My six major personal and professional lessons from 2020

Dr Farooq Yousaf

2020 was a strange and difficult year for many. The year began and ended with a global pandemic that brought a 180-degree change in how we looked at things; both personally and professionally. Things that mattered the most (jobs and money) went in the background, whereas things that had a secondary priority (health and wellbeing of family and friends) came to the foreground. Amidst all the chaos, and upon reflection, 2020 made us change, without us knowing, in ways we could not have imagined and gave us a new perspective on life. In recent months, having published a book with a major publisher last year and ending up in a role that I love, many of my friends, peers and colleagues have asked whether I had a successful 2020?

I contemplated this question for weeks as I could not come up with a solid answer. However, upon reflection, I realised that my year could be summed up in six major personal and professional lessons:

Lesson 1: Celebrate Your Health

2020 taught me to celebrate something I always took for granted, my health. Working from home amid lockdowns made me realise how better health – both physical and mental – led to better quality of life. I took up tennis, lost nearly 10-kg, and quit smoking. Even though it sounds like a cliché, yet, we don’t often celebrate good health as we take it for granted. When the pandemic was at its peak, I had one simple mantra that summed up the importance of health in 2020:

If I survive the year with good health, and my friends and family are safe and healthy, I will consider myself fortunate and the year a success.

Lesson 2: Celebrate health of your family and friends

Due to international lockdowns resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, I could not travel to see my only, and elder, brother in the US, who I last saw in 2015 in Pakistan. Similarly, travel restrictions also meant that I could not invite my parents to Australia, which meant that I was naturally worried for their health. My partner, like most of us, had to adapt to the changing working conditions and had to work from home, prompting us to reflect on, and further improve, our relationship. These changes meant that the only thing that helped me sleep better at night was knowing that my family and friends were healthy and safe. Here, again, I learnt that good health of those close to us meant more than ever, especially because the pandemic and its infection and death rates created an air of uncertainty around us. This uncertainty, I realised, could only be mitigated if we stay safe, careful and healthy.

Lesson 3: Celebrate failure and be kind to yourself

My first half of 2020 was spent mostly in anger and frustration. Even with two international postgraduate degrees, professional experience, and publications, I was constantly getting rejections on my job applications. It was in the second half of 2020 that I realised rejections, and failure, were something to celebrate. This is because rejections in a global pandemic, when economies were crumbling, signified our ability to persist and persevere in the face of adversity. They allowed us to improve our applications and positively take constructive feedback to be better prepared for future applications. 2020 also helped me create a “register of failure”, an Excel file in my laptop, where I logged and saved all my applications and rejections. This register was evidence that even when things were not going in my favour and even when the pandemic had created an uncertain future for all of us, I still tried harder and harder to succeed. I also realised that “getting a job” or “getting some funding” is far smaller, or even insignificant, compared to what is currently going on around us on the planet. Therefore, I have learnt to be kinder to myself, whether my applications are accepted or rejected.

Lesson 4: Celebrate your work and the ability to adapt

My fourth and most important lesson from 2020 was my realisation to celebrate my work and all the activities I was professionally involved in. 2020 taught me to adapt and be more flexible. As a result, I completed an IBM Certificate in Data Science, which, initially, I had no background in. However, I took it as a challenge to improve my data analysis skills and completed the certificate within two months; which further allowed me to expand my skills and conduct data analyses using an array of programming languages and tools. I also understood that I may never professionally use these skills in the long run. Nonetheless, the certificate made me believe that I had the ability to learn new, and harder, skills if I had the will and determination to do so.

Lesson 5: Celebrate Empathy at Work and Support Your Colleagues

It is imperative to keep in mind that whatever frustrations we have or had regarding 2020 and our post-pandemic world, our colleagues and peers are going through the same fears, anxieties and insecurities. 2020 taught me to be more empathetic towards my colleagues, all of whom are trying, like me, to get used to our new world order. Moreover, colleagues who are parents now have an added responsibility of looking after both their kids and work at the same time. Today, those colleagues require our empathy and understanding of their complex and challenging situation. Hence, 2020 taught me to try my best to be of help to colleagues who need us the most in managing their tasks and competing priorities.

Lesson 6: Celebrate and Support Local Businesses

In 2020, many local businesses, such as Cafes and Coffee shops, which depended on “open” workplaces for their sales, had to shut down. However, there were a few who adapted to this situation and utilised online food delivery services to keep their business somewhat afloat. Nonetheless, 2020 taught me to be more kind to businesses, especially salespeople, who had a devastating year. The year also taught me to support local businesses, even if I had to pay a premium for their services because a few dollars might not make a big difference to me, however, they might bear a significant impact for a local business.

 Cover Image Source: Ideas42

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