13 lessons we learned from 2020

May we all try to take some positives from the unexpected challenges we faced in 2020…

Hindsight is 20/20. Never has this saying felt more relevant, as we all reflect on a very difficult year. On 31 December 2019, with ignorant bliss, we welcomed the clean slate, not only of a new year, but of a new decade, full of hope, plans and resolutions. We quickly realised fate had other plans.

Cue the month of March, when our lives were abruptly put on hold. Forbidden, by law, from leaving our homes and seeing our loved ones (and in some cases, from even buying alcohol and cigarettes). It feels like yesterday and a lifetime ago. No matter who we are, where we live, what we believe in … we all, as a united global community, had to stop and face the unexpected challenges of 2020 head-on.

A new lens

The new year that had us giddy with its promise of shiny new beginnings quickly became a sobering lens on humanity. A lens through which to see ourselves, our actions and indeed the harm we have caused to our planet and each other. It was as if the earth stopped in order to teach humanity some important lessons.

2020 forced us to endure deprivation, isolation, fear, economic devastation, job uncertainty and, for many, food insecurity. It also dealt us unfathomable loss, heartache and grief. It has been frustrating, monotonous, frightening and, at times, very lonely.

On the flip side of that 20/20 lens, this year has been transformative and innovative. Although it robbed us of the many plans, holidays, celebrations and memories we thought we’d create, it also forced us to act, see, think and live differently.

In times of prolonged hardship, we learn, we adapt and we move forward. So although we didn’t ask for this lens nor its difficult lessons, may we try to take some positives from the year we’d all like to forget.

Here are 13 hindsights from the year 2020.

1. Appreciate the pause

Planes were grounded, borders locked down, restrictions were boldly enforced and our lives came to a grinding halt. Whether we liked it or not, this year forced us to slow down and taught us, eventually, to appreciate the pause.

While our personal and social lives took on an uncharacteristically unhurried pace, our work lives (despite working from home) became frantic and uncertain. For the sake of sanity, we had to quickly learn how to maintain balance and boundaries within our homes and we soon learned to surrender gracefully to that which we cannot control.

2. Get hygge with it

They say great things never come from comfort zones, but in times of widespread and seemingly interminable uncertainty, comfort is a necessity. The Danes and Norwegians have this mastered with their invention of the simple concept of hygge: creating an atmosphere of warm, cosy and unapologetic comfort that stimulates happiness and wellbeing.

Home is where the hygge is, and this year, as we worked from home and lived from work, we discovered different ways to find order amidst the chaos of our homes, instil homeliness and create our own indulgent comfort zone cocoons complete with guilt-free comfort food (homemade bread, anyone?).

3. Nature is therapy

Like naughty children banished to our rooms, we soon realised the true, irreplaceable value of nature and the great outdoors. In some countries, limited outdoor exercise was permitted during lockdown; however, many of us were homebound in every sense of the word. Unable to go for long walks, swim in the ocean, hike a mountain, walk the dogs or savour the sunrise and sunset, we learned to appreciate these simple moments within our natural surroundings so much more post-lockdown.

4. There is no plan(et) B

This realisation of just how much our souls crave and rely on nature has reignited our passion and commitment to further protect and conserve those magnificent, but sadly threatened, wild places and creatures.

This year, we can all acknowledge that solastalgia is a real thing: a feeling of distress associated with environmental change close to one’s home. We discovered what cities look like without traffic; we heard birdsong more clearly; we witnessed wildlife curiously exploring previously crowded areas; and we saw the planet heave a sigh of relief as we destructive humans took to our cages for a while.

Factories halted operations, ocean traffic decreased, air traffic was grounded and Mother Nature was able to (temporarily) breathe again. Long-term smog started to lift and we caught an ever so slight glimpse into the very real effect of our carbon emissions and heavy footprint.

2020 has cast a revealing lens on our lives and daily actions and the negative effect they have on our planet. May this year force a fundamental shift in our thinking, behaviour, interactions and the way we treat the earth going forward. Waste less, consume less, recycle more and leave an even lighter footprint. And if you haven’t already, add Sir David Attenborough’s A Life On Our Planet to your December to-do list.

5. Virtual insanity

This year forced us to quickly digitise, well, basically everything! In turn, it has completely revolutionised the way we work, interact and socialise. Not without frustration, we eventually mastered working, schooling, exercising, shopping, cooking, socialising and travelling (!) from the comfort of our newly-created #WFH (work from home) offices and hyggified homes. Ultimately, we proved that working remotely works and many now predict the demise of the traditional office, as more people seek that enigmatic work-life balance.

