What I’ve Learned From this Unusual Year
2020 has been odd, to put it lightly. Nobody thought, as they planned out their resolutions this time last year, that we would be facing the kind of uncertainty that we ended up enduring. But there are lessons within all that mess. Indeed, the more chaotic the circumstance, the greater the lessons. Here are 20 things I’ve learned (or re-learned) over the past 12 months.
(Listen to the audio version here)
1. Life is uncertain
You never know whatchu gon’ get. Forrest’s mum had it right, the only certain thing is uncertainty. Just when you think you have it figured out, the maze shifts and you’re flailing around again. You don’t have it figured out, nobody does. And we probably never will. 2021 is no more certain, get used to it.
2. Hugs should not be taken for granted
I’ve always been a hugger, but it’s only when something is snatched away that you realise you have been taking it for granted. Physical contact with other humans is a necessity for our health and sanity. The oxytocin boost alone is phenomenal! When we can hug again, hug more.
3. Sometimes we need a push
At the start of this year I was rather lost. I was happy in many ways, sure, but something was clearly missing. I had no intention of leaving my job, but when the pandemic hit and I lost 100% of my income overnight, I had to find a new path. I’ve ended up where I needed to be. The push wasn’t pleasant, but sometimes we need our arm twisting.
4. Your habits make up your life
Your life is the sum of your days, and your days are the sum of your habits. Thus, your life is the sum of your habits. We may pay little attention to many of the thousands of tiny automated behaviours we have, but trust me when I say: get that microscope out and see whether they are serving you.
5. Technology is awesome
Despite our interactions being limited this year, technology has allowed us to stay connected in ways which have never been available before. Social media and video calling, in particular, have been two technologies which have saved thousands, if not millions, of people from isolation.
6. Technology is terrible
We often use online connection as a surrogate for real connection, even before this year. One thing I think many of us have learned in 2020 is that it is a terrible substitute. Zoom parties versus real parties? That alone is enough to prove that technology will never beat real life.
7. Actually, technology is neutral.
Ok, given those last two points, the final realisation there is that technology is neutral. It’s a tool. A hammer can be used to build a set of shelves, or to smash a window. How we use technology dictates the outcome. Social media, video calling, they are all amazing. But like anything it’s up to us to use them rather than abuse them.
8. Gratitude is great…
Even in the depths of a global pandemic, we all have things to be grateful for. These are the times that refocusing on the things we are thankful for in life can save our sanity. Gratitude can remind us of what we still have, and again show us how to not take those things for granted.
9. But sometimes things are really shit, and it’s ok to acknowledge that
Gratitude is powerful, but if anyone tries to tell you to ignore the pain and anger you feel in favour of more chirpy, happy emotions, they are full of shit. There is a balance to strike, and so-called ‘negative’ emotions are still part of the human experience. They should still be, well, experienced. Plus, if things aren’t shit sometimes, then how can we have hope for the future?!
10. You don’t need a gym to stay fit and healthy
Almost every online store sold out of dumbbells, kettlebells and yoga mats at the start of the first lockdown, but you don’t even need those (although they are very useful). So many people started walking more, and realised that movement can actually be enjoyable. More and more of us headed online to try yoga videos. Gyms are great, I love them, but if you don’t then there are an infinite number of other options available.
11. Physical capability can be taken from you at any moment
This is a very personal one for me this year, but I know there are also thousands of people in the UK alone still reeling from long-term effects of Covid. This wasn’t the case for me, but early in the year I started losing a lot of my physical strength and energy. Fast forward to September and I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I have hope that my physical abilities will return, and I’m doing what I can, but I am now painfully (quite literally) aware of how fragile these things are.
12. Survival of the fittest means adaptability
When Darwin wrote ‘On the Origin of Species’, he wasn’t talking about ‘survival of the fittest’ in the way most people assume. He didn’t mean the toughest, or the strongest. He meant those most adaptable to change. Fitness is about adaptability to changes in your environment. This is how you survive, by being adaptable.
13. Fear and uncertainty can make people act crazy
When people are scared, they often take it out on other people. They lash out, they start ‘resource guarding’, like a dog who doesn’t want you near its food. This year we’ve seen the very best and the very worst of human behaviour, but I try not to judge. Acting irrationally, blaming conspiracies, selfishness… it’s all a natural (albeit ugly) response to fear. I get it.
14. Science rocks
Reminder: science is not a body of information, it is a process. The scientific method of testing hypotheses and refining theories is nothing short of phenomenal. This year I’ve been reminded of the power of humanity when we come together in problem-solving mode.
15. Time can drag and fly by at the same time
How was March both last week and 10 years ago?
16. Nature can, and will, kick humanity’s ass
Humans are not above nature. We are part of it, and the universe is far more powerful than we ever will be. It is easy to forget that when we live in such a humanised bubble, but every time we are hit by a hurricane, tsunami, plague, solar flare or asteroid (maybe next year?) then we should be humbled.
17. Most people work too hard
When we first hit lockdown in March, and many of us thought society was on the verge of crumbling, it wasn’t our first thought to wish we had worked more. In fact, as we embarked on a period of enforced downtime, many realised that more leisure time would be a very good thing. Of course we need to earn a living, but the accumulation of more material belongings is usually a fruitless endeavour. We learned this year that we could work a little less, earn a little less, spend a little less, and yet be much happier.
18. Perfection isn’t when nothing more can be added, it’s when nothing more can be taken away.
Humans love to overcomplicate things, don’t we? We think adding more is always the path to improvement. Something I’ve learned this past year (or perhaps been reminded of) is that less is quite often more. Simplicity of life brings more joy than complexity. Focusing on a few things, and doing them well. Not adding so much noise that we forget what is important.
19. We are not separate from the world, we are part of it.
As in point 16: we are not above the rest of existence, or separate. We are an intrinsic part of the global ecosystem, and we cannot act without consequence. The more we reconnect with this truth, and the more we respect and revere nature and the cosmos, the more symbiotic that relationship will become… rather than the current reality, where we are a nasty little parasite on the system.
20. We’ve still got a lot to learn
We have immense power, as a species, in the form of our creativity, imagination and scientific method of problem solving. But we are also young, and naive. We do not have all the answers, nor will we ever. Individually, we know almost nothing. Collectively, the same. If we wish to learn more about the world, and about ourselves, we need to embrace humility. We cannot learn what we think we already know. Keep your mind open, your soul humble, and your curiosity aflame.
What have you learned in 2020?