Reflecting on the past year, and moving forward…..
I think we all know that 2020 wasn’t what we expected. I don’t think you need me to be the one to tell you that.
I have to say, Twitter summed it up pretty well.
2020 was full of so much chaos, yet such little action at the same time. As the world was destroyed by a microscopic virus, only around 100 nanometers in diameter, society became unrecognizable.
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.
As humanity fell onto its knees, many of us were confined to the 4 walls of our house surrounding us; in fear to step outside. In fear of our lives and those of our parents and children, family and friends.
Time at home felt unsettling to many, including myself. Perhaps it was the lack of “doing,” a construct that society conditions and programs us for. Or maybe it was the discomfort we felt from being “alone”, facing physical isolation from society. A condition that many of us realized that we essentially had never had the chance to experience at such magnitude.
As so many of us were trapped, many chose not to be. They freed themselves from the barriers that society had imposed, only slicing the wound of the disease deeper.
Just the same, not so many of us were fortunate to be confined to our walls.
In January of 2020, well over 550,000 individuals were homeless on any given night in the United States alone. Millions of individuals around the world struggled in ways far beyond physical isolation.
As so many of us felt trapped within our skin, regardless of our situation, many were on the front lines. Battling an army of disease in over 80 million individuals around the world. Doctors and nurses worked tirelessly, with all of the energy they could muster.
Small businesses and essential services were doing just the same. Working to provide not only for themselves, but also for their communities who needed them the most.
When we think of 2020, the first association that many, if not all of us make, is this pandemic. Rightfully so; it was an occurrence that none of us could have expected beyond any measure, except maybe Bill Gates. I mean, take a look at the comments yourself….
On Friday, March 13, 2020, my school shut down.
3 weeks, they told us.
Those three weeks turned into 3 months. And then into 6. Now, I don’t know when I will be back in a physical school. It has been almost a year.
In the beginning, I was unable to comprehend the immensity at which the pandemic had affected my life. I felt eternally helpless, lost, and unsettled with my life and relationships.
I was frustrated. And I felt trapped. All I could think of was how restrained I felt.
I felt as if there wasn’t any purpose, no point really. Why even bother?
I had nothing to do, nowhere to be, and no idea what to make of myself over a length of time that was unknown to me.
But slowly, I picked up the pieces. The first few months, I distracted myself. I distanced myself from what was happening all around me and spent time with my family, cooked for myself, and found myself on frequent hikes, long walks, and runs.
But over the summer, the longing for distance from everything and everyone wore off. I wanted to do something tangible with my time. I was done preoccupying myself with tasks that didn’t satisfy me. My hunger for something more was back.
So I spent the summer researching and reflecting, building a construct of self-awareness, and trying to understand what it was that I wanted to do with my time and my energy.
I had been so confused with myself for so long. Before March, I didn’t spend time with myself; I wasn’t that “kind of person.” But eventually, I learned that the only person who knew me best was me, myself, and I.
So I started throwing myself into opportunities I felt uncomfortable in. I did it because I had nothing to lose.
Little did I know that I had everything to gain.
I started a club with my friend but soon became a Director of Finance on the Executive Board of a national student advocacy organization.
With my endless hours of time, I played music like a madman and received opportunities and recognition beyond what I thought was possible.
I lost myself in a hole of articles and research about all sorts of societal injustices and technological advancements and came out the other side with an acceptance letter to The Knowledge Society, a journey that promised to give me the skills to impact billions of people.
And as the days grew shorter and Summer became Fall, I was once again trapped. But this time, in a cycle of endless opportunities, conversations, experiences, and thrill.
Each day was unexpected. Each day provided me with an ounce of the satisfaction I had been seeking.
I was addicted to this cycle of consuming, working, and producing.
As I dedicated every spare second of my time towards tangible goals that brought me joy, I reaped unfathomable rewards. But the rewards I am most grateful for are the mental assets I’ve gained.
