2020 — A game changer

Thoughts on self-discovery, optimism and future preparedness

Not at least in the last 35 years have I seen a global, unanimous hatred for something as inanimate as a year. 2020 is the one singular demon of all our lives. Lives were lost to disease, natural disasters, riots and depression. We have all witnessed real-life apocalyptic scenes from movies including ghosted cities, angry mobs, burning forests, flooded homes, wars and political turmoil across the world in just one year. I think it’s time we all should probably accept the fact that 2020 was not just a bad year. It is the beginning of a way of life that is going to make us all very uncomfortable for a while.

That’s a grim picture, isn’t it? It’s probably not that easy to see the silver-lining to any of this and that’s ok. But the one lesson I have learned from life is that (almost) everything seems justified in hindsight. And that’s what I want to talk about today — some ways in which this year has taught us to unpack, rediscover, realize and reimagine our past, present and future.

Losing our jobs

Both me and my husband lost our jobs to budget-led downsizing. Thankfully, my husband was given a 2 months notice and was able to hold on to our health insurance. I, on the other hand, was a contractor and was left pretty high and dry without any notice or anything to hold on to while they swiftly pulled the rug from under my feet. We are middle-class immigrants with a toddler and this would have been a shattering blow to our family if, (1) we were still on a visa and (2) if we both had no savings. Thankfully, we received our PR only a couple of years ago (that qualified us to receive unemployment benefits) and we did have some savings to go on unemployed for a while in the worst case scenario. But this made us realize a lot of things that we previously took for granted.

Re-marketing yourself

I guess it takes a lot to step out of a certain comfort zone. We both knew that in order to reach our career goals, we would have to step out of our current jobs. A resume/portfolio cleanup, realignment of thoughts and goals and a fresh approach to searching for a job — all of these otherwise ‘background’ activities were super-fueled by the need for both of us to find a job asap. Moreover, it helped me reimagine how I want to re-market myself and how I can leverage an already available network of contacts and friends, who by the way, played a vital role in finally landing us opportunities that would pave the way to a life we were imagining for ourselves.

The system is not all that bad

Moreover, this was a year of certain life-changing realizations. For example, as tax-paying immigrant workers, we never had the opportunity to pick our leaders. But that didn’t stop us from forming opinions about Government policies that were affecting us. Things such as unemployment insurance, social security taxes etc. just looked like pointless deductions from our salary, until there came a previously unimaginable scenario when all that we were giving from our own pay checks would come around and pay us back. At a time, when both of us had lost our source of income, having the Government take care of our mortgage and day-to-day expenses made me realize and be grateful for a number of things that were previously invisible to me. Yes of course, I still continue to disagree with a ton of government policies, but at least, I am a little less aggravated with the Government as a whole.

We plan our lives based on what we currently have. But we often forget to factor in things that are out of our control. Today we might have great jobs. But no one knows when they will be taken away. This year, especially, made us rethink things and stop taking our jobs, our careers for granted. Personally, it has also propelled me to empathize with my future self and envision what might be valuable 20 years down the line to me. And let me tell you, money — as in currency — was the last of those things. Memories, experiences, education, a sustainable way of life, and investing in assets like land, water, ore or ideas might be more valuable than retirement funds, properties or any amount of monetary savings.

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Being super parents, super employee and superhuman

Yes, I know. Too many parents are ranting about this all over the internet. There are hopeful articles about it EVERYWHERE — how (its still possible) to raise a responsible, smart, and compassionate human while trying to make sure we keep that human safe, healthy and fed (by working and making money!). I myself am guilty to have written something similar in a previous post from May 2020. But in the last few months of dealing with this madness, I have gone from “ok, I can make this work” to “I am going to lose my sh**” to “This is for real, and since I am not superhuman, somethings have got to give.” Honestly, it’s really hard. Especially when watching other parents do a seemingly fantastic job at being these super-humans make you question your own ability as a parent or a worker. I try to chronicle my less-than-perfect life on instagram as a respite and response to photos and stories of parents who have got all of their sh** together. But over a period of time, I have decided to not beat myself over it, take it one day at a time and seek content and advice that’s coming from the heart and grounded in reality.

For me, this article by Emily Oster, was one of the most relatable, practical and honest account of what it is to be a work-from-home parent during these challenging times. “We are now all parenting in the open. Like, really, really open.” — She touches upon what it’s like to not just be a parent but also about how it is to be working with parents and how that’s going to affect the work culture in the long run. It’s not about a ‘work-life balance’ anymore.

If these restrictions last through the summer or beyond, there will be a radical reshaping of how we think about the boundaries of work and home.

