lessons learned written on chalkboard

Are you looking for inspiration as we enter into 2021? Take a look at 20 lessons that 20 professionals learned in 2020—and how they are planning to apply what they learned to make 2021 brighter and better. Then, take their insight and apply it to your 2021 as well!

Gene Pledger headshotGene Pledger, Supply Chain Director, D&F Equipment Sales, Inc.

“In 2020, I learned that, with all of the important issues bearing on us all, it is still important to look forward and be prepared for the future. The only constant is change, and you never know which direction it is coming from. The learning I have experienced gave me a different perspective and level of confidence. A change in perspective gives you a broader base of knowledge to operate from while implementing new strategies and objectives in your line of work.”



Dale Tillman headshotDale Marie Tillman, Senior Program Manager, Tennessee Valley Authority

“Adaptability and flexibility are absolutely necessary because the business world is constantly changing. However, those two traits are not enough, as you need to be agile enough to adapt and make flexible changes quickly. In 2021, I will make more short term goals as opposed to long term goals. Developing long term goals that are too specific and/or too far into the future are bound to create frustration because the business landscape can change in a matter of days.”



Belinda Lee headshotDr. Belinda Lee, Upward Bound Director, UTC

“This year showed me that it’s possible to maneuver through difficulties in life and still maintain some sense of sanity. Unexpected things will happen, but it’s how we handle them that is important. Next year, I am giving myself more space to just exist. Previously, I’ve been so busy that I have not taken time to rest or enjoy myself. I’m going to plan, organize, and allot my time better because of 2020.”



Pete Blank headshotPete Blank, Training Manager, Personnel Board of Jefferson County

“With all due respect to Ross Geller from ‘Friends,’ the biggest lesson I learned was to PIVOT! Usually, change initiatives come with discussions, team meetings, reaction plans, and more. 2020 brought changes that happened weekly, if not daily. As a leader, I had to learn to pivot on a dime. Prior to this year, I was a stickler around goal setting. My team and I set annual goals in January and rarely changed them. This year, I am allowing more grace around goal setting and goal success. That means that I am allowing my team to set quarterly goals instead of annual goals. If they cannot reach them due to factors outside their control, we will all PIVOT and find new avenues to success.”


Akayo Prince headshotAyako Prince, Value Analysis Process Improvement Specialist, Wellstar Health System

“I learned the value of a collaborative supply chain, especially during a pandemic. It’s important to work with and keep communication open with suppliers and end-users on realistic expectations of supply. In the coming year, I will continue to advance my knowledge of supply chain and logistics. UTC’s course was certainly a great step toward that goal.”



Stephanie Chastain headshotStephanie Chastain, People Development Specialist, See Rock City, Inc./Excel Instructor, UTC CPE

“I was able to change and adapt this year. I learned new things and passed on what I learned to others. I also learned how to use Zoom! As I saw myself adapt and change, I gained the confidence to take on challenges in 2021. I will also embrace online learning more as an option for those I train and instruct.”




John Freeze headshotJohn Freeze, Director, UTC Center for Professional Education

“It’s important to plan ahead, pivot, and be flexible. I will apply those principles by taking a close look at priorities and evaluating where to place contingency plans based on risk analysis.”





Sandra Cordell headshotSandra Cordell, Project and Program Coordinator, UTC Rollins College of Business

“Change is constant, so you must remain flexible and be prepared to adapt quickly, if necessary. When COVID struck in March, our team was in the middle of planning two large projects. We had to pivot quickly to perform a new risk assessment and get creative with our approach. It was challenging, but we managed to improve upon some of our processes and ultimately our deliverables. I definitely have a new respect for risk management professionals and the challenges they face every day. Although I am often resistant to deviating from ‘the plan’, I know that change is inevitable. In 2021, while I will continue to influence the factors that lead to change, I will be more flexible when evaluating change requests because sometimes change leads to progress.”



Kelsey Hampton headshotKelsey Hampton, Account Executive, Lamar Outdoor

“You have to look past what is in front of you. If you look forward to what you want your future to look like, that will change your outlook on your day-to-day choices to get you there. It’s not even 2021 yet, and I’m already looking past the first quarter and am looking forward to the good things to come in 2021.”




Raul Soto headshot

Raul Soto, Supply Chain Intern, Shaw Industries/Student

“I learned that investment in my professional education will take me far in my career. I will continue to invest in my education as I pursue my bachelor’s degree.”





Heather Fallacker headshotHeather C Fallecker, HR Rotational Management Development, Tennessee Valley Authority

“2020 taught me that working from home can really blur the lines of work/life balance. No longer having that commute time to ‘flip the switch’ led to longer hours and unhealthy habits. It took me a while to realize that I am a better, happier (and ultimately more productive) employee if I take some time for myself and my family. In 2021, I plan to continue my commitment to better manage my schedule, create time for myself, and improve my quality of life. I am being intentional about blocking time off midday to get away from the screen, planning time for self-development, and making more regular connections with my peers. I also connected with a new mentor this month who will be keeping me accountable over the course of 2021.”


