Milestones Personal Recaps

What I Learned in 2020

An end-of-the-year post about what I learned about myself in 2020.

I’m sure I don’t need to go into detail as to why twenty-twenty was a lot, for everyone. Normally at this time of year I would do a recap, but I wasn’t sure it was worth doing for this year specifically. A few days ago I saw some people on twitter listing their 2020 achievements despite the pandemic, which I felt ambivalent about. Upon thinking about it, I realised I could instead write a “what I learned this year” post, which would acknowledge both the bad and the good of this year. I am going to be completely honest with this, as 2020 was a wild ride — and I ended up actually learning a lot about myself, too.

So, without furder ado, let’s just jump straight into it! In no particular order, here is what I learned in 2020.

I survived lockdown.

A weird point, maybe, but I feel it needs to be said: I survived lockdown, learned how to deal with lockdown and now that the country is in lockdown again, it really isn’t affecting me as badly as it did back in March. Surviving lockdown definitely needs to be celebrated!

I am a mega-introvert.

If there’s one thing lockdown made me realise is that I am even more introverted than I initially thought I was. Lockdown was only hard for me because my days lacked a physical routine; socially speaking, I was not affected by it in the slightest. You see, I’ve always had more online friendships than “real life” friendships, ever since I was a teenager with access to the internet. My best friends in the whole world are all people that I met online. The people I talk to on a daily basis are all online friends and we always communicated on our little discord servers, way before the pandemic hit. During the first lockdown, we all met in voice chat every single day to watch the entire anime of InuYasha (an anime that has 193 episodes by the way) — we literally finished it all during lockdown, after watching it religiously every day for 3 whole months. That daily interaction of just hanging with people in voice chat for an hour or two? That was completely enough for me to fulfil my “socialisation” quota for the day.

I know some people say you have to physically be near another human to feel like you have “socialised successfully”, but I think I am the exception — and my discord friends feel the same, so clearly there are more people like this out there. Discord text and voice chat are totally fine socialisation techniques for me, and actually, since they don’t drain my social battery as much as other social settings do, for a variety of reasons (no small talk and no need of such, everybody knowing and feeling comfortable with each other, interesting/funny conversations right from the get-go, etc.), it actually meant I was able to socialise for longer. But I never felt like I was “going crazy” by not meeting other people physically, and I never felt lonely, either.

I feel like I know myself a lot more, and can navigate life and social situations better now that I have discovered exactly how much more introverted I actually am — and I’m totally okay with it.

Grades don’t reflect my actual skills and they don’t reflect my worth.

Some of you will know that this year I have “moved up” onto “proper university” after spending the first two years of my degree at college, in an environment that was much more practical and, in many ways, way more enjoyable, too. I have to say, so far I am utterly unimpressed with university. I think college taught us more and better, was objectively way more demanding with their assignments (but it meant we had lots of portfolio pieces), and we were graded way more fairly, too. From this first semester alone, I have realised that university is not actually any harder than college, in fact, in terms of assignments and contact hours, it’s way easier; it’s the uni lecturers who make it hard on students for no reason at all.

I had two classes this semester, which were magazine journalism and screenwriting — both of which involved creativity on the students’ part. I was seriously surprised at how comfortable the lecturers were at “marking creativity”, so to speak, and how much their personal taste influenced the mark.

For magazine journalism, I had four different lecturers, and it became clear to me that the one who marked my first assignment did not like my personal writing style, but they clearly liked a more “traditional” journalistic style (this became apparent after reading a classmate’s assignment who had gotten a higher grade than me). So, for the second assignment, I decided to write something in that specific informative style and taking way fewer creative liberties with my piece than I had done with the first one. The result? The lecturer loved the piece and gave me a much higher grade than the piece I had written previously, which by comparison was full of criticism, whereas this one had almost zero. But I, as a writer, hadn’t changed at all, and really, I don’t feel like I learned how to write better or any differently from that class as a whole. I simply saw that my marker preferred a certain style and wrote the article accordingly as I was aiming for an A. That’s not a writing skill as much as it is simply the ability to adapt (for purely utalitarian purposes).

My screenwriting lecturer, however, was much worse. Firstly, he had been very vocal about the fact that he did not believe I could write the story I had planned in a 15-minute script, from the very day I first pitched the story. When I did write the story within the 15-minute limitation he had arbitrarily set, however, his bias still kicked in, and he gave me a lower mark. His feedback made it clear that he had misunderstood the characters and the story as a whole (his claims about the characters’ actions were literally refuted in the text of the script — not the subtext, the text), it was almost like he wrote stuff at random to specifically mark me down with. It was also clear that he had formed an idea in his head of what my script should be like and was marking me down because I hadn’t written what he had wanted to read. His personal taste, expectations and biases all combined into one, and I received a B, which I felt was not reflective of the amount of characterisation, world-building, metaphors and visual storytelling I put in the story and meticoulously came up with.

By comparison, my lecturers at college were way fairer in their grades and never let their personal taste come into the equation. They marked our films, radio dramas, and scripts based on our technical skills, our ability to come up with a coherent narrative, world, characters, etc. — not whether they personally liked the story or felt a character they didn’t come up with should act a different way. My college writing lecturer was the best lecturer I ever had: he never looked down on me for being a student, but rather treated me as a fellow writer who had experience just like he did; he never judged my stories on the basis of genre, he was truly open to reading and giving me feedback on anything; and his advice was actually advice that made sense for my story and my characters — whereas my uni lecturer’s “advice” was just the way he would have written the story or the characters, regardless of my style, my ideas, and my intentions. My college lecturer was able to give me feedback on an experimental filmgaze script, a coming-of-age script, and a cyberpunk detective radio drama script, all of which was only possible because a) he didn’t let any biases or personal taste influence him; and b) he understood how to give advice to a fellow writer without changing their story or characters, or appropriating their story; something which my uni lecturer totally failed at, every single time. There is a clear difference between the two. (And yes, I also felt looked down upon as a writer for being a “student”, despite the fact that I am almost 30 years old, have been writing stories since I was 10, and have been a magazine writer since before I started this degree.)

So the big lesson I had to learn this year is that the grades that I get at university are not an honest reflection of my actual skills, but rather, of that particular lecturer’s marking process (the screenwriting lecturer also said he had never given anybody a grade above 85 — why even have a grading scale from 0 to 100 if you’re not even going to fully and honestly use it?) and personal taste towards my work. I do not feel like my university experience has been good, and honestly, the lecturers’ grading has been a huge part of it. I know I did not just become a worse student over the course of one summer; I am still the same student who got a 95/100 on my first year short film, I am still the student who finished both years at college with As and flying colours (one of which was during a freaking global pandemic). I will not let university make me doubt my skills, because I know I am a skilled artist. I am not being arrogant; I am simply being honest with myself, as I don’t think doubting my existing skills at this point is productive in any way. I suffer from impostor syndrome, but even I know that I’m not as unskilled as my grades would have me believe; that would be an utter lie.

If you’re having the same problem with your full-time education, please know you’re not alone and know that your skills are valid. Professors and grades are not the be-all and end-all of your abilities. Grades do not determine your worth. ?

I need something outside of full-time education to focus my energy on.

Somewhat related to my frustrations with uni grades above, but I realised the reason I let my grades also get to me that much is because I have focused entirely on my education and have few personal projects going on at the moment. I got a lot of satisfaction out of my first two years at college, because I was doing lots of creative projects for class; plus, it was so demanding that I had little time and energy to focus on much else. I made the choice in those years to focus on college and it paid off — I got really high grades and a ton of satisfaction from seeing my effort recognised and filling my portfolio with lots of projects. However, with uni, things are the total opposite. We’re not doing enough to fill a portfolio, it’s way less demanding, and even if I put in my all, I still don’t get that satisfying grade at the end from my new lecturers.

Obviously, that got to me because I had made studying a priority and this semester was no different; but it left me feeling hollow and empty when I saw the grades that I got back, which at college would have been more reflective of me as a student. So I realised that I need another creative outlet, and to focus on that, which I can somewhat control and get satisfaction from, completely unrelated to uni. Uni should not be the only source of accomplishment, because I have no control over my lecturers or their weird biases and grading systems; and basing my worth on a uni grade is not healthy anyway.

So I’ll probably try and focus more on writing and youtube in 2021. ✨

Not every opportunity will suit me, and sometimes even what should be “positive” career choices will be frustrating.

Before the pandemic hit, I was able to become a contributor for a media organisation here in the UK. I made my first video for them this year, and so far it has been the only video, as I focused on university after the summer was over. I received a lot of compliments on that video, but the truth is, a lot happened behind the scenes that left me mentally and physically exhausted — and also left me being completely and utterly unsatisfied with the video itself. This was meant to be a positive career choice, and others saw it that way too, but I learned that perhaps not all “good career choices” are a good fit for me, and I should definitely reconsider those that leave me feeling frustrated. I definitely did not like having to fake my feelings about something that I created to all of my acquaintances, or having something of mine out there which I do not feel 100% satisfied with. That should always be my priority as a creative: to make something that I am completely happy with, first and foremost. (As Davind Lynch also knows and preaches.)

I have realised what professional people I want to connect with.

A short point, but after doing some networking during the pandemic and also through dealing with uni lecturers, I have realised that I want to connect with other creatives working in the industry who are humble and down-to-Earth. It’s all too easy to get swamped with feelings of grandieur as soon as one receives one award, or gets a foot in the door through whatever random means, while never letting go or confronting the insecurities that also come with this industry. I want to surround myself with people who do not put themselves on a pedestal just because of an organisation or production they’ve worked for/on, who treat others fairly and kindly always (no matter how “high up” they are), and who always stay humble and in touch with the world and others. I will work my hardest to be that kind of person, too. ?

As much as I enjoy every creative hobby I have, writing will always be my first and true love.

I have thrown myself back into writing full force this year (the one thing that uni did right with their magazine journalism class) and I love it. I attended a creative writing course on zoom for a week (along with uni), wrote for uni every week, wrote an 18-page script for class with a story, world and characters that I was proud of, wrote a piece for the asexuality zine (and my first time writing for a zine, ever), wrote stories for Writober, started a couple of new fanfics, and I wrote originals which I submitted to a writing magazine for the first time ever.

I love writing so much; it’s my comfort activity, what I enjoy doing the most, as I feel really in the present when I am writing words. It’s weird to describe, but it’s truly what makes me feel best in the whole world. I’m glad I was able to fully throw myself into it this year. ?

I need to allow myself time to rest without stressing over my personal projects, as if they were chores or further assignments.

This was something I had to learn in the last month of 2020, and honestly I think I’ve still got ways to go before I can say I have dealt with these feelings and this toxic productivity mentality. But, having realised this is still great progress! I’m glad I learned it this year, so that I can work on it in 2021. Hopefully I’ll have a healthier relationship with my personal projects and a healthier approach to productivity next year. ?

I want to put more of my work out there for others to enjoy.

I want to put more of my work out there in 2021, take more risks. I want to finish my fics, apply to more literary magazines and contests, finish some of youtube videos and just in general, put more of myself out there. I know I want to and I know I’m ready for it. I already have some things planned for it, so look out for those. ✨

And that is all for this list! I hope this was helpful in some way, and I hope you guys also learned new things about yourselves this year as our lives came to a halt during lockdown — I’m sure you have. Regardless of our personal achievements or not, we should all be proud for surviving 2020! So congratulation to us all! May 2021 be a better and kinder year to us. ?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: