2020 will be the year we will remember for the rest of our lives. Twenty years from now, we will be telling our children what we did in 2020 and who we were. We will be talking about how the "great pandemic" changed our lives and how we adapted to it.
I recently was reading a very interesting article by Mark Manson. He reached out to everyone on his mailing list to ask them for the life lessons they learned last year. 1,273 people responded. And this is what some of them said:
"You only really know who you are when everything is taken away from you"
Another responded: "If a year ago you told me that my gym and my favorite restaurants were going to shut down and that I was not going to be able to see my friends, I would have freaked out". He then proceeded to say that he has never been happier!
In Manson's book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*CK, he explains that the only way you can determine how much you value something is by losing it. He recommends cutting things out of your life to see what you miss and what you don’t.
The pandemic has been an excellent opportunity for us to experiment with this. We lost access to a lot of activities, events, hobbies, and friendships that we were accustomed to having whenever we wanted. At the time, he predicted that many people would be surprised by both who and what they missed, and who and what they did not miss.
This experience was, by far, the single most common experience reported. Hundreds of people said that they didn’t miss their work, hobbies, or social events. Some even discovered they didn’t miss many of their friends and family. Many reported that a lot of what they were doing pre-pandemic did not bring them happiness. Some even discovered that they hadn’t known who they were.
As one young reader said, “I finally learned what my hobbies are. I spent so much time focusing on my studies before that I never thought about who I am outside of school.”
A woman from Holland had a similar awakening: “This year I learned how much I had been going against my nature all my life. I had always suspected it, but now I understand how much of an introvert I am. When everything got canceled, I realized I had been burning up socially for so many years. During the lockdown, my friends were struggling. They wanted to go out, but couldn’t. Whereas I was fine and happy.
This discovery was a common trend amongst many. People who thought they were extroverted realized they were introverted and were trying to do what's expected by society. People who believed they were introverts discovered they were quite extroverted. In both cases, people realized that much of what they thought was their personality was shaped by social pressures.
One gentleman said, “I always thought I was okay being alone, but this pandemic showed me how much I need people around me. I'm struggling with how lonely I am, even when I’m able to talk to people every day. I had never realized how needy I could be.”
But one of the biggest effects of no longer having a full schedule of activities to distract people from themselves was how many of them realized that they had been avoiding some ugly parts of their own lives. Some realized they had spent years running away from addressing anxious symptoms. Once the social distractions were taken away, there was nowhere to hide anymore.
Another admitted he discovered that he had been an alcoholic for many years. It was only during isolation that he was forced to accept that his drinking wasn’t just a social activity. This was a real problem.
Some of these realizations were positive and joyous, whereas others were dark and upsetting. But, in each case, by removing what we took for granted, the challenges of 2020 clarified for people who they are.
"A crisis doesn't change people; it amplifies who they already are"
“Adversity seems to bring out not necessarily the worst in people, but the essence of people. In my months working in retail through the pandemic, I’ve noticed my cranky customers get even meaner. The pleasant customers have gotten more friendly, understanding, and compassionate towards our challenges. The generous ones have been leaving even bigger tips than before this whole thing started. The creative, optimistic business owners on my block have gotten more creative to survive while the businesses that were already failing have chosen to blame everyone else for their failing business.” — Jim
If eliminating all the extraneous things clarifies who we are to ourselves, it only makes sense that it would clarify who we are to others too.
If you’re a bad friend and not giving when it comes to your time or energy, there’s no more hiding behind excuses.
One respondent said that the pandemic brought out “the factory default settings” of everyone. The paranoid became more paranoid. The needy became needier.
That amplification of our neuroses has created an “it gets worse before it gets better” for a lot of us. Early on, they discovered a lot of things they had been hiding for years. But as the months passed they were forced to confront and deal with their issues.
"The little things are the most important"
The pandemic period has been a mini science experiment for our lives. You are not aware of how things affect you until you can isolate them enough to see their full effects.
For example, I never realized how much my body ached after weight training until I was no longer able to lift weights. The reason I never realized it before is that I was training in the gym 3-4 times a week without fail. By sitting at home all week, not doing much, getting plenty of sleep, it soon became clear that I was wrecking my body.
Many of his readers had similar experiences. One reader said his biggest lesson from 2020 was that “mundane decisions are underrated.” Something as simple as going to bed late one night can impact everything you do for the next two to three days. This can then cause a ripple effect on your whole life. potentially causing a ripple effect through your life. So 2020 was the year we started putting small rituals into place.
With less going on in our lives, the more we start to realize that it's the small things that matter. As one of his readers put it, “This year has taught me that ritual is the antidote to chaos. Small rituals, when practiced daily, give a sense of order to the mind.”
When the pandemic is finally over, it will be key to continue some of these basic routines we adopted. Simply because they make us healthier and happier.
Although there are many more learnings from 2020, here are some key ones we can put in place immediately.