• Michali Henig

5 meaningful lessons I learned in 2020

I have a feeling that we will forever remember 2020. It was weird, challenging, depressing, perspective-changing, and eye-opening. For some of us, it was transformational. For others, it was just terrible. One thing for sure: we will not remember it as indifferent.

For me, it was a little bit of all: a bit depressing, a bit annoying, a bit mind-blowing, and (also) a bit amazing. It depends on the day, time, and lesson. Of course, my entire life and schedule changed: from holding face to face meetings as a routine activity, I was forced to switch to video chat - a medium which I hated until April when I had no other choice than using it and getting along with it. There was plenty of time with everything getting canceled, but also lots of things to do. I have worked more (in comparison to 2019), spent less time doing fun things (I wonder why), but also made new friends and found new hobbies.

Here are the 7 most meaningful lessons I learned:

Lesson Nr. 1: Community = Power. It might be a cliche to say that we are stronger together, but it is what it is.

When Corona just started, I took it upon myself to make information accessible about what is going on in English to the expat community in Berlin. I understood that it's even more difficult for expats: some of them don't know what's going on, don't have a good support network, and don't know their rights and duties properly. Moreover, some expats suffer from anxiety and depression - which may become worse under conditions of uncertainty.

It became evident to me in the first morning of the first lockdown, as a person I know called me, crying and panicking: that morning, she woke up and took the train to work, same as she did every day in 3 years. She was the only person on the train, there were scary announcements in German, and there was police everywhere. She had no idea what's going on. And who can blame her? There were so many policies and regulation changes in the past 10 months - only after the first lockdown, I understood that it was difficult for everybody to keep track.

Since late March, I regularly share my knowledge with my community, both in social media and outside of it, and I must say - it's one of the most meaningful things I did this year.

Lesson Nr. 2: Invest time into personal and professional development, find new things that you like doing

Until lockdown, I took pride in being busy. It's a big trend now, no? I mean, being a busy person, busy with work. Well, I have been swamped in the past 7 years. So busy that I didn't have time to invest in non-work things. I was so busy that all I did was work - 11 hours a day, 5 days a week.

In summer 2019, I had a professional crisis, during which I reformed the way I work. As a part of it, I wanted to have more time for non-work stuff. I remember having a coffee with a friend around the end of 2019, sharing that "I think nobody will die if I will do yoga once a week in the morning and start working later".

I didn't get to practice yoga in 2019, but I did get to it at the end: In April, I started online-yoga classes with a teacher I liked, and I am attending a weekly yoga lesson ever since. It added a lot to my life quality.

And I learned that nobody will die and that the world will not collapse into itself if I start working a bit later, one or two times a week. Moreover, I learned that I will still have a job even if I take some courses and gain some new skills. So I learned about personal branding, marketing, data analysis, and so on. It was great fun - and I believe it also made me a better professional.

(Here is my newest hobby: sourdough bread baking. Try it out, its fun!)

Lesson Nr. 3: It's all about flexibility and adaptability

One of the most meaningful sentences of this year came from a client of mine: "The most important quality trait in 2020 is flexibility", he told me in one of our calls. It stroke me because he was right.

After 6 years of telling my clients precisely what would happen, I found myself in a situation that I didn't know. I had no idea if and when their visa appointments will occur and if I will be allowed to accompany them. We all had to be flexible.

Not surprisingly, nobody liked it. Everyone preferred knowing what's going to happen. Of course, I understand: when one finds themselves in unknown situations, knowing what comes next grants a sense of control. And this is what 2020 took from us: the ability to make plans, to know what will come next, and to be able to expect things. All that's left is being flexible.

The moment I understood this, everything became more comfortable for me to manage. It's not in my control - so I have to deal with whatever comes. Surprisingly, this was incredibly liberating, as it liberated me from anxiety and fear and helped me accept the situation as is. I thoroughly communicate this to my clients until today, and I believe this helps them a bit, too.

(Thinking outside of the box and being flexible and adaptable means that you will sometimes find yourself in a tree. At least in my world)

Lesson Nr. 4: Sometimes (and for some people), the truth is not easy to take

To my amazement, I found out that some people think that the desire not to become sick and not infect others is a political statement. I was surprised to find out there are people who don't care about public health. For them, some weird interpretation of their personal freedom wins over the health of their grandma.

Maybe it's the same discussion as the one about immigrants taking locals' jobs or welfare. I am not sure about that, but the lesson I learned is:

Sometimes the truth is not easy to take.

Sometimes, the truth means that you have to give up on something you want to do, for example: having your vacation or walking around without a mask, for something bigger than your desires. And it's not easy.

(Good morning from SBahn in Berlin!)

Lesson Nr. 5: We are responsible for ourselves and can find opportunities everywhere

When Corona just started, we found ourselves in a situation of not knowing what will happen next. According to my accountant, 90% of businesses in Germany got affected by Corona. We see this by simply walking on the street: shops and restaurants are closing down, freelancers are seeking stable jobs as employees, and everyone is a bit worried about their survival.

And we have to deal with it.

In the beginning, like everybody else, I was in complete shock. The meaning of travel bans and no flights is that people cannot relocate to Germany. And even if they would relocate - governmental offices, among them the immigration office, was closed - so how exactly will they get their work permits and tax IDs?

I started thinking of plan Bs and about other things I could do. I was proactive, offered discounts during the first lockdown, and accepted smaller projects. It was all fine.

The same goes for other business owners in my surrounding: cafes that sell to-go brunch packages, restaurants, and clubs that turned to covid-testing stations, clubs turned to exhibition galleries- and freelancers offering online products.

Of course, it's not as good as it was before lockdown (at least, for most of us business owners), but it's something. And it proves to me how resilient we all can be - if we act in flexibility, practice some adaptability - and as we are already doing it, we might as well do it with gratitude and a smile.

Sparkling Christmas cookies

(Here is a present I got from a dear client: sparkling, magical Christmas cookies - that were eaten in front of the immigration office after her appointment)

Bonus: My wishes for the new year

Soon, 2020 will go away, and we will find ourselves in 2021. It's only symbolic because the lockdown, social distancing, and mask-wearing are not going anywhere. But we hope that it will be better: that we will get vaccinated, that Covid will stop spreading, and that the world will return to normal.

I do have two more wishes for the world (and my community) for 2021)

  1. May we be kind to each other, remember that we are *always* in it together: This is my constant wish. I would like to believe that I live in a world where people are kind and thoughtful and not just selfish.

  2. May we take the meaningful lessons of 2020 with us - and not just return to being busy all the time and forget all about them.

Which lessons did you learn in 2020? I would love to hear your thoughts! Yours, Michali

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