20 Lessons I Learned in 2020

Today is December 31, 2020. It’s almost midnight. This year 2020 is about to come to an end.

This has been a roller coaster ride kind-of-a-year. The COVID19 Pandemic happened. Lockdown started in March. It got extended. Again. and again. Now the year is ending and we are still on General Community Quarantine in the Philippines.

Many people lost their jobs. Many people struggled financially. Many people lost their loved ones. Many people have suffered and continue to suffer.

Of course, there are also blessings to be thankful for. The phrase “health is wealth” holds a deeper meaning these days. Being able to celebrate New Year’s eve with your loved ones is a blessing in itself. It means you survived the challenges of 2020.

This year gave me a lot of lessons to remember. I want to share them with you.

Lesson #1 – Cashflow is very important.

Having an emergency fund is great. But what’s even better than emergency fund? It’s having a cashflow that puts money into your pocket. That means having income that is greater than your expenses.

What happens when you suddenly lose your job? Your income stops. Your cashflow suddenly turns to negative.

In 2018, I learned this the hard way. I had a lot of liabilities that was eating up the profits from my business. So when the business suddenly turned sour, the income from the business was no longer enough to sustain the outflow of cash needed to pay for these liabilities.

I had to turn to credit cards. The problem turned worse. Not until I gave up some of the liabilities I had at that time that I was able to breathe. It was a painful decision. But I knew it was the right thing to do.

The only thing getting in the way was my PRIDE. I was afraid of what other people will say. I cared too much about what other people think. When I let it all go, it was as if a HUGE burden was suddenly got lifted from my life. I was able to breathe again. I was still not yet ouf of the woods, but what helped me was the thought that at least we are on a positive cashflow territory. Even if I was till in debt, even if the business still has not picked up, one day all these challenges will come to an end.

If cash is king in a crisis. I think cashflow is queen. You don’t get extra cash unless you control where the cash is flowing. Whether cash flows out of your pocket or into your pocket dictates whether you will survive the crisis or not.

Lesson #2 – You don’t need a lot to survive.

When the lockdown started, it was hard to get out of the house. You are only permitted to shop for essential items. You stayed in the house. You minimized socializing with other people.

That also meant forgoing a lot of things that you were accustomed to spending on before.

No more eating out. No more going to the movies. No more coffee with friends at Starbucks or Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. No more entertaining yourselves in Timezone or videoke.

At first, I thought it will be hard. But I realized I can actually live even without all these things. A lot of things in my life were actually just clutter. When push comes to shove, you can actually forego all of them.

Lesson #3 – Fix the broken instead of buying a new one.

 

 

The crisis forced me to think in survival mode. That means having a mindset of fixing instead of buying. If something gets broken, you fix it. Don’t buy a new one.

Because I had a lot of time in my hands, I was mostly staying at home with the boys. I focused on fixing a lot of things that were broken. I fixed the kitchen. I fixed the cabinet. For other things that I could not do, I asked the maintenance guy to fix it for me. I just paid him accordingly.

Of course, it’s not always practical to fix stuffs. For example when our washing machine broke down for the 2nd time, I decided to just buy a new one. When our air conditioning broke down, I also bought a new one. Why? It’s because it is more expensive to have it repaired than buying a new one.

Lesson #4 – You can do it yourself.

When our house helper resigned in the middle of the year, I decided to do the house chores. I was surprised, I could actually enjoy washing dishes. I liked creating a system to make it more efficient. I also got to enjoy cooking new recipes by watching youtube videos. It’s been fun.

When school started and most people were forced into online schooling, my wife and I decided to homeschool our 2 boys. It is a challenging but also very rewarding experience.

You can do a lot of things yourself. You will be surprised how much you can do when you are forced to do it to survive.

Lesson #5 – You don’t need a lot of clothes.

At the start of the pandemic, I was trying to clean up the house. I even went Marie-Kondo style of folding clothes. In the end, after going through all the clothes I have, I realized one thing. I was only using maybe 3% of my clothes the whole time. Most days, I was just wearing shorts and shirt.

Occassionally, when I get out of the house to do some errands, I would wear my rubber shoes and put on some pants. But that only happens once a week.

Where’s my coat? Long sleeves? Neck tie? Formal shoes? There in the closet, gathering dusts. I haven’t worn them for almost a year.

Of course, that may not always be the case for most people. But if you’re always staying in the house, you don’t need much clothing.

