Personal branding expert, Jane Scandurra, has been our font of knowledge and rockstar life coach for how we’ve coped with the pandemic and all that 2020 has thrown at us. In this article, she focuses on the words that have summarized 2020, and most of all the specter of being “non-essential”.

2020 introduced us to a number of new words and phrases that quickly permeated everyday life – quarantine/lockdown (take your pick), flatten the curve (or “fatten” the curve for many of us), social distancing, zoom (noun and verb), FOGO (fear of going out).

One word, in particular, took on a new meaning in 2020. It’s a word that most of us rarely uttered or thought about before 2020, but it became so powerful that it literally branded an enormous swath of the world’s population overnight – and not in a good way. The word: “non-essential.”

As the implementation of various forms of lockdowns cascaded around the world, various jobs, vocations, businesses, and even entire industries were pretty much divided into two buckets: essential or non-essential. While there’s no dispute that front line workers have been critical to helping us get through this year, words do matter and we cannot minimize the potential long term impact on those whose livelihoods have been shattered through no fault of their own, just for being (unintentionally branded) “non-essential.”  

For decades, Gallup has consistently reported that a majority of workers state that they get a strong sense of identity from their jobs. The upside is that when you’re engaged in your work, it increases job satisfaction and productivity. But what happens that job is lost?

One of my favorite local restaurants is owned by a celebrity chef. He’s well known and respected in the culinary world and beloved in the local community. Aside from all that, he’s just a really nice guy. Esquire wrote a wonderful, poignant article about him in the early days of the pandemic. Since the restaurant has been reopened, he’s made Herculean efforts to retrofit it to provide a safe environment for customers while maintaining top quality food and a satisfying dining experience.

However, if you go there now, he is usually the host, bartender, cook, and server. Humbling to say the least. He’s smiling, but you know the struggle is real.

It’s not difficult for anyone to sympathize with the state of the restaurant industry during this pandemic. However, the plight of a gourmet chef is not much different than any other worker who strongly identifies with his/her profession, takes pride in their work ethic, but, because of the pandemic, is either out of work or unable to demonstrate their worth to those who matter to them or who ultimately control their professional destiny – and with it, their identity. Personal brands are taking a big hit, along with personal confidence. 

We are what we think. Think you’re non-essential? Poof, you’re non-essential. Your attitude, demeanor, posture, and actions will show it. I tell my clients, “create your personal brand or someone else will do it for you,” but I never anticipated 2020. It’s a different story when your destiny has become somewhat out of your control.

At this point, who knows what 2021 will bring. But as we say good riddance to 2020, we need to be more acutely aware of and sensitive to the changes that have occurred in the workforce and the impact on the sense of self that the pandemic is leaving in its wake.  

Every single body is essential. Doctors and nurses need patients. Store clerks need a customer. And we all need each other – whether we like it, or each other, or not. 😉

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