Welcome to my annual wrap-up, where I try to turn the ups and downs of the past 365 days into something moderately coherent.
But this year. I mean, guys. What do I even write?
“This year I did a few things, then sat on my butt for 9 months waiting for smart people to create a vaccine.”
“This year I went to sleep, woke up, and suddenly a year had gone by.”
I kid. Sort of. But there have been a few lessons and experiences from this year worth sharing. So while this blog tends more toward businessy-helpy topics, it’s once again time to get a bit more personal.
Maybe too personal? 🥳
The year of shedding societal expectations
I’m going to mostly ignore pre-pandemic 2020 because that was basically a different lifetime. But in short: I launched a small writing membership program in February. Then I went to a conference in early March and was really excited about the future of my business. Then Everything happened, and it became clear that now is not the right time. So I stressed for weeks and then finally made the tough decision to shut the membership down.
Now onto the real 2020.
When the husbando and I first went into (the then self-imposed) lockdown, I didn’t feel afraid. I didn’t experience anxiety, anger, or even escapist fantasies.
(There was plenty of time for all of that later.)
At first, I just felt reflective.
Which like, okay, I always feel reflective. I’m an obsessive excavator of my own mind and can spend an entire day with a journal, trying to make sense of my thoughts and emotions.
But the difference was that for the first time since childhood, I had nowhere to go. No one to be. My husband works from home as well, so it was just us, existing in our little world that ended at the front door.
And as the rest of the world fell away, so too did its arbitrary requirements.
It started with my wardrobe
Without friend dates, grocery trips, or even regular Zoom calls to look nice for, I asked myself for the first time since college: What do I actually like to wear? Because I’ve been buying “business blouses” for years to make sure I look like a Professional Boss Lady™… and honestly, I think they’re all kind of uggo.
Also, why on earth do we like jeans so much? Why are they a thing??
I discovered that I feel most like me in relaxed pants and a tucked shirt. It’s a general guide that can easily be dressed up or down. This allowed me to finally clear out a good portion of my closet and to finally accept that wearing something regularly doesn’t necessarily mean that I enjoy wearing it.
(Goodbye, bright colors. You bring joy to so many. But to me, you just hurt my eyes.)
And for us people pleasers, there’s another wonderful thing about dressing the way you want instead of “dressing for your body type” or dressing to keep up with stylish friends: Wearing what you want forces you to put your stake in the ground. Before you say a word, people have already judged you one way or another. So there’s no purpose in trying to get on their good side! You can just shrug and move on with life.
It’s life changing. I can’t believe some of you figured this out in high school.
Then came lifestyle
I’ve always had a tendency toward minimalism. And after being home 24/7, it became painfully clear which things were being used and what was dead weight. Thus came the Great Clean-Out (which wasn’t a clean-out so much as it was a move-everything-to-the-garage-because-I-don’t-feel-like-rehoming-all-this-sh*t-yet).
My house is slightly less full. It’s wonderful.
And then social media
While we’re getting rid of everything, why not get rid of social media addiction, too?
For 30 days, I stepped away from most forms of digital entertainment (video on that experience here) and started reading again. Cut off from both face-to-face socializing as well as most online socializing, I found that for the first time since childhood, the only person whose opinion I cared about was me. (And my husband. On occasion.)
I no longer had swathes of internet friends and strangers to try to emulate. And without the constant stream of new ideas, lifestyles, and trends, my head slowly quieted.
And then, inevitably, came career
I’ve been self-employed with varying levels of success since 2015 (minus a short stint at a traditional job). And in that time, I’ve gone through what feels like a thousand iterations of my business—you can see last year’s review for the official list. Yet nothing I landed on ever felt right.
In this quiet space, I finally was able to ask: If I stopped comparing myself to other business owners (who don’t exist in my little house-world anyway), what kind of work would I actually like to do?
The answer was simple, though it felt a bit pie-in-the-sky. I wanted something 100% flexible. Something that allowed me to work when I wanted to and, at the end of the day, walk away. No marketing, no intense clients, no stress. While still somehow paying a decent hourly rate.
It sounded impossible. And yet… I found it.
I’ve done editing work in the past, but rarely as my primary focus (minus that time I tried to start a whole freaking editing company… but we don’t talk about that). But a random article (before my social media declutter) prompted me to look further into editing, and after some additional training to flesh out my skills, I’m now a freelance editor working for a few companies. It fulfills exactly what I was hoping for. And while editing is a skill I’m still exceedingly slow at, I feel like I finally have a job that utilizes both my writing and coaching experience, and it’s something I can do long-term. (And I know I’ll get faster!)
But nothing is purely positive or negative
There have been many beautiful aspects of clearing away the non-essentials and uncovering the gems that are left. I feel like I’m leaving this year a bit older, a bit wiser, and a lot more self-assured.
But part of that journey was also working through some, um, minor control issues.
Like, they weren’t that bad. But they weren’t good, either.
For example, I love being a minimalist. It’s often a healthy thing for me. But at some points, this year’s purge was driven by a frantic need to bring order inside my home when I knew I couldn’t control anything outside of it.
My amazing husband was often the target of my fretting as well, and he bore the brunt of my obsessive meal planning (no vaccine? I’ll protect us with NUTRITION!), googling (are you sure you don’t have XYZ disease, babe?), and my general anxiety over every purchase, ever.
