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What 2021 (and 2020) taught me

It has been a long road so far during this pandemic and it has taken quite a toll on everyone. I myself have not escaped this unscathed myself.

During the pandemic, I was lucky enough to be able to get my master's degree in Museum Education, start up my own online shop and business, as well as take a lot of time to learn new hobbies and coping skills.

I enjoy being able to look back on things and reflect as time goes on, so on the first day of 2022, I am opening myself up for a reflection of what I have learned in the last year or two.

  • Be okay with being just okay.

I'll be honest. There are a lot of times when I just wanted to scream or cry or just give up because what was the point of it all if nothing was going to come from it? Grad school had a lot of challenges for me and made me face a lot of trauma that I hadn't realized I was still harboring.

I found myself realizing that I could just be grateful for the days I woke up and accomplished a few little things or the days when I didn't really feel any sort of extreme emotion. It was a learning curve because I would sometimes go to bed and wonder if I was completely broken beyond help or if this was just something people went through.

I was used to always feeling some sort of strong emotion - exhaustion, excitement, happiness, sadness - you name it. But during this last year I found myself thriving at a much more normal level that remained nearly always the same. It was weird. I wasn't living in a constant state of flux, and I was beginning to be able to not have extreme reactions to things going on.

I think that may have been due to finally getting that pesky anxiety and nervousness under control.

  • Fear no man. Fear no God.

When I say this, I say it in a "Believe in yourself and do what you think is right" kind of way, but also the "Stick it to the man" kind of way.

Hime was the biggest blessing of the pandemic for me. She is an Akita, and if you know anything about the breed you know that they have no time to care for what you think.

I found myself channeling her energy and being grateful for the lessons she taught me. She is very independent and cares not for anyone's opinion of her. While it can be frustrating, especially when you are trying to do something and she simply will not get out of the way, I found it endearing too.

Why should she have to change herself to fit my life? Why should I have to change myself to fit someone else's?

Hime is my shining star for knowing how to set boundaries and stick to them. She is not a mean dog in any capacity, but she is also not going to tolerate anything she doesn't want to. This makes grooming and nail clipping a challenge, as she will fight and scream at being mildly inconvenienced, but it also reminds me that I do not have to put up with situations that are not healthy for me.

I fear no man, and I fear no god. I live as I need and I do what I can. I live under no fear of expectations of others and I finally feel free.

  • Take time for yourself.

I think this is something we all have had to learn how to do in the pandemic, especially with our whole worlds being turned upside down. It felt like I was a failure who couldn't even accomplish simple things everyday. Some days, showering was a chore that seemed beyond daunting, especially since I was just going to be holed up at home and not leaving.

But that doesn't exactly bode well for mental health as I'm sure we've all learned the hard way.

It was a vicious cycle for me at the beginning of the pandemic when I was in a tail spin of trying to figure out what life was going to be like and what I was going to do to make it through the next who knows how long.

While I still struggle with feelings of being a failure or selfish, I realize that I need to take a moment for myself and be kind to myself. There is no point in beating myself down into nothing because then truly nothing will come from it.

I've learned how to just take step back, do my nails or makeup, and remind myself that It's okay to take time for yourself.

  • Be gentle. Be firm.

Teaching online taught me a lot about myself and how I interact with others. It was huge learning curve and it was really hard at first to know how to manage time and keep interest. I worked on two different platforms: Cambly and VIPKid.

I was reminded often that it is important to have a gentle and loving approach as a teacher, and especially when teaching in an online space. A lot of body language or non-verbal clues are out the window and all you can see is the other person's face (or whatever they have chosen to show you).

I had to learn how to be good listener and learn how to read into a situation not with anxiety and fear, but with compassion and interest. Sometimes the most difficult of students, with enough love and care, were the best ones I had.

But I also had to learn how to set my boundaries and stick to them.

I had a student whom I loved very deeply, but began to feel far too comfortable with me. She was very young with no parents present during the lessons and she started to act out inappropriately. Try as I might, I could not get anyone to take my messages seriously, so I had to remove myself as a candidate for teaching her.

It was hard and I wanted to cry when making that choice, but I knew that it what was best for me and her in that moment.

As much as I loved her, I had to step away and be firm in my decisions.

  • It's okay to not be okay.

I mentioned earlier that I felt like a failure a lot sometimes. These past two years were definitely a time when I had to learn how to grapple with my emotions and experiences in ways I didn't want to. There wasn't an opportunity for escapism when you are the only thing around and your choices for abandoning the situation are severely limited by a certain fear of a virus.

