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  • Writer's picturePepe Bonet

Lessons learned from 2020!

One month into the pandemic, I realized that my approach to it was a total disaster. By May, I had spent a month answering the reviewers for a journal publication and found the process completely tedious and unpleasant. Towards the end of June, I lost my faith in one of my projects and decided to take some vacations. So you understand, I would not place 2020 in the top 25 years of my life (I am 26). However, nobody can argue the number of things I have learned through it. Neither how much I have grown or improved and how happy I am with it.

Mark Manson puts it clearly in his book "The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck": Pain is part of the process. Basically, as one must suffer physical pain to build stronger muscle, one must suffer emotional pain to develop greater emotional resilience, a stronger sense of self, increased compassion, and a generally happier life.

I thought that by highlighting my learning process during this complicated year I could make you part of it. These are my main lessons learned from 2020:

  1. Importance of Mental health

  2. Acknowledge luck

  3. Follow your flow

  4. Learn to help & a thank you

1.- Importance of Mental Health

In only four months, I had partially lost the motivation to my work, disconnected from one of my projects, and was probably the first time in my life I seriously needed some vacations. Why and how did I let this happen? The answer is that I was probably not ready to face the situation or did not know how to react. Neither I was mentally prepared for it. The truth of the matter is that at some point, I did not wake up that early anymore, I stopped reading papers, and work felt like something that had to be done as opposed to something that I would enjoy. It was probably the first time I was feeling this way during my PhD.

How did you build upon that? Regarding work, I would highlight two main things. Firstly, although not mentally friendly at times, I strongly believe that hard work pays off. Therefore, although it was not the most fun, I never stopped and worked as hard as possible to get the project published and presented at the conference we got accepted. It did pay off. Secondly, knowing myself, what motivates me and what drives me, I built the second part of the year so that I will follow my flow (Point 3).

I did not wake up that early anymore, I stopped reading papers, and work felt like something that had to be done as opposed to something that I would enjoy.

Concerning the mental side, I talked and expressed my feelings to my friends and family and let them advise, support, and help me. Actually, the most beautiful, important, and special thing about the lockdown was to be reunited with my parents for 5 months after so many years. They were my rock during that time. I will always be grateful for the pandemic to bring us the opportunity to spend so much time together and get to know them even better.

2.- Acknowledge Luck

Towards the end of the lockdown in Spain, one of my closest friends was diagnosed with leukemia. It was such a hit to me I cannot express it properly. It made me realize so many things. Among others, it made me see how much of an idiot I was for worrying too much about such insignificant things. Every conversation through the hospital window was a lesson for me. My buddy was fighting something eons more complicated than my stupid life concerns. It was and it is amazing to see his mentality against such a problem. He surpassed any doctor's expectations and healed in a matter of months. What an inspiration!

It made me see how much of an idiot I was for worrying too much about such insignificant things

This situation, helped me understand that luck plays a deeper role in life than what I previously thought. Regardless of how much you believe in hard work, it is not all about it. Luck alone might not take you far, but hard work alone might not either. In my view, it is a matter of huge amounts of hard work and a bit of luck. But remember that luck needs to be there. Please, do not judge somebody by how long it took him/her to get somewhere, it might be just a matter of luck difference. Would I be where I am if my parents would have not supported me financially throughout my studies? Most likely not, at least not that fast.

3.- Follow your Flow

I needed a change. Vacations helped me to motivate myself and come back stronger. But that was not the turning point. The turning point came by knowing myself. It came by identifying that I needed to push the project that motivated me the most, the one that I thought that I would learn the most from, the one I was carrying in collaboration with Mandi, and the one that would allow me to go to Stockholm for the following 5 months. In hindsight, it has all fallen into place, but let's elaborate a bit on it.

Stockholm allowed me to feel this state of complete immersion in an activity one more time (Flow). It made me feel that I was learning at the pace that I liked. It brought back my motivation, not only in the project I was doing but started having more ideas to explore. It also allowed me to work alongside incredibly talented scientists and friends as Mandi and Reza, from which I have learned a lot.

Stockholm allowed me to feel this state of complete immersion in an activity one more time

Furthermore, being abroad has allowed me to get out of my comfort zone one more time and create a new one there. It has brought back the opportunity to make new friends and see and learn from a new culture. I could not talk about how happy I am with my last months there without mentioning Miriam, Mandi, Reza, Juan, Daniel, Melisa, Maria, and Fran. Every single one of them helped me feel at home there. My stay in Stockholm would definitely not be the same without them. Thank you!

4. Learn to Help & a Thank You

It was in Stockholm that I started this blog and that will always remain in my memory. I was impressed by the positive reaction of many people to the blog, especially of my friends. It was amazing to hear all the impressions and it felt even better. What can I say? I have learned how delightful and gratifying is to help and I cannot thank you enough for it. Thanks to anybody who spent a minute to read part of what I write. It means a lot to me, makes me feel good, and undoubtedly helps during complicated times. Thanks!

My Top Books of 2020

  1. Flow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

  2. Sapiens. Yuval Noah Harari

  3. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. Mark Manson

  4. Quiet. Susan Cain

  5. Factfulness. Hans Rosling

As always, you can follow me on Twitter as I will try to keep you updated with my latest thoughts and steps.

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year.

From a friend,


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