formidable fighter fairly quickly, whereas the ones without that fighting attitude may never get to a point where they can really defend themselves.

I think that this is somewhat analogous to other areas of life. For ikario, we decided to show this kind of attitude. To dive in head first, see what difficulties life throws at us and put up a fight.

3) Reclaim Your Power

2020 showed us all that we live in a world that's more fragile than we'd like to believe. Governments and institutions suddenly looked a lot weaker and more fallible than before.

What lesson can we take from this?

It's to acknowledge that things are not as solid as they seem. To acknowledge that we can't just defer responsibility upwards and assume that we will be taken care of and everything will be alright.

On the one hand, that means: complain less and do more. There's no point moaning about how the government, the politicians, the pharma companies and the school boards should do things differently and better. That's just a form of placing your power in someone else's hands.

It means developing your own strengths, your own skills and yes, your own power. You can become a more resilient person, someone who doesn't need to be saved by institutons. Someone, even, who is strong enough to uplift and empower others.

That isn't to say institution shouldn't be competent and take care of people (we're not that libertarian around here) it's just to say: no matter your political leaning, don't give your power away unneccessarily.

4) Shipping & Scope Control

Okay, let's move on to something extremely practical, for this next lesson: shipping and scope control.

This is a part of rising to the challenge, because ultimately, our job is to make something happen. We don't get paid to sit around and have lofty ideas, we get paid when we make something happen for someone. This is true for the ikario team and I believe it's universally true for anyone who's a creator, entrepreneur or knowledge worker.

In fact, big ideas can be dangerous. It's easy to fantasize about big ideas or come up with loads and loads of new ideas... but never finish anything.

This is where Jonas' lesson about shipping comes in. 2020 was an opportunity for us to practice delivering on our ideas, despite less than ideal circumstances. While we were scrambling to reformulate our plans and trying to figure out how to finance the ikario project, we had to come back to this again and again: what are we shipping? How are we turning these ideas into reality?

And an important part of that is to control the scope. This often means saying "no" to some things, so you can finish other things on time. It means keeping the scope of your current project lean and clear, pushing it all the way across the finishing line and then starting the next thing.

5) Don’t Forget That You’re Playing

Yes, most of us suffered and struggled more than usual in 2020. And things are arguably more serious than ever... and yet, a reminder we keep coming back to in the ikario team is this: don't forget that you're playing.

Don't forget that you choose to do this. You choose to take on something challenging. You choose to work on yourself, to learn, to grow. And it's actually a cool thing to be doing!

Sure, it's not always pleasant, but wouldn't you rather do this - do hard work that leaves you satisfied but exhausted - than do something else? Isn't this the best thing to struggle with? Isn't this acutally kind of fun?

Maybe you're reading this and thinking "I don't get to choose what I do, I don't have that much freedom and things are way too serious to be playing!"

I want to let you in on a secret. This "don't forget that you're playing" reminder is inspired by one of my favorite books that I read in 2020: Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzalez.

I learnt from this book that even in the most dire of circumstances - literal life-or-death situations - it's people who keep a playful attitude who tend to pull through. This is why I try to stay loose, stay light on my feet and stay playful, no matter how serious things get. I know that my best performance is unlocked in low-tension states.

6) Don’t Underestimate Your Potential for Growth

Dean's lesson is short & sweet: positive, impactful change in your life is possible. And it's not just possible, you can make more deeply positive changes in a shorter amount of time than you probably think. Even during a pandemic.

We've seen this in every team member and in the students of our first run of the focus & action live class, too.

For ikario and the small community we've assembled so far, 2020 was a year of growth and learning and it didn't look like external circumstances was slowing down anyone's transformation.

This is why one of our basic tenants is this: you are far more capable than you realize.

If you're new here, I look forward to proving this to you.

7) Do Something Worth Failing At

In every business I have started, so far in my life, I've been all about controlling my downside. I'm one of those highly risk-averse people. I'm a control freak.

As such, my first instinct when something unexpected happens is to take a step back, to be cautious. To make a new plan, before taking action.

But as you can tell from all the other lessons so far, that's not how 2020 played out. And there's one reason, above all others, that I managed to let go of my control-freaky nature and take a leap. It's the realization that I would rather fail at a project like ikario than succeed at something else.

This is one hell of an ambitious project. We are trying to make a real, lasting difference in people's lives. We are trying to jail-break people out of a pretty dire situation.

Will we succeed? Will we ever be able to reach & empower thousands or even millions of people?

I have no idea. But it sure is worth trying.

With that, let me express my gratitude to everyone who's been along for the ride in 2020. Here's to having an awesome (and relatively boring - please) 2021.

Shane Melaugh

About the author

Shane is a serial entrepreneur with a long-standing obsession for personal development and life optimization. He has a habit of buying more books than he can ever read. During his childhood his worldview was significantly influenced by Jackie Chan movies, the Vorkosigan Saga and the writings of Miyamoto Musashi.

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  • Thank you for the encouragement! Super needed!

  • Hope your team does what you want it to in 2021. As always, timely and relevant content. Thank you.

  • I love the, “don’t forget that you’re playing!” A good reminder to myself, to stay loose.

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