2020 Year in Review
When does a tradition officially become a tradition? I read somewhere that if you do something two years in a row on a certain occasion, it can be considered one. So, in keeping up with my “tradition” from 2018 and 2019, here’s a look back at 2020, the craziest, most unpredictable year yet.
Australian brushfires. Kobe’s death. Coronavirus Pandemic. Stock Market crash. Black Lives Matter. California wildfires. Death of RBG. Presidential Election. COVID-19 vaccine roll-out.
Damn, 2020 did not hold back. What started out as the promise of a bright new decade, with big plans for the future, lofty New Year’s resolutions, and “cheers to the best year yet,” quickly devolved into a complete shitshow.
There’s a meme that if 2020 were a film scene, it would be this birthday party in Parasite, where everyone is merrily clapping, cheering, and celebrating… blithely unaware of the pure chaos that is about to unfold. Oof, it’s a little too real.
In contrast, my personal life was nothing like 2020. I worked the same job, only my bedroom turned into my office. I stayed in the same neighborhood, although I moved to a new apartment with a new roommate. My social circles tightened up a bit, but that allowed me to grow even closer to my closest friends. And I continued many of the same hobbies, interests, and passions — only tweaking them slightly to become quarantine or social distance versions.
Yet, 2020 fundamentally changed me.
I experienced some pretty low points: heartache, anxiety, extreme boredom, stress, disappointment, unbearable loneliness that ate me up to the point I fled home to Seattle for two months.
But I also encountered extremely high highs which always seemed to emerge out of the simplest, most mundane moments. Like hiking outside under the California sun, taking my time to inhale the fresh air and thinking just how grateful I am to be here right now. To be healthy, to be able-bodied, to be living.
Because of everything that was going on in the world (and the extra time and space to self-reflect), I became more acutely aware of the difference between things I want vs. things I actually need.
Things I Want: Career enrichment. Personal development. Reaching my fitness goals. A colorful social life. Meeting new people. Travel. Opportunities to have different, exciting experiences.
Things I Need: Restful days. A healthy mental state. Nourishment. Time spent outdoors. Time with family and friends. Time alone. Listening to my body. Self-acceptance.
The biggest difference between these two groups is the Things I Want are all external affirmations. Yes, they are my personal desires and values, but they’re also deeply stitched into the fabric of societal pressures, influences, and expectations.
Things I Need, on the other hand, are more intrinsic and non-negotiable. For example, I learned I really need slow, chill days and plentiful sleep. I also need consistent, healthy lifestyle habits that are both sustainable and invigorating. My best version of me is when I’ve taken good care of myself first. And once I’ve done that, I am so much better to others.
Looking back at 2020, my five fondest memories/most beloved moments all had less to do with external factors, and more to do with my basic needs. The common denominator in all of these experiences is they weren’t pursued with any specific plan or end result in mind. Rather, they naturally evolved into Things I Need and inherently value:
1. Runner’s High
Haruki Murakami has a book called “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” which is a memoir about his intertwined passions of long-distance running and writing. In it, he explains how training for marathons fueled his ability to write even better.
While I’ve never considered myself a “runner,” I ran more miles this year than any other year (even 2018, when I was training for a half marathon!). Running became the long version of my “shower thinking time” and an activity I looked forward to doing, not only to stay in shape, but to stay in tune with myself. I always had the most clarity and peace of mind during my runs, and while LA was in its strictest period of lockdown, it was also my sole connection to the outside world.
In fact, running is perhaps where most of my Medium posts and poems stemmed from this year, like this one about my love for Silver Lake.
2. TikTok O’Clock
I am not proud to admit this, but I developed a minor addiction to TikTok. However, I will defend myself by saying TikTok changed my life for the better. First, it led to a great family bonding moment which culminated in this amazing video (aka the first and last TikTok I’ll ever make).
