From losses of life and livelihoods to spending months in lockdown, blurring the lines between home and work and learning to cope with not being able to hug our friends and family, this has been a year like no other.
As we approach the end of 2020, we’re taking time to reflect on what we’ve experienced over the past 12 months and everything that has taught us.
Topping the list of life lessons has to be: the power of resilience.
For many, 2020 has been a year which has involved a lot of muddling through, but in doing just that, we’ve actually shown how resilient we can be.
“Many of us have been thrown into situations we couldn’t have predicted this year,” explains Dr Elena Touroni, consultant psychologist and co-CEO of My Online Therapy.
“We’ve had to dig deep and find the inner strength and resilience to tolerate knocks along the way. Whilst this is likely to have been extremely difficult, the more we’re able to do this, the more we strengthen our resilience muscles so that we come out of this feeling stronger and more robust.”
Dr Touroni says resilience involves the delicate balance of radically accepting the things you can’t change (or couldn’t have foreseen), whilst focusing on the things you can.
“On the whole, we learn to adapt by being exposed to challenging experiences in life,” she explains. “If we weren’t exposed to situations that cause a certain level of stress, we wouldn’t develop resilience.”
“A certain level of stress can sometimes be helpful, provided it doesn’t overwhelm us,” Dr Touroni continues.
“No one could have predicted what happened this year, and even though it has been incredibly hard on many of us, I imagine lots of people will also be surprised at how resilient they really are.”
So what else have we learnt from 2020? We asked a selection of people to let us know the one lesson from 2020 they want to take into next year.
Life lesson: The art of gratitude
Emma Jane Unsworth, 42, is an author from Brighton, @emjaneunsworth.
“Against the backdrop of the pandemic, my family has had a rollercoaster of a year. In 2020 I have learned how to truly be grateful.
“At the start of the first lockdown we found out we were pregnant and, within the space of a few days, found out my husband had cancer. We had previously had two miscarriages and feared the same thing would happen again. My husband needed urgent treatment (High-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) on his prostate) and I drove him to London one hot day in early summer, where I waited in a car for nine hours with terrible morning sickness – we hadn’t thought it through that I wouldn’t be able to go in with him and wait!
“Before this we froze some sperm in case the cancer treatment made him infertile, and I miscarried again. Going for scans on my own was awful, as I always I feared the worst, but in a way focusing on his illness and treatment stopped me worrying about miscarrying all the time.
“We also have a four-year-old son, and four-year-olds are great distractions. Especially when they are quarantined at home – arrgggg. Luckily that only happened once, but the lockdowns have been challenging, as they have for many parents. We lived in a flat too, with no outside space, so it was hard keeping him entertained and exercised.
“But then good things started to happen. The pregnancy stuck, and seemed healthy. My husband’s treatment was a success. He is now cancer-free, and we had a baby girl in November.
“In the midst of it all, I was sitting on the loo just thinking about everything and I noticed one of my son’s toys was on the floor of the bathroom - a small plastic leopard. It was staring at me with its weird beady white eyes.
“For some reason, I knew it was reminding me to be grateful. I picked it up and put it on a shelf in the bathroom and every time I went in there I’d make eye contact with it and get a little reminder to count my blessings.
“I started calling the toy my ‘Gratitude Leopard’. It lifted my spirits. Partly because it’s such a daft place to find comfort. But if any year called for daft comfort, it’s 2020.
“Now, my Gratitude Leopard goes everywhere with me – it went into hospital with me when I gave birth to my daughter. When we moved house I put it in my handbag so I could get it out as soon as we moved, and put it in my new bathroom.
“Staying positive has got me through a strange, dreadful year. You’ve got to get your positivity where you can, and it’s lurking in unexpected places – like in random plastic preschooler toys. This year I’m truly grateful.”
Emma Jane Unsworth appeared as a guest on lockdown confessions: a mini-series commissioned by childcare app, Bubble. To listen click here.
Life lesson: There is strength in vulnerability
Harvey Morton, 22, from Sheffield is a digital expert and founder of Harvey Morton Digital.
“One of the big things I’ve learnt this year is that it’s ok to be vulnerable and it’s something I’ve learnt through pushing myself out of my comfort zone.
“At the start of lockdown I put out on LinkedIn that I’d lost a lot of work. I didn’t want everyone to think that I wasn’t doing very well, but actually it led to a lot of new opportunities from clients who were hugely supportive and it got me lots of recommendations from people I’d worked with before.
“Even though this year could have been full of so much more, I feel like I’ve achieved a lot. And while lockdown has been tough for mental health, I’ve learnt to trust that just by keeping up with things and by putting myself out there, the work will come in waves and any quiet moments won’t last.
