Guest blog by Amanda Sutton
As I reflect on 2020, I am curious how this time will be remembered in the future. It is not the first time that a global pandemic has occurred, and I am sure it will not be the last, but this is the first time in my life where the whole world seemed to come to a screeching halt. As someone who thrives on productivity, it was especially difficult in the beginning. Up until the Stay-At-Home order was issued for our state, I was working 40-50 hours a week, commuting 2.5 hours a day, volunteering for a local non-profit, going out to the barn to take care of my horse, juggling a crammed social calendar…the list goes on and on. Events with friends and family were penciled into the calendar weeks in advance and days were spent planning for the next. Then, COVID-19 hit and everything changed. Work slowed as we all tried to figure out what to do next. Social gatherings stopped as we discovered that interacting with others might be dangerous. ”Essential” took on a whole new meaning in so many ways.
Gratitude was something that was an afterthought for me. Of course I was grateful for my life and the people in it, but there was so much that I took for granted. I rarely paused to reflect on myself or my life. 2020 has been an awful year for so many reasons, but I am grateful for it because it allowed me to refocus on what was really important. My friends and family, my pets, my community, my health. The things in my life, no matter how small, that make me smile. The way the bartender at my favorite restaurant makes my favorite “fancy” cocktails and the food is ALWAYS amazing. The sound of my friends all laughing together at something silly. The way my mom always answers the phone in the same voice or the way my dad always calls me “princess” when he says hello. The way my cat flips over on her back for belly rubs every time I walk in the room and the sound of the horses chewing on hay while meadow larks sing in the pasture. Small things that I took for granted before became the bright spots that got me through the dark times of this year.
Don’t get me wrong, 2020 has been the most stressful and exhausting year of my life and I will not miss it. However, the silver lining is that it shook me out of the cycle I was in. The trap we can all get caught up in. Running from one thing to the next, so focused on the climb that we don’t enjoy the view. Getting so busy that we don’t see everything we have. 2020 has reminded me of all that I have to be grateful for and how incredibly lucky I am. I live in a place where I feel safe, I have a warm home, happy pets, loving friends and family, access to healthcare and food, clean water, and a hot shower. While some people have handled stress better than others, this year has brought out the good in people. Friends and neighbors helping each other and supporting each other. Asking how someone is doing feels more like a genuine question filled with caring support as opposed to an automated greeting. I feel closer to the people in my life even though we remain at least 6 feet apart.
I can’t help but feel optimistic about 2021. Clichés come to mind like, “it’s always darkest before the dawn” or “you can’t have rainbows without some rain.” Honestly, I think the optimism comes from a better sense of myself and knowing that I can handle whatever the next year has in store. I don’t think I will go back to the way things were before and that is a good thing. I have realized that running from sunrise to sunset doesn’t make me happy. That setting boundaries to protect my health and sanity is necessary and acceptable. That I am happiest when I can help take care of others. This year has taught me how truly important it is to practice gratitude for the simple, happy moments in life; to live in the moment with refreshed awareness that the future is always uncertain. I will always be grateful for that.
Guest blog by CJ
For me, it’s the small things that have made life in 2020 bearable. Even when things seem hopeless, I know I can always look back on the kindness others have bestowed upon me and remember that everything will be okay. I’m here to share a few of the things in my life that have inspired me, and I hope it helps you remember some of the small but impactful things that have happened to you as well. We could all use a reminder of the good things in life!
Before I started college, I was worried about finances. How could I not be worried? My whole life I heard college is insanely expensive and student loans were horrible. I couldn’t see a way around any of this and it weighed heavy. Luckily, at my high school graduation, received an extremely generous offer to pay for all of my textbooks from one of my family members! As you can imagine, that took a huge weight off my shoulders. (If you’ve ever had to buy college textbooks, you know how generous this offer truly is.) Although the expense occurs a few times a year, her spreading kindness in this way took my stress away and for that I couldn’t be more thankful.
Fast forward to my second semester of college. I stepped out of my dorm room to pick up my laundry and when I came back my roommate told me someone she didn’t recognize dropped off a letter for me. Strange, but I opened it. The card said “You’re doing great, keep it up!” with $40 in cash inside (which feels like a hundred when you make $9/hour). No indication at all of who it was from. I had a suspicion of who it was and figured they sent a random person to deliver the card. I never figured it out and felt guilty that I couldn’t thank them, but it speaks so much to their character that they did not need credit. I still remember it to this day. Sometimes, things are even more impactful when you do it out of the kindness of your heart and don’t need credit as hard as that may be.