Second, and more importantly, TikTok was responsible for improving my relationship with food. It taught me the importance of intuitive eating to nourish, sustain, and listen to my body. It also gradually dissipated my fear of cooking/baking/doing shit in the kitchen. By no means am I a *chef* now, but I can proudly say that I have a few recipes up my sleeve. Why? Because TikTok recipes are so damn fun and easy to digest. A full page of ingredients and steps to follow? Nah. But a fun, colorful video with visual cues and accompanying narration? Sign me tf up.
3. Re-defining Funtivities
Up until 2020, most of my adult social life had been defined by drinking, going to bars, Vegas, clubbing, wine & cheese nights, parties, Mama Lion, Terra Cotta, Arena…basically, alcohol was a usual suspect. This year challenged me (and many of my friends) to try other things with a social distance or quarantine twist.
What happened was a lot of time spent outdoors: picnics, hikes, beach time, various sports, and more. A few of my favorite memories were hydrobiking for my birthday (a perfect 6 feet apart activity) and teaching an outdoor yoga class to a group of friends. Just being able to spend quality time with people was a big game changer for me after being isolated for months. Even when COVID-19 is over, I think I’ll continue these types of outings/activities. There’s something about being completely sober and present in the moment that is so much more meaningful than drinking the night away.
4. Love in The Time of Corona
You’d think that dating would be impossible during a pandemic, but I found the opposite to be true. Because there was less to do, people (including myself) were more serious and intentional about what they were looking for. Quarantine also eliminated rush hour traffic, provided flexibility, and most of all, allowed extra time to get to know people. With the need to vet dates virtually or stay 6 feet apart on the first meeting, I personally learned how to be patient and how to communicate my expectations, needs, and boundaries.
I also learned firsthand from my parents what it really takes to be in a healthy, loving relationship. Despite being separated for six weeks because of COVID-19, they made no rush to “go back to normal” when they finally reunited. For 14 days, my dad quarantined away from my mom in our house, but they still found ways to show up for each other. Later on, when I spent six weeks at home with them, I was constantly reminded of the type of relationship I want to have.
It’s strange to think of it this way, but if it weren’t for the way things played out this year, I’m not sure I would have gained the insight into what my romantic life lacked in the past. The end of 2020 brought me closer to someone I met earlier in the year, and I genuinely think it was the ‘slow, gradual getting to know each other’ that has brought us where we are today. ❤
5. A Lesson in Aloha
2020 ended with a family trip to Hawaii. To be honest, my parents and I went back and forth about going on this vacation due to safety concerns about traveling during a pandemic. We ultimately decided to go forward with it on the condition we were extra cautious and prepared.
After two weeks in paradise, the biggest thing I took away from Hawaii was surprisingly not the beautiful beaches, spectacular hikes, or delicious food. Besides the valuable family time and shared experiences together, it was the Aloha spirit that reminded me how important human connection is. Everyone in Hawaii was so incredibly kind and generous, from the Airbnb hosts who made sure our stay was safe and comfortable, to all the locals who were eager to help us have a good time.
There was one day my dad accidentally locked our car keys in the trunk and multiple people rushed to help. One man helped us find a roadside assistance number, while another lady offered to pick up dinner while we waited. Even during a pandemic when people cross streets to avoid each other, there were strangers so willing to go out of their way to help us.
A month ago, I wrote about what 2020 has taught me and how it’s changed the world. As much as COVID-19 and other major events have torn us apart, there were so many times we were brought closer together. People reconnected with long lost friends and family over Zoom. Discussions around systemic racism and social inequities flowed from the dinner table to public marches and rallies. More Americans participated in the 2020 presidential election than in any other in 120 years.
My previous annual reflections were largely metrics-driven and very me-focused. How many books I read, movies I watched, places I traveled. But, if you take away 1 or 2 or 10 of those, it really doesn’t matter. I’ve found what leaves the biggest impact is not necessarily the things I’ve done, but rather who I did them with and what I was thinking or feeling during that moment.
This Year in Review is still very much a personal reflection, but I believe it represents an important shift in my priorities and values. For the first time, my assessment of how this year went has less to do with personal milestones or major life transitions. Rather, it’s more about what happened in the world and how it affected the way I appreciate everything I already have.