Unpopular opinion: 2021 was an amazing year.
I’m sure some of you can’t agree. Literally, can’t. But I hope many of you can. Either way, I’m going to focus on the personal and the positive as I look back on the past 12 months.
Of course, part of me is devastated. We lost my Grandmother this year. COVID claimed an uncle. Cancer took a cousin. And it was the same pancreatic cancer that took my father 12 years ago. The list of “bad” things that have happened to people close to me could fill this post. So, it may sound callous, uncaring, or just plain wrong to celebrate 2021 as one of the best years of my life.
But it was. And I’m going to talk about it. I’m unwilling to temper the overwhelming joy and optimism that fills me. Instead, I’m going to try to share it. I believe that we can all choose happiness, and that’s the example I choose to set.
I wrote about this a bit in my 2020 reflection post: “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.” And I want to double down on that here, before I move on.
“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”
I believe that the only things we have any control over whatsoever, are our own actions. And I find that when we’re miserable, we want to control everything, except our own actions. We want results, without effort. We complain about things happening to us, instead of looking for opportunity in the world around us. Joy is found in the reverse. If you can truly accept the world, as it is, and then thoughtfully choose to act within it, without judgement; I’m totally confident that your life – and the lives of those around you – will improve.
These regular “status update” blog posts that I’ve been writing on and off for the past dozen years or so started out as a way for me to keep a personal record – to organize my achievements so I could look back on them someday. Then they became a way for me to hold myself accountable by stating my goals and intentions publicly, and then reporting back on progress. And now (after getting lots of feedback from folks like you) I realize that they can also be inspirational and instructional to folks who read them – who knew folks would ever actually read this stuff! So, I’m going to focus on not just talking about what I’m doing, but also why and how. I’d love to continue hearing from you whenever something resonates, and especially if you disagree or find something wanting.
With all of that said, let’s take a stroll through 2021.
What the heck is “three words?” Well, if you’ve been following these posts in the past, you already know. And if you haven’t, you can read the first 176 words of my 2020 “words & goals” post. In short, they are a razor. A cognitive shortcut to keep me following my intention (and avoiding distraction) throughout the year. I’ve been using this method for several years now, but in 2021 I stepped it up several notches.
This year I added a weekly practice of reviewing my three words, along with my personal mission statement, my annual goals, my three year plan, and a few other important tidbits. It worked! And so I’ll start with the word that spurred that routine.
Habit was one of my three words in 2021, and in some ways it was a continuation of my 2020 word “consistency.” In fact, consistency was a double-header. It was one of my words in 2019 as well. And in my 2019 intention setting post, I think I summed it up quite well:
“The counter-intuitive fact is that building strong, consistent habits actually frees you up to work on cool interesting stuff more of the time.”
~ Chris Grundemann
Habit / routine / ritual really does set you free. And more than just freeing, it has been very powerful for me. As I mentioned above, the habit of reading/reviewing my various medium and long term intentions every week really grounded me in them. That regular reminder of what I was shooting for and why I was doing the things I was doing kept me focused, it kept me positive, and it made my intentions more tangible. I have to credit that one habit with much of my success this past year.
But that was just one habit. I also now have a well established daily routine that puts me in the right place to be happy and productive all day (my 6 “R’s” – more on that in another post). And I have several other weekly habits that kept me on track to reach my goals. Then there are the ad-hoc habits that are triggered by other events, like if someone says “let’s catch up sometime” my habit is to immediately send them my booking link.
We are what we consistently do. Curating your habits is a great way to ensure you are the person you want to be.
Atomic Habits by James Clear was a super helpful read early in the year. The main takeaway? Habits work on a loop: Cue, Craving, Response, Reward. You can reinforce good habits by using this loop:
- Make it obvious (cue)
- Make it attractive (craving)
- Make it easy (response)
- Make it immediately satisfying (reward)
And you can break bad habits by doing the reverse; remove the cue, make it less attractive, make it hard, and take away the immediate satisfaction.
My word “invest” was about more than just money.
Yes, my relationship to money is changing as I get older and wiser. And educating myself on how to best put my dollars and cents to work for me was a big focus in 2021. Especially in the context of starting my own business, and my wife and I going full time self-employed. Things have gotten far more complicated than just collecting a paycheck each month and filing taxes each year. Making sure that we’re investing enough, that we have emergency funds available, and that when we do spend we do it on things that will appreciate (whenever possible) are habits we’ll maintain and improve on for the rest of our lives.
But I also focused on investing in myself. I invested in quality sleep. In regular exercise. And in constant self-education. Some of those investments were monetary, like running shoes and books. But most of those investments were in time. Time to sleep, time to run, time to read, etc. And I invested will power in creating positive habits and in breaking negative patterns, all of which will pay dividends as long as I keep it up!
My final word for 2021 was relationship. This was a biggie for me, as you can read more about in my 2021 intention setting post. Being more intentional about my relationships has been something I knew I needed to do for a long time. And I finally invested the time and effort to make it a habit! This is an area that I’m really proud of myself. Almost every week I reached out to at least one person that I wouldn’t have otherwise spoken to. And I took more time to connect with everyone I interacted with, no matter why that interaction happened.
As with my other two words, I felt a pang of loss as the year came to a close. Part of me didn’t want to choose new words. These three have served me so well. And I’ve enjoyed getting deep into each of them. So, I’ve resolved to keep the habits and thought patterns I’ve formed and build on top of them. While my words will change in 2022, it won’t be a loss, it will be in addition to all of the great work I’ve done in 2021.
Okay, it’s accountability time. How did I do against my 2021 personal goals?
- Run 1000+ km – I came up a bit short, with about 950km (beating 2020’s record of 704km)
- Read 50+ books – I just hit this one, finishing books 46-50 in the final 3 weeks of the year
- Meditate 300+ times – I came up short again with 195 days, but that beat 2020 by 29
- Publish 100+ works – I almost hit this BIG goal, publishing 91 blogs, talks, podcasts, and papers in total (47 in 2020)
- Invest X dollars – our first year in business exceeded expectations, and we were able to beat our investing goals
- Take a trip over 3 weeks long – while it didn’t look good early in the year, we were able to go nomad for all of October
That’s three goals met and three missed, but all three misses still set personal records, so I’m taking them all as wins!
Words and goals are great, but a few other things worth mentioning also happened in 2021.
- I got to snowboard on my birthday
- Read lot’s more about what it’s like to turn 40 in my mid-year review
- We started our own company!
- I drove over over 950 miles of fiber right of way for a client
- In my new-to-me truck! =)
- We celebrated a great friend’s 40th in Curaçao
- I co-hosted a bunch of episodes of the Utilizing AI podcast
- We lived in Mexico for a month
- I attended four virtual Tech Field Day events
- I attended a real, in-person NANOG
- I helped launch a new community website focused on interconnection and automation
- I helped (re)launch FullCtl – a network automation suite (open source)
- I got to spend Christmas with family and NYE with friends
Some of you immediately scrolled down for this, so here it is… Of all the books I read in 2021, these are the ones I think EVERYONE should read (in the order I happened to read them):
As with any year, we all had good and bad times, but I agree that it is always best to focus on the positive. Positivity and happiness are the outcome of the choices we make.
Congratulations on your amazing year Chris!
Wow, you read 50+ books! I didn’t even get close, but one of my goals for the new year is to read twice as much as I did last year. I also read Atomic Habit last year, and I am beginning the new year re-reading it. Great book!
Anyway, Happy New Year! I hope you have another fantastic year!
Happy New Year!