“What 2020 Has Taught Me”: Life Lessons From 17 Inspirational Women

8 min read

2020 has been a tough year. From job losses and financial worries to ill health, social distancing and so much more, there’s no denying it’s been a battle.

The good news? We’ve almost made it.

For better or for worse, this year has changed us, and as one year comes to a close and we welcome in the next, the lessons we’ve learned – about health, resilience, love and family – are lessons that will hopefully stick with us for the rest of our lives.

Here, 17 of the region’s most inspirational women share the challenges they’ve faced and what they have learnt over the last 12 months, from patience and self-care to the importance of family.

Jessica Kahawaty, model, humanitarian and co-founder of Mama Rita

“Even though I’m someone very grounded and close to her family, 2020 taught me not to take the time with loved ones for granted. My mother and I were stuck in Dubai together whilst my father and brother were in Australia, unable to leave. We haven’t seen each other in 11 months and it’s heartbreaking to think of the time wasted without them.  My heart goes out to all families who have been separated and continue to be separated during this time.”

Alia Al Shamsi, Emirati-Italian illustrator, author, poet and photographer

“The main lesson I have taken from 2020 is to let go of trying to control everything, and to embrace the flow and change. I am much more at peace with everything including myself. It’s a wonderful feeling to be grateful for all the small things in life.”

Tania Lodi, founder of Tania’s Teahouse

“To be kinder to myself: work hard, but take time for myself to recharge my batteries. I can’t be switched on 24/7 – this will only trickle down to my team and make me less productive. Also, to find everyday things to be grateful for: a roof over my head, my cat, my husband, my family who lives in the same town – I am very lucky.”

Maria Hatzistefanis, founder of Rodial

“I’ve learnt how resilient we all are under such unexpected and uncertain circumstances, and the importance of adaption. At the beginning of the pandemic, when stores were closing all over the world, I really didn’t know how my business was going to survive, how I was going to be able to pay my bills or retain my team. I look back now over how I myself adapted, how my team adapted, how people all over the globe have adapted to these circumstances and I am blown away. I am grateful for the way myself and my team found a way to thrive through this situation, we have learnt so many valuable lessons about our customers and our products and we now do things completely differently to how we used to.”

Asma Hilal Lootah, founder of The Hundred Wellness Centre

“2020 has taught me the importance of a team and the people we surround ourselves with. I learned how to lead with more compassion and understanding, and the affect it has when you show up for the people that need it most. This year, myself and my team have stood together and helped each other with a supportive and collective energy. Now, we are even stronger and are ready to welcome 2021 together.”

Zeina El-Dana, founder and managing director of Z7 Communications

“My biggest takeaway from 2020 is learning to let go of what I can’t control. In a perfect world, all would go just as we wanted, whether it is personally or professionally. This year, I, graciously, let go of any expectations of myself and of my business, and decided to focus on doing things and carrying out actions, all with intention. I also learnt to be more patient and to trust the process more – I am the product of my choices and decisions and I have to stand by them.”

Rasha Abdelhadi co-founder of KINZZI

“For me, 2020 has reminded me of life’s precious moments. We’ve all had to make many sacrifices on how we go about our daily life, which has given me a greater appreciation for family and friends. It has also been a time of reflection and personal growth where I’ve been able to focus on what really matters to me and channel my energy to my passion for supporting small businesses through establishing Kinzzi. I have admired our region’s sense of community and how people have come together to support the regions venerable small businesses.”

Kelly Lundberg, entrepreneur, style expert and business mentor

“It’s fair to say that 2020 has been without a doubt the most challenging year but it has also been one of the most enriching. I have learned that I can truly be comfortable with my own company – I was really worried that being in lock down I would feel very isolated and amazingly I was not. I’ve also learnt to make the most of early nights, use more face packs and found that time was truly a gift to allow me to have deep and meaningful calls with friends and family. For someone who used to be out three to four nights a week, I’m not sure will ever want to go back to this.”

Yasmin Al Mulla, designer and creative director of d3 based YNM,

“That what matters most after health is having a strong community and a strong country.”

Dana Jaber, co-founder of KINZZI

“To slow down. The world we were living in pre-COVID-19 was moving at an alarmingly fast pace, and being ‘too’ busy was the norm. Now people have been forced to change their fast-paced lifestyles and take stock of what they have. Life has shown us that it’s unpredictable, so taking a pause to focus on what really matters, in my opinion, is the biggest lesson of all.”

Dr. Saliha Afridi, PsyD. (US), Clinical Psychologist and founder of Lighthouse Arabia

“Now more than ever we live in an extremely busy, unpredictable world, and it takes a lot of discipline to stay connected ourselves and our loved ones. Lesson: Do not compromise my connection to myself because all other connections to work, friends, family, purpose come from that place.”

Alia Anwar, Founder of Alina Anwar Couture 

“While I’ve learnt a number of key lessons throughout the year, the first and most important was patience. I’m always moving 100mph, but during this year, I had to master waiting for the right moment.

Like so many others, I had plans to travel around the world showcasing my clothes, but being grounded meant I learnt the lesson of ‘what’s meant to be, is meant to be’, and that I shouldn’t worry over what I can’t control.”

Jino Mary Joy, Founder and Designer, Stone Grey

This year has taught me to embrace ‘enough’ and to live in the present. Once I started being aware of what was enough, it helped boost my productivity and happiness. If there is anything that the pandemic has made us realize it’s  that ‘minimalism’ is the need of the hour. You don’t need that extra pair of jeans or sneakers simply because it is on sale.”

Anisha Oberoi, Founder of Secret Skin

“Even when life looks the bleakest and you feel like everything is falling apart, in reality everything is coming together. We’ve been pushed to evolve and get out of your comfort zone this year, and that has been a good thing. Thanks to the pandemic there has been no better time to reflect and protect both our inner and outer expansion.”

Isabel Tapp, Founder and CEO of ALLDETA/LS

“2020 has taught us all many lessons, however, the most important one for me was the need to quickly evaluate situations and to act fast to adapt to the new circumstances, both personal and business. Communication is also key. A crisis is not a time to go silent; communication helps not only those who are affected by your decisions, but also those who may be struggling to deal with the new normal and have frozen in inaction. “Adapt or die” is a phrase which comes to mind…

Nandi Barker, founder of Modbeautykeeper

“Until last year, most of us lived our lives always shooting for the stars with the first plan we had in mind, but 2020 has taught many business owners like myself to always have back-up plans and trust the process. I learned to surrender with grace this year, whether I wanted to or not, and cultivate a new outlook to life. The power of social media is also something that truly shone this year, as brands redefined themselves even in the most troublesome moments.”

Luma Makhlouf, founder of Maiz Tacos

“The one thing I learned from 2020 is that through resilience and adaption comes creativity and gratitude. In this uncertain year, we had to make quick and strategic decisions to stay afloat, and through that we were able to also re-think our business models, build and grow our supportive community, and use the time to create and develop new revenue streams.”

Read Next: A Day In The Life Of…Alia Al Shamsi

  • Compiled by Naomi Chadderton