Being on the receiving end of kindness is wonderful but giving back kindness is just as important and can have the same positive impact. It’s for that reason that I love the atmosphere of a college campus. By simply walking from one place to another, I’m usually greeted by at least one person or a group handing out candy or telling me to have a great day. Some of them even go as far as to bring shelter dogs to the campus for students to play with. Though most of these people are trying to advertise or spread awareness of their club or organization that doesn’t make their actions any less kind. In fact, I think it’s great they’ve discovered kindness as the best way to get through to people.
I found a small club at my university called the “Kindness Commission” which does a lot of these same things, but for the sole purpose of being kind. We write messages in chalk all over the sidewalks, put up fliers, and give out treats (typically with cute but cheesy puns attached) just to make people’s day. It’s fun! I’m convinced I gain just as much joy seeing someone smile after being given a nice little message as I would having been given one myself. This is one of the ways I see myself paying forward the kindness I receive and I think everyone should try to do that as well. The best part is that it can be easy and take very little time! For me, it’s just like being in any other club, but with the addition of spreading positivity to those around me.
I know most of these experiences directly relate to being a college student (which only some can relate to), but I know for a fact that kind things are happening everywhere and can be done anywhere. I hope my little stories were entertaining and maybe reminded you of similar things that have happened in your life. Let those things inspire you to be a better person and spread kindness!
What small acts do you do to bring joy to someone’s day?
Guest blog by SJ
A few months ago, I tested positive for COVID-19. The worst part wasn’t being sick, in fact, I was fortunate to have extremely mild symptoms, but I’m a teacher. I unknowingly exposed over 25 people (most of them kids and a few co-workers). I was devastated, embarrassed, and ashamed. As I was quarantining, I received messages from parents, co-workers, and friends asking how my day was going, if there was anything I needed, and just to let me know I was on their minds. I sincerely believe those messages helped me change my outlook on my current situation. I made a mid-year resolution to stop watching from the sidelines and become that person who lifts others.
It wasn’t long until I found myself on the other side of the coin, it is 2020 after all. I have held to my newly discovered resolution and I have made a bigger effort to let others know they are not alone. As a result, my relationships with others have grown stronger.
All it takes is a quick message to make someone’s day brighter. Not only is it free, but it makes a big difference. If we all take a moment to pay it forward, we can impact more people than we ever imagined. -SJ
With The holidays fast approaching, I’m reminded of one of my favorite childhood memories. Our family used to celebrate Thanksgiving, not just the day, but the whole week! Our week was filled with family, crafts, Charlie Brown, and leftovers. A classic classroom craft was the hand turkey; each person placed a hand on top of an orange piece of construction paper and carefully traced it with a brown crayon. Then we’d glue colorful feathers along the traced fingers and finish it off by drawing a beak and an eye on the tip of our traced thumb. It was magical how our little hand could transform into a turkey! The best part was showing off our masterpieces to our classmates. Giggles, camaraderie and joy filled the classroom. Most importantly, we celebrated each other’s work – together.
The night before Thanksgiving, my little sister and I would watch A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving on network television. In the early 1980’s it was the only time of the year we could watch a show and a cartoon in the evening, which was a real treat. We’d get in our jammies and share a big bowl of popcorn. Most importantly, we enjoyed the show – together.
Every Thanksgiving, Mom would cook a feast and Dad would carve the turkey. He had a special turkey carving kit. It contained a large knife and fork with beautiful wooden handles which were stored safely in a teal fabric covered box. I saw this kit only twice a year on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Dad would save the “wishbone”, from the turkey. He’d clean it and set it out to dry overnight. The next morning, my sister and I would each grab an end tightly with our little hands. Dad would begin a countdown three… we’d close our eyes…two… we’d make a wish… one… as soon as he yelled “PULL” we’d tug hard until the wishbone broke. Whoever ended up with the larger piece was believed to have their wish come true. Most importantly – we wished together.
Over the next few days, Mom would get creative with leftovers and try to disguise the remaining turkey in unique ways. She made pot pies, casseroles, soups, and sandwiches. It all tasted like the same turkey to us, but it didn’t matter. We ate what we were provided. Most importantly – we ate together.
