10 Powerful Lessons That The Year 2020 Taught Me

2020 has been a year of monumental changes. Unsuspecting cubicle workers got their first taste of remote work. Social upheavals questioned the status quo. And worse still, many countries headed into a full-blown recession. An optimist by nature, I am not going to whine about the “year that could have been.” Instead, here are ten powerful lessons that the year 2020 taught me.

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On a rainy day in March 2020, I received the news. 

The country is going into lockdown. All flights – except for humanitarian and repatriation flights – are canceled. 

My digital nomad lifestyle got a forced break. I had planned to travel around Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia for the next six months, working remotely in one of my favorite corners of the globe: Southeast Asia. I had spent the end of 2019 there and gone back to Europe from December ‘til March. 

The lifestyle I had worked so hard to build was now in tatters. 

After a couple of weeks in lockdown, I realized that I was luckier than most. I couldn’t travel, but I still had an income, wasn’t part of any risk group, and stayed in a country with exceptional universal healthcare.

The lockdown in my country lasted for two months. After that, it was far from business as usual, but I managed to get back on the road and travel around Europe. 

For full-time travelers, 2020 was a hard pill to swallow. Even though more and more countries opened their borders in the second half of the year, it was a tough stretch for people whose income depends on travel. 

Such is my case as a travel photographer. Part of my livelihood is reliant on travel, making 2020 especially bitter. 

Long story short, as a result of fewer photography gigs, I explored new horizons. I published more on Medium and started my Thursday Triumph Newsletter. I also diversified my startup investments and learned a variety of new skills. 

Those were personal developments. 2020, however, also taught me a lot about the world we live in and the importance of self-care. 

10 lessons that the year 2020 taught me 

2020 was a year that accelerated previously existing trends. As with many crises in history, the year 2020 jump-started changes that were already happening. 

On this basis, here are ten lessons from the year 2020.

10 Powerful Lessons That The Year 2020 Taught Me - empty road with snow in Iceland
Picture by Jon Flobrant / Unsplash


1. Remote work is the future 

Personally, remote work was the norm well before 2020. 

As a photographer and freelance writer, I usually spend one month in a particular nomad base before moving on to the next. As such, my job is location-independent. 

To make the lifestyle work, I had to separate my productivity tools, work routines, and communication channels from particular environments. 

All I need to make money today are my laptop, tablet, camera gear, hard drives, and noise-canceling headphones. 

As it turned out, I was much better prepared than most people when the lockdown hit. 

I always believed that people should learn how to be productive anywhere – whether it’s at home, in a coffee shop, or at an airport terminal. The year 2020 proved me right. 

More importantly, I don’t believe that remote work is a temporary solution to a momentary problem. 

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that the office will disappear or that cubicles will become a relic of the past. 

Nevertheless, I do not doubt that many companies will embrace remote work as an alternative working arrangement. Even before 2020, many employers prided themselves on giving their workers more flexibility. 

2020 accelerated this trend with a bang. 

According to a recent Business Insider survey, most tech giants are planning to make their current remote work arrangements permanent, and lots of other industries are following suit.

Consequently, more and more people will work remotely in the future – by choice or by corporate culture. 

What I learned from this is that preparing for a future that combines remote and conventional office work is the smartest thing employees can do right now.

2. Freedom should never be taken for granted 

In the coming months and years, many societies will discuss the proportionality, adequacy, and success of the measures taken in 2020. 

One thing is for sure: our freedoms took a massive hit in 2020. 

Filling out a form to leave the house, not being allowed to invite more than a few people into our homes, and legal changes that happen overnight – these are measures usually associated with places like the Soviet Union, not our rosy Western democracies. 

Whether these restrictions were justified or not is up for debate. 

What I learned from them is the following: no matter where we live, our freedoms are always fragile. 

Reactions depend on personal values, but the importance of keeping this fragility in mind is a powerful lesson I learned in 2020. 

3. The knowledge economy demands a different mindset 

Another trend that got emphasized in 2020 is the complete and utter shift toward a knowledge economy. 

According to Investopedia,  

The knowledge economy is a system of consumption and production that is based on intellectual capital.

You might say that this is nothing new. 

And you’re right. The shift was happening long before 2020. 

Nevertheless, with economic turmoil, rapidly changing work systems, and innovative ways to tackle both remote work and new consumption habits, intellectual capital becomes even more paramount. 

Consequently, we now need to adapt much more quickly and often than before. 

As such, there are two invaluable skills in this knowledge economy: 

  • the art of mastering new things quickly; and
  • one or more competencies that are not easily replaceable.

