Humanity, Healing, and Hope: What I’m Taking Away From 2020

Hard-earned lessons of a hard year.

If I had to guess, there aren’t many people who are going to be sad to say goodbye to 2020. To say it’s been a challenging year seems like a comical understatement. This year of multiple crises has tested us in every way imaginable. Everything about our lives has been changed in so many ways, it’s hard to even remember what life was like before 2020 swept in. 

But as welcome as it will be to see this year in the rear view mirror, it’s also a time in which we’ve learned valuable lessons about ourselves, about what gives us strength, and about what we really value. That’s certainly true for me. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, when our lives changed so suddenly, few of us knew it would go on as long as it has. There was a normal human reaction to think, “OK, I can just power through. After a few weeks, we’ll go back to normal.” But then the summer set in, and it was clear there was no end in sight. That’s when we started reading about baking and knitting and all the other coping strategies people began reaching for. Soon I realized, “OK, I need to step back and reset — just powering through isn’t working.” I needed to create new habits and new ways of living and working.” That meant trying new things and challenging myself in different ways. It was hard, but also rewarding, since I’d never really had time to rethink my habits and routines in such a complete way. 

Here are some of the ways I intentionally adapted, and the things I’ll be taking away from a year like none other. 

The importance of self-care 

I certainly came into the year valuing self-care, but the pandemic aggressively reinforced the importance of taking care of my well-being. Exercise has always been a priority for me, but prior to the pandemic, when I was traveling a lot, it was easy to give that time away. This year has highlighted how vital exercise, sleep, and nutrition are to me — not just to my physical health, but to my mental health as well. 

Exercise has been a particular savior for me this year. It’s the one thing that’s allowed me to get out of my own head, and keep my anxieties and worries in check. I took my workouts outdoors, so I can get outside, get fresh air, and get some movement all at once. And at a time in which everything has felt so uncertain and difficult, it’s been nice to be able to be consistent and focus on myself, so I could show up for all of those difficult moments and be the best I can possibly be. 

Rethinking how we work 

When the pandemic started, we mostly just replaced all in-person interaction with virtual interaction, and that’s just not working. We need to be much more intentional, both with our time and with other people’s time. One example — the way we schedule virtual meetings. Just because it’s easy to invite 20 people to a meeting doesn’t mean we should. Those invited feel like they have to show up, but when you have 20 people in a meeting, you don’t get much done. Better to invite only those who are essential and send the others notes.

We also need to rethink what time off means. Too many people still think, why should I take a vacation when I’ll just be sitting in my workspace at home? But the value of time off from work isn’t tied to travel, though traveling may make it easier. Disconnecting isn’t an annual event, it’s a practice and a mindset. And in a stressful year in which so much has been out of our control, it’s all the more important to be intentional about time off, whether that means taking a few extended weekends or a longer staycation. 

Creating boundaries around our workday 

At the beginning of the pandemic, I was starting to feel really burned out. Having been there before, the idea that I was going down that path again scared the heck out of me. I was becoming reactive and just cranky. So I had to become much more deliberate about work boundaries, disconnecting, and closing my laptop. 

We’re all still working on creating those boundaries and finding new ways of working that work for us. But since uncertainty and change aren’t going to end with 2020, it’s clear that going back to the old ways of working isn’t an option. 

The value of human connection 

Back in March, in the early days of isolation, there were memes being sent around by introverts to the effect of, “I got this — I’ve been preparing my whole life for this.” And as a fellow introvert, I thought the same thing. But six months later, no offense to my husband, I was desperate to hang out with (some other) human beings! The reminder of our fundamental need for real human connection has been one of the biggest lessons of this year. 

Remember before the pandemic, when you’d go to a restaurant and see everybody staring at their phones instead of the people in front of them? That’s something I hope never comes back. Phones are great, video is great, and though our devices might be a good supplement, they’re not a replacement for true, face-to-face human interaction. And now, when that’s been taken away, we realize how much we took it for granted. 

The willingness to be uncomfortable 

This summer, watching America’s long overdue reckoning with racial justice wasn’t easy. And that’s a good thing. It was moving to see so many people come together and be willing to be uncomfortable. Humans aren’t good at sitting with uncomfortable emotions. But this year the issue of racial injustice broke through and dominated our national conversation, and there was nowhere to go. We could no longer ignore it. What’s more, that willingness to be uncomfortable united a lot of people — maybe not everybody, but enough individuals to bring a new awareness and hopefully, as the conversation continues, new action to a deep and systemic problem. 

Healing and hope 

My wish for 2021 is that it be a year of healing, and overcoming our challenges — and our differences — together. I know we can, because I know that we’re stronger now, at the end of this year, than we were at the beginning. We’ve learned the value of mental health, resilience, well-being, and human connection. And I hope 2021 will be a time in which we refine the “new and better normal” that we’ve created for ourselves. And that’s because I’m a big believer in hope. There’s an old saying that hope’s not a strategy. I disagree — I think it’s our only strategy. Hope is what inspires us. It expands our sense of what’s possible. It motivates us to take action and do things differently. And it’s what propels us to keep going. So as we — finally! — look forward to a new year, let’s take the hard-earned lessons of 2020 with us.

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