20 life lessons from 2020: what has 2020 taught me about work, love, family, and myself
Personal Essays & Opinions,  The quarantine stories

What has 2020 taught me about work, love, family and myself

As we are saying “good bye” to this emotional roller-coaster of a year and saying hopeful “hello” to the new year, there is one specific questions that lingers in my mind: what has 2020 taught me?

Without any doubt, I have felt incredibly blessed this year. I know it sounds silly saying this amidst a world pandemic, but I have managed to go through this year without any serious changes in my life. This year, first and foremost, I realized that stability and security matter. In a world that constantly asks you to change in one way or another, and you manage to maintain your “boring” and “ordinary” life matters.

It matters to me that I and my loved ones are all healthy; that we all kept our jobs; and that Felix and I even managed to have a small vacation.

But, beyond these personal blessings for which I am immensely grateful, 2020 had a dark moments for me as well. And when I think about them, this is when I once again ask myself: what has 2020 taught me?

Ironically, 2020 was a personally calm and globally a turbulent year. It is hard to stay immune to the fear that reaches you from everywhere. The internet, the phone calls, the radio. At work, in the public transportation, home. No matter how much I tried to shut it all out and stay focused, 2020 always found a way to creep in to my mind and whisper: you are not ok.

In full honesty, I struggled in one way or another in every aspect of my life. I felt like work was going a bit downhill – especially during home office hours; my romantic relationship was put to the test a few times; and my physical activity decreased as well. For a while, I thought that what 2020 has thought me about life is that I do not deal so well with a crisis situation.

Seeing posts of people, trying to brag how they – amidst a pandemic – have managed to develop healthy living habits; learned new skills; or used the time spent at home to read and work more did not make me feel any better. However, they did make me realize that 2020 has nevertheless been an important year on a personal level. And I believe, for many of you too.

With increasing data to support the idea that the pandemic aftermath will be as bitter as the pandemic itself, we have to ask ourselves where do we go from here. Not only as a world and society, but also personally.

Setting our priorities right; taking care of our physical and mental health; developing the mindset that will enable us to deal with the post-pandemic crisis that will follow in 2021, or possibly in 2022, are the habits that will determine whether we will not only adapt, but also thrive.

So, let me start with sharing some of my thoughts on what 2020 has taught me. I hope some of them will be inspiring or thought-provoking for you. I have compiled my top 20 lessons from 2020 and I have divided them into 4 categories: work, love, family, and myself.

What has 2020 taught me about work

what has 2020 taught me about work

1. How you work is more important than how much you work

Have you ever experienced working for four hours and completing more than in ten hours?

With increasing flexibility in many companies; remote work or home office, the employers will no longer really care if you work 9am to 5pm or 9pm to 5am. However, they will care whether you are reliable, efficient, and focused. Just logging in the hours does not matter any more. Getting the work done does.

2. To-do lists mean nothing unless you hold yourself accountable for their completion

Have you ever created am amazing to-do list, only to end up ticking a point or two, and leaving the rest of it for another day? Because I know I have.

Especially during home office hours, when I did not have to stick to a strict schedule, I “cheated” on my task completion. The problem was, no one really was checking on me. Yes, self-responsibility matters, but when you are struggling to go through the day, you need some external help too.

Find yourself not only a trustworthy person with whom you can share your ideas, obligations and struggles to complete your tasks, but also someone honest enough to give you constructive criticism and to hold you accountable for your to-do list.

3. Flexibility, being tech-literate, and adjusting to novel situations and working environments are highly underestimated transferable skills

2020 has taught me that the people who are flexible and adjust quickly to new situations and working environments, in combination with technological literacy, will be the ones who will make great careers in the upcoming future.

I do not need to remind you that those who knew, or had the wish to quickly learn, how to deal with technology went through the pandemic much more smoothly. From setting yourself up for remote work; to online shopping; to communicating with family and friends – for the people who feel comfortable to depend on technology everything was slightly less stressful.

The future is digital, flexible, and vibrant – especially at our working places.

