A Most Difficult Year

“The first year I can remember in my lifetime where expectations are dashed, lives are thrown off course, and uncertainty is the norm rather than the exception is 2020.”

When you begin a new year, you expect the most out of it in terms of happiness, health, and opportunities. You hope for the best and pray to avoid the worst. However, there are going to be years that don’t live up to expectations and if anything, topple over any kind of expectations you had to begin on January 1st. The first year I can remember in my lifetime where expectations are dashed, lives are thrown off course, and uncertainty is the norm rather than the exception is 2020.

For the vast majority of people, 2020 has been a year to forget and to put behind us. Still though, there is a lot that we can and should learn from this year to make the next one a more forgiving and hopeful year. 2020 was a most difficult year and one long, seemingly almost never-ending ‘Black Mirror’ episode but I take solace in the fact that those of us who made it through this year are more resilient, better able to deal with uncertainty, and able to be happy with less instead of more.

We will always remember 2020 and while I am looking forward to putting it behind me, there are certain lessons to be drawn from a year like this one to ensure we never have a year as uniquely horrible as this one if only we start to change our behaviors and our actions collectively as a society. Beyond climate change, racial injustice, rampant inequalities, and a raging pandemic, there is also the sense that we are failing each other not just in terms of our institutions but also in terms of our commitment towards one another. Revitalizing faith, trust, and kindness as fundamental tenets of our society will be an important benchmark in seeing how much we have learned from the ills of 2020 and how not to repeat these failures in a future crisis of our own making.  

In a time where our institutions are increasingly unable to meet the challenges placed upon them, I hope we will recommit to them additional resources rather than letting them atrophy and decay after the pandemic is over. I think most of us have learned how necessary it is to have functioning and responsive institutions in a crisis and how much we can be hurt by not having them be available to us especially when time is of the essence. Institutions will only work as much as we allow them to so it’s up to us collectively to believe in them, to fund them properly, and to have leaders who will tell us the truth, understand our needs, and be able to respond effectively. When our institutions fail us, we are all put in the precarious position of relying heavily on our friends and our families, which is sometimes a luxury that not everyone has available to them.

Our personal connections cannot help us though when it comes to securing masks, getting us tests, or giving us financial relief when we have no other option. A pandemic shows us how vital it is to have both local and national institutions in place who can help and are there to help rather than leaving every man or woman for him or herself causing us to act more selfish or more distrustful of others. Pandemics can bring the best out of people and they can bring the worst out of people. It is my belief that this pandemic has shown us how much our institutions have become dysfunctional, how our leaders have been corrupted, and how our society has become way too individualistic especially in a time where cooperation and unity are so desperately needed.

Individuals have been heroic for all of us whether its health care workers, grocery store clerks, delivery people, teachers, first responders, etc. who have shown more care and urgency than many larger institutions who have taken months to actually do anything substantive to help people. They are doing their job well under extremely difficult circumstances and hopefully after this year, we will reward them more not just with our thanks but also with better treatment in terms of financial payment, respect, and providing them with more resources when they need them.

Those people on the frontlines like the rest of us have had to become much more resilient in the face of such difficult circumstances. As I have mentioned before in previous articles, Resiliency is one of the most important traits you can have in a year that has been so difficult. The ability to overcome challenges, break down barriers, and surpass obstacles has been so important in 2020 where our resiliency has been tested each and every day practically. Some have had to be more resilient than others, but we have all had to play our part in keeping each other healthy and safe.

Resiliency is also about keeping your spirits up, not letting yourself get too down, and reminding yourself that tough times don’t last forever but tough people do. If you thought you were going to make it through your entire life without facing a challenging or historic year, you would be mistaken. Whether it’s the Great Depression, World War II, or the tumultuous upheavals brought on by the 1960s or the end of the Cold War, each generation is inevitably going to face moments where their resiliency is tested, where comfort is hard to find, and where good days may be hard to come by.

However, if we can get through the hard years in our life like 2020, there’s not much you cannot overcome if you are able to maintain your resiliency. 2020 teaches us that life can go sideways, and that uncertainty is more part of the human conditions than we would like to admit. While we strive for some sense of predictability or comfort in our lives, we inherently know that is just not possible and that we are never guaranteed tomorrow. I hope 2020 also teaches us not to take anything for granted especially our health or our financial security.

Inevitably, we must always plan for uncertainty because it may be coming to us when we least expect it as it did in the early months of 2020. Whether it’s trying to save more money, keeping ourselves that much more physically fit, or keeping some extra food around the house in case of an emergency, I hope that we will plan for uncertainty to come our way again because you never know when it can rear its ugly head again.

