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Incredible Women

11 Incredible Women on the lessons they learned in 2020

Clockwise from top left: Tamara Rojo, Rosh Mahtani, Abi Daré, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Ariish Mol, Aja Naomi King and Danielle Goldberg

As a year of profound challenges and changes comes to an end, 11 inspiring women share the things that 2020 has taught them – from the personal and professional to the philosophical

Abi Daré, author

“2020 trained me to take nothing for granted”

“When my novel [The Girl with the Louding Voice] launched at the start of the year, I was optimistic; inflamed with realized dreams. As Covid-19 unfurled, and as I yielded to its commands – at first with reluctance, and then with grace – I was forced to pause, re-evaluate; to accept cancelled events and postponed celebrations. I adapted, learned to replace fear with faith, with revived optimism and flexibility. When the world stood up against injustice and equality, I witnessed the unifying power of voice, empathy, and the beauty of the human spirit. 2020 trained me to take nothing for granted. Health. Family. Life – that precious, fragile gift. Beyond 2020, I will pursue more of what truly matters to me and aim to be a better version of myself – to myself, and to others.”

Teyonah Parris, actor

“It’s been giving myself grace and the space to be a hot mess”

“This year has been interesting as a time of self-reflection, trying to figure out for myself what it means to actively engage in social issues, and to lend my voice, get knowledge, read and consume – but also learning how to stop and take a pause, because it can become overwhelming. It’s been [about] learning that I don’t always have to say something publicly, because a lot of the time I wasn’t in a space to make sense of what I was feeling, and that you don’t always have to put it on the internet to still be actively trying to affect change. It’s been giving myself grace and the space to be a hot mess, emotionally and physically!”

Rosh Mahtani, jewlry designer and founder of Alighieri

“The biggest lesson this year has been perspective”

“I feel like I have learned so much this year, on a personal and professional level. We had a plan for what we wanted to do at Alighieri, then when we went into lockdown and the world changed, this had to be thrown out of the window to a certain extent! At the time, it felt like we had to temper our dreams, ambitions and aspirations, which was very frustrating. However, it really made me learn the power of taking a step back; being forced to sit in one place has definitely allowed me to mature as a team leader. This year, we started working with Refuge, which supports women and children coping with domestic abuse. This partnership has also taught me that we have to look out for our friends, to be there for the women around us, as one in four women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. The biggest lesson this year has been perspective. I live very close to my parents, but my father is vulnerable, so I haven’t really been able to see them. The time that we get with the people we love feels like a gift – it’s so precious and I have truly come to value it in a very different light.”

Sarah Gavron, director

“It falls to us all to do the work”

“Professionally, it has been a year of highs and lows. We were due to release Rocks [directed by Gavron] just as the first lockdown hit. All the young, first-time actors suddenly had no school, no exams, and their much-anticipated film release was on hold. To fill the gap, we met up on a group Zoom call each week to check in, to discuss life and movies. Then, devastatingly, in the middle of that time, George Floyd was killed, which of course impacted hugely on the girls and their communities. Two of the young cast set up a BLM-education website, from which I learned so much. Their energy and tenacity inspired me to challenge my work places and ways of thinking. I read the books they recommended – some of which had suddenly, finally, appeared on bestseller lists. As we all know, we have to keep this up and it falls to us all to do the work, in each of our professions… But I feel some cautious optimism, looking around in the film industry, that there is a change in the conversation, which seems to be translating into action. And, despite all the challenges, the bravery and ingenuity of the young people I am privileged to have worked with on Rocks gives me daily hope.”

Danielle Goldberg, stylist

“My most valuable lesson is being patient with myself”

“The lessons I learned this year are ones I will carry with me forever. In early 2020, I became ill with environmental toxicity – the main symptom being neurological. It impacted nearly every aspect of my life. My most valuable lesson is being patient with myself first and foremost. Beyond that, it’s important to educate myself further about the environment, as I learned first-hand the ramifications of how environmental health can have an impact on our own individual wellbeing. My journey to be well has been incredibly humbling. The takeaways from this experience reveal themselves daily. As I enter into 2021, I am most grateful for what they have taught me.”

