We have, at last, come to the end of 2020. A year in which there only seemed to be three months. A year in which time lost all meaning. A year in which many of us stayed at home nearly all the time. A year in which I went from checking my Google Maps timeline to see how many times I’d traveled around the world to thinking that pay by the mile car insurance might be a pretty good idea.
A year ago a blissfully ignorant Emmett was, for the first time ever, spending some time reflecting on the previous year and making plans for the new one. Denys Zhadanov, the Vice President of Readdle, along with a team of volunteers, had created a lovely worksheet designed to help you look back at 2019 to gain insight into what you liked and disliked in your life and how to improve, and then lay out goals in 2020 based on those reflections. They unironically titled the worksheet, “My Way 2020: The best year of my life!”
As laughable as it is now, this was how my year began: full of high hopes and carefully laid plans. It seems like forever ago now, but the first couple months went pretty well. I had identified travel as one of my favorite things from 2019, and by the end of February I had spent a long weekend in Florida and planned a vacation with friends to Colorado. And then March happened.
So, I’m writing now on March 305th to share my insights on the last year and the year to come.
Did I accomplish my goals for 2020? No. But that’s okay.
Some of my goals just couldn’t be accomplished this year. As far as those things are concerned, 2020 was kind of a wash. That doesn’t mean that those were bad goals, though, nor does it mean that it was bad that they weren’t fulfilled. Things happened this year that were bigger than me: the pandemic made many of my goals impossible or ill-advised. I wish that I could have done those things, but I don’t regret that I didn’t. I know I did my part this year to help end the pandemic, even though it wasn’t always super fun, and I can sleep well knowing that. And, even if the skeptics turn out to be right, and the coronavirus isn’t really that bad or some measure doesn’t work, I know I did my best with the best information available to me, and I’m happy with that.
Of all the things I learned this year, two stand out: take nothing for granted, and be willing to change your plans.
Ironically, I think we tend to take the phrase ‘don’t take things for granted’ for granted. It can mean both to fail to appreciate something and to assume that something is true, both of which are common in human behavior but were called into question by this year. We often fail to appreciate small or everyday things in our lives. When something big or new happens, it’s natural to feel excitement over it, but for something insignificant or common it’s understandable to have less of a reaction.
I tend to be easily bored and thus am a bit of a thrill seeker. This year, though, not much happened. To keep myself going, I had to train myself to be more interested in the smaller everyday things and place a higher value on them. For example, in April I set a goal of walking at least 2,000 steps a day, and made myself go outside and walk around. Otherwise, being in the house, I just wouldn’t have moved that much. But in the end daily walks were one of my favorite things from the year.
This, then, is my first piece of advice: if you can’t do something big, teach yourself to be happy about something small.
Many of us started off the year presuming that it was going to be great, that is, taking it for granted in the other form. Now, operationally I’m not sure it’s such a bad idea to assume that things will go well. If we assume that things won’t go well, we might just not begin them in the first place. At the same time, though, in my experience there’s usually a pretty good chance that things won’t go as smoothly as planned. As I have said, I had good goals for the year that couldn’t be accomplished. So how should we react when events beyond our control change our goals?
I think it’s okay for us to grieve the plans that didn’t happen, but it’s not good to dwell on that too long. Accept the changes. It’s okay to put things off for a while. After that, figure out how to play with the cards you are dealt, or as Gandalf told Frodo, “All that we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
This is my second piece of advice: if your plans get wrecked, keep your goals, set them on the back burner for a while, and then create new goals that are attainable.
I’ll admit that I did pretty well at sitting aside my goals this year, but less well at establishing any new ones or even completing some that were still possible. There are still things in my to do list that were due in June, in part just because I lost track of time so much that they don’t feel overdue. As Taylor Swift put it, “August slipped away into a moment in time, 'cause it was never mine.” Next year, I want to do better about owning the year, whatever it’s like, and keeping on top of my tasks and goals, even though the passing of time has become meaningless now that I rarely leave the house.
2020 wasn’t the year I wanted, but it’s the year I got, and I was very blessed in it. I was able to find enjoyment in the little things, stay safe, stay healthy, and keep my job; and I used some of my spare time for projects and hobbies. I don’t know what the new year will bring, but I’m trying again to make set some goals. But this time I plan to reevaluate my goals monthly and adapt them, so that whatever happens I can have a reasonable goal to accomplish without losing sight of the big picture.
Here’s to a better 2021.