So goodbye, 2020. A year like no other.
I’m almost exactly 10kg heavier than I was a year ago. I’ve spent more time on Zoom than I thought was possible. I’ve been to London just twice since March, and once to Birmingham for the day, to spend a couple of hours with my mum. Other than that, like most of us, I’ve spent most of this year under house arrest – only without an ankle bracelet. Or much hope of parole.
But there have been hidden gifts. We’ve learned to appreciate everyday things we once took for granted, and discover what’s really important. We’ve had time to think, gain perspective – and perhaps new skills.
Here’s what I’ve learned, what I’ll keep. And what I plan to let go of, in 2021.
1. Do your verbs.
Although I still described myself as a writer, I was no longer writing every day. Not unless you count answering emails (I don’t). Rediscovering that daily discipline has been one of the quiet joys of this year. I wrote in my journal, for my own mental health. Here on this blog, I published a new post every week. I wrote articles for national newspapers, contributed to three books on creativity coaching, and have first drafts of two new books of my own.
So I’ve been productive. But it’s not just about that. It’s about feeling aligned with your purpose. About how it feels, to be consistently doing the thing you’re supposed to do.
If you’ve been stuck, procrastinating or otherwise unable to do your creative work, just make the space, start small, find a way. Showing up is what makes the magic happen. Even on days when it’s hard, do your verbs. It’s who you are.
2. Let go of perfect, and accept the good.
For years now, I’ve been meaning to reissue Adventures In Wonderland, my out-of-print book on the acid house/rave explosion and its effect on club culture. Mainly, I wanted it to be available again because it was selling for silly sums second-hand, and I got a steady stream of requests for copies.
But the perfectionist in me also wanted to update it fully, to do new interviews, perhaps explore bringing it out ‘properly’ again, with a traditional publisher.
In lockdown, I decided to just give it a light edit, write a new intro, and self-publish it as a Kindle e-book and paperback through Amazon. Promotion consisted of guesting on a few podcasts and posting in Facebook groups about clubbing.
Despite this far from perfect launch, the book has sold surprisingly well, giving me a welcome income at a difficult time. It has also put me back in touch with old friends, opened up new opportunities and a whole new income stream, with self-publishing.
Throughout 2020, I’ve seen clients and friends thrive by getting over their perfectionism and just getting on with it: starting a podcast, selling art online, collaborating on music virtually, writing that long-deferred novel, being bold in what they’re offering and how they’re promoting it.
We’ve also grown more used to imperfection, more forgiving of it in a year of TV presenters in dire need of a haircut, journalists reporting from their cluttered spare rooms, meetings interrupted by children, pets and flatmates.
So what you’re making doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be interesting. You can learn as you go along, and improve. But the best time to begin is almost always now.
3. Be grateful.
In March my mum ended up in intensive care with Covid-19. In one awful late-night call from the hospital, we were told to say our goodbyes. She was terrified. And I couldn’t be there, to hold her hand. I’ve never known pain like it.
Far too many families went through this in 2020. Many weren’t even allowed to go to the funerals of their loved ones. We all had people missing from our usual end-of-year celebrations. But for some, that space at the table will be a permanent one.
We were lucky. My mum, June, pulled through. She’s still very frail and will probably always need carers now. But this ordeal made everything else in 2020 feel manageable in comparison.
We got no financial help at all during the crisis, a lot of my work from music and film companies was cancelled, and I suddenly had to generate income from nowhere. I’ve never worked harder.
But it was work I could do comfortably and safely at home, while others were putting their lives on the line to get us through this. We live in a house with a garden, and the sea just a few minutes away. And there were plenty of quiet joys in lockdown. Sunny days. Long walks. Good books.
Gratitude, it turns out, is a superpower. When you really feel it (rather than just paying Pollyanna lip-service to it), you can get through anything. And in this shitty, difficult year, I’ve never felt more truly, deeply grateful.
4. Focus on what you can control.
Things I can’t control: Covidiots, unmasked and ignoring social distancing; Brexit; Boris; the Castle Barnard eye-sight test or anything else in the news; the Stock Market; climate change; the weather.
Things I can control: sitting down to write, every day; wearing my own mask and observing social distancing; being a good friend, and a kinder stranger; whether I choose to watch the news; my own carbon footprint; having the right clothes to walk in, no matter what the weather.
The more you focus on what you can control, the more your influence grows. And as an added bonus, you’ll be happier.
5. We are stronger together.
Things that have meant a lot to me, in 2020:
- The unity of the Black Lives Matter marches. The young especially came out to protest the murder of George Floyd, but also to demand lasting change. This isn’t the first uprising about racism, and sadly it won’t be the last. But it did feel as if something shifted. Perhaps because we all had more time and space to absorb what was being said, to look within and examine if it also applied to us.
- Writers Hour at the London Writers Salon. I can’t write in coffee shops any more, surrounded by random strangers. But this daily Zoom is the next best thing: 200 or so writers meeting up to work in silent virtual companionship.
- Clapping on the doorstep, to thank key workers and the NHS. Of course it felt like putting a band-aid on a massive, gaping wound. We need to fund our health service properly, and pay its workers in more than just applause. But with such isolation and deep division, it felt good to spend a precious few minutes making noise and celebrating, together.
- Music. No festivals this year. Many club and live music venues have closed for good. But dancing round the kitchen, singing along to dub reggae or vintage soul, was one of the highlights of 2020 for me. I’m hoping that enjoying music with crowds again will be one of the highlights of 2021.
My not to-do list for 2021:
- Staying in a constant state of anxious hyper-vigilance, monitoring Donald Trump’s every tweet. Joe Biden will be a very boring and conventional President. Right now, this is a good thing.
- Watching the news, 24/7 (often while checking social media for more news). Wolf Blitzer and Jake Tapper have been in my home more than any of my friends this year. It’s not healthy, or even useful. I’ve now left a pile of unread books next to the remote control, to remind me that there is more to life than CNN.
- Comfort-eating. There is nothing comforting about tight clothes, creaky knees, being unable to do yoga stretches because my belly is in the way.
- Having just one (more) glass of wine. See above. Only with a fuzzy head.
- Not moving enough. It will still be a while before I can get to the pool, the gym or Pilates class. But I need to find ways to exercise more. Now.
- Struggling with tech. It’s time to find a tech VA who can handle website and email glitches and tasks. Get in touch if you have recommendations!
- Sleeping with my iPad. It crept back onto my bedside table in the latter part of the year, and became the first thing I picked up on waking. I’m going to turn it off by 9.30pm every night in 2021, and banish it from the bedroom.
- Saying or writing the word ‘unprecedented’. Never, ever again.
My intentions for 2021:
This coming year, I choose joy, adventure and intense creativity. The joys will be quiet ones at first, the adventures close to home. But as soon as it’s possible, there will be dancing. Travel. Culture. Loud music. And lots of hugs.
In the meantime, I’m doing my verbs, and getting those new books finished and out there. As well as coaching as many creatives as I can, helping them do their verbs, share their work – and get paid for it.
Now over to you.
What are your intentions for 2021? Did you learn anything new in this strange and difficult year? What will you keep? And what will you let go of?
Sheryl Garratt is a writer and a coach helping creatives to get the success they want, making work they love. Click to sign up for my free 10-day course, Freelance Foundations: the secrets of successful creatives.