4. Being honest – both to yourself and your boss – will get you far

This year I realized that I highly value the honest dynamic in my team. It was liberating to tell to my boss that I struggle sometimes to adjust to the new norm. That I need help or ideas what to do at home when I cannot go to the lab.

2020 taught me that every relationship – including every professional relationship – must first and foremost be based on trust and honesty. Only then we can as for the advice and help we need without fearing negative repercussions.

5. It all about your mindset

When you are not in the right working mindset, every working minute can be a challenge. Distractions, thoughts, inappropriate working environment can all make the difference whether you working or procrastinating. Thus, this year I learned that it is not sufficient to only put your alarm, have your coffee, and put on your clothes for work. If your mind is elsewhere, chances are, you will not really do a good job.

Nevertheless, it is important to remember that we all have bad days. A few bad days at work will not make my life come crushing down as tower made out of cards. What has 2020 taught me about [my] working mindset is that putting pressure on myself is counter-productive. The right working mindset can only follow after a kind, forgiving and understanding mindset towards all of my personal flaws.

What has 2020 taught me about love

1. No matter how much you love someone, spending all of your time with the same person is a challenge

There are many reasons why this happens. You get bored, you ran out of things you can do or talk about, you get annoyed at the tiniest of things. Your judgement gets clouded and all of a sudden you explode at the tiniest of things.

2. Having “me time” matters a lot

Precisely because of the above-mentioned point, having “me time” has never been more crucial than this year. Both Felix and I needed some time to unwind, to spend some time apart, and then come back home relaxed and with a fresh point of view. I have talked before about the importance of being alone for a while and 2020 strengthened each and every one of those points even more.

3. Compromise is not enough

Why? Because people tend to compromise over everything and anything, only to end up going to their old habits in no time. What truly matters is whether you are obeying the agreements you made with your partner. It is better to make a few compromises and really stick to them, then to promise the world, and then fulfill nothing.

4. Trusting, listening to, and respecting your partner matters more than saying “I love you”

Staying at home with my boyfriend meant that my boyfriend is the only person whom I can talk to in person whenever I want to. This year I learned that it is of paramount importance to trust my partner that if I share your thoughts and fears, he will listen without any judgement.

And then there is the point of respect. Sometimes, we criticize our partners. The question is, can we trust them that they will still respect us, love us, support us, even when we end up fighting and possibly saying cruel words? One can only hope so and this is precisely why trust, communication and respect mattered more to me this year than simply hearing my boyfriend telling me “I love you”.

5. There is no space for power dynamics and ego tripping in love

2020 has taught me that we can only try to do our best, but that if we truly love someone, we have to try to stop keeping a score at home. I used to be mad at my boyfriend for the tiniest of things. Not sure why, but I wanted to show him I worked more both at work and home and that he should try to support me more by helping me in our household.

However, this year I realized two things: firstly, this was my ego talking; secondly, he should not be “helping” me with anything. Saying he needs to help me implies that I have the largest responsibility to maintain our home and that he “helps” just because he is kind. Instead, we share the responsibility and we can only try to do it as balanced as possible. I have realized that when he is not doing something is not because he wants to annoy me, but because these things do not matter to him as much as they matter to me.

What has 2020 taught me about family

what has 2020 taught me about family

1. We forget that life is short

This point does not necessarily need to go into the family category, but 2020 has really made me realize how much I fear loosing my family. Out of all of the struggles I had this year, the fear of possibly not seeing my family was paralyzing me the most. On the one hand, I kept on thinking how my parents and my grandmother are in the risk-age category and how they have to limit their movement, but on the other, I also thought that about the harmful side effects from the lock-down on their mental health.

2. Our family is our best friend

I do not know what I would have done this year had it not been for my parents and my sister. When times got really rough, they kept on showing me that they have my back unconditionally. Be it their kind words, generous advice or cheerful conversations, they made everything seem easier than what it really was. What has 2020 taught me about family is that my family is my best friends.