6. The spirit of ubuntu

If there is one lesson we need to be continually reminded of, it’s that we’re all in this together. 2020 forced us into unwanted isolation, yet our shared challenges revealed a sense of community, both local and global. The Zulu proverb, ubuntu, best describes how we have had to all pull together amidst this crisis: “I am, because you are.” We are all connected.

On a small scale, the solitude inspired us to create new ways to stay connected. Friends and families have committed to staying in touch more and the sense of community has inspired many to reach out and care for thy neighbour. We are all fighting our own battles and a little kindness goes a long way.

And on a global scale, one of the most significant and much-needed lessons of 2020 is equality. As the planet itself seeks healing, so too does humanity. Actions in 2020 incited a global movement for justice, equal rights, freedom and healing that is painfully long overdue. May this continued demand for change, understanding and acceptance continue to expose and eradicate the social injustices of our world and help engender collective healing.

7. Hardship breeds innovation

For better or worse, the last eight or nine months have changed us. Once we accepted that our lives had been disrupted for the long term, we had to quickly adapt in order to navigate the crisis. Our roles at work (and at home) shifted, which required a further shift in mindset.

We became more flexible and innovative, we learned new skills and we learned things about ourselves along the way. They say it takes 21 days to break old habits and form new ones and quarantine certainly forced a sense of creativity, adaptability and new way of thinking.

8. There’s nothing selfish about self-care

Overworking, over-thinking, over-eating … the continued stress and anxiety of 2020 took the guilt out of self-care. We all realised the crucial need to look after ourselves, to forgive ourselves for bad days and to create healthy habits and indulgences to stimulate wellness, both mentally, physically and spiritually.

9. Expect the unexpected

The only certainty is uncertainty. Even in its final hour, so to speak, 2020 continues to throw challenges our way. We have learned, not only to accept change, but to expect it. In turn, this has taught us resilience and perseverance. Always have a plan, but be prepared to change (and ditch) those plans … often.

And, even if they might feel few and far between this year, don’t forget to embrace the happy surprises … and to create them every now and then to brighten the day for others.

10. A new approach to travel

If you didn’t suffer from fernweh pre-2020, well, you do now. A common and relatable affliction among true travel addicts, it literally means “far-sickness” (“fern” meaning “far” and “weh” meaning “pain”). As opposed to homesickness, fernweh is an ache for distant places; an insatiable craving for travel; and a constant yearning to explore faraway lands.

We suddenly learned what life was like without travel and it left us to dream. From armchair safaris and conservation talks, to virtual cooking classes and online missions to teach children how to become rangers … we discovered many ways to keep our voracious appetite for travel alive.

2020 gave us a renewed appreciation for travel, while at the same time reminded us of our shared responsibility to protect our planet. Going forward, many travellers will be taking a more considered approach not only to where and when they will travel, but also to how and why they travel. Here are 10 shifts in the way we’ll travel as we emerge from this pandemic.

11. Laughter is the best medicine

Troubled times bring out a shared sense of humour as a way of coping. 2020 certainly produced some laughable, and truly relatable memes, videos and jokes that reminded us that we’re all in this together. One of my favourites remains the cartoon of a coffee cup and a wine glass on a race course, with an exhausted cup passing the relay baton to a poised, and ready-to-run wine glass. Relatable humour has a way of shedding a brief light on dark times.

12. Forgive and forget

2020 reminded us of the importance of forgiveness. Life is short and our time with each other is fleeting, so try not to take everything to heart. Forgive yourself when you’re having a bad day or an emotional 2020 outbreak (we’ve all been there) and let go of any long-standing beefs and grudges. Forgive, forget and move on with a lighter shoulder and a kinder heart.

13. Always keep an attitude of gratitude

We were deprived of so much this year, which has certainly prompted us to stop taking simple things for granted. 2020 has constantly reminded us to be grateful for what we have and who we share it with. As restrictions are lifted and our freedoms returned, let’s keep reminding ourselves to be grateful for our health, for each other, for the big and small things that make us happy and for the magnificent planet we call home.

Generations from now, plenty will have been written about the highs, lows, truths and lessons of 2020, but we will be the ones that actually lived it. But will we be the generation that actually learns from it? Our generation has the power to take the lessons of 2020 and incite positive global change — environmentally, socially and spiritually — for future generations.

We will all remember the unexpected curve ball that was 2020. Deepest and most heartfelt condolences to everyone that has lost someone this year. May the heartache, anxiety and uncertainty of 2020 be soon replaced with happiness, togetherness and new adventures in 2021.

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