In 2019 I started my gratitude journaling journey, and in 2021 I picked up bullet journaling as a hobby. I wasn't always consistent with it (I'm looking at you December 2021), but it helped me start to make positive associations with even seemingly negative things that happened.

Not that it always had that impact.

I was sad a lot during the last year, especially when I lost my teaching job online due to China's regulations changing. I suddenly had no income and had no way of knowing when I would get another job, because the change happened overnight seemingly. We went from being told we had up to six months before the change affected us to a two week notice of no more classes being had.

I was devastated and grappled with figuring out my next steps. I was not okay for a long while, but I learned how to work through those feelings and get myself to a productive place that leant to making steps towards a career.

I'm now employed at two part time jobs, but I am fairly content with the ups and downs that the job market has brought my way.

  • Stand up for what you believe.

Grad school was an interesting experience for me. I've always been a bold and brash person when it comes to pointing things out that I believe are wrong, and I've learned that hiding behind feelings hurts no one but yourself.

Not everyone is that way and in grad school I was reminded exactly of what kind of person I never want to be by some of my professors.

I was given some terrible advice of "Speak to your therapist" fairly early on when bringing up some incidents of bullying that was going on, and I got to say, that is wildly inappropriate to ever say to someone who confides in you.

I stopped reaching out to professors entirely after that and I wound up feeling more and more isolated from my classmates. I honestly walked away with few friends and even less acquaintances, but it was a situation where I was reminded that I have a voice and I can and will be heard.

I learned a lot about myself and to market my skills proudly, even if the other person sees no value in my experiences. I refused to back down when faced with a challenge, and I learned once again that my bold and brash personality is not necessarily a bad thing.

I can stand up for other people and I will. I can be heard and make changes, so I will. I will not waiver but I will be strong when in the face of adversity, because I will stand up for what I believe in.

  • You're not for everyone and not everyone is for you.

Honestly I could just go on about how I learned all about boundaries and how to respect them from myself and others. But I also have learned that sometimes it's just simply better to walk away and realize that the situation is not for you and it was not for the other person either.

I've always struggled in some capacity to not feel like I'm the bad person at all times in all situations. But these last two years, while working on building up my business, I've become much more comfortable with the concept that there are no win situations and sometimes people just want to be difficult or mean.

I also have left several relationships, but gained new ones with this understanding. If you can't see eye to eye, it's okay to just walk away and leave it well enough alone. You don't have to be right, and the other person doesn't have to be wrong. It can just be left as a disagreement.

You don't have to change yourself to fit anyone else's life style, and you shouldn't expect someone else to change for you.

People are people, and people will always be people.

  • Rejection isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Oh boy, have I gone through a lot of rejection throughout 2021. I've gotten several job rejection letters (some of them are so kind as to go above and beyond and send me several rejection letters for the same position -_-). The first few destroyed me, that I will admit.

I cried the first few times that I didn't even the interview for it. But I began to just take it as a 'not for me' thing. I will admit the first few interviews I did that didn't result in a job offer were also kind of hard to take, but with time and space, I realized it just wasn't a fit and it was okay to not always get the job, especially since I am going into a brand new field.

I know that I could probably get an administrative job really easy, but it's not what I want so I will continue to just thrive where I am until I find a spot that is a good fit.

  • Stumbling is just a phase we all go through.

Have you ever put your foot in your mouth and laid in bed, regretting everything you have ever done in your life? Because boy have I been there. A lot.

I mean, I've been there for years, but during the pandemic I discovered that everyone has stumbling phases where we mess up, but it doesn't define us. I have shed a lot of tears, because the little perfectionist girl in me cannot handle any kind of rejection or failure. But with a lot of hugs and reassurance, I have been able to help her heal and realize that life is full of ups and downs, but we don't have to stay down when we fall.

I've struggled with many things in my life, such as anything but an A being unacceptable, and not being perfect at a new skill being the equivalent of a total garbage being. During the pandemic, I picked up a lot of new hobbies and skills, but it was really hard to preserve and keep working on them when I wasn't getting the results I wanted immediately.

I've made some pretty ugly art and some pretty wonky life choices, but hey, at least I got up and did it again!! I find some sort of comfort in knowing that I am not the only one who has struggled, and if I can remind someone else that it's not a sign of failure but a sign of humanity to stumble then it was worth it.

  • Happiness is a choice, gratitude is a skill.

Mental health is something I have been taking much more seriously since 2019, when everything came crashing down on me and I didn't see a way out. I saw nothing good around me, nothing of value in myself, and no joy in the little things.