As Seth Godin wrote in his 2003 bestseller Purple Cow, “You’re either remarkable or invisible.” 

You might see this as a threat, but it’s not. The current knowledge economy has endless possibilities for everyone to succeed. 

In this context, there have never been more ways to make money online with a passion project. Geo-arbitrage has never been more accessible. And finally, employees never had more choices in terms of sectors and environments. 

To sum this point up, the simple lesson to learn from 2020 is the following: 

Winning in this “brave new world” isn’t easier or more difficult than before. It merely requires a different attitude. 

10 Powerful Lessons That The Year 2020 Taught Me - knowledge economy - Shinjuku, Tokyo
Picture by Jean Vella / Unsplash

4. Putting things off is a bad idea 

There are countless reasons why procrastination and putting things off is a bad idea. 

2020 clinched its fist and hit us in the face with this truth. 

Whether it’s professional priorities like negotiating a payrise, muse projects like starting a new hobby, or personal goals like asking our crush out for a date, 2020 showed us that the clock is always ticking. 

5. Mindfulness is more critical than ever 

Before 2020, my mindfulness was half-hearted at best. 

Always on the road, I didn’t take the time to slow down and reflect. In that same vein, I didn’t practice mindfulness in everyday life. 

When the chips were down in the spring of 2020, I realized that being mindful in everyday life is a superpower. 

On the one hand, mindful habits like meditation, journaling, and connecting to the present during mundane activities boost your calmness and serenity. 

On the other hand, mindfulness raises your awareness of what you want, fear, and chase. As such, it will help you work toward your goals with more purpose and tenacity.

6. Self-care is more than a lifestyle trend 

The year 2020 taught me that self-care rituals like wellness and daily relaxation are much more than instagrammable activities.

2020 brought a physical health crisis, but maybe even more so, a mental health emergency. 

That’s why self-care is becoming more and more critical, and we can utilize its benefits both in good and bad times. 

7. Virtual experiences are complementing real-life activities

Another trend that the year 2020 accelerated is the omnipresence of virtual activities. 

Video games were popular before, but we now go on virtual Grand Canyon tours, virtual car tests, and virtual dates. 

I am not a massive fan of virtual experiences, but as 2020 showed us, these activities are here to stay. 

Nevertheless, I don’t believe that Tinder conversations and skype dates will ever replace good old-fashioned pub encounters. 

However, because so many people got accustomed to these experiences in 2020, they will probably complement real-life activities in the future.

8. Stoicism can change your life 

Throughout the spring of 2020, I read an entire library about Stoicism, Stoic thinking, and the lives of the ancient Stoics. 

From Ryan Holiday’s work to Meditations by Marcus Aurelius and A Guide to The Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine, I consumed everything. 

Two main lessons stayed in my mind: 

  • The only thing that matters are our reactions. The world can go to shreds, and we only have control over our attitude; and
  • more stuff, commitments, and wishes just lead to more problems. Minimalism is the answer. 

As such, Stoicism can change your life for the better if you apply the teachings smartly.

9. A decluttered home is the basis for a decluttered mind 

I was a minimalist before 2020 – hence the name of this blog – but the year 2020 intensified my inclination. 

When you spend months in the confines of your home, all the useless stuff you own becomes ever more visible. 

Aside from that, a renewed sense of mindfulness leads to the questioning of your priorities. 

And finally, economic woes force people to rethink their consumption habits.

In April, I wrote an article on how 2020 will inspire a new wave of minimalism.  

I got hundreds of emails on the subject, and my minimalism-related content became more popular than ever. It became clear that during the lockdown, many people first experienced the benefits of minimalism. For many, the habits stuck after the curfews had ended. 

As such, they now use minimalist principles to improve both their homes and their lives.

10. “Never let a good crisis go to waste”

I recently read a 2019 Churchill biography by Andrew Roberts. One of my favorite quotes of Great Britain’s wartime leader is “never let a good crisis go to waste.

There are many interpretations, but the best one is that hard times require action, not apathy. 

Whenever you’re facing hardship – in your personal, professional, or general situation – ask yourself how you can turn these trials into triumphs.

In other words, where does this adversity hide opportunities?  

2020 created a lot of instability in my professional life but also novel opportunities. It wasn’t a “great” year in the traditional sense, but it was an eye-opening one. 

Thank you for reading this far, and all the best for the future!

And now I’ve got through an entire “lessons of 2020” article without using the term “COVID-19.” Oh well…

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