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  • Writer's pictureOlive Von Topp

20 Lessons Learned from 2020

Updated: Apr 20, 2021

Okay. 2020 has been a shit year, for almost everyone. Except maybe Jeff Bezos. A dumpster fire, as some have affectionately termed it.

I’m not going to try and silver-line it.

Some people are going to be showing up, talking about all they accomplished in 2020. And that is great, happy for them. But if all you did was survive 2020, that is enough. No need to compare your ‘accomplishments’ to others (and also, like can we STOP with the capitalist pressure to be productive during a PANDEMIC?). Times are hard.

All in all, I have actually had a pretty okay year.

While obviously affected by the heaviness & grief of the world, the anxiety of the future, and just general missing of ‘the good ol’ days’, I’ve been relatively lucky. Privileged. Other than non-COVID related stuff like some housing uncertainty, I’ve been pretty fortunate.

Anyway, I say this because I want to acknowledge that I am privileged to even be in a place to be able to reflect on these lessons, knowing they may be “softer” than some of the lessons you may have had forced upon you this year.

At the end of every year/beginning of a new year, I like to reflect on what happened, what I learned, and what goals I want to set for the upcoming year.

So as this year comes to a close, I bring you, my lessons top twenty lessons of 2020.

1. Lean into the discomfort

This is one I have been working on for a while now, but this year really hammered it home. So much of what was challenging for many folks was how uncertain and uncomfortable it was (I’m talking mostly mentally/emotionally, not like, your discomfort with wearing a mask, Kathy).

Whether it was spending time alone, change of routine & familiarity, feeling our feelings, adapting to mask wearing, confronting our own inherent biases and racism, or facing your own internal demons, this year has asked (hell, demanded) us to get comfortable with discomfort. The more we lean it, the easier it gets.

2. Let go of the things you can’t control

Adding to the last lesson on discomfort, this year has been all about focusing on what I can control and learning to let go of what I can’t: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference”. And there is a lot.

Focusing on the things I can control (in a healthy, non-obsessive way), like my self-care, has really helped me let go of those I can’t. “We’ll see” has become a catch phrase of 2020.

3. Community Care is the only way we are getting through this

While I obviously advocate for self-care, community care is a whole other level. This year has really reminded us how connected we are, how imperative it is to think about how our actions affect each other/the greater good, and how we need to take care of each other. I hope this continues into 2021.

4. What my goals are

This is a personal lesson, but this year, the forced time away from burlesque gave me the space I needed to work on my coaching business, something I had been putting off for a couple years for all kinds of reasons (fear of failure, imposter syndrome, etc.).

While I love burlesque and want to keep performing, teaching, and producing it for years to come (when we are able to again), it isn’t a life goal of mine to be an ‘international burlesque performer’. It feeds me in ways nothing else can, but I also realized I need (and want) to be putting more of my time and energy into my goals of growing my own coaching business, becoming a published writer, and known speaker.

2020 gave me the space (albeit it forced it) to really re-evaluate what my goals are and what is important to me and where I want to be putting my limited energy.

5. Creativity is a life source

Along the same note, I realized just how important having a creative outlet is for me. I’m so much healthier when I am creating (which is funny because I used to think I wasn’t a creative person). Not having burlesque as an outlet has created a hole, but being able to pour myself into my business; creating videos, posts, and blogs has been soul saving and really helped me through this pandemic.

6. Boundaries, Boundaries, Boundaries

Okay, like I already knew the importance of boundaries and have been actively working on them for years, but 2020 really hit me over the head with this lesson. Whether it was saying “no” to things I wasn’t comfortable with or negotiating how to hang out with someone safely, or just requesting someone put on a mask, 2020 has been a year of boundary work.

I learned, similar to sexual boundaries, that it is easier for me to negotiate my needs and boundaries ahead of time (often via text) than after we are “in the act”.

7. I can do hard things

And so can you. I mean, I already knew this, but obvi this year put this to the test. More so, I have found this knowledge particularly comforting during this time. And the fact that I trust myself. I trust myself to get through whatever is thrown at me. To have my own back. To make meaning. And to (eventually) be okay.

8. I’m more introverted than I thought

I mean, I have always enjoyed my own company (cuz like, I’m hilarious and a fantastic lover), but this year was a great reminder of how much I have been ignoring my poor, little introverted self. Neglected her. Now, I love people. I get energized off hanging out with them (except for small talk, that shit is so draining), but I didn’t realize how much my introverted self needed tending to.

Spending nine months in my pajamas, puttering about my house, reading, working on projects, dancing, writing, has been so, so, needed and so, so satisfying. Will I even like the company of other people again???

