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January 1, 2021

What Did You Learn From 2020?

Yolande Conradie


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©© GettyImages/Solovyova

2020. In years to come we'll think of it as "the year of the pandemic." The year that pitched curveballs at us faster than we could react. It was the year that shifted our comfort zones in more ways than we could imagine. And the year we were all part of the history that will one day be told.

"Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time."

Og Mandino, American Author

Some people joke and call it "the year that wasn't." Other people say they're definitely staying awake until midnight on the 31st. Not so much to celebrate the New Year, but to make sure that the old one leaves!

2020 taught us that humor is an essential tool in our mental survival toolkits. Speaking about essential things, we quickly learned how much we rely on essential workers, and who they are. We also learned that we are able to get by without many so-called "necessities."

It's a year that took away certainty and predictability. In the beginning, we often spoke about returning to normal. Then we started self-correcting and talked about the "new normal," as we realized things would never go back to the way they were.

2020: A Nightmare Vision

The pandemic revealed the gory innards of inequality. It exposed the differences between being rich and being poor, between being completely vulnerable and having backup resources. The vulnerable among us became more vulnerable, while the privileged could carry on with life in their sanitized bubbles.

We learned that even big organizations, countries and economies are fragile, and how it impacts us, the people. Folks who had earned their living just a month before were suddenly dependent on food parcels and handouts.

And, talking about countries and economies, the pandemic emphasized the peril of living in countries steeped in corruption, poor management and an absence of planning. Those governments simply couldn't respond to the challenges the pandemic presented. So, in 2020 we also learned to think carefully about who we vote for.

Domestic violence came under the spotlight, too. We learned that home isn't a safe space for everyone. On the contrary, for some people sheltering at home means being in the most dangerous place they can be 24/7.

Although it was a year that brought much heartache and loss, it was also a year that taught us to adapt, persevere and overcome. In the quote above, Og Mandino implied that every challenge contains the seed of learning, as well as lessons that will prepare us to do things better next time.

The Reality of 2020

Other impacts were more positive. Mother Earth could breathe a little easier as traffic stopped, and pollution decreased. We heard the birds singing, and the sky was a brighter shade of blue.

Companies had to trust that employees could work from home without having someone look over their shoulders. They learned that managing by objectives is more productive than managing by the clock.

We learned how to have Zoom meetings and to communicate more clearly, whether we used email, instant messaging or video calls. Office-bound staff gained more understanding of what their remote/online colleagues experienced every day.

Institutes of learning, lecturers and teachers all around the world had a crash course in converting from face-to-face to online delivery, from the creation of learning material to interacting with students.

Being Lonely Together

We learned to reach out to each other even though we couldn't physically go for coffee or chat at the water cooler. Colleagues, friends and family were there for support when we felt depressed. There when loneliness became a constant companion, when we felt overwhelmed.

Many people got to spend quality time with their families and rediscovered the fun of boardgames, DIY projects and cooking meals together.

And on a personal level? To me, this year emphasized the importance of monitoring my self-talk and managing my thinking processes. The day I heard that South Africa was going into a severe lockdown, I felt trapped and anxious, and I cried.

It meant that my husband, who works abroad, wouldn't be able to come home for an indeterminate time. And that our holiday plans were all but decimated.

No Time for Stinking Thinking

That night, before going to bed, I had a serious talk with myself. There were two choices: one, I could be angry, mope and moan. And I could cry and feel miserable for however long the situation prevailed.

Or two, I could change my thinking, manage my thoughts, adjust my attitude and approach the situation with a positive mindset. The pandemic, lockdown and restrictions were a given. How I experienced all of that was up to me. It was a no-brainer, really.

Some members of our new Mind Tools Career Community Facebook group also shared what they learned from 2020.

Dawn said, "In a positive way, I've made some new friends who aligned with my values. I said 'hello' to them. Also, in a positive way, but sadly, I learned that many social friends and family do NOT align with my value system. I said "goodbye" to some of them. And I learned how passionate I am about living a life aligned with my values."

Alan said he had the opportunity to make new digital friends and reconnect with old ones. He learned how to use Zoom and other online presentation platforms.

Live in Faith, Not Fear

Usha revealed that she started the year with travel plans with friends and family. But, "I quickly realized that planning is past decade and we have to take one day at a time." She realized the importance of love, compassion, and empathy. Now she says she will prioritize her health and happiness in the coming decade.

Patrick said his lesson was, "Stay focused and seize opportunities that favor you." Robert's takeaway from 2020 was, "Never take things for granted." Ruth-Ann said, "2020 has definitely been a year for me to experientially learn more about how to live in faith, not fear."

On Twitter, @iqurattariq shared the following wisdom, "Every day has a new lesson. There is nothing called "the perfect time" – go for it now. Prioritize your health, disrupt the self-destruction. Make time for what matters to you and have something to look forward to that makes you happy (hobby, passion project, etc.)."

What Now, What Next?

So 2021 is upon us. All of us hope for a different type of year. But as the COVID-19 virus mutates and new strains are found, we simply have no way of knowing.

American philosopher and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "That which we persist in doing becomes easier for us to do - not that the nature of the thing is changed, but that our power to do is increased." 

It has become easier to maintain a safe distance between you and the next person. To wear a mask and to think not only how your actions might impact your health, but others' health too.

May the lessons of 2020 help us to set different goals and seek to live more meaningful lives. Let them also be a reminder to be grateful for small things, and to prioritize the things that really matter.

May we stop living in bubbles and reach out to those in need. To you it might be a small act of kindness, while to the other person it means the world.

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