10 Things I Learned During the Dumpster Fire that is 2020

by: Nicole Hoffman

2020 has been one of the most mentally challenging years of my life. There are so many things, experiences, and people that I will never take advantage of again. I have learned so much about myself, my family, my friends, and my community. Some good and some bad.

However, I have found the hardest part of this year has been consoling my kids that miss their friends. As hard as I think I have it, my kids have it much worse. They are much too young to fully understand the pandemic. I started getting creative with entertaining my kids and giving them things to look forward to such as:

  • Family movie nights – Grab some snacks, make a bed in the living room of blankets and pillows, and turn on a cheesy family movie. 
  • Camping in the backyard – Campsites full or closed? No problem, the backyard ( or living room) is a great substitute. 
  • Family game nights – Board games, card games, charades, etc. You can’t go wrong when the family is disconnected from technology and engaged in quality time.
  • Hiking Adventures – Playgrounds closed? Hiking is a great way to let the kids burn energy while social distancing. 
  • Science Experiments – During the pandemic STEM activities have been removed from the curriculum at most schools. To mitigate this loss, my husband and I love doing science experiments with the kids such as a volcano or food coloring in milk (get a plate add a shallow layer of milk, add a few drops of food coloring to the center, dip a toothpick in dish soap then dip in the center of the milk).

Overall, my family is spending more quality time together than ever and I couldn’t be happier. This year could have gone in a totally different way. I could have let the mass amounts of stress, fear, and anxiety get the best of me. I could have taken it out on my family. I refused to let that happen though.

I had to realize it is ok to admit you are not ok. I am grateful I have a therapist and good friends I can vent to. Having someone to validate my emotions and overall struggle is immeasurable. This year has given a whole new meaning to the phrase I can’t even because some days I literally couldn’t. 

I wanted to reflect on the year thus far and share some things I have learned. I can’t promise this year is going to get any better, but I can promise you that if you are feeling down you are not alone. It’s ok not to be optimistic, but that doesn’t mean we have to be miserable. Find joy in little things. Find the life lessons that are going to stay with you long after this dumpster fire year is over. 

So, without further ado, here are 10 things I learned in 2020 thus far

1. K-12 teachers deserve way more credit than we give them

For all parents out there, who have dealt with basically homeschooling your kids, I take my hat off to you. For my family, it is difficult when both my husband and I are working and guiding my son through his schoolwork. I never thought it would be so difficult trying to teach my son things that seemed so easy, but it is.

Teaching is an art form and teachers deserve more credit and funding than they get. I don’t think I regularly take teachers for granted or anything, but after this life lesson I know for a fact, I will never do it again. 

So, if you are dealing with the dumpster fire that is distance learning this year, give your kids’ teachers a break. This is all new to them and they are trying their best. It is frustrating for all parties involved. Negativity is contagious, especially in kids. If you aren’t optimistic and engaged, they will not either. Although, I have young children. If you have pre-teens and teens, I am sure it’s a different story. 

2. Life is too short for negativity, but there is plenty of time for kindness

Speaking of negativity, life is too short for it. In June of this year, I contracted a bad case of bronchitis. As an asthmatic, I was really concerned it was the virus. I was more than concerned. I was terrified. I went to the clinic and got tested, but the results took 48 hours to get back. To be safe, I quarantined myself from my family.

It was the longest 48 hours of my life. I kept picturing myself having to go to the hospital alone. I kept hearing stories of people dying alone. Thankfully, the results were negative. My entire world changed in those 48 hours. I no longer care if the world is falling around me. I am thankful and blessed my family and I are together and healthy. 

I would be lying if I said I was never negative or whiny, but there is a time and place. Instead of bringing people down because of my suffering, I try to build people up. Everything is negative right now. We do not have to be. Kindness, on the other hand, there is always time for kindness. Always. Arguing with random strangers online about politics just spreads more negativity. Although, there is a difference between venting and arguing. There is always a place for venting, especially if you don’t have a lot of outlets. 

3. Vulnerability is the key to survival

Outlets for venting are important. I personally wear my heart on my sleeve. I cannot bottle up my feelings and when I do it’s bad. Being vulnerable is hard and takes courage.  Brené Brown has an amazing talk about the power of vulnerability. I highly recommend it. Personally, I have a therapist that I see regularly. In addition to my therapist, I have a few close friends I can talk to any time about anything. This is really important. Your feelings are valid and should be validated by another individual especially when you are feeling down.

Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. If you do not have anyone and you are uncomfortable or unable to get a therapist, reach out to the people of Twitter. I know the InfoSec community has helped my mental health more times than once this year. Specifically, there are a good amount of virtual happy hours. If you ask around, you can probably find them. If you can’t find one, maybe host one. It’s not the same as being in person, but once you get past the awkwardness it is really nice to decompress and chat. 

