I admit, I had to resist the urge to use some play on “hindsight is 2020” in the title. While I have not looked, I must assume there are literally thousands of blogs and articles out there right now with that headline. And, to be honest, I’m not mad about it; 2020 is a year that taught us a lot. Change and disruption has a way of doing that.
One bandwagon I can’t jump on is the wholesale ranting against 2020. And there are at least a couple reasons for that, although I know this won’t be a popular opinion.
The first, frankly, is that 2020 wasn’t all that bad of a year for me personally. I know, I’m definitely not supposed to say that. Yet, I have to be honest if this whole annual public accountability blogging thing is going to be of any value to anyone.
Yes, I was gutted more than once seeing the damage and destruction around me. A global pandemic on a scale not seen in (almost exactly) a hundred years, a global recession, climate change smacking us in the face with massive wildfires across multiple continents, racism punching us in the gut and leading to worldwide demonstrations – some of which turned violent, continued and increased political radicalization in the US centered around the presidential election, the list goes on. And like a stubbed toe; once we were bruised by these big events, every little thing became another reason to bemoan “the longest year ever” (remember the murder hornets?).
Yet, with a bit of luck and a dash of privilege, the worst of it seemed to always stay at arms length. So while there were many stressed, anxious, depressed, and just plain overwhelming days for me in 2020, I can’t claim to be one of the year’s victims. I didn’t lose my job, I wasn’t beaten or killed, and my house didn’t burn down. I’m grateful.
The second reason I can’t, or perhaps more accurately, won’t join the very fashionable 2020 bashing has to do with my basic worldview. I believe very strongly that positivity, gratitude, and love are stronger (although not easier) than fear, anger, and hate. I believe that misery loves company and that we can instead choose to be happy.
More directly, I think there are two ways to see the world, and that these two basic worldviews can be summed up with the questions that drive each of them:
Why is this happening to me? vs. This happened, now what can I do about it?
It may be a subtle difference, but it is significant. If you believe that you are a victim being punished, you give your power away and have no choice but to complain and to lash out like a wounded animal. If, instead, you believe that you are being tested, you give yourself the power to overcome, the chance to solve the problem – or at least to avoid it in the future.
So, as I hope you can see, I simply cannot and will not join the chorus of voices shouting about how terrible 2020 was. Instead, I feel compelled to examine the challenges we faced, the changes thrust upon us, and the losses we incurred as lessons and as potential opportunities.
For example, I must hope that shining a light on racism the way that George Floyd’s murder and the resulting Black Lives Matter protests did has permanently shifted many peoples’ understanding of this ongoing problem. And, it looks like that is true:
Similarly, I must hope that the more obvious the devastation of climate change becomes, the more we will be spurred into action to stop it. One sign of that is the growth in so called ESG investing, but we also need more “ESG spending.”
Okay, I’ll consider the table properly set, which means its time to get even more personal…
I set my intention for 2020 last January with the exclamation “bring it on” and as I noted in my mid-year review, that may have been a bit foolhardy based on what was to come. Of course, who knew?
Now that the year has come to a close it’s time to reflect on how I did against those intentions, and against my specific annual goals. I do this publicly as a way to hold myself accountable. To put my own feet to the fire.
For 2020 my three words were: Consistency, communication, and lifestyle. So, let’s walk through them each to see how I did.
Consistency is an ongoing struggle for me, which is why this one was a repeat from 2019. It remains a struggle, that’s just my nature, but I’m getting better!
In addition to the two quotes from that 2019 post linked above, I added one more to my weekly reflection that seemed to help:
The biggest generator of long term results is learning to do things when you don’t feel like doing them.
That meshes well with my commitment to routine and to compound effects. And while I did get off track a couple times during the year, at least once for an extended period, I did pretty good against my associated goals:
Obviously I have work to do here. Regarding consistency, it is especially poignant to look at the 166 days I meditated and the 124 days I ran. That is obviously well short of the possible perfect scores of 366 and 260. And yes, 2020 was a disruptive year in many ways but that is no excuse. I can do better, and I will do better. This will continue to be an area of constant improvement for me.
I will take a moment to pat myself on the back though. While I wasn’t as consistent as I wanted to be, I did set an all-time personal running distance record for myself. Last year I only ran 369km, which was my previous record. Woohoo.
This is an area where I did a bit better against my goals, which were:
Read 10+ books on communication, coaching, or human nature
While the middle goal is not quantitative enough to score, let’s look at the other two:
Okay, that feels good. Especially on the publishing front. While I didn’t write much here on my own blog this year, I published some great stuff (if I do say so myself) with GestaltIT and GigaOm. I also got neck deep into livestreaming and podcasting, including becoming a co-host for several episodes of the Utilizing AI podcast!
For those of you who are also interested in beefing up your knowledge of “communication, coaching, or human nature” – here are the 13 books I’m counting against this goal; listed in the order that I happened to read them last year (many were re-reads for me):
That list is certainly heavy on the coaching/leadership side of communication but there are also a few gems in there for folks who want nothing to do with being a manager. How To Be an Antiracist and Elephant in the Brain in particular should probably be read by everybody, and Emotional Intelligence 2.0 is chalk full of great, practical advice as well.
My third word for 2020, lifestyle, was all about intentionally and mindfully crafting and curating the lifestyle I truly want to lead. And before we even look at any of the goals I attached to it, I have to say that this is an area I feel truly successful in. While 2020 was a year of change for everyone, some of my biggest changes were actually intentional – and that has made all the difference.
The biggest intentional change I made in 2020 was moving from New York City to West Texas. On the last Friday in February, Eva and I (once again) packed up everything that would fit into a rented Suburban (giving away everything else) and started driving. Three days later we arrived in El Paso to close on our new home.
While this was a very deliberate and intentional change, it also turned out to be an extremely lucky one. I simply can’t imagine how differently this year of almost constant and total self-quarantine would have gone if the two of us were cooped up in that Brooklyn apartment.
Aside from space to work from home, we have a big kitchen to cook in, a garage to wrench in, and a backyard to relax in. Just as importantly we are surrounded by nature; the desert is beautiful and the mountains are majestic. Having grown up in Denver, it feels really good to have mountains in view daily again.
There are many other ways that this move felt somehow like coming home, even though I’ve never lived here before. There is a homogeneity to middle America that I never appreciated before. Having lived in “the big city” has given me a totally new perspective on this other world that I now live in once again. But that could be an entire post of its own.
Instead, let’s dive into the goal accountability. No table for this one though. Call saving 100% – we have a 6 month cash reserve and that feels great. The lower cost of living helped. As for the goal to go “digital nomad,” well, as you might have guessed that one landed at 0% – having been dashed soon after we moved out here.
Overall that puts my goal attainment for 2020 somewhere around 87%. Not too shabby all things considered.