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If nothing else, 2020 has been an extraordinary year—often in the worst sense of the word. The coronavirus pandemic caused many of us to cancel plans, lose jobs, and miss out on much-needed time with loved ones. A presidential election strained interpersonal relationships and stressed the national psyche. And the Black Lives Matter protests once again laid bare the already stark racial divide in the U.S., sparking national dialogues that encouraged us to (rightfully) more deeply examine our behaviors and biases, and pushed many of us to our emotional limits. 

And while many of us will be happy to see the end of this year, it’s also important to name and reflect on some of the positive things that came out of 2020 (even if finding those moments of light feels like a struggle). After all, oftentimes it’s our setbacks, challenges, and moments (or months) outside of our comfort zones where the most significant realizations and growth can occur. 

Opportunities to learn

I count myself among the lucky people who did not suffer professionally this year—after freelancing and working from home for three years, the new work-from-home status quo required no adjustment period for me. But as a musician who usually spends several nights a week at band practices or concerts, the social limitations we experienced due to COVID-19 were initially very difficult.  

However, I soon found some solace in having more time to focus on learning a new instrument and really dedicating myself to improving quickly with daily practice. While my “old self” would usually have put in a half-hearted effort among so many distractions and obligations, this year gave me time to focus on doing something new. It really showed me that my pre-2020 habit of overcommitting (to work, friends, and events) is unsustainable—and ultimately harmful to my goals. 

And I’m not the only one who found a positive side to the last 12 months. Some of our writers and members of the Idealist staff weighed in on what 2020 taught them:

Take time to listen

“Having the time to slow down, I've learned how to be a better listener which has not only helped me in my personal life but in my work as a community support specialist as well. I've also learned that, especially in times like these, it's so important to take the time to unplug completely. When I take the time to allow myself to disconnect from the world, I come back to work feeling refreshed and more productive.”

– Janet Reyes, Idealist team

The importance of introspection

“This year, I learned just how important introspection is—especially when it feels like the world around you is falling apart. Yes, 2020 was difficult in a few ways. But I'm also grateful that it forced me to zoom out of my daily grind and re-evaluate what's important and how I want to spend my time. Still a work in progress, but a much needed start!”

– Denise, Idealist team 

Embrace change

“For me, 2020 was the year of resilience and re-imagination. With curiosity as my compass, I turned a job loss into an opportunity and designed a new professional path as a career coach, entrepreneur, and small business advocate. This did not come easily, or without moments of pain and fear. But embracing a bias toward action and aligning myself with the right mentors made it possible.”

Lisa Dubler, contributing writer, Idealist Career Advice 

Take strength from community

“I consider myself incredibly lucky to have had a front row seat to everything that has taken place in our Idealist community this year. From folks connecting to make employment happen, to mutual aid groups forming or expanding on our platform, and the constant messages of hope, comfort, and condolences streaming across our feeds, I've found so much strength through community. In 2020, in addition to some incredibly hard lessons that I'm still just trying to process, I've also learned that even in the most difficult times, I'll likely find someone who has something positive to share. And if I'm really lucky, I can take the cue and pass it on."

– Alexis Perrotta, Idealist team


What did you learn from your setbacks this year? Did adjusting to a new reality help you grow? Share with us on Facebook.

Elyse Franko-Filipasic profile image

Elyse Franko-Filipasic

I believe in the power of good organizations to improve health, stability, and economic development around the world. For more than 10 years, I've been working with nonprofits and NGOs in the global health space to develop engaging, public-facing content and cohesive communications strategies.

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