The Life Lessons I Learned In 2020
This is my personal review of last year
Throwback to the beginning of the year: January 2020. I have been single for 6 months by the time, which was a completely new experience.
I got a new house and a new job. After some months best described as a rollercoaster, my life felt like it was back on track.
And I was still a blank piece of paper, 26 years old and without any attachments. Free to determine what I actually wanted to do.
There was one problem. I had no idea. I knew I was not ready to buy a house in a kid-friendly neighbourhood, including a Volvo, a labrador, and two toddlers already signed up at the local sports club. Not yet at least.
But what did I want to do? No single clue. So January marked the start of my little personal quest.
Not yet knowing that this year would be the perfect setting at that time. But this worldwide pandemic forced me to stay inside and completely focus on myself.
And maybe I did not find the answer to the question of who I want to be, but I did find some useful life lessons and observations.
This is my personal review of the last year.
1. Your morning is sacred
I loved sleeping in. Nothing as perfect as waking up at 11 am, and to continue the rest of the day walking in your pyjamas.
But hey! This was the old me. And the new me was born when I discovered the power of a stable morning routine.
That very first hour of the day. That hour when nobody is awake yet. That hour is like magic to me.
I do not dare to touch my phone, which could unlock a box full of possible negativity and distractions. I do not watch the news and do not pay attention to anyone else.
That hour is mine. I write, read, meditate and work out. I enjoy my breakfast and set intentions for the day. I am calm and super effective.
This first hour after waking up has become my new favourite moment of the day.
2. Ego is the enemy
This year I learned I am quite an egoist. Surprising for someone who is often described by others as calm, kind and caring.
This year I learned (thanks to Ryan Holiday) that being an egoist is more than being a self-centred or arrogant person. My ego was shown in my desire to win arguments, the craving for recognition and the fear of the opinion of others. I attached too much value to who I think I am. Also called my ego.
Slowly but steadily, I started experimenting with letting go and came to a paradoxical conclusion. When you let go of the fear of how others might perceive you, they will end up liking you more.
So be aware, your ego is your biggest enemy.
3. Focus on your intentions
I always had bucket-lists filled with my dreams and goals. I would pursue those dreams for a few months, and I would hit or miss them. Based on that I would change my plans a few weeks later.
I started questioning if this ‘goal-setting approach’ was really the way to live life.
And I started questioning if the greats on earth really had all these big dreams when they started or if they just did what gave them energy.
I think it is option two. Next, I wrote 5 intentions down describing how I want to behave daily and what gives me energy.
What followed was a more relaxed and more productive period. It seems like I reached certain goals way quicker and with less effort.
I always tried to change my behaviour based on the big goals I wanted to achieve. Now I do it the other way around.
I focus on my daily behaviour, and the milestones I achieve are a direct result of that.
4. Live with gratitude
Another downside of having these big dreams is this everlasting focus on what is next.
I lost the beauty of the current moment. And I don’t want that anymore.
I created the daily habit of gratitude to prevent this from happening ever again. And every night I list 3 things I am grateful for since the end of April.
This grateful list could include big achievements, but at least 1 of them has to be a small happy moment. The shining sun, a lovely text, the smile of a crossing stranger or a singing bird.
It forced me to focus on the happy, little things in life. And that is a welcome reminder in these crazy times.
5. Meditation is a superpower
I started meditation after I broke my arm back in June. Before that, I misunderstood meditation as a way to empty the mind. Needless to say, without any personal success.
After June, I realised that the goal of meditation is not to empty the mind but to restructure your thoughts. And there is not just one way, you can choose your own preferred style and duration.
I went all-in, I (try to) do it daily and especially when I am feeling stressed.
It turned out to be a worthy time investment. It immediately provides more peace of mind, makes me understand certain events better and makes me more creative.
Meditation became my new superpower.
6. Fitting in is the opposite of belonging
This insight is fresh new! Together with a friend, I watched the just-released Netflix documentary about Brené Brown when she said the following:
“If you always try to fit in, you will never feel like you belong”.
It felt like she was directly speaking to me. My nickname used to be chameleon, and my biggest talent was fitting in. And if a group didn’t feel right, I switched to another and another and another. Trial and error till I would finally end up at the right place.
Only now I realise that I should not try to find my group. I have to fully embrace myself to really belong.
7. Everything is on the other side of fear
I had hundreds of fears and I was highly insecure. And they are not all resolved, but I am proud I started actively tackling them this year.
There is one fear that became my fuel for action: I imagined myself laying on my death bed, thinking back about life and what I would feel is […] regret.
Regret that I cared too much about what my sisters, parents, friends, roommates, colleagues or a stranger on the internet might think about my goals, my dreams and my desires.
And it led to some crazy stuff I wouldn’t expect a year ago.
I had a meeting with the chief-editor of Men’s Health to discuss photoshoots. I overcame my fear of driving and I chatted with various CEOs of million-dollar companies.
Everything is on the other side of fear. Sometimes we have to lean in, feel the fear and do it anyway. I want that as a habit.
8. You are what you do on a daily basis
You know by now that I always had these lists full of moonshots, dreams and big goals. And this year I realised that to build something huge, you need to first focus on the smaller steps.
People overestimate radical changes and underestimate the power of small daily habits. Focus on the process, focus on your daily tasks and the result will follow.
Or as one of my newly discovered writers, James Clear would describe it as:
“Changes that seem small and unimportant at first will compound into remarkable results if you’re willing to stick with them for years.”
If you want to run a marathon, do not start with focusing on that 42 kilometres. Start by buying running shoes.
9. The universe has your back
“The universe has your back and it will give you the same lessons over and over again till you finally learned it”
To be honest, I am not sure if this is true. I don’t believe in a higher power, an infinite spirit or a God. However, simply believing that everything happens for a reason makes life a lot easier.
It doesn’t necessarily mean you are always super-duper positive. I tried that and it can feel like fooling yourself. Some things can feel really bad and you should allow yourself to feel that.
But, instead of crippling when something negative happens to you, you could focus on what you can learn at that moment. You start turning negativity into curiosity.
And the better you become at that, the happier your life will be.
This year was in many aspects the best that could happen to me. It forced me to do a personal check-in for months. I know better who I am, who I want to be and what gives me energy.
I am still searching and exploring.
So instead of the credit roll, I would like to end with “to be continued…”