It’s fascinating to see the… less attractive sides of your personality so clearly. It also sucks. And while I know obsessing over control is a natural stress response for me and will probably rear its ugly head again in the future, I honestly feel grateful to have experienced it and learned how to overcome it. It’s still a daily challenge to break some habits, but I’m getting there.
(The tenets of Stoicism have been helpful 😬)
What’s been going on inside the house-box
With all that out of the way, let’s do a little quarantine show-and-tell.
In 2020, I…
Ate good things
I love food. Mealtime is my favorite time. And being at home for every single meal has made me appreciate it all the more.
While I try to get a bit more creative at dinner, I think lunches are best when they’re easy. Here’s the recipe of the year:
I’ve eaten this for literally 90% of my lunches this year, if not more.
In a bowl, place about a 1/2 cup of cooked black beans (drained & rinsed). Add 1/2 avocado (chopped). Fill up the other third with whatever salsa you love (Salsa choice matters! IT MUST BE DELICIOUS.) Add chopped grape tomatoes if you like to be extra.
Melt some shredded cheese over a pile of tortilla chips (microwave works fine if you’re lazy like me), and ta-da! A lovely, balanced, super flavorful lunch in under 5 minutes. I go without cheese most days now, and it’s still amazing.
Finished my mini camper car bed
Last year, I fell in love with solo road trips. So this year, I built a bed in my car to make it a bit more doable.
I’ve only used it once. Looking forward to going a bit further in 2021, though! New Mexico, perhaps?
Sewed a Ty Lee costume
You know, from Avatar: The Last Airbender? Yeah, that one.
Read some good books
Here are my idiosyncratic faves from this year:
I Will Teach You To Be Rich (2nd ed) – This book offers clear, simple financial advice to help you set yourself up for stability in an easy six-week process. I’ve read a few finance books, but this one’s the best I’ve come across so far.
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience – This book gave me so much insight into what makes work satisfying and how to live a more fulfilling life. I talked a lot about it in my video How to Find Work You Don’t Hate.
Taking Charge of Your Fertility, 20th Anniversary Edition – This book by Toni Weschler is a classic, and I think it should be taught as part of a standard sex ed curriculum. The book is a guide for people who menstruate to understanding how to track your body’s natural signs to pinpoint the part of your cycle you are in and when you ovulate—which is information you can then use to either achieve or avoid pregnancy, and to help diagnose fertility problems. (It’s a non-hormonal birth control method with extremely high effectiveness when used perfectly. And NO, it’s not the rhythm method.)
Beyond the Pill – After coming off the pill last year, I thought everything was fine… until I randomly went 6 months this year without my period. Turns out hormonal birth control is kind of awful to your body. (They don’t tell you this stuff when you go on it!) This book helped me understand what was going on and outlined exactly how to get the right nutrition to get everything working normally again.
The Lunar Chronicles – A fun fiction rec. This is a series set in futuristic Beijing that asks, What if Cinderella was a cyborg who was also the top mechanic in the kingdom? It’s a loose play on a bunch of fairytales and the writing is fantastic. It’s geared toward young adults, but some of the most enjoyable books are.
Digital Minimalism – Great motivation and a simple 30-day challenge to ultimately become a lot more mindful about your mindless scrolling.
What’s coming in 2021
This should be the part where I tell you my goals and intentions for the new year.
But here’s the thing. Every year (and every few months, really), I set big goals. I want to do X and become Y…
And it seems that one of two things always happens.
Either I miss the goal and get bummed out…
Or I reach the goal, only to find that I don’t actually want the outcome, and/or I cut corners in a way that made me feel crappy about the result.
(Or, you know, the world comes to a screeching halt. But let’s hope that one’s an outlier.)
My biggest problem is that I love to indulge in a deadly mix of over-planning and under-reflecting. I’ll spend hours mapping out exactly how to get from A to B without considering if B is really where I should be going.
So instead of grand plans and high hopes, here are the two simple things I’d like to do well with in the new year:
First, I want to become a faster editor
Since I already know that editing is a solid path for me, this is pretty hard to over-plan.
And second, I want to focus more on creating content for you folks
Especially video. I played with YouTube quite a bit this year and loved it. And I finally bought a new camera that auto-focuses and plays nicely with my editing program, which should make the whole process much easier.
Creating content has always been my favorite thing. I started this blog while I was an employee at an ad agency and then went full-throttle with it once I was freelancing.
I told myself for years that it was for marketing. And it has been a wonderful marketing tool! But throughout all of my various exploits, creating content here has often been my favorite part of the week. I absolutely love sharing thoughts with you, and I love hearing from you in return.
I’m incredibly excited about my new career path as an editor because separating my income from my audience means that I get to share more of myself here.
Not that I wasn’t already. But let’s just say that I’m excited to share my life with you when I’m wearing something other than an uggo business blouse.
Comfy pants and a tucked shirt, for instance.
So, here’s to 2021
I’m not sure how to wrap this up, except to say that my dad is scheduled to get his first vaccine shot in a few weeks. He works in a hospital. And when he shared the news, I wanted to cry.
It’s finally happening. There’s an end in sight.
And I’ve never meant it as much as when I say it now: Happy new year.