2020: A Retrospective

2020, what a year.

The first twelve months of the roaring 20s landed with a thud. It was a year defined by a once-in-a-generation pandemic and our collective reaction to it - from dismissal, to begrudging acceptance, to capitulation. COVID shoved all our 2020 plans around like rag dolls in a washing machine and reminded us that nature is still boss.

All this led to a bipolar mess of a year — where time felt like it was simultaneously on slow-motion and fast-forward. 2020 was a quiet year with large patches of nothing. It was also loud and eventful when it wanted to be , in a way a bad reality TV show is eventful.

2020 was the ultimate manifestation of that old Lenin quote: “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.” The pandemic proved to be a historic disruption that changed the rules of the game for everyone. If I were to play back my personal theme for this year, it has to be about learning to accept and play within this new reality.

A strange but welcome consolation was how social distancing brought me closer to friends and family back home. A decade of living abroad has placed me at a disadvantage when connecting with friends. That changed this year when physical co-location mattered less. Zoom became the common ground for weekend get-togethers with friends. DotA became the new competitive sport we played as a team. Our family Viber group buzzed with memes and messages like never before.

Working from home was another silver lining. It’s great to be able to wake up five minutes before my first morning meeting and take a call in pajamas. As I got used to the new routine, I even got more work done because I could track which times of the day I had the most or least focus. It was surprising to see how quickly other office workers have adapted to this arrangement as well. Going back to work in an office five days a week now looks to me like an archaic practice from a time gone by.

Being stuck in Singapore opened my eyes to the little delights this city offered. The staycations and food trips stand out as some of the most memorable highlights of the year. We discovered new pockets of fun in this little red dot— Holland Village, Marina Promenade, East Coast Park… We were lucky that the city had the pandemic under control by the middle of the year, giving us the chance to step out of our homes from time to time.

Still, we spent most of the time cooped up in our apartment. It was an opportune excuse for me to splurge on some m̶a̶n̶-̶c̶a̶v̶e̶ home office upgrades — an ergonomic chair, wide-screen monitor, a new laptop. Grab food deliveries and online groceries became the norm. Netflix took its place as an essential utility on par with electricity and running water. We found time to watch the movies and shows on the trending lists. K-dramas offered viewers compelling distractions from drab reality. All these digital services made the stay-at-home lifestyle more bearable.

Being stuck at home also stirred up more time for introspection. I learned about daily and weekly routines that maximized my flow. I started to write and run more. I finally found the time to take more online courses and exams. I got better at cooking. Being stuck together 24/7 led to more bonding moments and a deeper relationship with my wife.

2020 was a strange year when the days were long, months were short, and the year itself flew by in an instant. Despite all the disruption it caused, I am still grateful for the calm it brought after the year of change and upheaval that was my 2019. 2020 cast a spotlight on the things that truly matter while imparting lessons of contentment and acceptance in the face of a force larger than ourselves.

The reality is that normal life will not resume when the calendar flips over to January 1st 2021. The coronavirus will not miraculously dissipate into thin air. Life will probably not return to the way it was pre-pandemic. We can only learn to be more adaptable and courageous in the face of change. The way forward reminds me of a quote from my college philosophy professor: “To all that has been, thank you. And to all that will be, yes.”



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