Things I learned this year: 2020 edition

Finally, we’ve arrived at the 2020 edition. I love doing these little “things I learned this year” posts. It’s always fun to reflect back on the year I had and the things I learned, and see how I’ve changed or grown from last year to this year. 2020 definitely tested all of us, in more ways than one, so this year’s introspections cover anything from relationships to personal growth to mental health to the fact that the US is filled with a lot of fucking idiots. Let’s get to it!

It is your personal responsibility to be politically and socially informed. And it is your personal responsibility to make sure that WHERE you get your information is legitimate and credible. There is no reason why you should not be aware of the things going on in our country, and in other countries. Being apolitical isn’t a good look anymore; worrying about offending people because “pOLiTiCs aRe sEnSiTiVe” isn’t a good look anymore. You know what IS a good look? Being woke. Caring about things that matter. Doing your part as a citizen to help make a difference — whether it’s a conversation with someone who doesn’t share your views, a donation to a good cause, calling/emailing your senators and representatives, volunteering, writing, reading, fundraising, sharing useful information on social media platforms, VOTING. There are SO many different ways you can utilize your strengths/interests to help. People can do whatever they want, they can live how they want — but the one thing that I feel is a non-negotiable (aside from inhaling oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide) is that it is every person’s responsibility, to themselves and to each other, to leave the world just a little bit better than they found it.

There is a difference between peace and unease. I’ve heard so many people say that we should “put our differences aside and have peace instead!”. And yes, we should embrace others who come from different backgrounds and have different ways of worship. And we do generally find that underneath it all, we are actually more alike than we are different. But can you honestly say that the same applies to people who are bigots? Or to people who care more about wealth than human lives? People like that, and decent people, are FUNDAMENTALLY DIFFERENT underneath it all. And the paradox of peace and tolerance is that in order to have a completely tolerant society, you must be intolerant of intolerance, and you must work to educate those who are intolerant (and they must also work to educate themselves). If you bite your tongue and refuse to speak up about important things that SHOULD be discussed, for the sake of “peace,” then what you have isn’t really peace. It’s simply unease and oppression. We don’t get to a place of peace until we’ve resolved the conflicts that get in the way of all people having peace.

If someone is kind to you but views your passions and your dreams and your goals with disdain, they’re not really a kind person.

Stop making excuses for toxic family members. I’m so tired of hearing all this “Well they don’t know any better,” or “They did the best they could.” No. They DID know better. But they chose to stick with what they knew because it was easier. Taking care of your emotional needs made them uncomfortable, and they chose the familiar over the discomfort despite the fact that that was what you needed. They chose to ignore your needs and your unconventional dreams, because how would they explain that to others? They had a chance to break the cycle, but they decided that they’d stick with what they knew rather than learn and grow and be a better parent. They DIDN’T do the best they could. Because if they DID do the best they could, you wouldn’t feel like you needed to make excuses for them.

There’s a difference between policy and fundamental human rights. And if you claim to support equality and equal access to opportunities, then you have to be willing to put your money where your mouth is. You have to support lawmakers passing policies that promote equal access to opportunities. Such policies include access to healthcare, education, and other support resources that help individuals carve out the kind of lives they want for themselves. Everyone should be entitled to healthcare, education, and equal opportunities for pursuing the kind of career they want.

