Am I the only one who really struggles to even come up with words to adequately describe the challenge, the horror, and the disruption this year has presented to us? I look back at pictures and posts from this time last year and I’m almost stunned by our collective naivete. How did we not know what was coming? How could we possibly believe that 2020 was going to be OUR year – our “perfect vision” come true?
And yet, we know that when we are challenged the most, we grow. This was not a sweeping year of achievements for me – or my family. In the workplace, our goal was mostly to remain steady, remaining thankful for work when so many struggled terribly. The only certificates we received were ironic ones that I printed on our home printer. But through growth, we did achieve.
Here are the biggest things we learned (or, in several cases, relearned) this year:
- We can’t control our circumstances, but we can control how we react to them. For the most part, I am reasonably proud of how we handled ourselves this year. We definitely had our days of staring blankly at the wall or the TV screen or social media, in shock about how quickly our lives were derailed. That’s a natural response to trauma and there is no shame in that. But after the shock, we did a good job of analyzing the situation and agreeing as a family about what was important and how we believed we should conduct ourselves. We were (mostly) kind to each other, and that may be our greatest achievement this year.
- We don’t need consumeristic distractions as much as we sometimes believe we do. Before the pandemic, I often felt “busy” on the weekend. Much of this busyness was because I was swinging into stores to check for sales and new items. The pandemic highlighted some of these bad habits and helped me to correct them (again).
- Taking the time to assess what we are doing is essential – even if we think everything is OK on the surface. The pandemic and resulting school closures in the spring helped our family to realize that, as happy as our teenagers seemed on the surface, traditional school was not working for them as well as we thought. Both expressed a desire to accelerate their high school education and to continue learning online. This was a dramatic shift for us, and it meant saying goodbye to things like two years of high school soccer and three years of high school band. But in listening to our kids and adjusting, we are realizing that they are even happier and more “themselves” than they were before. While this does not work for everyone, it works for us – and has allowed our daughter to finish high school 1.5 years early. One of our greatest joys of 2021 will be seeing her start college.
- Helping those most in need is always the best way forward. Because we had more time to talk as a family and were less distracted by things like consumerism, we were able to ramp up our efforts with our family effort to support people who are homeless or living in extreme poverty. We held several canned food drives, taking carloads of food to MADCAAP, an organization in Madison County that helps provide food and other supports to people who need it. We ramped up our efforts to distribute pizza, toiletries, sleeping bags and other items to people who are homeless. Somewhere along the way, people in our neighborhood and beyond started sending us items to use in our various efforts. This has been one of our greatest joys this year, and we are committed to continuing to honor this commitment in new ways in the coming year.
- Focusing on what we can give instead of get in relationships sustains us. At the start of 2020, I was feeling isolated – a little emotionally hollowed out, really. Since moving back to my home state five years ago, some relationships here have admittedly disappointed me. (This is a common experience, it seems.) This year – both before and during the pandemic – I focused on being open to connecting with others, asking, “What do they need and how can I be there for them?” I stopped worrying so much about recriprocation and also focused more on making new relationships, with zero expectations attached. In doing that, I have cultivated several new friendships that have sustained me this year. I am in a very different place now and feel more connected to my home state than ever – even with the social limitations of the pandemic.
What did you learn in 2020? How did the year change you? What lessons will you take with you into the new year?