I haven’t written a year-in-review post in years. So why would I write one in a year when social media keeps reminding me that simply surviving 2020 is an achievement?
Because when stress was high, childcare scarce and productivity at an all-time low, I actually did get a few things done. I want to write them all out to remind myself that even though I moved slowly in 2020, I did move forward.
Our biggest challenge by far was having the kids home so much — I say “our” because my husband and I are equal partners in parenting — and fewer focused hours forced us to cut back on work. I remind myself every day that this is the least of what 2020 could have thrown at us: we haven’t grieved loved ones, lost our jobs, suffered from complete isolation or had to juggle remote learning (our kids aren’t old enough for school yet).
And yet spending so much time on childcare and housework, and so little quality time with my spouse, myself and my work, challenged me mentally. I’m still in the discovery process of What This All Mean, still peeling back the layers of this complicated onion; in fact, nine months into the pandemic, I’m realizing that the lessons of 2020 might not be clear to me until I look back on them years from now.
What I’m most grateful for this year — aside from my family’s health — is the partnership we’ve developed with our bubble family. After being home full time for a few months, our kids, who turned 3 and 5 during the pandemic, play at another family’s house for 28 hours a week, which gives my husband and I quiet time to work on our businesses.
While that time does wonders for my mental health, it does even more for my kids. They are learning, socializing and growing through this interaction, and while they understand that “the germs” have restricted the way we live, they’re happy and thriving.
Which brings me to what I truly believe is my biggest achievement: keeping my family healthy. This required some difficult decisions and way too much brain space, but it was my most important job this year, and I feel good about how we managed on that front.
I’m putting personal wins ahead of professional ones on this list for two reasons: 1) I’m trying to reorient my brain to prioritize life over work and 2) this year forced me to put family first.
✴️ Lots of hiking and exercise: Moving next to a National Park nine months before a pandemic was good timing. We got out often on the trails! Before the pandemic, my husband Ben and I had a goal of 52 “genius walks” in 2020, where we walk together and talk about our businesses. Because we had limited childcare and used those hours for work, we didn’t end up hiking much together, but we each hiked quite a bit on our own and altogether as a family.
This was a true highlight of the year, and it helped me keep my stress level down. I exercised more in 2020 than any other year since I had kids, for lots of reasons: it’s easier to fit in now that I’m working for myself from home again, we got a Peleton, one of my favorite yoga teachers in Florida now teaches online, and we can hike from our door.
Over the holidays, my parents visited us (after quarantines and COVID tests), and Ben and I got to finish the year with a day hike of the variety we’ve missed since becoming parents: a nearly 20-mile walk along the Appalachian Trail. Talking with my partner for a full day without interruptions was such a gift.
✴️ So many new experiences with the boys: We filled the year with outdoor adventures, exploring new trails and floating down the river in tubes. Our 3-year-old climbed a mountain under his own steam for the first time, and our 5-year-old got comfortable whizzing around on his pedal bike. We’ve built hundreds of Lego models, learned letters and math equations, and had dozens of conversations about how things work. My kids also watched hours upon hours of television and threw plenty of tantrums, but on the whole, we spent a lot of quality time together.
✴️ Renovated a historic home and moved in: Moving a family to a new home is a lot of work, but this local move felt easier than the two cross-country moves we’ve done in the last few years. It also came with a huge payoff, as we now live in a home that’s both beautiful and functional for our family, and we hope to stay here long term. I’m moved to tears when I think about how grateful I am for this home, especially during a year that’s been tough for so many people.
✴️ Long weekend away with girlfriends in a hot climate in January: Daily yoga, yummy and healthy food, lots of laughs and sun. This felt like an amazing trip even before COVID. Now it’s the getaway I dream about while parenting through a pandemic.
✴️ Growth of The Write Life: In addition to continuing to publish high-quality content, we managed two feats with this brand this year:
1) growing search traffic by continuing to optimize our content and
2) The Writer’s Bundle sale, which brought in $70,000 in revenue over three days. Considering how few child-free hours I had to work in the weeks leading up to the bundle sale, it felt like a miracle that we pulled it off smoothly… but we did.
✴️ Hired and trained a writing team for a client: I put my skills and experience building writing teams to use in a consulting capacity, and it was fun and mutually beneficial. I hope to do more of this work in the coming year, supporting startups that want to scale their writing operations.
✴️ The Penny Hoarder was acquired: While I exited the company 1.5 years ago, I was still proud to see this happen, given all the work I’d put into growing the company over the previous five years. The deal was announced right before Christmas, and I wrote about it here.
✴️ Helped my husband run SheetsCon: In a fortunate twist of fate, Ben’s online conference ran during our last full week of childcare before our kids left pre-school for the year. The event was a huge success, and I look forward to helping with it again in 2021.
✴️ Felt supported through the Wise Women’s Council: This was my second year in the 10-month program for business-minded moms, and it kept me afloat mentally during a year of ups and downs. I highly recommend it if you’re a female leader.
