It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here. While I’m sorry about that, I honestly didn’t know what to say. What is a travel-focused blog without travel? What could I write about that wasn’t awkward, tone deaf, of out of step with the dumpster fire that 2020 has been?
As we set off into the unknown in 2021, though, I wanted to share some reflections about this year, and how I see it.
To start, it feels unnecessary to wish anyone a happy new year since that is a foregone conclusion. We can probably all agree that whatever is coming, it can’t be anything like what we’ve already gone through. I have learned the hard way, though, that one should never say “At least things can’t get any worse” because they always, ALWAYS can.
In this blockbuster year, travel, my home and profession, has completely disintegrated. I was in Egypt when the walls started closing in, and it felt like watching a sandcastle slowly melting away with the repeated wash of the tide. A whole career, a whole industry washed out to sea. My own company and my 20 year long employment both gone in an instant. Such a strange feeling to watch things that seemed so permanent disappear. Along with those, relationships and friendships lost or altered in ways I could never have predicted.
Now, if you’re thinking that I must be depressed from all of the destruction and change, you’d be wrong. This is all just to set the stage for something strange that has happened in this abnormal year. The thing is, I am ok. My family is ok. Actually, in some ways we are better off than we’ve ever been, and are now set on a path that is likely more prosperous and sustainable. Weird, huh? How can that be? I think the Rolling Stones said it best, you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you’ll get what you need.
Lessons of 2020
#1 Let Go
I’m no Buddhist but I spend time every year in Thailand and have come to appreciate the cultural attitude of cheerfulness and acceptance. The secret to the Thai sense of happiness is letting go. Perhaps it’s a Western idea, but many of us want to control our situations, tending to every detail. Letting go was a lesson we all leaned into hard this year. The biggest take away is deciphering the difference between what we can change and what we cannot. If it’s something that can’t be changed, fighting against it is a waste of energy. I think of it as the boneless chicken philosophy. If there is nothing I can do, better to go limp like a boneless chicken and save that energy for other, more changeable issues.
#2 Island Time Rather than Time Soup
Tour guides by nature have to be very time oriented. We mark our calendars, know the next move like a chess player, can guess down to the second how long a task will take. Being at home and unemployed with no end in sight has turned everything into a sort of time slurry, which has been unnerving. What day is it? Who knows? How long have I been wearing this outfit? Not sure. The upside-down nature of time is like a terrifying freefall for those who tick like a Swiss watch. As a person who has been jokingly nicknamed “La Svizzera” by my drivers, (the Swiss woman) I’ve struggled with the amorphous nature of time in 2020. As I’ve had to in many situations this year, changing my perception has made all the difference. Instead of Time Soup, I think of it as Island Time. No rush, no worry. Enjoy the now, don’t get too hung up on tomorrow. It’s a very Italian approach, and a useful one now. Five minutes is exactly how long? When is domani? Does it matter? See Lesson #1.
#3 What Serves You
We all live with things that we hang onto well beyond their expiration date. It could be possessions, like those MC Hammer pants in your closet from 1989. It could be a job that has pigeonholed you into a role which has kept your from growing. It can be relationships that no longer serve either party well. It can be ideas about who you are and what you want that are not actually who you are anymore. 2020 may be a disaster in some ways, but burning everything down has revealed expiration dates. What does and doesn’t serve you may have become painfully clear.
Somehow, because of all of the destruction around us, I found the bravery to let go of some things that were far past their expiration date. It was scary, relationships being the most horrible and sad, like dealing with a death, but these were situations I always knew would end anyhow. There’s a lot I’ll miss but the weight that has been lifted was worth the jump. The key to this is to not get too caught up in the nostalgia of times gone by. Let’s face it, we are in a new timeline. What’s gone is gone. Mourn if you must but when you’re done, you have to get back up and move along. You can do it.
#4 Look for the Helpers
There is a famous Mister Rogers line about how in any emergency, look for the helpers. They are always there. I have thought about that a lot in this year. I’ve always seen myself as the helper, that is my job after all. But in this year, I was the one needing help. It’s hard to ask for it or even realize you need it when you are the one that takes care of others. But letting go (see lesson #1) has allowed me to get past my idea of myself and look around for helpers, then ask for help. And you know what? It worked. The helpers came.
In my case, it was my wonderful group of colleagues, my family, and importantly, all of you. Through the Patreon and the kind gifting of grocery cards and such, I have been able to not just financially bridge this time, but also know who the helpers are. There will never be enough gratitude for all of you who have stepped up as helpers. I’ve honestly felt like George in “It’s a Wonderful Life” because I didn’t fully understand how my little blog and Facebook community had made an impact.
#5 Smell the Roses
This may be the hardest lesson for a workaholic like myself, but I am learning everyday. Stop. That is really the message of this pandemic. Was your pace healthy? Most people I’ve talked to recently in the travel industry do not wish for a return to the before times. We were too busy, too harried. It’s time to rethink our jobs and lives and adjust the pace accordingly. To be honest, I was rather afraid of 2020 a year ago. I had scheduled tons of work, as I am a newly single mom solely supporting a family of three. I had no choice, but being away from my kids for so much time felt icky.
My most beautiful roses are my babies, and this crazy year has been the gift of a lifetime. We’ve loved every minute spent together, seriously! Movies, cooking, chatting, games. They are teenagers, and so close to being out of the nest, this time to really bond and pay attention to each other has been the miracle I didn’t know I needed. Perhaps something like that happened in your life too.
#6 Ashes Make Good Fertilizer
If we think of 2020 as a giant dumpster fire consuming our lives as we knew them, there is a positive end to that. Whatever burns produces ashes to fertilize the land, and clears space to grow something new. Nobody asked for it, but here we are, with a clean slate and a sizable piece of fertile time. What’s a girl to do? Plant something. I did plant a mega garden this year, but the best thing I’ve planted happened almost by accident.
After losing my job of two decades, I sat down and wrote a proposal for a new, empowering association of colleagues where I could teach anyone who wanted to learn about social media, and in turn I could learn from others. This vision turned into Guide Collective, the main focus of my 2020 professional life. The website has turned out far better than I’d have dreamed. Our small family of guides has grown this seed into something like a flowering vine that gets taller every day. And beyond the incredible content, the mentoring and support we are giving each other is astounding.
The other seed planted was my pivot in social media, with Cucina Quarantena, Coffee Chat, and later virtual live tours. I didn’t want to lose the considerable following I’d started, so a pivot was in order. It’s been an interesting challenge to keep things fun and engaging. The whole endeavor has transformed the way I look at what I am doing and what kind of a company/brand/social media personality I will be. What I’ve learned is that content creation needs to be a bigger part of my professional life. Being able to bring travel to those who cannot travel themselves will still be a beautiful calling well after the pandemic has passed.
While I am sure there are many more lessons I can share, these are the most important ones. The bottom line is, it’s all about the way you see it. Opportunity is always the sister of despair, you just need to stay calm enough to find her. Passing through fire is something I’ve had to do before, but on the other side you grow stronger, more complex, and in the end can offer more to those around you with the wisdom gained.
I’m curious, what was your biggest takeaway from 2020? What wisdom did you gain? Let’s share and reflect as we begin this new year. I don’t hope for things to go back to the way they were. They won’t. What I do hope for is a new, more thoughtful way forward that will not only improve travel but also our whole selves.
Peace, prosperity, and GRATITUDE to you all. Thanks for being here with me in these extraordinary times.