Tuesday December 22, 2020

What I Learnt In 2020

Picking up my 2020 Diary, a Post-it note floated to the ground. From early February, it said, “Book Newquay to Gatwick flight – 21st May.” Or, in other words, yet another reminder of something that didn’t happen this year, expectations that were shed and a backward glance at a more innocent ‘before’ – all rolled into one forgotten Post-It.

And I felt an unsettling mix of affection, pity and longing for those old days and that not so long ago version of me who’d stopped thinking the worst and had made a big effort to plan, look forward and not catastrophise.

But of course even the most resolutely positive mindset can’t deny that certainties are never really that rock solid.

Navigating through the first of this year’s lockdowns and restrictions I would, on the one hand, doomscroll and on the other, become overwhelmed by social media timelines stuffed with performative positivity – sourdough, cottage core and all. I soon realised I’d have to make a choice between pursuing reassurance by arming myself with the latest information (impossible while everything was, and is, constantly being revised) or stepping away from social media and looking after myself with some self-directed positive thinking.

Lesson One: You Won’t See It Coming

And so lesson one (aside from the fact that taking time away from social media is a good idea): Being pessimistic means you’re often right but there’s no joy in that kind of rightness. Nor does ‘seeing it coming’ make adversity or disappointment that much easier to deal with.

When bad stuff happens, the thing that catches you out is never what you thought you saw coming and protected yourself from.

This brighter outlook delivered good times. Children that had flown the nest returned – ok, their independent lives and careers, only just getting started, had been put on unfortunate pause – but there was also something magical about having the opportunity to roll back the years and revisit something not a million miles from what their early childhoods (everyone at home together) felt like.

We spent a lot of time, not just quality time, together, and it was marvellous. We learnt that we seem to quite like each other’s company and for that, as a mum, I felt blessed.

Lesson Two: Against An Endless Twixmas

But there was also lesson two: I’m big on the whole Christmas thing, for all those unimpeachable reasons of family and togetherness, and the defined once-a-year pause it gives me. However, faced with a period of unwelcome, enforced ‘leisure,’ it soon became apparent that an endless quasi-Twixmas is best reserved for actual Twixmas (particularly when it isn’t bookended by Christmas and the New Year). The fact that doing the things I really want to, or dream about, is most likely to happen when I’m busy or there’s a sense of urgency or a deadline looming, is proof that having the illusion of time as open-ended time, is best left as the pipe dream it is.

Lesson Three: Stop Looking For Lessons

And then there’s lesson three: Not everything that’s a negative (and there was plenty of that) has to, should, or can be, repurposed into a lesson.

A lot of the time there is no lesson, just a crappy curveball you have to swerve or else catch and deal with. I know that mining for ‘what I can learn from this’ helps me find meaning in dark days which in turn can offer comfort and a way of getting through but…shit happens. And if nothing else, I now realise it’s ok to give myself a break and just call it out for what it is and free myself from the pressure of a constant quest for self-improvement.

And Yet…

That said though, Lockdown 2.0 in November did help me find the perfect solution to saving money, staying warm, keeping in touch and improving my fitness:

I wonder who of my lovely friends, colleagues and clients realised that many of my calls were made while I was pedalling away on my indoor bike?

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