It’s ok to distance yourself from people who have political ideologies rooted in oppression (aka trump supporters). The thing with “let’s not let politics ruin our relationships” is that politics pervades every aspect of our lives. Politics is the reason why women and Black people can vote. Politics is the reason why we have Social Security. Politics is the reason why we have a (technically) 8-hour workday and labor unions. Politics is the reason why some people have health insurance. Politics isn’t some distant, archaic subject that only nerdy people debate. Politics plays a big role in the kind of life we get to have. So, if you have people in your life who support trump, it’s not quite as simple as “well we can disagree and still be friends.” We can disagree on policy. Those discussions are generally grounded in a shared desire to make this country better and fairer for everyone. But in my experience, anyone who supports trump either shares his bigoted views, or doesn’t care that he has bigoted views. Neither of which are good. At this point, you can’t not know what kind of person trump is. You can’t debate that he is a terrible human being — HE IS. I don’t have to try to prove this; it is almost comical how easy it is for anyone to find examples that show how awful of a person he is. So, how can I casually talk about movies with someone who doesn’t believe that people should care about other people? How can I grab a cup of coffee with someone who cares more about the economy than people’s lives? How can I grab lunch with someone who didn’t think it was wrong that a cop murdered George Floyd, who doesn’t care that racism very much still exists? We might try to maintain some kind of cordial relationship at best, but at the back of my mind, I’d always know that this person supports someone who has so little regard for others. And at the back of my mind, I’d always wonder what that person truly thinks of me. I’m a POC; the current social dialogues affect me along with many others. I’d always wonder if this person liked me only in spite of my race (“i dOn’T sEe cOloR”), or if they thought I was the exception (“yOu’Re oNe oF tHe gOoD oNeS”), or if they truly did embrace who I was, which very much includes my ethnicity. Those questions are a really hard thing for me to ignore. And I would completely understand others who cut ties with certain people for those same reasons. Surround yourself with good people who care about other people. All the MAGAs can go move to the island from Lost and leave us alone.

Providing people with their basic needs isn’t a handout. And passion is the best motivator, not the fear of not being able to make rent. I can’t tell you how many times I have thought about moving because I was tired of a country that used “deprivation of your basic human needs and possible starvation and eviction” as motivation for people to work. Why did we normalize the whole, “well if you don’t want to end up homeless or die, then you better work”? I mean if you think about it, that is a cruel way for a country to treat its citizens. It is a cruel way to motivate people to be innovative and bring in wealth. The people who are less inclined to work and find a place where they can innovate and contribute will be that way whether they have their basic needs provided for or not. And the people who care about their work will still be motivated, even if they have their basic needs provided for. If I had my basic needs provided for, if I didn’t have to worry about my bills or my health, my life would be so different. I would have pursued my dreams much sooner, instead of choosing something “practical” or “employable.” I would have spent far more of my time doing things that brought me fulfillment, instead of doing things that I thought I had to do in order to survive in this stupid capitalist country. You know the best motivation to get people to work and keep innovating? Passion. When someone is passionate about the work they do, it is a far more powerful motivator than someone who simply works just because they need the money. And how do you get people to find work they’re passionate about? When they have the freedom to choose, to explore, to try things, without the fear of not being able to pay their bills.

One person CAN make a difference. I started a petition for teachers because Greg Fucking Abbott, and our dear fucking FORMER president, forced schools to re-open, thus forcing teachers to put their own lives at risk — or lose their income. To my surprise, the petition reached nearly 500 signatures. It helped to fuel an important conversation that needed to happen in that community. It gave a voice to many teachers who felt the same way but were afraid to speak up. It shined a light on heavy corruption within that school district. (FYI, the district was Sharyland ISD, and you can take that to the bank. Feel free to throw shade at this district; the more shade, the merrier. Drain that fucking swamp, I beg of you.) The point of all this is to say that, you HAVE a voice. Everyone does. So find it in yourself to feel empowered enough to use it.

I really, really fucking hate the phrase, “I want to be a voice for the voiceless.” No, I’m sorry, Joaquin Phoenix. Nobody is “voiceless.” EVERYBODY has a voice, but many people simply choose to ignore those voices. Saying that you want to “be a voice for the voiceless” just sounds so annoyingly self-righteous; like, get the fuck over yourself. Don’t be a voice for the voiceless. Instead, choose to listen to the voices that many others choose to ignore.

BLACK. LIVES. MATTER. I didn’t actually learn this in 2020; this was something that was instilled in me since, uh….childhood? But apparently this was something that many people needed to learn this year. And why this even has to be explained is just so beyond me. For all you “aLl liVeS mAtTeR” or “bLue LiVeS mAtTeR” folks, kindly grow the fuck up.

Corporate culture is largely made up of stupid, arbitrary, sometimes racist rules. Showing up to work in a suit? 9–5? “Work-appropriate-hair/makeup?” If this whole quarantine/work-from-home thing has taught us anything, it is that you don’t need these dumb rules to be productive. You can work just as well in a pair of sweats. You can work your personal responsibilities into your day, and still be productive. You can work — then step away to take care of your kids or exercise or take a walk or run an errand or have a coffee/reading break or do a quick piano practice — and then come back to work. And, shocker — it DOESN’T negatively affect your productivity. If anything, it has a POSITIVE effect on your work, because people thrive when they have control over their time and when they feel like their lives are balanced. One of the unexpected benefits of needing to stay home during the pandemic was just how much less time I wasted in traffic — which improved my mood and my mindset, allowed me to use that saved time towards more important things, and made me more productive at work. When I didn’t have people breathing down my neck, and watching my every move, keeping track of when I got up from my desk (because God forbid I have to use the bathroom or stretch my legs)….when I felt trusted and valued, and when I felt like I had control over my time — I felt much better. I remember this time, last year, in a previous job at a tech company based in Santa Clara on Bowers Ave — I felt near-suicidal on a fucking weekly basis, specifically because of the people that I worked with and the managers I had. If I had, indeed, killed myself — it would have been entirely their fault, no one else’s. This year, I’m in a different job, and the difference in my mental health is just night and day. I haven’t thought about suicide in such a long time, and it is such a crazy feeling. Like, I can’t believe that feeling depressed and suicidal was my normal back then. I can’t even explain how good it feels to just….want to live. Even on bad days, even on stressful days, even on days where I feel like I have a never-ending to-do list at work….I still want to live. And that feeling is just priceless. Moral of the story: if you have a manager who rats on your ass for coming into the office at 9:05 instead of 9 (and there’s no meeting or anything time-sensitive), FIND A NEW FUCKING JOB. And subscribe your former manager’s email address to every annoying subscription possible (especially the ones that make it really difficult to unsubscribe from).

Britney was right. There ARE only two types of people in the world: the ones who entertain and the ones who observe. Or, to put it differently, there are those who live their lives seeking out purpose, or those who live their lives seeking out pleasure. While going on vacations, going out with friends, watching movies, etc is fun and necessary to have a balanced life, what are you doing that you are truly proud of? What are you helping to change? What are you creating? Do you want to live for the fun time you take outside of your basic desk job, or do you want to find work that gives you real purpose?

The people who react with anger when you set boundaries are the ones who feel entitled to you, or who can’t set boundaries themselves. It’s not your problem if they’re angry. Keep the boundary in place, and let them get over themselves.

When you say no to something and the person gets mad, it doesn’t mean you should have said yes.

We really should have led with “masks protect you,” instead of “masks protect others.” Because if there’s anything we’ve learned from this pandemic, it’s that the average American is about as stupid as they are selfish.

Speaking of stupid, we really should direct more funding towards education. Can someone explain to me why police officers have military-grade equipment while teachers have to hold bake sales in order to get supplies for the students?

The best way to truly get over someone and truly feel fulfilled being on your own, is to be laser-focused on your goals. If you don’t have goals aside from making a living at some random job, having a family, and enjoying a social life with friends….PICK A BETTER GOAL. Pick something that isn’t so basic. What do you enjoy doing? What’s something you dream of doing for a living? Pick that, and work at it. Get to a point where every tiny little decision you make, from how you spend your time to who you spend your time with, helps you towards your goals. Use your time wisely and productively. Be selective and choose people who support you in your goals. By having a goal and focusing on it, you are carving out a life that is solely on YOUR terms. You are waking up every day, knowing that you have a purpose you are working towards, that you want to do for yourself and no one else. And it doesn’t even matter how long it takes for you to reach whatever goals you have — what matters is that you’re doing something for yourself.

