change and growth

2020 In Review: How This Year of Pain Prompted Me to Change & Grow

Last updated on August 2nd, 2022

Usually, I don’t write posts in the form of reviews that would summarize my year or a specific event. But 2020 was just too remarkable, affecting every single person on this earth, including me and my family. So I wanted to share a quick review that can be encouraging for some of you guys. Because this year of pain and disappointment was also the impetus for change and growth.

If you were experiencing many storms and thunders, don’t think you were alone. We were all in the same boat, just in different cabins.

I am sure that every single one of us felt the impact of Covid. We encountered it on all levels of our lives. Some people lost jobs, businesses, and freedom while others lost friends, family members, or colleagues. Most of us lost confidence in the future and peace of mind. Let’s face it – we all lost something. 

I know, when checking my almost perfect Instagram profile, it may look like I had the best year of my life. When in reality many times I was just hiding behind pretty photos. Especially this one is a good example of how I posted something to distract my mind. I took this photo on the 10th day after my father’s death and decided to share it on Instagram pretending it was a regular normal day. 

On Instagram, it is not customary to show moments of weakness and pain, so you have to go with the flow and post photos that reflect happiness. The world does not want to know how you feel inside.

How the Pandemic Affected My Life 

change and growth

For me personally, 2020 was one of the most challenging years of my life. Yet not because I lost income and various job opportunities or because I couldn’t travel. The reason for that was the death of my father and a high level of stress which caused major health issues. My father’s departure caused indescribable shock and trauma. And it happened during the worst timing ever when all countries went into lockdowns and closed borders.

At that time (in May), Mark and I were living in Kadikoy, Istanbul and flying to Ukraine was simply impossible. I couldn’t go support my mom and couldn’t change the course of events. I was on the verge of complete despair. It felt surreal and I was pretty sure it was just a nightmare that had to wake me up. But it didn’t.

With this loss, I also lost hope and trust. I fell into a deep depression that caused immense stress and that stress in turn started to affect my health. Also, I changed the way I see God and people in general. I cried a lot, lost sleep, and became indifferent. There were days when I wasn’t able to get out of bed and do anything useful (literally). It looked like the world around me was falling apart and there was zero I could do to change that.

A lot of things happened almost at the same time which became too difficult to bear. However, some of them had nothing to do with the pandemic. They could happen in any other year too.

My father had an alcohol use disorder (in other words he was an alcoholic) that eventually took his life away. We were hoping to see him change but somehow he left us during the most difficult times.

Strangely enough, with alcoholism being one of the problems Ukraine faces, the government is opening more liquor stores around the country, lowering alcohol taxes, and pushing alcohol on the nation which kills more and more people every day. At the same time, they are trying to impose lockdowns over the virus with a 70% no symptoms rate that force people to close businesses and starve. What a pathetic coincidence, isn’t it?

Anyway, the pandemic made it difficult to reunite with my mom and added more stress but it wasn’t the reason why I lost my father. 

How It Affected My Job (in Travel Industry) & Health

When it comes to travel… Not being able to travel is not something new to me. I, as a Ukrainian, with a passport from a developing country couldn’t travel for many, many years. Many people in my country still can’t do it, even with open borders.

I remember how challenging it was to get a visa, how Ukrainians were not able to travel independently, just on group tours, how overly expensive tickets and hotels were (our salaries were so small that we couldn’t even travel on a tight budget). For many years, travel was (and still is for many people) a dream which was hard to achieve.

Yet, travel opportunities today are not completely gone. There are still dozens of ways how to travel these days. They are more limited but they exist. Many countries are open. And with each month more of them continue to open up.

So not being able to travel internationally during 2020 and possibly during this year (in fact, we traveled a lot around Turkey and around Ukraine) is not a biggie for me. I know it is more problematic for people who are living in countries with strict lockdowns. But Turkey and especially Ukraine never went into a complete shutdown. We traveled to distract our minds and it was enough.

When it comes to my job (which is my travel blog and projects related to travel), I will admit that pandemic took away most of the income. Thankfully half of it returned in summer when (surprisingly) some people started to travel (mainly domestically).

But overall, of course, like everyone else in this field, I have undoubtedly been affected. This, in turn, prompted me to start looking into other non-travel related jobs and actually inspired me to start another website (which I may tell you about a bit later).   

