2020 Year in Review

For at least six years now, Craig and I have been alternating the responsibility of writing up our “year in review.”

Somehow, I drew the short straw, and got stuck with 2020. Just my luck. I get to review the year that everyone’s trying to blot from their memory.

Sure, it started nicely enough. Winter was passing, the snow was light and infrequent, and I was settling nicely into my winter routine of doing in-person client reviews for people in warmer climates. Each year in the February-March range, I head for the desert southwest and southern California, where surprisingly large numbers of my east-coast friends and clients have either moved or spend time escaping the jaws of New England winters. Heck, this year, I even took up an offer to stay with clients at their winter retreat in Puerto Vallarta. Folks, if that doesn’t demonstrate stalwart dedication to client service, I don’t know what does!

Returning to our ‘brisk’ Maine weather, I took part in a rapidly emerging tradition here at PFA: The Polar Plunge. This one took place in the icy waters off the eastern bay in Portland, Maine.

Everything after that happened fairly quickly. The Bangor PFA office, having lost the NFL season pool to the Portland PFA office (in a dubious last-minute Portland surge with little oversight of the ballot count), was relegated to a dive-bar happy hour while the Portland office feasted on a victory dinner out in their foodie enclave. Portland was even nice enough to use my credit card and texted me a picture of their dinner bill being paid with it.

That’s the last I’ve seen of that credit card. It was forgotten at the restaurant, its captors distracted, no doubt, by their millennial glee in spiking the ball after their victory. The restaurant closed that evening.

It has not opened its doors since.

The enormity of the suffering that was felt by so many people in the weeks and months that followed is almost unfathomable. Over 30 Portland restaurants closed permanently, including some of our favorites. Those who managed to pull through have done so with true grit and they’re not out of the woods as I write this. A fall surge in illnesses and the declining ability to sit people on city streets and sidewalks is once again endangering their futures.

And that’s obviously saying nothing of the millions of people who have mourned the loss of a close friend or family member, many without having had the opportunity to be with their loved one in their final hours. This pandemic has most significantly impacted those least equipped to deal with it. The millions who still are out of work are suffering mightily.

Today, however, I’m focusing not on the things we have to mourn about in the midst of a pandemic 2020. I’m squarely looking at those things we have to be grateful for. And there frankly seem to be more of those things this year than in previous years. The lockdown in early March was about as well-timed as it could be for a firm who has spent the past 3 years moving to a paperless environment, moving all technology to a secure, cloud-based platform, and adopting Zoom and Microsoft Teams to facilitate team members working collaboratively from anywhere. All with an eye toward some ill-defined disaster, this transformation was able to be tested right out of the box. And it’s worked perfectly. It’s almost as if, in 2017, Hannah said ‘we’re going into lockdown in three years. Here’s what needs doing’.

Our ability to serve our clients effectively has been enhanced. Productivity is way up. The number of people we can speak with and help in one day is nearly double what it was pre-pandemic. Our already fast-growing business grew even faster over the past 8 months.

Most striking, perhaps, is the ability of this team of people (who also happen to be great friends) to support one another throughout the trying times. During the early weeks of the lockdown, mysterious ‘care packages’ began to appear nearly weekly on our front porches. Through Hannah’s ingenuity, we got the snacks and comfort food we so desperately needed during a stressful, uncertain time. Some variety of 50,000 calorie chicken pot pie figures prominently in my happy memories of this past spring. We implemented a Friday afternoon Zoom happy hour to take the edge off of weeks that became extremely busy as the markets plummeted. Since then, we’ve kept the tradition alive, albeit with a somewhat healthier ‘Zoom water cooler chat’, every Wednesday from 2:00 to 2:30pm.

We finally got the chance to get together and share quality time as a team in early October, with a team weekend at the Migis Lodge on Sebago Lake. The jaw-dropping beauty of the resort, coupled with Abrin’s masterful coordination of gaming ‘activities’ left us with memories of a truly outstanding weekend together. Timing-wise, it was perfectly nestled between waves of COVID outbreaks, and something for which I’ll be grateful for a long time.

As we head into the holiday season, I hope you’ll feel (as I do) some sense of wonder in how brightness shines through even the darkest days. The ability to slow down a little, to not be ruled by a frenetic schedule of social gatherings and visits to friends and family. All of this with the optimism that comes with a new year, and the promise that so many things we’ve taken for granted will be that much sweeter as we emerge from trying times. And emerge, we will.

We are grateful for you

We are also grateful for:

The birth of my daughter in January! She’s been the constant light in this difficult year. I’m also thankful that the stay-at-home order allowed me to spend more time at home with her, and that our three-year-old was able to bond with his new little sister!
–Julie Willette

The moxie of Maine’s essential workers.
–Sam Chaplin

My ‘PFA/Welch Giving Back’ hoodie which was worn 90% of my WFH days during Covid.
–Craig Joncas

Contagious toddler laughing fits.
–Hannah Tackett

My new pup! Went almost six years without a dog which was rough.
–James Kane

My family’s health… And also, for my dog!
–Tyler Hafford

My perfectly worn-in boots and my podcast co-host, Tyler.
–Abrin Berkemeyer