Looking Back on 2020: The Lessons I Learned From a Challenging Year

This year has felt like a decade and has been unpredictable in so many ways. Amid all the tragedy and loss, there have been so many lessons I’ve learned that I don’t want to forget moving forward once the madness of 2020 is over.

When I think back to January, I was in a very different place emotionally than where I am as this year comes to an end. 2020 has felt like a year of reckoning — of having to address and take care of all the issues that have been festering under the surface for so long, both personally and collectively. 

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This year may have been the hardest one I can remember, ever. I’m self-employed, and many of my clients hit “pause” on our contracts when the pandemic hit — meaning my income also hit pause for a while, too. I became sick with COVID-19 in April and was lucky enough to move past it, but still have lingering side effects. 

After a few months of quarantine, the tragic and unjust death of George Floyd shook my country to its core — and the days and weeks that followed were equally eye-opening. As a longtime activist for social justice, I experienced many sleepless nights in the aftermath.

These events and more have made 2020 a year I will never forget — and one that has changed me, in so many ways for the better.

Here are a few things I’d like to take with me into 2021 and the future: 

Buying less (and only what I need)

When I moved across the country to California in 2019, I decluttered in a major way and only brought what I absolutely needed with me — the clothes I loved, a few nostalgic knickknacks, and my dog. However, I’ve been raised in the American culture of consumerism all my life — and shopping is a habit that’s been hard to shake. With stores closing down and only the essentials available, I realized how much unnecessary money I was spending on things I didn’t need, like another hoodie or a third bottle of skin cream. 

With stress over my income being cut, I saved more money instead of shopping. A thrifty attitude is something I don’t want to lose moving forward.

RELATED: Why I’m Vowing Not to Buy Anything This Year

Cherishing the time spent with others

With social distancing and stay-at-home orders in place, my social life took a big hit this year. I was lucky to have neighbors to spend time with outdoors in a socially distanced way, but I still haven’t seen my family in the Midwest — and I now understand how much I took for granted time spent with others. The get-togethers and walks with other people have become all the more precious after not being able to do that for so long. Moving forward, planning quality time with the people I love is one of my top priorities each week because I never want to take that for granted ever again.

Being actively involved in social justice work

I’ve always had an interest in social justice issues, especially after working at nonprofit organizations in Chicago. However, this year showed me how much work still needs to be done when it comes to equality and anti-racism. 

Being actively involved with justice issues is a lifelong commitment, and I’ve become all the more aware of how important it is to use my voice, especially as a white woman, to stand up and call for justice in the killing of Black people by police officers. This year alone, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake, and 164 Black people were killed by police officers. It’s an egregious injustice that needs to end — and the only way that will happen is with people of all backgrounds getting involved (here are some resources to get started). 

Taking care of the environment

Growing up in the Midwest, the only extreme weather I experienced was an occasional tornado warning (and one actual tornado). Living in California this year was a very different experience. I’m not used to wildfires — and even those who grew up with them had never seen them at the level they happened on the West Coast in 2020. My car was covered in soot, and I’ll never forget how the sky looked when it was filled with smoke for days and days. Living through these events made me realize that I have to do my part to combat climate change. I’m committed to living a more sustainable existence and voting for leaders who are taking steps to protect the environment.


The biggest lesson I’m taking away from 2020 is resilience. If someone would have sat me down at the end of 2019 and given me a preview of what was to come, I would have been terrified. In many ways, this year has felt like one tragedy after the next. And yet, somehow, even on days when I was struggling, I survived all of it and am still here. When things get bad, I realized how much resilience I actually have. 

Gratitude goes hand-in-hand with resilience because knowing I can survive hard things also makes me incredibly grateful for the things I took for granted before 2020, like meaningful relationships, fulfilling work, and my health. I hope to remember this year as the one that made me a better person, a more engaged citizen, and a lot wiser than I was before.

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