F-U 2020! It’s written in memes, on banners, on masks, and on new year greeting cards from families. It gives one a thrill to be able to put it out there – its irreverence acceptable because most everybody can relate. We have made it through one disaster after another and there is hope in sight. 2021 cannot come soon enough. Woo hoo!
So why am I uneasy? As happy as I am to move forward out of the depths of global and national challenging times, I don’t want to curse the entire 2020. I got engaged in 2020 – an event I truly did not anticipate happening this year. This was a successful year professionally for me – an equally challenging one, but those experiences oftentimes partner together.
Nor am I comfortable assuming 2021 will bring the level of relief and peace we’re seeking. This is a really difficult statement for me to admit. I am certainly an eternally hopeful person – and I do believe that we have control over how we experience anything that happens in life. But as we count down from 10 tomorrow night, I will be peeking tentatively around the corner of the new year, nervous to make any assumptions.
I am chatting with a group of friends who have been through their own uniquely interesting life experiences that are similar in intensity to some of the situations I have navigated. We’re discussing how our expectations for our own lives have changed. These managed expectations have become personal, protective coats of armor.
When we were younger and starting out as independent adults, we assumed we knew how life would go, at least in broad terms. We looked at our family members and our community members and we got a sense of what was to come. As we got older and created our own families, we continued with these predictions. Then abruptly each of us found our lives veering off into different uncharted territories and we felt unequipped and baffled. I daresay we felt duped. For this was not what we were shown was going to happen. This was completely different than what we had been told all our lives. We panicked because we realized we had not been given the right tools for the job. We had someone else’s toolbox.
So we took each generic tool we had been given in the box we had brought, and using our wits, creativity, and sense of raw determination, welded and reshaped the tools over time to fit the actual tasks and roles we had received. And now as we awaken each new day, we carry this more specialized box of tools, in addition to some generic ones, in the event we find ourselves careening down a rocky slope. We expect at all times that we might, and we want to be prepared. If we do end up staying on the paved path, we celebrate the ease. But we do not stop grasping the just-in-case mindset.
So we manage our expectations carefully and we are shaken by changes less often. I tell a friend that my expectations are lower now. She corrects me and says they are just different. I appreciate the removal of judgment. Either way, I feel more prepared and can take life’s hiccups more in stride with my repurposed toolbox. I find myself able to bounce back from transition anxiety, adjusting to unexpected news more quickly. I can more seamlessly replace ‘Why me?’ thoughts with a tool that focuses on solutions. I’ve remodelled it through lots practice and trial and error. I find myself able to use my favorite tool, my enhanced gratitude seeker, when I am faced with a challenging situation. I can turn a situation on its head, looking into all crevices, to find some reason to be thankful – at the minimum, something that could’ve made the situation worse but didn’t.
As we say goodbye to this year that has been filled with fear for some, sorrow for many, loneliness and moments of distress for most, I will also hold onto the beautiful moments from the year. I will remember the miracle that my parents both had Covid and survived. I will be happy when I think of the newfound opportunities for my children to gather together from across the country to celebrate, to play, and to just be. I will feel lucky that two of my kids moved 20 hours closer to me, now only a 2.5 hour drive away. I’ll feel inspired by my children who have managed to battle the deep loneliness of quarantining. I will feel embraced by my siblings who show up, partner, and love. I will appreciate the good friends who did not need to be physically in the room for me to enjoy their friendship. I will celebrate how it always feels like a party now with my new backyard lights and firepit. And I’ll feel grateful to my highest power for gifting me my fiancé, a man who embodies all of the top values on my list.
As I look to 2021, I feel hopeful. I will continue to make my vision board and dare to dream. Although many of the 2020 challenges will carry into the new year, I, as so many others, will be more prepared and able to accomplish my goals because my expectations are matching the reality of my situation. I will take my life day to day, not year by year. I will be open to all of the new experiences that are to come, but I will also make sure that I have all of my tools available. Just in case.