in Cognitive Wisdom, Open Letter, Prism of Life

The Year helped us focus on what is really important in life

It would be a gross understatement to say that this year has been rough. The Coronavirus and subsequent lockdowns have had a globally devastating impact on our existence.

It has somehow managed to remind us of the vulnerability of humans as a species. The overwhelmingly negative experience of loss, struggle, heartache, anxiety, and stress has amplified the typical uncertainty associated with human existence.

In fact, trying to get positives out of 2020 might look as hard as making milk from almonds. We may still be struggling today, but there are opportunities we haven’t fully seized yet, and the potential we haven’t fully realized yet.

It’s true while learning alone can’t help us succeed; the life lessons from the year 2020 can help us prepare better for an uncertain 2021.

My personal 20 life lessons learned in the year 2020 are enlisted as follows —

1. We need a lot less than we have

Until we were confined within the four walls of our home, we had no idea we could survive without many things we thought to be essential for our daily existence.

For instance, the idea that we couldn’t live without our regular dose of fast food delivered at our home turned out to be a myth. We found we could cook healthy food at our homes, that too, using the bare minimum ingredients at our disposal.

We could live our lives in peace without making weekly visits to malls and mega markets. We discovered there is no need to rely on multiplexes and entertainment parks to enjoy ourselves.

If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things, then this is the best season of your life. ~ Wu-Men

2. We can always revisit our wants

Once we have a fair idea of the list of things we need for survival, we have the option of revisiting our earlier desires.

The crisis has put us all through unenviable situations forcing us to differentiate between our wants and our needs.

Once we go through the process of finding the difference between the two, we can appreciate the freedom of choice provided by this distinction.

Needs are imposed by nature. Wants are sold by society. ~Mokokoma Mokhonoana

3. Freedom is never free; it comes at a cost

To understand freedom, one needs to exercise responsibility. And to exercise responsibility, one needs to live in freedom.

We really can’t have one without the other.

The pandemic has taught us to be more responsible in our actions by complying with self-isolation, social distancing, frequent use of sanitizers, wearing masks in public places — so that we could keep enjoying our long term freedom.

These choices are sensible trade-offs if we wish to curtail the spread of an easily communicable disease.

Responsibility is the price of freedom. ~ Elbert Hubbard

4. WFH & Online schooling is a viable option

COVID-19 and its contagious onslaught has disrupted conventional world orders and propelled new ways of connecting, working, and studying.

One key learning from this extended period of uncertainty has been the need to be agile and adapt swiftly, besides being receptive to unprecedented changes.

With an extended period of restriction on movements, WFH and online schooling has emerged as a viable alternative to the usual options — options worth exploring and sustaining.

Adaptability is the simple secret of survival. ~ Jessica Hagedorn

5. We might not know what we want till we look inside

We only have a few short years in which to come up with a convincing answer about what we want from our lives. Depending upon the clarity in our thought-process, we tend to jump into a job to have enough money to survive or appease society’s demands for our productivity.

Without self-knowledge, we are too vague about our ambitions; we don’t know what to do with our lives, and — because money tends to be such an urgent priority — we imprison ourselves into a cage from which it may take decades to emerge.

Fortunately, the period of the extended pandemic provided us with that unique opportunity to dig deep to come up with some palatable answers to all troubling questions.

The self is not something ready-made, but something in continuous formation through choice of action. ~ John Dewey

6. Constraints can prove to be a blessing in disguise

Constraints can seem like the last thing you’d ever want for better completion of any of your work. But more often than not, they can actually prove to be quite beneficial when it comes to doing good work.

Working from home proved to be quite a challenging proposition, especially for people who were used to working in team dynamics.

In fact, not having access to all the resources can prove to be a blessing in disguise if we care enough to come up with creative solutions.

What is not constrained is not creative. ~ Philip Johnson-Laird

7. Keep the promises you make to yourself

We’re good at making promises but not so good at keeping them.

We expect radical and complete change, and when we don’t turn our lives around 100 percent overnight, we feel dejected, demoralized, and defeated.

