lessons learned written on chalkboardAs I was writing 20 in 2020: Lessons Professionals Learned This Year, I was inspired to hear more stories of how others are growing, both personally and professionally. Many of my peers and I started our professional careers either in 2020 or in the recent years before, so I decided it would be interesting to hear their perspective on what they learned in such an unprecedented (and let’s be honest—an absolute rollercoaster!) of a year. I was blown away by the insight so many young professionals had to offer. Check out these 20 lessons, that 20 millennials and Gen Zers from our region, learned in 2020.

Jake Cash headshotJake Cash, Account Executive, Waterhouse Public Relations

“The importance of patience was made clear to me in 2020. I graduated from college during a difficult time in many industries, which made job opportunities hard to come by. I am very lucky to have found a position with a fantastic company, but my time searching for a job reminded me of how important it is to persistently pursue my goals while expecting setbacks. Essentially, I aim to work diligently and address obstacles without surprise or frustration. I think this mindset will be helpful in both my current role and all my future endeavors.”


Madison Johnson headshotMadison Johnson, Marketing and Communications Director, CASA Corridor of East Tennessee

“I learned that sometimes my employment circumstances are out of my control, and I cannot judge my intelligence and potential based on my job title. My goals have drastically changed. I have learned that my goals need to be oriented based on what I can control, not on achievements. This means my goals will be centered around my attitude and outlook.”



Jeff Grant headshotJeff Grant, Marketing Coordinator, UTC Center for Professional Education

“Establishing routines are essential for creativity, productivity, and wellbeing. Success isn’t achieved in a moment but rather a collection of moments. As I outline my goals for 2021, I am starting to look for opportunities where I can establish routines. What are different daily habits I can incorporate that will ultimately lead to success? I often put little daily tasks off because I want to focus on the big picture as that is where I most comfortable, but I need to spend time on the small, daily habits that will ultimately drive success.”


Courtney Conway headshotCourtney Conway, Campaign Specialist, Flypaper Digital Marketing

“Being flexible is a must! Working in unprecedented times highlighted for me how important it is to adapt quickly to new situations. I learned that although we cannot control certain situations in life, we can pause, reassess, and take each challenge as it comes. I will apply the same flexible mindset to my new year goals. 2020 has taught me more about myself than I could have anticipated and tested my determination in new ways. I want to carry the experiences that shaped me with me as I work toward my personal and professional goals in 2021!”


Taylor Woodruff headshotTaylor Woodruff, Public Information Officer, Bradley County Sheriff’s Office

“No matter the challenge ahead, anything can be accomplished by taking it one step at a time. Believe in yourself while simultaneously showing yourself grace when you have to take time to learn. In the coming year, I will keep pushing forward with the newfound confidence that 2020 forged and believe in my ability to steadily work through the coming challenges.”



Katherine King headshotKatherine King, Account Representative, State Farm

“Be flexible and willing to learn. You never know what could happen (i.e. COVID), so be open to trying and learning new things. I will be more flexible in order to adapt and achieve/exceed my goals in 2021.”





Emily Martin headshotEmily Martin, Communications Specialist, Dalton Public Schools

“As an employee of a school district, this year was severely impacted by COVID. Many plans for this year were completely altered or canceled due to the pandemic. However, the changes taught me that being flexible and adaptable is one of the most important aspects of my profession. For example, even though we had to cancel high school graduation, we planned a drive-through graduation that was a huge success. With flexibility and creativity, we were able to accomplish a lot despite significant challenges. As we move forward, I think it’s important to avoid complacency, remember there is always room for improvement, and remain flexible and creative. Sometimes you need to shake up your routine to come up with your best ideas.”



Austin Guard headshotAustin Guard, Media Director, Crosspointe Dalton

“2020 taught me to be flexible and open to unexpected changes. In the next year, I’ll create more of a margin in my workflow structure to allow room to adjust for the unexpected.”





Carrie Woodard headshotCarrie Woodard, Operations Officer, Knoxville-Knox County Emergency Management Agency

“It takes serious effort to adapt, but put in the work and establish essential routines ASAP! In 2021, I plan to adapt as quickly as possible to whatever circumstances may arise. I will never let myself get stuck in the “in-between” period again!”




Eric Williams headshotEric Williams, Social Media Coordinator, UTC

“Do not be afraid of failure. Learn to accept that your best effort is what you can do now, and learn from past work to be better the next time. As I move forward, that approach will help me look at my past work and question how it can be better. Is there a skill I need to learn? Do I need to communicate better with co-workers? Is there something I should ask my supervisor to help me with in order to succeed?”



