The past month or so has been a struggle. I’ve mentioned before that I took the decision not to go back to the UK in October when my half term trip to Paris was cancelled. I just knew a Christmas in the UK was looking incredibly unlikely and risky and I didn’t want to be a risk. Because I had made my decision quite a while ago, I had gone through the period of sadness and upset and was feeling quite ok with my decision. Or so I thought. Once some colleagues had decided they were returning to UK and talked openly about this, I felt somewhat aggrieved and upset about what I would be missing out on. But everyone has their own decisions to make and their own reasons for those decisions, which we aren’t always let in on and we must respect that.
And yet, as I sit here, on the 27th, all alone in my apartment with a burst water pipe, I actually don’t feel sad for what has been lost this year but grateful for what I have instead. In actual fact, I think Christmas 2020, although strange and very very different, has allowed us all the opportunity to take stock, reflect and fully appreciate all that we take for granted normally.
Now, as someone famous once said, here’s the science part – a bit of Maslow as a frame of reference.
For starts, physiologically – aside from free flowing running water LOL, I have a roof over my head, food on my plate, clothes on my body, a bed to sleep in and fresh air to inhale – from the balcony at the moment, at least.
I am fortunate, as are the majority of you, that I am safe – I have job security and have lived in 2020 with a steady income when others have not been so fortunate. I am also massively appreciative of my health in a year in which most people will have seen a loved one or an acquaintance pass.
The thing I am most grateful for and appreciative of is the love and kindness of friends and of strangers. I have a wonderful family, who although several thousand miles away, have rang several times over the Xmas break to check I am ok. I have the most gorgeous of friends – my work besties who changed the location of our lunch out because they knew it would be too hard for me to get to the original location. I have friends, here in Rome, who have invited me to theirs over Xmas (before the tighter restrictions came into play). One good friend, from outside of school, even bought the Queen to lunch to bring a bit of home that bit closer. I have had friends privately message me to check in on me and make sure I am doing ok. And others who have arranged Zoom calls to catch up and laugh with. I have not been short of company despite being in an apartment alone. Although I am more cautious about people nowadays – I shun invites out and am massively introverted in large groups of people – during this period I have really come to appreciate the quality of friends that I have let into my life.
And then we get to esteem. Defined as respect, status, recognition, strength and freedom. I end the year with this intact. I started the academic year as Head of English and at the start of the 2nd half term, I handed my notice in. Briefly, I saw this as a moment of weakness. But, thanks to my coach – the incredible Hannah Wilson, I have actually come to realise what a sign of strength this is. I decided to stop doing the role because it wasn’t bringing me joy. And it is joy that drives me forward now. And joy, for me, doesn’t derive from a title, a position, working 24/7 or being the one who steers the ship. Joy, for me, comes through the things that sometimes, as the wonderful new film Soul illustrates, we fail to fully appreciate or make time for in life. Travel, wine, good food, theatre, music, a good book, family and friends, a long walk, clouds, art, a mug of coffee, a beautiful building, playing the piano, sitting by a lake. And in 2020, I feel we have all been tasked with reflecting upon the importance of these simple joys so that we can become more openly, more regularly, more fully appreciative of these things in 2021.
And so we arrive at self-actualization. Defined as the ‘realization or fulfilment of one’s talents and potentialities’ (Oxford) or ‘a person’s desire to use all their abilities to achieve and be everything that they possibly can’ (Cambridge), the definitions would have us believe that the acquirement of our goals is the process of self-actualization. And, in reality, many of us will have not achieved all that we set out to this year. However, self-actualization, for me rather, is about knowing oneself and this year – through all its challenges, set backs and the barriers we have all had to overcome, I can’t help but feel that we all have grown to know ourselves just that little bit better and become stronger for it. Because of the many many difficult experiences in this, the most challenging of years, I feel the most certain about myself that I have ever felt. I know myself better, I understand myself better and I am more content than ever. I am the strongest I have ever been. And that, for me, is good enough when it comes to self-actualization.
So as 2020 draws to a close and we reflect upon the most challenging of years, we should also reflect and appreciate just how much this year has changed us – how it has strengthened us and how it has empowered us to begin 2021 with an indomitable will and a newly found zest and appreciation for life, when life begins once more.