We’ve come to the end of a mad, unprecedented, completely upended year on a global scale — one that all of humanity shared. As we do, like most everyone else I’ve reflected on the year past and the new one beginning.
This evening in a Zoom virtual happy hour a group of my best friends does regularly, one friend said she felt disappointed that she hadn’t accomplished more in 2020. The comment struck me, and caused me to think about the guilt we so easily pile on ourselves, atop the grief and anxiety and very real concerns the pandemic brought to all of us.
I believe that many (if not most) of us can feel like underachievers, or like we wasted so much extra time that we had on our hands while staying home, because we failed to “accomplish” much.
I disagree. I think we accomplished a hell of a lot. I know I did. So did you.
Here’s what I didn’t do in 2020:
I didn’t learn a new language.
I didn’t take up a new hobby, become an avid knitter or skilled photographer.
I didn’t get a master’s degree online.
I didn’t cook gourmet meals alongside celebrity chefs.
I didn’t Marie Kondo my house.
I didn’t embark on a tough new exercise regimen that overhauled my body.
What I did was far less ambitious, perhaps, and far less sexy. But I think it’s also more real, more authentic and truly self-growth—and I think it’s the type of “accomplishments” that most of us survived the past year with.
I stayed safe and healthy.
I sought out the support of my family and friends, and I gave it whenever I could.
I gave myself permission to feel scared, grieving and sad at times.
I comforted myself with things that truly brought me joy, such as yoga and cozying my home nest and even simply napping more.
I reconnected with people, really savoring my relationships and spending time getting to know those close to me on a deeper level.
I spent time sitting with myself in whole new ways.
I allowed myself to take the time I needed to traverse this extremely difficult time, to go at my own pace, and allowed myself to feel all the things that went along with that—without judgment, without beating myself up.
I learned to be (mostly) okay with uncertainty, or at least accept it.
I think it’s simply this last that perhaps brings home my point: We humans often expect far too much from ourselves, and when we add those expectations on top of something like a global pandemic and the very real dangers and fears that brings, we set ourselves up to fail.
I feel that I “accomplished” everything I really needed to in 2020—and so did you. We’re here, aren’t we?
I often think about the single most breakthrough moment of therapy I’ve ever had in my life. It was after an extremely dysfunctional relationship with a toxic person—one that I spent far too much time beating myself up about. Why wasn’t I smart enough to see him for who he was in the beginning? Why wasn’t I strong enough to get out earlier? Why did I waste so much time with him and the relationship?
At one point, after saying basically these things for the nth time to the Ahimsa counseler I was seeing (Ahimsa is rooted in Buddhist principles, particularly that of compassion including self-compassion), she looked at me steadily and simply said:
“Did you ever think that you were in it for exactly how long you needed to learn what you had to learn from it?” And then she uttered the words that completely turned everything around for me: “What would it look like if you gave yourself a break? How would it feel if you simply gave yourself some compassion, allowed it to be, and move on from it in peace?”
It perhaps sounds simple (it is) and obvious (it wasn’t to me, at the time). But it was an a-ha moment for me, and one I’ve thought about time and again in the decade-plus since when I’ve encountered obstacles—particularly those in which I find myself being hard on me. As that old 90s song goes, “Every now and then I kick the living shit out of me.” Yes, we are all good at that from time to time.
I look at 2020 with the same principle and viewpoint. Be kind to yourself. Have compassion for yourself, and know that you did the best you could. You did what you needed to make it through. You don’t need to worry about what you did or didn’t “accomplish.” You are here. That is enough.
You will never have this very moment again. What will you do with it? Perhaps, close your eyes, breathe deeply, and think about something that makes you happy. Savor it.