• Winona Rajamohan

21 things to remember in 2021

Updated: Jan 3, 2021




When the clock struck midnight, pulling me into the first few seconds of 2020, I was in a Minnesota ski lounge with my then-boyfriend and now-husband. It was a defining trip for me as a young adult, one that I could thoroughly enjoy with money that I saved up as a working woman, alongside the love of my life and best friend, in a place far away from the busy San Jose streets and Silicon Valley lifestyle. I remember thinking to myself, "This is the most beautiful new years ever I've ever seen."

And it really was. The cold air still felt painfully crisp and sharp against my body even though I was decked out in enough layers of warm clothes to make me waddle as I walk. But I was holding onto a steaming cup of thick hot chocolate in one hand and Kevin's forever warm fingers in the other. At the end of the countdown, fireworks erupted across a pitch-black sky into warm streaks of orange, red, yellow, and citrusy green. Everything else was white with snow — the mountain tops, the wooden floors, the tables and chairs, the tips of everyone's gloves and beanies. I didn't know anyone else there, but we were all wishing each other a happy new year and hugging like family friends. Everything felt perfect. So perfect that I could feel my eyes getting wet and my heart dropping to the floor. I couldn't help it, even though there was nothing wrong.

There's a sense of weight that falls onto your shoulders when a new year comes around. Even though the mood was merry amidst the hugs and shots of alcohol, I could feel that weight in the air. Everyone's expectations, everyone's desire for something new, everyone's fear of falling into the same trap for the umpteenth time in a row.

Thinking back on that night, I recall going into 2020 with so much expectation grounded in pure fear. I was worried about a million things that could possibly go 'wrong' over the next few months. I say 'wrong' because there wasn't really anything concretely wrong about these things I was worried about. They were just heavy piles of possibilities, possibilities of change that I wasn't ready to embrace.

And then three months in, everything did change.


It was never in my plan, your plan, anyone's plan, to be here in the middle of this chaos. Some of us have lost too much to even think about, some of us have come out of this with more to be grateful for.


But this change taught us all something. To me, it was a moment of truth that felt like a slap across the face. If I came out of this year with the privilege of a comfortable bed and warm food, of being able to FaceTime my loved ones and see them right there, of being alive and healthy — then I better have learned enough to stop being so damn afraid of life what could go wrong with it.

In 2020, I learned about the Japanese art of kintsugi, which directly translates to golden repair. It's a beautiful take on repairing broken pottery, a concept dated back to the 14th century when the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa broke his favorite tea bowl. A local craftsman pieced the broken tea bowl together using golden lacquer that flowed through the cracks between the little shards and pieces. What came out of this was a whole new piece of art streaked with gold in places you'd never expect. It turned into an art form drawing inspiration from the Japanese term mottanai, which conveys the feeling of regret over waste — in this case, the wastage of broken pottery pieces that were almost thrown out but were reinvented into something more valuable.


Kintsugi is an art that places flaws in the center of beauty. It rebels against aesthetic perfection as a glorified sign of value and instead accentuates cracks on the surface as an indicator of true worth. The meaning behind kintsugi extends far beyond pottery, as you may already tell. Personally, it was a concept I couldn't shake out of my head and it became a driving force behind the lifestyle changes I successfully made last year.

Much like streaks of gold, 2020 taught me to look at my flaws as a part of who I am. I wanted to understand my weaknesses enough to hold them up somewhere where they shine. Instead of letting my anxiety define my inability to enjoy just about anything, 2020 was about letting my anxiety guide new goals that respected the limits of my state of mind.

I'm finally carving out my own experiences, not influenced by the achievements of others and the personal factors that got other people to where they are. I'm moving at my own pace, and that gives me more time to appreciate what I have that others don't. These things about myself that seemed so bad could actually be flipped into something good. That was crazy to me.

As I sit here on the first day of 2021, I'm caught between a desire for something groundbreaking and the humbling reality that a new year never really feels all that different. But I want this year to be the best I've ever had — and I really feel like I'm at a position in my life where I can make that come true. To do that I'm not going to hold onto resolutions. I don't need high and mighty goals to give me a purpose. If you've watched the Pixar movie, Soul, you might catch the drift here that I'm just going to focus on living. So here's a list of 21 little guiding lights I want to remember as I go about my days in 2021.


admit and accept mistakes To me, I look at this as the core of kintsugi in my life. Perfection isn't the best journey to learn and grow from. My strongest attributes are formed from my mistakes and how I've bounced back from them. The world is too vast and complicated for me to not screw something up. That's living.


