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It is common for writers, such as myself, who write for gear-related outlets to close out the year with a “best gear for the year” list. It is common for writers who write on other matters of various industries and fields of study, again such as myself, to write an article trying to sum up the year in a concise yet totally inadequate way. Some editorial boards attempt to make up for this inadequacy by tasking all their writers to focus on a singular topic or event and publish them all between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

Well, this article is neither of those. The topic of focus will not be a list of items or a focus on a singular event that encapsulates an incredibly complex year. Instead, this article’s aim is to leverage what 2023 has revealed to us and to provide you, dear reader, with tools that will help you in 2024 and the years to come.

The entire purpose of my writing and website was to share the many conversations, experiences and lessons that had proven valuable to those in my life with a greater audience. This article seeks to do the same.

The last four years, colloquially called the era of the multi-crisis, have had a detrimental effect on the psychology of those who are not accustomed to instability. As a result, needless harm has occurred. From heeding the lessons of younger workers who entered their university and college studies after the 2008 financial crisis, those who are older can hopefully better cope with current stressors and be better equipped for future unforeseen hardships.

Not all of the younger population of workers, primarily here in the West, exhibit these traits and behaviours which we will be drawing from. Thus, every single one of you, dear reader, regardless of your age or socio-economic demographic, have something tangible to gain from finishing this article besides knowing what other item you should buy next.

When the World’s Vibrant Hues Turned Pale: 2001-2016

Before we dive into the current year that just passed, we need to look at the few years leading up to it. This is necessary, for without the context of what led us to where we are now, the proper lessons cannot be understood and appreciated.

Prior to the events of September 11th, 2001, many in the West were coddled into a general sense of ease and peace. There were plenty of conflicts that occurred from the Vietnam War to 2001, but they were always distant. The conflicts that occurred did not impact the daily lives of North American or European lives. No two democratic countries went to war against each other. Peacekeepers did their best to keep the peace, and when they failed, genocides and countless cases of bloodshed took place. However, from our homes in the West, those seeing reports of missile strikes through night vision cameras as Operation Desert Storm took place, we were largely unaffected – this obviously does not include military families who quietly have been taking on the burden of these conflicts.

Operation Desert Storm was mentioned, for it coincided with an economic recession, which brings us to the major point of focus of this article – instability.

The combination of an immediately consequential war (read visible), or as we’ll see, a series of wars, and economic hardship created the period which gave birth to those whom we will be drawing out lessons from.

These delightful humans started their university/college years in 2008, the year of the financial crisis. Unlike those who left the thousands of campuses abroad with their degrees in hand and with job prospects and hopes of home ownership, this new batch of students graduated with a different line of expectations.

Now, going forward, it needs to be clarified that the two dozen or so examples that I am drawing from all range in different levels of income and professional liability, but all share a common trait of not being diagnosed or suffering from any mild or severe pathologies.

I am fortunate to call a fair amount of people who fall in this category as dear friends, and we shall see going forward how they fared versus those of us who left our adolescence before the financial crisis of 2008.

Enter the Period of Instability: 2016-2019

As authoritarian and populist regimes gained a foothold globally, especially in the United States and Europe, we saw a greater strain on the economy as the gains since 2008 were laid to waste with protectionism and policies that were emotionally resonating due to their name but inept when looking at their consequences.

For the group that we are looking to for inspiration, this further cemented the fact that the world was in a continual state of flux. The notion that those of us in generations past who thought that “things will work out” was an alien concept for those leaving high school in 2008.

It was around 2017 that I noticed a divide appearing in my social and professional circles. While most people pointed out that the newer generation was less willing to sacrifice their free time and well-being for work and thus called them lazy, I saw something else.

I saw a new generation of humans who were equally as brilliant and hard-working as those who came before them. What most people failed to see was that their outlook and possibilities differed from those of us who were older, and they calibrated their efforts accordingly. The new generation of workers simply refused not to be compensated for their time. Their existing salaries were not enough for them to build the future that many who came before them took for granted. No longer could employers hold out the carrot of a promise of a promotion or a more favourable end-of-year review when the employee had no reason to want to be there in the first place.

Enter the Period Known for its Collected Series of Traumas: 2020-2023

Inoculated for the era that was to follow, this group of humans was better equipped. The last three years introduced a globally crippling pandemic and climate change that was, for the first time, starting to impact the lives of everyone on the planet. As most countries reeled and attempted to recover from the pandemic, others saw opportunities to restart wars – in Ukraine from 2014 to last year’s reinvasion by Russia, Hamas’ renewed hostilities against Israel for their occupation and Israel’s horrifying reaction. All the while, the People’s Republic of China is using conflicts from abroad, including nearly a dozen in Africa, as case studies for its approach to finalizing its One China Policy in encompassing Taiwan and its valuable technology industry into its bosom.

