While sitting in a café with my colleague Mike, who had a quieter year in 2020, we kept our voices down to admit that 2020 had done us a few favours. It was not the train wreck for us that it had been for so many others. For that I am grateful.
I think, said Mike, we probably spent more time BEING instead of DOING for a change. And while this statement could easily conjure up an image of sitting cross legged and chanting Om, I knew exactly what he meant. Some of us were given the luxury of time to think, consider, live our life instead of submitting to it, and hit a re-set button.
It is so easy to be caught up in the doing rather than in being. We keep our curriculum vitae polished so that it is a worthy and valid record of a steady climb of professional responsibility, added qualifications, and memberships. Women like me worried too much about hiding any gaps where we had the cheek to look after our young children. But look again at the Latin phrase curriculum vitae. In English, it translates to the “course of life”.
We discussed these matters, and how easy it is to get the kind of White Line Fever that truck drivers suffer from, and kid ourselves that one day, we will be able to step aside, put our feet in the water off a jetty and breathe. Along came Covid and forced many of us put our feet in the water when we hadn’t yet planned to do so, and to fill discretionary time.
Discretionary time was going to become, I was reliably informed as a business student, a future concern, since technology was going to free up our working days so much. What would we do with all that time? Well, technology did deliver on its promise. We just failed to understand we could put the damn phones aside. Our fault for mistaking them for an appendage.
The pandemic blew like a tornado through office life as we knew it. People stayed home, zooming became a verb, and we realised that our colleagues had kids, dogs and cats, and had messy bookshelves. Not all work could be performed at home, but now, having to trust people to deliver their work independently, the leap from overseer of scalps to managers of results was finally secured.
And when human beings could be more like themselves, workers often looked happier and relaxed. Of course, we could be slobs. Clearly some were not always keen to stand up and reveal that they had only made a sartorial effort with their torso, but the quality of life improved for many. Freed from the rat maze, we picked up old hobbies. Jigsaws and board games came out of attics. We noticed our houses a bit more and went to the hardware stores. We did more of the things that gave us comfort, like making cakes and bread, reading, watching movies, and taking courses. I saw strange men in my suburb, out cycling with their small children on brand new bikes. I had never seen this before. We went for a daily walk. If our little dog could write Christmas Cards, she would have said, ‘2020! best year ever!’
It’s not that I did absolutely nothing toward my working life, but I certainly stepped off the full-time treadmill to oblivion, and I hope that I never get back on it. There were things I really did not miss, things that had been wasting my time and therefore, wasting my life.
Bronnie Ware, an Australian Nurse and Counsellor in Palliative care, shared the common regrets of her dying patients some years ago. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard, was uttered by every male patient she nursed. Men who were dying, regretted that they had missed so much of the lives of their children and the companionship of their spouses. They did not regret work, but believed, too late, that they could have simplified their lifestyle and made better choices. They may not have needed ALL the money that they’d been chasing.
John Lennon took five years out to be a Dad and bake bread, and in his words, enjoy the finer things in life. His song, Watching the Wheels, was a way of explaining that he had no regrets.
I was listening to it the other day.
I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round
I really love to watch them roll
No longer riding on the Merry-go Round – I just had to let it go
I realised I had never really listened to that lyric before. Of course, I’d heard it, I had even sung along with it, but I hadn’t really listened. As fate would have it, John had a short time left to live after releasing that song to the world.
If we knew that was true of our own lives, what would we do differently?
So, while recognising that it was a truly terrible year for so many people, I am saying thank you to 2020, for helping some of us watch the wheels go round and round and forcing us to let some things go.