A year ago, if you told me that my favorite restaurants, half my friends and my crossfit gym would be taken from me, I would have freaked out. But not only do I not miss them, I think I might actually be happier without them.
In my book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, I wrote that it’s only by losing something that you can determine how much you value it. Therefore, the best strategy for determining what truly matters to you is by cutting things out of your life, then seeing what you miss and what you don’t.
Early in the year, I wrote that the pandemic was about to offer an excellent opportunity for all of us to experiment with this. Whether we wanted it or not, we were about to lose access to a lot of activities, events, hobbies, and friendships that we were accustomed to having whenever we wanted. At the time, I predicted that many people would be surprised by both who/what they missed, and who/what they did not miss.
This experience was, by far, the single most common experience reported. Hundreds of people said that they didn’t miss their work, hobbies, or favorite events. Some even discovered they didn’t miss many of their friends and family. Many reported that much of what they spent their lives doing pre-pandemic was not who they actually wanted to be. Some made the startling discovery that they hadn’t really known who they were!
As one young reader said, “I finally learned what my hobbies are. I spent so much time focusing on school before that I never really thought about who I am outside of the school setting.”
A woman from the Netherlands had a similar discovery: “The thing I learned this year is how much I have been going against my nature all my life. I have always suspected it, but now I fully understand how much of an introvert I am. When everything got cancelled, I realized I had been burning up socially for years. In lockdown my friends were suffering. They just wanted to go out, but couldn’t. And I… was fine?”
This discovery was common. People who thought they were extroverted realized they were introverted. People who believed they were introverts discovered they were actually quite extroverted. In both cases, people realized that much of what they thought was their personality was merely molded by social pressures.
One young man said, “I always thought I was okay being alone, but this pandemic showed me how much I need people around me. It’s actually bugging me how lonely I feel, even when I’m able to talk to people every day. I had never realized how needy I could be.”
But perhaps the biggest effect of no longer having a full schedule of activities to distract people from themselves was how many came to the realization that for many years they had been avoiding some ugly shit in their own lives.
As one reader put it, “I have spent years running from addressing depressive and anxious symptoms. When there were no social distractions or trips to plan, there was nowhere to hide from myself.”
Another said he discovered that he had probably been a highly-functioning alcoholic for many years, but it was only in isolation in the spring that he was forced to accept that his drinking wasn’t just a social activity, it was a real problem.
And a number of readers were forced to confront the fact that they were not happy in their marriages for the first time.
This theme of self-discovery will continue to surface throughout this article and play a part in many of the other lessons. Some of these realizations will be positive and joyous. Others will be dark and upsetting. But, in each case, by stripping away what we took for granted, the challenges of 2020 clarified for people who they actually are.