Watch: 2020 has made many of us morning people.
“I think that maybe I put too much pressure on myself too. I’ve always wanted to achieve everything at once and lockdown forced me to slow down a little bit. The week before we went into lockdown I can remember feeling really anxious but when lockdown actually happened, it actually felt really peaceful as I got chance to stop for once.
“When I look back on lockdown and everything that’s happened this year, it was actually good in a lot of ways, as I feel like I’ve got more confidence and am the happiest I’ve been in a while. I’ve learnt to accept myself and dealt with issues from my past, so that everything else that comes my way doesn’t feel that scary.”
Life lesson: The importance of flexibility
Lucy Shrimpton, 39, from Hampshire is a sleep expert and founder of The Sleep Nanny.
“The number one thing I feel 2020 has taught me is the importance of flexibility. Whether in business or in parenting and in every aspect of life, flexibility can be the difference between thriving or devastation during tough times.
“Parents have had to be flexible with work and childcare as well as home-schooling and this is something I found extremely challenging as a mother and business owner with a husband who also owns his own business.
“I see now how flexibility is vital and I've learnt that sometimes imperfection is ok; I have learnt to let go of trying to get everything done to the highest of standards all of the time.
“Sometimes, it's okay to leave the laundry or let that email wait until tomorrow. If my child needs a break from online schooling and I'm struggling to print their work, coordinate kids on laptops in different rooms, fight with terrible wifi signal AND manage my team and run a company... it's okay to put it all down, take a break and focus on what really matters most - family and enjoyment.
“This year has reminded me why I do what I do and what my purpose is. I plan to take these lessons into 2021 to make it an incredible year in business and in life”.
Life lesson: The power of a support network
Cheryl MacDonald, 41, is a yoga elder and founder of YogaBellies.com. She is from Glasgow, but currently living in Singapore.
“This year has been a tough year on all of us - emotionally and financially. The most important thing I’ve learnt this year is to support one another and talk to others when you need help. You are not an island; we are all in need of love and support and it’s important to reach out when you need it, and reach out to others who you think might need some help too.
“I’ve also learnt about the need to flex - we’ve moved our classes online which was a bit tricky to start with, but they have proven a lifeline to people in need of that routine, connection and source of fitness while stuck at home. It’s about finding new ways to do things and not giving up hope.”
Life lesson: Tear up the life plan
Bernard McMahon, 69, from Sheffield is chief executive of Being Well.
“This year I’ve learnt that however carefully you plan for the future, you cannot predict how it will unfold. Being adaptable and open minded is probably the most important trait to possess. We should make the most of opportunities that are revealed, while balancing with relationships, family and friends.
“Finally, don’t take anything for granted and embrace the unexpected.”
Life lesson: If you put the work in, good things can happen
Louisa (Wizzi) Magnussen, 31 from Woking is the founder of Minds Anonymous, a website she set up this year after being made redundant.
“What I’ve learnt in 2020, particularly through the pandemic, is that if you have a vision and you have a goal and you are committed to making a change, you can.
“When I first launched Minds Anonymous, I thought it was just going to be a blog for my own purposes and then I thought, well maybe this will be useful for other people. I was proved right when it had over 5,000 views since launching, we’ve had over 30 stories shared and it’s increasing understanding and reducing the stigma attached to mental health everyday. So if you have a dream, you go for it, work at it every day. If you put the work in, things will happen.
“I learnt that doing nothing is the enemy. If you’ve had a shock, like you’ve been made redundant or you’re put on furlough like I was, instead of channeling that energy into feeling angry or down about it, just do what you want.
“Come up with an idea, have a think about what the world needs and what difference you want to achieve in your life. Spend that time when you’re not sure what’s happening or where your life’s going, focusing on something. Start a project and keep moving. You’ve got to keep progressing and growing.
“2020 has taught me that if you do keep moving and progressing and working really hard, good things can happen.”
Life lesson: The value of exercise for the mind
Jemma Thomas, 39, from Carshalton, is a personal trainer and founder of JemmasHealthhub.com.
“Like many people, I did have a few down days during the lockdowns but the important thing about being a PT is the need to build a routine and to encourage others.
“Knowing that I’ve had to be up at 5.30am each morning, inspiring my clients, has spurred me on and seeing their lovely, enthusiastic faces has really taught me the value of exercise and how it can really change a person’s mindset for the better.
“I’ve also learnt that it’s ok to not feel 100% every time; it’s about not putting pressure on yourself and taking each day as it comes.”