As the years moved on and my sister and I went away to college, Thanksgiving held even more meaning. The crafts were no longer a staple in school, and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving was an afterthought, but we were always home as a family. It was always Mom, Dad, my little sister, me and the wishbone. It felt safe and comforting. Most importantly – we were safe together.
Thanksgiving has gotten a little more complex in my adult years. My parents are still together, happily married after 50 years, and my sister and I have formed our own families and boy how they have expanded! There are now in-laws to split time with, often resulting in two different meals. And, after some time family members moved out of state spreading apart our once cozy clique.
One year my Mom and Dad came to stay over Thanksgiving. It was a real treat to have them come out to visit. I promised to be that year’s host, so I also invited the in-laws to join us. It was the first Thanksgiving I had ever hosted and I knew it was important. There were nearly 20 people gathered that Thanksgiving. I studied up for weeks on how to cook a turkey and make homemade stuffing. It was a lot of work! I was so grateful my Mom was there to coach and cheer me on, and of course Dad was there to carve the turkey.
Until I put myself in the hostess’s shoes, I truly had no idea how much planning, prepping and shuffling it took to pull off a successful Thanksgiving meal. I had one oven, four stovetop burners and a crockpot. All were full and required specific timing. I told Mom over and over how much I appreciated all the work she put into preparing the Thanksgiving meals all those years. In the end it was a success! I slept really well that night. However, I forgot one important thing, the wishbone. That’s when I realized I’ve lost a bit of what the Thanksgiving spirit was for me.
That was the last Thanksgiving I shared with my parents, and it’s been years since I spent a Thanksgiving with my sister. Time has flown by. I’d come to accept that is how it will be from now on. We make the obligatory holiday phone calls and then I gather with my husband’s family for dinner. That’s how holiday celebrations turned out and I was okay going with the flow.
This year, because of COVID-19, my husband’s family’s Thanksgiving dinner has been cancelled. When I think back to what I am missing, I realize it’s the childhood spirit I had with my parents and sister growing up. It’s always great to have a Thanksgiving meal together, but it’s the magic that surrounded the meal that made it special to me. Sharing the hand turkey with classmates, watching A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving with popcorn, eating turkey leftovers, and breaking the wishbone.
This is the year I will revive the Thanksgiving spirit I lost so many years ago. This year, I truly understand what gratitude is for me. We are alive and well. We are safe. We are loved. Thanksgiving is not just a turkey dinner, it’s an experience. It’s a time to reflect on family and friends. This year I plan to look through pictures, write heartfelt letters of gratitude and make SEVERAL phone calls to the ones I love.
We will bring back the giggling, the camaraderie, and the joy. Most importantly – we will do it together.
What traditions or memories will you revive this Thanksgiving?
Guest blog by Amy
2020 has been an interesting year for sure. At the end of 2019 and into 2020 began with being put on a performance improvement plan from a manager who had not the first clue how to manage, or how to be a team member for that matter. After the announcement in March of COVID-19 lockdown and our whole office relocating to work from home, I found that work became more stressful. I pondered how that could be possible. Why is this more stressful? I am away from a lot of the drama, this should be a good thing, right? The fact was that my manager was even more involved in every task and because I did not have a commute, I was working more hours than normal. Then in August, my manager finally got what she wanted. I was let go. Never had I experienced any disciplinary actions, negative responses, issues of any kind in my career. People that have worked with me in the past know that I take pride in my work and I put much of myself into my work. I took this as a failure. I kicked myself and tore myself down mentally (not that there was much left after my manager finished with me.) It did not feel real, but it was very much real.
I was angry for a while, I squeezed out a few tears and ultimately kept to myself. I was not in a positive space. But then I realized that I was pushing away the very thing that I needed – my support group. I had friends reaching out to me regularly to check and see how I was doing. I even had coworkers from my previous place of employment reach out to see how I was doing and share that work was not the same without me and that I was missed. I thrive off the energy of others and with COVID and now being jobless I was doing the worst thing for myself, blocking everyone out.
It is easy to fall into a dark place – you will sink like quicksand.
I started reaching out to my friends and my business network. I started connecting again with the people I know and love, and I realized that I am valued, I am appreciated, and I am loved. I needed to remember that I know myself. I needed to tap into the most important resource you can have – people.
Find your passion, lean on the people you know will support you and remember who you are. If you are stuck in quicksand use Thank Forward as a rope and start pulling yourself out. You are important. You have value. You can conquer anything with gratitude. – Amy