The Year that Changed Everything
An ancient Mayan prophecy predicted that the year 2020 would be the end of the world. The apocalypse hasn't taken place but it's the end of the world as we know it, so they weren't completely mistaken. When 2020 began, I was bright-eyed and determined to do great things. I started a job at a non-profit organization and was enthusiastic about making a positive impact in the community. As we all know, it didn't take long before the world was turned upside down and 2020 became the year that changed everything.
I had high expectations for 2020 but our major plans were interrupted or cancelled. I was, and still am, disappointed. I took on more responsibilities at work because COVID-19 tremendously affected the community and if I were to be honest, it helped me to cope with my disappointments.
My husband Juan, on the other hand, is one of the most chilled people you will ever meet. His secret? Have no expectations. What can I say? Opposites really do attract each other.
All things considered, I'm a realistic optimist. I know rain and thunderstorms can't and won't last forever. It's not about having blind faith or being positive all the time but being resilient enough to trust the process and most importantly, the Creator of the process.
Stepping Out of Our Comfort Zones
The pandemic made life challenging despite my optimism but having somewhat opposite personalities has been our saving grace during the COVID-19 crisis. Juan and I balance each other out and we help one another to step out of our comfort zones.
As the saying goes, "A comfort zone is a beautiful place but nothing ever grows there." Now, I'm not referring to a safe space, which is essential for one's sense of belonging and self-expression, especially among minorities and marginalized groups. A comfort zone is defined as "a behavioral space where your activities and behaviors fit a routine and pattern that minimizes stress and risk".
The benefits of being in your comfort zone include regular happiness, low anxiety, and reduced stress. Additionally, a comfort zone is a by-product of contentment and gratitude, and various studies including a research by Harvard Medical School argue gratitude can make us happier.
A few ways I went beyond my comfort zone this year
Gratitude or contentment (redha) is often conflated with complacency. Unlike complacency, gratitude leads to self-love, self-compassion, and self-discipline. It gives us the strength to leave our comfort zones when we want to strive for more. (Anyone else want more than just regular happiness? It can't just be me, right?)
Complacency is rooted in fear whereas gratitude is rooted in the conviction that we reap what we sow and we trust the Creator to manifest the best outcome for us.
Without dismissing the catastrophe and trauma caused by the pandemic, there's a prime opportunity for us to seize amidst this chaos and uncertainty.
When things were "normal" we may have been too distracted or too busy but when the rug has been pulled out from under us we have no other option but to finally look at the problems we've swept underneath it and do something about them.
I ask these questions almost daily to challenge myself:
"How can this moment serve me and my growth?"
"Who and how can I help?"
"How can we be more resilient as a community?"
"What can I do to practice patience, joy, and resilience?"
It's not an easy time for anyone but those who see opportunities and seize them are making lemonade out of lemons during the pandemic. Families are spending more quality time together. Communities are helping each other through mutual aid projects. Leaders are learning to embrace their humanity and be vulnerable. Professors are teaching with more compassion and flexibility. Small businesses are thinking outside the box to survive.
We're learning to pivot and creatively solve problems. We're also unlearning false and limiting beliefs that have been an impediment to us or led to unhealthy behavior or lifestyle habits that we've accepted as the norm. This wouldn't be possible if we were in our comfort zones.
I won't downplay how the pandemic has hurt us and our community. In New York City, I am witnessing the rise of COVID-19 cases and deaths, the health-related effects of structural racism on Black people and minorities, small businesses closing, and domestic abuse increasing. When it rains, it pours.
We don't have all the answers nor does everyone have the same capacity and privilege to help but it's important to choose growth over fear. If I waited until I was wealthy or had "enough experience", I wouldn't have met inspiring people in my community and led a mutual aid project to prepare and deliver meals to senior citizens and the immunocompromised in Brooklyn.
It's not necessary to have everything figured out to show up for others. It may be anxiety-inducing, uncomfortable, and inconvenient because we have to "go out of our way" but hey, what's that saying about nothing growing in comfort zones?
Rest, Don't Quit
At the same time, you're not blameworthy if you're exhausted or even having an existential crisis considering the gravity of what we're going through this year with the pandemic, the grief and anger we feel upon learning about the unjust murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the upcoming elections, just to name a few.
We're not only dealing with our own worries and anxieties but we're reading the news and listening to a cacophony of voices of people sharing their stories, which can lead to vicarious traumatization and compassion fatigue.
Allow yourself to be human and prioritize self-care. It's not selfish to allocate time for what energizes us before we get back to our work and responsibilities. When you're tired, learn to rest, not quit.
Overcoming the Ego
Instead of cursing 2020, I'm using this year to do the work that's necessary for my growth. This pandemic has given me a chance to reflect on my purpose and existence in a way that I didn't or couldn't in the past, which is why I believe every situation—good or bad—is an opportunity. Once I overcome my ego (and fear is part of it), I can see that the world isn't against me and everything is conducive for my continuous growth.
As we live in an economy that caters to instant gratification we've become accustomed to individualistic behavior and constantly seek convenience—from fast food, to fast fashion, and even fast relationships. Yet, sustainable and meaningful growth takes time, and sometimes trauma. Fortunately, human beings were created resilient and the more adversity we endure the more resilient we become.
Crush Your Fears with Faith
Our fears and circumstances can weigh heavy on us but they don't have to crush us. The Arabic word 'museebah' is often translated to calamity but its root word 'sawb/asaba' refers to when an arrow has hit its target. What we may perceive as a bad luck or misfortune happened so we can be elevated by it, depending on how we choose to respond to the situation and what we choose to focus on. This is the best way to avoid a victim mentality.
It's counterintuitive at times but it helps when I pay more attention to my intentions, actions, and my Creator —the Compassionate and the Remover of hardships—instead of just the hardships. I still feel fear, and I think it's a healthy and natural response to a perceived threat, but faith has played a vital role in my ability to know when fear is useful and when it isn't.