What Can We Learn About Ourselves as We Look Back over 2020?

Photo by 胡 卓亨 on Unsplash

This year has been a crazy one to say the least. Thinking back to goals I set myself last January feels like conducting an archaeological dig on a long lost world. We were so used to measuring our worth by achievement and status that the events of this year left lots of us questioning what to do now. And it doesn’t look like next year will give us much sense of ‘normality’ either. So now, as we come to the end of the year, it’s a good time to take a look back at your year in order to think about the next one. So here are three thinking points to help you take stock of how this year has been.

Looking back over the year, I can see a lot of that newfound time was spent slowing down, and giving myself space to process the chaos that we found ourselves thrown into.

What did you end up enjoying this year?

For me, I enjoyed having more time. I’d always known that I hated commuting and had always tried to find ways that I could reduce the time I spent doing it. Funnily enough, a global pandemic wasn’t one way I’d considered! However, it’s definitely a positive for me from this year.

Looking back over the year, I can see a lot of that newfound time was spent slowing down, and giving myself space to process the chaos that we found ourselves thrown into. I enjoyed a lot of walks to the park, and in the summer, particularly enjoyed sitting in the sun for leisurely periods before starting work.

But now I can feel that familiar sense of ‘achievement chasing’ creeping back in, telling me that I should have made more of that time, that I wasn’t productive enough. Which leads me on to thinking point number two.

If we give up trying to control things, we find a sense of peace that gives us more resilience in the face of change.

What are you happy to leave behind in 2020?

I mean, Covid aside, there are two main things I’m happy to sling onto the fire of 2020 and free myself from. The first is achievement chasing.

When the world was thrown into chaos, it became so clear that chasing achievement is our way of trying to exert a strong sense of control over our lives. But this year has taught me that no matter how hard you want to control something, life will always find a way to do whatever it wants. It became clear that chasing achievements is just a modern type of neurosis we’ve developed to cope with that fact that really, we can’t control anything. And actually, I’m beginning to learn that if we give up trying to control things, we find a sense of peace that gives us more resilience in the face of change. I also had time to reflect on what achievement really means anyway. The markers of success have just been taught to us as part of our particular brand of ‘American Dream’ capitalism. As if, when you die, you will check off a list and feel happy that you had that job title, and that salary, and those clothes, and that car, and that many likes…

The other thing I’m happy to leave behind in 2020 along the same lines is comparison. I didn’t realise how insidious this one was until the world forced me to stop spending time among people. While I’ve been pretty immune to social media comparison, just because I’ve always found using it more hassle than it’s worth, I had no idea just how much I compared myself to other people when I’m out and about. Do I look as smart as her? Should I be wearing that type of skirt everyone seems to be wearing? Is my rucksack too tatty? Do I need that kind of make-up?

I honestly had no idea that I did this. I knew I’d always been susceptible to the ‘ideal body’ myth which I bought into hard as a teenager and have been slowly un-programming myself from ever since. But who knew I was still comparing my appearance so negatively to other people all the time? It’s like a weird form of advertising — if everyone is looking the same and I look different, maybe I should be looking the same as them so I fit in? But this year has given me the chance to not think about what I wear or how I look, and through that, I’m now clear on who I am, and who I am not. I love lounge-wear and jeans and colourful jumpers. I will never look smart, smart clothes make me feel like someone else. Sometimes I like make-up. Sometimes I don’t. And mostly, I’ll do anything possible to avoid wearing socks for some reason.

So let’s make it our collective goal to leave comparison and achievement chasing in the fires of 2020.

Fear stops us from doing a lot of things in life that we want to do. We fear rejection, embarrassment and judgement. But the fear of other people’s opinions shouldn’t stop us from being who we want to be and following our passions.

What parts of yourself do you want to explore in 2021?

I think it’s fair to say that life is still going to be odd for at least the first part of 2021. Who knows, maybe we’ll never go back to normal again? But this year has shown us that life is short and there are no guarantees about anything, so why hold back? Fear stops us from doing a lot of things in life that we want to do. We fear rejection, embarrassment and judgement. But the fear of other people’s opinions shouldn’t stop us from being who we want to be and following our passions. If you could do anything, if failure wasn’t an option, what would you do? Who would you be? Or think of yourself as an old person looking back at their life — what did you always wish you had had the courage to do?

Times like this when everything around us is changing can be a time to free us from the things that have kept us stuck, and allow us the freedom to be who we truly want to be.

For me, I’ve always wanted to play guitar and sing in a band. But for as long as I can remember, the idea of doing it has filled me with such fear — fear of failure, embarrassment, rejection — you name it, I’ve felt it. But this year, with live music being taken away from us, with open mic nights and band rehearsals still looking like they’re a long way from coming back, something in me has changed. When the option to do it has been taken away, I’ve suddenly realised how the fear of doing it, is nothing compared to the fear of trying and failing. Because I know that old person version of me looking back will always regret not having tried something, rather than having tried and failed. So whenever the pandemic allows it again, exploring this side of myself is something I know I need to do.

So as you head towards the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021, take stock of the year that has been, and find ways to look forward to the year that is next. You might be surprised what you learn about yourself.

Stevie Cooke is a London-based writer and content creator. You can find out more about her at www.stevie-cooke.com

Writer, content creator and non-fiction nerd. Loves big ideas and dogs. Who doesn’t? www.stevie-cooke.com

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