My Top 3 Lessons from 2020

2020…it’s not like last year needs much introduction seeing as the majority of the internet seems to have it’s opinion on the subject. So I’m going to keep this intro brief and simply explain that this past year, specifically the amount of time I spent at home by myself, has been eye-opening. Not only did I find myself becoming more confident, but I was also able to make life feel more simple by identifying how I choose to spend my energy and my money, both limited resources.

1. Feeling more confident without make-up

Wake up, wash my face, brush my teeth, coffee, and I was good to go. This was my routine in the mornings as I finished my last year of school in my one-bedroom apartment alone. No real clothes, no makeup. I know many of you can relate to this minimal effort lifestyle we adopted once COVID struck. I am turning more and more into a sweatpants kind of person, so staying in my pajamas all day became the norm. And not doing my makeup in the morning saved me time and money. That’s what I initially thought was important. But then, a few months into the lock down, looking in the mirror became more an act of admiration rather than resentment. In my previous post about Skincare & Hair on the Go, I mentioned the acne issue I have lived with for the past 10+ years of my life. Often looking in the mirror frustrated me and made me question “why can’t I have clear skin?”, “I take such good care of my face, why it it breaking out?”, “I see so-and-so touch their face all the time and yet they have perfect skin, why can’t I have skin like that?”. These thoughts were not uncommon and I battled to accept my skin the way it was. 

Spending these long hours in my apartment make-up free really helped to alleviate these feelings. I was able to get more in-tune with when and why flare-ups happened and did not grow ashamed when I would get a huge zit on my chin, because, you know, sometimes you can’t control everything. And because only I was there to see it, I wasn’t worried about trying to cover it up to go out in public, or holding my head a little lower to not reveal what I thought was the travesty on my face. But this mentality is what I was able to turn around. I was the only one there to see it during lock down! I was the one judging myself! When I removed others from the situation, I was able to further accept the status of my skin because I wasn’t worried what others thought. It was only me and the zit there in that apartment and no one else! So once I recognized this and accepted that this was one part of me I can’t change (unless I look into medication, which I personally was never fond of), I was able to move on. Almost a year after COVID began, here I am, more confident in my own skin, wearing minimal make-up and directing less of my energy toward frustration at my acne and more toward things I enjoy doing. 

Au Naturel

Now, this wasn’t just some epiphany. It took lots of introspection. And things still aren’t perfect. I still deal with acne. I don’t like leaving home without mascara because I have small eyes and short, blonde eyelashes. But this was a personal achievement that I hope others with similar issues can take and grow from as well.

2. Discovering who matters most and how to direct your energy

Unfortunately, we as human beings do not have unlimited energy reserves. Life becomes exhausting enough between work, to-do lists, and hobbies. And whatever remnants of energy exist after this is usually spent on others. I will preface this part by saying that for you to happily spend your energy on others, you often need to be at a happy point with yourself first. Be sure you are giving your mind and body what they need for you to then go out and enjoy the company of others. This may be healthy eating, setting aside quiet time to decompress after a long day, or a full lazy day to recuperate from a challenge you faced.

Now, identifying who matters most to each individual will differ greatly. Answers likely vary from “myself”, “my parents”, “my S.O.”, “my friends”, to “my caretaker/caregiver”, “those I volunteer for every Sunday”, and so on. No matter how selfless or self-focused (not going to call this “selfish” because everyone deserves the right to take care of themselves, and “selfish” tends to have a negative connotation) your answer may be, we all have important human beings in our lives. It’s nearly impossible to keep up with all of your connections ALL the time. To this point, I encourage you to reach out to long distance friends on occasion. With strong enough friendships, you often pick right back up where you left off the last time you spoke. It’s often not necessary to always be in constant communication. Take this excess time to dedicate to other areas of your life you may feel are slacking. Rekindle another relationship, show your S.O. that you care more, or give yourself more “me” time. For those of you in relationships, we have been cooped up for so long and some of you may have been waiting out COVID with your S.O. While you love each other and enjoy being around each other, it is perfectly acceptable to ask for some space. Everyone needs their own time to organize the thoughts in their head or dive deep into an interest of theirs, so don’t be afraid to set boundaries when it comes to your time, and be open if your S.O. is the one asking for those boundaries. For me, the transition of redirecting my energy involved taking some time away from social media, giving serious thought to some family relations, allowing myself the quiet time I needed, and making more time for my interests now that I have more free time.

3. Identifying necessary spending versus pleasure spending

COVID introduced many challenges, but many were forced into financial distress as jobs were lost or hours were reduced. I consider myself lucky in that my student job at school was not affected and I still had some income. But due to the uncertain times, I know I wasn’t the only one wanting to save up and limit my spending in case I were to desperately need that money in the near future. So, I stopped my leisure spending. Granted, this was my last year of school, I was neck-deep in coursework and travel was a no-go, so it’s not like I had much to spend my money on. But having adopted this spending style for almost a year, I became more curious about tracking my spending now that I have a job post-graduation. I have set up a spreadsheet (in case you’re interested, I’ve included a template at the end of this post) and at the end of each month, I sort through my records to track 1) my income; 2) my expenses (rent, utilities, groceries, all types of insurance, gas, leisure spending, etc); and 3) my retirement/investment contributions. I then deduct my expenses and contributions from my income to know how much is going into that “rainy day” account that I recommend everyone set aside if possible. A benchmark expense breakdown that has been presented to me on two separate occasions is the 50/30/20 rule. Approximately 50% of your income is put toward needs, 30% toward wants, and 20% toward savings. These are often presented as suggestions as everyone’s situation will be slightly different, but maybe you will find this breakdown useful as you look to get a handle on your cash flow. 

Personally, I hear these percentages and cringe a little. By no means would I consider myself financially savvy, but I REALLY like saving money (for travel of course! Also, extreme saving is a personal preference, so if cracking down on your finances is new for you, then go back and un-read the first sentence of this paragraph!). I used to just keep a tally of my spending in my head, but I started this spreadsheet of mine to get a visual for how much money is coming in each month and how much is going out. Sure, I’m not traveling much now, I don’t have kids, and life is overall pretty easy, but giving myself a clear idea of where my money is helps me better understand when I should and should not be swiping my pieces of plastic. For me, as a new graduate, my financial priorities are: 

  1. Start contributing to retirement 
  2. Establish a solid emergency fund
  3. Save up for soon-to-come adventures

In terms of retirement savings, starting on Day 1 of your first “real” job gives you the greatest return in the long run. And as for “rainy days”, everyone often has a slightly different opinion, but having 6 months of living expenses saved up is the standard recommendation for an emergency fund. I find I am more financially conservative and am personally aiming for a 12-16 month safety blanket. Now that I have a clear idea of what my spending necessities and goals for saving are, I am able to get a better feel for how much leisure money I have, and from there, I have more certainty in what I choose to spend this money on.

With vaccines rolling out around the globe as I type this, I’m predicting (and hopeful) that the world will start looking more familiar halfway through 2021. And once it does, I hope to get to spend some of this adventure money I am saving up and re-join all of you out there chomping at the bit to get your travel fix!

Obtaining more confidence, and control over my money and energy reserves were my top three take-aways from last year. It was a year of struggle and growth for many. And I may be taking the unpopular opinion here, but I don’t think we should be so quick to forget 2020. Hardships and struggles are what grow and forge us into the people we are. So I challenge you to think about what you took away from the most threatening, divided, and difficult year of our lifetime. 


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Spend more time with people who care about you, and who show it. Invest in those who invest in you.” – S. McNutt