Ariish Wol, model

“2020 has taught forthcoming resilience”

“What I’ve learned to be true in my journey is that worthiness of oneself is as majestic as one’s love for your creator. Just being a Black woman has allowed a lot of positive emotions, to be brave and to be true to myself [in knowing] that I am privileged enough to be seen and treated as a human being. 2020 has built unsteadiness, but it has also taught forthcoming resilience.”

Jo Ellen Pellman, actor

“You do still need your mom”

“I’ve learned that the city you live in is not a measure of your success. In the ‘before times’, I thought ‘making it’ involved living in a coastal city, far from my Midwestern roots and my mom. After moving back in March to my childhood home in Cincinnati, Ohio, I can confidently say that I was wrong! The city you live in is just a place, and you’re no better or worse than anyone because of it. And you do still need your mom, especially when you’re 25 and you feel like the world could fall apart at any moment. Give her a hug.”

Aja Naomi King, actor

“Learning to shut out the noise and constant stimulus became necessary”

“I think many of us have succumbed to some form of depression during this time – ‘hard’ doesn’t even begin to describe the experience. I needed to be able to retreat into myself. Learning to shut out the noise and constant stimulus became necessary for my survival. Rediscovering what my truest needs were allowed me to better nurture myself, and only then could I shift my perspective. Shifting perspectives isn’t about ignoring the bad or denying the pain; it’s rejecting the idea that where you are right now is where you will always be. It’s saying, ‘Right now, I’m okay.’ It’s even saying, ‘Right now, I’m not okay, but I want to be.’ It’s steering thoughts towards hope and welcoming some much-deserved peace.”

Toyin Ojih Odutola, artist

“This year has taught me how we need to allocate our energies”

“I think the need to explain oneself, to be fully understood, comes from having what you care about viewed as unimportant. This is especially the case with regard to character, and it’s ingrained in our culture. It seems to justify existence and manifests itself in a variety of ways – notably the oversharing of our lives – into information that presents a sense of purpose. All that data, given out of fear or a desire to feel validated, doesn’t always quell anxieties or solve conundrums. For a moment, over-explaining and oversharing can help us see ourselves better in the world and feel productive, like we’re contributing to something greater. But we’re willingly giving ourselves away in order to feel good. There’s a kindness to leaving some of that alone, which can be helpful to others as well as ourselves. We don’t need to be seen or heard all the time and not everyone deserves to know the ‘real you’ or your position on everything. Discerning when it’s the best time or space to explain, to tell your story, to be seen, is important; however, one needs a space to gather and not be readily accessible for consumption or opinion. This year has taught me how we need to allocate our energies for self-preservation and collective healing. Misconceptions often happen, yet we run the risk of rendering words and deeds meaningless if they’re often mishandled. Those who seek the truth will out, while others preoccupied with misguided projections will run themselves in circles. We should let them get on with it and find peace in our own quiet.”

Catherine Cho, author

“I’ve been reminded to be still”

“This year, I’ve learned to accept stillness – to stop wondering about the future. The moments I remember from this year are the ones with my three-year-old son. We would go on walks during lockdown, pack the same picnic and sit in front of the closed playground. It didn’t matter that each day was a variation of the one before. We listened for birds; counted stones in the pavement. I found shelter in those moments. I realized I’d been waiting for things to pass. Instead of waiting, I’ve been reminded to be still; to find happiness in the now.”

Tamara Rojo, artistic director at the English National Ballet

[We] found solace and strength in coming together”

“I think one of the most humbling and moving experiences of this year has been sharing a daily ballet class from my kitchen with the world. It began as a way to keep our dancers and other professionals going through lockdown, but soon we had people from Japan, Australia, Mexico and Brazil joining. Some just liked to watch, others started practicing again after years of not dancing, and many were beginners. All found solace and strength in coming together for the daily ritual that is ballet class. For me, it strengthened my belief even further on the importance of dance and the arts for our physical and emotional wellbeing and was an incredible source of courage and inspiration to know that so many people were looking forward to it every day.”