With 2020 in the rearview mirror, the entire world is breathing a sigh of relief as we get this most difficult year behind us. So much has changed in just 365 days, with a global health crisis dominating so much of our lives for what has seemed like an eternity. Entire countries have been locked down and huge events such as the Olympics, the Boston marathon, and the Ironman World Championships (along with almost every other athletic event) have been cancelled or postponed. On a smaller and more personal scale, families have been separated for weddings, funerals, baptisms, birthdays, and holidays. In short, it's been a really hard year.
Yet, as with all hard things, there are a few lessons we can learn from maybe the most globally challenging year in our lifetime.
Whether we are competitive amateur athletes or average Joes and Jills, these lessons apply to all of us:
1) Health is wealth. In a post earlier this year, I referenced the importance of health as it relates to our daily life. Since that time, both my sister and my brother, as well as their spouses, have come down with COVID, and I've seen first hand how quickly EVERYTHING else in life fades rapidly into the background when health is compromised. Seeing these situations unfold up close, I am reminded how important it is to safeguard our health- to protect it like we would protect any other valued asset. We don't leave our home or cars unlocked, or our SSN in full view for everyone to see - we need to treat our bodies with the same sense of importance.
Wearing masks and washing hands are good, but that doesn't help us if the virus infiltrates our bodies. Our only true line of defense against COVID-19 is a healthy immune system. This holds true for ANY infirmity- the flu, common cold, and any number of other health challenges we may overcome in life. (I understand there are some out there with immune system maladies outside their control- but here I'm talking about those of us that are not immunocompromised). We have to do our part to protect our most important asset - to 'lock our doors' - by reinforcing the building blocks of health. By now, these basics are well know to all of us: get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet, get adequate exercise, and manage our stress. This isn't rocket science- we all know these things, but most of us neglect at least one if not most of these tenants to healthy living. Let's put knowledge into practice and commit to becoming more healthy and resistant to illness both now and in the future.
2) Focus on what you can control. I've said this phrase to every client I've ever coached or trained yet at times we still forget - myself included. However, I recently listened to a podcast that reminded me of this principle. It featured Tim O'Donnell, who described his second place finish in the 2019 Ironman World Championships, in particular the adversity surrounding his training leading up to the big race. Seven weeks out from the race, he broke his foot - and he was devastated as the race he'd worked for a year to compete in might not happen for him. He explained how he took one day to "drink an expensive bottle of wine and have a pity party", then he got back to the job at hand, focusing on his cycling, swimming, nutrition, and strength work. Tim didn't lament the fact that his run training was non existent- he focused on what he could control and that made all the difference. Not only did he place second on race day, he beat the American record achieving a personal best in the process.
During this year, it's been easy to get caught up in things outside our control- riots in distant (and not so distant) cities, political unrest, and a global pandemic. But expending mental, emotional, and physical bandwidth on these or any other challenges outside our immediate control quickly becomes an exercise in futility. It also saps us of energy better used in much more constructive ways. We are better served diverting that energy (and time)into doing things that build us(or those around us) up. Focusing on worthwhile goals, projects, or service opportunities brings long-lasting satisfaction and can help improve the world around us.
3) Human connection is vital. If nothing else, 2020 has reminded us that human beings are pack animals. We are not meant to wander through our mortal existence in isolation- a lesson we've learned all too well when our ability to connect is limited by lockdowns, curfews, and other restrictions. A 2019 Harvard Medical School article noted, "Dozens of studies have shown that people who have social support from family, friends, and their community are happier, have fewer health problems, and live longer." It goes on to note specific benefits of social interactions among people.
While we may not be able to be close to our loved ones in proximity, we can still reach out in other ways. I've been amused by the way families and friends have bonded over the last year. I found amusing examples of this just in my little world. Several families I know meet weekly to play board games together via Zoom. My sister and brother-in-law started watching TV shows/movies with our mother across the country (they would pause for an 'intermission' to video chat about the plot, then resume watching the show. I've seen communities out here in Loudoun County convert nearly empty mall parking lots into drive in movie theaters to safely bring people together. Our church even had a 'drive by' Christmas party where the church leadership stood in the parking lot of the chapel, dressed in 'elf' and 'Santa' masks and threw candy into the cars of congregation members as they drove by. Staying connected is important for individuals and vital for communities.
So as we wave good by (and good riddance) to 2020, let's not let the lessons of this year go to waste. In the words of Winston Churchill, "Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it." I really, really don't want to have another 2020. So, let's value our health, focus on what we can control, and work hard to stay connected- in whatever way we can.