9. Busy-ness is killing me

Another personal discovery- something I was already suspect of. My health has improved this year, despite not being able to see my usual health practitioners/modalities that help for like half of it. I mostly attribute this to slowing down. While I am still super busy (and I don’t say that in the self congratulatory way we have been trained to say because we believe that busyness is some sort of badge of honour), not running from place to place has really lowered my stress levels.

Now, a lot of that time I used to spend travelling is spent on self care practices, including self-pleasuring. Hmm, maybe it was actually not enough orgasms that was killing me…

10. Nothing is promised

Oh man, I learned this lesson a long time ago, but shit this year was a reminder. Nothing. Not your life, not your loved ones, not your health, not life as you know it, not even your routines. Anything can change at any time, so live fully. And don’t be a entitled little brat.

11. I am super privileged

I knew this too, but again this year was quite the reminder. I am fortunate to have a relatively secure job that I don’t have to go in to and put myself at risk. I have a safe place to live. I have enough to eat. I have people who support me and access to mental health supports and resources. And a lot of this is because of the privilege I hold as a white, cishet, thin and able-bodied woman living in Canada, whose chronic pain/illness stuff is manageable.

Many people do not have the same luxuries as I do. Black people are four more times likely to die from COVID than white people and two times more likely to contract COVID-19 than white people. Systemic racism places BIPOC folks at socio-economic disadvantages that make them more susceptible to the illness. According to a report by the Canadian Medical Association, “85 per cent of our risk of illness is linked to social determinants such as income, housing, education, systemic racism and access to health care, while only 15 per cent is linked to biology”.

12. Gratitude

Similarly, this year has made me extra grateful. For what I have. And for the small stuff. The beautiful stuff. The hot tea and a good book on a sunny Sunday morning stuff. The beautiful sunsets and hearing a loved one laugh stuff. The big stuff we often are excited about just isn’t there this year. And we have had to look deeper (but not far) to find moments of joy. This year has been a good reminder of what is really important and that it is this small stuff that makes life so good.

13. Distractions only work for so long

You can distract yourself with trips, drugs, or material things, but sooner or later, you gonna be all alone with your ugly self and no amount of distraction can save you (enter 2020). The sooner you get comfortable with yourself and your feelings, the easier (and more fulfilling) your life will be.

14. Capitalism (and other systems) doesn’t work

I’ve believed this for awhile in some form but like this year made it glaringly obvious. Well, actually it does work, it works exactly like it is supposed to: keep the poor, poor so the rich can get richer. But we are in this mess largely because of capitalism and turns out when shit hits the fan, the rich don’t give a shit about you. Turns out we could have basic income and rent relief and small business support all along. I love how many of us are waking up to its flaws and dreaming about new possibilities.

15. I’m racist

And so are you. Because we all grew up in a racist system. I mean, again, I was aware of this, but this year has been a really good, albeit difficult, look at my own internal biases. It has been a good year of learning and unlearning, as well as trying to put my money where my mouth is.

I still have so much work to do, but will keep going and I am so grateful for the BIPOC folks who continue to show up, to educate (even though it isn't there job), and to hold space for all our white unlearnings.

16. Live in the moment

Similar to lessons 10 and 12, but 2020 has taught us the importance of living in the moment and doing that thing now. Remember all the stuff you put off because you would do it next year (2020)? Ha! Remember wishing away perfectly wonderful moments because you were busy fantasizing about how they could be better or when the next one would come along? Oops! Anything can change in a heartbeat, so be sure you are savouring each and every moment you can.

17. We are all grieving

We are all feeling a lot. Like a lot a lot. And one of those big emotions is grief. Some of us have lost loved ones. Jobs. Money. Security. Relationships. Certainty. There is a lot to grief and we need to give ourselves space to feel the feels (and not compare our suffering or lack thereof to others).

18. Tik Tok is a time trap

I still don't really get it, but fuck have I wasted a lot of time on Tik Tok this year. It's like a car crash that you can't look away from. A time-warp where what felt like scrolling for 2 mins suddenly turned into 2 hours. Yes I started an account in the pandemic. Yes, I am "too old" for it. Yes, I have tried to do a bunch of the dances on it (unsuccessfully). And for whatever reason, I can't get rid of it.

19. We are adaptable and resilient AF

Man, we are pretty fucking adaptable. Well, some of us (those of you who were protesting wearing masks or about not getting haircuts, maybe not so much). But the rest of us, the rest of us are adaptable. Humans are adaptable and resilient af. We will make meaning, learn lessons (and probably repeat similar mistakes), and adapt to whatever we are given. We are pretty freaking remarkable.

20. Always keep hope

When all else feels lost, we must always hold on to hope.

Well, say what you will about 2020, but it has taught us some shit. May we continue to take these lessons into the next year, and may 2021 be a little gentler on all of us.


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