If 2020 showed us anything, it’s how little control we have over the world around us. One of my Facebook friends said it best: “the universe hates Nashville most — we started 2020 with a tornado and ended with a bombing.” It’s been a long, frustrating, heartbreaking, eye-opening year. I lost my mom, my job, any prayer of having a routine and at times I lost all hope in humanity.
Stephen Hawking said, “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.” Businesses have seen this firsthand this year. Their ability to pivot and roll with changes has helped them survive in these unprecedented times.
What if emotional intelligence is also the ability to adapt to change… without losing our sh*t? What if we could talk ourselves into giving up some control if it meant we could be ok no matter what happens? Can we release the attachments that create suffering in our lives?
I was attached to the idea that America was the best country on Earth. My dad was an Army Vet. We were indoctrinated in the gospel of whitewashed freedom he loved. The disillusionment I’ve felt has been heartbreaking. I want so badly to hold onto the belief that America is the best place ever. Sadly, I don’t have to look around for more than a minute to see that simply isn’t true. Not anymore. We’ve got big problems here.
My attachment to the idea that America is better than this *waves hands vaguely everywhere* has caused me deep grief. My heart breaks each time a person of color is senselessly murdered by law enforcement. Watching the riots and seeing people I love afraid to leave their homes made me furious and so sad. I’ll never forget staying up all night after the BLM march in Nashville watching the news. I knew our courthouse was on fire, but I didn’t know the whole country was burning until I saw it on the news. My country. Our country. It was on fire, fueled by hundreds of years of hate and pain.
My attachment to the belief that science is real caused me great stress this year. I watched, seething, while our leaders ignored the global scientific community’s advice and chose to protect the stock market instead of the health and safety of the people. I’ve watched the case count and death numbers climb every day since the pandemic started and it infuriates me that we let this happen.
We’re better than this. Aren’t we? We have so many resources for advancing science — bright people, the best equipment, technology and funding from every sector. Why in the world do people think they know more than our scientists and doctors because they watched some videos in the internet? I’m still baffled at people’s commitment to being misinformed. Appalled, really. We have brilliant experts telling us exactly what to do, and people refuse to listen. I don’t get it.
I spent most of 2020 kicking and screaming because the world I see outside my window today is nothing like the world I once believed I lived in. America is in trouble. I’m honestly scared to see what is going to happen next.
Here’s the thing: at the end of the day, I can only control me. I can’t control the crazy mob storming the capitol, but I can control how much I allow it to impact my health and happiness. I can control how much news I’m consuming, how many hours I sit and doom scroll on social media and what I do to process the stress, anxiety and anger. I can only control me and the way I react to the world around me. Everything else, I’ve got to let go and trust that everything is working out for the greater good, like it always does.
This year, instead of a resolution I chose two words to guide me.
The words I chose are gratitude and flow. I chose these words because I let myself fall into a terribly negative mindset in 2020. I was so focused on all stupid things that kept happening, I totally lost my joy. I let my fears and frustrations gnaw away at me until I was an angry mess. I felt depressed and hopeless about the future. Our future.
Focusing on gratitude helps put us in a more positive mindset. Sure, we still have problems, but we also have perspective if we can find something good to hold onto. This was a year of great loss for me. But even in those difficult times, life was bringing me exactly what I needed.
I was shocked when I lost my job in June. I had been with the company for six years when I was laid off due to job elimination, along with thousands of my colleagues and friends. I was a senior analyst for a large healthcare corporation. You would think healthcare jobs would be plentiful during a pandemic, and I suppose if you’re a nurse or doctor they are, but not so much for business analysts. It took me seven months to find a job.
I let my financial fear keep me down until I realized I had been begging the universe to give me this time. I got exactly what I asked for — forty more hours per week to finish my book, write a proposal for it and find an agent to represent me. Once I realized losing my job was bringing me what I wanted — what I asked for specifically, even — I got to work. I knew it was a temporary situation and I didn’t want to waste another moment worrying and feeling sorry for myself.
My attachment to the idea that these things are pretty and/or easy almost made me miss my window of opportunity. Losing my job was scary, but it gave me space to make a dream come true before landing an even better day job. My husband kept his job the whole time, our family had insurance, I had unemployment and a part time job the whole time and our creditors were super helpful. We were supported the whole time.
If I had just focused on being grateful for all of the resources we had instead of worrying about what we lost I might have less grey hair today. Being unemployed felt so much scarier than it actually was. We were fine! There was nothing to worry about, but that’s all I could do some days. If I had been able to shift my focus, I would have enjoyed my life a whole lot more.
Flow is what happens when you’re doing something you love and you just totally lose yourself in it. It becomes like a meditation. You’re totally present doing that thing you love and you lose track of time. Everything else fades away until it’s just you and that thing you love and you’re just doing it and it’s amazing. If we want to feel happy and fulfilled, we have got to find our flow. Once you find it, spend as much time there as you can. That’s where your magic lives.
That’s what I did with my time off once I saw it for the gift that it was. I got in flow. I finished the second draft of a book I’ve been writing for more than two years. I wrote the book proposal and started pitching it. I had to apply for three jobs minimum every week for my unemployment benefits, so I decided to send at least three query letters, too. I didn’t want to give more energy to my muggle life job search than I was giving to my dream life agent search. After several weeks, I got about eight no’s. Then I got one magical yes.
It feels very grown up and fancy to say, “I am represented by a literary agent.”
Me. I did that. And I did it because I begged and pleaded for the time, and the universe made a way for me to have it. Gratitude for the time given to me allowed me to accomplish a milestone that might have taken another year of me writing on the side.
Flow is also our ability to move around our perceived obstacles like a river around the mountain. It’s allowing the current of life to carry us rather than swimming against it… or if you’re like me, kicking and screaming the whole way.
Sometimes when things aren’t working we have to ask ourselves why we’re making it so hard. What attachments are causing our suffering? What expectations are we bringing to the situation that is creating our frustration, fear or disappointment? What would happen if we let go of control and just trusted that everything would work out exactly as it should, when it should and how it should? Could we save ourselves some stress? Could we be more present in our lives if we stopped worrying about tomorrow?
I have forty-two years of examples of how things were terrible and then they got better. Everything is temporary — good times and bad. Our ability to adapt and roll with things as they change (because they always do) and keep our sh*t together might just be the key to a long, happy life.
When given an opportunity to resume kicking and screaming, we can choose to focus on gratitude instead. We can find our flow, even while the world is burning around us. We can choose to love our people a little stronger, hug our kids a little tighter and spend a little more time being gentle with ourselves until the world is right again. We can’t control the chaos of this mad world, but we can create our own peace right here at home if we are willing to work for it.