Switch to festive mode?
I've been asked to write something reflecting on this strangest of years. Who knows, perhaps I'll find enough inspiration for more than one?
Anyway, I thought I'd kick off with a suitable image - a photo I took of the lake outside our house, the year we moved in, a decade ago. A lot has happened in that time, but although we have not seen more snow quite on the scale of 2010, the ducks, geese and swans are a permanent fixture. After years of practice, I no longer automatically wake up when they have their vocal arguments around 3.00am. Ten years back, in the wee hours, I'd find myself balefully studying the pages of shotgun catalogues.
Christmas is coming, and so, we are told, is the vaccine. Depending upon your view, both come bearing promise, and it is a distinctly human quality to hope. Sometimes, there are certain categories of hope that one either has to set aside, or defer: elderly and frail parents on the other side of the country are not perhaps an appropriate ingredient for a responsible Christmas. One learns to live with moderated expectations, but that is not a negation of hope itself. Nevertheless, even during a year like this one, one where every reasonable plan or aspiration may have been thwarted, it is reasonable to plan ahead - and that planning is necessary for commercial survival, not to mention sanity. There must come a time for all of us when it becomes apparent that simply battening down the hatches is an expression of nihilism. The absence of hope is not a pretty thing - and our Christmas imagery is always about looking forwards to a time that is better than the present one.
One lesson I have learned the hard way during 2020, and that is to wean myself off a diet of BBC News. In the early stages of the pandemic, my wife and I sat, open-mouthed, in front of every news update, especially the Boris Briefings. It was almost as if we set to one side other, more important matters, in order to self-inoculate with a drug that induced passivity and anxiety, whilst sapping one's energy. The horizon closed inexorably around us, and suddenly the 6.00am brisk walk around the lake became our highest aspiration. It took a little while, before we realised that this compulsive media diet was almost as toxic as the virus itself. Human beings are made for much more than this.
So, we took action. Social distancing necessarily requires that we distance ourselves from the Beeb. We cannot just sit tight, twiddle our thumbs, and wait for life to reboot. Thankfully, I work with colleagues, and with Member Firms which have apparently learned a similar lesson. Many of ValidPath's Members have taken effective action to maintain and even build their operational model, so that 2020 will not turn out to have been a wasteland. Some Members have been so disciplined that they have reported remarkable growth - which may be indicative of a rising demand for the kinds of service that they, uniquely, can deliver. And behind the scenes, ValidPath has been building even better support and systems for one of the best communities of independent financial advisers in the UK.
The media is keen to tell us that the economy is flatlining, but I suspect that 2020 may be the year when financial-planners dug deep and took their propositions to the next level.
This year is going to be a different kind of Christmas: all of us at ValidPath hope that you are able to make the best of it.