20 Things I learned in 2020

A year of vision and experience, there is no other year like 2020. Albeit it was shitty for most of us, it was a year of upheaval whether it was personal, mental, spiritual, etc. Not only did we physically have to contain ourselves inside four walls, we also felt the pandemic blues. Traveling, haircuts, trips to the cinema and concerts suddenly became luxuries at home to entertain ourselves when we got nothing to do besides work. Making questionable purchases on quarantine were things that could only give us relief whenever we needed a dose of laughter. Long walks to the park or around your neighbourhood were one of the only forms of relief when we’re bored of busting our butts off on YouTube workouts in our living rooms. Being unable to take a dip in the pool almost made me stir crazy. Maskne was hell for our skin. Our hair also suffered horrible grow outs as we couldn’t have access to a hairstylist for months. Some of you had no choice but to grab a buzzer, scissors or get a mullet out of boredom. Box dye was also optional, too.

While most of us have been leading busy lives, we also kept hanging on for every kind of connection on our phones whether it’s connecting with long distance old friends, cousins whom you haven’t spoken to in a year or swiping right on dating apps. Zoom’s the new hangout spot whether it’s platonically or romantically. Most of us had to sacrifice going out for our birthdays, which absolutely stank. We either had to do a birthday Zoom call or invite one or two friends over to our houses. But also, people from your past who suddenly popped out of thin air appeared on our WhatsApps, DMs or Facebooks. We were all trying our best to stay connected even though working from home zapped our energy.

Strangely, this year also brought us to start a business or do something creative that you’ve never done before. Taking risks were things we never considered in the past, yet it shaped our minds for the better. You also took a big leap for your mental health by deciding to do what you didn’t wanna do previously: get help. Sure, it was intimidating because some of you find it embarrassing to admit your struggles to your closest friends because you want them to think that you’re OK when your world fell apart. What you also learned was that it was OK to not be OK.

Although most of us spent our time at home, some of you went out to the streets to protest against racism at BLM protests from Los Angeles, Sydney and the UK. Being an advocate is sexy and I love that. While social justice is a cause I support, I also feel that some of you (myself included) have also decided to dedicate our time with helping out those who don’t have access to resources within our own back yard. Apart from protests and volunteering for charity, some of you have prayed for your loved ones and strangers who’ve suffered from COVID.

No matter how much you wanted to hate 2020, it was THE year that told us to level up inside out. We were not prepared to be stuck inside our homes or deal with a pandemic, but the one thing that we were being called to do was to look IN and see what WE could change about ourselves. (Myself included.)

Here are the top 20 things I learned in 2020:

