How to deal with the dawning realisation that 2021 might not be the year you’d hoped for


Learning to deal with uncertainty is a skill that will set you up for life.

Each new year welcomes us to a fresh start. Along with the new resolutions, energy and excitement comes a renewed sense of hope and vitality for what is to come. Given the tumultuous year we all endured last year, 2021 came with an even greater set of expectations. The term ‘2021 energy’ was bandied about by many, optimistically analogising the new year with all things light, bold and carefree.

It was meant to be the year of dreams. An ethereal, mystical, magical place where all the complicated, dark matters of 2020 became a thing of the past. But as we traverse the early days of this new calendar year, it’s hard to not to be met with the dawning realisation that, perhaps, it won’t be.

Distinct from what we imagined, 2021 hasn’t begun with the carefree, happy-go-lucky energy we had all expected. New coronavirus cases are popping up left, right and centre. Trips have been cancelled. Relatives have been stranded at state borders. The usual flurry of social events, characteristic of this time of year, has naturally (and responsibly) been stripped back. We hang onto the daily update of case numbers, locations and exposure sights, searching for some sort of certainty as to our future plans. It’s a reality we all know too well. And yet, there’s an additional sting now that it’s 2021, not 2020.

It’s hard not to feel foolish. Foolish for believing the beginning of the calendar year might erase the problems of our lives and the world in which we find ourselves. The reality of life continues, regardless of whether it’s a new year. While we know this rationally – we are all aware that the virus is not going away anytime soon – it’s hard to shake the inevitable feelings of disappointment and exasperation.

Of course, it’s a trap only a privileged few can fall into, only available to those who live in countries where the pandemic is not so widespread. But perhaps this made the recent case numbers sting harder. The fall was steeper, given it was unexpected.

Distinct from the pandemic itself, is the tumult ever-present in our personal lives. It’s been only a handful of days since we entered the new year, and the usual chaos of life has already reared its head.  While it’s to be expected, our daily challenges feel somewhat more ruthless in 2021, given our high expectations of this new year.

They say if you don’t have expectations, you won’t be disappointed. But how can we save ourselves from the despair that comes from having had such high expectations of the new year? How can we safeguard ourselves from falling into our bias of believing, however naively, the future will be free from difficulty, hardship and uncertainty?

Refraining from shaming ourselves for holding such romantic beliefs is a good place to start. It’s only natural to have had high hopes for 2021. For many, such hopes were a successful coping mechanism, one that propelled them forward through the (unrelenting) months of lockdown. Despite what the pragmatists among us would have us believe, it is not foolish or fanciful to daydream of a better future. To be a hopeful optimist in this world is a beautiful thing.

Understand that feelings of disappointment and exasperation are inevitable. The more we are able to feel them – as opposed to pushing them aside and ‘powering on’ – the more easily we are able to process what we’re feeling. Letting ourselves feel our emotions as they arise allows us to move through them more quickly and with more ease.

Recognise that dualities are a fact of life. What goes up, most come down. And what goes down, must come up. If you’re going through a rough patch, know that ease and light are on the way. It’s a famous saying for a reason – this too shall pass.

And lastly, remain compassionate towards yourself and others. While the beginning of this year is not looking how many expected, it’s important to be mindful that nothing is ever truly certain. Even in 2018 and 2019, when the words ‘pandemic’, ‘lockdown’ and ‘iso’ were barely part of our vocabulary, there was no certainty that life would turn out exactly how we planned. The key difference between then and now is that we’re much more aware of the fickle nature of life.

Such awareness will be to our benefit in the long run. Because even when the pandemic has well and truly passed, the uncertainty of life will remain. Change is the only constant. To be better acquainted with this fact will allow us to be more resilient, more present and more grateful when the good times do come.

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