My Biggest Lessons from 2020

J Free

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I think we can all agree that 2020 has been full of life lessons. So as the year is coming to a close, it can be worth taking a look at the past 12 months to ask yourself: What has 2020 taught me?

I'm sure few of us were expecting such a turn of events as we were listing our new year's resolutions a year ago. And while most of us probably can't say that things went as planned, I'm certain we can all take some invaluable lessons with us into 2021.

Here are some of the things I learned in 2020, about life, about myself and about others around me:

There's Nothing More Important Than Our Health

I must admit that before 2020, I didn't give nearly as much thought to my own health, or the health of my loved ones. I've always been a worrier by nature, but 2020 has made me a bit of a hypochondriac. Temporarily moving back in with my family, some of them being at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19, had me constantly checking in with my loved ones. Even the slightest sign of a cough from a family member (or did they just clear their throat?) sparked a newly developed rush of health anxiety for me. I suddenly became worried for them all the time, to a point where it consumed my mind. I found myself reading news article after news article, tragic stories of people losing their mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, spouses, even children.

Over time, as people slowly grew somewhat accustomed to living through a pandemic, my health anxiety got better. What remained is the realization that at the end of the day, there's really nothing more important than our health. I'm so thankful for each day with my family spent in good health.

You Can't Control What Other People Do

The number one cause of arguments for me this year was desperately trying to protect those around me, sometimes at the cost of being the annoying voice of reason. To be completely honest, I've learned that I may have some trouble with not being in control. Not only when it comes to life's surprises in general (like a pandemic), but also when it comes to other people's actions and the ensuing repercussions.

At the start of the pandemic, I moved back into our multigenerational family household with my parents, my uncle, and my 90-year-old grandmother. Our only regular visitor was my sister who had moved a few towns over. Needless to say, having several family members who are extremely vulnerable to the virus around 24/7 turned me into a worried mess.

I was confident and in control of my own safety measures (social distancing, hand washing, sanitizing, you know the drill). But what my other family members did way beyond my control. So when I accidentally witnessed someone not washing their hands immediately after coming home, I'd get a nervous urge to lecture them and make sure they do it right. After all, their actions, just like mine, would ensure the safety of everyone in the house. What's the point of my strict hand washing when someone else might ruin my efforts by being inattentive and careless? How can I protect my vulnerable family members when they don't always do what's necessary to keep themselves safe?

After months of the same scenarios repeating themselves, I started to feel like my elders' babysitter instead of the "kid" of the family. I just couldn't understand how a tiny little nuisance, such as washing your hands longer than you're used to, could be so hard to do if it might decrease the risk of spreading the virus.

Realizing that the only thing I truly have control over is my own actions would have saved me some tiring and pointless discussions, not to mention a whole lot of frustration and annoyance. I still struggle with it, but know that I have to make peace with not being in control. Even if the source of my need for control is my love and care for my family.

If someone you live with isn't doing the best they can to keep your household safe from COVID-19, respectfully ask your family members or roommates to adhere to official rules and kindly pay attention to how their actions might affect others. If you've done that (possibly repeatedly), it's all you can do. Save yourself the anger by realizing what they do is out of your hands, and focus on what you can actively do to stay safe.

Mindfulness and Gratitude Change Everything

As I discussed here, mindfulness and gratitude are vital skills to learn and practice over time. Learning the importance of these skills (and intentionally applying them) was one of my biggest accomplishments and lessons this year. Staying grateful even when times were hard and living in the moment was what got me through 2020. It's a skill I'm so happy to have worked on, and hope to keep improving for the rest of my life. Being able to find a silver lining and always seeing the good hidden beneath the bad has changed the way I think and live. It's important to focus on what you've gained, not just on what you've lost.

Sometimes It Takes a Crisis to Get Your Priorities Straight (and to Make You Realize You Complain Too Much)

Another lesson on gratitude and mindfulness: Most of us complain too much.

I think the majority of people have always secretly acknowledged their privilege, but it took a pandemic for me to really realize how much time we all spend complaining about irrelevant things. I've noticed it in myself and in others, too. This crisis has made me rethink my priorities and bad habits. I'm now the friend who will supportively/jokingly (but not really) nudge you to stop whining about your bad haircut when you could be laughing it off. I just hope the not-complaining-thing will stick for many of us.

Some Friendships Were Just Not Meant to Last

Just like some bonds grew stronger this year, other friendships suffered or even ended.

Normally, I'm not one for confrontation—I tend to swallow my pride and let certain things slide in an effort to avoid conflict. But this year, I realized there are some things I'm not willing to "agree to disagree" on. Compromise is good, but some differences are simply too substantial to overlook.

I'm also not one to judge quickly. But when it comes to how people have dealt with this pandemic, there is a lot of potential for conflict. Frankly, some have shown their "true colors"—the pandemic has shed light on previously concealed sides of peoples' personalities. Without pointing fingers, many have shown little compassion, tolerance and understanding. People I once thought were kind and respectful have proven to be selfish and ignorant during a time in which kindness was more important than ever.

As a person who sometimes feels more empathy than I can handle, witnessing the lack thereof from certain friends was tough for me. Standing up for the underdog and fighting for my core values and beliefs is not something I can hold back on. In turn, I've lost touch with one or two friends I was once close with. Whether or not we'll reconnect, only time will tell. But I've learned that some friendships were just not meant to last, and sometimes we have to cut our losses.

What did you learn in 2020? Did you have similar experiences? I'd love to hear them in the comments below! #nbholidaycheer

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