5 Lessons Learned in 2020

Birthday gift from my USC roomie came in handy during my Palm Springs getaway

Exactly one year ago, I wrote my first Medium article to launch a 12-month commitment to tap into my creativity.

In the piece, I promised to work on my body, my mind, and my finances. Despite the year it has been, I can gratefully say “check”, “check” and “check”.

In the piece, I continued on, at resolution #4, to promise to keep learning, and there was no better teacher than 2020. Here are 5 lessons that were either revealed or reiterated to me (read — a slap in the face) amidst the chaos that was the year 2020.

(1) The stories people tell themselves are their ultimate truth

And these stories are more real to them than anything you can say, do or prove with data or science. Simply put:

People believe wtf they want to believe until they are ready to believe something else.

Beverly Hills Trump March

When I stumbled into a Trump rally (long story), hundreds of people chanted claims and held signs convinced that Biden had stolen the election. I had a brief chat with a delivery man who let me in on the secret — COVID being a made-up government tactic. Meanwhile, my colleague had lost 3 relatives to the virus. His response? It must have been something else because COVID itself isn’t real. It is fascinating what people choose to believe with unwavering faith. It is also easy to look down at said people from a distance, but

Breaking news: You are people and “people” is you.

I saw this in myself during the BLM protests, if I’m being honest. Not wanting to hear anything other than what I agreed with on the subject — still working on it. We all have our blind spots — things we don’t know we don’t know, or that we believe so deeply to be objective truth that we find no reason to discuss or educate ourselves further. Especially when we are passionate (read emotional) about them.

Spotted in Hollywood

On those topics, we are like fish in water never knowing water is wet.

Believe women are only after money, or your coworker is gunning for your job? No matter what a person does to prove otherwise; how this woman may give and serve, and this colleague may support you and root for you to win, everything they do will somehow conveniently fit into that truth.

As Millenials, we are fond of encouraging one another to “stand in your truth” but allow me to add a caveat that your truth be grounded in reason. #MakeitMakeSense.

We can be so deeply entrenched in the stories we tell ourselves that often they’ve proven to be true — possibly as self-fulfilling prophecies or we conveniently reposition all occurrences to support our truth. Regardless, there’s room for new or co-existing non-binary narratives this year. The work is all inner work. It is exhausting trying to change someone else’s narrative, and futile to prove it wrong. Until they are ready for a new story, leave it in God’s hands…and a good therapist’s.

(2) So much of what happens in life has nothing to do with you

Weird, considering it’s your life, but most of the interactions you have with people are not about you. As the Protagonist personality type with a large appetite for attention, this was a hard one to swallow this year.

Someone doesn’t like you because you’re black or young or young, black, and excellent? That has nothing to do with you. You could have been Bob, LeShawn, or Sarah. As long as you were young, black, or excellent, they still wouldn’t like you. Sometimes the reason people do like you isn’t about you either. You’re an escape, a resource, a reminder of the kindness of their mom.

How people engage with you stems from their own habits, values, beliefs, traumas, preferences, experiences, and what is going on in their lives when your paths cross.

This year, I watched myself be a terrible friend to a number of people. I lost track of birthdays, and holidays. For her birthday, one friend told me all she wanted was for me to send the link to something. It is telling that I don’t recall what link she asked for, as I never sent the gift. Literally a few clicks.

When an old friend threatened to never talk to me, I finally gave him a call — phone on speaker as I worked through my bedtime routine. I was mortified to learn he’d had COVID, recovered, had surgery for something else, and his country went to war during the weeks I had ignored his text messages.

The reality was that my life was consumed with juggling responsibilities at work, among other things. I did not feel like I had a minute to spare in my day between work and working out. Fortunately, my old friends know my heart is always in a good place though my communication can be spotty and that friendship was salvaged (the threat to end the friendship was to get a reaction out of me and it worked). Unfortunately, some newer friendships did not make it out of 2020 alive and I blame no one. Regardless of what I had going on, some people needed a friend out of me, and I did not prioritize them in my hamster-wheel of a life.

In summary: don’t take people’s actions personally. It sounds so simple, but it is also simple to forget. When the cashier doesn’t smile at you, or a new friend doesn’t text back to hang, it isn’t necessarily that they do not value or respect you or your time. It is probably more so a reflection of something in their lives rather than your relationship.

(3) People are so very deeply complex and often contradictory.

And it’s…OK? I don’t know, sometimes?

This year I met people who wanted to be loved but weren’t ready to be loved. I met people who wanted companionship, but hated company.

Earlier in the year, I met a homeless man who did crystal meth but wanted to regain control of his life. His issues had resulted in him having never met his children and now grandchildren. He spoke of them with deep sadness. The meth subdued the sadness. The cycle continued. It’s complicated.

