Reflecting on 2021 Game Changers
Looking back on 2021, especially at this moment, it is hard to look beyond the extremely difficult time we have gone through: We have felt direct impacts of the pandemic, global warming and an assault on our democracy, and these crises remain front and center as I write this (more thoughts on this coming soon).
However the turning of the calendar page and new beginnings offers an opportunity to reflect on the past year, and I have been thinking about the most significant moments, concepts, and events that left a positive imprint especially during these challenging times. So here is the list of my top 5.
① The COVID-19 Vaccine. This is one of the greatest scientific accomplishments in our lifetime. This vaccine was the result of scientists, healthcare workers, government, industry, and the general public as volunteer research participants, all coming together to fight one of the greatest public health challenges in our lifetime. This accomplishment showed what we are truly capable of when we work together. It is the top game changer of 2021. I highly recommend getting the vaccine and booster.
② Stoicism. On the other end of this huge accomplishment, despite the invention of the vaccine, we have faced people and forces more focused on retaining power through dividing us instead of than saving lives by encouraging all of us to roll up our sleeves together. This continues to fuel the ongoing pandemic. As healthcare workers, we have seen now unnecessary deaths of the unvaccinated and continue to face so many crises that seem overwhelming and at times even insurmountable. It is here that the ancient philosophy of stoicism, with daily readings alongside my morning devotional time, helped provide a roadmap for navigating the chaos of the pandemic.
The most important tenet in stoicism is distinguishing between what we can and cannot change.
The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so I can say clearly do myself which are external not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own… — Epictetus, Discourses
This may resonate for many as the serenity prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Stoicism teaches us not to spend time in distress over what we cannot change, and encourage us to focus on what we actually can change. This is not easy. It is a practice.
Getting sucked into social media or the news for a chunk of the day won’t change my circumstance. But voting will. Vilifying people with views different than my own won’t help the world. But reaching out and caring for and communicating with the individual while seeing their humanity just might. For more on stoicism, I recommend reading The Obstacle is the Way and The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday.
③ Ted Lasso. This gem of a series came to us on Apple TV+ during the pandemic and provided us with incredible escape into a world where kindness wins. Coach Ted epitomizes Stoicism and
kindness, and the impact he makes in the lives of those around him creates a ripple effect of positivity. So many episodes resonated, with expressions like “Be a goldfish,” and “I believe in believe.” But perhaps the most resonant to me during this moment in our lives was this locker room speech:
Fairytales do not start, nor do they end in the dark forest. That son-of-a-gun always shows up smack chat in the middle of a story. But it will work out. Now it may not work out hour you think it
will or how you hope it does, but believe me, it will all work out. Exactly as it is supposed to. Our job is to have zero expectations and just let go.
It will work out, Med twitter and Med Lasso. I highly recommend watching Ted Lasso if you have not seen it. Get the Apple TV+ subscription if needed. It is worth it.
④ And then she walked: Sarah Robison. This year in April I started reading AndthenIwalked.com, a blog by a friend from a past life back when I was a pulmonary fellow at Pitt. Her writing, in a way similar to watching Ted Lasso, provided me with an escape from the stress of the pandemic. As she shared stories from her Georgia-to-Maine thru-hike on the Appalachian trail, conquering 2193.1 miles on foot in 207 days, her journey had its ripple effect in the lives of so many, including me. After reading her post from April 23, I abruptly decided to change a someday/maybe wish to a full blown just-do-it-this-summer intention.
As a 5th grader, we worshipped the middle school kids. Then came the high school seniors- what would it feel like to be them?? As that graduating senior, there were the college kids. That’s when we would have it all figured out. Right? Wrong. As a nursing student it was the ICU nurses…as the ICU nurse, the nurse anesthetist…as the anesthetist, it was the trauma/transplant practitioners. Nope, not yet. Once I could master the anesthetic for a cerebral aneurysm clipping, THAT’S when I’d feel like “they” looked. Another strike. Now the thru hikers…they were the cream of the crop. Made of nothing but grit, capability, and unshakable confidence. They knew their gear inside and out. Navigating geniuses with unmatched strength and endurance. Modern day heroes and heroines. They knew what was up.
We’ll never feel like “they” look.
No one has it figured out. We’re simply all trying.
We are us in our own uniqueness.
I am a thru hiker. I have to remind myself of that daily. And I was “YOU” a mere 3 months ago.
So after a year of working in the pandemic, she inspired me to do the Colorado Trail Race, and I’ll be back in 2022.
If you want to be inspired in a new way about living your dreams and living with intention and authenticity, I highly recommend her blog andtheniwalked.com, and definitely start back at the beginning.
⑤ Zone 2 Training. Late 2020 I listened to a podcast interview of exercise physiologist, Iñigo San Millán by Peter Attia about the concept of zone 2 training. They got into the weeds about how training in endurance zones optimizes slow twitch muscle fibers, enhances mitochondria, and is foundational to endurance performance. I have listened to this several times and am now delving into sports medicine and pulmonary rehabilitation literature. The concept of specific training resonated with me and so I set my own zone 2 ceiling through the end of April, and essentially kept my heart rate below 135 from January to April. This paid huge benefits on my fitness last summer, and so I’ll be back to zone 2 for the next 4 months. Starting off a little more fit this year, so I’m eager to see where it goes.
I’m also in the process of reading Joe Friel’s The Cyclist’s Training Bible, and eager to continue building base for a great race season in 2022. Can’t wait to see where it goes this year. Highly recommend listening to the podcast.
So what about you?
What were your top game changers from 2021?
What are you looking forward to in 2022?
I’d love to hear from you.