3. I care more about the health of my family than my own

This correlates a lot to the first point above. All year long I had this taught that even if I catch the virus, I will most likely be fine because I am young and relatively fit. But, I was non-stop scared – and still am – about my sister and her husband; as well as about my family in Macedonia.

4. Living abroad and living through a pandemic gives a whole other dimension to the word family

Prior to the pandemic, I was going to Macedonia on average twice a year. This year, I went to Macedonia in February and in August, so it was not that different than other years. But, the thought that my parents are there, and I am in Germany; as well as the thought that I might be forbidden to travel was making me want to see them more than ever.

In addition, I was constantly thinking what we shall do if something bad happens. I felt guilty for being here; for choosing my comfort and my career over the chance to be there for them and help them with whatever they need. In a way, I was battling thoughts on what are my values and priorities; what I fear the most; or, what would be the ideal family situation during the pandemic.

Prior to the pandemic, living abroad and not seeing my family was a choice. The pandemic made it a must and this made me struggle a lot.

5. Sometimes, the best we can do about our family is to do nothing

It is hard to admit this, but good intentions do not always result in good deeds. This year I learned that I have to firstly clearly understand what my family needs and want before I proceed to making “surprises” that might simply backfire. Every person is different, and the pandemic has taught me that every person’s fears are also different. So, take a minute to hear and understand those fears or thoughts before you decide to do something for someone.

What has 2020 taught me about myself

what has 2020 taught me about myself

1. Self-care, gratitude and kindness are my personal holy trinity

This year I chose to prioritize self-care and be kind to myself every time when I felt like I was a bad employee, daughter or girlfriend. To forgive myself and try to do better the next day. This mindset made me so resilient and I am so grateful for this. I think developing these skills – if I can name them as such – has been a truly ground-breaking moment for me. Despite all of its challenges, I think I will be forever thankful to 2020 for teaching me how to deal with a crisis. Going through this year simply by prioritizing these above work performance is more than enough for me.

2. Mental health is my priority

We cannot expect to achieve anything or to help anyone if we are not taking care of our mental health. I know that this is still a taboo topic for many, which is why I tried to raise awareness about it during the “Mental health awareness month“.

Yet, the questions remains: how do we actually prioritize mental health? In my opinion, every minute of the day we have a choice: to face our struggles or avoid them and suppress them. I am a natural problem-solver and the idea to “ignore it until it disappears” terrifies me.

So, what has 2020 taught me about my mental health is that taking care of it does not necessarily mean talking to a psychologist or battling depression. Sometimes, it is simply going for a small walk, cooking a healthy meal, organizing your thoughts in a diary, doing the things you love. We are our mental health, and our mental health is us.

3. I struggle and this is OK

Read this again. You struggle too – in one way or another – and this is OK.

Our struggles do not make us less of a person and they certainly do not define us. However, how we face them and overcome them can determine our overall well-being.

4. I struggle to say “NO” and this is not OK

There were so many times during the pandemic when I wanted to say “no” because that was the reasonable answer, but I simply could not. It was not even only about saying “no”; sometimes it was about asking people to keep their distance from me in the supermarket, or saying “no” to a hand-shake. Yet, somehow I always chose to not “hurt” these people over protecting myself by simply saying “no”! I only hope that 2021 will be the year when I will learn better to not accept everything from everyone.

5. I need the support of other people more than I could have ever imagined

Honest conversations. Help at work. Some fun chatting to take my mind off the craziness in the world. All of this and so much more thanks to the special people in my life! What has 2020 taught me is that I say too little “thank you” and “I love you” to all of these amazing people in my life.

So, at the end of this year and at the start of the next – here is a toast to them. To the people who make everything bearable, to the ones who support me, to the ones who give purpose to my life: you are everything to me. Thank you!

And here is also a huge thank you and happy new year to all of you my dear readers! You have transformed my passion for writing into something more than just a hobby. I am not sure if you will ever understand how grateful I am for this and I can only hope that you will stand by my side in 2021 as well. <3

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