Michaela Micco headshotMichaela Micco, Paralegal, Church of God International Offices

“One of the biggest lessons I have learned in 2020 is the importance of having effective communication skills—whether that be on the phone, email, video, or in person. Being able to get work done is often dependent on how well you able to communicate with those you work for and with. I believe effective communication skills are vital regardless of what industry you work in. Going into a new year, it’s important that I evaluate and refine how I communicate. I plan to implement improved, new communication strategies by creating a to-do list each day with pertinent tasks that need to be communicated, whether with my boss or co-workers. Personally, I work better when I have a written to-do list for each day that I can reference to keep me on track.”


Kathryn Jordan headshotKathryn Jordan, Retail Sales Representative, The Hershey Company

“2020 taught me that no one is going to meet your goals for you. If you want something, go get it! It’s all up to you. I will continue to be proactive and stay ahead by working hard. I desire to be a go-getter, and would advise everyone to never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something.”




Zach Camp headshotZach Camp, Director of Storytelling, WorkChaplain/Owner of ZachCamp.com

“2020 has shown me the importance of rolling with the punches and pressing forward with the goals and vision(s) that I have set out to accomplish. Twists and turns are bound to happen no matter what year or circumstance(s) one may find themself in; however, what has taken place throughout 2020 has been unprecedented for many of us. To be tenacious and adaptable are key traits one must possess while pursuing their dreams, but the biggest lesson that I have learned throughout 2020 in my professional life is that no matter how tenacious or adaptable I may be, it will never be sustainable without rest. There is no doubt that things will eventually go back to ‘normal’, being that the hustle and bustle of life will pick back up, but if I ignore the lesson of removing hurry in my life, the perspective that 2020 has shown me will have been in vain. I think there is this notion that once the clock strikes midnight on January 1, 2021, all the problems from this past year will go away. I am all for fresh/new starts, but if one does not embrace their present moment to bring about the change they wish to see, a new year will not do it for them. Although it will not be an easy task, I think the removal of hurry from my own life, as well as having tenacity and adaptability in 2021, will go a long way in pursuing my goals for the new year.”


Katie Haremski headshotKatie Haremski, Communications Associate, United Way of Greater Chattanooga

“The biggest lesson I learned this year is just how important empathy is. In a year like no other, it has been made more than clear as to just how much we need to care for one another personally and professionally. There’s a lot you can learn in life, but in moments of crisis and genuine need, one of the most important things you can have for someone is empathy. As we enter into 2021, my hope is to be someone who can care more deeply for others by being a good steward of thoughtful work and having intentional conversations that lead to meaningful change. 2020 has been a kind reminder to us all that we are all human and that we all are in need of empathy for one another.”


Frances Gunn headshotFrances Gunn, Owner, Good Team

“Opportunity finds its way to you naturally. You just have to decide if you’re ready to accept it. I will follow my gut, as a business owner and advocate for my clients, when opportunity presents itself.”





Jonathan McNeal headshotJonathan McNeal, Pastoral Resident

“Communication is key. Without communication, execution of vision fails and team chemistry declines. In 2021, I will carefully listen to what others have to say and clearly communicate what is on my mind and heart.”




Harrison Toole headshotHarrison Toole, Social Media Manager, Westmore Student Ministries

“If I learned anything in 2020, it is to make sure to take care of yourself both mentally and physically. In my experience, if you neglect yourself, your unhealthy mental state carries over into the workplace. You begin to do your job poorly, which leads to creating subpar content and losing your passion for what you do. My goal for the new year is to make sure I look after myself and my mental health. I will be sure to keep myself in healthy social situations to hopefully alleviate any unnecessary stress in the workplace and in life.”



Piper Kyle headshotPiper Kyle, Public Relations Coordinator, Life Care Centers of America

“Take time to breathe and focus on your job in steps. In 2021, I will take more time to relax and use my new energy to get work done without stressing too much.”





Donny Behneman headshotDonny Behneman, Strategic Initiatives Manager, UTC

“With a primary switch to working remotely in 2020, I have learned more and more about the importance of office synergy and alternative communication pathways. When working in the office, you are surrounded by people coming and going that can spark organic conversations and collaborative efforts. When working remotely, I found that it can easily feel like you are working in a silo as interactions evolve to be more business centered around project updates or requests for data. I learned the importance of reaching out to colleagues I haven’t talked to in a while, whether through phone calls or emails, to catch up. I look to 2021 as an opportunity to sharpen my communication skills even further. I desire to continue to broaden my abilities as a peer, mentor, and mentee as I learn to better communicate and stay connected with others.”


Hannah Buczek headshotHannah Buczek, Content Editor, Bold TV

“The biggest lesson I learned in 2020 is how to set boundaries while working from home. It’s easy to overextend yourself while working remotely because you don’t have the traditional boundaries of an office. I will definitely continue to rest more because I’m more productive when I’m not burnt out.”



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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