5 things I learnt in 2020

With 2020 quickly coming to an end, I wanted to share 5 👀 life lessons I learnt in 2020. This is the fifth year I wrote a “lessons learnt” post, check out 2016’s lessons , 2017’s lessons, 2018’s lessons and 2019’s lessons – it’s always cool to see how I view things have changed over time!

Do you remember the one hour of outdoor exercise a day during the first UK lockdown? 😬

1. We all adapt and deal with things in different ways

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s most definitely the importance of adaptability. Being adaptable is something that I thought I was quite good at, but then this year happened. Like most people, I was challenged on how I deal with change and my ability to adapt to different situations.

With the pandemic, I was lucky enough to still have a job so I quickly set up a home office set-up and even built up my small gym. Both these things were an important part of my life pre-pandemic so I prioritised them first.

Adapting to WFH and working-out-at-home was easy for me, but what proved to be a challenge was simple things like going out to grocery stores or for a walk. I became paranoid about everything – literally deep cleaning the apartment and all the food we brought in every single day.

Truth be told, I’m still not “used to” wearing a mask in public (even though it is welcomed in the colder weather!) And my aggressive cleaning continues. 😬 We’re all in a shitty situation and all trying our best to adapt to. There were moments where I’d see others seem to adapt fine to the situation and I’d question why I felt like I was struggling.

My main lesson here is that adapting is vital but also that we should be mindful that we all reacted to the pandemic in different ways. That is totally OK, we’re all in this together ✨

2. You’re not useful when you’re burnt out

This year, I had to re-learn how to take proper breaks again to prioritise my mental health. Even though I gave a talk about preventing burn out at YouGotThis Conference this year, I still forgot to take my own advice. 😅

When I started building my home office set-up in our small apartment, I was ready to roll. I had WFH occasionally and enjoyed doing personal projects on the weekends where I sat in a corner of the apartment working on them. Optimistic and energised I welcomed the change! As the months went on, that optimistic view quickly disappeared. Perhaps I got too used to being at home all the time and the walls started to close in and felt suffocating? I’m sure we’ve all felt this at least once during this year 🥲 I also overworked myself and randomly did work at out-of-office hours because “what else was there to do?

There were moments where I felt completely exhausted to the point I just didn’t want to do anything at all after work/weekends. That feeling was something I had felt before: burn out. Being in my own head, not socialising as much as I used to and itching to travel, I felt miserable and stuck throughout the year. Not being able to see my family for blocks of time took a toll on me too.

Prioritising self-care was more important than any other year for all of us. Taking those long, well-deserved breaks travelling couldn’t happen, so I tried to “schedule” in time focused on doing things that rejuvenated me and improved my mental health.

Exercise, journaling, calling friends and family, gaming with my sister, reading, deleting social media apps, taking days off, crying (to let it all out), no screen blocks and my unapologetic “at-home” spa days kept me afloat.

3. Failing DOES NOT make you a failure

I failed a lot this year.

In March, I sat my AWS Solutions Architect Associate exam and failed. It disheartened me after I had spent 2 months straight of studying after work and on the weekends. I actively avoided it for months, feeling pretty unmotivated and maybe stupidly down about it. I decided to give it another shot in December and passed! I knew that failing didn’t necessarily make me a failure, but I still couldn’t shake of that “I’ve let myself down” feeling no matter how hard I tired. Human nature, I guess!

I also failed A LOT of interviews. I was preparing to roll off my graduate scheme in the summer and was keen on exploring all my options. I managed to get several interviews from start-ups to larger Enterprises including some Big Tech companies.

Incredibly excited to even get an interview, I found myself getting carried away imagining what it would be like to work at X. I’m sure that we all do this at some stage! Rejections hit me hard throughout the summer (with a grand total of 15) — ESPECIALLY those where I got to a final stage.