We may even fall into the trap of ruthless self-criticism for not being the person we want to be.

The prolonged pandemic allowed us to be true to ourselves and keep those unkept promises made during normal times. If not done already, you can definitely give it an honest try.

To be responsible, keep your promises to others. To be successful, keep your promises to yourself. ~ Marie Forleo

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8. Find your comfort in discomfort

Unfortunately, we’re conditioned to avoid discomfort— look at how we avoid eating vegetables just because they aren’t tasty enough. As a result, we have this default habit of eating what we already like: sweets, fried stuff, processed meats and flour, lots of cheese, and salty things.

And we blame why our tiny tots aren’t eating those healthy veggies.

The simple act of learning to get used to something that tastes different — not really that hard in the grand scheme of life — can play a critical role in literally shaping your future health.

The pandemic has allowed us to make some healthy choices as far as our eating habits are concerned so that we could move a little bit towards mastering the fear of discomfort.

Be willing to be uncomfortable. Be comfortable being uncomfortable. It may get tough, but it’s a small price to pay for living a dream. ~Peter McWilliams

9. It doesn’t cost much to spread the kindness

Each of us is battling through our own crises, which makes us co-passengers in this journey. Despite the personal battles, every now and then, each of us can afford to display a random act of kindness.

An act of non-judgemental listening, a smile, or kind words can be catalysts for a road to a better mood or the beginning of the healing process for someone who needs it the most.

Be the Santa in someone’s life you always wished you had in your own life! Because you never know, practicing kindness might change your life. It might just create a habit you don’t ever want to break.

Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end. ~ Scott Adams

10. Learning to hear out people who disagree with you

One of the essential things that we often tend to ignore is that a human being is a product of a lifetime of experiences. Our eagerness to judge them based on our limited interaction is a kind of mistake we can avoid.

When we engage people across ideological divides, asking questions helps us map the disconnect between our differing points of view. That’s important because we can’t present compelling arguments if we don’t understand where the other side is actually coming from, and it allows them to point out flaws in our positions.

The virtual modes of interaction during the pandemic have amplified the difficulty of getting this whole thing right. Nevertheless, it has changed the dynamics of our conversations.

We can disagree with one another without being raging, judgmental, spiteful, self-righteous lunatics. Can’t we? ~ Scott Stabile

11. Nothing compares to in-person interaction

There is a hard-learned realization during the pandemic that nothing beats in-person interactions.

The lockdown was also one of the loneliest times for many people.

It highlighted the universal need for social interaction, even if it’s as small as a few words exchanged with the pizza delivery boy.

And when things got better, and people began having in-person visits with family and friends again, there was a newfound appreciation for face-to-face interactions that were previously lost in a social world gone virtual.

We expect more from technology and less from each other. We create technology to provide the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. ~ Sherry Turkle, Professor

12. We are stronger than we know

The extended period of lockdown pushed many of us to the edge of despair. Forced to stay at our homes? Work from home for the foreseeable future? Kids online schooling, indoor playgrounds? It all seemed so impossible.

We somehow learned to adjust to these strange new circumstances, without losing our mind, adapting to a new routine, a new way of life.

In fact, many of us lost our job during this period. Despite that, we learned to ride out the lockdown like champions! Many were exposed to trying circumstances, and some of them even suffered mightily.

Yet, every one of us not only managed to outgrow those limiting circumstances but also successfully grow in ways we never thought we could.

No matter what kind of challenges or difficulties or painful situations you go through in your life, we all have something deep within us that we can reach down and find the inner strength to get through them. ~ Alana Stewart

13. Life is too short to hold on to grudges

When we say life is too short, we mean that life is too fragile to take things, people, and moments for granted.

The pandemic has taught us that no matter how hard we try, we can never fully control our lives — so it’s better to appreciate moments before they pass away completely.

The universal grief we all felt this year made us recognize our pettiness and how little it really matters — especially when someone forgets our birthday, or doesn’t returns our call, or is too preoccupied to like our blog pages. Life indeed is too short for this nonsense.

Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die. ~ Anne Lamott

14. Self-care is a priority, not a privilege

The frequently cited cliche about why we should put on our own oxygen mask first has somehow gained widespread currency during these unprecedented times.

Whether you’re working from home or going to your front-line jobs, you’re forced to juggle multiple responsibilities of housebound children while going through the everyday grind to come up with food on the table.

The period has been a potent reminder that self-care in the form of attending to one’s health and emotional needs can’t be a privilege under these unprecedented and trying conditions.

You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection. ~ Buddha

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15. There is no shame in asking for help

Because asking for help is often perceived as a weakness, it is one of the hardest things for most people to do. Even people who are considered the strongest and the most helpful among us find it difficult.

However, this pandemic has taught us all that there’s no shame in asking for help, especially during these uncertain & challenging times. Because you never know — what might help you to get through stressful situations.

We should never forget that asking for help doesn’t make us weak; it only makes us human.

One of the biggest defects in life is the inability to ask for help. ~ Robert Kiyosaki

16. Always have something to look forward to

From the perspective of psychological well-being — even during the worst of times — it makes sense to have a positive outlook on future possibilities.

No matter how difficult your situation is, no matter how hard life knocks you down, make sure not to lose hope. Never stop hoping for a better future.

There is always a way to go forward; there is always a step towards a better life; there is still something to look forward to.

It’s during the darkest of hours; stars shine the brightest. ~ Louise Philippe

17. Happiness is self-created

This entire episode has taught us that we need far less than what we have to have a happy life. Happiness in our life is mostly dependent on the choices we make. Once we’re ready to accept that “happiness is a choice,” we can claim to have reframed a significant portion of our life.

Acknowledging that happiness is in our hands is hard. Why?

On the one hand, by admitting the truth, we are holding ourselves accountable. Whereas on the other hand, having that mindset also means we can no longer blame others for our “unhappiness.”

It’s way easier to blame our misery on others than ourselves. And due to our conditioning, this sweet illusion feels okay.

Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.~ Thich Nhat Hanh

18. Be grateful for what you have

Even when it isn’t easy. Having problems at work?

Be thankful you have work. Be grateful you have challenges and that life isn’t boring.

It’s hard to complain about the little things when you’re thankful that your children are alive and healthy. It’s difficult to get stressed over paying bills when you are grateful there is a roof over your head.

This indefinite uncertainty has taught us that the simple act of GRATITUDE can turn a negative into a positive. As soon as you find a way to be thankful for your troubles, they can become your blessings.

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder. ~ G.K. Chesterton

19. Choose your problems wisely

Life is always going to confront you with problems. You can’t escape yourself from struggling with those problems.

In fact, life is necessarily an endless series of problems, where the solution to one set of problems often gets replaced by another one.

While confronting problems, if you find yourself fighting too many of them on too many fronts, you will end up feeling drained of emotional, mental, and physical energy.

In fact, I have learned this hard way that there is nothing laudable about running away from a particular problem if you happen to know, in your heart, that it needs to be fought.

Choose your battles wisely…Life is too short to spend it on warring. Fight only the most, most, most important ones, let the rest go. ~ C. JoyBell C.

20. Appreciate everything without expecting anything

You may ask what a life without expectations looks like?

It means you accept reality as it is, circumstances as they are, and people as they are — not as what you think they are. It takes a lot of effort to do so because it makes us deviate from our default habit of seeing things from the lens of what we expect from people, circumstances, and incidents.

The past few months have taught us that there is no need to be disappointed or frustrated, or angry in life. And even if you are, you have the option of accepting it and then letting it go.

Start paying attention to your thoughts. And don’t beat yourself up if you happen to carry one of those expectations. Make sure to see them through like clouds.

Don’t expect things to happen. It’s better to be surprised than to be disappointed. ~Anonymous

Thanks for Reading

Wishing You All a Very Happy New Year!

Piyush Kamal🎖

Originally published on Medium.


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