Ginger Duggan headshotGinger Duggan, Assistant Director, UTC Center for Professional Education

“2020 has been a year of pivoting. As circumstances change, people must get creative and look for alternate ways to accomplish the tasks that are required. You must be willing to learn new things in order to meet your goals. I perform best when large goals are broken down into smaller tasks. I cannot control external factors, but I can control what I do each day. Having short term milestones with defined tasks helps keep me focused and on track to meet my goals in 2021.”



Andy Borchers headshotAndy Borchers, Professor of Management, Lipscomb University/Supply Chain Instructor, UTC CPE

“Two of the biggest lessons I learned were in regard to resiliency and agility. We have had to rapidly alter our business model and face harsh realities in the marketplace. However, in doing so, I see hope for the future; the next time we see a large event in the economy, our organizations can flex faster than we thought. I will be prepared to revise my 2021 goals as the year goes by, realizing that COVID may change the environment we face.”



Shannon Bennett headshotShannon Bennett, Senior Program Manager in Civil Projects, Tennessee Valley Authority

“I learned how to be adaptable and understanding of others during this difficult time. Everyone has different stressors as a result of the pandemic. It’s important to give grace if all does not go as planned. In the coming year, I will continue to know those that I work with better and to expand my network to new people I have not worked with yet.”



Audreial Beard headshotAudreial Beard, Stay at Home Mom/HR Generalist

“You are in control of your career/future. Not a manager, mentor, or company; YOU. In 2021, I will enroll in training, surround myself with people who are successful in my chosen career path, maintain contact with a great mentor, and remove myself from any situation that doesn’t help me achieve my career goals.”




Chris Barnes headshotChris Barnes, Host, Supply Chain is Boring/Supply Chain Instructor, UTC CPE

“2020 reiterated to me that humans NEED connection. We are social beings. As a professional development facilitator, we quickly switched our classes to virtual events when the pandemic hit. At first, the delivery was challenging and even uncomfortable. However, over time, I began to hear comments from students about how much they looked forward to the virtual classes so they could at least ‘see’ someone and have business discussions.  I realized I was doing more than delivering a learning experience; I was providing a social exchange for people. I want to continue providing a virtual water cooler discussion and connecting with students in 2021.”


Kayla Brown headshotKayla Brown, Project Manager, Simple Focus

“2020 gave me the confidence that I actually know what I’m doing as a project manager. I shouldn’t give in to self-doubt just because I haven’t been in the project management field for years and years. We’re implementing new processes into the PM workflow at my job. A lot of the implementation comes from what I have learned throughout the past year and the skills I’ve gained or become more confident in. I’m excited to see how new processes help the company I work for, the projects I’m on, and my overall growth.”



Jeremy Moore headshotJeremy Moore, Managing Director, Bank of the West

“No matter how prepared you are, unexpected things will happen. Don’t overreact, and be sure to take time away from work regularly. As I’ve been planning for 2021, there are still lots of unknowns. It’s important to focus on the people around me and the actions I can control. I’m also making sure to build in regular time off, both for rest and for personal growth and development.”



Enrique Visozo headshotEnrique Vizoso, Chief Operating Officer, Brown Industries

“2020 taught me that resiliency and determination leverage opportunities to offset any crisis. Businesses continually have to deal with challenges and crises to some degree. It’s important to focus more on the opportunities than on the barriers in order to succeed.”




Gina Stafford headshotGina Stafford, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Communications and Marketing, UTC

“In higher education, change is often slow and complicated, often by the necessity of getting all boxes checked. However, presented with the urgency of a pandemic, our team enacted highly complex change in record time. I was gratified to be part of the team at UTC that was (and remains) laser-focused on doing what had to be done, doing it quickly, and doing it all for the benefit, ultimately, of our students. In 2021, we will continue to identify how team members can contribute their responsibilities and expertise to invest in a successful outcome. Also, when reality puts extraordinary demands on a team, I believe it’s necessary to show extraordinary gratitude for achieving outcomes. I plan to seek opportunities for rewarding and recognizing team members for rising to the challenge.”



Marah Whitaker headshot

Marah Whitaker (think Laura with an M) serves as the marketing assistant for the UTC Center for Professional Education. During the workday, she spends time writing blog posts, creating content for social media, developing email campaigns, and building relationships with CPE’s customer base. During her free time, you can find her getting lost in a good book, having spontaneous dance parties, playing piano, and going to Buffalo Wild Wings on Wing Night. Professionally and personally, she aspires to live by Mr. Feeny’s advice, “Dream. Believe. Try. Do Good.” She strives to use her passions to serve others and contribute positively to the world around her.

Connect with Marah on LinkedIn.

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