Knowing when to let go – lessons from the year that shall not be named

Picture of By Andrada Pop

By Andrada Pop

As 2020 is finally over, it is easy to feel bad about all the plans and goals we haven’t achieved and ignore the unexpected lessons of this past year. Everyone has had a very unique experience of 2020, however, there are a few common things that most of us had to learn in these unusual circumstances. This year we had to adjust our expectations to the realities of living through a pandemic – not a small feat for anyone that had wished to return to campus in the Fall. We’ve learned to appreciate the things in our daily lives that used to be pushed aside before, and we’ve gained a new perspective on the value of our connections to others. But most importantly, we’ve learned to let go.  

There is no point in going over the relative let-downs of this year, as you know that feeling all too well. But it is worth talking about the change that this year inflicted on our perception of success and what it takes to feel accomplished.

The fragile balance that existed between one’s professional and personal life before the first covid-19 wave all but disappeared when the pandemic regulations were imposed. As working and studying from home became the new norm, one of two things was bound to happen: either we’d have the most productive time in human history, or we’d face a superficial phase of productivity followed by burn-out.

And we all know that we haven’t come up with a device to communicate with animals, which should be the number one priority of the human race. Jokes aside, this year might have been just what we needed to put our wellbeing and health first, and our professional success, second.


This time last year I wrote a few New Year resolutions, and I’m sure many others have done the same. Looking back on that, I feel slightly disappointed with myself for not checking any of the goals on that list. 

In fact, I had to go through a whole process of letting go of my ideas for the future and embracing the opportunities that aligned better with reality. 

I wanted to make the most of this past semester, defined by online courses and zoom classes. The fact that I was back home, far from my colleagues and friends, made me think that I should take on more responsibilities, otherwise the semester wouldn’t be ‘worthwhile’.

‘Should I schedule two courses on a Tuesday afternoon? Sure! What could possibly go wrong?’

As I was trying to bend reality to my will, I grew more and more disconnected from my studies – the classes that I thought would inspire me, and the projects that I used to be passionate about. I was seriously considering not returning for the second semester. 

That might have been the lowest point in my academic career. So, to get me out of that rut, I did something I never thought possible – I quit a course. 


Quitting is something repelling in our society. ‘I wasn’t raised to be a quitter’, says someone who wants to be taken seriously. 

I beg to differ. I think we should be raised to know when it’s time to quit. When we are too overwhelmed to do anything right. 

It is way easier to study the philosophy of happiness when you aren’t yourself miserable.

Quitting that course may be a thing I will regret in my 70s when I will think about how I still don’t quite understand the network approach to social sciences, but I know it was the right thing to do. Ever since that moment I was free(r) to focus on the other courses I had and on writing. It is way easier to study the philosophy of happiness when you aren’t yourself miserable, and it’s less difficult not to enjoy reading and learning about Dante’s Inferno when you yourself aren’t trapped in a self-made hell.

The hustle culture

Everywhere around you, there are leftover signs from the times when working yourself to exhaustion was the idea of success in Western culture. From the way people seem to applaud and envy someone that claims to have pulled an all-nighter to study, to the idea that having one job isn’t enough, our culture pushes people to see their careers as the most important aspect of their lives. This year was a turning point, as people have become increasingly aware of the value of their health and wellbeing as opposed to the notion of success.

Productivity isn’t everything.

This is a sentiment more and more present in our ‘uncertain times’. Productivity isn’t everything, whether you are talking about your career or academic achievements. And I am glad to say that the professors at the UvA know this, such that they’re able to guide their students accordingly toward a healthier balance between one’s studies and their wellbeing. At least, my lecturers do so.


Cover: Brett Jordan 

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