Mark lost a few lined up projects but he decided to concentrate on education and invest his time into a few more courses (programming) to be able to find a better paying job.

So I guess if it wasn’t for the pandemic, we would have been living in our comfort zone, hopping from one country to another. 

The number one thing, for the most part, what I can blame covid for is the level of stress it created in my life. And as mentioned earlier, stress caused some health issues that I am dealing with today. The media’s mission to spread negativity, countless stupid decisions from the governments, and not knowing what to expect tomorrow did its job well and increased stress and anxiety which like boomerang caused more pressure and worry. 

2020 was hard emotionally. But pandemic, while intensifying the depression, didn’t cause some of those events. Realistically speaking, they could happen in any year. 

Yes, 2020 was tough. But I don’t want to continue to moan and groan about it. Because besides the negativity, besides those days when I couldn’t get out of bed, there were also moments of happiness and personal growth. And growth is important because my inner growth changes the way I see reality. And no matter how unclear some things still seem to be, I want to focus on the positives.

During the year 2020, I pushed myself hard to study, face the fear, read dozens of books (especially those about forgiveness), and work on my weaknesses. I also learned from other successful bloggers by taking various courses (like this one from Nick) and applying my knowledge to improve my blogs.

How the Year of 2020 Helped Me Change And Grow

I Learned That Health is the Most Important Thing in the World

I am not going to preach now about the importance of wearing a facemask. No, and sorry if you expect me to. But what I am going to say is that our health is really the most important thing in life. Without it, we won’t be able to work, travel, meet friends, and do all those things that make us happy. And covid that the entire world these days likes to spin his attention around is not the only reason why people get sick.

The year 2020 showed me how important it actually is to take care of my health, boost my immune system, follow a healthy diet, exercise, spend more time outside, sleep more, and stress less. Not having an opportunity to travel actually reminded of the importance to slow down.

Since that time when we moved to Los Angeles from Lexington, Kentucky and then left to travel, I was always in a hurry. I was eager to accomplish one thousand things in one day and visit every single country in the world. I was changing climates, time zones, and eating habits often (what a lot of travelers do), not putting much thought into how much these habits actually affect my body. 

Covid showed me another side of health. It showed me that a healthy body with a strong immune system has more chances to fight a dangerous virus on its own.

A lot of people these days worry about picking covid but don’t care much about simple things as what they put in their bodies. In Turkey, we witnessed how people lived in fear to get covid and this is why they chose to stay inside for months without going outside and exercising but smoking packs of cigarettes and eating unhealthy. Strange. However, it was eye-opening since through some examples I recognized myself. 

I don’t smoke or lock myself inside. But I often work without a break for hours until early morning or miss my meals. I also overthink a lot to the point that I lose my sleep. All of these moments have an impact on my health. Breaking these patterns along with others will improve the quality of my life.

That being said, this past year taught me that health is really the most precious thing we all have. We should take good care of ourselves because no one will be able to do it for us. Plus, healthcare is expensive. Instead of spending money on it, it would be much better to invest it in personal growth and development.

I Realized That Having (Owning) a Home is Very Important 

When we lived in America, we have never had a home. I mean we rented flats (or when I was completely broken, some nice people let me live with them for free) and at some point thought about buying a small house. But we never owned any real estate.

In 2017, after leaving the US to travel the world, we lived wherever we wanted, changing flats on a monthly basis. While it was a totally fantastic experience (that we still crave), sometimes we wanted to have our own home that we didn’t need to pay for and where we could return at any time.

Until this year, we have been constantly returning to my hometown Khmelnitskiy. While it is one of the cheapest cities in Ukraine where it’s nice to recharge, this is not a place where we want to live. Sorry, mama.

Yet, the year of covid revealed how important it actually is to have a home and know if things go wrong, there is a place where to land. But not a place that sucks money out of our budget on a monthly basis for a mortgage, property taxes, maintenance, and insurance (like in the US). But a home that belongs to us and where we don’t need to pay (or pay minimum) of that. 

So now, we are seriously thinking about the location where we’ll possibly want to buy our first home. In America or many countries of the EU, we need to tie ourselves to one place for many years and believe the myth of happy homeowners.

In many cheap countries, it is very realistic to purchase real estate paying everything upfront or paying off the mortgage within a short period of time. And then there is no need to pay taxes or mandatory insurance. During tough times (like a job loss in 2007-2008 of financial crisis or with the pandemic), there is some type of stability. 

