20 Things I Learned in 2020

Another year, another listicle! Yeah, I’m late, but

  1. Better late than never. Here I am, with a generic 2020 reflection post, which I fully am aware is overdue and cheesy. Still, every now and then I like to write publicly so as to convince myself that I still can do more than make 250-character quips on the bird app. So here are 19 preachy things I learned or adapted this year.

  2. Empathy as a skillset cannot be understated. It’s really as simple as what we were taught when we were young. The value of empathy and kindness can often take a backseat in a world that glorifies cage-fights and clap-backs, or when tensions run high, as they have in 2020. However, one more novel realization I had this year regarding empathy was that it was applicable not just in relationships, but in the workplace as well.

    Empathy is a skill that bonds you closer to those you care about, makes more people like you, and eventually actually pays literal dividends. Not that it should be monetarily relevant to be important—but sometimes people only see “niceness” as something that gets you head-pats from acquaintances, instead of a powerful tool that can sculpt success out of all areas in life.

  3. Exercise grace. Grace is a concept often tied to religion, but I believe it’s a universally valuable trait to embody. Particularly in times of high uncertainty, people will behave differently, and it’s easy to be high and mighty until you find yourself doing the same thing. Obviously there are limits to this and some things can be put in the Always Bad category, but I find myself often jumping to judge others moralistically, and it never turns out well for me because I, too, am imperfect. So that’s what grace is for—to give others the benefit of the doubt and sometimes forgiveness, because in doing so, you forgive yourself.

  4. I started meditating. I never thought I’d be able to meditate. Ever. My mind just raced too fast for me to control. I hated even yoga because it was such a painfully s-l-o-w workout and it also left me too much time to think and exist, at rest. I was so uncomfortable with being in the present and in my body—and in many ways, I definitely still am. But an unexpected breakthrough this year came in the form of me meditating for just five minutes after working out in November and December. Maybe it was the 100th influencer I saw using Headspace. Maybe it was this Mark Manson article I read that finally did it for me. But either way, I’m glad I started.

  5. Self-care is sometimes painful. It’s not all face masks, chocolate cake, and sleeping in. Sometimes self-care is working out when you really, really don’t feel like it. Sometimes it’s putting down the phone and journaling when all you want to do is mindlessly scroll and “relax.” Sometimes it’s about ending a relationship with someone even though you’re scared to.

  6. Celebrate what is slow. Slow progress. Slow relationships. Slow living. So much of what we want in life comes slowly by design. In fact, you should probably be wary of anything that promises something fast—love that has yet to be proven, diets that advertise pounds lost in days, and coping mechanisms that make you feel better without resolving the true issue at hand.

  7. Guilt and shame are the lowest vibrational energies. To be avoided, examined, or excavated at all costs!
The vibrational states of energy. Obviously not scientific, but a useful framework.
  1. “Happiness is really just about four things: perceived control, perceived progress, connectedness (number and depth of your relationships), and vision/meaning (being part of something bigger than yourself).” -Tony Hsieh

  2. Masculine and feminine energies. This one might be too controversial and/or new-agey, but I had to throw it out there. I’ve been on a long journey to feeling comfortable in my feminine and understanding my social identity as a woman in the 21st century. I could probably talk for hours about this, but long story short, 1) femininity is not weakness, 2) you don’t have to act like a man or a “badass” to be valued, and 3) know who you are and what you want or someone else will try to tell you. Oh, and everyone has a balance of masculine and feminine energy—it’s not about gender roles or stereotypes, it’s about your personality and what you want out of a partner.

    Obviously this is not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’re like me and you’ve struggled with feeling comfortable expressing your femininity or questioning if you’re “enough”, it’s a very worthwhile topic to explore and learn about.

  3. I really do have some quality fucking people in my life. I’ve always been moderately insecure about my social life. Everyone else around me seemed to be more extroverted (read: “better”), went to more parties, or had more friends. College really didn’t help with this insecurity either, as I went to a school where Greek life and perfectionism dominated the culture.

    But somewhere along the line between graduation and now, I counted the closest people around me and realized I, as an introvert with debatably average social skills, had created a circle I was actually really proud of. I have a sister I can tell anything to, three best friends who know me better than I know myself, a handful of close friends I can talk to for hours and hours, and some casual friends across the country I can catch up with or support from afar on social media every now and then. Maybe it’s not the Friends or “girl squad” situation I’d always imagined, but it’s my real-ass life, and I am just as happy with that.

