Photo credit: ASHLEY TAN YU YI

MY 2020: Learning to live life when it’s being kept on hold

We may not have been able to achieve the things we set out to do this year, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t lessons to be learnt from unfulfilled goals.

Ashley Tan Yu Yi

Published: 17 December 2020, 12:29 PM

In this MY 2020 series, Youthopia writers explore everything that happened in the past year – the good, the bad, the ugly – and also share their hopes and dreams for 2021. What’s yours?

In 2020, the world learnt that the word “pandemic” doesn’t refer solely to a widespread disease that begets dangerous health consequences for many. It also refers to plans being derailed, dreams being put on hold, and feeling as if everything has been left hanging in the balance.

Yet being stuck at home and isolated from the rest of the physical world has taught me lessons about life that I would likely have never considered, if not for the circumstances that we have been made to face. 

In an ironic twist, having my life put on hold has paradoxically taught me more about how to live with greater resilience. 

Being okay with not being okay

In a way, the pandemic could be viewed as a prolonged, intense version of a long, bad day where everything appears to go south. Not only has the health of our loved ones (and even ourselves) been at risk of being compromised, but many of our immediate hopes and aspirations have also been dashed. 

After returning from overseas to Singapore because of the pandemic, I remember feeling immense bouts of disappointment throughout the circuit breaker period. 

Mainstream narratives constantly tell us that being young means living it up and having the time of your life. But, in French President Emmanuel Macron’s words, “It’s hard to be 20 in 2020”. 


Social activities like weekend barbeques and partying have all been curtailed because of the pandemic. PHOTO CREDIT: MARVIN MEYER VIA UNSPLASH


Staying cooped up at home, experiencing Zoom fatigue, and opting to miss social gatherings even when all our youthful, carefree instincts compel us to do otherwise has been difficult. In fact, there have been times when I’ve felt under the weather because of it.

But this period has also taught me the importance of introspection and checking in with myself. How am I feeling? What is it that is causing this feeling? 

It’s important to keep a pulse on our own well-being and allow ourselves to lean into our emotions, rather than brushing them aside and leaving them unaddressed. 

I’ve had to remind myself that it’s okay to feel down and that getting through the struggle helps build resilience. More than this, I’ve also come to understand that struggling doesn’t make us weak; it only affirms that we are human.

Showing empathy and checking in with one another

In conversations with my friends and colleagues over the past few months, I’ve noticed that more of us have been starting even work-related discussions with remarks like “how are you” and “are you doing okay?”

In the fast-paced world we live in, we’re constantly told to get up and get going. Undoubtedly, there’s a constant pressure to compartmentalise different parts of our lives, and an inability to do that effectively is often equated to inadequacy. 


Feeling overwhelmed and down during the pandemic has been a common experience for many. PHOTO CREDIT: LUIS VILLASMIL VIA UNSPLASH


However, checking in with those around us helps alleviate the pressure of constantly having to put up a front, which has become especially important during a time where the personal and the professional invariably intersect. 

Just think about how many acquaintances or coworkers you’ve let into your home, thanks to the likes of Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams and everything in between.

It’s also been surprising to me how people have been increasingly honest about their mental health. Some of my friends have very candidly shared about their struggles with self-confinement, or about the difficulties of living with a family who haven’t created a particularly conducive environment for them.

This has illuminated the reality that even though some struggles may not be visible, it doesn’t mean they are any less valid. But in order for us to understand the challenges that others are facing, we need to take the first step to ask. 

Normalising conversations about mental health not only helps build empathy for others, but also benefits all of us in terms of resilience in the long-run.


Make it the norm to check in with friends about how they are coping. PHOTO CREDIT: FINN VIA UNSPLASH

Finding humour even during dark times

This year has seen devastating loss, the deepening of social injustices, and what happens when the less savoury sides of life rears its ugly head. 

But it’s also seen many find light and humour amidst the darkness. From memes on the coronavirus and end of civilisation, to the production of short films on the love story that unfolds when the devil met 2020, to existential questions about whether masks may be the confidence booster we’ve been looking for all along, the world has found ways to cope with these difficult times through humour. 

Perhaps this is symbolic of a larger lesson about life – that a lot of it depends on perspective. It’s true that not everything is fun and games, especially when lives are at stake. But at the same time, finding humour can help us put things into perspective. 

I used to roll my eyes at those who doled out advice like “make lemons when life throws you lemonades”, but I guess it’s a well-hated cliché for a reason – because it’s true.


There are countless people before us who have walked through difficult times and still found a way to smile. PHOTO CREDIT: ALEXANDRA LAMMERINK VIA UNSPLASH


2020 has been trying, to say the least. But it’s imparted many valuable lessons, particularly for us youths, to build resilience and strength in adversity. 

It’s also proven that we can (and have) gotten through the worst of it. And ultimately, this too, shall pass. 

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