What Has 2021 Taught Us?

A year ago, I wrote that 2021 was going to be a ‘bounce back’ year. The rollover of a new year is full of hope and it really felt like a reset was about to happen. Here we are at the beginning of 2022 and while we have rebounded, in many ways our challenges seem quite the same.

According to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the late Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu in their collaboration and reflection resulting in The Book of Joy, ‘we learn when something happens to test us’. What have we learned?

This ongoing global pandemic does have a way of shifting our perspective from the mundane to reflecting on issues of deeper complexity and consequence. We are presented with a unique opportunity to transform ourselves and our connection with others for greater benefit. Yet wherever we look, we see the push and pull of conflicting scenarios playing out right in front of us.

Today’s vantage point gives us a much clearer view of our common humanity. Across the globe we confront similar challenges. For the better part of the last few years, worldwide, we have measured and recounted, analysed and acted on similar data and findings. We’ve shared experiences of scientific, political, psychological, sociological and economic impact and fallout. While we share a common humanity, personal experiences have varied widely with devastating impact for some and inconvenience or mild disruption for others.

We march and protest, emphasizing our differences WHILE we collaborate and confer to achieve solutions for the common good. Collaboration across the world has led to vaccine production within time frames not previously contemplated. Yet, inequitable vaccine accessibility and distribution shines a light on global injustice.

The emphasis on moving from individualistic thinking to the ‘good of the whole’ has advanced to a central question for discussion and debate around the dinner table. Perspectives are increasingly challenged. Over the past few years, some of us enjoyed time to focus more on ourselves, to get more in touch with our own needs and wants. As the potential for continued isolation stretches out into yet another year, one can’t help but hear this little voice reminding us that connection to others is what gets us through. And while we’re all challenged to be resilient, we know it’s much easier to be resilient where well being is supported and resources are available.

These past few years we’ve lost and we’ve gained. We’ve thrived and suffered. But, let’s not let negativity or cynicism steal our energy or resolve. The stage may be set for positive transitions not even contemplated in less disruptive times.

We may have glimpsed the positive impact of our own resolve. We’ve maybe seen and experienced a few ‘bests’ that could lead to better places. We’ve learned to function amid great uncertainty. We’ve seen and experienced the power of collaboration. We’ve learned to think beyond simplistic solutions, focusing on more insightful ways to address complex issues and challenges. We are more aware that polarity thinking – either black or white – just holds us back. We have a heightened sense of the fragility and interconnectedness of our systems and the great need to take care of our world and each other.

We’ve learned we can move with the world. New mindsets show us how to adapt. We can hold on to our strengths and let go of the things that may have worked well in the past, but are just not a good fit for a changing world.

“No dark fate determines the future. We do. Each day and each moment, we are able to create and re-create our lives and the quality of human life on our planet”. His Holiness The Dalai Lama and Archbischop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams The Book of Joy Lasting Happiness in a Changing World.

2021 is a ‘BOUNCE BACK’ Year

We made it! 2020 is a wrap! Who knew we’d learn so much about things like viruses, vaccines or herd immunity. The journey of 2020 has definitely been one of upheaval, a continuous emotional roller coaster. We can probably all relate to the emotional upheavals of the past year. There has been denial, certainly anger, likely bargaining, and if we’ve become a bit fixated with COVID stats and news reports, we may have felt depression creeping in. For me, most certainly some morose moods and lapses of energy. And, along with that, if at times begrudgingly and with some resignation, there’s been acceptance of the challenges of 2020.

The December 31st roll over of the calendar shifts the view to new hope for 2021. With 2020 in the rear-view mirror, you’ve probably seen the quote: “don’t look back, we’re not going that way” (author Marcia Wallace).  It seems a perfect time to shed the shortcomings of 2020. But, let’s shift that view of “don’t look back” just a bit. Look back enough to consider letting go of old habits or patterns that just won’t serve us well going forward. The stressors of the past year may have brought to light long standing patterns we’re better off without. Or, there may be things that have served us well in the past, but are just not a good fit for the changed world of 2021.

