Lessons I've Learned in 2020
"A caterpillar has to suffer silently in a cocoon of isolation in order to become a butterfly." - Jaykaran Sagar
On December 31, 2019, I sat eagerly writing my goals for 2020 and chose my word of the year based on the concept that this would be the best year of my life. Imagine this: my chosen word for this past year was: “Enjoy.” I spent the ENTIRE month of January shouting from the rooftops that this year was going to be our year – I could feel it in my bones! If I had the ability to time travel, I would go back to January 1st and punch myself square in the face.
The past year has been an absolute rollercoaster of emotions and experiences. Just two months into 2020, my word of the year suddenly shifted from “enjoy” to “survive.” While I am not negating that there have been blessings that have come out of this year, it has been the most challenging year of my life for the simple fact that my life has been flipped completely upside down into an unrecognizable oblivion of what it used to be. I am a planner, an achiever, and an Enneagram 3 with OCD, so naturally I have accepted all of the unknowns and abrupt changes that have come from this year as gracefully as a cat receiving a bath. I have probably cried more tears this year than I have in all 32 years of my life combined.
As the year ends, I am choosing to view 2020 as my chrysalis. It is the year in which I spent encapsulated in a state of isolation, forced to thoroughly examine all areas of my life. This may have been the most important year of my entire life because it is within this year alone that I have dug profoundly deep into the roots of myself and my past to figure out what shaped my current state in order to determine who I want to become in my future. It has been dark, it has been lonely, and it has been painfully necessary.
Here is a synopsis of the most important lessons I have learned from my experiences in 2020 that I will carry with me forever:
1. Children do not care emotionally about anything other than human connection. (Granted, this comes after all of their physical needs have been met.) Traditions, birthday parties, big events, toys and tangible items, pretty homes and fancy things – NONE of it matters to a child. That birthday party they didn’t get to have this year, the traditional family gathering that didn’t happen, what they did or didn’t get for Christmas – NONE of it matters when it comes down to their truest well-being. I've been home with my tiny human for 9.5 months now and the adjustments of this year have probably been even more difficult on her than myself. She has shown me that children want to feel worthy of love even on their worst days and are happiest when they are listened to, reaffirmed, and loved unconditionally. I am choosing to make a continuous effort to connect with my child to ensure that her emotions are validated and her voice is heard so that she can become an emotionally sound adult.
2. Hurt people hurt people. I have started speaking this phrase to my four-year-old regularly so that she understands that she won’t always be able to please or be liked by everyone, and that unkind people are just unhealed souls. I also remind myself of this mantra when I am on the receiving end of hurtful behaviors. I have always been a people pleaser, and I’m stripping that down to the roots this year and hopefully leaving it behind. This year has been so hard on the entire world for so many reasons, and I’ve sadly witnessed angry and hurt individuals deflect their own pain and insecurities onto others more frequently than ever. Their own pain doesn’t justify the behavior, but it makes it a little easier to move on and focus on positive energy and people in your life who love and support you.
3. Boundaries are critical to emotional well-being. The term “boundaries” is one that is used daily in my conversations this year (shameless shout-out to my therapist). Boundaries are the ability to say no to things that do not align with our morals, and people-pleasing comes with a serious lack of personal boundaries. When you feel like it is your duty to make sure everyone is happy with you, you will often find yourself in situations that are opposite of what align with your core values. If you constantly find yourself overcommitted and miserable saying “yes” to things that aren’t allowing you to do what’s important to you, it’s time to start setting boundaries. It starts with baby steps and it becomes easier the more you do it.
4. We do not have to justify, explain, or defend our decisions to anyone. I have spent my entire life on the defense, constantly feeling like I need to over-explain every single decision I make. The amount of energy I have expended on this habit is absolutely ridiculous; and more often than not, it is wasted on people who are committed to misunderstanding me or my intentions anyway. Responsible adult decisions do not require explanations and sometimes one word answers are all that need to be said.
5. Quality over quantity. I realize this is not news to any of us, but more than ever, this year has opened my eyes to the concept that quality is what truly matters. Like most of us, I haven’t seen some of the people closest to me much at all this year and I have had to be selective about commitments. I’ve come to realize that the quality of connections and how we spend our time is what truly matters most. I'm choosing to make the moments count rather than counting the moments.
6. Life is short. As if this isn’t blatantly obvious, I’m choosing another cliché to sum up what I’m taking from this cursed year. Roll your eyes if you must, but I’m not wasting any more time trudging through the motions of life than I already have. I am not going to let fear of failure or criticism or rejection hold me back from going after things that I want in life. I will make choices based on what feels best for myself and my own little family. I will re-read all the items listed above on moments where I undoubtedly will question myself and everything I'm doing.
As much as I love the optimism that comes with a new year and new goals, my perspective has shifted due to the nature of the times. With a new year on the horizon, I am not ignorant or naive enough to think that a new date on the calendar will erase the pain of the last year or be the immediate birth of the "return to normal" that we so desperately crave. I realize that much of 2021 may appear excruciatingly familiar to 2020, but I feel that there has to be hope on the horizon.
As we eagerly close out the chapter of 2020, my goals that I am setting for 2021 are the birthplace for my word of the year: “Genesis.” I am viewing this new year as a chance for a new beginning in my own life. For me, this is the aftermath that takes place post-awakening and I'm using it as an opportunity for the transformation into my truest self. My hope for all of us in 2021 is that we emerge from the past year stronger and more resilient than ever.
Cheers and Happy New Year!