What a year… I am picturing Christmas 2019: I was so excited about buying a domain and building this website from scratch. My parents wondered what on earth I’m doing between family activities so passionately that I’d even forget to snack on all the Christmas delicacies. I also just started learning Spanish then because I was confirmed to go to Ecuador for a year starting summer 2020 and work from my company’s office there. Lastly, I remember visiting my aunt who… reads Tarot cards (we all have the cool aunt stories, I guess) and getting surprised by what I heard.
My aunt told me that I’d have some tough times at my job, and I’d have a job change. It sounded a bit unbelievable. I was convinced I’ll stay at my job for the year at least in Ecuador, and what tough times she is talking about… I shrugged my shoulders and thought that maybe it’s just this Ecuador office that is a work change, and, well, tough times are always there.
Fast forward a year. I have published various writings on my website. QualityBits has had over 2000 unique visitors in 2020! I am extremely grateful for that. I did not end up going to Ecuador. I did have tough times (and who would have predicted a pandemic). I did change my job. Believe it or not, but the psychic aunts sometimes are spot on… In this post, I want to share my top 3 lessons of 2020.
What matters the most is… people, connection, and compassion
Whatever status or power dreams we may have had got challenged this year. Who cares about a big salary when you’re losing health or loved ones?
This year we got a push to check our privileges. We all are privileged just on different levels, and the pandemic made the inequity more obvious than ever. While some people were romanticizing quarantine, others were more vulnerable than others.
Romanticized quarantine illustrated by Bruno Saggese Mimos
I love talking about inclusion, and I feel these times made the problems of inclusion more visible. There were so many companies that never worked remotely and in the pandemic had to change their ways. We could learn a lot from “sitting on the other side” as so many people, especially those who worked “off-shore”, already faced before.
It is our chance to improve tech setups and accessibility. It is our chance to prioritize connection with everyone even if it is virtual. It is also an amazing chance to connect to people in the events that are completely different from what we would normally attend.
At the start of the pandemic, I attended a live webinar on Time & Creativity by Cindy Gallop which was so rewarding. We may have less face to face connections, but we still have many possibilities to meet people, learn, and grow online. I gave a talk at the IT matters webinar on Inclusivity in the Times of Corona and how to see a silver lining which I would not have done for their meetup if it was not for the pandemic.
If we care about people more, this is our chance to also consider which connections are important to us. Now that we are not rushing through life as much and were made to slow down, I keep thinking: how can we create more meaningful relationships? The pandemic for sure is challenging, yet the real friends and family are always there. Even if it is an online pub quiz as I did with my friends in 2 different countries combining a team. Or talking to the family more often: I live in a different country and due to my post-work activities and “busyness” I would talk to my mum once a week before the pandemic. This year we speak almost daily. She told me that out of all her plans and goals for 2020 one thing did come true: talking to me more. She’s extremely grateful for that. So am I.
I am grateful for learning to ask for help (at least sometimes). In face to face situations, I would have expected someone to notice that I am not okay. Now nobody can see it. A colleague once told me a German saying: “Only a speaking person can be helped”. I was touched. I told my best friend when I felt bad. She called me, and we talked it out.
Health is a treasure
Before the pandemic, for a while, I have been struggling with plantar fasciitis. I went to multiple doctors. One of them prescribed me huge doses of painkillers, another one gave me a botox injection which was supposed to take away the pain but did not. I also was traveling for work weekly and noticed that my foot would get worse after train rides.
I did not sleep that much, ate poorly. I also was trying to say to myself that I do that because I’m so busy with work, or stressed. There was a lot to handle. My health was already showing me that I need to slow down. I did not see the signs. Then, the pandemic hit.
Luckily I did not get sick with COVID (or did not even realize it), but with work from home I did not need to travel anymore, I could sleep a bit more, and cook my meals at home. I lost weight as a side effect, but the best thing was that I had no excuses not to take care of myself anymore. I could prioritize my health for the first time. I decided to nourish my body with good food, care, and workouts. I did yoga almost daily and do it until now. My plantar fasciitis disappeared. I am in way better shape than I’ve been since my teenage years. I feel stronger. Not only physically, but mentally.
Besides, when it comes to health and stress, I made a big career change. I left the traveling consultancy, I joined a company where I can utilize my aspirations of leadership, mentoring, and quality advocacy better. I am extremely grateful for the experience of working as a consultant - I grew enormously. It is not easy, though. What grew the most was the thick skin. As my mentor told me when I was a bit insecure about the new big shoes to fill in as the Head of Quality: “Lina, you worked as a consultant in a very high-performing company, you can do anything.” I nodded. This change was not an easy one, but I was not happy for a while in recent months, and I was getting very tired from traveling and certain aspects of consulting like the lack of belonging (you’re there temporarily which is both a blessing and a curse).
I blamed myself first when I felt sad, but this is what sometimes happens when we think it’s our job to love our jobs (I just watched a brilliant talk from You Got This Conf on this). We have choices, and companies in the end just want to keep their business alive. If you are unhappy at your job, sure, it is a growth experience, but is it worth the trade-offs? This year was a great year to reflect on that, and, the pandemic canceling my Ecuador engagement, added one more reason why to change jobs.
Productivity illustration by lizandmollie
Stop the busy talk: choosing to be present and using a chance to reflect
Thoughts weigh more. It is somehow quieter if you’re all by yourself at home. I read a beautiful piece on this strange feeling on the Literary Hub where there was this sentence: “It is not easy to concentrate on reading while the world around you trembles.” I feel this year made me appreciate things more and pushed me to reflect.
I signed up for online counseling to guide me on the journey of grounding myself more. I ask myself what I want, what my needs are, and how I can use this time the best until things reopen. At the start of the pandemic, I told myself that I was completely fine - I’m an introvert, I even felt relieved at times. Right now I am getting very tired of the situation, and it is challenging to keep myself mindful. I miss dancing, I miss events, I miss brunches with friends. However, all this is making me appreciate things more which I took for granted before. I am extremely grateful for what I have, and the privileged situation I am in.
I started doing meditation which I’m quite terrible at, but there are these tiny moments when I feel more present. I feel more mindful. And it makes it all worth it. I want to use this time in isolation to get ready, not for things going back to normal, but for making the new normal at least a tiny bit better for ourselves, and the ones we love.
Dave Hollis quote illustrated by quotesbychristie
This year was quite something. It was one of the hardest years I’ve had. Also, it was one of the best years I had. Not for the trips and memories I made, but for slowing down and discovering what actually matters. I don’t know how much longer all this situation will continue, but I’m extremely grateful for this year. Albert Einstein has said: “In adversity lies opportunity.” I hope we take this adversity as a big opportunity to create a better, more grounded, mindful, and connected future.