Introvert Life

Lessons From 2020 That I am Taking Into 2021

We’re here! We’re here! Ring the bells! We’re at the end of 2020, let’s give it up to the New Year.

New Year Balloon Sticker by Texas Tech University RISE

I wish I had that much enthusiasm, but I think it’s fair to celebrate the end of such a tough year. If you’re here reading this, each day you survived and made it through is worth acknowledging and celebrating.

Sitting with the feelings that come up when thinking about the clusterfuck that was 2020 is difficult. The challenges that precipitated last year will take a long time to process and, again, didn’t suddenly disappear once the clock struck midnight. However, as painful as the year was, it also allowed a lot of space for reflection, growth, and change. I learned so much about myself. The parts I need to shed. The ways I need to show up for myself more. And acknowledging I get to define my experiences, relationships, and journey. I am ending the year both disappointed and incredibly grateful. I am ending the year forever changed and looking forward to holding more space for lessons that always existed but were diluted by people, things, and energy that didn’t serve me.

It’s necessary to prioritize yourself and rest.

Before COVID-19 forced everyday life to a halt, I hadn’t slowed down in years to connect with my mind and body. I have been in “grind and survive” mode since graduating high school; not stopping to appreciate my accomplishments through college, striving to be the best, forcing myself to tolerate uncomfortable situations, all to try and grasp at a dream that’s not my own. I would make myself available for anyone without checking with myself first. Instead of sitting with bad, heavy feelings or allowing myself to process trauma, I shelved them, compartmentalizing so I could be productive until forced to stop due to reaching my breaking point or becoming unwell. It was a trap!

I may not have been able to travel this year, but I found myself exploring places in my mind that I had not ventured before. I unpacked suitcases worth of memories, experiences, and beliefs; feeling, learning, and unlearning more about myself in one year than I ever have before. I learned how important rest is, not just enough to feel functional for the next day; real rest, that you can feel throughout your body, that you indulge guilt-free, that is healing. To me, that looks like prioritizing eight to nine hours of sleep, if I can. Waking up and taking time for myself before jumping into work or turning my phone and computer off at the end of the day. Daydreaming or fantasizing without interruption or talking myself out of it. Even staring at a candle and listening to music as my mind goes blank. I am no longer giving away my time, resources, and assistance all willy-nilly. I am conserving my time and energy, prioritizing myself for once. I am not folding to guilt or manipulation that I know is wrong. Instead, opting for direct communication and assertiveness, skills I have to work at every single day. I don’t push myself when my body feels tired, my mind feels heavy, or when I just can’t. Our bodies are sacred; rest is sacred. I am no longer pushing myself to the limit.

Setting and maintaining boundaries is essential.

I think for all of us, 2020 forced us into a crash course on boundaries. Perhaps it was in regards to who was allowed in your social circle this year. The different health measures you have in place to try and protect yourself. Maybe it was structuring your day differently for some form of work-life balance in this remote landscape. Trying to do what’s best for you can feel uncomfortable. When you enforce a boundary, the people on the other side may become defensive, not respect them, or force you to budge. It’s hard. It makes you feel wrong and selfish, but you’re not. Truthfully, I thought boundaries only applied to aspects of life that were a no-go. For example, not willing to help your friends steal. Or, if people you know aren’t wearing masks, you don’t hang out with them. Boundaries seemed situational to me, only setting them once faced with a particular experience. WRONG! Well, not wrong, but this rigid POV will leave you open and vulnerable to too many things. Boundaries are the expectations and guidelines on how you should be treated. Our everyday thoughts, feelings, and behaviors enforce these standards and dictate to others how to follow suit.

At least once a week, when I think about boundary work, I say to myself, “I can’t believe I let all these bitches have access to me!” Honestly. I prioritized other people’s feelings and needs, pushing what bothered me to the side or biting my tongue to keep the peace. I would open my home up and let other people overstay their welcome despite being emotionally drained and exhausted. I would feel too guilty saying “no,” feign an enthusiastic “yes,” and begrudgingly donate my time. I would stay on the phone for hours, listening to my friends and family vent about their problems and force myself to appreciate the 15 minutes they would give me. I would keep holding space and making time for unsupportive people. My workload would increase at every job because I was always trying to be helpful. I chastised myself for feeling any negative thoughts about any of this. I told myself I should be grateful for having anyone in my life in the first place or being in this position. I was always last. I always blamed myself. Fours months into 2020, I reached peak resentment.

To get to where I am now, I had to permit myself to find motivation in the decades of shrinking my personhood. All those negative feelings I tried to squash as a child, teenager, young adult, and now as an adult still surfaced. This time, instead of trying to overcome them, I allowed them to protect me like they always should have. It was never my job to be responsible for the feelings of other people. It’s also not my business how they react to my boundaries. I certainly don’t need to oblige giving access to my self or my time. I have a new standard for how I intend to conduct myself in 2021 and onward. I matter. I am important. I still care, but I care about myself a little more.

Goodbye, either/or. Hello, both/and!

The final reflection I will leave you with is the importance of sitting with multiple truths or feelings at once. As much as society tries to fit us into binary thought patterns, we have to remind ourselves that’s not realistic. Black and white, either-or, thinking sifts out the rich complexity that is humanness. We’re messy AF; feelings are complicated, multiple truths, often contradictory, exist.

This year was full of these eye-opening moments. You can be grateful for having a job during a pandemic AND be angry that your employer didn’t do more to protect you. You can physically feel okay AND feel anxious and depressed. You could release a sigh of relief that Trump lost the election AND critique the incoming administration. You can love and adore your family AND need to distance yourself from them. It doesn’t make you confused or hypocritical. It demonstrates your ability to hold different perspectives and make more informed choices/assessments. If I find myself ruminating over seemingly contradictory thoughts, I yell out, “BOTH! AND!”

I hope 2020 wasn’t only the year your world turned upside down. I hope as you look back on the year, you can find pockets of joy, laughter, and growth. I am entering 2021 with my selfhood, worth, and confidence reclaimed. I plan to embrace myself fully and be more intentional about how I show up. I am also entering 2021 with grief, anger, and full of anxiety about what it will hold. Each day, I promise to listen to my mind and body and take things from there.

What lessons , if any, did you learn in 2020? What are you taking with you in 2021?

Happy New Year, friends!

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