In this journey of fright, confusion, loneliness, and distraught, I’ve gained immense strength and self-awareness. My expectations for myself have sky-rocketed.
I don’t believe I am the same person I was 12 months ago. Then again, I don’t know if any of us feel as though we are.
I don’t speak, write, interact, and even think of myself in the same manner. I am wholly and uniquely a new individual, formed by the experiences that I have catalyzed by myself, for myself, this past year, while being shaped by the conditions that were inherently out of my control.
As I look back on the series of occurrences that took place, I often consider the impact that any individual circumstance had in and of itself, as well as how it was able to initiate yet another.
If it weren’t for COVID-19, I would be a different version of myself right now.
Existing in a parallel universe.
A version that likely would have found her interest in educational reform and social justice, a version who didn’t realize how much music meant to her, and a version that would not have found her passion for neuroscience and had not made like-minded friends all over the world.
COVID-19 taught us all resilience. Society learned its lesson; we cannot continue to be unprepared. And I have internalized that on a deeper level. We’ve all heard the saying, “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.” And that has held true this year; I didn’t take the time to appreciate and take advantage of my liberty and resources until it was far too late.
This year, I learned how to do things for myself. Act in a way and develop principles that allowed me to follow my moral compass, and not sacrifice my individuality and desires for the wants of another.
I stopped being a bystander and started being an upstander for myself.
On New Year’s Eve of 2020, I thought back to New Year’s Eve of 2019. Exactly 12 months ago.
I remembered the serenity and excitement I had felt. Didn’t we all; it was a new decade of opportunity in our eyes.
Little did we know.
As I pondered what I could possibly have given myself to prepare for the coming year, the first thing that came to my mind was a letter. I wanted to look back at that snapshot in time and see how differently things had turned out.
My current self wanted proof that her past self was out of her mind; unaware of what she was about to undergo. Unaware of the possibilities that lay in her near future.
I wanted validation of the growth and change that had shaped me throughout the year.
My initial resolutions had no meaning to me anymore. The 3 or 4-word phrases like “run every morning” and “clean my room weekly” were worthless. Almost ironic in the grand scheme of things.
This year, I chose to make a change. I wrote myself a 5-page letter for my future self to open on December 31, 2021. I can’t wait for that day when I open up my letter and cringe at my writing, thoughts, and seemingly important problems. I want to laugh at how unaware I was of what was to come into my life.
Beyond the letter, I didn’t want to set meaningless resolutions. Resolutions that wouldn’t stick to me, in a society where nothing ever seems to last.
I’m choosing this year to be one where I act by themes. I want my life to reflect these themes regardless of what happens beyond my circle of control.
The main theme that I have chosen for myself this year is spontaneity.
At first, I thought that this theme was fitting, as spontaneity is a trait I wish I had developed far before the pandemic, allowing me to take advantage of the freedom I previously had.
However, I realized that it wasn’t quite the reason.
I wanted more spontaneity in my life because it was because spontaneity that landed me at this moment today; simply catalyzed by the pandemic and the world’s happenings.
During the pandemic, I was forced to be alone. Forced to gain a deeper understanding of myself, and learn to trust myself; to a point where I was willing to take risks I had never even considered previously.
I’ve always been cautious. I’ve never perceived myself as a risk-taker.
But this year changed that.
The circumstances that we’ve all faced this year have led me to achieve a level of success I didn’t even know that I was capable of. And I can only think of how many opportunities, moments, and experiences I have missed out on because of shielding myself for what I thought was my own good. Fearing rejection and seeking validation from external sources of no value.
One of my favorite quotes of all time is one that I read in a fictional novel when I was 11 years old —
Don’t let your shy take you away from where fate has brought you.
This year, I stopped letting my shy take me away from the circumstances, some may call it fate, that we all faced. That I faced.
This year, I caved in to the excitement and curiosity within my soul.
And I don’t want another year to pass where I regret not spending every second pushing past my circle of comfort and reaping rewards I had never thought possible.
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