One of the things that I realized is that it might be even more economical to buy the same shirt or wardrobe. Same size. Same style. Same color. Wear that everyday. I think that’s why Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are doing that. It’s to get over the decision fatigue. But also it saves you a lot of time, money and energy.

Lesson #6 – You don’t need a car when you are mostly staying at home.

During the lockdown, the price of gasoline went down. I wanted to get out. Go somewhere. But the inconvenience of needing to request for travel permits and all was enough hassle to prevent me from going out at all.

I was using the car only once or twice a month. Only for short distances.
What’s the use of having inexpensive gasoline when you can’t even use your car to drive?

Lesson #7 – Focus on the important things.

When you are in survival mode, you are forced to retain only the essential things in your life.

This was huge for me.

What’s more important? Get out of the house and possibly get infected? Or just stay at home with your family. There’s no amount of additional income that can justify the risk you put your family into.

Of course, this was during the first few months of the lockdown when there’s not much we know about the virus.

I realized what are the most important things for me. Family. My kids. My wife. My parents. My in-laws.
Finances. A way to have the cash flowing into my life and sustain my family’s needs. Your relationship with God.

Lesson # 8 – You have everything that you need.

When you focus on what’s missing, you tend to miss the important blessings that are right in front of your eyes.

When I was going through financial difficulties, one of the things that helped me get through was the thought that I am still blessed because I have my kids and wife with me. They bring me joy. Their mere presence is a delight to my eyes. Even though financially I was struggling, I still had everything else working in my life. When you are going through difficulty, there’s a tendency to focus on what’s missing. When in reality, that may only be 5% of your life. The rest of the 95% are all blessings.

Lesson #9 – Nothing is permanent. Even crisis.

One of the things I learned over the years is that nothing is permanent. Everything comes and goes. That goes for friendships, money and life in general. Some people you are meant to meet for only awhile. Some stay with you for a long time. But their memories stay with you forever.

That’s true also for business. It goes through cycles of ups and downs. One moment you are on top of the world. The next moment, you are at the bottom and struggling. And then surprisingly, problems get resolved and once again business is booming.

If you’re struggling right now, know that it will not be forever. One day, your struggles will end. Your business goes up. You’ll finally get the rewards you’ve been looking for all this time.

If business is great, then know also that it will not last. Challenges will come. That’s guaranteed. What you do with your blessings today will determine whether you will survive when challenges come again.

I was fortunate to have experienced financial struggles way before the pandemic. Because of that, I had to let go of things in order to survive. Surprisingly, when the pandemic hit this year, even without my active involvement, problems seemed to resolve by themselves. I could only attribute that to the grace of God. It is indeed a blessing from up above that when the pandemic happened, my business did not only survive but thrived. Thank You Lord!

Lesson #10 – When crisis hit, it reveals your weaknesses

One of the things that I learned when I was financially struggling a few years ago was that it revealed a lot of my weaknesses. When everything is great, it is often hard to identify areas where you can improve. But when everything is going wrong, there’s a lot of blame to go around. You blame other people. You blame the circumstances. You blame yourself for the wrong decisions.

When I had the chance to step back and see everything for what they are, it revealed a lot of things that I am not proud of. Weak leadership skills. Pride. Ego. Selfishness. I felt like a headless chicken running around, not knowing what to do. When this happens, you forget what you were doing, and why you were doing things in the first place. The harder part is sometimes, you are so hard on youself it takes time for you to forgive youself. But eventually, by the grace of God, pick up the pieces and lift everything to God. You learn the lesson and move on.

Lesson #11 – Rediscover the joy within you

When you hit rock bottom, it is sometimes hard to motivate yourself to do anything. It’s like being exhausted from a long long travel. You don’t have the energy to even be angry at yourself or anyone else.

One of my mentors often say, you take it one day at a time. Take the first step. Do things you enjoy. If you’re not sure if you enjoy it, do it anyway. Go back to your childhood. When you were a kid, what did you like to do? Play computer games. Permit yourself to be young again. Be excited not because you need to sell something, but be truly excited like a child who just got his favorite toy on Christmas day.

You can’t fake it. You either feel joy or you don’t feel anything at all. If that’ the case, do the next thing that comes to your mind. If you’re bored playing that game. Stop. Play another game. Or do something else. Go outside. Take a walk. Yes, you can. You don’t have to take on the responsibility of being the mature one for everyone around you. You can be happy. You deserve to be happy. You deserve to feel joy.