I Also Learned That Change Is Inevitable, Growth Is Optional

John Maxwell was absolutely right four years ago when he posted a quote about personal growth in the time of change. The current pandemic made me realize just that.

2020 was a good example that change is inevitable. No matter if this change takes place because of a positive event or a negative one, sooner or later it happens. In many cases (as also history shows) things change so fast and substantially that life changes its course completely.

Ready or not we change, meet new people, lose old friends, and get new dreams. No matter if we want a change or resist, it’s still going to come. 

But not all people want to accept it and move forward. Some of us get stuck in the past and fail to recognize the symptoms of change. A lot of us refuse to embrace it and learn how to adjust. And not being able to adjust closes the door to success and growth.

Some of my friends last year were so busy dwelling on the past and hoping for things to get back to normal that they couldn’t enjoy life. They literally stopped living but started wishing for things to return as they used to be. While sitting and waiting for the pandemic to end, they continue to live in fear and miss many opportunities.

But then there were other friends. Those who readjusted so quickly that in a few months after the lockdown in March they opened a new business. They refused to give up but instead faced a new challenge. While most people were sitting at home trying new recipes or watching the news, these guys were pouring all the energy into a new project. 

So it’s all about the perspective and ability to adjust.  

2020 was the year of the pandemic that changed the world permanently. But any year in the future can bring another change too. We cannot become hostages of those changes. And cannot let them overtake our lives. Even with the most unexpected and scary change, there is a way to succeed. There is a way to turn a challenging situation to our own advantage.   

I hope that 2020 was a better year for you guys. And if it wasn’t, I hope you had the strength to go through all challenges and learn from them. And if you didn’t, that’s normal to fail. Just draw lessons from your past mistakes.

Wishing you health and happiness for this year and all other years that are yet to come. Thank you for reading. Be well!



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  1. so sorry for the struggles you faced but love your strength and that you shared so honestly…wishing you all the best in 2021!

    1. Thank you, Randy! I am trying to stay positive and optimistic, and taking good care of myself these days. I hope this year will be good for all of us! 😉

  2. Anya, sorry to hear

    My Mother had a story about learning to swim in the Black River in Arkansas. You see, the river had whirlpools and if you fight it you could drown. The advice was: “If you get caught in a Whirlpool, take a deep breath and relax into it — let it take you down to the bottom where you can push off.”

    1. Such great advice, never heard about it, thank you Warren! Very often I also think that I should relax, stop thinking about the problem, and just go with the flow. But sometimes it’s difficult to do so. But I am trying hard 🙂
      Thank you for stopping by. I appreciate all the comments of encouragement, you can’t imagine how helpful they are!

  3. Anya, I read your review of 2020 and you are so right. What a challenge it was and still is. I also have always loved international travel and been to Kyiv many many times and experienced it’s culture through all the seasons. I have met wonderful people there and visited the entire city with a friend from Kyiv. But now, I have not been able to travel to Ukraine for 14 months and believe now this covid virus may have caused me to lose a good friend. I am wondering when if ever I will be able to travel again. I live in Minnesota and am trying to stay positive and also have learned a few lessons from all this. Keep up the great travel articles and I will continue reading them)

    1. Thank you, Clem, for stopping by and leaving this comment. I always appreciate receiving feedback.
      We decided for ourselves that we are going back to our normal life this year (as much as it is possible in a new world), making new plans, and we are actually back on the road. Life is too short to live in fear and depend on circumstances. So we are adjusting as much as possible, following safety recommendations, and continuing to live, really. Plus, we have just had covid which I think made us feel more confident.
      I hope travel will return into your life too. Until then be well and healthy!

  4. Dear Anya, I have been spending the last hour reading through your articles, life experiences and places around the word. I ended up here by chance, as I was reading about spa hotels in Cyprus while sitting on by bed in the Cook Islands…I have been on the move for the past 13 years and usually get stuck on “where to go next”. I love your blog and your slow travels! May you keep enjoying life always. Love, Tiziana

    1. Thank you so much, Tiziana, for your lovely comment and kind words! I always get some sort of driving energy after seeing comments like yours.
      I wish you just the same and also never lose a desire to keep moving and exploring this world 🙂

  5. I like looking through a post that can make people think.

    Also, thank you for permitting me to comment!

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