Look. It’s okay to be ready for 2020 to be over. It’s been a crazy year—one filled with experiences and challenges that none of us could have been prepared for. (Okay. To be honest, my mom is a low-key doomsday preparer, so she was pretty much set.)
But before we write the year off as a total bust, let’s pause to think through some valuable lessons that many of us learned.
In no particular order, here are twenty things I learned in 2020:
We’re more resourceful than we think.
I’ve never seen people get that creative on ideas ranging from homeschooling methods to decent toilet paper substitutes.
We care about each other.
My neighborhood Facebook page is typically something I only visit for entertainment purposes. “I saw a teenage driver PAUSE at a stop sign today. PARENTS GET CONTROL OF YOUR KIDS!” But days into the pandemic, I noticed the tone of the posts shift. “Any elderly people in the neighborhood need a prescription picked up?”
We all have something to contribute.
All the tutorials that popped up online were incredible. I learned to cook (at 36-years-old), fix my own dryer, and dutch braid my girls’ hair—all from watching people like me who shared their gifts digitally.
Isolation can create anxiety or depression.
About six weeks into the quarantine, I was experiencing insomnia. The “what-ifs” began taking over my thoughts . . . especially at 3 a.m. What if life never returns to normal? What if my baby gets Covid? What if this is the end of the world? I would wake up every morning with a vague sense of dread. I was growing more miserable by the day.
It wasn’t until I started connecting meaningfully with other people that I realized I’d been spending FAR too much time inside my own head. Getting outside of myself and investing in others was critical to managing my growing anxiety and depression.
We can stay home.
Now that many of my kids’ activities have resumed, my weeks are again loaded down by practices, appointments, and assignments. I remember those early days of quarantine when we wouldn’t leave our four walls for days on end. It seemed impossible at the time, but we did it. And in its own way, I’ll forever be grateful for that time together. It serves as a reminder to me now that I can stay home. I don’t have to book my calendar until it bursts. In fact, I shouldn’t.
People in the medical field are the real MVPs.
While the rest of us were conducting Zoom meetings in our pajamas, doctors, nurses, EMTs, and firemen were diving headfirst into the front lines of the battle against Covid.
We need healthy coping mechanisms.
At first, the day-drinking memes were kinda funny. But after seeing that theme repeated across all platforms of social media for weeks on end, I got a little grossed out. Is this the best we can do? I thought. I’m not taking a stance on alcohol here. I’m taking a stance on our mental health. We need healthy ways to manage our disappointment, anxiety, and depression. Or risk exacerbating them all.
Teachers are blessed angels from on high.
I was in the middle of writing a book for a client when Covid hit. When all three of my girls’ schools were closed, I shrugged it off. As a former high school English teacher, I know my way around formative and summative assessments.
I was wrong. While some parents are equipped to teach their own kids, I was not. And that’s okay. The first day they returned to in-person learning, I was relieved beyond imagination. Teachers are underpaid and underappreciated and that’s #FACTS.
I can’t, actually, do it all.
I’m a chronic over-extender. But with the onset of the pandemic, I was suddenly taking on even more new roles. It didn’t take long for me to realize that as much as I want to “do it all,” I am not a very good teacher/mother/writer/house cleaner/chef/playdate planner/dry cleaner/seamstress/cheer coach/PTO member/friend. I actually need help on occasion, quarantine or not. That doesn’t make me a failure. It makes me a human.
Taking a hike can be a good thing.
I’m not really an outdoorsy kind of gal. But when the only opportunity to get outside of your house is to walk around in the great outdoors, you do it. Imagine my surprise when I actually enjoyed it. Looked forward to it, even. At one point, my girls and I were taking walks two times a day. Without the distraction of a screen, we connected with each other and with the nature around us.
Sometimes you need to call someone.
I’m of the mindset that if something can be said in ten paragraphs or less, it’s a text conversation. But after not hearing the voices of the people I care about for weeks, I needed something more. Once I started calling people on the phone, I realized how much more it means to talk instead of text.
Routines are helpful, but hold on to them loosely.
I’m a pretty routine person. I thrive with a schedule. With goals and tasks that can be checked off a list. (My Enneagram 3 is showing, I know.) When the pandemic struck, all normalcy flew out the window. I would try to write out a daily schedule, but then the Internet would crash, my job had a sudden demand, and my 2nd grader wouldn’t know how to upload a photo she needed for an assignment. I learned during this time that while it’s healthy to have routines, if life takes you in a different direction, sometimes you just have to go with it.
The internet isn’t evil.
Well, not all of the Internet is, anyway. It took my breath away when people and organizations began providing free content online to brighten someone else’s day. Museum tours, concerts, book readings, art tutorials . . . the Internet provided us with a vehicle to joy.
Building a Bridge > Building a Case.
MAN OH MAN. All the opinions came out to play during the pandemic. But here’s what I found—people are more important than a point. It was my relationships that kept me going through the dark times of the quarantine. Not my opinions.
Everything can change overnight.
We know this cognitively, right? But experiencing the phenomenon rocked me. It made me reconsider my priorities. My “stuff” suddenly took a backseat to my “people.” And that’s how it should be.
It’s okay not to be okay.
I learned to stop asking my friends, “How are you today?” Because everyone was very not okay. When I learned to operate under that assumption, it helped me accept my own not-okayness. Also, I learned to be more specific when checking in with others: “Did you sleep last night?” “Can I do anything for you today?” “On a scale of one to ten, how is your anxiety right now?”
Having fun is incredible medicine.
My house isn’t going to make it into Better Homes and Gardens, but I do like to keep it neatly styled. Each night before bed, I walk through the rooms and rearrange pillows and candlesticks so they’re just right. Fast forward to week five of the quarantine and I’d cleared out my gorgeous sitting room to make space for a giant bouncy house. My girls and I spent hours in that thing, giggling and playing. I was reminded how much fun having fun is.
This one is tough. But there are always going to be circumstances that are out of our control. Acceptance can feel like giving up, but it’s not. It’s understanding that right now is all you have, but right now is still important.
Know what you know.
So many conflicting stories and news reports circulated this year. Even my kids were coming to me with facts and tales that I knew couldn’t possibly be true. It convicted me to become a responsible member of society and fact-check what I’m told for myself.
We need community.
If nothing else, I think we can all walk away from 2020 with a deeper understanding of our own vulnerabilities. And one, undeniable need is the one of community. It’s the feeling that we’re not the only ones struggling. It’s the feeling that we don’t have to walk through darkness or fear on our own. It’s knowing that when something happens, good or bad, we have someone to share that with. We all need community. We need it yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Above all, I will move into 2021 knowing that I’m better than I was this time last year. Because when I look back on 2020, I’m struck with deep gratitude.
Gratitude for the lessons I learned. For the darkness that helped me appreciate the light. And for the people who linked arms with me to walk through it. And I hope that over the next 365 days, I can return the favor to them too.