Is it even possible to take all the sadness, confusion, and struggles we lived through since the start of 2020 and use them to ensure that 2021 is a much better year than the one we are left behind?
People seem to be all over the place on how bad 2020 was for the planet, themselves, the economy, racial inequities, and even the world’s governing bodies.
There are so many opinions about who is at fault, and the misinformation runs rampant on specific news outlets. Honestly, though, none of that matters. And if you can ignore all the noise, then you can, indeed, make 2021 the best year ever.
Easier said than done?
I am not at all minimizing the horrific things that have happened. Here are the facts:
- Fires and extreme weather ravaged the planet. People died, and many animal species took a tremendous hit.
- A highly infectious virus broke out and has killed over 1.76 million people worldwide as of the time of this writing.
- US unemployment rates are higher than they have been since The Great Depression. This means people are going hungry and losing their homes, and the stress is causing an increase in suicide and mental health issues.
The facts of the matter are that people are dying, starving, and struggling. If you lost a family member in 2020, for any reason, I know it feels like nothing will ever be right in the world again.
My mom died in a car accident at 40 years old, 22 days before Christmas. My brother-in-law committed suicide on New Year’s Day. It is agonizing when we lose the people we love senselessly. It is tough when it happens around the Holidays and life seems to carry on filled with happy and joyful people while we are dying on the inside.
Maybe you lost a loved one on a regular day in the middle of the year, not associated with a holiday, and had to ‘celebrate’ your first holiday without them. That hurts like hell, too.
My father died of a massive heart attack at 50, and my sister’s newborn baby died, years apart, but on the same day—May 18th. It is a day that challenges our mental health to this day.
I will not lie and tell you it gets “easier” with time because you will always love and miss these people. But time changes the way we grieve, and with time, the intensity of the grief you feel will feel different.
It will come in waves, where sometimes you think you are living it all over again. Other times, you will realize you are having a good time, maybe even enjoying the holidays. Grief is funny that way. Deborah Horton, a licensed clinical professional counselor, explains how grief is like an ocean that ebbs and flows.
It is hard to navigate all these emotions of stress and grief, but there are things that you can do to help in this new year. Stacie Adams, the Bereavement Coordinator at Mount Mountain Valley Hospice, reminds us to “Explore where your motivation came from and how life has changed since your loss. Also, look at meaning and how to get your motivation back, as a part of moving through the grief journey.”
What does exploring and finding motivation look like? How does one go about doing that? First, ask yourself, why? Why do you enjoy the things you do? What purpose do you find in certain activities?
Then ask yourself, how? How can you make those things better or more meaningful? How do you want your life to be different in six-months? A year? Focus on the things that you can control by setting goals.
Setting a goal is a learned skill. Make sure your goals are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based. If you are struggling to get out of bed because of depression, then setting a goal to run a marathon in a few months might not be the most motivating way to go about it. Instead, set a goal to get out of bed before 9 am every day for two weeks straight.
The next step in trying to help yourself stay motivated is to find a support system. Whether you lost a spouse, your job, or are struggling with managing children who found themselves unable to return to school this year, everyone needs a support system.
My friends and family are pretty outstanding, so I rely on them. If you don’t have that, then make 2021 the year you build a good support team. This can be done by finding a good therapist, a life coach, joining groups, or meeting new people. If you need a support group for grief, addiction, or other specific needs, there is one out there.
Staying on track once you feel motivated can be tricky too, but you can do it! Speak kindly to yourself, using self-affirmations and meditation. Journaling is a healthy outlet for your thoughts and might also help identify things that demotivate you.
Perspective also matters; try to remember not to sweat the small stuff. If something significant happens, feel your emotions, seek support, and do what you can to move forward.
Take the lessons learned from some smaller struggles and take them into 2021
In March 2020, I found myself furloughed, my husband was working from the living room, the children were home from school, and no one was leaving the house. This lasted for almost three months.
Sure, some days were stressful, but I started to notice things. Things like how during those three months, I saw my 16 (now 17) year old child more than I had in the previous year. There were no dance practices, work (for either of us), friends to hang out with, or hiding in her room. She was present and ate dinner with us every night.
To help us break apart the monotony of the day, we started watching movies every night. Everyone kind of did their own thing during the day, and then it was dinner time, and then movie time.
At first, we just kind of picked one as a group and then watched it, miraculously agreeing. That didn’t last, so then we started putting the movies each of us wanted to watch into a hat. We drew one and watched it.
The next day we drew from the remaining three and watched that. This process went on until everyone’s movie had been watched, and then we added new ones.
Now that things are back to normal, we don’t do that every night, but I think that I will be bringing back weekly movie nights. One night a week where no one goes anywhere, and we snuggle on the couch as a unit.
Ask yourself what worked for you in 2020 and why. Can you find a way to take that lesson and bring it into 2021 with you?
Remember that as humans, we can use adversity to our advantage.
T.D. Jakes, author of Reposition Yourself: Living Life Without Limits, points out that “Sometimes, what makes us insecure and vulnerable becomes the fuel we need to be overachievers. The antidote for a snakebite is made from the poison, and the thing that made you go backward is the same force that will push you forward.” This lesson has never been more accurate for me than in 2020.
At the end of 2019, I started feeling restless with my career path and educational achievements. I went on a daily walk for nearly nine months straight every day. That journey of self-discovery had me questioning my job and why I was getting a Master’s in something I had never wanted to be in the first place.
I remembered that before life had altered my plans, I was going to be a journalist. Or a blogger. I was going to write. Yet, I hadn’t written in nearly 20 years. So, I dabbled on Medium, writing about my childhood, and amassed a decent following. Then I got a client, and then a few more.
I was making a decent little chunk of change on the side, and I was motivated in a way I hadn’t been. I contemplated quitting my job and writing full time, but I was scared. What if I lost my main client? What if I was just awful at it, and people were too kind to tell me?
I had been waffling back and forth, and then March happened. For me, it was like a gift. I had my unemployment and the opportunity to work like I was a full-time writer.
I built my portfolio, I wrote more and more, my income grew, and when they called me to come back, I was making almost the same amount of money doing what I loved. I was also home for dinner every night and watching movies with my family.
Look for blessings and opportunities, and you will find them. Be ready to tackle 2021 armed with the knowledge that last year tested you, and hopefully, it made you stronger.
I learned not to take time with my loved ones for granted, to chase my dreams, and I was reminded that I am a survivor. After last year, I think we should all take that knowledge with us into the next year and make it the best year ever.