The Most Important Lessons of 2020

Here’s my recap of the takeaways that you can apply to your own life

NOTE: Earlier this week, I shared a personal reflection of how 2020 has been for me. Today, I wanted to share some important lessons that I’ve learned in the past five months of writing my newsletter, Little Tidbits, and how it can be applied to all aspects of your life.

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Photo by JOHN TOWNER on Unsplash

I’m not the first to say this, but it’s been a tough year. With new restrictions lately, it feels like Quarantine 2.0 to me, a deja vu. I was looking forward to a more “normal” holiday experience, where people can go places and enjoy some festivities together. Unfortunately, that is probably not going to happen.

That said, I thought about what kind of things we can all do to stay sane this season and (possibly more than a few) months of staying inside. So I decided to compile a list of lessons and takeaways that I’ve learned during the past few months of reading, watching, and listening to interviews and conversations with the world’s most interesting people. These are ideas that have been the most useful to me, and I hope it will be for you as well going into 2021.

  1. Remember that you have control over how you handle stress. Kelly McGonigal was someone I’d never heard of until I heard her talk on the Jordan Harbinger Show a while back. She’s a psychologist who studies stress and our responses to it. I was blown away by the hour long conversation. In a clear, concise voice, she tells us that the dangers of stress is really about how we respond to it. Stress is inevitable. If we allow it to permeate into our lives, then it will take over our lives, and possibly lead to serious depression. But if we take it head on with the right mindset, we can make it useful for us — in other words, use it as a driving force for our actions.
  2. There’s inherent value in listening to people’s stories. Brandon Stanton of Humans of New York did this brilliantly, and he’s still doing it! Except now, he’s a published author. His books are full of photographs and stories taken from thousands of interviews he’s done with many people over the years. The stories that he’s listened to are incredible. It shows the complexity in humans — the ways in which we’re all different but also ways in which we’re all alike.
  3. Learning is important no matter who you are or where you come from. This is what Khan Academy’s founder Sal Khan truly believes, and it shows. He started tutoring his cousin in math in 2004, and morphed it into YouTube videos until 2008, when it became official as Khan Academy. Throughout all the challenges he’s faced, he never ventured far away from the belief that learning should be free and accessible to all; hence, the reason why he made Khan Academy a nonprofit. One of the most powerful things he said was, “It was such a precious thing — their trust in me, that I never wanted them to suspect that I was doing it for any other reason.”
  4. It’s okay to be vulnerable sometimes. This was a revelation for David Chang, the founder of Momofuku restaurant empire, a WSJ Innovator award recipient, and star of his own Netflix show and podcast. His rise to fame was attributed to his passionate work ethic, but he also took it a bit too far with the way he treated his employees. He’s not proud of it — all the times he’s messed up, but he let it all out finally on The Sporkful podcast. It was humbling to hear and made me respect him more as a businessman.
  5. Focus on lifting other people up. This concept is called Ubuntu, a philosophy in which Glenn ‘Doc’ Rivers, the former coach of the Los Angeles Clippers embraced wholeheartedly. He believes that when you help your teammates be better at their game, you are inherently helping yourself, because not only will you feel better, but you will also be part of something great — a team that wins, a team that’s cohesive and lifts each other up.
  6. Rely on your community to keep moving. The term ‘community’ can be a variety of things, but for Justin Gold of Justins’ Nut Butters, it was his people in Boulder, Colorado that made the difference. When he first began experimenting with making nut butters from his food processor, he had no intention of ever turning it into a business. But once the seed got planted (pun intended), and he had the support of his friends and community, he relied on that to keep him going. Resilience is a powerful tool when you have the right people to help you.
  7. Kindness is a choice that you can make. There’s a difference between being concerned for someone and feeling for someone, according to psychologist Jamil Zaki. But in a world where we’re primed to expect the worst, it’s worth remembering that when we help others, we help ourselves. Studies have shown that kindness can be very beneficial for our health, especially when we do it with no expectation of reward; in other words, when we don’t feel obligated to do it. We have to remember that people need help, and we need to be there, even if it’s little things.
  8. Fear is universal, subjective, and situational. That’s what Michelle Poler realized when she embarked on a personal project: to face a new fear every day for 100 days, called the 100 Day Challenge. Prior to the project, she was an average girl looking for fulfillment in life. Once she realized that she was only living her life based on comfort and therefore avoiding everything that scared her, it gave her more perspective and more confidence to overcome her fears, and ultimately led to success.
  9. Focus on the small steps and the rest will follow. For Guy Raz, the host of NPR’s How I Built This podcast, it’s about the small steps that you can take. The small wins happen through the power of word of mouth. One of the reasons for his success on the podcast is that a few people began talking about the show, which led to more people talking about it, which led to more things. As long as you are focused on the big picture, your actions should be all about taking the small steps. As he said in this podcast, “Think small, act small, and you will become big.”
  10. Embrace the four mindsets. Kat Cole, the COO of Focus Brands, which owns several mall-based businesses including Cinnabon and Jamba Juice, became one of the youngest VPs of all time when she was made Vice President of Hooters at the age of 26. But she didn’t let her age deter her from obtaining more success. Over time, she realized that a big part of her success came from embracing the four mindsets — humility, curiosity, courage and confidence. These mindsets can be applied to both your personal and professional life.

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Early riser. Editor. Writer, focusing on culture, money, parenting & Asian American identity. More writing here

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