I was high up in the Alishan mountains of Taiwan when I welcomed 2020.
I was there to watch the first sunrise of the year. When the sun ascended above the mountain peaks, the crowd of viewers roared with delight. I remember feeling a surge of hope and joy as I murmured my wishes for the year.
In 2020, I wanted to show myself. That meant levelling up and realising a lot more of my potential.
Then things fell apart
High up in the mountains, full of hope and optimism, who expected the world to turn upside down a month later?
A pandemic happened.
I got laid off for the first time.
A week later, Singapore went into lockdown.
I fell into a depression again.
Political events, at home and abroad, shocked and horrified me.
It took months to get over the trauma, even after I got a new and better job.
It was quite a traumatising year, when I look back at all that happened.
But through it all, I learned and gained a few important things…
The power of human connections
I couldn’t have survived 2020 without the family, friends, and even strangers who helped and supported me.
But I didn’t just rely on others to notice me and reach out. In fact, I found myself reaching out to people a lot more. I reconnected with friends and asked to meet them. I even forged new connections with like-minded people. This is a big deal for an introvert like me.
Perhaps it was the isolating effects of the lockdown, combined with virtual meeting fatigue. The pandemic also made me painfully aware of my own mortality. In any case, I craved real human interactions. I craved them enough to put my introversion aside and ask people out.
Through connecting with others, I learned more about myself. I also learned that I am not alone.
Gratitude, hope, and precession
The alternative scenario to the above would be to wallow in misery, entitlement, and resentment.
It would be easy to, because I was having such a hard time. But everyone had it bad in one way or another this year. In the grand scheme of things, my suffering was not special. So, instead of focusing so much on my pain, I needed to direct my energy elsewhere.
I appreciated the present as much as I could. I looked into the night sky and said my thanks. There were many things to be thankful for: my new job, people who care about me, good health, etc. I tried to be kind to others as far as possible, as they were probably suffering too.
All while moving forward, one day at a time. Movement sparks opportunities, and there is no shortage of opportunities. Even during a pandemic.
I’m more resilient than I think
I didn’t just survive 2020.
I grew, too. Today, I’m doing well at a job that is better than the one I left in every aspect. I maintained good relationships and built new ones. My art levelled up in terms of technique. I read more books this year.
All these in spite of a pandemic and recession.
What kept me going was that I didn’t want to fall behind. I couldn’t control the pandemic or recession. But I couldn’t let myself waste a whole year wallowing in self-pity and making excuses for myself. That was a more horrific scenario to me. So, I showed myself, to the best of my ability and health.
I didn’t manage to achieve everything I wanted. But I achieved more than I thought I would.
Today, at the tail-end of 2020, there is a glimmer of hope on the COVID-19 front.
Vaccines are now available and mass vaccination programmes have begun in various parts of the world. I don’t know how things will pan out next year, but I am cautiously optimistic.
What I know for sure is that this will not be the last crisis that I face. The world has been changing fast, even before COVID-19 came along and caused major upheaval. What other crises or disruptions await us, further down the road?
I cannot be entitled or complacent. The onus is on me to learn, adapt, and stay open to possibilities. It’ll be ideal if I could be what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls antifragile. Antifragility is one level above resilience. An antifragile person doesn’t just withstand shocks, they grow more powerful from exposure to shocks.
Something to work towards in 2021!