Lesson #12 – Money is just a tool, just like your gadgets.

One of the things I am grateful for this year was that I was able to focus on myself and my family. My business was able to support us throughout the year.

When I started this journey, I dreamed of a day where money is still coming in whether I am working or not. For at least a year, I can say that dream has come true for me. That’s only been made possible by the grace of God. Of course, it required hardwork and help from a lot of people to set it up. I am grateful for all of them.

It’s been more than 9 years since I last held a job. I remember the day when I finally had nothing to do. I was so happy. But I felt so exhausted as well. I got sick for 2 weeks. It’s as if all the sleepless nights and exhaustion for 9 years of working in the corporate world finally caught up with me.

After that I felt really great. I enjoyed every minute of not having to go to work. But eventually, I got tired of not having to do anything. It’s a huge problem. I realize now why a lot of successful people would consider using illegal drugs, or do harmful stuffs and hurt themselves. Not that I condone it. I don’t. I am simply saying, when you get to a point where you are no longer working for money, you have to dig deeper to discover your reason to work.

Work is good for you. Believe it or not, boredom is worse. Not having to do anything is like a curse. Yes, you are provided financially. But your mind, body and spirit long for something greater where you can express your truest self.

The good news is that when you no longer have to work just to survive, you have the chance to do things for a BIGGER reason. You start to wonder your purpose in life. You start to find the real reasons you are here. And that is an exciting journey of discovery in itself.

Lesson #13 – Be in the moment.

One of the greatest blessings I received this year is that I was able to spend a lot of time teaching my two kids. Because of the pandemic, my wife and I decided to homeschool my 2 boys. Because my wife was working, I was the one teaching them most of the time.

At the start, it was a mixture of excitement and fear. Will I be able to teach them well. Can I really do it? Now, we’re almost done with the 3rd quarter and everything is going smoothly. There were moments when they cried because I got angry when they could not understand what I am teaching. It made me feel really guilty and ashamed afterwards. I wasn’t able to control myself. While they are learning to be homeschooled, I also needed to learn to become not only a parent but a teacher who is patient and loving.

Eventually I learned to take things in stride. I focused instead on enjoying these moments with them. You see my boys are now 8 and 7 years old. I am blessed to have seen all their firsts since the day they were born. I remember the moment I saw them when they came out of their mother’s womb in the operating room. I remember their first walk, their first words, their first time riding a bike, and many many more.

Often times, when I see the “on this day” memories on Facebook and show them a picture or two when they were 2 or 3 years old I’d ask them whether they remember it or not. They say they don’t remember. That’s why I am thankful I got to take those pictures. I want to treasure all those moments with them.

I realize I will not be always by their side all their lives. Now, I am blessed to help them build the foundation for their future. Not only financially, but more to build their character up so they will be able to go through life according to God’s will. That’s a great blessing I will always treasure forever.

Lesson #14 – Don’t take yourself and life too seriously.

There’s this activity in my Psych 101 class back in College. First, me and my classmates formed a circle. next, each of us wrote his name on a paper. We passed around the papers clockwise. Every time a new paper gets to you, you have to write down the first impression you have on that person.

Serious. Intelligent. Silent. Those are the words that they wrote for me. I agree with them. I am like that indeed.

Perhaps growing up independent trained me to take life seriously. I don’t know if it’s because I was the eldest in the family. Or perhaps that’s just the way I learned to live life growing up. You learn that every thing takes hard work.

But over time it takes a toll on you. Being serious is hard. Being able to laugh at yourself. That’s a virtue in itself. I feel like it’s a gift you should give yourself. If you can’t laugh at yourself, you can’t laugh at other people’s jokes.

Expect that life will not always go your way. You go through a roller coaster ride of ups and downs. Your emotions swing form one end to another. So if you take life too seriously, you rob yourself of the joy of living. Life is meant to be enjoyed. Nobody gets out alive anyway. We will all going to die. Might as well enjoy every minute of it while you’re still alive.

Lesson #15 – Eat healthy

During the pandemic, I tried doing intermittent fasting. I was able to lose a few pounds. Initially I thought I could not go without food for 16 hours. But eventually my body adjusted. I would eat my first meal during lunch. Then eat my dinner before 8pm. I felt better physically.

But eventually I got discouraged by the stagnant weight after months of doing intermittent fasting. One meal missed. Then two. Eventually I lost track. and my weight went back up again.