I gained a little confidence boost once I secured roles at my previous company internally, but that didn’t stop me feeling deflated about the other roles that I had applied for. I am ending the year on a high! 🥳 I continued on with my search to further challenge myself and secured another role coming in January 2021.

It sucked being rejected. It takes time to rebuild my confidence after each hit and to remind myself that it didn’t make me any less than anyone else and that I definitely am good enough. Sometimes that role/company is not in the cards and that’s OK. I learnt that most rejections isn’t actually about you as a candidate, but the circumstances and timing. Failing doesn’t make you a failure.

4. You can’t please everyone – so stop trying to

When I handed my notice in at my previous job, I was more worried about disappointing my colleagues more than anything else this year (in a crazy year like this… this is quite the statement!)

I was lucky in that I had a generally good response from people. Of course, there was disappointment and all the other confusing emotions that come when someone says that they’re leaving… But overall, I felt like everyone was more than willing to support me in my next chapter.

Even though it was wildly accepted that I was moving on, I still felt this immense amount of guilt that I just couldn’t seem to shake off. I openly talked about it with my manager and colleagues who all reassured me (they’re the best 🥺) They’re all right though – I made the decision because I knew it was the jump that I needed for my growth.

I learned that I cannot please everyone and I have to STOP myself from trying to all the time. Everyone has their own agendas and somethings disrupt it sometimes which can cause disappointment, but that’s just life. I learnt that I should not feel guilty when I decided to focus on my own agenda rather than others.

There were moments in 2020 where I had to roll up my sleeves and do things myself. Sometimes I felt selfish, guilty and even a “bad person” but at the same time, I knew that it was the best thing for me to do for… me. I’m sure that 2021 will prove me right!

5. The truly important things

This year reminded me of how short our time is here and re-focused me on what is important. Namely, my family, friends, my health, shelter and just enough to get by. I’m grateful that my loved ones have stayed safe during this time and that even if I can’t be with most of them in-person, I’ve been able to connect with them virtually.

Although I couldn’t be with a lot of people this year, I’m so happy that I had spent lockdowns with Matt. I would spend a thousand more with him if I had to. 🥰 Even though there were times where we were both sick of each other’s presence, we powered through, found better ways to approach things and overall feel like we’re closer than ever. He’s so important to me and 2020 reminded me of that.

There were so many things that I wanted to do in 2020 that I didn’t manage to do. But I am grateful that we’ve come out the other side more awake and understanding on what truly is important.

6. Never sell yourself short

Surprise! Turns out 2020 taught me more lessons than 5. But I didn’t want to get rid of the consistent title over the years… Sorry not sorry 😂

My confidence in my self-worth comes in waves. I had worked hard since graduating from University and in January 2020, I decided that this year was the year I was going to level up in my career. COVID obviously ruined my plans a little bit and I ended up just accepting what I got at first.

By the second half of 2020, I felt dissatisfied with where I was valuing myself. I didn’t want to just sit around and accept things as they are. Of course, COVID made it tough to hit my plans to “level up” but not impossible. With the extra time I had on my hands, I spent quite a bit of research on the next steps and personal/professional development.

When it got to it, I felt like I had nothing to lose. For the first time in my life I negotiated to better my career prospects and rewards. This is something that I will always, always, always be so proud of. In the moment, I remember fighting for my self-worth a little shaken but confident; thinking “don’t you dare sell yourself short again, Pauline.” 😆 I’m thrilled with where I ended the year in and proud of myself for being brave enough to speak up.

The next time I doubt myself, this memory will be at the front and centre — because…hey, I crushed it. 💪🏼


What are the 5 things (or even maybe 6 lol) you’ve learnt this year? Comment below or link me to your blog posts!

I wish you all a wonderful Christmas!

2 responses to “5 things I learnt in 2020”

  1. Glad that you are stepping out of your comfort job. Leaving the first job is always tough but once you take the first step, it only gets easier in future.

    1. That’s positive to know! I hope that the future isn’t as nerve-wracking as it was this first time. 😊

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