For me, it’s not possible to think about the potential of this new year without reflecting on the one that just ended. The word that defined my 2020 was “transition.” As for all of us, the year presented a variety of challenges— from coping with a global pandemic to having difficult conversations surrounding police brutality and racial injustice. Personally, in 2020, I finished my junior year in college and began my final one.
Looking ahead last January, while we were still blissfully ignorant to the havoc Covid would wreak, I was excited about a new beauty internship, spending my summer in New York City and starting my senior year. That quickly changed on March 17th, when my school abruptly shut down, taking many of my plans with it.
When I received the email from my college, notifying us of mandatory evacuation, I was in the DMV area (D.C., Maryland, Virgina) visiting family and researching final papers and presentations over spring break. There was only a small window of time in which to gather our belongings, so I found myself with under twelve hours to travel from DC to Westchester County (where I moved everything out of my dorm and said goodbye to my friends and my best laid plans) back to Chicago, where I grew up.
Forty-five minutes before my flight was about to takeoff, Chicago Midway Airport shut down—and all flights into Chicago were canceled indefinitely. Suddenly, I was stuck without anywhere to go—and the world felt very unpredictable. Overwhelmed on every level, I found myself stuck in the Southwest Airlines terminal at LaGuardia airport, cuddled up to my duffle bag, crying on the phone to my mother, “I’m so tired; I just want to go home.”
Ultimately, I managed to get a flight to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. When I landed, my mother was waiting at the baggage claim, already holding my luggage, the first meal I would eat in ages, a snack for the long drive home and, most importantly, a much-needed hug.
Before stay home orders were put into place, I lived my life based on expectations of a pre-set formula. In my mind, you went to school, got a job, then, one day, you retired. With that mentality, my life had always been the same—and pretty monotonous. Every single day, I woke up, went to school, went to work, went for a run, did my homework and then woke up and did it again. But 2020 had other plans for us. It forced me to abandon my usual routine. Once I began to transition into life in quarantine, I slowly started coming to terms with the fact that I had little to no control over the world around me. I was learning to understand that the only thing I could control was myself.
My college schedule went from packed to monopolizing only three hours or less a week with online classes. I was now unemployed—with a canceled internship. Everyone from the media to my own family had presented the milestone of reaching my early twenties as momentous, an important transitional period between being a teen and a grown-up. But, at the beginning of quarantine, I felt like I was so busy transitioning into being stuck back in my mother’s house that I could potentially lose all of that to Covid. I had visions of being an arrested pseudo-adult, who would never find true independence.
In April, I, like the rest of the world, was forced to stay indoors. But that sudden stillness had an unexpected effect on me: it enabled me to reflect on the world around me. With little else to occupy me, I spent more time outdoors, at the lake and with my family. The time away from school and New York forced me to think about what mattered most. Though I initially felt like I was losing “everything,” now I had the perspective to realize what I was gaining. I spent time with my family. I spent time with myself. As we continued to witness true atrocities like people losing their lives to the pandemic, police brutality and an increase in unemployment and evictions, it began to feel asinine for me to believe that my life (which continued to be filled with some level of privilege) was unbearable.
When I think about what it means to “reset,” I consider the new mindset that I hope to carry into the new year. I am able to begin 2021 with the lessons I learned in 2020. I learned to count what I have gained instead of what I lost.
A new year presents the opportunity for a kind of fresh start, the potential for growth with the previous year as its foundation. Last year taught me a valuable lesson and made me recenter myself, while also helping me to understand that I am not the center of the world. I reset my priorities and my mindset. I am entering the new year as a more evolved version of myself.
By Katherine Tinsley