Personal Alchemy: Why 2020 Didn’t Suck

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Alchemy, a form of speculative thought that, among other aims, tried to transform base metals such as lead or copper into silver or gold and to discover a cure for disease and a way of extending life. (Encyclopedia Britannica)

A common refrain these days is that 2020 was a terrible year; strife-riven, pandemic-ravaged, polarized and destructive. This is often followed by a vague appeal to 2021 to save us, to be a ‘better’ year, a chance to reset and go again. To get back to normal.

But I offer that we don’t need a new year to save us. And that 2020 didn’t suck. Why? Because 2020 isn’t a thing. Nor is 2021. They’re measures of time, and measures of time are objective. It is we who give them value. Whether a period of time felt ‘good’ or ‘bad’ to you comes down to how you think – how your mind works. It isn’t what happens that matters, it’s what you think about what happens. And what you then choose to do about it.

What 2020 did for many, for the vast majority who were impacted by recent events in fact, was to disrupt their routine. And disruption, for many, is painful. But does it need to be? Is there an alternative perspective we could take on this past 11 months?

Yes; there always is.

The idea of alchemy is that of consciously-driven change from one state to another: a positive process of willful improvement. And chemical change requires the, sometimes explosive, interaction of elements and the introduction of catalysts – what would be called ‘inciting events’ in storytelling – to bring about transmutation. Lead to gold.

The events of 2020 were, for so many people around the world, a catalyst. Like it or not, people were shocked out of their familiar routines: businesses collapsed; freedoms were taken away; arguments raged; economies buckled; jobs were lost and lives too.

Many railed at the world and shook their fists impotently at the monstrous beast that was 2020.

Others chose to turn lead to gold.

For what better opportunity to re-evaluate your job, your society, your routines, your entire life, than when you have no choice but to re-evaluate?

We are creatures of habit, and thus finding the will to enact positive change in our lives seems to be increasingly difficult. Perhaps this is to do with the distracted nature of modern living, but so often we are content to accept our own personal status quo even though we know full well it is not our best state; that we are not living even remotely close to our full potential. After all, as Dan Millman so wonderfully said, moderation is the devil’s reasonable deception.

So to be presented with a set of circumstances that quite literally ends our routines for us – in this case forcing hundreds of millions of individuals to cease their usual day-to-day, then to have to face large swathes of time with access to fewer distractions, rethinking how to spend their days and choosing carefully with whom to spend them, and assessing what really matters – is possibly the most powerful opportunity for sudden and lasting change we will encounter in our lifetime.

That’s a gift: a catalyst for a process of personal alchemy, with the outcome dependent solely on how you choose to shape the process. But what chemical ingredients will you mix together to influence the outcome of the experiment?

Will you let harmful substances contaminate the process? Blame. Anger. Despair. Fear. Self-pity. Resentment.

Or will you choose to pour more productive and proactive reagents, carefully and deliberately, into the test tube?

Opportunity. Action. Resilience. Solution-oriented thinking. Courage. Hope.

I know many people who chose the latter, who in fact see 2020 as the best year of their life: some because it forced them to leave a job they disliked; others because it helped them face the fact that their relationship wasn’t right – or was; yet others who simply needed an enforced break, a change of routine, or a nudge to help them reassess.

Are these people right to see 2020 as gold? Yes. Just as those who see it as lead are also right.

The difference is in the alchemy.

There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so. – Hamlet, William Shakespeare

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