It's a wrap, y'all. Can you believe 2020 is almost over? We have officially entered my favorite season of the year which, for many of us, between carving out more time to spend with our loved ones for the holidays, closing the company's books for business owners, and doing all sorts of things to get ready for the year ahead, can be a hectic time. It's also a time during which there's massive self-reflection going on—contemplating the months that have just passed, positive and negative events that have occurred, what has gone well and what hasn't, as well as determining the actions that we can take with the intent to make our futures better.
It's no secret that this year has been a bit...'unplanned' for lack of a better word. Unplanned in a sense where I'm sure none of us wrote down "surviving a pandemic and aggravated racism" on our goals list for 2020. But also in a sense where, despite the terrible things we had to go through and the many challenges we had to face, somehow I've seen the world express a lot of gratitude all along—if I dare to say, more than usual.
How and why is that? Well, this is a conversation I've been lucky enough to have with 4 incredibly resilient women that walked me through some of the hardest battles they fought this year, told me about what these difficult times taught them about gratitude, as well as what gratitude means to them.
Niekiha (Nikki) Duncan, 30
Courtesy of Niekiha Duncan
Graphic Designer, Creative Director, Blogger & Tattoo Shop Owner
When January 2020 rolled around, I found myself in an uncomfortable place. While vision board parties and "New Year, new me" talk surrounded me, I felt uninspired to plan anything. Buying a planner wasn't in my intentions, neither was setting any professional or personal goals. I felt lost about what I was doing and where I was going.
The main obstacles I faced this year all revolved around my own need for personal and emotional growth.
I, like many other women, have a tendency to try to control anything and everything around me. But times like these forced me to face the fact that no matter how hard we work on avoiding bad things from happening, in the end, rare are the times when we truly have the final say.
Confronting my own issues wasn't easy. I think it's fair to say that human beings have a hard time to admit that maybe the root of the problems they are facing in their lives actually lies within them. The process of holding myself accountable, dropping the excuses, and prioritizing my own journey was my biggest obstacle—but also my biggest reward.
I think that, as women, we tend to rush the "feeling like ish process" during hard times. Personally, there were times when I've navigated tough storms and found myself in a hurry to feel better.
Meanwhile, rushing into positivity often silences our ability to heal and suppresses a lot of necessary healing. Growth happens during hard times. Reflection is possible in moments where everything else is stripped away.
It wasn't until mid-March that I became more intentional about setting some personal and professional goals for myself. I remembered my wish to dive deeper into doing creative direction and graphic design for female-centric brands, and I acted on it. From there, the vision I had for my future became clearer, leading me to achieve major life goals that were previously nonexistent, such as creating and launching a physical planner plus a lifestyle brand focused on celebrating multilayered women in pursuit of self-improvement, self-love, and purpose. Today, unlike last year, I'm happy to say that I'm looking forward to 2021.
Finally, if I had to define gratitude, I would say it requires mindfulness; allowing yourself to pause from time to time and reflect on the journey. It's finding a balance between appreciating your growth, owning your past, and desiring to have more.
Follow Nikki on Instagram: @dailybynikki.
Akima Byfield, 28
Courtesy of Akima Byfield
Healthcare Operations Manager
This year challenged my mentality on a level I didn't see coming and was not prepared for at all. It took a toll on me as there were many crying and unhappy nights. All that I longed for financially happened and it turned out I was more unhappy than I was when I didn't have it.
At the end of each year, I purchase a new journal to dedicate my thoughts and goals for the upcoming year. On December 31, I spend an hour and a half before the new year to jot down any and all things I would like to see come into fruition. In 2019, I envisioned many things scaling from mental, emotional, physical, and materialistic means. I also prayed for a new position which I was able to accomplish with the help of the Most High.
I manifested a salary increase of $34,000 which placed me as the first African-American and youngest Operations Manager in the company's history.
I've learned that although it may be easier to bask in the negativity, we should put work into finding the positive just so we can be reminded that every "L" isn't a loss. Quite the contrary, most of the time, it's a lesson. That what is meant for us will be ours, at the time that is destined for us. To be happy with ourselves and our situation, we must appreciate ourselves and all that we've previously overcome.
Follow Akima on Instagram: @_akima
Robin Allison Davis, 36
Courtesy of Robin Allison Davis
What has this year taught me about gratitude, you ask? Well, I've learned that if we take the time to look around, we can see that no matter where we find ourselves in life, beauty still surrounds us and small wins do matter.
