After month upon month where so much was in flux but our day-to-day experience felt like a boring version of Groundhog Day, our sense of time has been altered. One year since the first lockdown and it feels simultaneously as though so much and absolutely nothing has happened. But in between the nothing and so much, and beyond the constant swelling of grief and anxiety, many people have found room to reassess their life and what they want to change.
Lockdown has given many people the mental and physical space to really get into every facet of life: from thinking about career and location to how you spend your time or money, nothing has been overlooked. To put it bluntly, the pandemic made abundantly clear what so many of us had been ignoring: life as it currently is isn't making me happy or fulfilled.
We spoke to 13 women and non-binary people about how the pandemic shifted their priorities, the steps they took to make (big or small) changes and how they see these changes fitting into a post-lockdown world. In the year since the first lockdown we have lost so much, but many have gained a new perspective and a new optimism for the way they will live when this finally ends.
Jessica (she/her), 28, Southend/Hastings
Pre-pandemic, I was definitely all about living in the future, planning things and spending all my money. But I took a step back and realised how much money I saved during lockdown and now I'm investing in stocks and actually planning my future like an adult! I completely changed my mindset about money and how I spend/save it. I have definitely thrown myself into work more, picking up more side hustles to bolster my financial security and finally I feel like I have my shit together.
I still splurge on the odd luxury item but I have my eyes set on buying property. I'm also in a new relationship with someone who has the same values and future goals as myself, so we've been planning our future together. Last year I would never have done that. I would've been very selfish and put myself and my needs first.
That said, I'm nervous about the future. I've spent a great deal of this year writing down my intentions and goals and organising myself and changing my mindset, but it's all very easy to do when you don't have any temptations such as nights out and going out with your friends, the privilege of restaurants and bars and holidays! I'm hoping that I will keep the same frugal mindset when the world opens back up.
Imogen (she/her), 29
Before the pandemic my husband and I hardly ever saw each other as we worked on opposite schedules. We both ended up not working thanks to unemployment and furlough so we suddenly had unlimited time to spend together. The shared trauma and the seemingly unending free time we had definitely brought us even closer together. My priorities before were based around supporting each other in our careers but now I just want us to feel happy and safe.
We made the decision to leave London early this year. Having been forced out of his career in the arts by the pandemic, my husband spent a long time looking for jobs in London with no luck. When he started looking for jobs outside the city he instantly found success. I think we would have eventually moved out of London to be nearer our family but the pandemic brought that decision forward a few years. To us, London without the arts scene, theatre, performance and museums became a pretty unappealing place.
My advice would be to be honest about what you want – either with yourself or anyone you'd plan to move with. Think about what you want to stay for and maybe how you can still have those things even if you move elsewhere.
Lauren (they/them), 27, London
I stagnated like a lot of other people at the beginning of the first lockdown, hoping week on week that it would end. But by autumn, I made a plan. I started exercising (which I NEVER did pre-pandemic) and I actually structured my day so I didn't feel like I was wasting time. Most of all, I started learning Japanese because I'd always said I didn't have the capacity to do so. What began as 15 minutes a day quickly progressed to me applying for university and being accepted to start a degree in the language come September 2021.
Learning a new language is something I love doing but it wasn't until I was forced inside that I found the time to do it. I have made a very financially binding decision with applying for university to continue learning Japanese but it's not one I took lightly. Whether or not the pubs are open, I will find the time to carry on with passion projects and routine.
My only advice to anyone thinking of learning something or starting a new hobby is very simple: when are you going to get a chance like this again? The internet has exploded with resources – a lot of them free – so what excuse is really left? Everyone starts at square one at some point, make yours now.
Natasha (she/her), 30, London
Two big events happened for me in 2020: I was made redundant for the first time, and I got engaged.
Just before I was made redundant in mid 2020, I spent some virtual time with a career coach. I was working long hours and not happy, and knew something needed to shift. The universe listened and made me redundant! But with a whole bunch of tools, confidence and energy to move forward thanks to the coaching. After that it's been a steady trickle of taking on all the changes I've wanted to make for myself for a long time... I got braces again, bought myself a piano keyboard and picked up where I left off at 16. I switched up my exercise from casual yoga to a committed training and nutrition programme. I start work on time, and I finish on time. I walk for at least 15 minutes every morning.
The first months before the redundancy were really tough work-wise but after that ended I realised how important work/life balance was to me, and spending quality time with loved ones – and myself. Removing work from my life left a huge hole, which made me reevaluate my identity. I didn't want work to be such an integral part of my identity anymore. I needed more balance.
Elizabeth (she/her), 29, Cornwall
The pandemic really helped me focus on my health. I contracted sepsis in February just before the start of everything, which really brought into focus my health, and then COVID really started and made it hit home.
Because of this I started to focus on losing weight and upping my exercise. My relationship with food has always been difficult and I have numerous underlying health conditions. Before, I could barely walk one mile a day – now I am up to four miles a day easily. My fitness has dramatically improved and slowly my weight is going down.
I have thought about tackling this before, however the pandemic really got rid of any excuses. I had all the time in the world to exercise and the government even mandated one hour of exercise a day – what else could I do?
I feel that you really have to be in the right space mentally to take on any changes, without that you will probably fail. It took me a long time to be in the right headspace and I am glad I waited until I could really focus on myself, as I have achieved so much that I wouldn’t have otherwise.
Vanessa (she/her), 36, London
The pandemic made me realise I was tired of London's fast pace and wanted to enjoy life more. On the other hand, I also realised I was in a good place to carve out my own path, career-wise.
