I was watching a video from one of my favorite makers and in it she was reflecting on 2020, the year that everyone, in the most cliched fashion ever, is calling the worst year ever. It's so easy to say that it makes me sad that other people think it's an original joke or thought, but here we are in the midst of a bunch of cliche slinging nutbars who think they're funny and original seeking the adrenaline high of a few clicks on social media. In the caption of the video, she apologized for being happy with how 2020 went for her, as if she had something to apologize for. Her business grew, she did great things, and she's on her way to doing greater things in 2021 and yet she feels like she owes an apology to people who had a hard year.
I call bullshit on that.
Most (not all) of the people who had a bad 2020 had one for one reason primarily: they didn't prepare for a bad year when they had a string of good years. Instead of being ready, they were comfortable. When discomfort struck, they lost their minds. When they had no job to go to, they had nothing in the bank and no secondary income to rely on. When their beloved politicians took everything from them and demanded they shut up and take it, they did, but then they quietly panicked over what that meant for their future. That encompasses a very large portion of the people who were caught flat-footed in 2020.
That's not to say a lot of people didn't have bad years, and we lost a lot of people; too many by every reasonable estimation, but make no mistake, anything outside of an unexpected illness knocking you down this year is probably your fault to some degree, and if you weren't careful enough and got COVID, then even that is probably your fault.
People panic when they say that. "My fault? MY FAULT? It's not my fault there's a pandemic!"
No, it's not. But it's your fault when it rolls around and you can't miss one week of work because you'll be out on the street. That's because of decisions you made, not the pandemic. I'll even tell you, straight up, that I went through this. My company promised me a pay cut at the start of the pandemic and they delivered. I got one, and it hit me hard because my day job is my income, like most people. My side hustle started in 2018, but got sidetracked by cancer treatment and surgery, but I wasn't prepared either way. I thought I was done for, and I would never survive a pay cut of that size, but instead of panicking about it I focused and put effort into growing my side hustle as much as I could into something I could use to generate revenue as needed. I needed to make up the difference, at the very least, and I worked my ass off to do it. At the end of 2020 I stopped and looked back at the year business-wise and while it wasn't the best year and I didn't make a killing, a crazy thing happened: I survived.
Should I feel guilty for surviving and, in many ways, thriving?
Or should I be happy that the work I put in paid off to the point where the year went, on balance, quite well for me?
And if the answer is the latter, why should I feel guilty? Because other people had worse years?
Well did those people feel guilty when they had a good 2019 and I was going through cancer treatment and surgery? Or did they just recognize their good year? The answer is clear, and that's okay.
At the beginning of the pandemic, there seemed to be a split in the world between people who thought that "surviving" was good enough, and others who (in my opinion correctly) pointed out that people who always used "time" as an excuse no longer had that excuse and if they didn't learn a new skill now then they were never really a victim of a lack of time. Many of my friends lost their minds over this. How could you say that? This is a trauma! We're all surviving a trauma! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? The message struck a nerve with people for the wrong reason.
It wasn't directed at people knee-deep in COVID for not learning how to knit. It was directed at people who, casually and continuously, bemoaned their lack of time as the central thing in all their shortcomings. Nobody had time to do anything, ever, in the world, yet in a climate where huge numbers of people were unemployed or furloughed, the biggest concern most of those people had were running out of things to watch on Netflix.
If that's your biggest concern, then good on you. But if you ever said "I can't take that course because I have to work X number of hours a week" and you don't get on that immediately when you don't have to, you do lack discipline, and that IS the reason you're struggling and that's not even just a matter of me being cruel, it's a matter of me recognizing that my life is in my control and the growth of my "side hustle" happened because I didn't just sit on the couch and go "I'm surviving today and I'm proud of that." I was gifted a lot of time and I used the hell out of it.
If you didn't because Tiger King was more your speed, good on you, but you don't get to come out of the pandemic puffing out your chest and saying "I survived."
Surviving is not enough. Surviving implies you're making do on the scraps you have hoping that the scraps get bigger. I'm not hoping for scraps, I'm not fighting for droppings. I'm working my way up to where I can jump up on the table, take the whole damned turkey, and run off with it. If your mentality is not centered that way, fine, but you need to recognize that any consequences of the lack of action on your part are, in the end, on you.
Conversely, so are the wins. When you make your first big sale. When you develop a relationship with a killer client. When your business becomes a little more than a cute distraction that your friends look at it and go "Oh that's nice," you've won. When you have a swiss army knife of skills at your disposal that you can parlay into a higher salary or a side business, you've won. When everyone is watching Tiger King and you're shopping for boxes because you have so much to ship you don't even have packing materials to do it in? You. Have. Won.
So to my unnamed maker friend, you don't have to apologize for having a good year, nor do you have to feel guilty. In the midst of every crisis is a story of hope and success. As Jason Stapleton says, one of the best things you can do for someone in a bread line is to not be in it with them.
It's time to stop surviving and start thriving.
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