2020 was an interesting year for all of us. It was a year full of challenges, hardships and loss, lessons, opportunities to grow, moments for reflection and gratitude. Many of us realised the importance of freedom, human connection and relationships, our health, adaptability, being present and living because life is short, being employed and having people who support you when the chips are down. Regardless of what 2020 meant to you, I believe that there is power in pausing to reflect on the year that was — the lessons you have learnt, your successes, your failures, the things that brought you joy and the things that didn’t — so that you can re-focus on the things that work for you, the things you want to do more of and the things you want to achieve in the coming year.
This year was full of things that my old self would call failures or “why did you even bother-s”. In 2020, I went through three jobs as an early career lawyer and I was unemployed for about 5 months. I was made redundant in my first ever law job in March and I quit my next job during Covid in August. I then found an amazing job where I am now in October — and I got the call to say the job was mine 2 days before my Birthday!
I also started a small business. I had an idea of a product I wanted in my own life — I researched, contacted suppliers, ordered samples, designed the product, created a website, branding and launched it. My business hasn’t been as successful as I planned but for me the exercise of taking an idea and backing myself to turn it into a reality has been huge for my personal growth and I wouldn’t take it back.
I’m proud of myself for trusting my gut and leaving a job I wasn’t happy in, I’m proud that I put myself out there by starting a business and I’m proud that I stayed positive and held my ground that everything would work out and that I didn’t get certain jobs because something better was waiting for me — because that is exactly what happened.
What I learned in 2020
Choose who you let in your personal circle wisely
I learned that the hard times in our lives shine a big spotlight on the genuine people in our lives — the ones who will always have your back and be there for you when the chips are down and also the ones who won’t. When this becomes clear — you have two choices — 1. Ignore it and keep them in your life or 2. Acknowledge it and set boundaries with those people so that they are kept outside your inner circle. I have spent most of my adult life wanting to get along with everyone and be liked. I used to get so upset when someone didn’t like me and I would fight so hard to try and change their mind. In the past year I have come to accept that I will never get along with everyone — some people won’t like me and that is totally fine. We can’t please everyone and nor should we! I now know the importance of quality over quantity and that it is far more valuable to have a few solid people in your life who you can always count on than a bunch of people who you can’t guarantee will be there for you when you need them. I have learned that some people will tell you one thing to your face and another thing behind your back but that it says more about them than it does about you. Don’t beat yourself up about it — but don’t ignore it either — make sure that you are always evaluating the people who you let in your inner circle and choose those people very wisely! If you imagine yourself as a little house with a white picket fence– ensure that only the people who give you unconditional love and support are allowed within that white picket fence and that everyone else stays outside — some on the footpath, some on the other side of the street and others in the next suburb!
Don’t be afraid to set boundaries
I have learnt that one of my strengths is setting and maintaining boundaries. This includes my personal relationships (as I mentioned above) and my work/career. I am relentless when it comes to cutting out things or people in my life that don’t bring me joy. I have had to be in order to protect my own happiness.
I am a generous and kind person and unfortunately, a lot of people take advantage of people who have those qualities. I burnt out in 2019 after giving myself to others for years and not looking out for myself. In 2020, when I focused on looking after myself and making myself happy — I was shocked at the difference it made to my life! I know now just how important it is to not give too much of myself to others so that I have something left for myself. I have learned that I can be generous and kind but also keep my own cup full — by setting and maintaining boundaries. I constantly reflect on the relationships in my life and analyse if they are bringing me more joy than unhappiness and if the answer is no — then they have got to go!
Life is short, I know that better than ever after I saw my brother pass away in 2019. Life is too short to not do the things that bring you joy! I have also learned that you can be dedicated and hard working but still leave work on time (most days anyway). Unless something can’t wait until tomorrow then leave it, go home and rest so that you can ensure you’re always showing up as the best version of yourself. You can’t pour from an empty cup and as much as I love a good bath/face mask, self care is also about ensuring that you set and maintain the boundaries that allow you the time to rest and recharge!
You can be happy without “stuff”
For much of my adult life and certainly the entire duration of my last relationship, I honestly believed that happiness came from having things — a nice house, a fancy car, expensive things, money to pay for holidays and to live comfortably. When I ended my last relationship in 2019 I lost all of those things, I moved home as a 28 year old to my childhood bedroom and I felt like a complete failure. It was a really tough few months and some days I didn’t think that I could or that I wanted to get through it — but I did and once I was through the worst of it, I realised I was the happiest I had been in a long time.
Practising gratitude is something that helped me and also focusing on the future and the things I wanted to achieve to keep me going. I now know that while I want to have nice things — I don’t need them to be happy. I know that there are so many things in life that are far more important than “stuff” and I think that’s a pretty brave thing to admit I have learned (at the risk of sounding vain).
