20 lessons from a pandemic 2020

Red Rubik Cube with “Figure it Out” message
  1. Nothing is more important than preserving and nourishing your health. This is the kind of thing doctors, parents and grandparents always tell us, and we decide to ignore until sometimes it is too late. Maintaining a general health condition is the smartest thing you can do for yourself, and the best way to ensure that when illness hits, at least you got a healthy immune system to help you fight it off.
  2. Expecting and preparing for the worst is not an “exaggerated” attitude, it is a wise and necessary attitude to life. One of the best things crises and disasters do is they show us the exact level of psychological resilience we have — individually or collectively. I have to admit, 2020 was the year in which my cautious nature turned out to be a huge advantage — I was among the first people in my social circle to decide to isolate and prepare myself and my husband for a situation that I knew was going to escalate and get worse. Meanwhile, the “just think positive”, “why are you so freaked out”, “just breathe in and wish for the best” people laughed it off at first, most took no precautions and self protection measures, and got hit really hard by the pandemic later on.
  3. The most important thing you can do with your money is to save it. Whether you are an entrepreneur who has to protect their own business, a board member who needs to protect the financial health and the jobs of thousands or hundreds of people, or a mother or father who have the responsibility to feed, clothe and keep safe a family, having some money aside is vital. One of the best financial “tips” I heard is that each individual should always put aside enough money so that they can survive and thrive at least 6 months with no income. Money comes and goes. Businesses grow and fall. Economies expand and contract. Have enough resources so you can always survive this ebb and flow.
  4. Family and friendships are life saving. This is also something we theoretically know, but in reality we ignore as we chase away dream jobs and fancy urban living that takes us farther and farther from our homeland and our “tribe”. In a world where people travel so much for work and pleasure, who would have imagined we would end up being confined in a country, a town or our own apartment? Who would have imagined seeing our dear ones would be something we would crave so much? In 2020, not only did some people lose dear family members to Covid-19, many of them did not get even get to see them before they were buried. That is soul crushing. Heart breaking. For me, it made me rethink all my plans of conquering the world and living as a nomad. One day, we will all get that call that says “mom/dad is not feeling well. I think this might be it.” It is up to each one of us to decide how many days and hours of travel getting to that parent will take.
  5. Space is important. Some people have experienced the lockdown living in the countryside, with a yard, being able to go out and breathe the fresh air at will. My mother told me she did not even perceive the lockdown — her life continued pretty much the same way as before, in the freedom and the daily chores of her household and her farm. Others have experienced the lockdown in very small apartments and urban settings. These people have had it way more difficult for themselves. The amount of space you have (and what surrounds it) is not just a matter of financial prosperity — meaning you don’t necessarily have to spend more to have a better living condition. That is why so many people “downgrade to upgrade” — they move to smaller, more affordable towns to be able to afford a better housing condition.
  6. This is not a one-time event. With an increasingly connected world, with so much travel going on, pandemics will become more and more frequent. Understand this is not an exception, but will become a recurring event and do what you need to prepare for this.
  7. We directly experience the result of our political and civic actions and involvement (or the lack of it). What I mean by this is that many of us got to witness first hand how our elected leaders and parties managed this pandemic. Some of us were proud, happy, pleased — others enraged, disappointed, even in despair. Some of us had no issue criticising a government even though we didn’t cast one vote in the last 30 years. A lot of small businesses cried for help and funds from a state budget even if they spent most of their time finding creative ways to do tax evasion. When s*** hits the fan, no one gets to say “I have no responsibility in this”. Get off your high horses, take the blindfolds off and ask yourselves: How did I personally contribute to this chaos? And yes, also ask yourself, What can I do in the future to make better political choices for myself and for my country?
  8. We need to take care of each other. We need to help each other when disaster hits. Actually, we need to realise we should do this daily, “in sickness or in health”, because life is hard for all of us. You do not need to be related to someone to help them out. You do not need to have the same religion, nationality or political beliefs to decide to be a human first and lend a helping hand out — do it just because you can.
  9. I have grown to have almost zero tolerance for the people who talk a big game but take zero action. If you do not take responsibility to do some good in a pandemic year, if you just stood “on the bench” and criticised everyone from the comfort of your TV couch — the government, the medical workers, the scientists who had the pressure of the entire world on their shoulders to somehow figure this out — I don’t have time or availability to listen to your complaining. You are either contributing to help and support, or to bring people down — there is no middle and no neutral zone.
