It’s that time again when we all share candid reviews of a year gone by, tinted with vague strokes of hope and ambition for the forthcoming spin around the Sun. This year, and perhaps I won’t be alone in this, I have outright refused to read any – which means I probably shouldn’t take it personally when this blog post becomes a total drop.
The reason why I haven’t read many blogger, journalist, or influencer reviews of 2020 is my cynical lesson from this historical year: those who can, do; those who can’t, don’t.
It’s as simple as that.
This is not a point on individual productivity. At least in attempt, I mean this as a gentle approach to the concept that, well, most of us don’t “amount to anything” at all. But we can still live perfectly happy and fulfilling lives. Admittedly, I write this post with an aftertaste of bitter regret. However, two lockdowns in London and nine months of isolation have forced me to accept who I am as I am, so I’ll try to impart that wisdom from my perspective as a failed writer.
Like many of my peers, I started my twenties full ideas and ambition. It was the summer of 2011 and I was avidly making friends with anyone with a link to London while I explored every inch of Berlin, seeking to build the foundation of my dream: to become a journalist and travel the world. A decade later, I’m left with unfinished novels, a blog that never took off, and not enough stamps on my passport to be worthy of the title of “travel writer”. It’s been nearly three years that the weekend arrives as a promise of possibility, and leaves in a flurry of social drinks and streaming binges. My life in London had slowly built up to a pace I could hardly even follow anymore, but I loved most of it.
Then, 2020 arrived ripe for action. This was going to be the year, I used to think to myself back in January as I listed all the things I was to accomplish before my thirtieth birthday to a new romantic interest. “You sure want to do loads by the time you’re 30,” he said. I replied that I had time.
How right and how wrong I was. When the pandemic hit, stress and fear notwithstanding, I was determined to make it count. I filled my calendar with a strict, school-like schedule:
- 6.30am: wake up
- 6.45am: meditate
- 7.00am: yoga and shower
- 8.00am: breakfast and make bed
- 9.00am: work
- 1.00pm: lunch
- 2.00pm: work
- 5.00pm: walk (which then became run)
- 6.00pm: write (novel or blog)
- 7.30pm: cook dinner
- 8.00pm: dinner
- 9.00pm: read or work on blog
- 10.00pm: bed
Unsurprisingly, I struggled to keep to my demanding plans. I was too busy daydreaming about the glory I’d get one day from my prose and I fueled those daydreams with novels, movies and tv shows of inspirational tales of an important person discovering a new artist almost by accident.
A capitalist society, like the one we live in, thrives when individuals find fulfilment in 1) power to purchase services or objects because they can (buying drinks, outfits, going on trips, getting take out); and/or 2) producing something that can be sold (like new software, a book, a painting, a monetised blog, an app). In 2020, being able to quantify our “success” has become even more important – think hard how you react when you reach a new milestone of “likes” or “followers”.
It’s all a well-oiled machine that ensures we are constantly making. We’ve become producers and consumers in equal parts. Which brings me back to my overly strict schedules in March, when London first went into Lockdown. All “productive” activities were cancelled overnight, like going out for dinner with friends, three-weeks-booked-in-advance after work quick drinks, overpriced soggy meal deals scoffed over a keyboard, and demoralising exercise classes where a 21-year-old spews a bunch of nonsensical inspirational barf. All gone.
Naturally, in Lockdown we had all that time back to be even more productive. At around the same time, mental health advocates took to social media to remind us that just surviving was as much of a success as producing a work of art.
While I understand the sentiment and it’s something I’ve also said myself, I don’t fully believe it. Because when your friends are finishing PhDs, releasing podcasts, getting a new puppy, closing on a house sale, finally moving with a long-term partner, becoming viral, opening an Etsy shop or keeping the world turning with essential work, and all you’ve done is not finish another novel, you’re bound to feel like a failure.
It’s easy to understand that we didn’t need to write a novel, that it was OK to just survive (remember the much shared quote “you’re not working from home, you’re at home during a pandemic, working”?). Perhaps not so much to accept it.
At the beginning of this article I said that the biggest lesson is that those who can, do; and those who can’t, don’t. The takeaway here is that it doesn’t mean that those who don’t aren’t useful or worthy, it only means that we haven’t found our moment yet. Or maybe we’ve spent too much time following journalists on Twitter.
2020 has not, in any sense of the phrase, been anyone’s year. Sure, in between lockdowns and getting used to wearing a mask at all times, many have been able to get emotionally closer to friends and family and find psychological respite from demanding jobs. Still, I think I’m right thinking we’re all counting the seconds to see the back of 2020.
I’m stepping into 2021 with a new sense of cynicism that is not befitting of even a cold-hearted Londoner like myself. But maybe, just maybe, this sense of complacency will give us “can’t-ers” the freedom to do without expectation, and have fun while we’re at it. Thus turning us into “can-ers” and “do-ers”.