As we come to the end of the most traumatic year – ever – for most of us, I find myself reflecting on the many lessons that I learnt in 2020

This has been a brutal year. As I write this article, 1 565 407 people have died as a direct result of Covid-19. There have been many other related deaths though. Just this morning I read a heartbreaking story. Kimberley Eccles, a 23-year-old British mom, had three doctor’s appointments cancelled thanks to lockdown. Finally, she was told on Zoom that she has rhabdomyosarcoma, a highly aggressive cancer. Her doctor told her to draw up a bucket list and “make memories” with her seven-year-old daughter Maya – she has been given a 1% chance of survival and told she has around six months to live.

When Kimberley passes away – and I hope that she won’t – her cause of death will be cancer. But Covid-19 will actually have killed her; as we all know, if your cancer is diagnosed early, you stand a far better chance of beating it.

There are lots of other stories like Kimberley’s. So, I believe that the real Covid death toll is far, far higher. This has been utterly devastating for so many people.

However, while I mourn these deaths and my heart breaks at the incredibly tragic tales that are emerging – just yesterday I read of four-year-old Raiden Gonzalez, from San Antonio in Texas, who has lost BOTH his parents to Covid-19 – I am trying to take away something positive from 2020. And, for me, the most positive thing is the lessons that I have learnt. Those lessons will forever change my life. In some respects, they will, in fact, enhance my life – and maybe the lives of so many others.

1. We don’t need to spend our lives travelling

Before Covid-19 came to town, I used to spend most of my life travelling. Google informs me that I flew around the world seven times last year. I also spent many, many hours in my car, driving to meetings. All this changed in 2020. Borders were closed, flights were cancelled. Face-to-face meetings stopped. And guess what? We all coped – rather well, it must be said. I don’t believe that a Zoom meeting can ever replace face-to-face interaction. You cannot develop a close relationship with someone during a Zoom conversation. You cannot study body language during a Zoom meeting. And, as humans, we crave physical interaction. Thanks to Covid-19 there’s even a new word that has emerged in the Netherlands called “huidhonger” – which means “a craving to have body contact”.

So, I am not saying no physical meetings ever. But I shall certainly reduce my meetings in future – big time. 

2. We don’t need all that materialistic stuff

When South Africa went into lockdown so too did my credit card. Each month, when my statement arrived, I studied it in glee – because my spending was slashed. Restaurants and pubs were closed – so I couldn’t go there. But I also found that I didn’t need all that stuff anymore. What is the point in buying lipstick, for instance, when you’re constantly wearing a mask? In fact, what’s the point in buying make-up at all, when you’re constantly working from home and seeing no one. In a similar vein, it no longer became necessary to spend a small fortune on new clothes – when I wasn’t going to wear a fancy dress or high-heeled sandals anyway. We can spend our money on other things: like helping those in need.

3. We can focus on health and safety more

You might think I’m nuts. I’m stating the obvious: of course we had to focus on health and safety more. It was that or die from Covid. But the pandemic has taught me other lessons too. I have not had a cold during the pandemic. Not once (I know I am probably tempting fate by making this statement). But, because of the massive emphasis on hygiene, I’m not really coming into contact with germs. I was never unhygienic before – but I am kind of obsessed with hygiene now. And I shall continue to be like this long after Covid-19 is history.

We can also introduce systems and processes in our businesses that promote health and safety (and, quite frankly, make business sense too). I was chatting to a transport operator in South America yesterday. He was telling me that there’s a massive focus on digitisation there – so that the truck drivers don’t have to leave their trucks (and put themselves at risk). This move to digitisation is making the companies more efficient too. So, in future, I shall constantly focus on introducing systems and processes that make my staff and my business healthier.

4. Our planet can be saved

Covid-19 has unfortunately killed many companies. They cannot be saved. However, it’s taught me that our planet can be saved. We don’t need to do all the travelling; I don’t need to fly around the world seven times – constantly spewing emissions into the atmosphere. Certainly, there have been environmental challenges associated with
Covid-19 – chief being the disposal of PPE such as masks and gloves. However, air quality in cities around the planet has improved, greenhouse gas emissions have dropped, water pollution has reduced and, according to a September 2020 study titled “Environmental effects of Covid-19 pandemic and potential strategies of sustainability”, Covid-19 has “reduced the pressure on the tourist destinations, which may assist with the restoration of the ecological system”.

We can save our planet – but this will require increasing focus once the vaccine becomes readily available worldwide. We shouldn’t slip back into our old “fly-around-the-world-seven-times” ways. I know I won’t.

5. People are far more important than profits

People – especially my nearest and dearest – have always been extremely important to me. They are the centre of my life. But there have been times when I have put profits ahead of people. There have been moments when I’ve been simply too busy working to spend time with family and friends. That’s wrong. Yes, I shall always have deadlines to meet. Yes, I will always need to generate a small profit – because otherwise the business isn’t sustainable.

But people are so much more important than profits. And this is something that I hope many people – especially those in health and safety – take to heart in 2021 like never before. 

Jaco de Klerk appointed editor of SHEQ MANAGEMENT
I am thrilled to announce that my esteemed colleague, Jaco de Klerk, has been promoted to editor of SHEQ MANAGEMENT with effect from 1 January 2021.

Jaco is one of the most capable, diligent and hard-working journalists I’ve ever worked with. He is also incredibly talented. I know he will do an astoundingly good job of editing the magazine.

I will, of course, remain involved in the magazine in my capacity as editorial director. But the good news is that this is the last time that you will be seeing my ugly mug on this page. In future, the editor’s column will, of course, be penned by the magazine’s new editor. Along with all our columnists, readers and advertisers, I eagerly await his words of wisdom!

About The Author

My friends call me a glomad (a global nomad lest you don’t get it). That’s a particularly apt word, because I am always trawling all corners of the globe, looking for stories. As a result, I have slept in some seriously strange places – on a bed of ice in the Arctic circle, on the floor in a traditional Japanese hotel, on the sand dunes in the Wadi Rum Desert in Jordan … and even on the floor of a Thai cargo ship. Mostly however I tend to sleep on aircraft (if I had a dog, he would bark at me when I eventually come home). I am passionate about trucks, cars, travel, food, wine, people and hugs – so I write about all these things. Except the hugs.

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