Finding Gratitude in 2020, and What I’m Planning in 2021

As 2020 drew to a close and 2021 began, I reflected on a year that looked wildly different to anything I could have imagined.

Near the end of December, I joined a meeting where dozens of people shared things they were grateful for- silver linings, if you will. As happy as I felt for all of them and their found joy, some of the things shared felt so un-relatable (engagements, marriages, house purchases, babies, new pets), I started to question what I accomplished in 2020.

If you follow me on Instagram, you know I’m firmly in the camp of people who consider surviving 2020 to be an accomplishment in and of itself. It was a traumatic year, to say the least.

I’ve never been one to feel pressure to societal norms. I’m also not much for five year plans, because I find myself in a constant state of evolution, and believe in pursuing goals while remaining flexible. But, in a year where I was unable to do so many of the things that have defined my interests and lifestyle, I wondered, should I move back to New York to be closer to family and friends?; what would owning a home somewhere in the world look like- should I rethink my ‘nomadic’ lifestyle to ensure I have a home base if I ever need it again in the future?; are the things I’m defining my life by really what I want to look back on and have 10, 20, 30 years from now?

I’m fortunate to have my health, and for my family and friends to have theirs. People close to me who’ve had COVID have recovered, save for a few manageable long-hauler symptoms. And, after bouncing around non-stop in 2019, I’m grateful for an apartment and the ability to remain in one country for an extended period of time. I’m also grateful to work for a tech company that put employee wellbeing at the forefront last year, and to have a steady flow of income throughout the entirety of the year.

With so many friends who’ve faced harsh unemployment challenges, adapted to new realities of working from home with children in tow, and tragically, even lost family and friends of their own, it doesn’t escape me that my year looks rosy if compared to the experiences of so many others. But, if I learned anything in 2019 as part of fighting my way out of depression and through a severe anxiety disorder, it’s that your pain or struggles are no less valid or important when compared to the experiences of others.

And, so, in a year, where I’ve watched so many in my orbit give thanks for reaching milestones normalized and celebrated by society, I dug deep to reflect on what I was proud to have accomplished in 2020.

21 Things I Did in 2020 That I’m Proud Of

  1. Relocated to a new country and started a new job during the height of the pandemic in March, neither of which I necessarily saw coming in 2020, but will be forever grateful I pursued on what I can only describe as a ‘gut feeling’.
  2. Started and maintained a daily gratitude practice.
  3. Began to form the makings of a morning routine that uplifts and motivates me.
  4. Noticed and took comfort in the little things. The way clouds were moving through the afternoon sky, a particularly sunny day, the soothing sound of rain- everything felt heightened last year in a ‘you’re lucky to be alive, notice the beauty around you’ kind of way.
  5. Sat with my feelings. Usually, if feeling down, I’d try to cheer myself up, or if feeling tired but not finished with a project, I’d push to finish. Last year, I left a lot of things undone. I gave myself permission to feel the gravity of everything.
  6. Wrote enough posts to fully catch-up on my year of non-stop travel.
  7. Rested without apology.
  8. Committed to moving my body daily, first on mile long daily walks and then, through adding strength with weights, barre and pilates.
  9. Learned how to fly a drone.
  10. Practiced conversing in Spanish for several weeks, while living in Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia in early 2020.
  11. Committed to eating vegan for several weeks at the end of the year, after years of resisting because I couldn’t imagine giving up cheese. I can’t imagine a day where I won’t deeply love cheese, but I certainly can’t deny how fantastic I felt after eliminating it for a few weeks.
  12. Watched series on Netflix, Hulu and Prime I’ve been meaning to see for years.
  13. Had a proper Halloween movie marathon, and even took annual leave from work to watch said spooky movies.
  14. Remained calm. For the most part, I felt calm throughout the entirety of 2020. Sure, I had moments and a monthly long period where I ‘hit a wall’. Yet, even with so much catastrophe and horror, I drew comfort in my understanding that we’re never really in control of our lives the way we think we are. Much more important is the ability to learn from hardships, evolve and grow.
  15. Grew relationships in a way that led to deep connection and tendered emotional reciprocity.
  16. Spent countless hours calling voters in the lead up to the election to ensure they had the info they needed, and a plan to vote.
  17. Realized doing anti-racism work when it’s convenient for me is not acceptable. Some things, like reading email newsletters (Anti-Racism Daily, and 5 Actions for Better Allies are two of my favorites), supporting activists and educators, and reading more may seem passive, but doing them with increased regularity, as well as continuing donations to organizations leading the fight for justice and change, as well as pushing those close to me to have difficult, confronting conversations about beliefs ensured I’m questioning my role in upholding systems of white supremacy daily.
  18. Took solo trips around Ireland, finding ease in driving on my own, and beauty in prolonged solitude.
  19. Perfected at-home coffee, from cold brew with cold foam to mochas, coconut coffee, dalgona coffee and pumpkin spice lattes, I enjoyed learning more about coffee roasts and barista techniques.
  20. Protected my energy with aggressive focus (think limiting interactions with people who don’t uplift me or want what I believe to be best for me, and limiting screen time, generally).
  21. Started to learn about photography again, with the goal of purchasing my first DSLR camera in 2021.