Let’s also look back to consider the ‘ups’ of the roller coaster ride of 2020. Let’s find our strengths. What were the things that helped us persevere? What kept us connected to our purpose and well-being? When did we experience optimism, satisfaction and joy?

2020 has given us pause to notice the significant and most important things in our own lives and a chance to balance our needs with a focus on the common good. There have been strengths to tap into, habits to revisit and hold on to and innovation borne of necessity and adaptation. Here were some of the highlights for me:

  • Reach out to others. We are social beings, all in need of belonging. Find ways to reach past the isolation of narrowed social events or ‘lock down’ to connect with others, 
  • Be kind, “kindness is not only contagious, it is good for the heart, slows ageing, makes us happier and improves relationships” (author, former pharmaceutical scientist Dr. David Hamilton),  
  • Learn to sit with others who hold opposing views and still be kind. Is it just me or did “for’ and ‘against’ take on a new status this past year? We stress diversity and inclusion, yet differences, rivalry, contrarians often provoke judgement rather than thoughtful consideration. Let’s move beyond influencing techniques designed to change or sway people to our way of thinking, beyond derision or heated debate TO curiosity and interest in what others’ have to offer, collaboration and respectful, peaceful dialogue,   
  • Consider the needs of others. In an individualistic, competitive world, we can spend much time seeking to maintain or improve our own position or status. Dewitt Jones, professional photographer, writer and public speaker, shares it beautifully when he says: “Strive to be, not just the best in the world, but the best for the world”, and
  • Be positive. Despite hardship, adversity and loss, lean into the things that bring you joy and gratitude. Setbacks are temporary. Struggles are part of life and learning. Count your blessings, notice your strengths, learn new skills and don’t be too hard on yourself.    

“The times of greatest disruption can produce the times of greatest change” (adapted from Deepak Chopra). 2020 has been disruptive. It has also been a time for introspection, change and resilience.  2021 presents the opportunity to shift our views, to bounce back with hope and optimism and to shape the future with new insight. 

“Virtual” Vulnerability

My first venture out to a larger audience, my debut, groan! A great example of the challenges and set backs we face navigating change and learning to thrive in today’s virtual world.

Just look at these great new skills I’m learning! I’m talking about stick with-it-ness, keep calm and carry on, call for help when you have a few split seconds and your hands quit shaking, be resilient… be resilient… be resilient.

All of a sudden, the content, the discussion, those great social connections via online squares was replaced (for reasons known only to technology) with: the angst of never before experienced error messages when attempting to sign in and start the session, a 1-800 message that connects you to a real live, helpful person ONLY WHEN you have your profile number which you can only get once you sign in (did I mention I could not sign in)!

My internal thoughts…gotta love those people who can just wing it, wish I was one of them… the only one who can fix this is me, oh no… multitasking is highly overrated… my session finally opened with scant minutes til start time… look at all those lovely faces of people who got to the meeting before the host!!… oh no, more of the same, the power point won’t open … please transport me to another place! Anywhere!!… now would be a great time for the power to go off across the whole province!

Well, I really got in touch with my vulnerability this week! And it was on display, in real time!

FORTUNATELY, the topic of discussion was empathy, so I could ask the group to send some my way! Thank you for looking with interest at the content, for holding great discussions, for sticking in there and participating despite a ‘rocky’ start, for trying to ‘chat’ me some helpful suggestions in the midst of the dilemma and for just being there. Your participation made for a great session!

With vulnerability comes learning and a time to refocus. My newly printed profile information is readily available; my rewritten affirmation on resiliency is posted securely on my desk; my perspective is adjusting back to real world problems; my self confidence is inching back and my sense of humour is still intact! Keep calm and carry on. I look forward to seeing you online!