A wise friend of mine asked me this insightful question: “What’s been the most repeated thought you’ve had in the last week?” My honest answer lately has been, “I would be happy to never hear the words ‘twenty twenty’ spoken again. Or at least for a while.” I’m sure some of you can relate. Don’t worry, this post won’t be a total downer (in fact, I hope it’s the opposite), but in the interest of honest and transparency, that’s where I’m at.
Aside from the virus, racial tension, and political unrest, I think 2020 has been the hardest year of my life. And I know it’s not just me, many of my friends and family have gone through really tough things in the last 12 months. This year has been so incredibly challenging and completely not what I expected or wanted, but maybe one that I needed. So I’m writing this post because I want to share five life lessons I’ve learned in all the good, bad, and ugly this year. I hope you can relate and be encouraged.
In January, I was full of hope. I was graduating, I had a new job I loved, and there were so many possibilities. I had everything planned out the way I wanted it to go and I knew I was going to crush it this year. Then Covid hit, and my plans got derailed. Try as I could to achieve my goals and dreams, they were not coming to fruition, at least not in the way I hoped. For a while, I kept pushing on, adding more things to do so that I wouldn’t waste my time or have nothing to show for this year. I controlled what I could, but eventually I realized there are just some things I can’t control, no matter how hard I try. As a perfectionist/achiever, I spiraled. I was either unmotivated to do anything, or had crushing guilt from the weight of feeling like I could never do it all.
Life lesson one: It’s important to know what your deep down motivation is for doing something. My first lesson in 2020 came when I decided to do life coaching with my friend Mathew. I am so grateful that God brought him in my life when He did. He helped me identify that many of my reasons for doing things are motivated by guilt, and showed me how to get “healthy fuel” from Jesus instead. He also helped me write my first book with this healthy fuel. This “aha” moment prompted several other things I learned this year. If you don’t know why you do the things that you do, get a life coach or go to a counselor. It’s worth every penny. I’m so glad I identified this motivation and fuel, because I know now that is not a healthy way to make decisions.
At the gentle urging of my husband, I also started going to a counselor. I had always thought that counselors were for people who experienced trauma or really needed some mental or emotional help. I prided myself on having it all together, or at least not breaking down frequently enough that a counselor should be involved. I was fine. But once I recognized how many of my decisions were motivated by guilt, I agreed to go. I thought, “I know what my problem is, I’m sure they’ll give me a few tips and tools and I’ll be out in 3 sessions.” Silly me. That’s not how counseling works. I had much more to gain from counseling than “fixing” my self-diagnosed problem.
Life lesson two: The only person putting crazy high expectations on myself is me. My counselor helped me see that it’s OK to not reach every goal and check off every to do item. The world will not fall apart, people will not unfriend me, I will not be labeled as a failure. As my counselor says, “no one is holding a gun to your head if you don’t do x, y, and z.” I was putting wayyyy too much pressure on myself to do and be certain things for many reasons, but mostly because of the things I heard and told myself like, “I’m responsible. I come through for people. I can do anything if I just work hard enough.” To be fair, my husband has frequently pointed this out to me over the course of our marriage, but this year it really clicked for me. Something about having to face the limits of my own capabilities really did it.
Life lesson three: It’s not selfish or a waste of time to do things just because I enjoy them. Oof, this one was a struggle for me. I am SO bad at caring for myself, especially if there’s nothing produced from doing so. Through discussions with my husband, Mathew, and my counselor, I realized that I had internalized this belief that intentionally doing things for myself is selfish and a waste of time because it doesn’t benefit anyone. Not to say that I don’t have fun, but most of my fun is spent with some productive goal in mind or in the company of other people. At one of my first counseling sessions, my counselor asked what I liked to do for fun to take care of myself, and I didn’t know! She challenged me to block off at least a few hours every month to just do what I want to do for the heck of it. It was so hard to protect that time, especially when someone invited me to do something else and my self-care time didn’t seem as valuable. But as my husband pointed out, “You can’t pour out from an empty cup.” I’ll still be working on this in years to come, but I’m thankful that my mindset is starting to change.
Life lesson four: Emotions are not bad or good, it’s how you respond to them that matters. Before counseling, I thought I was a pretty emotionally aware person. I didn’t have outbursts and am usually very level-headed when making decisions. What I didn’t realize was that I had been living in avoidance and denial of what I thought were inherently bad emotions: anger, sadness, guilt, disappointment, fear, etc. Somehow I experienced them without really acknowledging they were there. “Emotions are like a wave,” my counselor says. “They come to a breaking point and feel really strong, but eventually they ride out. Usually there are two kinds of people when it comes to emotional extremes. Those that act out at the top of the emotional wave, and those that try to swim through the wave like it isn’t even there.” Guess which one I am. I am slowly learning to be more comfortable with experiencing strong emotions, acknowledging they are there, and dealing with them in healthy ways. Periodically checking in to ask myself how I’m really feeling has been hugely helpful. I also learned that it’s OK to share emotions with other safe people. I hate crying in front of people because it makes me feel out of control. But the times I was vulnerable with others this year were really precious. Instead of experiencing judgement, I felt accepted, loved, and supported. Maybe a few tears aren’t so bad after all.
Life lesson five: God sometimes strips things away so that I can focus and rely on Him more fully. Like I said before, I had this year all planned out. God had other ideas. It’s like that quote: “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” For all my life I’ve found so much self-worth in achieving and producing, and this year He wanted to show me how to be a human being instead of a human doing. I believe that He didn’t let some of my dreams come to pass and for disappointments and challenges to be put in my path so that I would have to confront false beliefs about myself, others, and Him that I would not have otherwise. It’s been a painful process to walk through valleys of what-ifs, not knowing when challenging seasons will end or how they will be resolved. But I know He is doing this out of His deep love for me, not to cause me pain or to spite me. He is showing me how to trust in Him rather than myself, because He is really a much better planner than I am. And for this lesson, I’m most grateful for how this year has gone, even though I never would have chosen it.
Instead of updating you on my 2020 goals, I hope these life lessons are a bit more meaningful to you. As you reflect on this year, I encourage you to ask yourself: “What I have I learned about myself this year that I may not have learned if circumstances were different?”
I also encourage you to write down two things:
– Your own life lessons you learned in 2020.
– The good you see in painful and challenging situations. If you can’t find the silver lining, write down what you’re grateful for.
Thanks for reading my slightly long and honest post. I truly hope this encouraged you and that you can see at least some value in this last year. Here’s to hoping 2021 is a better year for all of us!