  10. I was lucky to be part of a company that really, truly cared for its people. I was part of the leadership team and got to live and witness firsthand the stress, the anxiety and the worries that you experience when people’s jobs rely on you. 2020 was a year when many of us have changed their entire mindset and approach of work, and shifted from “thriving” to “surviving”. Let’s not forget how we have been treated by our employers last year — Covid-19 worked as natural selection in the sense that we could easily see where people were actually protected and cared for as human beings, and not as “billable resources.”
  11. Mental health is vital. Constantly and intentionally taking care of your psychological well being is the best survival strategy you can have. Since you cannot control what disasters come next, since we cannot change the chaos and unpredictability of the world, what we can do is to build our mental strength and flexibility to be able to effectively respond to any challenges (opportunities too!)
  12. The power of committed relationships is absolutely undeniable. The most incredible, mind-numbing thing I have heard last year is a woman yelling at me about how “privileged” I was to experience lockdown with my husband, not alone, and with enough money for food and medicine and survival when she had to live alone with her children in a small apartment, genuinely worried about tomorrow. It was the same woman who three years in a row called us all working people “corporate freaks”, “corporate sellouts”, etc. while she was “enjoying the freelancer life”. It was the same woman who has worked her entire life to preach others about how marriage is, again, a remnant from a dark historical age — a woman who pitied “women caught in marriages”, but would have no problem to sleep with the men caught in the same marriages. Her statement about how I was “privileged” shocked me at the time, and I simply did not have the time to respond because I was busy surviving through Covid-19. But I have a reply now: “It is not called privilege. It is a result of my hard work and my careful life choices. Also, for me, being married is the biggest joys in life. Deal with it.”
  13. Always be ready to start from scratch. Ensure you have training in more than one field and one profession. Take into account the fact that tomorrow, the bubble in which you work might burst — do you have at least another skill that companies would actually be interested in and willing to pay for when things get rough?
  14. Be a decent, grateful and genuinely kind human being. In 2020, I witnessed many software development “snowflakes” — young professionals who were always headhunted and did not fathom the possibility of ever losing a job — despair and cry on LinkedIn that they… have lost their job. Some had the wisdom and decency to actively search for and pursue jobs. Others thought that the best strategy was to yell louder and louder, and to publicly condemn HR people for not “giving them jobs”. Dear snowflakes, in the “real world” and “real economy” jobs are earned through hard work, and kept through results and professionalism. The HR people were not giving you jobs either because they did not have jobs themselves in 2020, or because they were busy trying to maintain jobs at least for the people who did not call them any given name or insult when the “brown, eco friendly sugar” in the cafeteria ran out. Adults tend to have bigger issues to care for than replenishing the brown eco friendly sugar for the coffee you get for free at your job.
  15. Carpe that f****** diem. I know most of this article is a sobering cold shower, and it was supposed to be that way. We are supposed to be very awake and aware of ourselves and the world we live in. Things aren’t always pretty, but they surely aren’t always dark and gloomy. There is good in everything. Even in your hardest days, there is something you have or experience that thousands of other people would only dream of. Enjoy all the good you have in your life, every day.
  16. Experiencing nature is a privilege and a gift. I don’t know what you missed most in 2020, but for me time outdoors and travelling, and forest hiking, and fresh air from a meadow were at the top of my list. I get physically sick when I don’t spend enough time in nature. The thought of a “concrete” jungle in the future is my worst nightmare and I will do my best to protect the environment as much as I can. Climate change is actually the biggest threat — it is already too late to “save” the planet, what we can hope to do is “maintain” its health and nourish it even further.
  17. Having kids is life saving, though difficult and annoying. I got to witness how different categories of people experienced 2020 and the lockdown: from my observations and from reading the psycho-social literature on the topic, the most impacted people were those who were caught by the lockdown alone. This is something that should really make us all think about the kind of life we want to live.
  18. If big family life is not on your radar — which I can understand — apparently having pets works to some extent :) Raise your hand if you know at least one friend who adopted a pet in 2020.
  19. Reading the news is pretty much like eating red meat: something you should do responsibly, once in a while, with awareness of the benefits and the costs, and by being mindful of the supply chain of the end product. Source of the news matters. A lot.
  20. Pain is unavoidable. Pain sucks. Physical pain is hard. Emotional pain, as the one caused by all the grief and madness in 2020, is the hardest. If you are reading this, you made it. You are still alive. I am sure you have had your fair share of losses. But I also hope you can use the pain to forge a stronger “Self” and a better Future — for you, for your dear ones, for all of Us.

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