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6 Life Lessons from an Unbelievable Year

A few reflections on the wild ride that was 2020

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lessons from 2020

I may not know you, but I’m going to go out on a limb and make an assumption about you: 

You’re much stronger and much wiser entering 2021 than you were entering 2020.

In case it wasn’t obvious, I don’t mean physically stronger. That is, unless you’re one of those lucky suburbanites with a garage or spare bedroom you turned into a home gym with a Peloton bike and dumbbells (which you probably bought for an exorbitant price if you were able to find them at all, because, #2020).

What I mean is, I bet you’ll be much, much mentally stronger on January 1, 2021 than you were on January 1, 2020. While there’s been a lot to complain about this year, we’ve all learned a lot, too — about the world, about ourselves, about our communities. 

We’ve learned more about infectious diseases and personal hygiene than we ever wanted to know. 

We’ve learned that we’re more resilient than we think, we’re more capable than we could imagine, and we can cope with the worst-case scenarios.

We’ve learned that we’re more resilient than we think.

Now, as we wrap up this wild, unimaginable, difficult, tempestuous, and (I’m being generous) character-building year, I want to reflect on a few things I’ve learned. Doing this always helps me process things I’ve experienced, and it’s sort of become my thing on this platform. (See: 30 Life Lessons I Learned by Age 30; What I Learned After Making a Huge Life Change That Didn’t Work Out; 13 Things I’ve Learned About Life After 6 Years in New York City.) 

Sure, if I had a choice, maybe (…definitely) I would rather not live through a devastating global pandemic. But since I didn’t have a choice in that matter, I’m choosing to at least learn from it, as awful as it was. 

Here, along with way too many late-night doom-scrolling sessions, cancelled trips, and Q-tips shoved up my nose, a few lessons that 2020 bestowed upon me:


1. Technology is amazing in so many ways. But it’s also exhausting — and a little depressing.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we excitedly pushed the limits of virtual communication. We hopped on Zooms and Google Hangouts at work (all the time). We FaceTimed and HousePartied (remember that app?) with our friends. We started tuning into Instagram Lives, a feature we didn’t even know existed previously, at all hours of the day. 

Don’t get me wrong — I’m grateful we had technology to get us through those first few tenuous weeks and months. These platforms were all integral as we transitioned to fully remote work (for those of us who were lucky enough to do so). And they allowed us to stay in touch with and support family members and friends around the world during some of the scariest moments.

But after a few months, I noticed a swift dropoff in my new love affair with technology. At work, we started hearing (and writing about) the very real phenomenon of Zoom fatigue, and began to consciously cut down on meetings. Rather than FaceTime, I opted to text friends occasionally. Zoom happy hour? No thanks, I’d rather sit and stare out my window, thank you very much. 

It’s hard to say that a few back-and-forth DMs replace a real, live, human interaction.

Instagram in particular has been a double-edged sword for me. I interact the most with people here, which is fun, though it’s hard to say that a few back-and-forth DMs replace a real, live, human interaction. It also became one of my main sources of news this year, as well as information and inspiration. 

Especially in the days and weeks following George Floyd’s death, the app provided a wealth of resources to learn from, and I am grateful to a number of amazing creators on the platform. But now, besides a very few bright meme accounts (I love you, Quentin Quarantino) my IG feeds have overall become a pretty dull place to spend a lot of time lately.

Plus, there’s the comparison game. I know, I know — people only post their highlight reels on Instagram, but I’ve seen too many engagement, pregnancy, and happy-family photos over the last year to count. And I’ll be honest, that can get annoying when you’re holed up in your one-room apartment with literally nowhere to go. 

2. I’ve been living in an immensely privileged bubble for 32 years. 

My white privilege is real, and my eyes were opened to that this year with brutal clarity. I began reading anti-racism resources as BLM protests overtook the country, and it immediately changed the way I perceive the world, as well as my place in it. Still, I know I have years’ worth — a lifetime’s worth — of learning and conditioning to undo. 

I’ll also never forget the morning of #BlackoutTuesday when I opened my Instagram to see a feed full of endless black squares. I’m sure some (or many) were performative, yet it was still an incredibly powerful, sobering, and important display of at least acknowledgement from so many of my white peers. 

3. I never thought I’d be living with my parents at age 31 for a couple months — but it wasn’t all bad.

At the end of March, I made the decision to fly down to Florida from New York City. That was when New York had become the epicenter and Florida was still relatively unscathed. (Oh, how the tables have turned!) I had to quarantine at my parents home in the strictest sense of the word — i.e. a state trooper and someone from the state health department came to check on me (seriously). 

