2021 Annual Review

Taking notes on cardstock makes the whole endeavor feel more special

I brew myself the last beans of my favorite coffee from my favorite roaster. I lean back in my captain's chair as the aroma and taste lift my somber spirit. Here we go.

I quietly, diligently reflect on the ups and downs of the last year. I see the husband, brother, son, student, friend, and man I've been. Successes and failures. Dreams realized and aspirations lost. Projects released and new ambitions found. Deep inhale and ... release. Thank you 2021. Goodbye.

With excitement, I raise my eyes to the horizon of 2022. I know who I want to become and what I seek to achieve. I can clearly define the incremental steps that will get me from here to there. The ones I know, at least. I release attachment to the outcome but remain diligent in the process. Bring it on '22. Here we grow!

In January 2021, I did two goal-setting workshops to reflect on the past year (value forest write-up here). Both were with a group of individuals and I found both the experience and output formative.

This year, I sought solitude and someone else's framework. A number of folks I follow via newsletter and Twitter suggested Dr. Anthony Gustin's Annual Review. Detailed, thorough, thoughtful, and well structured. My kind of workflow so I gave it a go.

If you have any interest in doing a 2021 annual review, I found Dr. Gustin's review helpful and satisfying. To echo his introduction, I strongly recommend:

  • Give yourself a couple of days - the thought process was rich and exhausting. I took 4 full days but at least a day and a half were cleaning up my tracking systems in Roam and setting up a new Notion.
  • Do it on paper first - I wrote everything out by hand then typed it up into Roam. It took more time, for sure, but going back over my notes yielded new insights the second time through.
  • Be honest, not judgmental - What has passed cannot be changed, so no point beating yourself up. Acknowledge the ups and the downs, be clear on where you want to grow, and set yourself up for success in 2022. Future you will thank past you.

Big takeaways from 2021

My loudest and most resonant takeaway from 2021 was that I had an absolutely stunning and amazing year. Easily one of the best years of my life (I find myself saying this almost every year ...). I feel fortunate and grateful for the rich and meaningful connections, experiences, and growth of the past year.

My second biggest takeaway is that I missed completely on Year 1 of my Master Plan. In the first half of the year, I wasn't diligent or focused enough (partially due to body fails), and in the second half, I focused on grad school at the cost of UTT and GIFT. I'm realigning for Year 2.

Otherwise, my high-level stats on the 57 projects I set out for 2021:

  • Successfully completed - 47% (with some big wins I'm really proud of)
  • Started but didn't finish - 13%
  • Never started (despite intending to) - 7%
  • Actively deprioritized (drop to backlog) - 14%
  • Canceled - 19%

47% isn't great, but it's not bad considering I was unrealistically ambitious. If I remove the canceled and deprioritized - the projects that were no longer important - then I completed 71% of the projects I thought were worth pursuing. That's right on target with course corrects.

Much like last year, one of my favorite exercises was going back through my 2021 photos, books, articles, and listens. I lead a blessed life and it shows in the smiling faces, stunning landscapes, inspiring people, and brilliant minds that infuse my days.

Insights and next steps for 2022

For the last few years, I've set a single word that can be my guiding force for the year. For 2020, it was clarity (check!). For 2021, it was expansion (check plus!).

For 2022, my word is diligence.

One thing that surprised me in my 2021 reflection is that I eroded my self-trust. Not in any big way, but in the insidious "death by a thousand cuts" small ways that veered me toward more comfortable and less growthful paths.

Another surprise was, for someone so focused on Thriving, I have neglected my own physiological health. I don’t need radical changes to get back on track, but I do need to build the routines and habits, with diligence, that will serve me for years to come.

Looking ahead to 2022, I started by updating my list of Value Trees (in Dr. Gustin's parlance, life categories; for the BASB folks, my Areas of Responsibility). Specifically:

  • Retired Day Job and added Work - I will always have one or more work arenas, so this catchall will be more stable. Below that, I added the handful of current professional priorities I'm pursuing, including GIFT.
  • Added Play - One realization was that I need to focus more on playful and recharging scenarios to enjoy life more, stop myself from getting too serious (an obnoxious tendency), and, most importantly, pre-empt burnout. Adding a Value Tree ensures I allocate time and resources accordingly.
  • Added Mental Health - Lifted this from Dr. Gustin's templates. I'm generally pretty resilient and stable, but as soon as I added the category there were a handful of projects that fit there and nowhere else so that's a clear sign it was missing.
  • Added Community - Distinct from friendships and social outings, this Value Tree speaks more to being of service and plugging into communities I want to support.

Then, for the first half of 2022, my top priorities are:

  • Body - instilling a foundation of healthy habits to carry forward.
  • Work - GIFT, gracefully closing a few projects, and starting + continuing a few projects.
  • Graduate School - it's expensive and important, so I must make the most of my time left.
  • Play - I got too close to burnout at the end of last quarter and didn't like what I saw in the mirror. I'm testing into this category to see what enables sustainability.

For the second half of 2022, my top priorities are all geared toward preparing for kiddos (Finances, Marriage, and Parenthood). Many projects from the first half will carry forward, but hopefully as habits that require less bandwidth.

Finally, as I meditated on the standards I care to nurture plus my desired resolves (be states) and outcomes (do states), I saw that many of my 2021 projects were too big. For 2022, I've chunked projects into smaller units to develop momentum and increase my probability of success.

In total, I have 94 projects I'll be tracking over the course of the year. Roughly a quarter are small, simple habits I'm tracking and another quarter are discrete events or gatherings I want to make happen. Of the remaining ~50, there are some substantive, meaty topics that I'm excited to chew on.

Outro to intro

Perhaps most importantly, I feel completely at peace with my plan for 2022. Part of that is rational - I mapped my projects and priorities to each quarter and validated that I'm edging on realistic. Part of that is intuitive - I feel light and excited by what I've set out for myself as well as the systems and tools to support me along the way. And part of that is aspirational - if I can achieve 70% of what I've set out for next year, it's going to another absolutely epic year of discovery and growth.

There is no way for me to know what will come in 2022. I do know I've done everything I need and am ready to witness the unfolding.

One of my favorite quotes from 2021 came from the book The Lion Tracker's Guide to Life by Boyd Varty.

A tracker does not know where he is going. But he knows exactly how to get there.

I don't know where the track of 2022 will take me, but I know exactly how I'll get there. With pristine focus. Humble presence. Joyful play. Diligence.

Here we grow.


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Every week you'll receive fascinating finds and synthesized sensemaking in  physical, intellectual, emotional, and relational arenas.