By Andrew McConnell, Co-Founder and CEO of Rented.

Portrait of Businesswoman looking over architecture blueprints in office

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The year 2020 was unlike any other. We can either lament the year that was, or we can reflect on what the year taught us. In my attempt at the latter, I have five takeaways I want to share in case they prove helpful for others as well. 

Mind Tenancy

The first is how easily I gave away my mind to events outside of my control. Early in the year, I kept the stats on infection rates and fatalities by country and state on my phone. I refreshed the screen constantly. It was a train wreck I could do nothing to prevent, yet I couldn’t stop watching it. Why?

Knowing the ever-increasing numbers did nothing to impact how I lived my life, at least not positively. It certainly made it more difficult to fall asleep at night and concentrate on the things I told myself I wanted to focus on during the day. My actions and where I chose to spend my mind told a different story. The things I told myself were important to me were relegated to only that which was left after the rest of my energy was consumed with tragedy voyeurism.

As the year progressed, I began to see these unhelpful and unhealthy tendencies for what they were. These events outside of my control did not have to dictate my time or my mind. Giving them away was something I controlled. If I was giving them away cheaply before, I could also choose to “raise the price” going forward. Having seen the mistakes and costs in 2020, taking ownership of my mind in 2021 and beyond will be my top priority.

What Did I Miss?

In-person time with loved ones, travel, live events and more populated people’s lists of what they missed most in 2020. Yet so many of these things we previously took for granted. Had we known how much we would miss them when they were gone, how much more would we have enjoyed them when we still had them?

2020 gave us all the perfect training for the Stoic practice of “negative visualization.” The central concept of this practice is to take something you have today, be it your physical health, dinner with your family, in-person company meetings or anything else, and imagine you no longer have it. Just a few minutes of thinking about this in the past tense will begin to give you nostalgia for what you previously took for granted. When you get back to it, you will have a newfound appreciation and joy in still having it.

This past year meant many of us did not have to use our imagination to visualize losing something we previously took for granted. It showed us how much more we appreciated things once they were gone. This insight, and this practice, is something well worth carrying into 2021 and beyond.

What Did I Not Miss?

Just as important as recognizing what we missed is assessing what we lost and have not missed. A friend shared an example of how he and his wife used to attend what seemed like a gala a week, all for “worthy causes.” These black-tie functions had, over time, filled up their calendar.

In a year in which all such functions were canceled, my friend and his wife realized they did not regret missing a single one. They didn’t miss spending hours getting ready, sitting and listening to speeches and eating mass-produced banquet food rather than cooking and eating as a family, in sweatpants, around their dinner table.

Looking forward, this provides a lesson in avoiding the urge to slip back into patterns of behavior like filling our calendars through inertia. It is a wake-up call to reassess what we value and to design our calendars, and thus our lives, around those values. If we don’t do it for ourselves, someone or something else will do it for us.

Live Where I Am

Another common complaint throughout 2020 has been that people are not where they want to be. They were supposed to be on a vacation that was canceled, traveling to visit family members or attending a conference that would have been a boon for their sales. While all true, this focus on where we are not blinds us to where we are. Just as the corollary of what we miss is what we do not miss, so to is where we are rather than where we are not.

By not being constantly on the move, where has that left you? Are you getting more in-person time with your family? Are you getting more time alone? Is this a terrible thing? Yes, we are social animals, but at the same time, we can use activity and motion as a distraction from truly getting to know ourselves. By just being where you are, by embracing being “here,” wherever that may be, what can you gain? What can you learn?

Live When I Am

How many times have you heard “I can’t wait for 2020 to end?” What magical thing is supposed to happen on January 1, 2021? Once upon a time, many people couldn’t wait for 2019 to end in anticipation for what would come in 2020. By constantly thinking ahead to a time that is not yet here or back to a time that is now gone, we lose the present, yet that is all that we truly have.

No doubt there are things about any present moment that we would want to change. That will always be true. Rather than living in a past or future time that does not exist, how much better would it be to live now and work to change those things in the present that warrant changing?

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Roland Millaner