Surviving the Lost Year: 6 Important Areas to Focus on in 2021
“Honey, you may have to accept that this is just a lost year”
So said my mother, Connie, in that wise, cerebral way that only mothers can. It was advice born from years of experience dealing with life’s peaks and valleys. And curveballs. Because when it came to 2020, life threw us a mother of a curveball.
I had been visiting my folks at their home in the midwest complaining about being single in my early 40’s, with my dude-clock ticking and my unending quest for a satisfying career turning up nadda, wondering where to go from here.
Acceptance, I thought. The last stage of grief. Yes, I could accept that in many ways, 2020 was a lost year. Many people lost loved ones and businesses and places to live. I had been blessed to avoid some of the carnage, but like everyone, I hadn’t been unaffected.
Yet my struggles with 2020 at the time were more along existential lines. I felt like I was losing momentum. What I shouldn’t do, I reasoned, is stagnate. Or wallow in self-pity.
So what should I do?
With everything so seemingly complicated, I thought it best to keep it simple. What are some things I can focus on that will improve my life now and when things return to “normal”?
It dawned on me that we can all use this challenging time to reconnect with important areas in our lives. Certain aspects we’re all aware of but some may have neglected, with everything else going on.
So take a look, and see if a renewed connection in one or all of these areas might help to propel you forward, post-pandemic and beyond.
What do you want out of life, specifically? What would fill your heart with purpose? With joy? With peace? Too often these questions are permanently shelved in some barely visited corner of our minds. It seems like every other article talks about living our best life, but how many of us know exactly what that looks like?
We continue barreling towards some vague idea of happiness as we accomplish goal after goal with the expectation that we’ll be fulfilled when we finally get to where we’re going.
It’s no wonder so many people feel anxious, uneasy, and discontented.
Maybe it’s time to stop. Really stop. Sit down, breathe, and ask yourself what’s really in your heart. Write it down. Be so honest that it hurts. Honest about where you are, where you want to be, and what it would take to get there.
Write about your health (emotional, spiritual, and physical), career, and relationships. What would it take for you to be fulfilled in each area? Be specific as possible.
If you decide you are willing to do what’s necessary to achieve your dream, then make a simple plan to get started. Then take at least one action step a day towards realizing it.
The key here is reflection. Spend several minutes at the end of each day honoring what you did right. Make a quick note of any missteps and implement a course correction if need be. Then let it go. And remember, we are constantly changing, so it makes sense that our dreams might change too.
If you find yourself miserable on your journey, then maybe it’s time to reevaluate. If you’re not finding joy in the daily “struggle”, dream a new dream and make a new plan.
The outdoors has always been a conduit for human creativity. There’s just something inspiring about leaving the confines of our daily lives to experience something vast and timeless, even if just for a little while.
So many of us set the dial on autopilot while we go from home to work to the gym or the bar or the school or the mall. After a while, our life bubble becomes so small that we feel claustrophobic.
When you get out in nature, even for a little while, that bubble stretches, and you see the beautiful cycle of life that lets you know the world is an expansive, wondrous place. One that’s filled with so much more than our little dramas and routines. So get out there, get mindful, and get inspired.
It may seem morbid at first, but when we reflect on the fact that we will someday be gone, we can focus on making the days we have count.
Remembering that life is finite, the time we have becomes that much more precious.
How many of us would live our lives on autopilot if we knew it’d be over in a year, or 6 months? Do you think we’d care about a snide comment or a petty resentment if we knew we’d be gone next month?
Changing your perspective can help alleviate some of life’s more trivial pressures.
What if every time you get upset, or frustrated, or disillusioned, you asked yourself, “Does this thing I’m stressing about mean anything in the totality of my life?” If the answer is no, let it go. Forgive yourself and others. Don’t waste the gift of time on things that don’t really matter.
Unfortunately, the events of the last year have forced many of us to deal with death in an immediate and painful way. It became less abstract and much more real. But it’s always been human nature to learn and grow from tragedy as we heal from it.
So maybe if we give some thought to dying, we could end up really living. Because even though no one gets out of this alive, if we do it right, we can get out of this a life.
God. It can be a loaded word. And a divisive one. But whether you’re religious or not, even the most skeptical among us has to admit there are universal forces at play that we don’t fully understand. Forces that seem to be much more powerful than any single person.
If you can accept that great power outside yourself exists, is it such a leap to believe appealing to that power through prayer or meditation can provide you with comfort? With answers? With direction? With joy?
Regardless of how you define God, take a couple of minutes a day to get on your knees and humble yourself. Ask for help. Ask for help for others.
Because devout or atheist, we can all use guidance. None of us have all the answers, and you won’t lose anything by asking for them.
We’re social creatures. We need interaction, we crave validation. We need others to bounce ideas off and get ideas from. We’re a society predicated on interdependence, and working toward shared goals fills us with a sense of usefulness and purpose.
So put some skin in the game. Help others to help yourself. Even getting involved in one small project in your community helps to tether you to the place you live and the people you live with.
And nothing beats the feeling of working together for a common goal and achieving that goal.
Be a part of, not apart from.
“In order to have a friend, you have to be one” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
I love this Emerson quote because it’s basically an offshoot of the old “You get out what you put in” saying. And nothing could be more applicable to the people that populate your life. The ones you choose and the ones you’re born with. That’s why the last area of focus on this list is a closer relationship with your friends and family.
We all need people in our corner. People to love, people we trust, people that we can share our lives with. That’s what makes our burdens bearable, and our joys so triumphant. The fact that we get to experience this life thing together is what makes it so extraordinary.
But you have to give to receive. The beauty is that when you give freely, what you get back becomes magnified. Whether it’s your time, attention, support, or just your presence.
So do a quick inventory of your relationships with the people you love. Stay in touch. Ask them how they’re doing. Be willing to sacrifice a tiny bit of yourself.
There’s something to be said for standing on your own two feet. And it’s healthy to enjoy your own company. But no one can do this thing alone. You need people that’ll pick you up when you inevitably stumble. You also need people that will tell you when you’re wrong but will love you anyway.
I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that no one approaching the twilight of their golden years ever sat on their porch, looked back at it all, and said “Boy, I really wish I didn’t have so many loved ones in my life, what a waste.”
I mean, what’s the purpose of life, if not to love and be loved?
There’s no doubt that the pandemic has affected us all. For some it was our livelihood, for others it was our mental and physical health. For over 550,000 Americans, it was our lives.
We’ll all bear the scars of the Lost Year, but we don’t have to come out of it empty-handed. We can learn, and we can grow. We can look at our lives and the blessings therein and be grateful that we still have a chance to shine.
As a people, we’ve survived. Now let’s look for ways to thrive.
Let me know how you’re thriving in the comments below!