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In 1918, the conditions of World War I set the stage for the global spread of a new influenza virus. The Spanish Flu took 50 million lives worldwide, with more than two-thirds of a million in the US.  

A century and two years later, a globalized world became engulfed in what seemed like World War III against a common enemy–the novel Coronavirus.

What a year it’s been.

In late March of 2020, when Governor Andrew Cuomo announced stay-at-home orders for much of the state, I watched as the city turned from the “city that never sleeps” to a scene from Will Smith’s movie “I Am Legend.”  

And, I have been here ever since.

As I reflect on 2020, I see a real lesson in resilience.  

My mother–now 80 years old–spent over 40 days in the hospital with a severe case of COVID-19. After undergoing another 40-days of physical therapy, she fully recovered. She exited the ordeal fitter than she went in–truly antifragile.

I lost my best friend in an unthinkable way, reminding me of the mental health challenges and isolation that can come with entrepreneurial success. As I drove to and from his memorial services in one-day, I reflected on how the global pandemic froze the world–enough for me to do it solo in three-hours flat each way–and how I would never see Joe again.  

Through the window of my apartment, I watched as the world wrestled with this new threat.  

And, through a window on my computer, I watched as the world went 100% virtual. For a time, my new baby girl must have thought there were only four people in the world, and the rest lived on something called “Zoom-Zoom.” Running a company that suddenly went fully remote overnight proved more manageable than I expected but challenging. To compensate, my team at Soluna increased our virtual face time, and it proved incredibly catalytic to our success this year. By the summer, we had launched an entirely new business line and made more progress in our foreign operations than ever before.

I also launched a podcast series, not expecting it to be during a pandemic. It proved almost prescient. I had incredible guests on the #CEO Podcast on the B2B Growth Show, along with some solo episodes, sharing real, live stories on how to be a CEO in wartime. And, as the heat of the summer began to rise after the death of George Floyd, I took the time to reflect on how vital anti-racism is now in corporate leadership.

When I could find time to read–when I wasn’t fixing dishwashers–I turned my attention to the powers of sleep and Churchill’s journal. I also continued my study of mental models with five long reads.

Throughout the year, I was available for the CEOs I advise. One of them graciously offered to take a socially-distanced walk in the woods with me when I needed some solitude.

Trying to stay present when the world is falling apart around you can be hard. But, I tried my best to refocus my energy on family and friends. I added daily long walks, journaling, calls to close friends, and meditation to my routine. I also learned leadership lessons from my wife as she ran our household like a four-star general. I watched one Netflix docuseries that taught me a lot about will power. And, on advice from a long-time friend, I took up running (again).

2020 was full of pain, joy, and learning. 

As Victor Frankl explains in his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” these are three main ingredients to a meaningful life. 

“Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich stärker,” says Nietzsche.

I can’t wait to see what 2021 has to offer.

Our best articles from 2020

[1] How to Be an Anti-Racist CEO

[2] Mental Models: 5 Books That Will Help You Think Like Charlie Munger

[3] 8 Books I Couldn’t Put Down in 2019

[4] How to Be A Wartime CEO

[5] Trillion Dollar Coach: A Chat with Bob Cramer

[6] Why We Sleep and My 2020 Summer Reading

[7] Tribe Vibes: 7 Secrets to Creating Magnetic Culture

[8] Why CEOs Make Bad Decisions and How to Avoid Them

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About the Author: John Belizaire

John is a versatile CEO and serial entrepreneur who has successfully founded, scaled multiple technology companies over a 20-year career. He is currently the CEO of Soluna, a company helping to shape the future of renewable energy and computing. Before Soluna, John was the founder and CEO of FirstBest, a transformative insurance software company acquired by Guidewire Software and Theory Center, an e-commerce software company acquired by BEA Systems. Before becoming an entrepreneur, John was the lead architect for Intel’s Digital Enterprise Group. John is on the advisory board of several software-as-a-service, data analytics, and insurtech startups. He is the Managing Editor of CEOPLAYBOOK Media LLC, an online publication full of sage advice for first-time founder CEOs. John is also a trustee of Harlem Academy, an independent school in New York.