Wisdom//

10 Surprising Things We Learned About Ourselves This Year

As 2020 comes to an end, we’re reflecting on the unexpected lessons we discovered along the way.

Fizkes/ Shutterstock
Fizkes/ Shutterstock

As 2020 comes to an end and we reflect on a year that presented us with so much uncertainty, it can certainly be tempting to dwell on the negative. But this tumultuous year has also allowed us to look inward, grow, connect with others in new ways, and live our lives in ways we never could have imagined. And as we look forward to 2021, it’s important that we take a moment to reflect on what we learned about ourselves this year. 

We asked our Thrive community to share the surprising things they learned in 2020. Which of these lessons did you learn this year?

How strong our friendships are

“I was upset about not being with friends on my birthday this year, but little did I know, my best friend in San Francisco planned a Zoom birthday party for me with all of my friends. They even had a Jeopardy game based on questions from my life. It made me realize how much warmth and friendship I’ve cultivated throughout the years, and how strong they are. I have felt really isolated and alone this year, but this moment made me realize the power of friendship.”

—Emily Fang, community lead in media, Singapore

How to let go

“Amidst the challenges of lockdown this year, I have learned the power of letting go. I’ve learned that to be happy with myself, I don’t need botox, three-color hair processing, eyelash extensions, or a professional manicure.  I don’t need to own the latest, fastest laptop or smartphone. I am releasing old habits and gaining wisdom. I have gratitude for what I have and who I am. What I do need is my family and friends to be safe and well.”

—Jennifer Ettinger, strategist, Cleveland, OH 

How to sit with discomfort 

“2020 has taught me to sit with discomfort. In the past, I used to ignore difficult feelings and sweep them under a rug. Halfway through this year, I found that I had no space left under that rug! I decided to start facing my emotions once the pandemic hit. At first, the process was overwhelming and confusing, but the more I sat, the more the dust started to settle. Sitting quietly with myself helped me understand the core of these underlying issues and gave me space to work on mending them. In a year of total disconnection, I feel more connected to myself than ever.”

—Grace Edy, leadership coach, UK

How to savor our alone time

“A big lesson I learned about myself during the pandemic has been how much over-stimulation drains my energy and affects my overall well-being. The increase in alone time during the pandemic has taught me how important it is to recharge, carve out time in my day for less stimulation, and simply enjoy a moment alone.”

—Sarah Rudman, operations manager, Boston, MA

How to press pause

“This year, I learned that busyness is a state of mind — not a calendar appointment. At the beginning of the pandemic, I scheduled back-to-back virtual meetings constantly. My calendar was full and my energy was depleted. Around summertime, I realized busyness doesn’t equate to happiness, productivity, or even revenue. I began scheduling time to do my real job — to authentically connect, process, and create. That’s the work that matters.”

—Stacy Cassio, CEO, Charlotte, NC

How flexible we can be when WFH

“When the pandemic first hit, I was very concerned about working remotely. I am an extrovert and love being around people. I ended up adjusting and realizing that I was not only very productive while working at home, but I could also create a better balance for myself with quick walks, exercise breaks, and mediations when my schedule allowed. I’ve also connected virtually with more people this year than I would in a typical year attending conferences or networking events. I can say that I am looking to have a more flexible work style going forward.”

—Isabelle Bart, life coach, Orange County, CA

How to unplug when we need to

“What I learned to be most beneficial during 2020 was the power of shutting down my social media accounts. I deleted my accounts, and doing so instantly reduced my stress and anxiety. I have good, meaningful conversations with people that choose to talk to me, and I find I am more productive without the distractions of my feed.”

—BAM, film and TV, Victoria, BC, Canada

How to use writing to reflect

“I’ve learned this year that the ritual of penning details has provided me with an opportunity to regroup, reflect and reframe. Through all the hardships that this year has brought, which included losing my dear dad, I’ve found some comfort in writing about the experience and reflecting on the positive moments we’ve shared together. I’ve learned that writing provides me with the opportunity to look back so that I can move forward.”

—Marta Rzeszowska Chavent, change and management consultant, France 

How to reconnect with our kids

“What I loved about 2020 was getting to reconnect with my two young sons through play, and discovering that even in the most difficult times, we can still laugh, love, and unlock new talents.  At the urging of my children, I’ve picked up archery, felting, sketching and smashed birdies in outdoor badminton.  I’ve sat through Minecraft tutorials, ripped Beyblades in the arena, and even welcomed a rescue puppy into our home which I’ve resisted for years.”

—Mo Fong, tech executive and women’s leadership coach, Cupertino, CA

How to take a leap in our careers

“Earlier this year, I felt burned out, disconnected from friends and family, and aimless. I went back to the drawing board, identified my actual values, and prioritized my self-care above all else. I was scared, but a little voice kept telling me to go for it. I did my research, studied, and ended up quitting my corporate job to start my own business as a freelance writer. It was a hard decision, but I knew it was the right one. I jumped and haven’t looked back since. If it wasn’t for the pandemic, I don’t know if I would have pulled the plug.”

—Nita Diaz, freelance health and wellness writer, Alberta, Canada

What was one lesson you learned in 2020? Share it with us in the comments!

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