Learning how to be more resilient and also knowing how to face uncertainty have been keys to overcoming 2020 but it’s also been about how to be more kind to others. You never know what someone else is going through, how they have been affected by the pandemic, and what they are risking by coming in to work every day when they can’t stay home. If you can’t be kind, then you shouldn’t say anything to anyone. Now, more than ever, it’s important to be kind to one another, to look out for your fellow man, to donate money if you are able to, and even if you’re feeling particularly generous, donate your time and effort to a food bank or a homeless shelter to help those most in need right now.

Also, be sure to check in on those people most close to you whether it’s a close friend, a family member, or someone who you are close to at your workplace or school. Now is the time to make sure everyone is doing as well as can be, that they are not isolated without hearing your voice or seeing your face virtually indefinitely. It is very hard to spend the holidays alone so now is the best time before a new year begins to check in on those people who matter to you the most. Lastly, do not forget to support your local businesses during these hard times whether it’s the mom-and-pop store down the street or your favorite restaurant since they could all use the business right now and it’s the right thing to do to support the economy.

Kindness is going to be even more important in the coming year than ever. Between economic troubles, a continuing pandemic, and political strife, it’s best to be kind always and to empathize with what other people are going through even if they are complete strangers. Give help to those you need and fight for those with less. Make sure you continue to hold people accountable for their actions whether it’s your neighbor next door or the mayor of your town or city. Only by strengthening the bonds of trust through kindness, honesty, and transparency can we begin to heal the divisions and disparities within our society.

The pandemic and other events in 2020 have shown us how important it is to work together, to look for one another, to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, and to deal with uncertainty and stay resilient as much as possible. I hope things get better for all of us in 2021 and I want to encourage everyone to follow the public health guidelines throughout next year.

Keep wearing a mask, stay socially distant, wash your hands frequently, take care of yourself physically with enough exercise and healthy eating. Make your New Year’s resolutions too if you believe in them so as to strive for new goals and opportunities in 2021. Be kind to others again, stay positive, and don’t let adversity throw you into despair.

I wish all of my readers a very Happy New Year and for a healthy, prosperous, and safe 2021 to come to each and every one of us.

Five Steps to Surviving City Life

Having spent the past eight years of my life living in different cities both here in the United States and overseas, you get accustomed to life in an urban environment and how to make the best of it. If you’re coming from a rural town or a suburb, adapting to a city can take months or even years when you’re not used to the frenetic scenes, fast-paced traffic, and always on the go mentality. A fact of this day and age is that the urban population around the world keeps increasing and a good amount of industries, jobs including in the high tech world are based out of cities.

According to the United Nations, over half of the world’s population, currently live in an urban environment. The exact percentage at this time is about 54% of the planet’s inhabitants. That percentage is expected to steadily increase to 66% of the world’s population by the year 2050. It is also estimated that over 2.5 billion more people will be living in the cities by mid-century and these people will be mostly concentrated in the continents of Asia and Africa. The 21st century may be remembered as the first truly urban century across the entire planet.

I bring these statistics and predictions up to you, dear reader, not to scare you but to enlighten you about what city life is like. The chances are good that if you’re reading this article that during your lifetime you’ll have to either live in a city or travel there occasionally for work or tourism purposes. By following the five steps outlined in my article, you’ll be able to adapt quicker to urban life and have an easier time adjusting to a city overall. As someone who has consistently lived in cities big and small since I was 18, I am speaking from almost a decade of experience now. Living in a city can be quite difficult at first but it can also be very rewarding both personally and professionally. I hope that these steps will help you to make better choices, live healthier, and stay out of trouble with the locals.

Here are my five steps to surviving city life:

  • Adapt to the local norms and customs.

Whether it’s waiting for someone to get off the train before you get on or standing to the right to let people pass you on the left as they go down the escalator, observing local norms and customs in cities is very important. From the experience I have of living in cities, it’s better to blend in than to stand out. When it comes to the dress code, metro etiquette, or how to tip at the restaurant, it’s best to “do what the Romans do.”

It may take some time to adjust and if you’re new in the city, people will understand that you’re not aware as to how things work exactly. In order to save yourself a lot of trouble and angst, it’s best not to fight against the way things are even if you disagree with them. Cities are essentially a living culture that is adaptable to change only when a significant part of the population there wants things to become different. The best way to get used to living in a new city is to be observant, asks the locals if you have any questions, and do your best to understand the local transportation system which leads me to my next step.

  • Use public transportation.

Depending on which city you’re living in, there’s likely to be a public transportation system made up of buses, trains, and local taxis. In addition, there’s also the new popularity of Uber, Lyft, and other ride-sharing services. In the modern city, there are plenty of ways to get around for cheaper than it costs to rent or own a car. The utility of walking or riding your bike in the city is also a great option and more environmentally friendly.