That said, not enough people talk about how rest is a part of being productive. Being productive, and working towards your goals, isn’t just the hustling and the working. It’s also the resting and the recharging. You can’t give your best if you run yourself into the ground. Carve out time to recoup and recover. It sounds silly, but I literally mark time on my calendar for rest days. And on those days, I don’t schedule anything, and I literally do nothing. I put my phone on Do Not Disturb. I read, I Netflix-binge, I nap, I bake, I listen to music. I just do things to help me recharge, mentally and physically. Do not neglect this part. Your emails, your texts, your social media — it can wait. And honestly, sometimes your best inspiration hits while you’re taking your mind off things.

Make your own kind of fairytale ending. I think we’ve all fallen victim to this, thinking that there was only one type of fairytale ending, or one type of success. But success and happiness look different to different people. I used to think that it was some kind of shortcoming if I never ended up with anyone. I used to adjust myself and my goals to fit whoever I was with at that time, because I thought the ultimate end was being with a person, or being married. It took a long time for me to get to a place where I felt like I was complete on my own. And now, the things that are most important to me are accomplishing my own goals and being successful in the way that I’ve defined it. That’s my new fairytale ending.

Nice is just a place in France. There is a difference between being a good person and being a nice person. You can be a good person and still set healthy boundaries. You can be a good person and still stand up for yourself. Hell, you can be a good person and still CLAP BACK at someone who disrespects you.

Leggings are pants. I don’t know why I ever thought skinny jeans were comfortable pre-quarantine. Whoever tricked us into thinking that as long as skinny jeans had stretch, they were comfortable — is a fucking liar. How do those skinny jeans feel when you’re trying to snack and Netflix-binge on your couch? Exactly, they feel like shiyet. Leggings have become my quarantine uniform, because they do the exact same thing as jeans except better, they’re often more flattering, and they’re not an object of the patriarchy. Leggings are pants and that is the hill I will die on.

Embrace your introversion and your own social style. I’ve always known I was an introvert, but prior to the quarantine, I would usually just kind of suck it up and be social and extroverted because otherwise, I’d be a lame shut-in. (Their words, not mine.) I didn’t hate going out — I loved hanging out with my friends one-on-one or in a small group. But hell, for me, was a friend of a friend’s birthday party. Or a club. I learned during the quarantine that different personalities thrive in different settings, and that as an introvert, I personally thrive when I don’t need to leave my house (ha!). I love not needing to deal with the stress of traffic, and logistics become SO MUCH easier when you don’t need to take all those other factors into account. As introverts, we feel most at ease in a setting where we’re comfortable. I’ve been able to do a lot of things staying home, that I’m not sure I necessarily could have done pre-quarantine. In many respects, my social life is better than it was pre-quarantine. I have better relationships with a lot of the people I talked to before quarantine, and I made new friends (via Zoom) during quarantine. When you remove the factors of time and space, and you realize that those factors aren’t as inhibitive as you thought, things become so much easier, and the possibilities become much more vast. And most importantly, when you live your life in a way that fits you, you just become a lot happier.

Nobody’s perfect. Everybody has made, does make, and will make mistakes. I used to think that it was good to talk to yourself like a drill sergeant. I would internally beat myself up whenever I messed up, whether in a tiny way or epically. But I learned, over the course of many, many years, that being hard on yourself isn’t really productive. So you screwed up? Or you had to unlearn some things? Gee, that’s original. Stop with the negative self-talk. Stop with the cancel culture. Allow yourself and others the space to learn and grow. Be kind to yourself and to others, and forgive yourself. Making a mistake doesn’t mean you’re not still growing. And if anything, growth involves mistakes. Probably a lot of them. Probably some stupid ones. It’s ok. Mistakes are part of the deal. But so is moving past them and learning from them.

And that’s it! The main lessons I learned in 2020. Here’s to a 2021 that sucks a little bit less!

(Also, you can check out my 2020 recap Spotify playlist to see what music I loved this year. And you can also see my playlists for December, November, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, and January. Be sure to follow my Spotify to see what new playlists I put together for 2021!)

Stay woke,
Ari

I ramble about movies a lot.

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