2020 – Worst Year Ever or Best Year Ever?

I remember New Year’s Eve 1999 like it wasn’t that long ago, even though basic math is telling me otherwise (this basic math is also calling me “old”! What nerve!). The entire world buzzed with energy about the new year – no new century, no, new millennium (unless you were a wet-blanket stickler like myself insisting that the new millennium wouldn’t start until 2001, but I digress). We were eager to throw out the old world and step into the new, and yet at the same time everyone was just a little bit afraid of the dreaded Y2K.

In a lot of ways the energy this year reminds me of that frenzy. 2020 has been an usual year and everyone seems eager to kick this year in the dumpster and start fresh. And yet the anxiety and fear are palpable. Everyone knows that changing the number means little in terms of actually changing our situation and we still have a lot to endure and even fear in the coming months. But it’s a big symbolic changeover to be sure.

However 2020 wasn’t all bad. Wait, hear me out! This isn’t “toxic positivity” or me telling you to pretend you aren’t hurting.

First of all, challenges and obstacles are opportunities for growth. Or at least they can be. For everything that didn’t turn out like I wanted, I still learned something. For every roadblock thrown in my way, I had to grow, improve my skills, and get better in order to deal with it. Personally I learned a lot about trying to accept what you can’t change and focusing on your actual sphere of control. I took the opportunity of solitude and isolation to reflect, work on mindfulness, and cultivate more self-confidence. Focusing on these good aspects, while still admitting my pain, helps me have a positive view of events.

Secondly, it can be nice to pat yourself on the back just for surviving challenges and setbacks. Even if we’re not out of the woods, we can acknowledge how far we’ve come so far and how that’s an accomplishment in itself. If this year were easy, you wouldn’t be able to congratulate yourself for making it through because, well, it would have been easy!

Finally, if we look hard enough, some good things happened in 2020 along with the bad. And I think it’s important for our mental health to try to identify and hold on to those things. For my own part, here is a partial list:

  • We potty-trained our toddler
  • I got an ipad for drawing and art
  • Not being able to go out forced me to create a much more strict routine for our toddler which improved her behavior and actually gave me more free time during the day
  • My husband and I finished watching both The X-Files and LOST over the course of many months of at-home date nights
  • I finished the Parsons School of Design x Creative Live Design Class Path
  • We created a weekly family meeting ritual
  • My husband and I both completed the Sketchtember challenge, filling a sketchbook in one month
  • I finished a couch to 5k program (None2Run) and ran my first 5k distance run ever in my life
  • My husband and I both completed the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge of writing a 50,000 word rough draft novel in November
  • I mustered the courage to post on social media and blog again, after a long absence
  • I found some new instant pot recipes I just love
  • I read some life changing books

Big and small, things to be grateful for are there if you dig a little bit. 

All things considered, 2020 might have been my best year ever, to be honest. I’m lucky in that I was already in a transition period before 2020, so it wasn’t like I had a great life that was simply disrupted, like a lot of people devastated about this year (I am not knocking these people at all). Instead, like a lot of other people (perhaps quieter people), I was already struggling in a lot of ways, so the idea of simply holding my breath and waiting to “go back to normal” didn’t make sense because my “normal” wasn’t what I wanted either. This year contained the kinds of slaps to the face and shakeups from the universe that really made me concentrate hard on self-improvement and getting my act together. And for that I’m grateful.

Again, this isn’t an attempt to force a smile on a bad situation or pretend that you can force yourself into always looking on the bright side. Gratitude is never about pretending the bad things don’t exist, it’s about accepting the bad things while digging deep to find something -anything- you can honestly be happy about in spite of it all.

But no matter how you saw the past year, I hope next year is better. Maybe it will be a year of happiness and bounty. Maybe it will throw us a ton of curveballs like 2020, maybe objectively it will be “even worse,” but if that’s so hopefully this year has taught us to be light on our feet and take the challenges as they come. Hopefully we can all endure and find the little joys that make life worth living even in the face of immense hardship. Hopefully we can find the mindset to decide that every year is our best ever, no matter the circumstances.