  1. You prioritize the health of others as well as yourself – usually, our own health is something *we* prize first. The same goes for our loved ones, too. If you happen to be living with family members, I find that most people have been more thoughtful and compassionate for the health of their parents, siblings, children or other relatives. Not saying that being single = selfishness, but at times, there are people who DO live with their families that are being selfish by going out everyday when it comes to not giving a crap about the health of others during a pandemic. It hurts to accept that this is our reality, but keeping our loved ones safe is the best thing we can do for ourselves.
  2. Responsibility > hanging out – during the beginning of COVID in late January, I suddenly carried a face mask inside my purse to protect myself before it became mandatory in Singapore. Even when it came to hanging out with friends, I felt that there had to be a greater importance of taking care of them although COVID hung around the periphery like a White Walker. Not to sound rude, but I had to move away from anyone who didn’t cover their mouth while coughing or sneezing (pre-mask) because I wanted to protect myself and the same would go for whoever I spent time with. But if anyone thinks that moving away from a maskless stranger is rude, they most likely don’t care about exposing ourselves to corona or any other airborne disease. That prompted me to cut down who I needed to hang out with as I felt that it wasn’t right to be with people who didn’t care about my health or safety. That prompted me to check my own behavior and prioritize my wellbeing (plus the wellbeing of my parents) first before making plans to hang out. Even as things are almost back to normal in Singapore, I would not want to meet up with anyone who doesn’t think that corona is NBD when it really is. I’ve never felt more happier socially distancing myself from anyone who doesn’t care about responsibility.
  3. You vibe to who *you* vibe with – I thought that I could have as many friends as I’d like, but at this point, I needed to listen to my intuition if someone isn’t really my vibe. I know it sounds so judgmental, but when your heart/gut tells you NOT to meet someone in the first place, it’s for a reason. I used to think that I would miss out or feel guilty if I didn’t meet with the person who asked to hang out with me as I didn’t wanna judge. I realize that you aren’t entirely obligated to meet with anyone who doesn’t match your vibe. One of my dear friends also encourages me to say constructive things and thank the person before I move on. It’s honestly such a struggle to say your feelings, but giving closure helped me lift off the weight on my shoulders. Also, I feel less of an asshole when I speak up about my feelings as it’s not right to end things with silence as that brings up more confusion and hurt (been here done that with abruptly ending friendships in the past). Saying the right thing is a struggle and I have to find the right words to say something before I deliver the message. Being honest with your feelings comes with a risk that the other person will not accept it. If they retaliate in anger over being rejected (which has happened to me a few times), it says more about them than it is about you. After all, we have similar and different wants or needs in a person. If you feel upset that someone doesn’t vibe with you, please know that it is not personal. I’ve had my fair share of being on both sides and frankly, I feel blessed when God sends newer and better friends who vibe with me! 🙂
  4. Not everyone vibes at the same level as you – THIS was something that rocked my universe. Usually, I’d think that I would vibe with someone at the same level of enthusiasm as me, but suddenly, it came to hit me that not everyone is ready to go deeper with you at your pace. Good things take time to develop and you need to continue to trust that patience or process of taking the time to build a solid foundation. Not everyone is as open to trusting at the same level as you nor do they feel that they can vibe with you 100% yet. Patience is always testing me, but trust me, it really pays off. Like a nice house, good friendships don’t come immediately.
  5. You can pick and choose who you reconnect with, BUT…you don’t have to build (re)connections with *everyone* from your past – IDK if this happened to you, but people from your past that you no longer talk to suddenly popping up like Ghosts of Christmases Past is either a hit or miss. Ditto with yourself as you are also someone from their past. For me, I used to do this behavior and 85% of the time, it’s been a miss as both of us have grown to be completely different people. There’s nothing wrong with growth, but I find that having to cling on to the memories of who someone was long ago is bad for your mental health. No one’s past self was the best version of themselves. No one *wants* to relive the past. If someone wants to relive the past with you, trying to change their perception that you are different now from their memory of who you were then isn’t going to help much. If you can make a future with someone from your past, that’s awesome! But if you find no future (and that includes a toxic ex or your 9th grade crush), it’s best to leave where it should have been: THE PAST. You have the power to say yes or no to whoever wants to be in your life.
  6. Finding emotional stability through other humans is a temporary pleasure with long term pain – not everyone will solve your problems or be able to understand you. Especially, if you have been struggling with your mental health. The best thing is that you can always find better people out there who can spark your joy in the long run.