4. I am more aware of who I spend my time with

In 2019, I will admit I tried way too hard to make friends and keep them. I had a lot of friends asking if I was mad because I wasn’t regularly reaching out to them. At no point did they reach out to me. When self-isolation began in March, I shut almost everyone out. I was focused on my immediate family and ensuring we found enough food to eat with the empty grocery stores.

When I did reach out to friends I chose wisely. I stopped trying so hard to have one-way relationships where I am the only one putting in effort. I am so happy I did because I don’t have to try to be someone, I am not to impress someone. If I don’t feel comfortable being myself or being vulnerable with someone, I just don’t have time for them.

In the past, I felt drained after social gatherings. I am an outgoing person, but rather introverted. I enjoy working in a crowded coffee shop because it’s less isolating than working at home all the time, but I don’t have to talk to anyone.

During this year, I learned it is not people draining my energy. I am doing it to myself. I am putting on a face and trying too hard because I put myself in situations where I do not feel comfortable being myself. So, I vowed not to continue this trend. I value my time and ensure every minute of it is spent being myself. I learned exactly who I am and who I strive to be. I learned to love myself.

5. I miss people….a lot

With all that being said, I really miss people. I miss seeing crowded farmer’s markets. I miss seeing the parks full of happy families. I miss working in co-working spaces and coffee shops. I miss taking my kids to the playgrounds. I miss tech conventions. I really miss my CrossFit gym and doing WODs (workout of the day) with my friends. 

6. Giving up is a fate worse than failure

There were quite a few times this year I wanted to just give up. I wanted to curl up in a ball and cry, which I did. A lot. Most times sad movies. I felt like a failure of a parent, wife, friend, etc. I realized giving up is way worse than failing. Failing is how we learn. This year has taught me to fail often. If you are failing, you are trying. You are taking chances, learning new things, putting yourself out there. A lot of times it was not a failure at all. It was me being my own worst critic.

Instead of thinking of all the things I haven’t accomplished, I started focusing on the progress I am making towards my goals. I stopped sharing goals with my family and friends and started sharing my progress.  

InfoSec is a field where it feels like you are in college forever. You will never learn it all and neither will the people around you. Don’t feel like you are failing if you are not moving as fast as others. Just don’t give up! Make short term goals and easy wins. There are many days where I am sitting in pjs barely surviving and that is ok. 

7. You cannot pour from an empty glass

Self-care is important. Self-care is important. Self-care is important. If you find yourself having a short temper or getting anxious quickly, it may be because you are trying to pour from an empty glass. I don’t talk about it often, but I have post-traumatic stress disorder so managing anxiety is just part of my everyday life. I used to let my anxiety control me before I started regularly making time for myself. 2020 has been an isolating year.

This year is a dumpster fire. Every day brings something more stressful than the last. Do not wait to take care of yourself. In an airplane, you have to put the mask over yourself before others you are caring for. I used to feel guilty for taking time for myself because I love being a mother and helping others. Don’t feel guilty. You are worth it, and your mental health is important. 

8. Parenting is the only job worth getting burned out from

 It’s easy to get burned out working remotely. Very easy. I often found myself working after hours to feel accomplished. Before I knew it, though, my kids always saw me with my laptop attached to my lap. I wasn’t prioritizing my kids or myself. It is very important for me to always choose my kids over anyone in every situation. Somehow, I lost my way this year. I couldn’t control the world around me, but I could control how much work I accomplished.

Once I realized this, I put that drive into spending time and engaging with my kids in fun activities. I’m so glad I caught myself when I did because my kids and I are closer than ever. My son was struggling with reading at the beginning of Summer. My husband and I decided to make a sticker chart where he gets a prize for every 10 books read.

This weekend he finished his 100th book. It took a lot of work and patience, but it was worth every second of it. I will never regret loving my kids too much or doing too much with them. I will regret spending too much time working. If you have the energy to burn, spend it with your kids. If you don’t have kids spend your free time on self-care or with your pets. 

9. Bartending is an art form

My husband and I spent a good portion of this year learning how to create a number of cocktails. I learned it is easier said than done. I have never given bartenders as much credit as they deserve. When the restaurants and bars do finally open up here, I will be so much more grateful for the drinks from bartenders.

I don’t think bartenders hear enough praise for the creations they make. It’s hard enough making a drink tasty, but it is a lot harder making it look pretty too. So, the next time you get a beautiful drink from a bartender be sure to show your gratitude and appreciation. 

10. Wearing a mask is not hard, but I miss smiling at people

If my young children can wear a mask everywhere, it can’t be that hard. I will say I hate the chin acne that occurs while wearing a mask in 106-degree weather. Most of all, I miss being able to smile at people. I didn’t realize how often I rely on my smile to interact with others.

If I accidentally bump carts into someone at the grocery store, I usually smile when apologizing. To me, it feels more sincere. With a mask on, however, it feels so cold, so I have really focused on the tone of my voice and choice of words. I never thought I would say I miss being able to smile. 

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