I like to call myself a generally kind person, but 2020, I couldn’t find an alternative, sugar-coated way to tell you that you’ve sucked. (Am I pretending my year is a real entity? Yes. Will I continue to do so throughout this column? Also yes.) Let’s take a walk down memory lane.
January started out busy but refreshing; to me, you arrived hand-in-hand with optimism and resolutions for self-improvement. February was hectic too, but particularly eventful — a much anticipated Speech team trip for a tournament at UC Berkeley was busy, but in the best way possible, providing a temporary reprieve from the breakneck speed of junior year. Not only did it offer ample opportunity for boba overconsumption, but it also let me spend much-needed quality time with some of my closest friends.
Less than a month later, the COVID-19 pandemic imposed shelter-in-place restrictions. The aforementioned quality time with friends came to an abrupt halt, but what unnerved me the most was that March was the antithesis (not to be too dramatic) of January and February — it wasn’t busy. In fact, it was the polar opposite. The mornings I spent pulling myself out of bed after far too little sleep turned into mornings I spent attending Zoom classes curled up in bed (I was awake though! Sometimes.) The long afternoons I spent studying at Philz Coffee turned into long afternoons binging Avatar on Netflix. And the long evenings I spent trying to finish homework turned into long evenings of miscellaneous activities like making TikTok dalgona coffee (can we go back to this phase of quarantine?), filling my sketchbook with whatever my imagination conjured up and going on walks on my favorite footbridge without a timer hanging over my head — I didn’t have to come rushing back home to check off more to-do list items.
2020, the early weeks of quarantine didn’t suck. Yet, the bizarre circumstances you brought forth made me feel uneasy, out of place and straight up uncomfortable. I felt like I finally wasn’t busy, but being busy, at that point, had become a personality trait. And not being busy equated to me being unproductive (cue an overly dramatic identity crisis).
I wasn’t alone — lots of people struggled with productivity, especially at the start of shelter-in-place, and still do. I remember having multiple conversations with friends, repeating time and time again: “It’s okay to be unproductive! We’re in an unprecedented pandemic — prioritize yourself before you prioritize work.” I told myself this too, even rereading the El Estoque article It’s okay to take it easy so many times I practically committed it to memory.
2020, you already know this, but I didn’t believe what I was telling myself. When it came to everyone else, I genuinely did, constantly telling people that it was okay to relax, even offering examples from my own life as to why. I told them that productivity can have so many different definitions — catching up on sleep is productive because it betters your physical health and emotional well-being. Making the TikTok coffee isn’t a waste of time because it’s productive to learn a new (albeit somewhat easy) activity. And going on walks is productive because exercising is a good practice, and getting out of the house perhaps even more so.
And yet, I somehow failed to internalize what I was preaching.
Maybe it’s because I tend to equate my self-worth with my productivity. Or maybe it’s because I’ve never considered myself particularly intelligent or talented, but always told myself it was OK because working hard “makes up” for that; save for hardworking or productive, I’ve always been too afraid to attribute any positive trait to myself. And when I stopped being productive, I, as dramatic as it sounds, started to lose my sense of self.
But 2020, in a roundabout way, you made me realize that maybe my ability to be productive isn’t my sole positive attribute. You treated me better than you treated the majority of the world — the worst parts of my quarantine were honestly just my temporary, but frequent existential and identity crises. And by reflecting during the abundance of free time you handed me, I slowly started to recognize that my work ethic is not my only positive attribute, nor is it my “redeeming” quality. When life goes by at breakneck speed, it’s easy to feel like perpetually working is the only way to prove ourselves worthy of self-validation. And when life slows down, it’s easy to reevaluate and recognize that the small acts we perform throughout a leisurely spent day point to other valuable traits, like kindness. Because you don’t need a grand gesture or to save the world to be kind — you can embody kindness by calling your friend for hours to keep them company on a bad day. And, well, resilience — we did make it, and are making it through a pandemic, and regardless of individual circumstances, it’s hard. For everyone.
I’m more than just productive — the fact that I’m feeling too self-conscious to write down other positive adjectives can attest to how the realization of my self-worth is still a work in progress — but 2020, you’ve helped me figure out why.
You’re not over yet; we still have a high-stakes presidential election to look forward to, the joys of continually crafting college essays (I am definitely not procrastinating on them by writing to you instead) and whatever other hurdle you decide to throw at us.
But maybe I was too harsh when I told you that you’ve sucked. After all, you’ve helped me realize that I am worth more than I’ve always made myself out to be.
I guess I owe you a thank you.
Thank you for your time (ha),