16 women on the biggest lesson 2021 taught them

Written by Amy Beecham

As 2022 approaches, 16 women reflect on what the past twelve months have taught them.

2021 has been a whirlwind year to say the least. And while everyone has had a different experience of the past 12 months, it’s good to hold space for the complex feelings, emotions and anxieties we all have.

As we take stock of the past year and gear up for the next one, it’s important to sit with our grief, disappointment and low moments. But equally, we should all take a moment to celebrate ourselves for getting through some incredibly challenging times and reflect on what we’ve gained too.

We spoke to 16 women on the biggest personal lesson they think they’ve learned over the course of a difficult year, from mastering setting boundaries and conserving energy to focusing on health above all else. 

“The most important thing I’ve learned in 2021 is to be seen and heard as a woman in her 50s. It’s easy as you get older to lament the loss of youth and the feeling of being more invisible, perhaps having given over 20 years or more to family – so much so that you have almost lost yourself. However, I’ve learned that women of my age need to be seen and heard and not go into older age quietly. We need to talk about success, menopause, our lives, our experiences and we have to show up to show our true value.”


“The most important thing I learned this year was to set boundaries and give myself permission to be ‘selfish’.”


“This year has been the turning point for me and I’ve learned a lot. There are so many lessons I could share, but the most important one I’ve learned this year is that I deserve to live a life that brings me joy and peace. I’ve been through a lot in my life, especially during the pandemic, but I’ve come to realise that I don’t have to tolerate situations that make me miserable, and I don’t have to put up with interpersonal relationships that don’t fulfil me.”


’The most important lesson that I learned in 2021 is that you should always stand up for what you believe in.”


“The most important lesson I learned is to prioritise my health over everything else. Work, family, friends, daily routine and diet are indispensable, but health is a basis for them, so it is of crucial importance to find time for self-care, regular check-ups and timely treatment. Without these, you won’t be able to nourish everything else.”


“2021 has taught me that it’s okay to not always be positive, and even a positive person like me needs a ‘break’. I think this year I just had enough – enough of lockdowns, enough of not being able to see and hug those I love, enough of doing business and relationships virtually, enough of the weather and enough of ‘trying’. So anytime I feel a bit flat, instead of beating myself up about it, I simply remind myself that my upbeat demeanour is taking a break and will be back soon. And guess what? It does return and I feel stronger and better for it.”


“The most important thing I’ve learned this year is to seek support when I need it.”


“In 2021, I learned the power of friendships and relationships. I’m generally someone who thinks they can handle everything on their own, but this year proved that having a close-knit community of people who love and support you is the way forward. Not only does it help alleviate the stresses of work and day-to-day responsibilities, but I feel so much more confident with navigating the world because I know I have genuine people around me that I can always turn to.”


“The one most important thing I learned which helped me navigate the challenges that 2021 continued to throw at us, especially at the start, was to take it one day at a time. One step at a time. And living in that moment.”


“The best lesson I learned in 2021 is the importance of making time to focus on myself. I set up a business in lockdown and it was intense. I’d work 14-hour days sometimes, and I was constantly burning out. I started to carve out time to read in the evening, made sure I allocated time in my day to exercise, started a couple of new hobbies and tuned in to what my body was telling me. I have seen such a huge difference in my mental health.”


“Grief will subside, even when you feel it never will, and one day you will begin to feel lighter again. My 36-year-old sister died in March after a brutal but short-lived illness. I kept functioning and I thought I was doing OK but it was only eight months later that I realised I was beginning to feel like me again – not fully back to the dynamic and effervescent person I was but lighter. And I allowed myself to feel OK about that, because life does continue.”


“The most important lesson I have learned this past year is to set boundaries with my time and make sure I prioritise having ‘blank space’ in my calendar. Creating space to have blank time in my calendar and protecting it has been a game changer.”


“Going from a not-so-good relationship to an amazing one, I have learned that you should be with someone who adds value to your life and makes you feel amazing every single day. Whether that be making you laugh, telling you you’re beautiful or showing affection. Everyone deserves to be loved and to feel loved.”


“Listen to your body. We’ve definitely been in a world of uncertainty and if you need to take time out for yourself, from anything, then that’s ok. Take that time to recharge and relax. Since coming back from lockdown we’ve given all staff an extra day off so we now have a three-day weekend. It gives everyone another day to get everything back in order or enjoy their time with family and friends. Time is precious and we’re all in this rat race all the time. Giving yourself a breather from time to time is so important.”


“Self-care is my biggest learning from 2021. It’s no longer a nice bath. Something I personally have found pivotal in my life is elevating self-care to focusing on ‘what serves my mental health best’. The biggest shift through this self-care focus has been setting boundaries to protect my mental health. I used to be a ‘yes’ girl but I now have the confidence to say no if it’s going to cause stress, anxiety or potential burnout from over-committing.”


“2021 has been a rediscovery year for me. I’ve rediscovered that when I live and lead from my core values, everything else falls into place, my health, my mental wellbeing (I live with bi-polar), my energy, my sleep, my family, my boundaries, my clients and my business.Anything that isn’t aligned brings stress, discomfort and mania.”


Some comments have been edited for length or clarity.

Images: Getty

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