I began my year undergoing my last reconstructive surgery after a 1.5 year battle with breast cancer. I didn't have too many goals for 2020, to be honest; my main plan was to get back on my feet after a trying and difficult two years. However, life threw me a curveball during the summer. To be honest, I believed nothing could be as bad as what I already went through.
It's hard to explain the roller coaster that 2020 has been. I'd had a very tough two years going through my cancer journey virtually alone considering I'm a single American expat living in Paris, France.
Shortly after my reconstructive surgery, France went into its first round of lockdown due to COVID-19. Knowing that I was vulnerable because of my medical history, I strictly adhered to the rules and never left my small studio apartment for the entire eight weeks during which we were required to stay home. It was a joy to be healthy and have my own space to keep myself safe. But when I visited my doctors for my follow-up appointments after they lifted the lockdown, after multiple tests and yet another surgery, I was told that my cancer returned—more aggressively. I'm currently going through chemotherapy as I'm writing this—not quite the end of the year I had imagined.
It's shocking to find out that you'll be battling cancer twice in two years. It's even worse when the reality hits you that due to the pandemic, you have to go through your treatment alone, without family or friends able to fly over to help you recover.
Mentally and emotionally, I felt broken. Yes, I'd done this before but never had I had to go through it in a time where I'm not allowed to reach out to a friend for a hug. Breast cancer can be an extremely isolating experience and the COVID-19 made it even worse.
I don't think I'm well-placed to give advice on how to maintain a state of gratitude. I'm still on my journey and it's even more difficult than I expected it would be. But maintaining a positive attitude is one of the most important things I can do to win my battle and aid in my recovery. One thing that I try to remember is to be kind to myself. If I'm not where I need to be mentally, I may be the next day or the day after.
With all of that being said, even with everything that has happened this year in the world and to me personally, I'm not willing to say that 2020 is the worst year ever.
It's not an answer you would expect from someone going through cancer treatment, but what I'm most grateful for are my health and my body. I've gone through multiple surgeries, rounds of chemotherapy and so much more, but I'm still here. My body is still fighting and in most moments, I feel completely fine—although exhausted. I made the conscious effort to not hate my body for my situation, but to encourage it to continue the fight.
Follow Robin on Instagram: @robinista
Chantel King, 29
Courtesy of Chantel King
From the beginning, 2020 was getting the best of me and weighing me down, both on a mental and emotional level. It felt as though everything that I worked for was being taken away from me one by one.
First, it was my 10-year relationship. Although the breakup occurred a few months before we entered this new decade, I was still trying to find my way back to myself and heal my heart when the year started. Then, during the summer, there was that one week that completely K.O.'d me and turned my life upside down: My best friend and I parted ways because of a meaningless argument, my other best friend, my 15-year-old dog Tigger, passed away the next day, and the day after, I got laid off from my 9-5 which left me with a brand new car note to pay off with zero income. Oh, and did I mention that not even a month after getting my brand new car, I got into a car accident that could've easily taken my life?
Until recently, that's what 2020 consisted of for me: Falling into depression, not having much to brag about whereas I pictured myself engaged, moved out with a new car, and working my dream career by this time. But I had nothing. And yet, I was still being grateful.
Gratitude plays a huge role in my life. It's what keeps me motivated. Not long ago, I started a concept called 365 days of gratitude. Every day, I make a list of the things I'm grateful for to help me get through my darkest days. Doing this taught me to find the simplest blessings in my daily life. Some days are tough, some others are sad, but if we find something to be thankful for, then the way we view our reality changes. It also taught me that, more than anything, life happens for a reason.
We cannot stress over what we cannot control; instead, we should find a way to fix things. Stressing does nothing but make us miserable. One of my favorite quotes is: "Do not dig up in doubt what you planted in faith." In other words, just because things are bad now doesn't mean they will stay that way.
The proof is, when I got laid off, I took advantage of my free time to hone my creative skills which include writing, all while networking during virtual events. That later led me to land a Social Media Manager gig with a renowned brand. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be in the position I am in today.
By pushing through. By changing your perspective, learning to accept, and letting go of things you cannot control. That's how you create and maintain a state of gratitude. Instead of saying, "Damn, I wish I could stay in bed," when your alarm goes off in the morning, say, "I'm so thankful to see another day."
Find the little blessings in life; they are there to remind you that you are doing just fine.
Follow Chantel on Instagram: @chantel.ciera
Featured image courtesy of Niekiha Duncan