My 2020: Life, work and the pandemic.

I was back at work for a bit over two months and then the first lockdown happened. I was really looking forward to getting back to work after my maternity leave and a short period of unemployment in 2019. During that time of six months I had been working from home and I had written my VENI proposal. That was very difficult with two little kids at home and in a time before zoom and all of that. Sometimes I used Skype with my colleagues, but most of them I had not seen for a really long time. Before the maternity leave there was an extended sick leave of several months and I was at home since February 2019. After almost one year at home I could not wait to get back to the lab and do the post-doc project I love so much.

It was a lot of fun to be back at work in January 2020, meet my colleagues, submit the VENI right away in my first week and give again 150% and I enjoyed every day.

Then the first lockdown became reality and it was back to square one. That is at least how it felt. But I told myself “You got this. Keep it up. You have done it for so long. You can do it again”. So I was extremely motivated to do this right: home-schooling, taking care of the baby, preparing for the VENI rebuttal, working on my post-doc project, writing papers. All of it.

Very quickly this became impossible and very frustrating at the same time. I felt like a failure. “How was it possible, that I was struggling so much? I am used to obstacles. I always have been”.

Therefore, the first step for me was to acknowledge this and find new ways of working and living. I had to adapt.

The adaption process took quite some time and it did not happen overnight. There were really tough days and nights. Others went really well. Both kids got chickenpox at the same time and the first weeks were then pretty much in a survival mode.

I decided to prioritize one thing every day. Some days it was taking care of sick kids. Other days it was writing my VENI rebuttal. I told myself to go in baby steps. I had done the same in the maternity leave. When I wrote the VENI proposal with a newborn at home I had very little time per day to work. After weeks of baby steps I had the first proposal draft. Because I succeeded back then I knew it was possible to achieve something, even with little effort, a minutes per day and over a longer period of time.

When things got really hectic I went for a run. Before I had the kids I was running a lot to deal with stressful days at work and switch my brain off for a bit. And I had so many ideas during running, such as my VENI presentation for the interview. Running was my lifesaver during the first lockdown.

After a couple of weeks I was allowed to go to the lab again for a few hours and that was pretty exciting. I had a lot less lab time then before, but I found ways to increase my productivity and efficiency a lot and generated TB`s of data during the summer. These were the best data I had ever acquired at the microscope and I got some beautiful pictures for my VENI presentation too (by that time I got my official invitation). The summer 2020 was for me personally a great time (given the circumstances) and I had found new ways of working and was almost back to my old self.

This was only possible, because my husband took parental leave and was at home with both kids, while I was working long lab shifts. He was going with them to the forest, doing a bike ride, playing in the garden or baking new cake recipes.

During all this time I learned to be grateful for my health, for the job I have, the house I live in and the health of my kids and relatives. In the summer I started journaling and wrote down a list of things I was grateful for every day. I was tired every day, more exhausted than ever before and had this never ending amount of work. But I was happy and grateful. And I still am to this day.

That does not mean that there are not hard days and of course I miss my family and have not seen them in over a year. One day I will meet my family again and travel with my kids.

At the end of 2020 NWO called me “Congratulations! It is our pleasure to tell you that you got the VENI.” Immediately I was in tears, as finally this insane pressure was gone. Just for a moment at least. I had worked so hard for this. During the pandemic. During my maternity leave. And it was my second and last attempt.

For me personally that was a great end of a difficult year and I was right away full of new energy and motivation for the next three years to come.

For the first time in years I took a proper Christmas break and enjoyed the time with my family.

As a “new year`s resolution” I decided to do the things in 2021 I always wanted to do. Before I was telling myself “I will do it one day, when I have less work or the kids are older”.

I learned so many lessons in 2020 and one is: Life is short, enjoy it and make it count.

Therefore, I started my blog with the help of my brother and it is just amazing to see how it inspires others to share their story too. I got to know so many new great people and I am excited for what is yet to come. I am full of ideas and plans for 2021 and beyond.

– by Anna Schueth

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