9 Things I Learned During The ‘Worst Year Ever’

Lessons from a year unlike any other

2020 has been one hell of a year. From staring in disbelief to what was happening in China in January, to lockdown in March and going in and out of it like a yo-yo since, it’s been a year many of us will never forget.

For the majority of us, 2020 will be considered the ‘worst year ever.’ I’ve been on this planet just shy of 31 years now and I can’t think of another year that comes anywhere near this one in terms of shocks to the system and upheaval.

2020 didn’t pan out the way I planned at the start of the year. Along with many of you no doubt, my plans went up in smoke and I was left scratching around to adapt to the newfound reality in which we found ourselves.

The year has been surreal and I’d rather not live through something similar again. But as bad as it’s been, there’s plenty I’ve learnt from my experiences this year. It’s often from the worst moments in life that you learn the most.

The same is true of this year. When things are good, you seem to float on air. Conversely, when times are tough, you have to dig deep to get through. Despite the madness of this year, I’ve learnt a lot about myself and certain aspects of life.

This year has been a challenge, a big boulder was thrown down in front of us that we’ve all had to overcome. It’s when times are tough that you learn the most about yourself.

Here are ten things I’ve learnt during the craziest of years.

Life is unpredictable.

If there’s one thing 2020 has hammered home to me, it’s how unpredictable the world is. I never thought I’d spend the majority of the year in lockdown to ward off the threat of a virus. That sounds like the plot of a science fiction movie rather than reality.

Yet, here we are, still at the mercy of Coronavirus nearly a year after it was first discovered. You can never predict what happens in life and we’ve all had a huge lesson in that this year.

This message can be scary to some, which is probably one of the reasons why conspiracy theories about the virus are rife. It’s unnerving to realise you retain very little control over events and that we are only able to move with the tide rather than control it.

In reality, though, this isn’t so bad. If life were too predictable or we were able to shape events in a manner that suited us, we’d soon become bored. The unpredictability of life is what makes it exciting, even if we have been exposed to such an awful year.

Our existence by its very nature is unpredictable. We can have expectations, plan all we want, but in the end, we’re all at the mercy of chaos and fortune.

Politicians don’t have all the answers.

Early on, as the Coronavirus started to make its way from China toward Europe, it became clear that the politicians in the UK, and other countries, were not prepared.

Our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, downplayed the seriousness of the virus, joking in March that he had shaken hands with staff at a hospital he had visited. A few days later, he contracted the virus and had to be taken to an Intensive Care Unit, such was the extent of his illness.

Trump was no better in America. Month after month he declared that America had turned the corner and that virus was nothing to worry about. He suggested injecting bleach as a cure for the virus and seemed befuddled at how to combat the illness. As a result of his ineptitude, 300,000 Americans have lost their lives this year.

Some countries have fared better than others. New Zealand, Taiwan and Vietnam have all managed to contain the virus and avoid the huge casualties seen in other countries.

What this pandemic has shown is that our politicians aren’t all-powerful and all knowledgable. They’re fallible human beings, and in some cases, unfit for public office. The sooner we realise this, stop lionising them and hold them to account, the better.

Your job is not as secure as you think.

Back in 2018, I quit my office job and became a full-time writer here on Medium and my travel blog. Between then and now, I managed to grow the number of monthly views on my travel blog to upwards of 60,000.

Then the Coronavirus struck.

Since April, traffic to my blog has come nowhere close to reaching its previous heights. Getting over 20,000 views a month now is an achievement. With the travel industry in retreat, my blog has suffered as a result and so has my income.

Thankfully, I’ve been able to rely on my earnings from Medium, otherwise, my financial situation would have been sticky, to say the least! I’ve been luckier than others, with many people laid off due to the virus.

What this year has shown is that a lot of industries are fragile to unexpected events, a ‘black swan,’ if you will. This volatility is only likely to increase in the future as more and more jobs are lost to automation.

The key to protecting yourself from this is to set up multiple streams of income and try to become ‘antifragile.’ This way you can absorb the shocks should one revenue stream falter, allowing you to ride the wave of any tsunami that might hit.

Video chat is no substitute for human interaction.

One of the worst things about this year has been the lack of face-to-face interaction with others due to the need to social distance. This is something I’d never thought about before, but the lack of human interaction has made me realise how important it is.

One way of getting around this has been to video chat via Skype and Zoom. Unfortunately, it’s just not the same. As great as it was to chat with my friends while we were all in lockdown, it doesn’t compare to real-life interactions.

