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As the end of the year approaches, I’m hearing a tune that has a piercing, nails on the chalkboard effect in my ears. It’s the hurry-up-it’s-not-too-late-to-accomplish-your-goals-in-2020 song. Very well-meaning people of social media are singing it from the rooftops as if to challenge us to make the month of December everything we originally intended 2020 to be.

I get it. I, too, wish we could turn this year around. The sad reality is that 2020 wasn’t anything like we’d hoped or dreamed. Not only is that impossible to undo, carrying a tune that assumes otherwise can be somewhat harmful.

It’s a bit dismissive of the grieving and the unemployed, the struggling business owner who’s already furloughed too many, and the exhausted essential workers who are on the front lines. It may even sound shaming to the person struggling with a type of loneliness that’s as life-threatening as the virus itself, or a mental health issue that has only escalated during this pandemic since coping skills and safe places have become increasingly inaccessible.

Here’s something my bones have been aching for us to grasp since March: we cannot perform our way through this pandemic.

My anger started with COVID bucket lists and conversations around what extra projects we all might use this “gift of time” to accomplish. But these are heavy, exhausting, and isolating times. Self-improvement isn’t the name of the game, self-care is.

We’ve been in a season of collective and ongoing loss, trauma, and adjustment for 9 months now. We’ve had to make impossible decisions, we’ve had to settle for human connection over a screen, and we’ve had to deal with the continual heartache unfolding around us without the people, resources, and safe spaces that ground us and bring us home.

Whether you’ve lost a loved one, your ability to hug your friends, the option to travel, or feeling safe enough to go to the gym – if it was something that used to bring you back to yourself, back home to peace and joy – it’s loss.

Screen fatigue. Decision fatigue. Isolation fatigue. Loss fatigue. We’re a weary, weary world right now. We’ve worked hard to find and hold tight to shreds of connection and normalcy. Unfortunately, even nine months in, we’re still doing a thing we’ve never done before.
To all of us struggling in this end-of-year season to make peace with the unbirthed dreams we had for 2020, I’m so sorry. It’s so painful. We get to mourn.

Here’s the thing I want you to know: 2020 wasn’t the year that wasn’t, and we weren’t stagnant. This year, our accomplishments looked different. This year, “barely enough” was praiseworthy and “just showing up” was a miracle. Let’s lower the standards just long enough to give ourselves credit for how we grew in courage, resiliency, flexibility, and heart.

This pandemic has a funny way of clarifying what really matters.

In addition to dismantling and restructuring our everyday realities, it has shuffled and restacked our priorities, too. They’ve been removed, replaced, or repositioned much like a game of Jenga.

I’d like to offer you an invitation. First, acknowledge the ways you’ve shifted and adjusted, shown up, and survived an impossible reality this year. Then, simply pay attention to the reshuffling. Notice the shifts.

Consider these questions:

How did the pandemic clarify what really matters to me? What did I lose that I now know, in a new way, I don’t want to live without? What did I gain that I didn’t know I needed? What did I come to find isn’t actually working for me that I previously thought was? What did I grow or develop out of necessity that I discovered really does work for me instead? What’s been the saddest part of all of this for me? What does my sadness tell me that I’m longing for? What’s been building fiery anger in me throughout this time? What passion does that anger point me toward?

I can’t help but see the hope that exists for all of us who have learned through deep pain and loss what really matters to us. Perhaps instead of New Year’s resolutions, we can listen to the reshuffling happening within and simply lean into, fight for, cultivate, and create more of whatever we’ve found brings meaning to our lives and this world.

Cheers to letting ourselves off the hook. Cheers to the hope that on the other side of this pandemic is a very different life in which we cling to what actually matters and let go of what doesn’t.

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