At this point, it’s a given that 2020 sucked. But 2021 can be different with the right changes.
I knew 2020 was going to be a dumpster fire before it even got here. I just didn’t yet know it was going to be one for everyone. Toward the end of 2019, I had an entire string of unfortunate things happen to me —the type of things that make you wonder if life as you know it might be over.
One of them was the sudden termination of several important client relationships due to the passing of an anti-freelance law in California known as Assembly Bill 5. Because of that, I quite literally went into my 2019 holidays having no idea how I would put food on the table going forward, as I assumed I’d seen the end of my days as a freelance writer. A few personal challenges hit around the same time for extra fun. Then the entire world found itself thrust into the ongoing nightmare that is the coronavirus pandemic.
If you’d told me this time last year that in one more year, I’d be looking back on the most prosperous, productive year of my life so far, I’d have laughed right in your face. But that’s exactly where I’m sitting right now. The end of 2019 felt like my personal version of the end of the world, but the hopelessness I felt at the time had a silver lining. It forced me to make a fresh start in 2020 that I didn’t even know I needed at the time.
Something exciting happens when you feel like the world around you is in tatters, and there’s nothing left to lose. You get brave enough to finally let go of some things and seriously rethink others. That’s when good things have a chance to start happening, including a lot of personal growth. Here’s how you can make your 2020 fatigue work for you as you move into 2021.
1. Slow down. A lot.
Losing so much of my work and income the way I did late last year left me with a lot of time on my hands. It also forced me to stop moving through my days at a breakneck pace and really think for the first time in a long time. Among other things, I thought long and hard about what was truly important to me.
Of course, finding some income and establishing a reliable way to pay my bills the following month were important. But I realized they weren’t as important as the things I was working so hard to protect in the first place — my freedom, health, meaningful relationships, and sense of purpose in life.
So, I set aside a limited amount of time each day to pursue new money-making opportunities and fresh avenues for my writing. I spent the rest of my time catching up on things I’d been missing out before on by working so much. I spent more quality time with my husband. I got really into my cooking again, as well as some of my other hobbies. I spent more time taking care of myself — expanding my workout regimen, taking enough time to eat right, and catching up on my sleep.
I wound up liking that new, slower pace so much, I decided I wanted to keep things that way going forward. So, instead of filling my schedule to the brim again as soon as possible, I replaced the income streams I’d lost with new ones that would allow me more time, freedom, and space on an indefinite basis. That turned out to be a very wise decision.
2. Switch up your professional life.
Shortly before I ended 2019, basically unemployed, I’d been making plans to really lean into the meatiest of my professional connections and make an even larger commitment to the agency in question in 2020. A sudden termination was quite literally the last thing I expected, so I had to rethink my future in a hurry.
That turned out to be a blessing in disguise. My professional life actually left a lot to be desired back then, but I kept doing what I’d always done because copywriting was a decent living, and I needed the money. My soul had been begging me to try something different for years, but instead of listening, I was making plans to spend even more of my energy on work I’d been growing increasingly tired of for years.
Terminations and layoffs are terrifying occurrences, but they’re also fresh starts. Mine made me realize I still wanted to be a professional writer but didn’t want to spend 100 percent of my time writing copy anymore, so I kept that in mind as I worked on putting my life back together. A year later, I’m in a much better place, both personally and professionally. I’ve fallen back in love with writing as a result, and I’m making better money than I would have if I’d changed nothing.
If you’re like most people, you spend a good eight hours a day (or more) working. That’s a third of your life—way too much time to spend doing something that bores you or, worse, makes you miserable. If that’s where you’re at, you likely already know it on some level, so consider switching things up a little (or a lot) in 2021. Pursue something entirely new, or start a side hustle. Set aside a chunk of your time to chase a dream. You might wind up glad you did.
3. Surround yourself with people who inspire you.
The people you’re around every day affect you to a greater extent than you probably realize. And much like there’s nothing like a layoff to make you realize you didn’t actually like your job that much, physical distance can show you how you truly feel about the people in your life.
