From 2020, With Love: 6 Lessons I’m Carrying Into 2021

Reflections on 2020: the year we never asked for, never expected, but survived nonetheless.

If you want a quick summary of this article click here.

What a year.

We’ve lost so many people this year. To COVID-19. To cancer. To accidents. To illnesses. To suicide. To police brutality.

What a year.

We processed grief together. We questioned life alone. We fought for human rights and saw the raw evil that is systemic oppression.

What a year.

And still, we tried to find a way to make the most of this season. We tried to revive Christmas. We tried to hope.

What a year.

And to think, it didn’t start this way.

January 2020 looked like hope. It looked like real, tangible hope. You could feel it everywhere you went.

Social media was teeming with threads on Vision Boards, Setting Goals, and Levelling Up. This was meant to be the year.

The year we were getting new jobs, getting our money right, and kissing the nightmare that was 2019, goodbye.

The hype only lasted a week.

In January alone, World War 3 almost broke, Australia was on fire, a volcano erupted in the Philippines, Turkey experienced an earthquake, locusts invaded Eastern Africa, and we lost Kobe and Gigi. The coronavirus was well under way, and that hope started shaking.

We chested January and thought, “Okay, that was bad. But it’ll get better.”

Narrator: It did not get better.

You know how the rest of the story goes. By March, most of the world was in lockdown and life stopped looking normal. Jobs, dreams, and plans were put on pause, supermarkets ran out of toilet paper and we started baking bread.

Somewhere in the middle of the year life returned to a pseudo-normal for a bit but as it stands, we’re all at home again and COVID-19 is not letting up.

2020 was a surprise breakthrough year for a lot of people, too. New businesses. New jobs. Loads of marriages (did I miss the town hall where we agreed that this is what we were going to be doing?). And even babies!

What a year.

We all have different stories to tell when we’re asked about 2020.

I summed up mine in these 6 lessons:

1. Plans were not meant to be set in stone

People had plans this year. And when those plans were forced to take a backseat to survival and adaptation, most of us didn’t know what to do.

I’m sure we haven’t forgotten the feelings of grief and confusion that occupied our chests as we tried to figure out where on earth to start.
Some of us had just started jobs that were meant to change everything…and then they were snatched away.

There were many of us who were looking forward to relocating to a new country for a fresh start…and then the world shut down.
Relationships were thrown into disarray and life stopped making sense. Weddings cancelled, engagements postponed, birthdays hushed…

We lost the plans we were looking forward to and had to settle for Zoom, Twitter, and banana bread.

I remember my own pain.

In the heap of grief and frustration, I looked at my vision board. I sighed many times as I deleted the planner I’d designed for this year. I responded to reversed job offers with, “It’s okay. I understand. We never expected this to happen.”

I mourned. I waited. I cried.

But at some point, I realized that this wasn’t going to go away. The uncertainty. My dead plans were not going to come to life.

I had to accept that things were not going to go the way I’d hoped and it was time to adjust. Because that is part of our lives. That is our reality.

We will make plans, we will fill them with the highest of our hope, but that won’t stop them from changing. And we need to prepare for that – not with baited, anxious breath.

But, rather, with an understanding that change happens, life can turn upside down, and we will be required to adapt.

Which brings me to the next lesson:

2. If you can’t control it, wing it.

In a year like 2020, you come to realize that you’re going to have to become comfortable with leaping when you don’t know what’s waiting for you below.

You have to become comfortable with taking risks.

Think about it: At one point, doing the weekly grocery run was a risk. We didn’t know if we’d come back from the store without picking up the virus.

But we still went. Because we knew that it had to be done…otherwise how were we going to eat?

And though the end-result differed for each of us, we still chose to keep going to the store. We kept taking the chance. We did it afraid.

This was a scary year. It still is.

Things we thought were safe fell from our grasp and suddenly, nothing made sense.

Anytime we caught our breath, something else would happen.

How many times did you find yourself crying out, “When will this end?

There were times where it was hard to enjoy the good moments. If you’re someone who deals with anxiety, then you know this feeling very well.

So, to curb the overwhelm and cope better, we created our own, personal safe houses.

Schedules and systems that involved no risk at all. That required as little redirection as possible and no need for taking chances. We reduced our hope to minimal levels in order to cope. And for a while it worked.

But, safe houses only feel good for a little while. Until you realize that you’ve been cooped up for so long, you’ve missed out on your life.

The truth is: even when this pandemic is over, you’ll find yourself still having to take chances.

Having to hope. Having to leap without knowing how it will pan out.

And you’ll have to leave the safe house because that house is not life. You can keep it for the days you need to rest and just be, but you cannot make it your home.

This year has taught us how fleeting this life is. How quickly things change…and end. The time you have is a gift.

And I believe the only way to live that time out is with as much intention as possible.

You can do that by:

3. Making the most of the things you can control

I’m the type of person who doesn’t like not being in control.

Now, I won’t be the person to engineer things to work in my favor, no. But I like being in situations where I’m familiar with the odds. I like to know what I’m walking into.

Enter: 2020.

I’ve found myself in situations where there was nothing I could do to change the circumstances, or even fix the outcomes. My anxiety peaked so many times throughout this year, I can’t even think of individual moments to use as examples.

My response to overwhelming situations used to be “Freeze and Sleep”.

