This is my first ever end of year review and what a year to be doing it! I have never been one to make plans because I lean toward the expectation that whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. So for all the horror, frustration, fear, and anger this year brought to most of us, it actually exceeded my expectations because some things that could have gone horribly wrong didn’t.

I believe it’s important to recognize that most if not all of my accomplishments, for this year and every year, have as much to do with luck and privilege as personal effort. For example I have not yet contracted the coronavirus during a global pandemic, but that has as much to do with being able to work from home and have supplies delivered to my apartment as my own personal responsibility in social distancing, wearing a mask, and washing my hands.

I have also continued with bi-weekly pilates and weekly piano lessons that I started two years ago, but that is as much the result of having disposable income and Zoom as it is my own commitment to the practice. I have maintained excellent credit and helped others where I could (ala investing in my nephew’s business venture, buying my niece a laptop, patronizing content creators, donating to charities, extravagant tips for service workers, etc.) but I’m fortunate enough that I have skills and experience that are in high demand in the marketplace, so none of that impaired my quality of life in any significant way.

I took a couple acting classes a few years ago and that was fun, but I really wanted to try out improv classes at the start of this year. When the pandemic made that impossible I put it out of my mind, so I was excited to learn that a virtual improv group was forming in Ness Labs, an online community I belong to. I’ve only participated in a few sessions so far but it has been a lot of fun and creatively inspiring and educational.

I moved away from Michigan about 20 years ago because I always hated the cold, but most of my very large family still lives there and I often wished I could be more present in their lives but without having to live in that climate. But when one of my sisters passed away suddenly the day after Christmas 2019, I decided that my commitment to my family needed to take precedence over my dislike of the climate.

I had just signed a lease in Texas so I had to wait until the end of the year to move, but as of a few weeks ago I am living in Michigan again. Obviously Covid is keeping me from seeing much of my family, but I’ve already seen some of them and I know I’ll be seeing a lot more of them in the coming months and years. I can handle a few months of freezing every year for that.

I started therapy last summer (not for the first time and probably not the last) and stopped around the start of the pandemic this year, but I resumed after a couple months of lockdown started challenging my grasp on sanity. I had to stop when I left Texas because my therapist is not legally allowed to work with people outside of Texas (for some reason) but I will probably start again with a new therapist in the new year here in Michigan.

I also had a lot more contact with my family this year than in the past 20 years due to frequent family Zoom calls. That has not been universally positive but not entirely negative either. It definitely helped me decide whether moving back to Michigan was something I seriously wanted to do, and in the end I obviously decided it was worth doing.

Joining Ness Labs was definitely one of the best decisions I made this year. I subscribed to Anne-Laure’s newsletter in the fall of 2019 but it took me a couple months from the launch of the community before I decided to join. I’ve been participating in online communities since the 90’s and very few of those experiences have been great, so I was a little skeptical, but I haven’t regretted this decision for a minute. The kindness, generosity, and positivity of everyone here is really uplifting, even for someone like me who struggles with deep cynicism about humanity.

The thing that impacted my life most this year was the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the wake of the murder of George Floyd here in the US. I have been aware of this country’s social and political issues with race and class for most of my life, but as someone with the advantages of being straight, white, middle-class, and male, I have not been compelled to confront these issues in any serious way.

I think it is uncontroversial to say that Americans don’t, on the whole, get a deep civic education from public schools. So for a lot of us the intricacies of history, government, politics, economics, and sociology are quite opaque, and not made much clearer by the mainstream media. This ignorance may be doubly true for me because I never went to high school, which is where most Americans get the little civic education they do.

All of this is to provide background for my proudest accomplishment of the year: having spent hundreds of hours educating myself on history, politics, government, economics, and sociology (via books, articles, videos, podcasts, and conversations) over the past six months. I have also taken extensive notes throughout, making it far more likely that I can convert all this learning I’ve been doing into content that can help other people learn.

And so my primary objective for 2021 is to create content that provides a civic education for self-learners, and a related objective for the year is to consistently choose positivity, community, and optimism over negativity, isolation, and cynicism whenever I can.

If you know me, you know I have earned a living for most of the past 20+ years from working in tech. I have to say I'm thoroughly sick of working in tech, but as that is where all my skills and experience are it is right now the only way I know how to make enough money to do all the other things I talked about. My biggest challenge for 2021 is therefore to figure out how to make money without working in tech.

If you’re thinking “maybe you can somehow monetize your content creation” you are not alone! I’m thinking about that too. The Ness Labs community has been a huge inspiration in that area because it is full of content creators and entrepreneurs. I did pick up a gig doing freelance writing (on tech) a few months ago which has definitely been a positive step in that direction, but it still feels a lot like working in tech and I’m really over it.

In conclusion, despite this having been objectively one of the worst years for the world during my lifetime I consider it one of the better years for my personal development. I look forward to writing a review at the end of this year that has a lot more accomplishments and fewer regrets!