Confidence starts and ends with you
I have hated many/almost all of my physical characteristics for most of my life. I remember listing all the things I hated about myself off to my Doctor one day when I was about 22 — right down to how my fingers looked and how much my ears stuck out. I reflect back at that now and feel sad that I felt like that as a young woman but I totally understand why. There will always be someone better looking/smarter/talented than you and if you focus in on all the ways you aren’t perfect, you will never love and accept yourself.
I have learned that it is normal to have days where you’re feeling yourself and days where you feel blah but that on your blah days you are not any less worthy. I have learned that confidence is something that you grow through self-love and acceptance and that it is extremely empowering to accept yourself — flaws and all and to look after yourself not because you need to change the way you look but simply because you love and appreciate your body. I have learned that there will always be people/things that challenge this relationship and that it is on us to maintain a healthy relationship with our self-worth and confidence and that we should never rely on others to make us feel valued or worthy.
You don’t have to know everything to start
My first year working as a lawyer was full of moments where I questioned if I had chosen the right career and if I was smart and capable enough. I had to ask a billion questions and sometimes I felt downright stupid. Some days I felt like I was getting the hang of it and others I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. What I have learned on this rollercoaster that is being an early career lawyer is that all of those things are totally normal. Being a lawyer in general means that you’ll always be learning and the best lawyers are the ones who never assume they know it all. The art of learning for me encompasses not being too afraid to ask for help, putting your ego aside, admitting when you are wrong or when you make a mistake, learning constantly, observing everything and persisting — knowing that you will get there and every day you keep going you are growing your knowledge base. It also helps to have a great support system and be lead by someone who is willing to help and support you.
I have learned that just starting — whether it’s a new job, a business, a podcast, a blog, a new hobby…is the first step and it is often the hardest one to make. Don’t let the fear of failure — what might happen and what could go wrong stop you from starting! Even if things don’t work out, there is always a lesson to be learned and sometimes you hold yourself back just waiting to plan the perfect journey to get there and then you never actually start.
It’s great to have a plan but don’t write it down in permanent marker
I love to plan and boy do I love a list. You may laugh but I have a list for almost everything — from groceries, to a general and work to-do list, to big goals, to ideas, etc. I find that the art of writing something down and getting it out of your head and on to paper really helps me to achieve things. It is safe to say that 2020 did not go to plan for anyone and it was the year that showed us all how important it is to be able to adapt and re-direct. For me, a big lesson was learning to not stress when things don’t go exactly according to plan. I have always been someone who gets super stressed if I am late or if something unexpected happens and a spanner is thrown in the works — but I can confidently say that I am far better at accepting change and keeping a calm head when something unexpected pops us.
I also learned that there is nothing wrong with being positive and believing that the bad things that have happened to you are making way for better things — and that it’s okay to ignore anyone who tells you differently. So, make plans for 2021 but perhaps write them down with pencil so that you can change them as you go if life throws a few curve balls your way!
Let it go, let it gooooo
I hope you sang that in Elsa’s voice because I know I did! But in all seriousness, another lesson 2020 taught me is the power of letting go. Letting go when things don’t go to plan, accepting you can’t control things and having faith that things will all work out in the end. I am 30 this year (I have no idea how this happened, I remember my 21st like it was last week) and I was sure that by now I would be married and have a little house with a white picket fence and be a kick-ass lawyer. I’ve achieved one of those things and boy am I proud of myself because I took a few detours to get there but sometimes I get down because I haven’t achieved the rest. I’m hopeful that I’ll come close to my second goal before my 30th this year — buying a house (but it probably won’t have a white picket fence) — but I also know that if it doesn’t happen then there will be a reason for that.
As a perfectionist and someone who likes to feel in control of their own life, it’s been a big learning curve to accept that my life is like a train — I can be in the driver’s seat and control certain things but sometimes I’m a passenger and the train is going in its own direction and that sometimes I need to sit back and trust the process. 2020 was a great year to learn this lesson because not a whole lot went to plan!!
2021 — let’s do this!
So, after reflecting on 2020 and all that it has taught me, I now feel ready for 2021. I am ready for the lessons this year is ready to teach me, I am ready to grow both personally and professionally, I am ready to be challenged and I am ready to achieve my goals!
Some of my goals for 2021 are:
- Buy my first home as a single independent woman who don’t need no man (but who would like a good one, know any!?);
- Become a permanent employee of the wonderful law firm I work at (Bespoke Family Lawyers), learn heaps and get to help my clients transition through separation so that they can rebuild their lives and create new and brighter ones (like I have);
- Do less of what I think others want me to do and more of what actually makes me happy — making sure I am constantly evaluating what does or does not bring me joy as I go;
- Get better at tennis (I can try);
- Continue making time for self care;
- Plan an awesome 30th birthday celebration — but not too far in advance because #covid; and
- Continue to be open and honest and share my journey as an early career lawyer with other future law leaders and offer support and guidance to those who are earlier on in their law journeys than I am.
So, if you haven’t already I would totally recommend that you set aside an hour sometime in the next week or so to reflect on your learnings from 2020 and plan for 2021 (in pencil of course).