As 2020 comes to a close, here’s some advice I wish I received on New Year’s Eve 2019

What were you doing around 8 pm on December 19, 1997?

Not sure? No worries. Here’s what I was doing:

It was the opening night of the movie The Titanic. Leonardo DiCaprio. Kate Winslet. A hulking, fated ship cruising across the silver screen from England to America.

The movie was sold out and we got there late. There were only single seats left in the theater. So for 3 hours and 30 minutes Cindy and I sat on the slanted, sticky aisle together of the sold out Oxford Valley Movie Theater. This was not my choice. But when you’re 17, in love, and the owner of well-oiled joints and a seemingly elastic vertebrae you’re easily persuaded.

The Titanic sinks, 8 years later Cindy and I get married, I never watch Titanic again and my joints and vertebrae never recover.

Despite its catastrophe, the sinking of the Titanic sparked change. A series of wireless-radio communication improvements and international protocols to communicate with ships at sea were put in place to prevent future maritime disasters. The Titanic sank in 1908. The movie premiered 23 years ago. What does this have to do with us, right now, in 2020?

The Titanic has become an international cautionary tale. An unsinkable metaphor of short-sightedness. Of recklessness. Of the harsh unforgiveness of literal and metaphorical icebergs.

2020 has been the Titanic of astrological years. If we have not learned anything from enduring this year, which has been as uncomfortable as sitting cross-legged on a slanted movie theater floor for three and half hours, shame on us. Like the Titanic tragedy, 2020 should serve as an inflection year. A 12 month cautionary tale that can teach us many lessons.

What if you could have a conversation with your “New Year’s Eve 2019” self? What would you say? What warnings would you give? What reminders would you tell them to program in their phone? What buoyant pieces of advice would you keep handy for when the ship hits an iceberg and begins to sink?

New Year’s Eve 2019 was the last indoor party (remember those) Cindy and I would host. That night seems so long ago. In a simpler time. A carefree time. An unmasked time. A time when you could hug your friend, share a glass of champagne with them, and count each other’s teeth if you wanted to.

This only makes sense in 2020. Pictured above is the decor that currently hangs by our front doorway. Decorative and homely in a ridiculous 2020 way.

Even though we can’t go back in time, we can reflect on 2020. We can revisit the moments when we hit the iceberg. Learn from our mistakes. Try to make sense of chaos and tragedy. Take the lessons learned from 2020 and apply them to 2021. A review of a troubled year might serve to make next year less troubled.

Here is my list of good advice I wished I received on New Year’s Eve 2019:


2.Be the adult you want your children to become.

3.Memorize this: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

4.Stay socially distant yet remain emotionally close. Trust me.

5.Forgiveness is an act of freedom.

6.Buy extra toilet paper.

7.Write letters to yourself, to loved ones, to your troubles, to your country. It’s a soul-cleansing, clarity-filled exercise and prevents self-destruction.

8.Do not lament failure for more than 48 hours. Do not celebrate success for more than 24 hours.

9.Everyone is vulnerable. Weak people hide vulnerabilities. Strong people embrace it. You will need this advice in June.

10.Read the following books: No Time Like the Future by Micheal J. Fox, The Book of Forgiveness by Desmond Tutu, Atomic Habits by James Clear, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, There, There by Tommy Orange, Born Standing Up by Steve Martin

11.Do not hesitate to buy and use a walking stick. Also, name the walking stick.

12.Memorize this: Man is to carry himself in the presence of all opposition as if everything was ephemeral and titular but he.

13.Do not compare your success to others success. You will do this in October. This is a recipe for doubt and self-loathing.

14.Hope alone is futile. Hope paired with hard work is how you get things done.

15.Read the following poems: Let it Enfold You by Charles Bukowski (read by Timothee Chalamet),Tattoo by Ted Kooser, Good Bones by Maggie Smith (read by Anna Akana), Mountain Dew Disguised as a Love Poem by Matthew Olzmann (read by John Green), Don’t Quit by John Greenleaf Whittier, The Laughing Heart by Charles Bukowksi

16.Do not buy concert tickets and do not put a down payment on that trip to Mexico.

17.Be where your feet are.

18.Buy a set of dumbbells before March.

19.Listen to your body. Especially in September.

20.Be careful with distractions. Distractions are not actions. Distractions just make it harder to act. Know the difference.

21.Do not drive behind dump trucks full of gravel.

22.Changing and accepting are very different actions. Focus on one action at a time.

23.Tell your story. And don’t worry about those who don’t listen.

24.Celebrate your 40th birthday at home. Trust me.

25.Audiobooks will help you to further enjoy and motivate you to read books that test your patience.

26.Small moments tell the truth.

27.You are a writer. Go be one.


I hope in the waning weeks of 2020 you find time to take a deep breath and reflect on this Titanic of a year. A year without warning. A year of adversity. A year that forced us to redesign our life. A year that sailed from the harbor with so much pomp and promise and ended at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. A hard year that hopefully inspires personal, national, and global reflection and change.

Be well,


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Need some encouragement? Some perspective? This hardworking, almost-handsome, suburban soccer dad can help. Subscribe and, like a pizza, get my posts delivered to your door (your email inbox). No spam. Just posts.


Jay Armstrong is a writer, blogger, speaker, and an award-winning high school English teacher. Despite being diagnosed with a rare neurological disease, that impairs his movement, balance, eyesight, and speech–Jay presses on. He hopes to help you find joy, peace, and meaning in life. For Jay, a good day consists of 5 things:

1. Reading
2. Writing 
3. Exercising
4. Hearing his three children laugh
5. Hugging his wife
(Bonus points for a dinner with his parents and a beer with his friends)

Jay hasn’t had a bad day in quite a long time. 

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