Lessons 2020 Have Left Me With
And I patiently wait for what 2021 will bring.
What a year it has been! 2020 was HARD. Time Magazine even rated 2020 "the worst year ever". Like most people, I had a turbulent year, and yet, 2020 was also one of the most transformative years I've experienced so far. Besides everything else that was taking place in the world, I made the leap over to the freelancing territory; not just after hours, but full-time self-employed. What a year I'd picked! But, I am here, surviving (barely). That's a win, a big win.
Don't get me wrong, I did go through precisely 1 burnout and a very few depressive episodes here and there. Since my teenaged years, I've been struggling with depression, so this particular outcome is, in fact, an improvement... all things considered. I'll continue living with depression, possibly for the rest of my life, and I'm okay with that. After a few years of cognitive behavioural therapy and medications, I can safely say I've become a better friend to myself during the ebbs of life.
I, unfortunately, wasn't born with a high level of happiness baseline, to begin with. For almost 30 years living on Earth, I couldn't say "Happy birthday!", "Happy new year!" or "Happy..." anything to anyone 100% genuinely; or feel the "happiness", the joy that comes with these occasions. Today though, for the first time for as long as I remember, I can say I'm happy, with where I'm at, and with myself, (ignoring the state of the world).
Decades from now, I'll remember 2020 as the year I learned to let go. I realised how many grudges I was still holding onto: against those who have hurt me and against the, um, universe. For being true to who I am, I've been mistreated by others. That hurt became anger. Then anger became walls. I used to wear my rage proudly, not unlike a warrior wearing their best armour into battles. But armour can be heavy to carry around and so is anger — however justified that anger may be. I wanted to let my pain and struggles go, but I didn't know how. I wasn't sure who I would be without my overly-grown resentments.
In the face of a pandemic, my grudges suddenly seemed so meaningless. 2020 made me feel small, even more intensely than before, and for which I'm grateful. I am calmer now. And as a result, my relationships with the people around me improved. I'm more appreciative of those who are in my life, and I'm grateful for the time I spent with those who have left. I've even (somewhat) forgiven myself for the hurt I inflicted onto others.
For the longest time, I had to the tendency to work more than I should have. This year, I (have made an effort to) work less, by merely having more faith in myself and my abilities to make shit happen. To do this, I needed to be 100% honest with myself all the time. The process was much more challenging than I'd expected, especially in the early days. It can be painful even. But the moment I started being honest about what I truly want out life, where I am, where I'm headed, things started falling into places. Everything seems a little easier and a little lighter.
For the time being, I'm trying my best to let go of unfounded belief and fears. When I started letting go of my financial fears, I spend less time spinning my wheels and simply act. Seth Godin said if it's in your head, it doesn't count. Actions are the only thing that does. Not sure what you're doing? Do it anyway. Just do whatever works for you and whatever you enjoy. Niching down or diversify, it doesn't really matter. What matters is you try, and then learn from the experience of attempting something new. Have ideas, execute, test, learn, repeat. Put your work out there consistently and don't give up, then the work will do its part for you. Stop (over)thinking, more doing.
Let's talk about less abstract things, shall we? Some of the big lessons I learned this year weren't new for others, especially for Black and Brown people. I wrote a piece about my non-Black awakening that didn't go viral or made me a shit tone of money; it didn't even make Medium curation — but I had so much pride in writing and releasing it. It was really, really, really hard to write. I felt like my heart was going to explode witnessing and internalising the pain the Black community globally, who have been experiencing this pain for centuries. I was so ashamed of not having known better. So I wrote, to process my feeling, to become anti-racist. After writing it, I was better, in so many ways I could never imagine before.
On the other hand, I also hit 1k views in 2 days with a new Medium post for the first time, which was unexpected. It's still not a viral piece by today's standards, but it was a significant milestone for me personally. I also recently woke up to be a Top Writer in Design on Medium. In November, I won my first design awards. All of my channels grew, slowly but surely. I built my first solo MVP product, for which I've received some tremendous encouragements. Meanwhile, my process and work improve significantly compared to when I first start out as a freelancer. I've also made more art than I've made in years, more than 30 artworks in total.
I earn less now, way less, but it's kinda nice. There's no pressure to get the latest flagship phone, know about the latest news happening on the net, or keep up with my appearance every day. I can be moody on a Monday and turn down calls I don't have the emotional energy for next Wednesday. I can take a nap on a Thursday if that would improve my productivity afterwards. Some days, it almost feels like freedom. Generally, I'm still financially stressed (along with pandemic stress, and other various forms of anxieties). Still, my life has become a race with no one but myself.
I'm not a particularly patient person by nature, although some of my acquaintances would say otherwise. I can act patient if I need to. But generally, I've wanted things to happen yesterday. Despite this, I understand it's unrealistic. 2020 taught me real patience. These days, I let things play out as they need to, however slow (🐢🐢🐢) life can sometimes be. I'm at peace with somethings taking longer than others, and other times, much faster than anyone can handle.
Overall, my focus has shifted from trying to gain attention to paying more attention (and paradoxically as the results, I'm gaining a bit of attention in return). I pay more attention to how I react to different situations. I pay even more attention to how folks around me react to what I do, and I attempt to make decisions that are helpful for everyone involved. Although my achievements may seem small to some people, I believe I'm on the right path, my Path. And because I can clearly see where I'm going next, it's much easier to say no to the paths that aren't meant for me.
Everyone makes mistakes & we all fail sometimes. I learned this lesson particularly early in life. No one wants to be the bad guys, to hurt others, but most of us are exhausted, mentally and physically. So we make decisions and do things that aren't aligned with our beliefs. When this happens, we doubt ourselves because our belief system has gotten shaken or even shattered. Suddenly, we find ourselves where we haven't been before, in the dark. We grasp for air looking for a way out. The longer we're in the dark, the more fears built up in us, the easier for us to lash out.
So many of us are in the darkness right now, even if most would try to convince themselves they are not. Ethics and morals are not being taught in school. In the rare occasions that do happen, they're taught in a form children could understand. Many grown-ups get confused about what's good and evil look like realistically, especially when it's getting harder and harder to pay the bills. Some of us don't bother to learn. It's okay to be lost, to fuck up, to fail miserably. And it's okay to feel lost collectively, especially during a once-in-a-century pandemic. When we start owning our stories, we own how they turn out, from both joy and hardships.
If you feel lost right now, keep showing up for those around you & don't give up. You'll find your way eventually, I'm sure of it. We all need to be brave and walk the walk ourselves, not just talk the talk. And when we find the light, our own individual path, we can help others find theirs. Then, we can all find a better way forward together. Along the way, we may debate, we may get frustrated, but we cannot give up the hope of a better future. Sadly, many people have stopped fighting for that future, they're busy fighting to hoard resources for themselves. Somewhere along the way, they have lost their hope, followed by their humanity.
Wherever you are right now on your journey, keep walking, even if sometimes it feels like what you're doing isn't worth it. Even when you feel hopeless, keep showing up anyway. Every little brick you lay, every little seed you water, every effort will become the foundation for something so much bigger. Nothing is ever truly wasted. If it brings you joy and knowledge, keep doing what you're doing. I never thought I would be where I am right now. I'm only here because, in 2019, I decided I was worthy of my dreams.
For those who survived 2020 without any achievement, I'm glad you're here, my friend. Surviving a pandemic is no small feat, so congratulations! I hope 2021 will treat us all better. No matter what cards life deals you, or what fights you're fighting right now, I hope you're fighting a righteous fight, and that you will fight well. And eventually, I hope you'll find your path.
Happy holidays, everyone! I’ll catch you next year.