What the Slow Burn Lightbulb Moments of 2020 Taught Me About Success
Finding success towards the beginning of 2020 was basically just trying to survive — emotionally and physically. There are very few years in the past I could call ‘survival’ a marker of success (maybe the years I was hit with a really bad flu or seasonal depression), but alas, here we are.
As fun as it is to joke about how terrible 2020 was, it was still a year of growth. Growth happened in different ways than we imagined when the clock struck midnight and brought in the new year. This year I’ll land a new job/get that raise I deserve, join a gym(and actually go), stop watching so much Netflix, and get out of the house more! Hmm…maybe not. March hit and 2020 turned into a very Liz Lemon kind of year.
With a year like this, it was hard to have one definable lightbulb moment that changed everything. As virus cases steadily rose, we slowly gained more insight into how it was transmitted and what that meant for our day to day existence.
The election provided even more uncertainty; it was a completely different story depending on who you spoke to (landslides predicted in either direction). Furthermore, election results didn’t provide the certainty that we all desperately crave.
All of this instability, and the fact that we spent so many days indoors on Zoom (where every day felt like the day before), made it very hard to have moments of clarity or ground-breaking insight. Over time, however, I learned a lot this year.
With the volume of my day-to-day life noise turned down — no distractions to turn to — I reluctantly turned inward and slowly learned about what was important to me. It was a year of defining my values (while internally kicking and screaming that I would rather be doing anything else).
I learned how important it is for me to be around people. I now believe that introversion/extroversion is kind of b*@#s*&#. I used to define myself as an introvert, but this year taught me that being too lonely has a horrible impact on wellbeing for all of us.
My daily (sometimes hourly) mood, my view of the world, and my ability to stay optimistic were challenged during the days that turned into weeks without my normal social interactions. I’m not a social butterfly, but I enjoy seeing loved ones on a regular basis. After a day working behind a computer screen, spending time with someone really boosts my mood, especially after a particularly stressful workday. Not only do I have this information about myself (thanks 2020), but I’m going to use it to create the life I want now (and even more so when the pandemic is over).
Moving across the country, an idea I’ve been toying with for years, is off the table at the moment. Not wanting to start over by making new friends and establishing a sense of community again doesn’t make me lazy, or bad, or unadventurous, it just means I know myself and what I’m willing and not willing to take on right now (thank you again, 2020). It means I recognize the importance of community for personal wellbeing, and I’m not ready to establish a new one in the midst of a pandemic.
Although I’m not interested in packing up the ol’ Uhaul again, this year I learned that travel is an important part of my happiness and my productivity as a writer. I also learned it is okay to recognize this fact about myself, and still be without it for a while. I can pout about a year without getting on a plane, while still working towards building a life that allows me to travel in the future.
How will I use what I learned in 2020 for a more productive 2021?
This year forced me to focus on some big picture themes about myself and what is important to me. In these tumultuous times, I begrudgingly came to understand the nonnegotiables about what makes me happy and what I can do without. Next year is about using that information to design my days.
Next year I will focus on what matters in the big picture for less productivity-stopping anxiety on the day-to-day. I will stop pushing myself to write when I’m fighting productivity and ask myself the big ‘why’ of it all. Why am I doing this? What will completing this bring me? Who will benefit from the work I’m doing besides me? What brings me joy in this life and how does doing this relate to that joy?
Sometimes the work just needs to get done, but there’s always a train of thought that can lead to a bigger ‘why’ if you take a moment to find it.
Focusing on these questions gives me more than just productivity, it gives me purpose. And without purpose, productivity runs out of gas and can’t be refueled.
P.S I will also seriously start meditating in 2021!