Prize ribbons denoting silver linings of 2020

Like many knowledge workers, this past year I found myself in the position of having to juggle a full-time job while simultaneously helping my children navigate online school. In fact, I started this job on the first day of the fall term. It was hard. But I also felt lucky.

After 17 years as a full-time work-from-home mom, I suddenly found that my career was no longer geographically bound. From my Philadelphia suburb, I could apply for jobs in Silicon Valley. It was a far cry from the years I’d spent as a freelance writer and editor, scrounging for work locally while raising two small kids as a single parent. Long summers with no childcare were … challenging.

There’s been a lot written about how the pandemic is putting an unfair burden on mothers. I think that’s especially true for single mothers, moms of young children who still require lots of hands-on parenting, and parents of children with special needs. (I also believe that burden extends to single dads, grandparents who are caregivers, and anyone in a remotely similar situation.)

But when life gets hard, you find out who you are. This past year I’ve seen so many women leverage their circumstances to gain new perspectives, cultivate a sense of gratitude, or find ways to advance career goals. I asked the women in my life to share some unexpected silver linings they found during the pandemic. Here’s what they said.

Pay it forward

2020 delivered a sliding scale of experiences, ranging from “inconvenient” to “unbelievably tragic.” If you have the means, please consider donating to Feeding America, your local food bank, or any number of organizations that are providing support to people who need it right now. Thank you.

Career boosts and side hustles

Professionally, I’ve been networking like mad, and while my client pipeline dried up between March and July, it’s grown quite robust again. I’ve got (almost) more projects than I can handle. Looking to do the LLC thing for 2021 and excited to see how much more I can grow my little company.
— Joanna, freelance copywriter and editor

I moved from Cleveland, Ohio [during the pandemic], and thought “I can never work remote!” One thing Covid taught us is to improvise and innovate and to make do!
— Rhadhika, associate director of MBA programs

This is how to safeguard your mental health when you’re (still) working from home

I’m able to have a different impact at work. I can complete tasks UNINTERRUPTED! I was also able to REALLY up my tech skills, especially work/teaching related. I’m pretty proud of myself for what I can do on the computer now.
— Kate, special education liaison & teacher

I have always been a telecommuter and feel much more connected to my coworkers now that everything is over Zoom. That part of my life feels more connected rather than less!
– Stephanie, research public health analyst

I got a great remote (regardless of pandemic) job, where before they were only looking locally. This job allows me to be more present at home.
— Rebecca, director of global supplier quality management and compliance

Because I’m working from home, I USE the flexibility I’ve always had to take a break when I need to, typically to take a walk with the dog. I come back recharged and ready to focus on work again. When in the office, I have an unfortunate tendency to eat lunch at my desk, and the most walking I get is from my office to a meeting.
— Jill, policy analyst

We found great new ways to run [our store] by scheduling appointments for our families to shop for free. Never would have thought of it without the covid restrictions. There are always new ways to do stuff.
— Amy, director of non-profit organization benefiting low-income families

I was able to start a little side business with all of the extra time at home – which my daughter has seen grow firsthand and is so proud of her mama! She tells her friends about my business and even shared it with her teacher.
— Emily, stay-at-home mom turned entrepreneur

My company has been fortunate enough to still be making money, but our expenses are much lower since only one person is ever in the office at a time.
— Kathy, community development consultant

My company is talking about keeping remote work after the pandemic. I have been proposing remote work for years. [I’m] saving $800/mo. in gas and tolls.
— Colleen, scientist

I have been able to learn and start a small side gig with cutting vinyl, making shirts and apparel.
— Deborah, author, co-owner/operator of demolition company, bartender, creator of shirts & hoodies, volunteer/caregiver at animal sanctuary

I started a new position in August. With no kids on campus, I was able to get ample training time and ease into the position.
— Jennifer, office clerk for a public school district

Family bonding

Honestly, the time I have been able to spend with my son while WFH has been immeasurable. I am literally watching him grow up before my eyes.
— Tammi, production manager

No long days away from my kids. When I worked on-site I would frequently leave before they woke and return after they went to bed.
Sitting on the couch, working in front of the fireplace with a cup of tea and a napping toddler next to me.
My ADHD son has not been suspended since the pandemic started. My three middle schoolers got into a virtual charter arts school. I would have never sent them there. But now they are cultivating artistic skills that I didn’t know they had.
We all get to spend our days with our 93 year-old grandmother/great grandmother. She would forget to eat before. Now we can plate her food and sit her with us for meals. And make sure she takes her pills.
The cats are friendlier and rotate napping on each of our laps.
— Colleen

