This has been the hardest year of my life, and I’m guessing it’s been a hard year for most people in the world. We’ve all lost something, whether it’s a graduation or a trip or a person or those little moments with our friends. I’ve learned that no matter what you’ve lost or who you’ve lost, it’s okay to be angry, upset, or whatever else you might be feeling. It’s okay to take moments and mourn those losses because those were things that were important to you. It’s also okay to feel grateful for the things you do have and the things that 2020 has somehow brought to light in a mysterious but beautiful way.
December is one of my favorite times of the year because I get to reflect. If I tried to put all of the things I’ve learned this year in one article, it would be way too long. Losing a parent at a young age, in the middle of a pandemic has a way of putting what feels like another 50 years of wisdom onto my short 22 years of life. I’ve learned things that I shouldn’t have had to learn this young, but I’m thankful that I have. The interesting thing is that I’m probably not going to know how these lessons I’ve learned are going to impact me in the future, but having my thoughts written down offers me a way to look back later in my life to see how I’ve changed.
Humans are incredibly resilient.
So many things in my life were cancelled this year, from sock orders in February for a hackathon I was organizing, to my college graduation. On top of all of that, I lost my dad in a very sudden way. In all of these events there was loss, but there was also an incredible amount of resilience I saw not only in myself, but in the world. Whether we like it or not, humans generally don’t give up. Whether it was moving to fully online learning or to Zoom game nights with friends, we really pushed our boundaries this year. Sure, it’s not perfect and we will never replace being together in person, but we did try. The most raw form of resilience I saw was probably in my Dad’s last few breaths. Even though it was one of the scariest moments of my life, seeing the human body fight for life was strangely beautiful and reminded me how much of a privilege it is to be breathing and living in this world.
All humans have to die at some point and dying is a lot of paperwork.
To build on that, the unfortunate truth is that the only two things that are guaranteed in life are death and taxes. As a young person, I haven’t thought a lot about death, and probably in good reason. This year, I really had to think about death a lot. It’s hard to think about, but it puts life into a different perspective. Dying, at least in the United States, involves a lot of paperwork I didn’t know about, and I wouldn’t recommend it.
Healing processes are rarely linear.
This is the second time in my life I’ve done regular therapy, and for the first time, my goal is to heal. I know that past events in my life will always be a part of me, but there is always room to grow, and that growth is sometimes not linear. For many years, I wanted growth to be linear, to be able to see myself getting better every week. With grief, anxiety, or any mental illness, there are good days and not so good days and it’s always a couple steps forward and a couple steps back. My general conclusion is that as long as you are trying and working on yourself, whatever the result may be should be considered growth.
I am in control of how I talk to myself every day.
After my Dad died, I struggled a lot with my self confidence, even more than usual. I had lots of guilt, and I still do, but I’ve learned that a lot of my problems with myself stem from how I talk to myself. The words I use to congratulate myself and the words I use to motivate myself after I’ve failed are in my control. Re-learning how to talk to myself in a more productive way is something that I’m still learning, but I am thankful to have learned this lesson.
There’s no right way of doing literally anything.
Another thing I’ve learned in therapy and strangely, through the field of design is that there are so many different ways of doing things. There is no right time to get a job, or to get married. There is no right way of taking care of yourself or exercising. The only right way is the way that feels good for you and that works for you, and that might change throughout your life. I’m being very vague but this is applicable to almost any part of my life. I’ve seen so many things go “wrong” this year for people who have done everything “right” which makes me think that there is no such thing as “wrong” and “right”, it’s just living day by day and making decisions that feel good for you.
Books are windows into other people’s lives.
I’m so glad that I made time in my day to read almost every day since quarantine started in March. Books can be an awesome way to get a small peek into different worlds and paths of life you might never have the chance to encounter otherwise. I genuinely look forward to reading every night and will continue prioritizing reading for the rest of my life, no matter the pace of the world.
I’m so damn lucky to have the people in my life that I do.
I feel like I say this in every Medium reflection article but the truest meaning of the word community surfaced this year. From high school friends to college friends to family friends, I genuinely don’t know what I would do without these people. I also realize that I am very lucky to have met the people that I have met. I know words can’t ever properly say how thankful I am but thank you.
Don’t take hugs for granted.
I wish I could give all of my friends hugs and tell them I love them in person. It’s kind of crazy that I can remember all the hugs I’ve given and received in the past 9 months. It’s definitely something I took for granted and won’t forget in the years to come.
Your body is always telling you stuff, listen to it.
I have this horrible habit of pushing myself and my body. I think that I can do anything I want and that is simply not true. Our bodies are incredibly smart and are constantly telling us about all the internal processes going on. Whether it is constant yawning or a headache, there are lots of signals and we should not ignore them. To build on this, our bodies should be taken care of. Face masks and painting nails are great forms of self care, but so is going to your yearly doctor’s check-ups.
The United States and all of its citizens have a ton of work to do every day for the rest of our lives.
On a larger, societal level, this pandemic has uncovered systemic racism, blatant disregard for the environment and abuse of democracy, to name a few. Many of these problems are going to take a lot of time to solve and there is a lot of work to do. From educating, to protesting to donating, these issues must be prioritized every day, and not just turned into fads that are “in” for a couple weeks. Personally, I’ve realized that I need to make a greater effort to participate in my local government. In my opinion, change sometimes needs to be initiated on a small level.
Individualism is an extremely high priority to people in the United States of America.
I’ve always known this, but I never understood the degree to which we hold the value of individualism. In my opinion, it is our fatal flaw and I would gladly give up some of my individualism if it meant that thousands of people wouldn’t die because of an avoidable pandemic. I always thought that in the face of a large threat, we would unite, but instead we seem to have split even more. I don’t know where I’m going with this, but I hope that people are better able to understand how and when to prioritize community over the individual after this pandemic is over.
I love documenting and writing.
This one’s pretty straightforward. I would not be able to process my life without writing about it.
I really don’t need a whole lot of stuff to be happy.
Last year, my biggest goal was to understand sustainability and start to implement it in my life. My journey, which I documented heavily on this Medium page, was very interesting to say the least. I discovered how little I value certain physical items have in my life, and how minimalism might be the best way for me to be sustainable, personally speaking.
Everyone is going through something or has gone through something in the past.
This is one of those lessons that I reflect on every year, but I tend to forget when I am in a moment of conflict with others. After my dad passed away, I realized how many other people have suffered loss and fought other battles in their lives. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough time to be open and vulnerable with every person in the world, but that doesn’t mean that those people haven’t had their own hardships.
I plan on translating some of these reflections into themes and goals for 2021. I invite you to reflect on your year because this year was different. On a day to day basis, it doesn’t feel like a lot happened, but when you string together all of those days, there were a great deal of lessons to be learned. Cheers to reflection and cheers to a better 2021.