  4. Buy nice stuff for your parents. This one goes out to my financially independent Asian children in particular—buy shit for your parents. It seems like a really obvious way to express love to your family, but I just never really did it. This year, instead of overthinking whether my mom preferred words of affirmation to acts of service or gifts, I just clicked a button and bought her a ton of luxury skincare. When it comes to family, who cares which is what—just fire on all cylinders and show them how much they mean to you.

  5. Maybe it really is about the sleep. I have been lectured my whole life by my dad that sleeping earlier is the key to success. In a cruel twist of fate, and as other people have noted, maybe waking up at 5 am does solve all your problems. 2020 was a pretty great forcing function for my sleep schedule. Of course, I had to hit rock bottom spending a few too many sleepless nights in the spring staring at my phone until 5 am, but towards the end of the year, as the sun started to set at 4 pm, I resolved to go to sleep early (10-11 pm) since there was literally no point to be conscious and vitamin D-pressed that late at night.

    Now, I am finding it a lot easier to wake up around 7-8 am regularly, and I freaking love being the only one awake in the morning, enjoying the sunshine on my skin and moving about undisturbed.  

  6. Stress costs money too. I’m that person who thinks about a T-shirt for a week before getting it, calculates the net cost-benefit of a sales heuristic, and believes that paying full price is for chumps. But sometimes this calculus is so draining that it can detract from me achieving my actual objective, which is feeling satisfied from things I buy. Some of the best purchases I’ve made this year have been extremely quick and pricey. Maybe it’s a fine line, but there is a difference between impulsive and just knowing what you want/living in the present. I’m starting to get the hang of it, I think.

  7. Community is key. In 2020, I started to find more community and put down roots in New York City.

    I stumbled across a local co-op farm in my neighborhood during a long walk in April, and now I’m an active member. I started volunteering at an organization for a cause I’m passionate about, and my little routine of going every Saturday morning has brought me a ton of contentment. I even found a few Facebook groups that I really jive with, and it’s brought me happiness to be able to connect with those people too (I swear this isn’t a Facebook ad).

    Community is something I’ve never really had my entire life—between being an introvert, growing up with immigrant parents with no direct family or religion, moving around every 4-5 years as a child, and never really finding my “circle” in college, I’ve never really felt I “belonged” anywhere. But belonging is super important to human social health and happiness, and maybe that was a missing piece I’ve been struggling to fill in this whole time.
The community farm I joined this year finally allowed me to connect to the inner #cottagecore I knew I always was capable of
  1. Some things should be done well, and only well. Such things include gold jewelry, hair coloring, and organic fruits and veggies.

  2. A year cannot be “wasted”. One of my biggest fears in life is time wasted—particularly for things in life that are deadline-sensitive and/or irreversible. When the shit hit the fan in 2020, I thought, “Great, a whole year of my precious twenties in NYC is gone.” However, I’ve also thought the exact opposite—that 23 is the best age to be in a global pandemic, because you’re young, healthy, independent, not missing out on crucial college years, but not at the age where you also need to rush to find a spouse. Also, calm down, Jenna, you’re 23. I know, I know—it’s something I’m trying to work on being less anxious about.

  3. Happiness is just the quotidian—nothing more, nothing less. I watched the new Pixar film Soul recently, and without spoiling it, the montage at the end really struck a chord in me. The animators captured the way moments look in micro so perfectly, distilling silence and sunlight into pixels. Happiness is found in those moments of quiet savoring—the rattle of the 7 train, the slant of sun through concrete-caged trees, that triangular first bite of pie. The practice of gathering these bits and pieces is what makes life so enriching.
Soul (2020)
  1. One gratitude a day: early mornings, city encounters, and long talks with friends. Since high school, I’ve intermittently kept the habit of writing down the highlight of each day of the year (when I can remember it) and putting it into a wine bottle. Then, at the end of the year, I break the bottle open and read all the best moments of that year. It’s more qualitative data than anything, but this year I found some patterns:

    1) I am very proud of myself when I wake up early or work out in the morning
    2) Long, three-hour conversations with close friends who I feel really understand me are the salve to my soul
    3) The smallest encounters on the streets of the city can make my day—an adorable French bulldog puppy taking a liking to me in particular on the subway, an old lady stopping to ask if I was lost, the way the trees looked by the waterfront one afternoon.

  2. On aloneness. I was flipping through my journal and found this entry from my birthday this year:

    Why am I so at peace with myself? I have to laugh a little bit. Three years ago—two years, maybe even a year ago—I was absolutely terrified of the aloneness. My mind was inflamed by it. It really was a terror I felt…terrorized by my circumstances. And now, I could not want anything else.

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