I have a bad habit of looking forward without reviewing the past. Since this year has been full of highs and lows, I really didn’t want my experiences to go to waste. So reflecting on the things I learned in 2020 seemed the right thing to do.
Here’s what I came up with:
1. Lockdown wasn’t so different to my regular life.
I know for a lot of people, lockdown was a really tough transition to make. But for me, I was a little embarrassed to find out that it wasn’t much different to my regular life! I worked from home anyway, my husband would work from home every now and then and the only thing that was different was that I couldn’t do my creative thinking in cafes.
I feel fortunate that my transition into pandemic-life was relatively easy and it allowed me to be fully present to support others who needed it.
2. I’m incredibly fortunate to not live alone.
I can’t imagine how difficult it would have been for those being totally isolated from everyone else. Extroverts would have really struggled, while even introverts had a tough time not having the option to meet up with people.
3. I feel fortunate to not have children to look after.
While I’m certain that having children is a joy and blessing in life, I am so glad I didn’t have any to look after during the thick of it all. So much respect goes out to parents who held down a full time job while homeschooling their kids, effectively doing two jobs at once.
I’d also like to make a special mention to those who don’t have children and had to work extra hard to support the parents in their workplaces. While parents had a legitimate excuse to sign off their laptops at a certain time, those without kids were expected to pick up the extra workload
4. People see the same situation with vastly different lenses.
I live in the UK but am from Melbourne where my family and lots of my friends are. The two locations were in lockdown at different times — I joked that it was like a tag team.
When the UK was in lockdown and I saw my Australian friends posting Instagram photos of them hugging, having people over for dinner and going out. I recall feeling horrified that they would be so irresponsible. (Which they weren’t. They were totally allowed to do all of that!)
Shortly after that, UK residents were freed from isolation and Melbourne went into strict lockdown. Now I was the one posting photos with friends. My mum seemed really concerned about me being out and about at that time, when just a week earlier I felt exactly the same about her.
5. I’m not sure how people survived isolation without dogs.
Hand on heart: I’m certain I would have gone stir crazy without my two furry housemates.
There’s something about the fact that they had no idea what was going on out there in the big bad world that made everything feel ok. In fact, they absolutely loved having me around the home more. It’s so pure that all they want in life is food and my company. Alfie and Pippa are such a blessing in my life and I can’t image it without them.
6. Negative feelings are merely action signals.
My biggest takeaway from Tony Robbin’s Awaken the Giant Within was that negative feelings are a signal for us to do something to change our situation. In the past, I only had two reactions to crappy feelings: 1. Ignore them (my fave) 2. Dwell on them and spiral into a hole of self doubt.
Ignoring negative emotions means you’ll continue to come across situations that cause them because you never fixed the problem. Dwelling on them means attaching a dramatic story onto a situation and replaying it over and over in your head. Both reactions are passive and don’t solve the problem.
Admitting to myself that I’m feeling sad, angry or guilty has been a big hurdle in the past. Now I know how to deal with them: Think about what this negative feeling is telling me, then act.
7. I craved looking forward to events more than the events themselves.
While my day to day life in lockdown wasn’t a big adjustment for me, it was the weekends that really killed me. Instead of having planned events to look forward to (simple ones like seeing friends or going out for a meal), there was nothing.
I really struggled with not having something to look forward to more than the actual events themselves.
8. The idea blowing out candles on a cake seems crazy to me now.
Can you even believe this was a thing?
9. The most disappointing things happen for wonderful reasons.
I’ve experienced this time and time again. If I’m going through a tough time, it’s always because life is forcing me into a direction that it knows is best for me.
Exhibit A: Our home.
Last year we went through an incredibly long and frustrating house-buying process. Long story short, on the day of exchange, our vendor’s onward purchase had it’s ceiling fall through. This delayed things for a good 7 months before we decided to pull out and look for a new place.
Fast-forward to March 2020, both my husband and I were forced to work from home full time. This TOTALLY would not have been possible if we successfully moved into the first home due to it’s layout. Our current home, however, has a spacious, light-filled living room where we can both happily tap away at our laptops.
10. Covering part of my face makes me feel like I’ve lost the ability to express myself.
Losing one part of my communication (facial expressions) completely changes my mood. Luckily for me, it’s only temporary and as soon as I’ve finished at the shops, I can take my mask off and be my full self again.
It’s made me think about how tough it is for people who don’t speak the local language, are physically disabled or come from completely different cultures. These resilient people live each day without being able to fully express themselves. While I’m sure they find ways to adapt, it’s reminded me how fortunate I really am.
11. When you don’t know what to do, do something.
I’m not going to lie. When Coronavirus reared its ugly head and all my potential corporate clients put the brakes on my coaching workshops, I didn’t know what to do. The first year of starting a new business is hard enough without a global pandemic getting in the way!