As of the time of writing this article, The International Institute for Strategic Studies has counted a total of 184 ongoing global conflicts. It is hard to wear rose-tinted glasses when the entire world around you is holding a sharpened dagger at each other’s throats.

How about if the world is also burning and drowning at the same time? Well, the talk of humans reaching the Anthropocene and the lack of developing plausible strategic goals is giving us more reasons to be filled with dread. Events such as COP28 had proven untrustworthy as the foxes pretended to guard the hen house and make claims toward progress when none were accomplished tangibly.

July smoke-filled skies above Toronto obstruct the moon.

The summer of 2023 forced many indoors as wildfires reduced the air quality to dangerous levels. It saw rising temperatures and draughts causing agricultural mayhem. It caused deaths and horrible injuries to those who passed out and came into contact with the scalding cement. It also set many others abroad to high ground as floods and storms redefined what was possible. This was the first year that many climate change deniers in the West had a change of heart, for they themselves could not breathe or leave the house during the daytime.

The Meat of the Issue: The Lesson

The one thing which stood out to me this year was not a single event, word, court trial, election, conflict, book or product release. What was glaringly blinding and obvious was how different people reacted to the general state of misery and horror that 2023 brought us. I saw those who were previously reasonable and calculated give into conspiracy theories, extremist thoughts and a constant state of panic.

This state of panic kept moving from one issue to the next as they arose. The threat of nuclear war with Russia. The rise of artificial intelligence – don’t even try to point out that language learning models are just a small example of AI, for that will launch your friend into another state of panicked frenzy. The threat of a war with China over Taiwan – and yes, I am expecting another round of panic with Taiwan’s election next year. Not being able to go outside due to a smoke-filled atmosphere. Various cryptocurrencies collapsing. Various smaller yet consequential banks closing. Inflation and the cost-of-living crisis, hilariously called cozzie lives by some, getting worse.

Name it, and a lot of people are experiencing a revolving door of frenzy from one topic to another. That is, except for the group we are learning our lessons from, the young working population.

I spent a fair portion of my year in hospitals, and I saw one trend that filled me with hope, even though everything else globally and with those halls did the opposite. I saw a new breed of health professionals walk with a sense of purpose and a stride which was deliberate and conscious of the moment and its consequence. This was contrasted rather starkly with the older professionals who meandered, were visibly exhausted, gossiped and looked at the clock constantly for their shift to be over.

The younger health professionals portrayed the traits that I admire in the younger population in its extremes. Like those who started their adult lives after the financial crisis of 2008, they were thrown into the fire and without any safety net. They were not coddled or told to take their time in adapting to their new role. These nurses, doctors, anaesthesiologists, and medical imaging professionals had their education accelerated to make up for the shortfalls in staffing in our healthcare systems. They calmly treated every patient, every visit, and every bowel movement with grace and gave it the appropriate attention before meticulously moving on to the next task.

This goes for the engineers, lawyers, writers, photographers, land surveyors, teachers, mechanics, computer programmers, receptionists, administrators, construction workers and many more young workers I have been fortunate to know well over the last decade. They all just focused on what was in front of them and what was important to them.

While those of us who are older were cognitively spinning out of control because our perceived notions of a bright future went up in (literal) smoke, these beautiful people never had that false promise as the foundation of their reality.

They do not wait to get married or to start a family until they can afford to buy a house or put their children into private school. They do so when it makes sense for them personally and especially for the health of their family.

In 2024, we need to heed the lessons from our juniors and focus on the task at hand and on our loved ones. We all have plenty of reasons to be full of despair. These younger folk have shown me the importance of distilling life into tasks and to those whom you can improve the lives of immediately. They have shown me that not allowing matters one cannot control to suspend one’s priorities is key. It is key to creating your own cocoon of stability in a world where it can no longer be found at large. They genuinely lead better lives that include more time with their loved ones. They have quiet evenings where they decouple from their stressful day and renew themselves for the following day. Meanwhile, those who are older suffered from greater substance abuse and gave into the behavioural traits outlined above.

2023 has taught me not to accept the normalization of being frenzied and to focus on creating a solid foundation of stability close to home and hope that it spreads. I would like to thank my younger friends and those health professionals that I mentioned earlier. You have shown a greater degree of level-headedness, calm and foresight than your seniors. It is because of you that my immediate community will have a better 2024, and that I am hopeful for the future.