Feel Guilty for Thriving in 2020? You’re Not the Only One

Shane Dayton
5 min readJun 12, 2021

The year that almost all of us refer to as a dumpster fire — with good reason. Very few people are going to have 2020 on their list of top years in recent memory, and that can do a weird thing to those of us who agree it feels like the whole world is on fire…but personally we did very, very well during a year where it’s easy to feel guilty for doing so.

Some of my friends have really struggled, and some have done really well. It’s been really interesting and illuminating to see how all of us are reacting as we continue on, continue thriving, or pick up the pieces.

Damaged vase repaired with gold
Photo credit: https://pixabay.com/photos/vase-bowl-kintsugi-art-resilience-5557369/

The World Burned and I Thrived

I’m a really empathetic person. I try to see things from others’ points of views, and I utterly hate suffering. Especially when it comes from unfairness, injustice, or just something completely out of their control.

I think the pandemic counts as that last one for about everyone. For so many people describing 2020 as the year the world burned doesn’t seem that far off.

A lot of people struggled, a lot of people suffered, and while the emotional stress from being quarantined from all my friends and family definitely took its toll over time and there was plenty of empathic despair from seeing so much suffering, from losing some friends whose funerals I couldn’t attend, from seeing the terrible words others spoke to them, on a personal individual level, 2020 was an amazingly good year for me.

While the world burned, I thrived.

And I Suffered, Too

That’s not to say that things were all peaches and cream. I’ve struggled with depression and mental illness, and as someone with past immune system issues and damaged lungs…yeah. There was no leaving the house for 14 months.

That was hard. That was really, really hard.

There were missed funerals. There were close friends and family who were on death’s door.

There was the shared stress and trauma that so many of us feel and are still recovering from.

There was plenty of sadness. Anxiety. Depression. Loss.

But even through that, it was an amazing year for me and that felt…wrong.

And I felt deeply guilty about it.

man looking guilty
Photo by Ethan Sykes on Unsplash

Life-Changing Progress

2020 had a lot of good things. My highest paying freelance job ever. Followed by the sale of my website. This meant dental surgery I’d needed for years was finally viable.

Then that freelance job ended after several months, only for me to find an even higher paying freelance job.

Money wise it was the best year I’d ever had. Nearly 20 grand of that went to new teeth, but my health returned in a good way after years of being sick. I had months to recharge from years of burnout thanks to the money from the sale.

I had time to think. I began writing for myself again. A novel manuscript I hadn’t been able to touch two years fired up my imagination again and I’ve added 100 pages since.

I dropped over 65 lbs from March of 2020 until now, adding to the 40 lbs of weight loss before that.

There were plenty of hard challenges — but I, and several friends close by, thrived.

Saying 2020 was a year where I made life-changing levels of progress would not be exaggerating at all.

If the world wasn’t burning, it would have been easy to fill social media with posts on having one of the best years of my life. Certainly by far and away the best of the last decade.

And then I started feeling guilty. Really guilty. Like not suffering while the rest of the world was suffering was, well, somehow wrong.

That being in the position I was in somehow made me traitorous to those I was empathetic with while invalidating any struggles or depression I was actually struggling with in 2020.

Is This a Form of Survivor’s Guilt?

Honestly, I’m not remotely qualified to answer this. And I want to make that clear: I’m not a therapist, a psychiatrist, or anything else. Taking a couple psych classes in college and watching a couple of psychologists on YouTube does not make me anything resembling an expert.

But it was the comparison that hit me first in my thoughts. Asking a few other friends and acquaintances about it, I found the same feeling was being felt by a lot of others.

Including a friend studying to be a therapist.

Survivor’s guilt isn’t the right term. But that conflict, that guilt over thriving, it wasn’t just me.

And if you’ve been in that situation the past year it’s not just you, either.

Being empathetic the past year was hard in so many ways. Being that way while doing well, that’s created some strange feelings.

It’s Okay to Feel Conflicted

Empathy is a great thing. There isn’t nearly enough of it in the world. So those feelings of being conflicted aren’t wrong.

It took me quite some time to work through this. If I’m completely honest, I feel like I only worked through 80% of that on my own and it took multiple conversations with people in similar situations who felt the same way to work my way the full 100% through to this point.

Feeling conflicted is okay. It doesn’t make me strange. Same for anyone else feeling the same way.

It’s Not Okay to Beat Myself Down

The other side of that coin is it’s not okay to beat myself down. 2020 sucked. A lot of us lost loved ones. A lot of people suffered. All of us share a collective trauma that will likely have far reaching consequences.

But if good things happened, it’s important to be okay with celebrating that. With finding joy in the changes that did take place, the progress I made in my goals and my dreams.

It’s not my fault my best year in a decade and a half happened in 2020, and I shouldn’t let that timing rob me of the happiness and motivation that I can pull from the good things that did happen.

I’m not sure if these words helped anyone else, but I hope you found something useful.

If you had a good 2020, it’s okay to be conflicted about that. And it’s okay to be proud of the progress you made. That’s only healthy.



Shane Dayton

Writer, gamer, passionate traveler, I'm at my happiest when I can spend my time where my interests meet. Hope you enjoy and thanks for reading!