Those first 14 days were, understandably, stressful, with me cooped up in one room while still working from home. But then we all fell into a routine. And even though it was difficult to feel like I was putting my life on pause at 31 — right after I’d moved back to NYC for a great new job — I am incredibly thankful to have had this unique opportunity to spend a solid chunk of time with my parents.

Plus, it was pretty nice to have my mom bringing me food between Zoom meetings and willing to do my laundry for a couple months! (Thanks, Mom!) 

4. It will be okay, even if that worst-case scenario you’re imagining actually happens.

2020 showed us that life can change in an instant — in both good and bad ways. You meet someone amazing and begin the best relationship in your life. Biden wins the election and Trump is finally on his way out. You get laid off or a drastic pay cut. Your company or small business is forced to close. Your favorite neighborhood restaurant shuts down. A loved one gets sick. You get sick. 

We don’t have any control over so many things in life. The only thing we’re responsible for, especially in situations like these, is our response. 

You’re only responsible for your response. 

And in 2020, we certainly had to learn how to respond to some weird situations.

In October 2020, I made the somewhat difficult decision to move back to New York for an amazing job opportunity from Park City, UT, where I’d been living for over a year. Quite the leap.

I also made the decision because I still loved New York for everything it had to offer — career opportunities, the best restaurants, fun bars, incredible cultural institutions, diversity, cool people, and (in my opinion) its own special kind of beauty. Yet after 6 months of moving back, that New York stopped existing (albeit temporarily).

So, if I imagine someone telling me in October, or even February, 2020 that by December 2020, the company I moved across the country to work for would have been closed for nearly 10 months and I’d be working remotely in my apartment, I would have told you I couldn’t possibly have dealt with that.

But here I am, dealing with it, doing well, staying (relatively) sane, and remarkably, even feeling optimistic. We can do hard things.

5. Good friends are invaluable.

Amazingly, I’ve made some really good friends during a pandemic. I’ve been grateful to stay in touch with old friends around the country during those early Zoom / HouseParty days, but as the pandemic wore on, especially in NYC, I felt incredibly lucky to have good friends in the area to spend time with (safely). 

As a single woman, I didn’t a whole lot of chances for socialization during my typical work-from-home weekdays. Sure, there was dating to occupy some of my evenings, and I dabbled in that. But let me tell you, it took a lot of effort to prepare for a date in NYC in 2020: always needing to make a reservation due to limited capacity, actually changing out of my sweatpants I’d worn all day working from home, and putting on makeup that would inevitably get smudged by a mask.

All of which meant that a disappointing first date during a pandemic feels way more disappointing than a non-pandemic first date. Just trust me on that, coupled-up people.

So that’s where my friends came through in a big way. When I felt like seeing another human, it was so nice to have a handful of girlfriends I could hang out with, sans makeup and sans pressure. 

6. Don’t take the little things for granted.

I know, there was a ton of big stuff to be concerned about this year — an incredibly deadly virus that’s still not contained, a major national racial reckoning, an unhinged president who refused to admit defeat.

All of these things make my stomach turn with anxiety and sadness and longing for change. But there were also a bunch of little things that continue to give me a twinge of nostalgia and almost a sense of desperation — and I swear I’ll never take them for granted again.

A few of the little things I miss:

  • Taking crowded hot yoga classes — and that unmatched feeling of sweat dripping from literally everywhere.
  • A solo session at the gym followed by a steam and shower .
  • Grabbing a couple seats at a bar with a friend for a casual dinner. 
  • Packed, candlelit NYC restaurants where you can hardly hear what your friends were saying over the din of laughter and conversation.
  • Going to see a live music show with a band you love and singing along to all the words.
  • Dancing. 
  • Hugging. 
  • (And I’m not even a big dancer or hugger). 
  • Not having to live in fear for the first few days when I visit my parents until I get the results of a COVID test. 

But these things will be back. Our country will get back on track…. soon. 2021 may start out rough, but it’s the beginning of the end of our nightmare.

Plus, no matter what this next year throws at us, we can look back on everything we’ve been through — and everything we’ve learned — in 2020. If you thought you were capable before, well, just remember that now you’re a superhero who can handle anything life throws your way.

Follow Locke on Instagram @lockehughes or learn more about her writing at lockehughes.com.

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