There is no shortage of the sentiment that 2020 was and has been an awful year. The common hope is that 2021 will be better. I myself share the same hope but not the same sentiment. I am not writing to argue that 2020 was a great year, just that every year is what you make of it. Certain things will always seem to be happening to you, but can you make any of those things happen for you? Can you find silver linings on stormy days? Can you find a positive perspective in a world of negative news where people are yelling past each other all over the internet, and now in the streets of our cities?
2020 was a year of abnormal change. That much is true. But on a macro level, what if this pandemic prepares us for fending off a much deadlier one that could present itself in the future? What if the production of a vaccine in under a year gives more ambitious teams the courage to pursue their projects which were previously considered impossible? What if the lessons learned by the rest of the world in watching America’s failures from limiting testing early to saying masks are bad encourages them to experiment more with their own variations of regulations, playing a game of “attract great citizens” rather than “follow the leader”? What is the upper bound on the good that could come from a world of experimental and competitive governance where large tech companies are no longer the only large and powerful organizations doing the innovating around the world?
On a micro level, there are certain things that are just plain tragic. I know a lot of people had to deal with these things this year and I sympathize with them. I don’t mean to offend them or take away from their pain. The death of a family member or close friend is something I fortunately don’t have much experience with and so for me to say much of anything on the matter would be ignorant. What I will say is that I know a lot of people did not face true tragedy in 2020. I know a lot of people are simply taking the excuse that 2020 has given them. I hear this sentiment that 2021 will make everything better. I do believe 2021 can be a better year for a lot of people, but the year itself or the change in macro circumstances which it may bring will not provide the impetus. You have to make this a better year yourself. You have to take the punches and deal a few of your own. No one will fight for you like you will fight for yourself. No one is coming to help you. You have to help yourself.
I can’t remember a year I hung out less with friends than in 2020. I can’t remember a year I left the house less than in 2020. I can’t remember a year I’ve seen more fear than in 2020. But these must not all be bad things. Seeing friends less has made me appreciate them more. Staying home has helped me learn to find contentment where I am versus thinking it awaits at some future destination. Seeing fear has helped me realize when it is useful and when it is not and how significantly it drives us in our everyday lives. Without many of the changes brought by 2020, I would not have had many bonus months living home with my family. I almost certainly would have found a new employer. I definitely wouldn’t have written this post, or the ones earlier this week, or many of the 200+ I have written in the last year or so. I would have never spent a month in Charleston with Lauren, nor a month in Blue Ridge, Georgia. I would have never started my podcast! What an amazing ride that has been for the first few months.
The point is that not all change is bad change. In fact, change is necessary to bring about a better future. The transition may be rough at times and it may be hard to see a silver lining in certain tragedies but we may all move forward strongly as individuals and together. We may find a better year in 2021, not because it will be one inherently, but because we can make it a better year. We have taken some punches and we are prepared to deal some of our own. 2021 will not bring a return to normal but perhaps we will start to settle upon a new normal. As the world remains in flux, the next normal is still up for grabs. You can have a better year. We can make a better world.