“It’s okay not to be okay” – 2020 in 6 words!

Like many others, I’ve spent the past months thinking over scenarios that were previously considered unnecessary. But the most gut-wrenching moment I’ve faced, by far, is to hear that my dad, who is 10,000 kms away, has gone back into ICU (as at December 2020) and could potentially not come out…and trying to travel to one of the worst hit countries during this pandemic (and the process of getting there) has made many of my friends and family say the phrase: “it’s okay not to be okay”…

Is the glass half full?

When the ball dropped at midnight to kick off a new year and decade, no one could have anticipated what the year was about to bring. Only three months in, 2020 became all about cancelling trips/major events and social distancing. Navigating this pandemic is new for all of us, including working from home, protecting loved ones, getting supplies and staying connected to friends.

Just thinking of all the effects the coronavirus pandemic has had on our lives is exhausting, as is the daily drone of trying to keep going even as it feels as if the world is crumbling. Businesses, basketball games, broadway shows, baby showers—every area of life has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s impossible to go an hour without hearing of another cancellation or closure.

It really does not feel like a moment to see the glass as half full or make lemonade out of lemons. But, we need to try. This is not meant to minimize the harsh reality of an incredibly difficult year. Many have lost loved ones. Many are struggling. Many feel sad, scared, frustrated and broken.

My 2020

Here’s a snippet of what 2020 was supposed to be like in my life, and how it is ending up becoming something else:

Travel

In 2020, my wife and I were supposed to travel to North Korea and Singapore. Being travel lovers, this year was supposed to be a special one visiting the hermit kingdom on their 75th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army. A visit to North Korea had been on my bucket list and this trip was something I was especially looking forward to, for a very long time!

Outcome: In 2020, all our overseas trips were cancelled. However, my wife and I made the most of a local trip to Bright (VIC) and had an absolute blast enjoying what the local landscape had to offer! I am thankful and grateful…

Work

2020 was supposed to be a high impact year in my previous full time role, after a fantastic 2019. Unfortunately, with 24 hours notice, I (and many others from head office) were made redundant in May. This came as a shock to the system as I had never faced such a situation before. The weekend right after the redundancy was a reflective two days to determine whether I would succumb to the pressure or stay resilient and overcome the temporary hurdle to pursue something bigger and better. What made the pursuit more challenging is that I live in a small apartment with 2 square metres dedicated to my office space…what sort of impact and discipline would I have in trying to progress to the next chapter when the tools to help drive it are somewhat imperfect?

Outcome: Between May-August, I secured multiple consulting contracts with leading corporations around the world, worked as an Adjunct Lecturer for multiple Australian universities, MC-ed events for local councils and ran masterclasses for University business programmes. I was operating at around 1.2 FTE…all while searching for that ideal corporate gig. And finally, I was fortunate enough to land that very gig in August 2020. Hard work, a little luck, and some meaningful, proactive conversations attributed to the above outputs. I am thankful and grateful…

Global Opportunity

In November 2019, I secured a (casual) consulting opportunity to work with a global Japanese conglomerate on a sustainable forestry project. This entailed the project team (myself included) travelling to Perth and Tokyo in March to run the project. COVID-19 came along and disrupted the travel plans, putting an end to my dream of doing a global project with significant global impact!

Outcome: Throughout 2020, we did the project virtually and managed to achieve the desired outcome. I am thankful and grateful…

Family

In January/February 2020 both my parents were ill. I, being an only child, had planned, and was looking forward to, seeing them in April and putting a smile on their faces. COVID hit, and I couldn’t see them as planned. This in itself was devastating! A few days after I realised I couldn’t visit them, I was made redundant from my job!

In June, my mom got COVID…twice! Since November, my dad has been in and out of ICU and his life hangs by the thread as I write this post.

Outcome: After securing a government permit, I have made the trip to India and focussing on caring for my mom and putting a smile on my dad’s face, over the next month. This is the least I can do and I have put my life (personal and professional) in Australia temporarily on hold. Family comes first and there has never been a more significant time for this sentiment to be front and centre than in 2020. It helps when you have a wife and an employer (who have all been great) in helping me zero in on what matters most at this moment. I am thankful and grateful…

Relationship

My wife and I met online nearly 7 years ago…our first face-to-face meeting was in February 2014. Within three months, we were engaged, and within 6 months, we were married. Life and time flew by very quickly and we had little time, over the first 5 years, to get to know each other on a deeper level.

Outcome: Since March, throughout the lockdown, we spent nearly every moment together and the thread of our relationship tightened more firmly and strongly than ever before. We compressed a number of experiences and conversations within 9 months of lockdown, which may take a few years (if not decades) in normal times…the time we had together is something I am grateful for!

Hence…

The world is suffering deep losses in the COVID-19 pandemic. Already, millions are infected, hundreds of thousands killed, a global economic disaster ,and all the suffering that accompanies it. And even if you yourself are not infected with this virus, even if you haven’t lost your business or your job, even if no one in your family is sick or has died, we all are affected.

This is the “Both/And” virus. It is true both that many have already died, and that the majority will not. It is true both that some have lost everything, and that some will only know the greatest suffering second-hand. Many of us are being hurt by what is happening in our world, and also by what has not happened. Indeed, there is pain and loss even in what we escape.

I have let myself find moments of peace, connection, joy and love; they can be valuable treatments for the wide world of pain and suffering. Ultimately, be gentle with yourself. Be compassionate to yourself for the losses that anyone might see in your life, for the invisible suffering only you can feel, and for your place in the misery of what has befallen us all in a million inexplicable ways.

Whether on the frontlines or the sidelines, kindness and taking care of yourself allow you to be compassionate with and to provide deep help to others. Kindness and self-care, most of all, allow us to see the sacrifices and contributions that we and so many are making and to feel our connection to all humankind.

It’s okay to not be okay right now and to just do your best to get through this truly unprecedented time.

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