Unforgettable Lessons from 2021
By the time you’ve read this, you may already know how the story of 2021 ends. No matter when you stop to peruse the year that was, we hope that by reading between the lines we can discover insights hidden in the margins.
Below are three lessons we can learn from this past year that can inspire us to see the book of 2022 as nothing short of a highly-anticipated sequel.
Lesson #1: Let the Story Unfold
To let one’s story unfold is to treat each day as an opportunity to take life one sentence, even one word, at a time. The beautiful thing about reading is that we are forced to stay in the present moment with our characters. We cannot enjoy the plot if we’re always thinking two chapters forward or ahead.
We can avoid this through the simple yet profoundly transformative act of being mindful. Mindfulness means compassionately allowing whatever thoughts, sensations, or feelings that may arise while being fully aware of the present moment. Mindfulness is a grounding tool that has been scientifically proven to reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress.
To be mindful is not to reject, attempt to reduce, or eliminate feelings of shame or distress that accompany negative thoughts or sensations. Instead, mindfulness is rooted in acknowledging and allowing these experiences to exist. And, when we achieve this state of compassionate awareness, the hope is that the emotional effect of negative emotions would subside naturally and give our minds more room to savor life’s more positive emotions.
One of our favorite mindfulness meditations is known as a “Body Scan Meditation.” To try this practice for yourself, find a quiet, comfortable place to sit with your back straight and your arms at your sides. Begin by simply bringing your awareness to the bottom of your feet and gently scanning your body all the way up to the crown of your head. Notice any sensations, thoughts, or emotions that arise without judgment and without entertaining them as more than just thoughts or sensations.
In 2021, no day was more predictable than the last. It even seemed, on some days, that major headlines were written by backroom comedy writers instead of well-polished news anchors. “Did that really happen?” we often asked ourselves. “When is this going to be over?” we said to our closest friends.
We don’t know. And while uncertainty is uncomfortable, 2021 allowed us to take a step back and appreciate our ability to get through it, one breath at a time.
Lesson #2: Be the Main Character
In the story of our lives, we often see ourselves as the main character. As the person whose background, dreams, and struggles matter the most. However, the past year has taught us that our stories wouldn’t be enriched unless there were billions of other interconnected narratives informing, shaping, and supporting our own. We need stories of nurses who gently hold our hand and wordlessly hand us a tissue. We need stories of homes that become safe havens. We need stories of reopened galleries and new family restaurants. Of scientists and therapists and kindergarteners and beekeepers and students.
Who would Nick be without Gatsby? Or Scout without Atticus? While there is nothing wrong with prioritizing yourself, recognizing the value of every person’s story is essential to living empathetically, living joyfully, and living fully.
So, be the main character of your life and make decisions that feel most authentic to your plot. But be a main character who also acknowledges and receives the support of every other main character around you with an inner knowing that no protagonist has it all together. Even the hero. Even the princess. Let 2021 be the year you recognized the power in being your own main character, and the year you recognized how badly we need to see that power in each other.
Lesson #3: Change Never Changes
If, say, 15 years ago, a man told his friend, “Hey, I saved my homework in the cloud so it doesn’t get lost,” the friend may smile nervously and look for an algebra textbook levitating in the sky. Today, uttering that sentence at the dinner table would likely be followed by nothing more than a nod.
Another example of how language changes is this: think about what the word “normal” meant to you in February of 2020. And think about what that word means for you now. Because it’s sure to be startlingly different. Whether this change was overwhelmingly positive, difficult to adjust to, or somewhere in the middle, being open to change was one of life’s greatest lessons in 2021.
Thankfully, there are some additional benefits to weathering change. For example, being able to adapt to change prepares us to handle greater uncertainties down the road. It is also a way to learn more about ourselves and the people around us, allowing us to expand our worldview and increase our ability to empathize.
So much about our daily lives shifted after 2020. And 2021, though fraught with seemingly less change than the year before, still forced us to adjust constantly. Adjust our priorities, adjust our opinion, adjust our college decision, or adjust our career. For a lot of people, change is hard. And sometimes that change isn’t always our decision or what feels right at the time. Still, 2021 taught us to appreciate change because, in a world of uncertainty, it is the only thing that stays the same.
In conclusion, it seems that 2021 may end on a cliffhanger. The final lines may even leave us with more questions than answers and have us flipping through the pages for clarity. Still, with these lessons in mind, we can look forward to a fresh start. To 365 possibilities to unfold. To 8,406,600 breaths to keep us grounded in our story. To 7 billion main characters to take another leap of faith. To endless blank pages where we each can each have our priceless stories be told.