So I quit my job – social media manager in a small London agency – to start my own one-woman consultancy. On top of that, my partner and I decided to relocate to Lisbon.
I doubt I'd have left a full-time job if not for the pandemic as I'd probably just try to find a new role somewhere else. Lockdown made me really think about what was making me unhappy and finally decide to take this step (which was something I had considered previously but never followed through).
Wanting to move back to Lisbon was definitely unexpected but being at home day in, day out made me realise how much I missed the sun, the people, the freedom of living in Portugal. I'm unsure how I'll feel about these decisions in a post-lockdown world since they're all big changes. But at the same time, if I don't try it, I know I'll regret it.
The way I see it, everything is a lesson, whether for the good or the bad. Worst case, you decide it isn't for you – you're allowed to change your mind and that's nobody's business!
Rebecca (she/her), 28, Manchester
The past year has made me rethink what I want the next five years to look like. A real focus on a financial safety net with the view to buying in the next few years. But also it has made me think about quality time and what that means for me and who I want to spend it with.
I'm currently going through a lockdown breakup so I’ve been thinking a lot about who I am and how I should do things for me instead of to please others. I finally found the guts to leave a failing relationship that was a safety blanket for me even though we weren’t really still in love.
We had to spend so much time together that actually I was forced to confront things that previously we would have been able to escape from by seeing friends, doing work trips and generally being able to leave the same space.
I feel positive overall but a bit scared to be late 20s and putting myself back out into the dating scene.
But my advice would be to be brave, you’ve got this. You are more than enough just as you are.
Diane (she/her), 34, Bedfordshire
I saved money by going out less. While I can't wait to go out again with friends and family, I'm more aware of how much those nights cost before and how that money can be put to good use elsewhere.
I started mountain biking as I couldn't travel to friends and family at the weekend. We definitely wouldn't have done it before as we would normally have been too busy to need another hobby.
I'm hoping to find the balance between continuing cycling and saving money while being a bit quieter but also seeing family and keeping some old hobbies.
I think the most important thing is to make the most of the time and keep looking for the positives.
Bella (she/her), 22, London
The past year's made me realise that money isn’t everything and that giving back to those in your community is important. I started volunteering for my local food bank and started a job in the NHS, working in something I never thought I’d do.
I was supposed to be travelling and couldn’t get a job so was left with plenty of time to volunteer and my local food bank needed more volunteers as there was greater demand.
It’s made me really reassess how much of my income I give away and what I want from a future career. I now want a role that I really enjoy and feels like I'm giving back while I work as well as outside of work through volunteering.
I'd suggest finding a charity or cause that really resonates with you and see if you can volunteer with them even one day in a year or even see if there are other ways you may be able to help them.
Mel (she/her), 34, Sheffield
I'm now halfway through my master's degree which I started during the pandemic. Online uni is great when you have disabilities!
I'm not sure if I'd have done this before the pandemic and I'm a bit cautious of moving back onto campus. I have problems with my back and my mental health and it's much easier studying from home (in my pjs).
Josie (she/her), 28, Edinburgh
I decided that a traditional 'career' job and nine-to-five wasn’t for me at this stage in my life. I also realised I wanted to be closer to nature, and to my friends and my family.
I started selling my art, then when it started doing really well I was able to quit my job in London and move back to Edinburgh.
The pandemic allowed me the extra time I would have spent commuting to set up my business and paint in all my spare hours. Working from home also really made me confront all the things I didn’t love about my job. The cabin fever element of WFH, especially in a big city like London, just really made me crave open green spaces and made me realise how much I was throwing away on rent each month to essentially sit in my house.
Now I'm really happy and excited for the future!
It's taught me that you should trust your gut and do what excites you because life is short and fragile. Try not to listen to your inner critic but, at the same time, make sure you’re taking a calculated risk that won’t leave you in a terrible situation if it doesn’t totally work out.
Hannah (she/her), 30
I nearly lost my dad to coronavirus last year and did lose my uncle. I was also very unwell with the virus myself. Once things had calmed down, I realised how much I hated my job and how much it was getting me down. It was a very stable, high paid position but I felt like I had to check my personality and self-esteem at the door. Life is too short and time passes quickly, I wasn’t willing or able to stay in a position like that anymore.
I started listening to podcasts and audiobooks to remind myself that I am worthy. I am good and I deserve to be happy. Once I felt a little stronger, I started looking for new roles. My confidence was low but deep down I knew I needed out! I took a risky move and went for a role in a tech startup – 10 weeks in, I already love it.
I've realised that your work shouldn’t be making you feel bad about yourself. You shouldn’t feel like crying at the thought of another day in the office and there are great opportunities out there. Also, listen to a motivational podcast – they’ll make you feel like you can take on the world!
Jade (she/her), 35, Nottingham
I've learned to spend more time with people and less money on 'things'. I paid off my student overdraft and for the first time since I left uni in 2008, I manage every month to not dip into my overdraft and have not used credit cards.
I'd always wanted to but my lifestyle was built around going out for meals, drinks, days out and every month I was living to the wire. Some of my friends earn quite a bit more than me and at the time I’d just bought a house on my own (my friends all had partners) and I was trying to live the same social life as I had before I had the house. My partner also moved in with me just before we went into lockdown last March so we could isolate together and so his contribution to the bills means I have a lot more expendable income.
In the future I will definitely keep to living within my means and have learned to say no to things I can’t afford.
Your friends won’t mind if you’re honest and say you can’t afford to do something. They’d rather you not get into debt for them. And nights in can be just as fun!