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New Habits Learned in 2020 (So Far)

Not only has 2020 seemed to last at least a decade so far, but sometimes, it can also feel like there is no relief on the horizon. A common not-really-funny quip I have been seeing around is a wish to get back to precedented times. I’d love a boring week!

But racing through this time to get to the normalcy at the other side means losing out on the important moments and lessons that 2020 is giving us. So, I’ve been thinking about the parts of my life in this odd year that I plan to keep once things stop being quite so dire:

Giving

I am very lucky to have a well-established work from home career, as well as a spouse who can easily do his work from the basement office (which is actually a storage room filled with home improvement supplies, a folding lawn chair, and his computer, because that’s how we roll).

This means we were in a good position to increase our charitable giving—to the point where I realized we should have been giving at this level long before the world went FOOM. Some of our increased giving came from the fact that we are spending less on other activities that would normally be part of daily spending, but it mostly came from me recognizing that I have the room in our budget and the ability to give more generously.

I want to make this habit of giving a permanent part of our lives, even after the current crisis has died down.

If you are similarly moved to give, now or in the future, I would recommend the following excellent organizations that need our help combatting hunger, illness, injustice, and systemic racism:

World Central Kitchen

Heart to Heart International

NAACP

Southern Poverty Law Center

Black Lives Matter

RAICES

HIAS

Increased Tipping

Similar to the above change, another habit that I’ve picked up during the quarantine is tipping delivery personnel and restaurant workers at least 20%. I am ashamed to admit that I was never an extravagant tipper when receiving grocery deliveries or picking up carryout from restaurants. This was true despite the fact that I’ve known about the kinds of shenanigans several delivery services have engaged in to avoid giving their drivers a living wage. And I used to think tipping for picking up food myself was unnecessary.

The coronavirus has taught me just how privileged my attitude was. Even without a global pandemic, getting Instacart delivery or carryout is asking someone else to do work that I’m unwilling to do myself, and so I should pay those folks for it.

I would much prefer the companies and restaurants to increase their prices and take tipping out of the equation altogether, because no one’s livelihood should depend on whether or not a customer is feeling generous. But until that happens, I will continue to tip at least 20% for the convenience of getting things delivered or cooked for me. And I will increase my tipping for restaurant dining, as well, once I feel comfortable returning to it. Waitstaff will be risking their own health to serve me, so I should tip them generously.

Daily Walks

One of my resolutions for 2020 was to take my sweet greyhound Tivo for a daily 45-minute walk.

I was doing fairly well with this resolution before things shut down, but I would often have two or three days each week when I felt like I couldn’t afford the time. I had kids to get to school on time, deadlines to meet, carpools to run, and the like. When I felt overwhelmed, I’d tell Tivo we’d have to wait for the next day for our jaunt around the neighborhood.

One of the few benefits of the current situation is that I felt released from daily time crunches, which made it much easier for me to make sure I take Tivo on our daily walk. And I’ve found that making sure this daily date happens improves my mood and gives me time each day to get out of my own head and the doom-and-gloom news.

When things open up more, I want to make sure I keep this habit going, both for Tivo’s and my benefit.

Passionate Dedication to Anti-Racism

It has been heartening to see a sweeping change in sentiment across the United States (and the world) in regards to Black Lives Matter. I have seen such a change in myself, as well. While I have always supported the movement, it was on the back burner in my head. I felt that voting and occasional donations were enough to show my support.

Not only do I want to keep hold of the level of passion I feel now, I want to make sure that this passion remains strong throughout our society. We are seeing major changes that can be good first steps toward reckoning with our country’s history of systemic and overt racism. But I don’t want the first steps to be considered enough. We can’t dust our hands and say “mission accomplished!” after seeing confederate monuments toppled and Juneteenth finally recognized on a much larger scale.

To that end, I’m personally going to continue to challenge myself to read and interact with anti-racism and work to maintain my current comfort with discomfort. Change can’t happen when we’re comfortable, and our culture is set up specifically to center the comfort of folks like me—so I want to make sure I continue to passionately embrace my own discomfort.

The Recognition That Money Isn’t Real

I’ve talked before about the fact that money isn’t real, but instead a delusion we all share. But even though I know that money doesn’t actually exist, I still tend to think of solutions to problems within the framework of money. Before coronavirus, my thoughts would run into a brick wall anytime I thought about things like simply giving homeless people housing. How could we afford such a step?

But something funny happens when millions of people become unemployed and unable to pay rent pretty much overnight. Suddenly, it’s abundantly clear that the money-centric system we live in is a choice that we have made, and we can make different choices. Putting a moratorium on evictions during a pandemic made it clear that we don’t have to accept a system that requires people to risk their health in order to survive.


Now that I’m used to recognizing that money isn’t real, I want to keep this thought pattern in mind even after we get back to “normal.” Realizing that lack of will rather than lack of money is the real stumbling block will make a major difference in how I and our entire country faces major problems in the future.

Connection

Despite being quarantined, I have gotten to connect to others in ways I would never have anticipated.

I’m video chatting with an old friend from college twice a month now, even though we hadn’t spoken since graduation. That never would have happened without this major life disruption, and I don’t want to lose the habit of reaching out to old friends.


I’m meeting my book club every other week on video chat, instead of our usual once-a-month in-person meetings.


I’m feeling a kind of we’re-all-in-this-together solidarity with so many friends, family, colleagues, and even strangers as we try to navigate this strange world together.

I hope to keep these moments of connection in the future so that I don’t allow busyness to keep me from slowing down and truly seeing my friends, whether or not we’re physically together.

Being in This Moment

Usually, when we think of being present in the current moment, we’re imagining our presence in good moments: putting down the smartphone to play with your kids or looking up during your walk to see the gorgeous goldfinch building a nest.

But it’s just as important to be present in a negative moment, as well. Numbing ourselves to this moment in the hopes that we’ll get to the other side of it without feeling the awfulness doesn’t work (although no judgment if you need to have numb moments, days, or even weeks just to survive).

Thinking through what parts of this particular moment in time are worth keeping can make the truly awful parts easier to bear, as well as help us to be better, do better, and have better once “precedented times” have resumed.

We have the chance to learn and find moments of joy from this time. Let’s take it.

What will you hold onto from 2020?

Note from Emily:

Things are chaotic right now. People are losing jobs or learning to work from home, kids are schooling online, and money is tight for a lot of families.

I want to help. Book a free 15-minute call with me and we’ll create a plan for how you can weather this difficult time. I can guide you through getting your financials in order, creating a plan for your stimulus check or just help you prioritize your bills.

Simple, easy, no catch, no push to hire me for more. I just want to help you be as financially secure as possible through all of this. Find a time and book your call here.

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Milwaukee, WI

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© 2020 by Emily Guy Birken