Life lessons learned in the year of the global pandemic

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By Starlett Quarles

Contributing Columnist

The tone of 2020 was set with the tragic deaths of Kobe and Gianna Bryant in late January.

At the time we were devastated and heartbroken; and not yet distracted by the wrath of COVID-19. And as we all joined the world in mourning this horrific loss; little did we know how much worse it was going to get. Our lives, as we knew them, would be drastically changed forever.

Not only would we be forced to adhere to such physical challenges as social isolation, home quarantining and maintaining a distance of six feet apart; we would also be forced to undergo major paradigm shifts on what we valued and appreciated — both personally and as a people.

Without explanation, 2020 has to be the worst year in American history. We’ve experienced so much loss, and in such a short period of time. We’ve lost life, employment, income, family structure and relationships, just to name a few. We’ve been humbled and forced to face life on life’s terms.

Our new normal has completely changed from such things as casually hanging out with friends, eating at restaurants or attending concerts; to now the daily ritual of wearing masks, constantly washing our hands and maintaining our required distance from each other. For many of us, it’s been a rough 2020. One we will never forget. In fact, many of us would even say that 2020 was the year that changed their life forever.

However, even though this year was the absolute worst, we have to admit there were still some “silver linings;” and beautiful lessons learned that have helped us to grow and evolve. Now some of these lessons were extremely hard and challenging, but we made it through. And we all know, change is not easy, but always necessary.

So with my “2020 Vision” I want to address five life lessons I believe we learned from during the year of the global pandemic: living with less, the power of technology, the birth of community creativity, an appreciation of time and the impact of mobilizing the Black community.

Lesson 1: Remember when your parents tried to teach you the value of a dollar? Well if you didn’t learn it then, you definitely learned that lesson in 2020. As a direct result of COVID-19, many of us unfortunately lost our jobs and businesses; and for the first time had to apply for unemployment, get our groceries from food banks or seek government assistance.

While humbling and extremely challenging, 2020 was the year we learned how to live on less. We cut out non-essential spending and canceled unnecessary auto pay subscriptions and memberships. We ate out less, and cooked at home more. In 2020 not only did we learn how to save and conserve; but we also learned the difference between living a lifestyle and just living.

Lesson 2: Socially we were isolated and distanced, leaving many of us feeling disconnected from our family, friends and the life we once knew. But in 2020 we truly learned the power of connectivity through technology.

During quarantine, it was platforms like Zoom, Google Meets and Microsoft Teams that kept us all in touch- whether for personal or professional matters. Not to mention we supplemented our “social time” with our increased activity and engagement on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

So 2020 was the year the internet and our smart phones became our primary modes of communication and interaction. And as a result, we’ve all learned how to use technology to stay engaged and emotionally connected to one another.

Lesson 3: In 2020 we also learned how to be more innovative and creative with how we celebrate, honor and entertain each other. This year we saw the birth of drive-by birthday parties, virtual baby showers and online graduations and rap battles. Although we were forced to be physically distant, many of us found creative ways to still express a sense of community and support.

Lesson 4: While some found creativity in quarantine, others found purpose, inspiration and a true appreciation of time. Throughout this year, there were so many of us who wrote books, launched new businesses or learned a new skill. And none of that would have been accomplished if we didn’t have the space or time to do it. So 2020 was the year we learned the value of having more time to not only focus on our life goals and passions; but also the time to actually complete them.

And lastly, Lesson 5: 2020 was the year we learned (and were reminded of) the power of mobilizing the Black community. This year we truly changed the world. From marching and protesting in honor of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and all the Black lives that matter; to being the driving force behind electing the first Black female vice president. This year, Black people truly learned and witnessed the impact of our numbers, political power, social resiliency, and cultural relevancy around the world.

As we end 2020 with COVID cases and deaths still on the rise, the Trump administration in utter turmoil, and unemployment rates at an all-time high, I am still encouraged that the black community has learned some valuable lessons this year. Ones I believe we will take into 2021 and utilize to create a Black agenda to hold the Biden-Harris administration accountable to.

Starlett Quarles is a Gen X Advocate, public speaker and host of the internet TV Talk Show, “The Dialogue with Starlett Quarles.” For more, please visit

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