In the middle of December I underwent a 5-day RESET program. I ate 3 meals of Nutrimeal with fruits and veggies as snacks. I lost 8 pounds in 5 days. Now, I am in the middle of the phase 2 of the weight loss program called TRANSFORM phase. But the following days, my weight again stagnated. But I am hopeful because I feel better physically. I am eating more vergetables and fruits and limiting my intake of rice and carbohydrates.

Will I be able to keep it up? I don’t know but so far so good. What’s important is that I am making a decision to eat healthy. How about you? Is this part of your new year’s resolution too?

Lesson #16 – Be patient

This year, I had to discipline myself mentally. Often times, I feel like I am wasting time. I felt miserable doing nothing. I craved doing something with my hands. That’s why I did DIY projects at home. I fixed the kitchen cabinet. I fixed the fan. I re-arranged the funitures, not once but twice. I did Konmarie method with my clothes. I learned to cook by watching youtube videos. It was fun.

Sometimes I catch myself focusing on what’s missing. What I don’t have. What I cannot do. It gets frustrating. Mentally it was a struggle. I have to remind myself constantly to enjoy every moment. Focus on what you have.

Be patient. Stay still. When it’s time to move, you will know.

Lesson #17 – During crisis, cash is king

During crisis, cash is king. That’s why people who suddenly lose their jobs are caught in a dillemma, especially if they have no savings. Cashflow stops. Suddenly they cannot make ends meet. They resort to loans. They use up their credit cards. They get deeper into debts.

If on the other hand, you saved up when times were good, now you have extra cash to tide you over. It’s like having not only an emergency fund, but a calamity fund. One of the trainers told me he calls this as “peace of mind fund,” because it gives you peace of mind.

That’s why I always remind myself to be prudent with my cash. Not to be wasteful.

The good news is, you don’t need a lot to survive. Food to eat. Shelter. Clothers. Water. You can let go of a lot of things.

That’s why people try to sell of their material belongings.

But I feel this is only half of the equation. Selling stuffs can only do so much. You still have to find a way to earn. Starting a side hustle. Making stuffs and selling them online. Build a business. Opportunities are everywhere if you are ready.

We are all dealt with opportunities. But what prevents some people to take advantage of them is that they don’t have the cash to avail of the opportunity in front of them. But not having money is the easiest thing to solve for someone who is resourceful. More failures are due to lack of initiative rather than lack of money.

Lesson #18 – Start with what you have.

One of the ways to survive a pandemic is to start with what you have. List down all the things you see in your house that you are not using. List down all the skills you know how to do. List down all the people you know. You have everything you have to get moving in the right direction. It might not directly give you what you desire right away, but it will bring you a step closer to where you want to be, financially secure and a comfortable life for you and your family. So take that first step. You have everything you need.

Lesson #19 – Crisis is a wakeup call

They say you will encounter 2 crisis in your lifetime. I feel like I have reached my quota. The crisis of 2008 was a wake up call for me. When the bank I was working for was letting go of their employees one by one, I realized that there’s no such things as job security.

That’s why I decided to build a business on the side. That’s the reason why I felt the need to take control of my own financial life. Fortunately, that seemingly simple decision more than 10 years ago paved the way for me to survive this crisis of 2020. I will be forever thankful for that decision.

But that’s all in the past. It’s time to prepare for the upcoming economic boom. Will it happen in 2021? I don’t know. All I know is that it will come. Because nothing is permanent. Even crisis. Eventually, things will get better. Now, I’m preparing for that…as well as the next crisis by learning from the lessons of this year.

Lesson #20 – Be grateful

This year I learned that I am only a steward of the blessings I have in my life. I am blessed that the God up above gave me a chance to experience all the things that happened in 2020. I am grateful for the experience to be a father and spend time with my 2 boys not only as their teacher but also their playmate.

There were a lot of things to be thankful for. I was able to spend a lot of time with my family. My wife worked from home. My kids were home schooled. I got to cook for them and take care of them. We are all healthy. We have everything we need. We have a God who provides and protects. So this year 2020, I want to lift all the good and bad, the blessings and challenges to God almighty.

Thank you for reading this far. I hope this simple list will help you in one way or another. Perhaps to remind you that there is hope at the end of the tunnel. My only wish for you and your family is for God to be with you in 2021 and beyond. Happy New Year!