Jahnavi Shah

PhD Student, Planetary Science

2020 Highlights & Hindsights

Hi all,

Happy new year! With the start of the new year, I would like to take some time to reflect on the past year. I imagine 2020 was collectively a difficult year for obvious reasons. It was a particularly difficult one for me; the year was nothing like the one I had mentally planned nor something I could have ever imagined. There were very high and very low points. However, I still learned a lot from the events of the past year. Here are some of my reflections.


1. Practicing gratitude

One or two months into quarantine, I started listening to a podcast ‘The Happiness Lab’ by Dr. Laurie Santos through which I learned about keeping a gratitude log as a way to increase one’s happiness. I wanted to try this out so I started my first gratitude book (mainly as a way to find the positive notes during early pandemic/quarantine time). But as time went on, it wasn’t really just about the pandemic anymore. I genuinely liked the concept of noting down little things that made me smile each day. Sometimes when I would forgot to make entries, I want to think I could notice a difference. Overall, I think it was a good experiment and I’m personally satisfied with the results, and hoping to continue this little personal project. I might try to think of another way of journaling though, something a bit more portable than a fairly large notebook.

2. Birdwatching
Over the summer I got into backyard birdwatching which I know I have mentioned before. At first, it was genuine curiosity and then it turned into a means to stay active and spend some outdoors. Now, it’s molded into a version of both. Sometimes, I’ll go on dedicated bird walks/hikes and getting outdoor time along with it. And sometimes, I’ll go on a walk for fresh air and try to look out for birds. Spending some time on this new hobby over the past few months has significantly developed my interest in birds and I’m learning a lot. I’ve recently started reading a book called ‘The Genius of Birds’ by Jennifer Ackerman which talks about the intelligence of birds. Hoping to share my thoughts once I’ve read the book completely. Reflecting on this highlight a bit further, I’m realizing that birdwatching is a placeholder for giving time to hobbies. I’ve started dedicating some time of my week to other hobbies such as painting and reading. This is not something I’ve done in the past, but hoping to make a it a habit.


1. Information overload

In effort to make sense of the situation/pandemic in early March, I think I spent the first week or two of quarantine exclusively reading and watching COVID-19-related news. To me, at the time, it seemed like a good way to feel like I had control of things because I would know what was going on around me. But that did not fan out as planned. I mean I learned many things however it was not good for my health. It was information overload! I think I had mentally exhausted myself, especially because I took it upon myself to share what I read/heard with friends and family and have discussions about it (not a good idea). At that time, no one really had an idea of what was going on and we were still in transition mode (to work from home). So after I realized that my approach was not sustainable, I refrained from checking all updates, and limited myself to key news once a day which later turned into a couple times a week at most. Now, I mainly keep up with news to figure out what level of quarantine my area and to vaguely know what’s going on around the world. There are still a lot of moving pieces, now that different variants of the virus have been found. I want to recall the lesson from last time and give myself only necessary information.

2. Compassion
The events of this year have really taught me to be more compassionate, not only towards others but myself as well. Given that we were in strict quarantine early in the year, I was quick to judge people’s social decisions at times. This is partly because I was afraid and partly because of lack of clear communication about safe practices from health and government officials. But over time, I recognized that everyone was doing the best they can to be safe, and sane at the same time. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fan of people who were being obviously unsafe and reckless, but not everything was as extreme. In addition, I didn’t have to be as strict with myself as I was. Again, this came from a place of fear and not knowing how make sense of the situation. But it was important for me to realize that things are hard and it’s okay to mess up sometimes. Another way I learned to be more self-compassionate was realizing that it’s okay to not be the most productive during a pandemic. However, I’m not letting that drive to an extreme either. I’ve had some time to set up the work from home physical and mental space in way that can be more productive now.

There are many other reflections from 2020 but these were the some of the ones that came to mind (and also the ones I felt comfortable sharing with everyone). Here’s hoping 2021 is full of learning, growing, and a little less chaotic than 2020.

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