December is here! The year 2020 is finally coming to an end. I daresay that 2020 has been a particularly interesting year for everyone, packed with several challenges. At a personal level, while this has been a year filled with several teachable moments almost every other day, here are some of the most important lessons I learnt in 2020:
Lesson 1: Enjoy Your Own Company
I’ve always prided myself for having large groups of friends who I frequently spend time with and meet. This year made me realize how important it is to deeply appreciate one’s own company. Spending time by myself really helped me connect with my core, and I realized the value of being in allowance for the creation of that space for communication with the self.
Lesson 2: Take It Easy
I love what I do, and the downside of it is that sometimes I become a complete workaholic. This year made me realize how one can get tired of doing the things one loves, and it is important to take ample time out of one’s busy schedule to simply relax. During the lockdown, one of the coping mechanisms I devised was immersing myself in my work. In the months leading from June to September, I think I was working more than 16 hours a day, and it affected my emotional health in a negative manner. Gifting myself a “Do Nothing” day was difficult, but it really helped me wind down my mind. Try it sometime and let me know how it went for you!
Lesson 3: It’s Okay To Take A Few Steps Backwards
Have you ever tried aiming at a target? In order to make the arrow strike the target, you first need to pull the string of the bow backwards. The further behind it goes, the greater is the distance travelled by the arrow. Similarly, in life, sometimes in order to move forward, it is necessary to first take a few steps back. The lockdown led to the pause of a passion-project of mine, and it led me to feel quite dejected. However, the lockdown also generated new opportunities my way and helped me broaden my horizon. Growth is not always linear, and 2020 made me realize how every setback can be treated as a stepping-stone to success, and it’s not just a phrase that finds place in motivational pieces. With things opening, the passion-project has resumed with even more vigour and flair than before, and for that, I am profoundly grateful.
Lesson 4: Never Underestimate Yourself Or Your Abilities
I have a tendency of beating myself up every time things don’t go as planned. The way 2020 turned out was not in anyone’s plans, and It forced all of us – including me – to step out of the comfort-zone and adapt to the new situation. It’s not been easy, but I’ve definitely emerged stronger and more resilient than before.
Lesson 5: Say ‘No’ Without Feeling Guilty
While COVID-19 negatively impacted the professional lives of several people, it did boost my business as people began prioritizing mental health and seeking help for their mental and emotional wellbeing. With respect to self-care, I learnt to not take on every client who enquires for a counselling session to ensure I don’t experience a burnout without feeling guilty about doing so. Over the years, I have become better at prioritizing myself and saying ‘no’ when required, but it’s still a difficult thing to practice in the context of my loved ones. This year, I learnt to draw boundaries with the ones I love and stopped giving into their demands when it was not convenient for me without feeling scared of losing them or hurting them. 2020 has made me realize that saying ‘no’ is not that big a deal. People are not so delicate that they’ll be shattered because you haven’t done them a small favour. They’ll get over it, and the ones who don’t are people you really don’t need in your life. There’s no need to feel guilty about saying ‘no’.
Lesson 6: Never Take Anything For Granted
The lockdown made me aware of the number of things I have taken for granted in my life without even meaning to. When the lockdown began, I realized the extent to which I took my freedom for granted. Being cooped indoors for days on end made me realize how much I actually enjoy going out – for work, to meet friends, to watch a movie – basically, for anything! In the month of May, there was a fire in my building, and we all had to be evacuated. With no electricity and water for some days (eighteen to be precise), once again, I realized how I had taken even having a safe home for granted. This year has truly made me feel grateful for every little thing that I have in my life.
Lesson 7: Surround Yourself With People Who’ve Got Your Back
There is never a good time for your house to catch fire, but it is safe for me to say that the pandemic made it worse! At the time of the fire, Mumbai was in lockdown with extremely stringent measures in place and travel-restrictions. No taxis or private cab services were running. Staying in an apartment on the seventeenth floor with no elevators functioning and no electricity and water for an indefinite period of time was not at all an experience I wanted to have. I consider myself fortunate to be blessed with people who went above and beyond to ensure my life continues with ease and joy. I had friends who drove down to take me to their place, and then to another friend’s place (when their building did not give permission to non-residents to enter the former’s building premises due to the risk of the coronavirus). The eighteen days I stayed were comfortable and my friends did their best to ensure I always felt at home at their place. Going back to a house that I’d abandoned for eighteen days without any preparation was another thing I was not looking forward to (think: food in the refrigerator that hasn’t been operational for weeks, damp clothes in the washing-machine that I was still to dry, dishes in the sink that I hadn’t been able to wash), but once again, I am grateful to another friend who helped me clean my entire apartment and made it feel like home again. This entire episode made me realize the importance of building, nurturing and valuing relationships. When one is stumbling, one needs friends that will help one discover their inner strength, not bring them down further. Be that friend to other people – if you’ve got their back, they’ll get yours too.
Lesson 8: Prioritize
While we may wish that we had all the time in the world, the sad truth is that we don’t! Build your life around things that matter to you because you don’t have a lot of time to do all the nothings that you want!
Lesson 9: Ask For Help
We don’t always have all the answers. It is alright to seek guidance from others when you find that you don’t know how to help yourself. Turn to your near and dear ones to assist you in your life’s journey – they will be happy to help because they know you’ll do the same for them! Also remember that no one can read minds. When you want to be helped, you need to ask for it.