As a mother who never stayed home even after the baby (went back to work in six weeks), this felt good. At the right time, I think I stayed home to help my child with her transition, my husband with his transition, and really figure what is important to me! Lots of introspection! Ability to dedicate time to doing things/activities I love and creating a balance.
— Rhadika

We have been very fortunate during this time and even my eight year-old is coming up with ways to pay it forward. We don’t hide the sad realities of the world from her and I can see her sense of compassion and empathy has grown immensely this year. It gives me hope that her generation will be more compassionate and kind than the ones before her.
— Emily

I’m able to make my kids breakfast and drop them off and pick them up from school with my new virtual schedule. These extra moments are priceless.
— Julie, teacher

I have also seen my relationship with my husband grow stronger and closer!
— Deborah

I should have been an empty nester this year, but I’m not! Happy to have my twins with me for the extra time together before they fly. Oh, and my husband is working from home now, too! Happy to have him around more as well.
— Michelle, tax collector

The guilt-free guide to working from home with kids

2020 spurred us on to buy a new house because we realized the old one just was not a good fit for us anymore. We’ve spent more quality family time together, we’ve become closer to long-distance friends through Skype, picked a school where our daughter is thriving – and likely wouldn’t have picked it if not for the pandemic. Lots to be thankful for despite the pockets of deep loss.
— Amanda, clinical study manager

I get to do more “mom” things again that I sometimes missed when I was at work. Making the kids their breakfast. Time for board games on a weeknight. More time to just talk.
— Jeanine, probation officer

Happy to have extra time with my college girl. Everyone gets a little extra sleep, so attitudes are better. We can actually eat lunch together.
— Theresa, teacher

My 13 year-old nephew is doing remote school so I’ve had him every Thursday when his dad goes into work, which has been a gift.
— Kathy

I have greatly benefited in my ability to finally work from home. I get to see my [husband and son] more which makes me happy. I have also built and solidified some great friendships with some neighbors. They would normally be super busy taking kids to and from activities.
— Karyn, project manager

The gift of time

I have not spent three hours a day commuting since March and I LOVE LOVE LOVE it! Been doing yoga, walking, crafting, playing guitar … and being the full time cat mom I’ve always dreamt of being! If I never have to see a train or subway again, I’m great!
— Tione, process improvement specialist

I’ve been doing daily meditations, which I would not have been able to do if I had to run to the office. Generally, just much easier mornings without the rushing around, makeup, hair, getting dressed properly, commuting. That also gives me more flexibility with my work schedule since I can just start working right away. [I also have] the ability to do a walk or workout during the day rather than after 6 PM, which frees up the evening. Time to read, do online classes, and relearn the piano.
— Kathy

I’ve been gradually de-crapifying and sorting and getting rid of stuff I don’t need, don’t use, don’t want … and it’s not only helping my house to breathe more easily, it’s helping me to breathe better, too. And having the time to organize thoughtfully has definitely allowed me to see what I do need/want vs. crap that I have accumulated because … well, who knows? Also … I’m playing around more with my creative side, painting rocks, and doing art. I suck at it, but it’s fun, and that’s all that matters — and I hadn’t made time for it in many a year.
— Joanna

My commute went from 1.25 hours each direction to 30 seconds! That means at least an extra hour of sleep a night, which is helping me better handle all the other less positive aspects of living through a pandemic.
— Zan, senior writer, marketing

It’s also been a lot easier to say no to events that will be physically and/or emotionally draining – just blame it on the pandemic.
— Kate

Lots of home projects getting done.
Clean delicious home cooking.
Ability to have a lunch nap.
My 5 AM workouts can be moved to 7 AM.
— Colleen

Comfort and joy

I’ve spent 35 years tied to a train schedule … now I can go to the potty whenever I want! I used to have to decide if I could go to the potty and still make my train!!!
— Tione

I discovered TikTok. Some days that’s not a positive, but today it’s making me laugh.

The night sky clear for more stars because of less pollution. More and fatter squirrels.
— Colleen

Hydration and bathroom visits are easier [than when teaching in-person]. The cats love me. My surroundings are cheery. And I am wearing comfortable clothes and shoes!
— Theresa

Everyone in America got a dog! Puppies for everybody!!
— Kara, VP, marketing and sales

While working from home I rarely wear a bra … that’s been pretty awesome for me.
— Kiana, business transformation manager

23 women share the personal and professional silver linings they found in 2020