Lessons from a terrible year

Well, that’s that then. In relationship terms, 2020 was the partner who had so much potential, but whose habit of lying and REALLY messing things up almost broke you.

From a world history perspective, there have been worse times. But that’s cold comfort so I shan’t bleat on. Instead, I’m looking at the lessons 2020 taught me for getting through 2021 and beyond…

Moderate your expectations

It’s taken 41 years on this earth and a pandemic for me to learn this –> Great expectations and a tendency towards extreme perfectionism aren’t helpful.

Instance 1: Lockdown #1. Here I realised that consistently breaking screentime limits was not going to kill my kids. But my grumpy approach to homeschooling might. Solution? Scrap the timetable and enjoy time together. We got there in the end. They can now make pretty good soup (from scratch) and their own sandwiches. And I can now do a press-up (thanks Joe Wicks).

Instance 2: Christmas 2020. As much as I love Christmas and hosting my family, I tend to get a little caught up in making it perfect. So much so that one year I actually cried about my brother-in-law making the prawn cocktail in the wrong way. Not cool. This year, everything was a bit Heath Robinson, but we loved it all the more. All without the stress of a foraged Christmas table centrepiece or the perfect prawn cocktail. (Sauce on last, not first, in case you were wondering…)

It’s OK to do nothing

You may (or may not) know that I’m a big fan of Ayurvedic medicine. With a dominant Pitta dosha, I’m not great at chilling out. My Ayurvedic teacher told me I needed to ‘do nothing’ from time to time. Yeah, right. How do you do that when you’re self-employed, have two young kids and a million projects on the go?

Lockdown taught me. With nowhere to go on a sunny Saturday afternoon, there was nothing to do but sit and enjoy it. No-one to meet, no clubs to attend, no shops to spend at. We got to know each other (and our noisy neighbours at the back) better than ever before. We finally learnt to relax in a way that I thought was only possible on a sunlounger by a pool in another country. It’s much cheaper too.

Health matters. (Really, really matters).

I’ve waxed lyrical about the importance of looking after yourself when you’re self-employed. But this year brought it home in spades. After years of tests, I was diagnosed with a chronic autoimmune condition called PSC. It’s rare, hence the difficulty in diagnosis. For now, I remain in good health. Which makes a good diet, plenty of sleep, rest and exercise more important than ever.

Good health isn’t a right. It’s a gift and one we need to nurture to protect.

On an emotional and mental health perspective, my diagnosis has forced me to review things. Wrinkles and grey hair? Yep… they’re creeping in. And you know what? I’m cool with that. They’re battle scars, a sign I made it this far. Why would I want to look younger, to deny the life I’ve lived so far?

A dear friend who has it far worse than me (an MS sufferer) helped me through the emotional turmoil of diagnosis (from ‘yeah, I’m fine’, to ‘Oh god, what if I die next week’). I’m grateful to live in a country where our health is valued. To have a consultant who is committed to supporting me on a long-term basis. And to have a local NHS hospital that is truly excellent.

Coaches are a necessity if you’re self-employed

I’ve had the benefit of a coach before. A mindset and life coach helped me when I first went freelance. I also work with a variety of coaches, so 100% understand the benefit of a good coach. But it wasn’t until I did a skills swap with a networking contact that I really saw the benefits come through in my own work.

After half a year of working with Louise, I am more confident in my business than I have ever been before. From my pricing strategy to the way I deal with enquiries, she’s straightened me up, dusted me off and helped me become more organised. She also holds me accountable and gives me a stern talking to when I fall foul to the beast that is procrastination. With her advice behind me, I’m excited for the year ahead.

It’s too easy to fall into a comfort zone when you work for yourself. You know what works and know what you don’t like doing. Having a coach to boot you along helps you move your business in the right direction. Not got the funds? Explore a skills swap – it’s a great way to help you both fill in the gaps in your respective businesses.

The universe moves in mysterious ways

Call it karma, call it what you like, but for me this past year has shown me the power of positivity.

An incredible client of mine has a company vision that’s based around the idea of showing and sharing love. Not love in the romantic sense, but love in its purest form – kindness, respect and appreciation.

Chances are you really appreciate or respect someone because of what they do. But do they know that? Tell them. It’s what they need to know. Email your kid’s teacher to tell them how much your child appreciated a certain lesson. Or send a surprise package to a friend you haven’t seen for the last year. Whatever you do, know this – sharing our love makes a true difference.

On this vein, I tweeted my appreciation of the Jo Wiley show one evening. The result? My family and I were asked to choose a playlist with that would play out over the Christmas Twixmas period. Obviously, we agreed. The family Whatsapp group barely stopped buzzing as we boogied to each other’s tracks in our respective kitchens and living rooms. You can catch it here if you’re interested (we’re 1 hour in, and I’m featured with my maiden name – Burns. It’s got some real bangers in it!).

Switch off the news

2020 created many new words, but ‘doomscrolling’ is the one that sums things up most accurately for me.

After all, this was the year with

  • a published daily death toll
  • international governments with gaping holes where integrity should sit (our own is in that number btw)
  • mind-bendingly frequent changes in governmental advice, rules and recommendations.

Our media-consuming forbears had it right. Check out the news once a day and then get on with everything else. It’s a healthier and happier way to approach life.


The future’s not ours to see

As Doris Day would have said, “Que sera, sera…”. Who knows what 2021 will bring. More uncertainty, that’s for sure. But armed with positivity, support and a focus on looking after ourselves and each other, we can move mountains.


ps – do you have a Doris Day earworm now? You’re welcome.


Header image by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash