10 Bittersweet Life Lessons from 2021

Some harsh and heartfelt truths that life handed me this year.

Nicole Ann
8 min readDec 28, 2021
Photo by SOULSANA on Unsplash

In many ways, 2021 felt like waiting for that delayed train that never arrives.
I felt as if I was in a perpetual state of waiting — for my vaccination, for my degree certificate to finally arrive, and now, for Omicron to ‘blow over’, so that I can travel to Armenia.

Life was in slow motion; each frame, incredibly drawn-out.

The reality is that waiting is inevitable.

Not just for me, but universally. We cannot always control how long we will wait, but what is within our power, is how we choose to spend the time in between.

Spend it so artfully and buoyantly, that it no longer feels like you are waiting for anything. Embrace the pace of nature. Because sometimes, in slow-motion, it is easier to hear the soft whispers and insights of life:

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10. If you want to welcome in the new, you have to first let go of the old.

This includes decluttering your life on all levels and platforms (beyond the physical). Start with your living space and room. Tidy up and organise your energy space, to boost your mood, and welcome in an ambient aura of freshness; releasing feelings of stagnation.

Then extend this to committing to decluttering your heart space. Release archaic limiting beliefs and patterns that no longer serve you; asking yourself “Am I living in the now, or am I projecting from a past experience?”. Meditation is also hugely beneficial in releasing the firm grip of these patterns and narratives.

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You may also find yourself drifting apart from friends and partners — accept that this is the nature of life; of change and growth. Love them from afar, and let go. Accept that sometimes holding on causes more harm than letting go.

Clear out the old and decrepit. Clear it all out internally and externally, so that you can make space for what it is that you truly desire.

“Minimalism isn’t about removing things you love. It’s about removing the things that distract you from the things you love.” — Joshua Becker

9. Connect to a flow state.

Find a hobby, interest or vocation that makes you forget about time. If it makes you forget to check your phone, do more of it, more frequently.
The most beautiful and stirring creations are often those in which the creator lost their sense of self, lost themselves in the state of flow, and channelled from a sheer state of authentic connection.

It is not the ‘what’ that matters so much as the ‘how’. Your intention behind and connection to the task will add to the quality of your own life, and inevitably one day spill out and radiate to others.

“Surrender to the flow.” — Mike Gordon

8. Know when to try harder, and when to walk (in a different direction).

Some plans and paths require several resilient efforts and attempts, when there are road blocks, blockages and barricades. Some require waiting, when there is a bustling traffic jam. Others require re-routing, and following your inner GPS to a new road. Listen to yourself.

Probe yourself WHY you want to achieve what it is that you desire — do you want this out of lack, fear and insecurity (“I am not enough, therefore I need to be x, y or z”) or abundance, compassion and connection (“How can I serve to make the environment within and around me a better place for all?”).

Neither of these two roads are ‘wrong’ — but you may meet an extra few barricades along the first path.

“One of the hardest parts of life is deciding whether to walk away or try harder.” — Anonymous

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7. Patience is one of your richest treasures.

No matter where you are in the world, and regardless of your position, bank balance or career, you are bound to experience cancellations, delays and unforeseen events. Not everything will manifest as anticipated, and some circumstances will inevitably be beyond your expectations and control.

Reacting to these experiences with bludgeoning anger; reiterating the “WHY ME?” mentality will always keep you spiralling down the cliff. Patience will help you navigate through these rocky terrains and capricious crevices with more poise and ease.

“With time and patience the mulberry leaf becomes a silk gown.” — Chinese proverb

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6. People are not always who they say they are (this is likely who they aspire to be).

Their behaviour, energy and actions will show you who they really are. Words are a beautiful and ornate embellishment, which may (or may not) be aligned with sincere intention.

If you really want to get to know a person, listen to what they communicate beyond and behind the words. Hear what is said, but pay deeper attention to what is not.

“Sometimes, to know the unknown, you have to listen to the unsaid.” — Aishwarya Rao

5.1 Love people (including yourself) as they are.

Don’t love an illusion of who you think something should be. This kind of love will always be tainted by terms, conditions and disappointments, when a person does not meet your expectations.

Remember, you are the one imposing expectations — other people are simply not obligated to meet them. They are free agents of their own lives, and co-creators of their respective realities.

Pure love does not ask a person to change themselves to morph into your world; your illusions of control. Flowers cannot truly bloom in polluted soil.

“Let people be who they are, and learn how to love them for who they are.” — Lenny Kravitz

5.2 Love people with boundaries.

You can love people with boundaries. You can, of course, transparently communicate what is or is not working, for you, in an energy exchange or relationship. This does not have to be done in an austere or combative way — it can be done with consideration, clarity and kindness.

You can love someone, and say ‘no’ to what they ask of you. You can love someone, and love yourself too.

You can use Maryam Hasnaa’s mantra “I love you, but no.”

“Unconditional love does not mean unconditional tolerance.” — Unknown

4. Focus on yourself, but extend the awareness beyond yourself.

Give love, attention, affection, tenderness and care to yourself. Extend this to your environment — humans, animals and nature. Remember, that you are part of an intricate and complex network; an ecosystem of life in all forms.

While you are accountable for yourself and must learn to thrive in the space of your own solitude, you are not isolated upon an island. You are a part of the vast and infinite ocean of existence.

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” — John Donne

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3. Don’t always believe the stories that your mind tells you.

Your mind interprets external events to support and reconfirm your pre-existing beliefs. This is known as the confirmation bias. If you face a situation of uncertainty, become aware of the story that you tell yourself around it. Know that you do not have to believe it (it likely contains cognitive distortions, or patterns skewed from reality).

Learn to tap in to your intuitive inner knowing, instead of fictitious narratives not rooted in reality. Your intuition will be waiting for you beyond the wild emotions, mental chatter and desires to control and manipulate. Meet it in meditation.

“What is the story that I am telling myself right now, and is it true?” — Tammy Ingraham

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2. To change your life, you have to change your habits.

To change your habits, you have to change your actions. To change your actions, you have to change your patterns. To change your patterns, you have to change your way of thinking. To change your way of thinking, you have to change your way of reacting. To change your way of reacting, you have to face yourself, notice yourself, show up for yourself, commit to yourself, accept yourself, and compassionately, but diligently do the inner work on yourself.

“Your life is a reflection of your mind.” — Lama Zopa Rinpoche

1. Surrender. From deep, deep within.

Surrender is not synonymous with giving up. Rather, it is relinquishing the illusion of control around a situation or specific outcome. Saying “I surrender” is not enough: you have to live, feel and embody it. Expect the unexpected. Un-expect the expected.

Work for what you desire; plant the seeds and tend to the soil. But know that you cannot force the flower to bloom — it will, when the season is right.

But trust that it WILL bloom. Most likely in the moment when you realise you will be okay. With or without the flower.

“When you think you’ve surrendered, surrender more.” — Gabby Bernstein

Photo by Vladimir Haltakov on Unsplash

Although I was not able to travel abroad in 2021, due to the plots twists and intricacies of life, I was able to travel deeply within. There’s a whole world and beyond inside, a myriad of paradoxes, a tidal wave of emotion, an ebb and flow of calm, still waters of truth, depths of power, and fluidity of being, if one only dares to embark upon the voyage.

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Nicole Ann

BA English/Religious Studies. Currently studying psychology.