This was, undoubtedly, a challenging year for humans. A year that tested patience, bank accounts, cultures, beliefs, immune systems, families, and schools. A year that took away traveling, restaurants, dinners, jobs, childcare... and lives. It's glaringly obvious how much we lost this year, but for the sake of learning hard lessons and leaning into gratitude, it's also important to consider what we have gained.
A few weeks ago, I sent a survey out on social media. I've included some of the bigger themes that came up in those responses in the correlating sections below.
What We Lost
The list of things we lost this year is long and uncomfortable. We lost friends and family members, jobs and income, long-awaited events and experiences, like weddings and senior year of high schools. 90th birthday's went uncelebrated. Babies were born to mothers alone in the hospital. What we lost goes deeper than all of these obvious things and is showing up in our increased level of national anxiety.
Security & Comfort. We have lost a general sense of security. For a lot of the country, even going to the grocery store can be anxiety provoking. Many people I speak with describe being able to visualize the path that a germ takes from the handle of the grocery cart into their body. Have you had the experience while watching a show of questioning why people are actually sitting that close together before recognizing that it was likely filmed in a pre-covid world? We've lost the luxury of not considering contamination. With that loss, comes anxiety, fear and isolation.
Support Systems. Furthering our isolation is the loss or dampening of major social and familial support systems. Historically, when things get tough, we can lean on friends, family or social groups for support. Covid stripped us of many of those supports. From what I have gathered, functioning without them has been arguably the most challenging part of living through quarentine. Raising children while working full time, nursing homes allowing no visitors, and children interacting with friends in limited and careful ways all are examples of parts of our supports that we used to take for granted.
Sense of Control & Self Agency. At the end of the day, we all really want some control and self agency. We want to know what tomorrow looks like, how to protect our families and how to keep our parents from breaking all of the social Covid rules. It feels to a lot of people like they have lost control of the outcome, their income, and their lives. When school is vassalating between online and in person, when jobs are virtual and then not, when the routine is different day to day and "pivoting" is the new normal expectation, we are left to feel a little ripped around.
What We Learned
With the losses mounting up and the grief taking hold, we are left to look around at the wreckage and wonder... why us? Is there a lesson here? What Can I take away from this? Is there ANYTHING that I can appreciate about this time? I, like you, have read all of the articles about gratitude and how people have found hope. I'm not sure why it came as such a surprise to me that so many people felt so optimistic when looking back on this challenging year. A year that was spent in more social isolation really forced people to understand their situations and think about what they wanted in life.
Resilience. A word that came up repeatedly when people were asked what they learned was "resilience." Looking back to March, when we were watching the wave of Covid slowly roll across the country, people did not understand their tolerance. And now, when asked, "What did you learn?" they respond with "resilience." How to be strong, power through something uncomfortable and remain standing on the other side. Resilience is one of the most powerful predictors of people being okay or recovering after a traumatic event.
What is Important. Beyond resilience, people spoke of what they found to be important now. Family, friends, experiences, all things that we historically have taken for granted. The opportunity for a healthy kid to go to soccer, the non birthing partner sitting in on the 20 week ultrasound, having Thanksgiving with your family. The hardest part of this lesson, to me, seems to be, why did it take us all this long to really understand the important of these things? They have been important all along. But, with the missing pieces of these things all around it's the only time we have been able to clearly understand exactly how impactful the events and people in our lives are to our well being. We want connections. We want celebrations. We want our people close. .
How To Gather. Priya Parker wrote a book called "The Art of Gathering" in 2018 about how to be intentional about getting together and how to make meaning out of those times. If the year of Covid has taught us anything, it's the absolutely necessity of intentional gathering. What matters to people is connecting with others and we have successfully figured out ways to celebrate and come together via technology and the outdoors. Zoom dinners, cocktail parties, magic shows, show viewing parties, backyard dinners, fire pits, and front porches are coming back.
Flexibility. Gone our the days when you can cancel a date, what is your excuse now that they are all on Zoom?! Something we learned this year was how to be flexible. Many professionals have found themselves working from home and (dare I say...) enjoying it. In the survey we sent out, many people learned to love the flexibility of working from home and the ability to throw in a load of laundry between work calls.
How to Move Forward
Take the good. What did you learn this year? Did you start a new hobby? Learn a new language? Whatever you learned about yourself and your family, write it down. Keep it close. Don't forget what pulled you through when we were stripped of the luxuries we are usually privileged to enjoy.
Gratitude. Most people know the tragedy of the fact that you can't recognize a good thing until it's gone. The empowering part of 2020 is the part where we all got a glimpse of the things we never before thought to appreciate. I remember reading the article in the New York Times about a man sitting down for his first lunch out at Veselka after the initial lockdown... and while I can recognize the privilege that he held in even writing those words, the gratitude in his thoughts will resonate forever.
Mindfulness. Be mindful of time together. It's not always guaranteed.
Love your family. Enjoy the flexibility. Prioritize your mental health. And as we move toward the light at the end of the tunnel, remember to appreciate the things we can take for granted.