After a couple of weeks worrying, pondering and trying to plan my way out of this mess, I stumbled across a great piece of advice: “When you don’t know what to do, do something”.
I’d dreamt of starting my own podcast for a while but never put any serious thought into it. It seemed too ambitious for little old me, plus who would listen to me anyway? But with no work coming in, I went all in and began my show, How to be a STEMinist.
I’m so glad I did because:
- I’ve received countless messages from women in STEM saying they’d listened to an episode which helped them overcome a career challenge
- It’s opened up doors for me that I never thought were possible
- I’ve met incredible from the podcasting community
- But most of all, I absolutely love creating each episode!
12. You never know how the people you randomly meet will become a part of your life later.
This has happened on a number of occasions this year, but my favourite story would have to be about meeting Natalie Cheung.
I joined a Facebook group for podcast creators where I came across Natalie’s post about her Yellow Bee Pod show. It’s about what it’s like to grow up as an East or South East Asian in a western society.
After tuning in, I just HAD to share all of my weird experiences of growing up as an Asian in Australia. We organised a call to chat about that, but also learned that Natalie shares my engineering background and now works a coordinator for STEM Ambassadors. I think it’s no coincidence that she shares my maiden name. It really did feel like I was speaking with family.
We kept in touch over the year, and now we’re working together on a professional basis. I’m delivering workshops to help STEM Ambassadors become influential role models to the children they volunteer for.
How often do you come across a friend AND client you can deeply relate to through a Facebook post that was nothing to do with work?
13. People engage with a story, not a list of things to do.
I had written 4 articles this year, posted them up on Medium and received exactly 2 views of all my articles in total. While I still believe those articles were useful, they were “how to” pieces, not stories.
I experimented with writing a personal story about How I Got a Promotion Without Working Any Harder and immediately had two organisations request that my article was included in their publication. That article alone has received over 1.2K views and counting!
Moral of the ahem story… Maya Angelou said it all in her famous quote, “At the end of the day, people won’t remember what you said or did. They will remember how you made them feel.”
14. We want to do stuff more when we lose the freedom to do it.
Lockdown #1: We were allowed to go outside to exercise once per day.
I had literally never seen so many people at my local park running the whole time I’d been living here. It had never been so busy!
Humans are funny creatures — when there’s the risk of something being taken away from them (another example: toilet paper), we want it more than ever!
15. Spending time on my phone has gotten in the way of one my priorities: Reading personal development books.
There are so many personal development books I want to read. In fact my book list gets longer by the week! Although that’s one of my priorities, I still find myself spending precious minutes scrolling aimlessly on my phone.
I’ve now created a daily setting where my phone screen turns greyscale at 8:30pm to discourage me from looking at it.
16. True self confidence comes from being able to trust yourself
Everyone says you should be more confident, but not many people can tell you how. While I’ve been teaching ways to help women in STEM cultivate that confidence, it hit me during this year just how simple it is.
All you need to do is to be fully aware of what your own beliefs and values are, then never stray from them. Always act in alignment with what you believe is right, and you won’t really care what others think. If you can trust yourself fully, you will have self-confidence.
17. I have a bad case of shiny object syndrome.
I’m the type of person who finds it easy to start new things. Maybe it’s the adventurer in me, or maybe I have a short attention span. Either way, I get distracted by shiny objects easily and frequently.
I’ve always known this, but working for myself has magnified this trait. With no one else to keep me focused on one task, I’ve shot myself in the foot and tried to deliver too many different things this year.
2021 is a year of streamlining what I’m delivering to my individual coaching clients, corporate group coaching workshops and speaking gigs. This will mean I can be more intentional with my time, have a plan and be my best self at all times for the women in STEM community.
18. We project our greatest self-criticisms onto others.
At the start of the year, I had close to zero confidence in running a business. I believed I was useless, a failure and a financial burden on my household.
At the end of each day when my husband asked how my day went, I’d lash out at him thinking he was “checking up on me” or that he didn’t trust I had done anything productive. Ridiculous, huh?
19. Time moves at an inconsistent speed.
March went for FOREVER! That was when Coronavirus started becoming a thing in the UK and new information about how to act was coming out everyday. We also had to wait for each Sunday evening for Boris Johnson to be wheeled out to tell us what our fate was for the next week.
Then all of a sudden, it’s December. What on earth happened?
20. While it’s been a heck of a year, I am glad 2020 has happened.
I know that 2020 has brought tragedy, hardship and confusion to so many people around the world. But I can’t help but be a silver linings girl.
This year has also brought about so much personal growth, deep life realisations, a new sense of community, gratitude for the simpler things and online connection of people all around the world.
Maybe this crazy year had to happen in order to start healing our society. In any case, despite the crappiness, I’m glad it happened.
Originally posted on email@example.com/blog on 16th December 2020