This year, a man I dated told me that he loved me on a Friday and ghosted me by Monday. When he finally resurfaced, he told me he wasn’t ready for a relationship and had freaked out. I had a front-row seat at the Confusion Monologues. Remember what I said about life having nothing to do with you? Moving right along.

Moving right along…a small street in Hollywood

I met another man who had built himself up from a single-parent home of addiction in inner-city Chicago to be entrepreneurial, sweet, and ever so chivalrous; the kind that would usher you to the innermost side of the sidewalk to ensure your safety. But he could not stand gay people. In 2020.

Know thy self and to thine own self be true.

None of these are bad people. They just led me to ask myself what are my core values and what are the non-negotiables? Perhaps it is because I’ve spent so much time indoors and in solitude, but this year, I’ve really had to judge what I judge and assess what I tolerate in others.

Where do I draw the line between accepting and educating? What about educating and changing? But I can’t change a person. What values are so important to me that I cannot look past. What carries less weight and can be forgiven?

In trying to see the best in people, I am inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt; we are all navigating a world unknown for the first time with no handbook. I imagine we will make mistakes and offend each other. How do I venture deeper with new connections as they reveal their true selves, and I battle “cancel culture” versus giving a second chance, considering the complex nature of human beings? Do deal breakers exist?

My biggest lesson of 2020 that is top of mind for 2021…

(4) You have to express what you want

Communicate to both strangers and friends or they’re going to disappoint you. Sometimes they disappoint me regardless, but that’s just my Virgo rising talking.

A woman told me last month that my throat chakras were blocked, but before being asked to shell out $250 to unblock them (I did not), I had already realized the need to work on my communication.

In the second half of the year, it was continually revealed to me that I have a pattern of listening, supporting, giving so much of myself, and simultaneously building silent resentment and growing distant from whomever I’ve just extended myself for. This is mostly with friends and acquaintances. I was complaining about this to my mom as I paced the aisles at the grocery store and stopped in my tracks when my mother who usually shuns anyone causing me any inconvenience said,

“Have you told them you don’t like being the one to do that? Because they might think you enjoy it, since you always do it.

Me: They’ve never asked.

Mom: They may not know to ask.

*Silence*

Mom: When you guys [siblings] come home for Christmas, I grocery shop and cook all kinds of food every year, I never complain because I enjoy it. You people never ask if I enjoy it, and it’s OK. The year I won’t enjoy it anymore, I will ask you, people, to either cook or bring something to share. Don’t talk to me about this until you have spoken to them about it.

Just a few weeks ago I had an interaction with a new acquaintance that left me very frustrated. Typically, I would have “canceled” said stranger, but I decided to give this communication thing a try. It was uncomfortable, the time-lapse waiting for their reaction was unnerving, but it sparked a conversation about boundaries, mental health, what they had going on, and has lead to openness and ease around other subjects.

Perhaps the apprehension around honest communication relates to women being socialized not to ruffle feathers. Maybe it’s a people-pleasing thing. Maybe it’s just me.

It could also be related to vulnerability. Not only in the context of initiating those discussions, but in having a seemingly justifiable reason not to be vulnerable and to cut someone off. Sometimes it is easiest to essentialize a person, reducing them to one characteristic and dismissing them for it.

Getting to know someone is an investment of time, energy, and self. As unproductive as it sounds, sometimes it is easier to cut the connection short in the event that it will not work in the long-haul, rather than pouring so much into building. It takes courage to build. This year has taught me that there is a need to vocalize my own expectations, desires, limits, and rules as ‘unspoken’ as I think they ought to be. It has also taught me to maybe invest more in teaching, training, and coaching people to stick around in my life. It would be a lot easier if they could sign agreements and guarantees before I start making such efforts, but here goes my Virgo again.

(5) It’s hard to write consistently every month

Lastly, dear reader, it has been delightful (and demanding) writing these pieces every month. It has been therapeutic, cathartic, and hearing that you read any of my work filled my heart with so much joy every single time.

My goal was 10/12 articles and here we are December 31st, 3 minutes before midnight and I’m giving you article 10/12 for 2020. I’ll add “be less of a procrastinator” to my 2021 resolutions while I’m at it.

A wise person once told me, “the best way to become a writer is to write.”

Writing has always been a hobby of mine, but this was the first time I was consistent over such an extended period of time and on a public platform. Thank you for joining me on the journey and thank you for your feedback along the way.

Just stopping by to humbly say thank you!

Wishing you the very best in the new year! May it reveal the best in you & bring the best to you!

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Been writing ever since I could write … about life & love. About self-healing, fitness, race & society - all rooted in kindness and curiosity. @TheJoyceofLife

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Joyce Chuinkam

Joyce Chuinkam

Been writing ever since I could write … about life & love. About self-healing, fitness, race & society - all rooted in kindness and curiosity. @TheJoyceofLife

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