I’d become listless until something magcally worked out. A reaction like that only works in the short-term. You can’t freeze and sleep when you’re unemployed, got bills due, and money from home isn’t an option.

This year I finally learned to pay attention to the quote, “Focus on the things you can control, and leave the rest to God.” And if you don’t believe in God, still focus on the things you can control.

So in overwhelming situations, where I knew there was nothing else I could do, I’d work on what was within my grasp and accept what was out of my reach.

For example, when I was painfully unemployed, I knew I couldn’t force anyone to give me a job. So, instead, I focused on what I could:

  1. Trailing job boards and applying to everything that fit my scope
  2. Constantly reviewing and updating my CV and freelancer profiles
  3. Putting my best foot forward in all my interviews
  4. Taking courses & reading books to improve my writing and marketing skills

I’m big on the “Preparation Meets Opportunity” mantra and I’ve tried to apply it in my life where possible.

When you focus on the things you can control, you’re preparing yourself for the good outcomes you’re looking for.

It’s definitely way better than freezing and sleeping….though stress naps do have their benefits…on occasion.

Another lesson from this year, had less to do with practical skills and much more to do with emotions:

4. Anger has its place…but know when to show it the door.

This lesson was personal.

I’m well acquainted with most of my emotions – happiness, joy, sadness, angst, love, excitement, and the ones in between. But one emotion I’ve never sat with, never given the time of day, is anger.

You see, my personality revolves around trying to look on the brighter side of life while doing anything I can to avoid conflict and uncomfortable moments. So, any form of anger I experience is often shoved under the rug and left there until further notice.

But, the problem with sweeping things under rug is this:

The moment you do, you relinquish your ability to control how and when it comes out. And when it comes out…it’s never pretty.

Anger made me bolder and brazen, yes.

But it also flared up my anxiety, worsened my angst, and left me lashing out left, right, and center. I recently had to own up and apologize to someone who was the main recipient of this anger.

When he called me out on it, I had two choices:

  1. Double down, throw blame, and justify my rage (because that’s what it really was)
  2. Or actually own up to the fact that, even if I felt hurt or aggrieved, my anger had hurt him and a lot of my acting out was unnecessary.

I’m glad I chose option 2.

It also helped me realize that while we’re encouraged to be angry, I think we need to be sure that anger doesn’t blind us. Blind us to the point where our actions cause more harm than good.

That doesn’t mean you should stifle anger and ignore it.

No, you’re angry because something happened to you, or someone else, and you’re not okay with what happened. Maybe you were hurt. Maybe you were harmed. Don’t disregard that anger, it is valid and should be felt. It should be expressed.

But, as the title of this section says, anger has its place. Give it room to speak, to be felt, to be acknowledged. However, do not let it overstay its welcome.

Because more often than not, this is when we end up becoming no better than the people who harmed us.

And where you get a chance to heal through your anger and make amends (not out of force, but only where it is possible), please do.

This life is short and tomorrow is not guaranteed.

Which brings me to my second last lesson:

5. Love on your people. Love on them as much as you can.

Life is short.

Painfully short.

This year has robbed us of so many people.

We’ve lost people we looked up to. It feels like Death was the theme of the year, and everytime we’ve tried to come to terms with it…someone else goes.

Don’t wait for the next time you’ll see someone to tell them what they mean to you. Don’t put off that phone call, text, etc. I know this message is everywhere, but it is for a reason.

We need to be intentional about the way we treat the people we love. This is one place where procrastination can’t work. This is one place where we can’t keep saying “Tomorrow”. Tomorrow isn’t promised and it hurts to think of it.

Give your people their flowers while they’re alive. While they can respond to you. If you have conflict in your life that you can resolve, do it if you still care for that person.

Don’t let tragedy strike before you realize the importance of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Love on your people as much as you can. Until it tires them. And I hope you receive all the love you deserve, too.

6. Lastly, be kind about your progress. You remind yourself of your failures enough.

The end of the year is a time where people start thinking about ways they can do better.

Progress and performance reviews are done, shortcomings are analyzed, and more goals are created.

But, can you make time to acknowledge and dwell on the good progress you’ve made this year? Can you take stock of the areas you got things right, no matter how small, and give yourself credit for what you’ve done?

This has been a heavy year, even with the wins and accomplishments. While you may want to forget this year and turn 2021 into the year 2020 should have been, take time to sit in your progress and acknowldge that what you did was remarkable.

You survived. You pushed through. You gave life another chance.

Those aren’t small wins, friend. Treat yourself with the celebration you deserve.

And one last reminder:

You’re in the middle of a pandemic that changed everything. Of course you’re stressed, disoriented, and exhausted.

You have woken up to terrifying headlines, day in and day out. You’ve had hope snatched from you and nothing was given to replace it. You’ve lost in ways that can’t be described.

But you’ve also won.

You’ve chosen to give each day another chance, even if this was done with a bare sliver of energy.

You’ve chosen to show up. To find ways to make up for the setbacks. You’ve tried.

You’ve rested. You’ve acknowledged your limits. You’ve listened to your body.

The year ahead is one filled with hope…and angst. Will it be 2020+? Will we lose even more? Will we get to see “normal” again?

I don’t know. I wish I had answers. There’s only one thing I want to be certain about.

You’re going to be okay. We’re going to be okay.

We’ll cry our tears. We’ll laugh until our cheeks hurt. And we will wake up everyday and find a way to give life another chance.

We will be okay.

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