There are a few exceptions in terms of cities where it’s more sprawling and you would need to have a car but the majority of cities around the world encourage public transportation and its best not to have a car. If you need to get out of a car, there are rental car agencies galore as well as car sharing services that the urban dweller can use to get away from the hustle and bustle. In my opinion, owning a car in a city is expensive and a money sink. Between the cost of parking, the parking rules, and the higher cost of gasoline, it’s simply not worth it.

When you move to a new city, it’s important to take the time to learn the public transportation system especially for buses and trains. If you can afford to pay more, living in the center of the city will be more advantageous to getting around with public transportation. If you live on the outskirts of a city or outside of the city, then it’s more likely that you’ll need to have a car.

  • Do your best to meet new people.

Moving to a new city can be quite stressful and even lonely at times. If you’re new in the city and do not know anyone, that can be a real challenge. Luckily, I would say with the advent of the Internet, there are numerous groups out there especially for younger people in their 20s and 30s to meet like-minded people with similar interests and hobbies. One of the most popular websites for meeting new people is ‘Meetup.com.’

There are hundreds of groups in these cities that cater to professionals, artists, writers, entrepreneurs, sports fans, music fans, etc. Depending on how big the city you’re living in, the chances are good that you’ll find a group or two where you will have something in common with the people in the Meetup group. These groups are free to join usually and it’s a great way to make connections. I’m also quite partial to Couchsurfing, a website designed to help travelers around the world to get to know each other better and exchange stories about life on the road.

Usually, there are Facebook groups and local websites especially in the United States that focus on being social through sports. Whether its soccer (football), volleyball, kickball, etc., joining a social sports club is a good way to meet new people. The best way to meet people in a city though is just by opening your mouth and starting a conversation with someone who is a local. “I’m new here, what are the fun things to do in __________?” (name of city) That question alone should get the ball rolling.

  • Use common sense (Crime, Pollution, Weather).

Using common sense when it comes to living in a city is extremely important. Part of it comes down to doing your research about the neighborhood you’ll be living in, figuring out if there are any crime and/or safety issues to be aware of. Some cities also have an issue with air pollution and/or water pollution so it’s good to ask around about if it is safe to drink the water or if you need a mask to cover your face to breathe during certain times of the day. Being able to know what kind of climate a city has throughout the year is also key. There is a lot of information out there about the weather / climate zones that a city is located in.

For example, I knew that in Medellin, Colombia, there is a rainy and a dry season that changes depending upon the time of year. Otherwise, there would be no winter, snow, and the city would have a spring-time like climate otherwise. When I moved to Boston, I changed my mind set to reflect the new urban environment I would be living in. Instead of springtime weather year around, I would have to adjust to living in seasonal conditions again with colder winters and more humid summers.

Out of all the things that people overlook when moving to a new city in their country or outside of their country; it is adapting to the weather and climate conditions. Doing your research about crime, pollution, and the weather along with asking the locals is key to mastering this particular step. Also, it is key to know a little bit of information about each of the neighborhoods in your city and whether they are pretty safe or not. If you have children, knowing about the city schools should be high on your priority list.

  • Get out of the city occasionally.

I know from my own personal experiences that city life can be really rewarding but also quite stressful. You’re interacting with hundreds of strangers each day who you don’t know that well and are often going through life at a frantic pace. It can be overwhelming to our senses especially when it comes to all of the light, noise, traffic, and the amount of people nearby. Cities can also feel claustrophobic at times. That is why my last step focuses on getting out of your comfort zone to leave the city every now and then. Mixing it up to be in a more rural area with mountains or in a small town by the sea can really do you a world of good. In all honesty, cities are not the most natural environment for human beings to be in all of the time.

Collectively, we really need to be in nature whether its’ in the woods, in the mountains, or by the sea. Going for a hike, doing some fishing at the lake, or relaxing with a book at the beach are really good ways to help our mental health especially if you spend 90% of your time in a city. On top of that, being able to get some exercise and being outdoors will do you a world of good both mentally and physically. Even if it costs you some money and a rental car, leaving the city can be very beneficial to surviving city life. If you’re reading this article and haven’t been to either the mountains, the lakes, the rivers, or the beaches in a while, consider doing so if possible.

I’m quite confident that if you follow each of these five steps, you’ll be able to survive life in the city. Even if you’re only able to one or two of them, you’re setting yourself on the right path to developing a healthier mindset when it comes to urban living. I hope this article helps you and feel free to leave me a comment below if you have any further questions. I’d be happy to answer to the best of my ability.