Lessons Learned in 2020

Most of us would not put 2020 down as one of the best. I do not know about you, but I am ready for this year to be over. As if dealing with a global pandemic was not enough stress on its own, it seems like we have experienced one stressful event after another. Add extreme weather conditions, families fleeing for their lives from fires, deep political divisions, civil infighting and mudslinging, ongoing racial injustices and rioting in the streets. In those ways, it has been a terrible year. One thing is certain – our lives will never be exactly the same again.

However, in other ways, I cannot help but think that it has been a valuable and clarifying year. I have learned some important lessons about how I want to spend my time, energy, and money that I probably would not have learned any other way. Our country has an increased and painful awareness of ongoing racial inequity that forced us to reckon with old attitudes and biases that should have disappeared a long time ago. Many disadvantaged cannot afford to go to a doctor. The homeless do not have the ability to socially isolate themselves or go to a doctor. The working poor cannot afford to quit their jobs and are at a higher risk for getting sick. Many working parents cannot find or afford childcare. We are in a position now to start finding better solutions for solving the problems of the disadvantaged in America. I appreciate my family more than ever and appreciate technology that has enabled me to stay connected to them in real time. After being forced to step back from the rat-race of social commitments and must-do’s (early on because of my health and then later due to Covid), I have found a real enjoyment in the quiet and solitude of staying at home, reading more, spending less and generally taking life at a slower pace. It has been hard to say good-bye to roles and identities that I had previously taken for granted, but I appreciate my pre-Covid life more now than I did before and will be less apt to take life for granted when this is all over.

I think I grew up a bit this year. Social distancing and wearing an uncomfortable mask would not have been my choice but I have done so that others would be safer and feel cared for around me. It has reminded me that my life is not about me, but about the collective us. Living with lung cancer this year gave me the opportunity to recognize that life is precious and that one’s health is easily taken for granted. Stepping back this year from my career and its time-consuming responsibilities was a wake-up call to how easy it is to waste life focusing on projects, goals and aspirations that will vanish tomorrow and how much more important it is to instead focus on people and relationships. I think I am finally getting it that investing in work, even meaningful work, is not as important as investing in people. I especially hope I can remember this last lesson because it is a game-changer.

For most of us it is hard to take a step back and take a candid look in the mirror. If you are like me, it only happens when stressful circumstances force you to stop, lean forward and take a good hard look. Take a moment to reflect on what you have learned from this year. What has been the most challenging issue for you? What event was the most clarifying and useful to you? Do you feel that your attitudes have changed toward your friends, your neighbors, and your community? Do you feel more hopeful or less hopeful about the future now?

When this staggering global outbreak finally ends – and it will end – there will be reckoning of sorts, one that will judge how we responded as a nation, as communities, and as friends. When that happens, I hope that we will look back and be able to remember how we grew and what we learned, and how well we took care of each other.

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