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Craving deeper connections

Humans are social animals. From the beginning of our time we have survived and thrived through collaboration, support, cooperation, motivation and communication. So what happens when this survival fuel for humans is suddenly taken away? 2020 has definitely been the year for the introvert. With very limited physical meeting opportunities, people were forced to stay home and reduce their interactivity with the world that lays outside of their immediate proximity. While this worked out great for some people who had their families & friends living close by, there is still a sizable population that lives alone and is trapped within their own little bubble before they could realize how long they would have to stay that way.

We moved from New Jersey about 2 years ago where we were almost always surrounded by family and friends. It was a huge trade-off, but our move to Washington was a well thought-through decision that aligned well with our life goals. Coming to think of it, I often wonder if we would have held off on the decision to move if he had the slightest inkling to what was coming in a year’s time. Staying away from friends and family this year has been the toughest to endure. While our zoom and wassapp calls have increased in frequency, the screen makes the distance feel even larger than it is. It’s still heart breaking to realize that we don’t even actually know when we will be able to physically meet, hold hands or hug our friends and families.

But what about those who you can hug, touch and talk to? Your immediate family? Your partner, your children, your pet? It’s great to be able to spend so much time with family, but is that really quality time? All boundaries are blurring — work is flowing into home chores, conversations with your partner are often interrupted by a blaring child in the background, there’s no time to do nothing — and we are all in this royal rut that seems endless since we don’t know when will we ever get to just take some time away to recharge!

Social/neighborhood interactions too seem to be changing. But this is mostly for the good. Now that we have more time to go for walks, and sit in the front yard, there are more hellos and the immediate community seems a little bit more alive than before. Colleagues too, even though all working from home, seem to check in more often and acknowledge life of other colleagues beyond work.

Two sides of a coin, while 2020 might have made some social interactions better, it has also etched a longing for a deeper, more meaningful connection with ourselves, those who are too close and those who are too far. A longing for something that feels a bit more human, something that has more dimension, more tactility than a computer screen.

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Being vulnerable

All my life, I have come across a number of natural as well as human calamities — floods, draughts, riots, terror attacks, storms, hurricanes, snowstorms and wildfires. But I always deeply believed that — ‘this too shall pass’. Calamities happened, but they were pretty spaced out. There was always time to get over one disaster to be prepared for another. But as I have grown, I have started to realize this space between ‘life-altering’ events is shrinking rapidly. Not just time-wise but also geographically. Earlier, my experience of these disasters was defined by simply being in the vicinity, not being directly affected by it. But this time, not only was I affected by a multitude of disasters, I can’t think of a single person I know, who has largely stayed unaffected. If anything, there is a collective, global sense of uncertainty, fear and vulnerability. And the scary part is there’s no clear end in sight. But while thinking and introspecting about these things and doom in general, I was finally able to truly empathize with those who practically spend their entire life feeling this way.

Global extreme poverty is expected to rise in 2020 for the first time in over 20 years as the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic compounds the forces of conflict and climate change, which were already slowing poverty reduction progress. Source: Worldbank.org

There are just too many children, animals and unsuspecting, good humans who are subjected to this uncertainty and vulnerability every single day of their lives. And if there is any learning from these uncertain times we all are currently living, I am hopeful that some of us will realize their role as those who are fortunate and able to make an impact in just one of these less fortunate lives. Make this a year of giving, empathizing and loving those who need it the most. Volunteer, adopt, donate and care.

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Hope

Yes. I still believe in ‘this too shall pass’. Everything always does. And that’s what I call hope. 2020 might have thrown us all into a whirlwind of unpleasant and unwanted experiences. We might still feel uncertain and unsure of what lies ahead, but I am pretty sure that we might just have a little more courage to deal with it all, right? As I stated earlier, I may not be the wisest of them all, but I have realized that in hindsight, almost everything in life seems justified. The end of the year has brought with it a hope for a better future with COVID vaccines on the horizon, a new (and possibly better) leader for the US and the world, and generally a hope that things just can’t get worse than this! But most importantly, 2020 has brought us face-to-face with our worst fears. And now that we have faced them head on, we are all better equipped and prepared for what could come next.

“When we are forced to attend to the places where we are most stuck, such as when faced with our anger and fear, we have the perfect opportunity to go to the roots of our attachments. This is why we repeatedly emphasize the need to welcome such experiences, to invite them in, to see them as our path. Normally we may only feel welcoming towards our pleasant experiences, but Buddhist practice asks us to welcome whatever comes up, including the unpleasant and the unwanted, because we understand that only by facing these experiences directly can we become free of their domination. In this way, they no longer dictate who we are.” — Ezra Bayda, Beyond Happiness (2011)

Photo taken at the Vigeland park in Oslo, Norway (2007) — This is a photo of a sculpture by Gustav Vigeland on the path to the monolith that has been interpreted as a kind of vision of resurrection, and our longing and striving for spirituality.

Storyteller • Designer • What ‘if’ Enthusiast www.anujasinghal.com

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