Lesson 10: Explore
I enjoy travelling. Learning about new places, different people and different cultures is the fastest way of expanding one’s Universe. Of course, with travel restrictions imposed due to COVID-19, the one thing I really learnt was to actually explore the place I live in with an attention to detail like never before. With no restaurants delivering food, and no delivery apps to send groceries at my doorstep or supermarkets to buy from, this was the first time in my life that I bought ration from local vendors. It also made me realize how little I know about the area I’ve been living in for almost four years now. Travel is not just about going to exotic locations and fancy destinations. Sometimes, one needs to explore the very place one lives in from a completely different eye.
Lesson 11: Declutter
This year, indeed, taught a lot of people how to be more with less. I realized how little I actually need to live a happy life, and it made me eager to get rid of things I don’t really need to make room for things in life that I actually want. One needs to declutter not just with respect to things one has hoarded over time, but also let go of grudges, past pain, and other negative emotions to truly feel the positive experience that is life. It also made me realize we not only clutter our living spaces and our hearts, but also our days, in general – how we tend to fill our days with activities and things that are not really needed, that don’t really contribute to our growth, that only drain us, and how it is possible for all of us to do away with that.
Lesson 12: Social Media Breaks Are Awesome
At the onset of the lockdown, I took a break from social media as I was getting overwhelmed and triggered by the turning of the pandemic into a series of productivity challenges. I realized that even though I was not active on social media, I still was in touch with people in my life who mattered and staying away from news that triggered in any fashion did wonders to my wellbeing.
Lesson 13: Play To Your Strengths
No one is perfect but everyone has certain things they do really well. Focus on those and hone those skills. Playing to one’s strengths always leads to success.
Lesson 14: There’s No Escaping Inner Work
2020 pushed us to face all the things we’ve dreaded the most in life – many reported feeling lost, lonely, empty, sad; many found themselves recognizing their self-sabotaging patterns of behaviour; several others reported feeling a sense of loss of identity or not liking the person they seemed to be becoming. I found myself oscillating between highs and lows for quite some part of 2020, and it made me realize that inner work is, indeed, a continuous process, and one we cannot escape from if we aspire to grow and thrive.
Lesson 15: Hobbies Are Good For You
Invest time in developing a hobby. Hobbies are good for you! They help you recharge, increase your confidence-levels, and help you strike a balance between work and other areas of your life. During the pandemic, I was able to make more time for reading, and it, indeed, was a better way for me to spend my time than mindlessly scrolling through my social media feed or binge-watching shows on streaming platforms.
Lesson 16: Learning Is A Lifelong Process
I have always found the work of Martin Seligman in the field of Positive Psychology ground-breaking. This pandemic, I took out time to complete a specialization offered by an online course learning provider, and also enrolled for a post-graduate certificate course in clinical supervision. Before the pandemic, I kept putting away further learning opportunities because I falsely believed that I knew everything there was to possibly know in the field of Psychology, and also because, I dreaded the prospect of coming face-to-face with my inability to return to studies after such a long gap. Online learning platforms not only helped me pick up new skills at my convenience; I was also made aware of how learning is ongoing, and one should always sign up for a new course every now and then to stay updated on recent developments.
Lesson 17: Never Compromise On Your Core Values And Never Undermine Your Worth
I’ve been in the field of mental health for several years. When I began my private practice, a lot of peers told me that my practice would never take off because I was quite expensive. While my fee is set to a sliding-scale and there was a revision due to the pandemic, I do admit that I am on the higher end when compared to other mental health professionals out there. I also refuse pro bono work, because with overheads to meet, no matter how great the cause, I believe my time needs to be valued in money when it comes to the professional space. I will be completing five years of private practice early in 2021, and I know I am successful today, and being recognized for the good work I do. My clients value me and the work we do together and believe themselves to be worth the money they spend on themselves.
Lesson 18: Treat Others The Way You Want To Be Treated
I run my own organization in the field of mental health, and it breaks my heart to say, that I am actually one of the very few organizations in India that pay interns for the work they do. The pandemic made me realize the extent of exploitation that exists in the field of mental health with organizations charging people money to make the latter work for them! Just like I don’t work for free, I don’t believe in having people working for me free of cost. A peer once told me that I was extremely foolish to be paying interns when other organizations were using the demand for internships as a source of revenue generation for themselves; however, I just could not bring myself to resort to such means.
In the personal space, while I loved doing things my way, I often got irritated when others did not do things my way. This lockdown, I have learnt the true value of cooperation, and find myself more accepting to the different ways of others.
Lesson 19: For Every Action, There Is An Equal And Opposite Reaction
Newton’s third law of motion is not restricted to the physics textbook alone. There are consequences for every word you say, every decision you make, every way you behave. It is important to hold oneself accountable and responsible for one’s words and actions.
Lesson 20: Appreciate Where You Are In The Present Moment.
It’s easy to fall in love with the finished product. It’s easy to fall in love with a success-story. However, we spend more time travelling the journey than at the destination, and the key to happiness is loving that part of your that’s messy, chaotic, flawed, and filled with other imperfect bits that make you human. Loving myself and appreciating where I am at the present moment is the most important lesson that 2020 taught me. We all have faults and it is a common human tendency to feel insecure and fearful because of them. No one is perfect and being human means being fabulous despite the presence of flaws. This year, I realized that I need to stop being overly critical of myself. Life is beautiful, as am I. Loving oneself is the first step towards loving another being. Be kind to yourself always.
What did 2020 teach you?