What Have We Learned?

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In August, we made our second trip of the year to our favorite spot in Florida for a getaway. For almost 15 years, we’ve been staying there two to three times a year for vacation. Over the years, we’ve come to know the area, and some of the locals, well. One of my favorites is Bill, the owner of a beach chair and activity business that supports a few of the resort communities along the beach.

We had seen Bill during our previous trip in March, right as lockdowns were occurring and we were literally on the beach the day it was shut down and local police began patrolling it to keep people off. In March, Bill and I had discussed the uncertainty around the pandemic and its impact. I asked him again in August and he replied: “I think many people are going to learn something about themselves this year.”

In a world in which we now hesitate when greeting people to determine if they still shake hands or not and the new farewell is “Stay Safe,” it is safe to say much as changed. A traveler sported a t-shirt recently in the Atlanta airport that read “2020 Still Isn’t As Bad As My First Marriage.” The year has been a meme-fest and we’ve tentatively started looking toward 2021. A recent cartoon showed a group of people peeking around a corner toward a door with “2021” written on it, pushing it carefully open with a very long pole. “What’s next?” we wonder out loud.

As this post is written, we’re dealing with the fallout of a bitterly contested election season, abandoned downtown areas with boarded windows, and another round of social restrictions seeking to curb the spread of COVID-19. Clearly, class is still in session and whatever lessons we’ve learned, there appear to be more on the horizon as we watch a very fluid landscape continue to shift beneath us.

Perhaps there are profound collective lessons that have emerged from the last nine months. We’ll certainly see and hear versions of interpretation as government leaders haggle over policies, liberties, and the economy. Leaving the broad sweep of governmental reactions and policy behind, I think back to Bill’s comment and wonder: what have we learned as individuals?

What has 2020 taught you about your relationship with risk? Are you more or less daring than you thought circa December 31, 2019? Perhaps you found the edge of your risk threshold this year. Maybe you’re still pushing it. Did uncertainty cause a personal lockdown or did you press forward on your objectives for the year?

Have you learned anything about your priorities? Has your view toward your job or career changed? Are you doing anything different with your time? What is important?

Has your approach to self-development changed this year? Do you read more? What kind of content are you consuming and in what quantities? Will you be better on December 31, 2020 than you were on December 31, 2019?

What have you learned about yourself and stress? Are you happy with how you are coping with the uncertainties of 2020 and beyond? Do you retreat from fear? Is self-motivation a challenge? Do you find that you are a “happy” person or is it a daily struggle to see good around you?

What have you learned about your relationships? Have you lost touch with people? Have you made new friends? Are you social? What has changed in your family dynamics? If things have changed, why did they change and how do you feel about it?

Are you physically active? Are you having your normal physical check-ups and screenings? Have you put a procedure or treatment off? Are you taking your meds? What has changed in your approach to your physical health this year? Has it changed for the better? Why or why not?

A very real danger for many of us is to take a “wait and see” approach to our lives as uncertainties mount. Going into survival mode, we accept limits on our life in the name of safety, security, or uncertainty, and put real living on hold. These limits don’t necessarily have to be restrictions placed upon us by a governing authority, we are quite effective at limiting ourselves.

As we wait for more information and some kind of clarity, life can pass us by. Maybe we’re waiting for permission, a “green light” to move forward. Perhaps we want to see a sign suggesting that the coast is clear. Or, we may just accept a notion of what our life can be given a set of circumstances and actively live to that reduction, bobbing along on the ever-moving river of something beyond us.

There are certainly many lessons learned through 2020. Hopefully, we can put them to good collective use. But let’s take a moment and confirm some other truths:

  • The sun still rises in the morning and sets in the evening.
  • Every day, we are presented with options and the freedom to make choices.
  • We are reflections of the choices we make.
  • People need our love. Especially those close to us.
  • Our health requires active nurturing.
  • Rain will come, and it will move on.
  • There is more beauty in this world than we can wrap our heads around.
  • There is more potential within us than we recognize.
  • We are stronger than we know.
  • Goodness is all around us, if we take a moment to see it.
  • Life goes on.

What other truths do you see? What is a contrarian position you might take toward any dark narrative the world may be throwing your way?

Please forgive me, but I can’t help it. I simply cannot help but be hopeful. The frustrating noise of headlines, the negative energy of haters, and the simple-minded acceptance of other people’s smallness, conclusions, or limited vision are anathema to me. I choose something different. What have I learned in 2020? Our lives are as full of possibility as ever and the challenges we face are worthy in the measure that we choose to face them squarely and hopefully.

Don’t wait. Don’t retreat. Don’t fear. Look to the horizon and the sunrise that will soon be upon it. Hoist your sales, for the wind will come. The living occurs in the midst of the difficulties and that’s ok. We are all made for it.

Showing 2 comments
  • Shari Frank

    Love the positivity Phil!

  • Ken Wendeln

    For those of us who have lived nearly a lifetime, we’ve seen the crises, social unrest, economic uncertainties, disappointments, doubts … and opportunities as the storms pass and sun shines once again. And as in the past, we need to look forward, take care of ourselves and each other, and be thankful that we have a new day ahead of us. Life is a journey of many days and seasons that still lie ahead.

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