Mandatory physical isolation — like the kind we’ve experienced in quarantine this past year — taught me what indispensable parts of my daily life some people are. It also made me realize I didn’t even like some of the folks I once thought I was close to. For the first time, I really saw how negative some of them are and how borderline abusive others were. For that reason, I’m no longer bothered by the fact that we haven’t seen each other or talked and have grown apart as a result.
The space those voided relationships left behind allowed me to make some new connections (online, for now) with people who made my year better for their presence in it. These are people who share many of my passions in life — writing, reading, and learning new things. Many of them are empowered, successful folks who motivate me to be better at what I do and who’ve taught me a lot about how I can get where I want to be in life. I feel inspired by my social circle again, and it’s made a significant difference in my outlook over the past year.
4. Practice healthy self-care.
OK, I get it. It’s been an incredibly tough year. Every last one of us is bone-tired, and we’ve felt that way for months at this point. Most of us can probably barely remember what it felt like to wake up in the morning and not have the world around us feel like a living nightmare in more ways than one. It’s depressing. It’s disheartening. It makes you want to crawl into bed, pull the blankets over your head, and sleep for a thousand years.
And a lot of us have been doing exactly that (or something similar) for most of 2020. But it’s time to stop before it’s too late. I’ve battled clinical depression since childhood, so I haven’t just been to this neighborhood before. I’ve spent entire chunks of my life living here on a full-time basis. I’ve done the whole thing where you’re sleeping all day, binge-eating junk all the time, and drinking alarming amounts of alcohol to cope with how awful everything is. It feels like self-care, but it’s actually the furthest thing from it — a trap that will start consuming you alive if you let it.
A new year is getting ready to start. That’s the perfect time to let go of harmful coping mechanisms and start replacing them with healthy self-care practices that will help you instead of hurt you. Start by getting up and moving your body daily, even if it only means going for a five-minute walk up the street or spending a small chunk of time gardening in the evening. Drink water, and eat a veggie or two each day. Gradually scale back the use of alcohol and other substances if you know you’re developing a dependency. Ask for help if you need it.
Several years ago, I lifted myself out of one of the worst depressive funks of my life by building on little changes like those. Hauling myself out of bed on that first morning instead of rolling over and going back to sleep until the sun went down like I usually did was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But I did it — that day and every day since — and I started feeling better so much sooner than I would have guessed. A healthy mind can’t exist in a sick body. Take better care of your body and your mind will follow on its own.
5. Stop doom-scrolling. Start feeding your mind.
“You are what you eat” applies to more than just your body. What have you been feeding your head lately? Many of us have developed a bad habit this year of doom-scrolling through our social media feeds and go-to news sites, sometimes for hours at a time.
I’ve been there, and it’s hard to stay away. Like you, it’s been essential that I stay up to date on all that’s gone on this year — the COVID numbers, the racial unrest, the election, whatever the Trump disaster du jour happened to be. But it caused me massive anxiety if I did it too much or for too long, and I know I’m not alone in that. I’ve learned to treat the news how I treat anything else I find borderline irresistible even though it’s not good for me — like Cheetos, candy, or alcohol. I put limits on how much of it I consume and stick to them. That alone has done wonders for my default mental and emotional state.
I then try to fill a portion of that time with something that grows my mind. Sometimes I read, meditate, or write in my journal. Other times, I teach myself something new via a course that speaks to one of my interests. I’ve learned many new things that way in 2020, like how to break down a salmon and outline a novel. Pretty soon here, I’m going to start a new course on how to make bakery-quality bread. It’s fun, and it feels productive on a level I can handle even when life absolutely sucks.
Changes like these don’t have to be sweeping or monumental to make a difference. You can start as small as you like and build on them when you’re ready in ways that make sense to you. I promise you’ll love what happens enough to want to stick with it into 2021 and beyond.