I've sat down many times over the past few weeks to reflect on 2020 and write a personal annual review.
My initial instinct at many of those times has been to say:
Why bother writing about such a messed up year? Why bother when so many of the intentions I had going into it were dashed by the pandemic?
It could have been a whole year to say "why bother" about. All of us had every excuse in the world to crawl into a hole in March and give up on our goals. To just focus on surviving for the year. To take a mulligan and move on.
No doubt about it: 2020 was a lemon. But I still made lemonade. When everything changed, I adjusted my goals and intentions to the reality of the situation. I feel satisfied that I made meaningful progress in spite of everything. The year's unusual circumstances led me to make several life changes. I expect many to be permanent.
Life is full of uncertainty. As a founder I know this well. But once you accept uncertainty, the key is in how you react to it. This year tested all of us in that department.
I started 2020 with clear intentions.
My professional goals were simple and straightforward.
After selling Inverse to BDG in 2019, I had clear operational targets for Inverse and the Culture+Innovation group that I lead. Pandemic or not, we hit most of them and crushed quite a few. A testament to the strong team at BDG and in the C+I group in particular.
Personally, my goals were a bit more abstract. I planned to use personal time to weigh options for my next career and life stage.
When I sold Inverse, I knew I wouldn't stay at BDG forever. Last year, I wanted to create a framework for critical thinking about what I would do next. And of course I planned to spend time with family and friends, travel, and see plenty of live music.
In the darkest days of March and April, I wasn't sure about the prospects for any of these goals. But after the initial shock of the spring, I figured out how to make the reality of the situation work for me. I focused on what I could control. I still made progress on my goals. I set new intentions.
And I finished the year feeling transformed.
An elimination diet for life
Living through 2020 was like doing an elimination diet for life.
When quarantine started abruptly, only the bare essentials remained. Shelter. Food. Family. Everything else was either removed or disrupted. At first, I felt a huge void left by the absence of commuting, office life, social engagements, and travel.
But soon I realized this vacuum also gave me an opportunity. My typical day-to-day had been stripped down. To rebuild it, I could refashion my routines, schedules, and priorities. I had permission to establish new habits and rituals.
I started making decisions about what to reintroduce. And what to leave behind. I confronted certain habits that weren't adding value. And I took to heart the maxim that your values are reflected in how you spend your time.
Among the changes I made:
- Started baking, and cooked more often than I have in years.
- Picked up my guitar for the first time in almost a decade.
- Did something I swore I would never do while living in NYC: bought a car. A mini-van.
- With said mini-van, took some amazing family road trips and crossed a few national parks off my bucket list.
- Exercised more regularly.
- Read more books.
- Made a ritual of weekly family Shabbat dinners.
- Tried all sorts of approaches to spending less time on my phone, and kind of succeeded.
- Started being more active on Twitter.
- Somehow found a way to listen to even more Grateful Dead and Phish.
My daily life today looks very different from what it looked like a year ago. Would I have made such drastic changes without a global pandemic? Hard to say. But even when this is all over, I don't see myself going back.
One of the biggest lessons learned this past year has been the value of slowing down. I'm a parent, founder, investor, live music fan, and New Yorker. Slow isn't a word that could ever define my lifestyle in the past.
As John Lennon famously sang:
"Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans."
For much of 2020, there were no plans to make. Which left enormous space for life to happen.
Before last March, the slowest part of my day would be the ten minutes I spent meditating each morning. Even that daily habit would lapse if life got too fast.
Over the last twelve months, I recommitted to this practice. But I took it a step further. I started consciously extending mindfulness into the rest of my day. The results have been amazing. I feel more present. Life feels more spacious.
Living slow helped me connect with my kids on a deeper level. I didn't take a true paternity leave when either of them were born. I was running a startup. I didn't think I could take a break. This year made up for that.
Time slows down when I'm with my kids. I wouldn't trade experiencing their development in real time for anything. If I got nothing else out of 2020, I would still be grateful.
As the year wore on, I leaned into the slowness. Meandering walks. Long road trips. Time in nature. Scheduling blocks in my calendar just to think and reflect.
Sometime – later this year if all goes well – life will speed back up. But I plan to build in the safeguards to remind myself to slow down.
Flexing creative muscles
My primary personal goal going into 2020 was to set intentions for my next life stage.
After five years working on Inverse, I had led the company to an exit. Near term, I planned to stay with the acquirer to ensure a smooth transition.
But I also had an eye toward the future.
This past year I intended to start planning my next chapter. I didn't expect to decide my path by year's end. Instead, I focused on the process. I wanted to establish a framework for creating and evaluating opportunities.
Going into the year, I planned to work with a coach on this goal. I've had great past experiences with executive coaching, mentors, and peer groups. For this year, I looked for a coach who specialized in life and career transitions. I found the right person right as the pandemic hit. We started working together via Zoom.
Early on, my coach urged me to shift from manager/consumer mode into a creator mindset. To enhance my receptivity to new ideas and pathways, I needed to think more creatively.
So I started writing.
Exercising my creative muscles was challenging at first. But it was exactly what I needed. Right after quarantine started, my days were full of Zoom calls, spreadsheets, and pandemic parenting. At night, that shifted to doomscrolling, and occasionally a few too many drinks. Writing gave me the outlet I needed to process all the changes.
After journaling for a while, my writing began to take the shape of more completed stories and essays. So I decided to share them publicly. That led to launching this site and starting my newsletter.
This was a huge leap for me. In my years as a founder, I've always been behind the scenes. Stepping into the spotlight, sharing my story, and using my true authentic voice was all new to me.
Writing has become the key tool for examining my next chapter in life. As I explore different opportunities, I write about them. I document my past as well. I recount the key moments that have shaped my journey. Doing this has given me a better grasp on where I've been, where I am today, and where I want to go from here.
There is no better path to self-realization than to write. My thinking is clearer. My ideas are more examined. My future is full of possibility.
There is also magic beyond filling up a blank page. Creativity begets more creativity. The more I exercise the muscle, the more active it becomes. Much like my epiphany of bringing mindfulness into daily life, I've found that creativity follows me throughout my day.
I now have the framework to decide my next chapter. And my next several chapters. Writing opened the door. I'll follow with a creative and open mind.
Intentions for 2021
Seek out slowness and serendipity
Slowness will again be my mantra in 2021. I will optimize for creating room to breathe. Even as the world returns to some level of normalcy, I won't rush to fill my schedule for the sake of being "busy."
I will also channel serendipity. So many of the changes in 2020 sapped serendipity from daily life. But it was still accessible with enough effort.
Experiencing less serendipity enhances its value. Novel and surprising experiences lead to new ideas. They spark creativity. I felt this in 2020, when serendipity was on short supply. As the world opens up, I plan to seek it out in ways I hadn't before.
Divine luck is always out there. The key is being open to receiving it.
I wrote recently about Walt Disney's "Dreamer, Realist, Critic" model.
This year I plan to spend as much time as possible in dreamer mode. I want to maximize my openness to new ideas. And to avoid limiting or critiquing to my thinking.
I'm headed towards a major life transition. I can't settle for thinking linearly. Or else I could fall into the trap of the success paradox. To achieve exponential growth, I need to think exponentially.
A personal hangup I've confronted this past year is that I can be a bit gunshy. I tend to stick to my comfort zone. Especially when I think about taking on new projects. I can avoid trying new things for fear of committing myself to the wrong path.
To address that, this year I will challenge myself by learning new things and launching new projects. I will do it in public. I will explore fields I haven't worked in before. And I will launch without judgement or concern for the outcome.
The doing is the important part.