love. always. Family. Friends. Hobbies. Food. Love comes in many different forms — as long as I love someone or something, there's this sense of warmth and genuine satisfaction to hold me together and push me forward. I want to spend my days doing things I love with people I love, and I'll always look for that.


say thank you to the sky I spent a lot of my 2020 at parks, and it's reminded me about how different the skies look in America compared to the skies back in Malaysia. Both of these skies are beautiful, and I've created so many memories under them. The sky's always been a steady strong constant, and it's the first place I turn to when I have nowhere to look, nowhere to go. So thank you, sky.


hold onto the 'box'

One of the best pieces of advice I've ever received came from an introductory counseling session to help me understand my anxiety and state of mind. "Imagine you're in a room alone, and there's a single box in the middle of the room. Stack all your thoughts, good and bad, into that box. Slowly, one by one. Pay attention to what you're stacking into the box and why they're important to you." I always think about that box. It helps me confront myself.


always have a plan

I like having a sense of direction to help me visualize my growth and progress. A simple plan, a mission statement, will help me remember the purpose behind everything I do. Whether it's a purpose for today, tomorrow, or 10 years down the road. It's going to keep me grounded.


don't worry if a plan fails

I believe that nobody's ever really ready for a plan if they're not ready to fail at it. Life is so unpredictable, and I don't want to waste time wracking my brain over a lost possibility. There are always a million other possibilities out there — but that comes with patience and a willingness to let go.

be intentional Remember the 'why.' Why am I doing this? Why am I reacting this way? An intentional mindset helps me make more conscious decisions. Decisions that are thought through and reasoned and not driven by things like anger and loneliness.

take deep breaths Inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth. Focus on the out-breath, all the way through until the very last second. Breathing exercises with the Headspace app are a lifesaver for me.


focus on today, this moment right now

I can't even imagine how many years worth of moments I've wasted worrying about the future, daydreaming nightmares when I should have been looking at the blessings unfolding around me. So many self-made sabotages. No more of that.

the grass is never greener 2020 showed me that the world is pretty fucked up regardless of where you are or where you move to. I want to focus on what people are going through, and not groundless assumptions and generalizations associate with anything other than the experiences of those who are impacted.

find the bigger purpose The world is so much bigger than me. There are so many people out there. So many people doing things that are making my everyday life better. I want to always remember to look beyond myself, and at what I can do for this world.

apologize less In 2021, it's all about being confident and unapologetic about the person I am. Period.

trust my feelings Accepting my emotions will do me far more good than ignoring them or undermining their severity. There's a reason behind them, and understanding that reason is the only way to beat that hurdle.

prioritize health Before I make a decision, always remember to think about how it will impact my body or mental health. The mind and body are impacted by so many different factors, and they're not invincible. A few mindful moments will go a long way, even more so if I've already developed good habits. It's always easy to overestimate what I'm capable of doing.

do things that take effort Nothing quite like that feeling after I've done something I've pushed off for far too long or something that I never thought I could complete. It's the best return for working hard, and it makes me feel more alive and connected to the world I live in.

have uncomfortable conversations There are a ton of people out there who don't see the world the way I do. 2020 shone a light on that, big time. Silencing anyone isn't going to make the difference, we just need to be willing to hear each other out before establishing our beliefs. Uncomfortable conversations will help me keep my human experience well-rounded. I don't want a filter bubble.


be consistent Habits, habits, habits. 2021 is the year of keeping up good habits. Keep my newly introduced daily habits small and simple, emphasizing the notion of consistency and patience before jumping into something with unrealistic expectations.

loosen up a little Life isn't a competition. I don't need to be validated with the same things that validate other people. The things that make me happy are quaint and simple. I don't need to worry about how they stack up against anyone else's. I don't need to try to get there. Focus on what makes me, me.

don't keep waiting for the 'right time' There is no such thing as the perfect time. There's always going to be something in the way, something that feels more important, something to be scared about. The best people in the world started off with the courage to take a leap, even with doubts. That makes all the difference.

prove myself wrong To do something that I never thought I could do. To be something I never thought I could be. To go somewhere I never thought I could go.

take things slow The most important thing to remember in 2021. I've spent so much of my life in a rush, and it felt like 2020 was the first time I really stopped to appreciate as much of it as I did. I miss out on so many things when I'm scrambling to get somewhere. No matter how big my goals are, I'll only be ready to truly achieve them if I can handle myself with enough grace to enjoy the journey and appreciate all its lessons.

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