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Welcome 2021: You’re a Year for Breathing Easier

Good-bye 2001. I won’t miss you. You were a very ugly year: one with breath so foul it would bring a buffalo to its knees.”

I first published the above quote on Jan. 1, 2002. I was referring to the horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001.  It was an awkward joke: Christmas that year had not been merry. There was little talk of peace on Earth and a spirit of goodwill to all just wasn’t on the table.

Back then, I regarded George W. Bush as the worst president ever and predicted that 9/11 would be the worst event in my lifetime. I just couldn’t imagine any events that could hurt people and threaten peace more than what happened on 9/11. It was a thought I repeated several times in my writing and speaking.

Well, sit me down and shut me up. In 2020, Donald Trump and COVID-19 raised the bar for the Worst Events category. They became our new twin towers of doom and they dwarfed the events of 20 years ago. The year 2020 has been devasting for the entire planet: Right now, COVID-19 is taking more lives in the US every day than were lost in entirety on 9/11. Last year, the coronavirus killed more than double the number exterminated at Auschwitz.

As far as terrible presidents go, George W. Bush can’t dust Donald Trump’s bootheels. In retrospect, Bush seemed like a pretty well-intentioned guy who had a job that was bigger than he was. But, as far as worst ever goes, Bush lacked the sociopathic narcissism and inherent nastiness that makes Donald Trump the obvious worst president ever. In his final days, he is rivaling Nero and Hitler for worst head-of-state anywhere ever.

But this post is not about Trump and coronavirus: It is about putting a terrible year behind us. I regard 2021, as a  hopeful new year that will restore America’s lost compassion and civility as well as our willingness to collaborate and solve problems of the planet and local neighborhoods.


If Christmas felt tepid as an experience in 2001, the one we observed last week was nearly comatose. Public ceremonies were canceled, and decorations minimalized. Sadly, the thrill of it for kids was vastly diminished. An image of Santa slipping down a chimney while wearing a mask just took the “Ho! Ho! Ho!” out of the event for me. Family reunions were replaced by Zoom chats, which were the next best thing to being there—but a very distant second.

So, now—here we are at the dawn of a New Year, a traditional time for hope and traditionally for journalists to make cheery, optimistic, and often bombastic predictions of what the new year will bring, and here I am, a journalist who claims to focus on the short-term future.

I think most of us have had enough of bombastic for a while, thanks to our outgoing president. But his departure also makes it likely that 2021 will be a better year than the previous one. I am certain that almost all of us will be breathing easier this year for that reason alone.

Smiles Handshakes & Hugs


As we start this New Year, we have two reasons for new hope: Biden and a vaccine. Our new president is demonstrating a commitment to bringing people together that seems to me will have a healing effect, and the vaccine has already protected millions of people—so we are off to a good start.

I see more cause for optimism in the coming months. By the end of this year we’ll once again see kids playing in schoolyards; adults will commute to workplaces when it makes sense, and the roar of crowds will make sporting events more exciting.

We will all be unmasked before this year is over, and smiles will be part of our lives.

We will all continue to work remotely when convenient, but employees, conference attendees, and students of all ages will soon remember the incomparable value of face-to-face meetings. Personally, I can’t wait to enjoy burgers and beers while watching the Warriors from a barstool with a pal.

In short, life will be better for most of us most of the time. It will be safe to read the news without needing to first be tranquilized. Better, yes, but not quite terrific—few of us will be ready this year to break out singing, Happy Days Are Here Again.


Sometimes I feel like the little kid I once was sitting in the back seat of my parents’ car asking repeatedly, “Are we there yet?” only to hear the repeated response of “No, not quite. Pretty soon.”

The journey to recovery begins in 2021 but it will take longer than that to right the course we were on before the intruder took the White House.

First, We Stop the Bleeding


On day #1 as the first president in the imminent Post-Pandemic Era, Biden’s job will be to set the course toward a safer, more egalitarian world. His primary directive will be to stop the bleeding. He has inherited a frighteningly complex and mean-spirited mess and finding the right way to recover will take more than a year and perhaps more than the four years he will serve.

President Biden has many already shown inspirational plans for people, the environment, and restoring credibility, a more inclusive society, and the safety of the common ground. In 2021, our climate and planet will not be fully healed, but at least the rate of deterioration will slow. Diversification programs will be started –or restarted—but bigotry will remain. Global trust in America’s word will improve but our word will not be taken at face value and our signatures on treaties will be viewed with more skepticism than at any previous time. The entrenched inequities related to wealth, color, sexual preference, and of course, politics may retreat a step or two but the basic problems will not be resolved in the coming months.

So if you were to ask me as I so often asked my parents, “Are we there yet?” my answer would echo my parents, “Not quite, but soon, maybe.”

Me in 2021

Enough about the globe, my country, presidents, pandemics, and other stuff that I cannot control. What about me? What seems to me to be my future in the coming year?

Well, like you, I enter this new year with my own share of wounds that need repair. Like just about every freelancer, writer, and consultant, 2020 had the buffalo-leveling breath I referred to earlier.

I’m optimistic about this new year but I’m not quite ready to muster up a round of Happy Days. I will do the things I’ve been doing for many years related to consulting on communication strategies, ghostwriting, and editing. I will consider my core value as the ability to simplify a complex story so that the people who matter will get it.

So, I don’t expect all of that part to change very much.

But the change will be on topics of focus. It is likely to show up here in my ItSeemstoMe newsletter where the key approach was to tell business audiences about tech changes to the near-term future.

Historically, that has involved new digital products and technologies. But digital technologies are maturing. The odds of two kids with a dream and an algorithm transforming the world are getting steeper. Digital is no longer a narrow Silicon Valley niche. Today every company is a tech company, and every kid should learn to code if they wish to be literate when they grow up.

ItSeemstoMe will still focus on new technologies important to business thinkers. These include quantum computing and nuclear fusion. I’ll examine tech business and social issues such as AI ethics and Machine Bias.

I also have a lot to say about cybercrime, which is now larger than a traditional crime: It pays better and is harder to catch the bad guys. I have a passion for helping beat the bad guys who currently have the upper hand. I learned this and more while helping a global supply chain company develop an enterprisewide cyber education program and there is much I learned there that I can share with you.

Shel Israel

Shel Israel is the author of seven business books on disruptive technologies and has contributed to Forbes, FastCompany, Business Insider, ItSeemstoMe and other publications. He currently ghostwrites books and advises CEOs on communication strategies.

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