✴️ Built my first no-code app: I worked on this passion project slowly over several months. HarpersFerryTrails.com is a guide to hiking, eating and parking in our West Virginia town. Here’s an explainer of how I created it using no-code app-builder Glide and Google Sheets.
Lots of plans for this year did not pan out as expected, no surprise there. I finally took my family’s Finish calendar off the wall in October because I was sick of looking at all the trips and family get-togethers that had been cancelled. Most notably, we haven’t seen my husband’s family since January because they live overseas.
Two other items stick out to me as disappointments:
✴️ Choosing my next venture: This was my big goal for 2020, to start a new business. But first I have to choose one, and that requires quiet time to think and explore. I did not have that space in 2020; I could barely complete the work that was already on my plate while meeting my family’s needs, so thinking deeply about what I want to build next was not in the cards.
While that was a disappointment, several of the projects I worked on in 2020 are complete or will wrap up by the end of January, and it feels satisfying to be in a season of finishing. So I have big hopes to find the stillness required for this thinking and exploring in 2021.
✴️ Retreat & Create was postponed: I started 2020 by filling my first workcation for women, which I’d planned to hold in May. By early spring I’d called it off because of COVID.
This is somewhat related to “choosing my next venture,” because Retreat & Create might be that venture. I want to experiment with these events and see if I enjoy running them, since it requires more in-person elements than my previous online businesses. As vaccines begin to roll out, I’m beginning to feel hopeful about running one event by the end of 2021.
So what’s on deck for 2021?
I had trouble creating goals for the coming year, which is unlike me; I usually know exactly what I want to accomplish. But the combination of not knowing when the pandemic will improve and how that might change our childcare routine, plus not knowing exactly what I want to build next has me feeling less certain than usual.
When I dug a bit more on this, I realized that only the second half of the year feels uncertain; I know what the first half will look like. So instead of making goals for all of 2021, I made them for the first six months of the year. Then, depending on where we are, I’ll recalibrate.
Here’s what I’m aiming for and looking forward to during the first half of 2021.
1. Have more fun
I didn’t laugh enough in 2020. This was largely because of our circumstances — the stress of a pandemic, a disastrous president, and lack of social interactions — but now that we know how to keep ourselves safe, I want to bring more joy into our lives.
I think I can accomplish this in little ways: reaching out to friends for more chats, getting silly with the kids more often, spending a lot of time outside, using some of our precious childcare hours as alone time with my husband, even watching more mindless TV to help me relax.
I’ve always enjoyed throwing myself into work; building and creating are fun for me. But in 2021, I want to prioritize non-work fun. This will be easy once we can get together with other people again, and hopefully I can find some ways to create joy before then, too.
2. Help our kids prepare for school and post-COVID reimersion
While I hope to have lots of serendipitous experiences with the kids, this is one area I want to be strategic about: how to ease them into being around other people, especially because my eldest will start kindergarten in the fall.
Before I had kids, I thought parenting would just happen, that I would somehow know what to teach my kids and how to deal with every situation. This sounds silly now, but I vastly underestimated how much brain power I’d spend learning to parent. I’m trying to be more realistic about that going forward.
3. Launch The Money Guide for Freelance Writers: How to Manage (And Feel Good About) Your Finances
I’ve already checked this off my list! We self-published this beast of a guide in early January. I’ve worked on it with my accountant dad on and off over the last eight years, and it’s finally helping freelance writers get a hold on their finances.
I hemmed and hawed mid-2020 over whether to spend time finishing this, because both the topic and writing an ebook felt like stepping back in time in my career, and I’m eager to move forward into bigger things. But it was really satisfying to put this out into the world, and I’m glad we got it done.
4. Sell The Write Life
After growing this brand for the last seven years, I’ve been preparing to transition it to a new owner at the beginning of 2021.
This almost belongs in my 2020 bucket, because much of the work I did to prepare the asset for sale happened last year. But the deal and transfer will take place in early 2021.
I decided to sell this brand because I want to start a new business that stretches me in different ways, and especially in this pandemic era, I need to clear my plate to make room for that. I’ll share more on this in the coming months.
5. Explore new ideas
My true hope is to start a new business in the coming year, but choosing one feels like a lot of pressure. So instead, I’m focusing on exploration and experimentation as my goal for the first half of 2021.
I want to give myself permission to explore possible next ventures in two distinct ways:
6. Move forward with Retreat & Create
I’m excited to reboot this in-person event when it feels safe to do so. I’ll need to rethink a few elements of the experience, as some of the businesses I’d planned to partner with didn’t survive the pandemic.
The good news is, a year later, I’m still psyched about this idea. I can’t wait to bring smart women to Harpers Ferry and support them as they make progress on their projects. In fact, I think getting away for deep thinking time will be even more appealing and in-demand when the pandemic ends! You can get on the waitlist here.
I had hoped that writing this would help me reflect on the previous year, but it also had another positive effect: it reminded me that I have so much to look forward to in 2021.
I hope it’s a fruitful year for all of us!