Whenever a call was finished, I felt drained and glad to be done. I’ve been able to meet up with friends since the initial lockdown, and the comparison between the two is like night and day.

Video chats are likely to become more and more a part of our lives from going forward. But as most of us have found out this year, they’ll never substitute for the real thing.

Enjoy your downtime.

On the flip side of what I wrote above, this year I realised just how nice downtime can be. One of the things I hate about living in the UK, and western culture as a whole, is our unhealthy obsession with work and always being ‘busy’.

I see people rushing around to get nowhere fast and sacrificing all their time to their work. Look, I realise you might need to work extra hours to make ends meet. There’s nothing wrong with that. But there has to be a balance in life.

We were not born to work until we drop. There is more to life than the jobs each of us does. One of the benefits of this year has been that the pace of life has slowed.

We’ve realised the benefits of taking it slow, been able to appreciate the beauty we see all around us and spend more time with our close ones. This may have been a shock at first, but it was a welcome change for me at least.

We shouldn’t live to work, but work to live. Balance is important in life and I think we’ve all realised that there are more important things in life than sacrificing ourselves at the altar of productivity every day.

How you spend your time is everything.

In 2020 we’ve all had more time than usual. Many of us were locked down for two to three months after March. Often, this meant we had more time than we knew what to do with.

It was this year that I learnt of the concept of alive time and dead time. The author, Ryan Holiday, got the concept from his mentor, Robert Greene. Alive time is when we make the most of the hours we are given either by working or doing something beneficial.

Dead time, by comparison, is time we waste. Maybe we binge-watch a series on Netflix or sleep in until midday. The simple truth is that how you spend your time defines your life. Even more so, when times are turbulent.

Time is an asset that is constantly depreciating. We can’t get anymore of it, and we have no idea when it will run out. It was during the many hours I spent inside my house that I realised just how important our time is.

We’ve experienced a ‘lost year’ in some way. Going forward, it’s imperative we make the most of the time we do have. Choose alive time instead of dead time.

Science is incredible.

One of the positives of this year has been the amazing response from scientists across the world to the pandemic. To have developed a vaccine in under a year, for a virus that no one knew about at the turn of the year, is a phenomenal achievement.

Scientists were able to map the genome for the virus within two days of receiving it. An achievement that allowed the development of a vaccine to begin. It shouldn’t be underestimated how impressive this is.

We know the power of science. You only have to look at images of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon fifty years ago to realise this. Since then, we’ve misplaced our belief in the power of science.

Far from establishing a colony on the moon, or eradicating more viruses from the planet, after the success of the smallpox vaccination, we have regressed. My big hope from this year is that we place more faith in scientists and what they can achieve if we prioritise science.

With the challenges we face as a species, this approach is a necessity rather than an option.

Misinformation is itself a virus.

As well as the virus itself, 2020 saw misinformation spread across the web in regards to the Coronavirus. Some of the conspiracy theories were outlandish, yet they still found an audience.

This has raised questions about the role of platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube that have allowed these claims to proliferate freely. Some have referred to it as censorship, but the platforms have a duty of care and misinformation should be treated for what it is, dangerous falsehoods.

Despite all the advancements we’ve made, it’s still scary to see people taken in by wild conspiracy theories. No Bill Gates is not using the vaccine to microchip everyone and control them! The irony of this is that the same people parroting these theories are probably addicted to their smartphones and don’t realise their phones track them wherever they go.

Fake news is going to be one of the biggest problems of the 21st century. When lies can spread faster than the truth, democracy is imperilled. Without action, we could end up with a world where ‘alternative facts’ become the facts.

For any students of totalitarian regimes such as Soviet Russia, that is not a place we want to find ourselves in.

The outdoors is underrated.

Although we have had to stay indoors for large parts of the year, many of us have rekindled our love affair with the outdoors. After spending last year driving around Europe climbing mountains, I already loved the outdoors.

But being confined to a house has made me realise just how much I love it. There’s something about walking in nature that is soothing and pleasant. The sound of birds chirping and the wind whipping through trees is something we take for granted.

I remember in the early parts of lockdown, waking up to birds singing outside. I’d open my curtains and see birds bouncing on the grass outside, which was something I’d hadn’t seen for a while. The lack of cars, noise and pollution had enticed them back after a long period away.

We take the natural world for granted, but if we’re not careful, we could lose large parts of it to widespread climate change. The natural world is something that we have a stake in. It’s somewhere we can all visit and isn’t off bounds to anyone.

This year more than ever, we’ve learnt the value of the outdoors. It’s important we hold onto that going forward.

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