  7. You can make a positive OR negative impact in someone’s life whether you’re aware of it or not.
  8. Don’t make promises to yourself when you can’t deliver – some minds are stubbornly fixed on trying to achieve something and that’s good. I like to push myself creatively and I am dead set on deadlines. But, I had to take a break on writing my first book because I was feeling blue from reading the news about BLM protests from June to July/August. While I was also juggling other amazing writing projects, I had to shelve my book just so that I could focus on them. I was upset that I couldn’t meet my own promise of writing an X amount of pages within a certain time, but I learned to accept that I can set better, but realistic goals to meet that promise I made to myself. Yet, I can make my goals happen even when I delayed them for a bit.
  9. Pauses aren’t the end of a friendship – I used to think that anyone who didn’t respond to my messages was forgetting about me or worse, leave me. I thought that I might’ve done something or said something wrong that made someone not want to pick up their phone. Anytime I heard back from anyone, my brain acted like Tom Cruise on Oprah. It’s easy to make assumptions, but hard to accept the truth. Pauses happen because: A) someone suddenly became depressed and didn’t want to feel connected with this friendship ATM, B) parenthood, C) work, D) a new relationship, etc. Some pauses also include a social media detox and just because your friend doesn’t view your Stories everyday doesn’t mean that they lost interest in your life. Some people just genuinely NEED to step away from the phone. Going MIA isn’t something I can control, you know? What I needed to do is to stop overthinking with the assumption that a break = end of friendship. For anyone who’s ever paused on you because of some unforeseen mental health issue, I learned that I had to accept their desire to have some space when they can’t be mentally and emotionally present for me at the moment. To be a better friend, you need to support them when they go through sudden changes in life.
  10. BE in someone’s corner – people remember when you’ve been there for them when they were struggling or thank you for being there for them. Your support is always appreciated no matter what. You are being counted on because you are that one person a friend CAN trust while battling demons. I know it’s so overwhelming, but there is a temptation to leave. Don’t cave into that. If you do leave, that memory of you leaving them will be ingrained forever. Being the candle for someone is a life-changing experience that will apply to you when you’re stuck in the bottom, too. Trust me, friendships have strengthened when I stay. This pandemic made me realize that this shift will transform your friendship for the better and test your character.
  11. Save yourself before you can save anyone – holding a high ego for yourself while trying to fix everyone isn’t healthy. It makes you want to put the blame on someone when they can’t deliver what they hope to promise according to your time. Fixing people shouldn’t be romanticized in songs, movies, TV shows, etc. It just sets you up for more disappointment the more you want to “perfect” someone to your own terms. We just have to accept that people take their own time to heal. Yet, you can recommend them to seek counselling/therapy while seeing a counselor/therapist yourself.
  12. There’s a different type of year you can experience for yourself: a career year vs. a personal year – I learned about it from reading an Ariana Grande article two years ago. I felt like I achieved more this year in my career compared to any other year. With a few articles reaching the Trending section on Elle Singapore to securing a few interviews for TIMID and Elle Singapore, plus some personal stories for Vice Asia, I’ve never felt more grateful to than to be able to meet amazing people who have impacted my life with words of wisdom. Ditto with being able to garner a couple of sales from selling my mask sets and secondhand apparel. I just feel so humbled to be able to achieve great moments in my career even though I was going through some crazy boy drama, hated being unable to travel to see the rest of my family and friends across the globe and work anxiety. I have yet to wait for bigger moments; however, this is something that I can wake up with a smile on my face every morning knowing that I can overcome the general doom of 2020.
  13. There’s no such thing as being too busy to give back – consider ourselves blessed when we can live under a roof, eat bunch of good food, enjoy a nice drink, see a doctor and hold a phone at the palm of your hand. Even for me, I still have to remind myself that I am so privileged to be able to receive help and be near resources for my autism whereas some autistic folks find resources to be a luxury especially during COVID. With the help of a donation or volunteer gig, nothing is more empowering than giving back. If I’m not donating, I’m delivering food with a few friends to help old folks receive a nice, warm and hearty dinner.