It was hands down the darkest place I had been since middle school, and it was frightening.

I reached out for help and didn't always get it. It was devastating to realize that I was drowning and had no life raft to cling to.

I had to face myself and look at who I was and where I was. I didn't like it and I didn't like myself at all. I didn't like the place I was in and I didn't like the space I lived in.

I had to become my own life raft in that moment and refuse to give up on myself.

I got help in the form of counseling on Better Help, and slowly lifted myself out of a dark place through just trying new things.

Meditation and gratitude journaling were the things that stuck with me.

I had to start off with a journal that gave me prompts because it was beyond a daunting skill to write down the things I was grateful when I felt like I had nothing good around me. The journal started to change the way I viewed things, and now I am able to write my own gratitude journal with a happy heart and light mind. It has become a safe space for me to reset and remember that I do have value and I am worthy of love.

I could choose in any given moment to feel happiness, but learning how to be genuinely grateful was a skill I will continue to hone and carry with me.

  • Little changes make big differences.

Just like writing in my gratitude journal helped to change my mindset and set some of my personal demons free, the little things I did made the biggest differences for me.

I learned how to do digital art, even though I wanted to cry and give up so many times. I used to be good at art; I hated the things I was making because they weren't the beauty I saw in my mind. But I hadn't tried to even remotely create anything since high school, so I had to learn how to be gentle with myself as I relearned skills I once had.

I'm still not to a place where I'm 100% happy with everything I have created, but I'm much more happy during the process and easy on myself when I mess up. I am learning a brand new way of expressing myself and it can be hard, but that doesn't mean I should be hard on myself.

Learning digital art re-inspired me to create my own small business. I started to look at what others were doing and realizing I could be one of them - I didn't have to let the ideas in me die and fade because I didn't feel worthy, I could create and love it as it happened.

Now I'm not a huge or even mildly successful artist, but I am an artist nevertheless.

That is something I couldn't have said with confidence two years ago.

  • You don't have to have a set plan - going with the flow is okay too.

Oh boy, was I planner growing up. A major planner. Everything had a place and a role in my life and I felt that I must also have that.

I always had a long term goal and a plan on how to get there. There was never a thing that I didn't have a process to obtain.

I've had to let that go and realize that some of the need for control is trauma related and with healing I can let go my need for control and live in the moment.

I learned the hard way that the moment will be gone before you know it.

I still don't know what my next big goal is. I've got like hundreds of ideas of what I could do with my time and life, and I don't feel restricted by 'practicality'. I feel free and kind of wish that I had this feeling when I was in undergrad so I could have maybe explored more options.

But there's no point living looking in the rear view mirror, so instead I will thank the girl who always needed a plan for getting me to a place where I could heal and grow into the person I am now.

  • Loss is an opportunity for growth.

I lost my main source of income suddenly in September of 2021. VIPKid had to comply with some changes in China's laws, and they were in state of limbo as much as I was. I am not angry or even upset with the company at all - I still love it dearly for the financial support the job gave me through grad school and the chance to be a teacher during a pandemic. I hope to be able to join the global platform soon, and plan on keeping on being a VIPKid teacher for as long as it is feasible.

I will acknowledge that I was taken aback by the sudden loss and felt like I was scrambling for income. I found a lot of other online gig jobs, but struggled to get my application in as I felt like I was an imposter sneaking in through the back door to take the jobs from more deserving people.

Today, January 1, 2022, I took the leap and recorded some voice over samples. I didn't allow the voice in my head that told me I was a fool for trying stop me anymore.

I've always wanted to do voice work, so maybe the sudden loss was my opportunity to take a leap of faith in myself.

  • You don't have to outgrow interests.

I'm sure you've heard of people rediscovering childhood interests during the pandemic, and you are looking at one of them.

Not only did I rediscover art and my love of creativity - I also re-fell in love with anime and manga. I have to give props to my sister for not giving up on me and being open to offering me suggestions when I was ready to start discovering new things.

I have developed a new passion for Demon Slayer and Mao, which actually sparked me into cosplaying for the first time in my life last July.

I dressed as Tanjiro for Anime Midwest and the process of creating the outfit was so much fun that I want to continue to cosplaying and enjoying my favorite childhood past time - manga.

Because I sometimes have adult money to spend on manga that I will read again and again.

I feel like I just picked up the middle school me and let her live again, expect this time much much less reservations and concerns about others opinions.

And she is thriving. (Which means I am THRIVING.)

What has the last two years taught you? Have you had any revelations or discoveries?

Stay warm.

Love always,

Laura Ann

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