Usually, as part of reflecting on a year past, I dream about what I’d like to achieve in the 12 months ahead. Although, with so much still in flux, my plans for 2021 look a bit different.

I’m not setting my heart on being able to travel freely- anything I’m able to do, whether in Ireland or around other parts of Europe come summer or next fall will be the best kind of bonus. With travel such an uncertain reality, most of my goals for the year are focused on my own health and wellbeing, with an emphasis on planning for the years to follow.

I’ve always found inspiration with seeing goals others set, and enjoy the accountability aspect of sharing goals I set for myself. Nearly all of the below goals are a continuation of work I started in 2020, with increased focus and excitement. In a year where the world seems to be waiting for reality to resume, it’ll be interesting to reflect back on the below goals at the end of 2021, and see just where the year takes me.

Five Goals I’m Setting in 2021 That Aren’t Travel Related

Goal: Manifest Calm by finding joy in my morning routine; carving out time to meditate regularly; practicing yoga with regularity; finding my breath in yin and through sound therapy; and reducing screen time (minimal use, if not zero, on weekends).

Goal: Priortize my health and wellbeing by doing strength workouts 300 days of the year (weights, resistance bands, pilates, barre, HIIT, dance cardio); starting to run again with regularity; training for two half marathons (October/November); drinking 80-100 oz of water daily; and eating vegan 80% of the time when at home in Ireland.

Goal: Invest in my financial future by working with a financial advisor; coming within striking distance of fully paying off my remaining student loans; and rebuilding buffers in savings and an emergency fund.

Goal: Give back, in community development, personal time and monetary assistance by setting monthly and quarterly donations to organizations fighting for causes I believe in; serving as a LinkedIn profile coach; identifying a local cause to volunteer my time to, building community connections; being an active member of Democrats Abroad.

Goal: Learn new things, and actively un-learn and re-learn by continuing intentional anti-racism education and work; finding workshops in Dublin to attend that support burgeoning interests (cocktail making, drawing, ceramics); reading 50 books; practicing Spanish regularly; watching 2x skill workshops monthly (Skillshare, YouTube, General Assembly, etc.).

*Photos in this post from a lovely couple of winter weeks at home in Pennsylvania. 

If you’re used to travelling often, what are you hoping to do in 2021 before global travel resumes with regularity? 

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4 thoughts on “Finding Gratitude in 2020, and What I’m Planning in 2021

  1. Loved reading your experiences in 2020. It has indeed been a very challenging year. I pray daily for health, safety, and peace for my family and friends.

  2. For me, the timing of COVID-19 was actually a blessing in disguise. Prior to the pandemic, I’d been traveling freely, before returning home and having no idea what to do with my life. It wasn’t experiencing a few deaths in the family and getting laid off from work that I felt the gravity of adulthood, as I was forced to sit down and reassess the direction of my life, in career, finances, and family responsibilities. As a result of that, I was able to cope with the deaths and landed a full-time, stable career during COVID-19. As for travel, it’ll always be there, and I believe waiting now until things change for the better is a lot better than to risk going out and worsening the situation; as much as it pains me not to have traveled for close to two years now, I know that the wait will be worth it, and I’ll be in a much-better financial (and mental) state to travel once it can happen. 2021 will be another career-focused year for me, and here’s to another year of learning and developing!

    • I’m sorry to hear of all the losses you encountered last year.

      Your perspective on everything that’s happened is admirable. Hoping this year brings more good news and joy than the last your way. And, I agree with you, while it’s upsetting to go from traveling and exploring freely to staying in one place for such long stretches of time, I know it’s for the safety of myself/those around me, and one day (hopefully soon!), things will be better for all of us.

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