  14. Character BEFORE any liquid/dry substance – can one drink make you suddenly act shitty? Yes and no. Truth is, you are who you are whether you’re drunk or sober. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met shitty men who blamed the bottle for making them act like assholes. (Thank goodness they’re outta my life!) If that kinda dude wanted to pin the blame on the bottle, he’s just too prideful to take accountability for being a POS. There’s also a high chance that he, himself, is an asshole while sober, too. Conversely, not all seasoned drinkers are assholes. Drinkers who respect your boundaries also respect you as a person. Ditto with anyone who likes to get high with you.
  15. BE curious, not judging – this came from Between Good and Evil, a podcast I stumbled across YouTube, where Devon Lee Carlson said that she stumbled across a quote where “we should be less judgmental and more curious”. Regardless of who we were then and who we are now, I feel that our past and present selves invites judgment. Ditto with how we see our friends when they tell us about their past and present selves or interests. I find that the more curious you are about them or their interests, the more closer you feel. Judgment simply drives a wedge whereas curiosity makes you feel freer than you’ve ever been.
  16. BE open to changing your perspective – my counselor gave me this advice as I’m quite stubborn on trying cling on to my perspective of things. I feel like when it comes to people, it’s honestly so easy to be stuck with the first perspective you have of someone rather than to change it. First impressions are easy to remember, but how you feel about it is something that someone else doesn’t know about unless you tell them. Taking a chance to change your mind about someone is perhaps the most daring thing you can ever do in your life. Ditto with your family, job or passion.
  17. We like to hold on more than we want to let go – this is one of the harder parts of life because 99.9% of the time, you and I just want to hold on to things even when it’s holding us back. Whether it’s the need to control things, a grudge or missing an ex, these things need to be Marie Kondo’d. Uncertainty is the last thing we want to accept in life and to feel secure, it’s easier to cling on to it than to not hold on to anything. If you hold on to habits/things/memories/people/a job/place that pull(s) you down, let bygone BE BAYGON!
  18. Some people who appear so different on the outside are way more similar to you on the inside – the amount of surprises one has beyond their cover always amuses me. It drives me to become more interested in them. I also find that we vibe better the more similarities we discover!
  19. Be your own guinea pig – lockdown did a number on me, but it forced me to go outside the box. This year, I went for a mullet (2x!) and never have I ever done it my entire life as I went for pixies, bobs and lobs. Ditto with dyeing my FULL head of hair with Revlon box dye. Same with splurging on emerald green Gucci lipstick at Sephora’s Black Friday sale. Normalcy is boring – not you! My mom believes that every person has a yin and yang. I do, too. If you wanna change up your look, I’m ALL IN!! You can’t say that life happens unless you try a mullet, cut off more than 2 inches, get some bangs, try a bold lipstick color (that is NOT red or fuchsia), mess with your eyebrows (your girl bleached hers 5 yrs ago!), grow out a haircut or dye your hair. Ditto with making questionable fashion purchases, too. 😛 Life’s too short to be stingy, you know? 😂 If you happen to be someone who’s always played it safe with fashion and beauty, perhaps this is the time to let your inner rockstar come out! I know you have it in you, but don’t be afraid to not regret anything!
  20. Lean into your faith (if you have one) – at this point in time, I feel that uncertainty is making us seek validation, comfort and nourishment from an outside source. What you’ve been dealt with in life is here to make you grow as a human whether you believe in God or not. For me, this pandemic has been making me lean into God to comfort me. Out of all the years, this one has strengthened my faith the most as I joined Bible Study Fellowship and a church cell group. Having a small faith-based community has helped me to broaden my perspective on faith as well as being able to share into the joys of God while simultaneously expressing my desires when I have a prayer request. Though I’ve been a Christian since I was 8, I church hopped, tried out different denominations of Christianity and went back to the first church I went to – International Baptist Church – as I vibe with it the best. If you want to pick up a faith, it’s never too late to start believing. But if you are the type who doesn’t believe in faith or fell out of it, it’s understandable if you don’t vibe with it due to a disagreement with your values, think that faith doesn’t exist as it’s not physically tangible, perceive that believing in God is for boomers, feel that prayers don’t solve a broken world, certain groups are too judgmental, question how a house of worship is run or have had negative experiences. Religion is meant to be a safe space for you even if you’re an atheist. Finding what you believe is like shopping: just get one that fits!

Published by

Michelle Varinata

Lapis - (n.) a layer Shrek once said that "onions have layers" as he was peeling one. Like an onion, I have layers. Born in Jakarta and raised in Singapore, I grew up being surrounded in a multicultural environment. Then, I moved to the States, where I lived in NYC and L.A. The creativity, hustle, bustle and vibe of those cities inspired me to become a blogger, journalist and influencer. Writing by day and living it up by night, I slay in the streets one OOTD at a time. Full-face makeup included, too. ;)

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