2021

Published

Or twenty-twenty-fun as I like to call it. Just kidding, I didn't call it that. Year two of this pandemic and I'm not sure what I think about it. It can get bent as far as I'm concerned.

How I Went

This year was a mixed bag personally. I didn't do much in the way of travel, I did get to do some outdoorsy stuff with my Subie, so that was nice. But I spent a lot of this year being introspective, working on my mental health stuff, and trying to cultivate a kinder self-view.

In many ways this year has felt like several steps backward in terms of being a human in the world. Maybe it's not that I took some steps backward maybe it's that I never took those necessary critical steps forward. What I mean is that unhealthy patterns reared their ugly head this year, I caused plenty of harm and I had to reckon with myself in ways I never have previously. I have a lot of unresolved trauma stemming from childhood that I just haven't bothered to pay the time to that it deserves—how I treat myself and others is evidence that it's a problem.

I've intentionally started the journey of getting that part of me in a better place. It hasn't been easy, many times it feels like I'm not getting anywhere but then I realize that's not true when I take stock of moments where I might speak up or when I stop people-pleasing quite so much. There are a number of things I've made sure to look at and give myself credit for. Certainly, I've learned a few things and added some tools that I didn't previously have. In some ways, the conversations I'm having are positive, and in other ways, there's a lot of discomfort to work through—I think that's for the best.

I wish I could say all better but it doesn't work like that—none of this is linear and I'll likely be working at this stuff for the rest of my life. What I've learned has helped me with conversations with family and friends and that's a big deal to me.

Overall, personally, 2021 has been challenging but it wasn't without its positives. I believe I'm in the right place and headed in the right direction. I see a little more clearly than I did to start the year. Ultimately, if I can manage to keep the lessons I learned and leave the past in the past I will signal a small personal victory.

How my business went

Man. Today versus this same time last year are night and day. Last year at this time I was super stressed out, overwhelmed by anxiety. It was bad. I was having stress dreams about work, something that had never happened before. In short, my team was working on a difficult and incredibly toxic project. On the one hand, it paid decently, which accounted for roughly 10% of our annual revenue. On the other hand, it accounted for 99% of all of my stress and anxiety and that was no good.

Eventually, my agency was fired from that project. In truth, I should have chosen to walk away from that job about a year prior. I knew the working conditions were not good, it wasn't healthy.

Around this time last year, I began a cohort with Louder Than Ten. I put myself through it. It isn't cheap but the lessons I learned have been numerous and I feel like the principles I've added to my agency since taking that course have helped me to be more mindful, inspired me to create better processes, documentation, and understand team dynamics a bit better.

Revenue wise?

I'm down this year. Last year, 2020, was our best year revenue-wise but with that came a lot of mental and emotional hardship, and, honestly folks, it wasn't worth it.

I let myself get stepped on quite a bit and that wasn't okay. Lesson learned and hopefully not something I have to relearn again.

Later this year, I turned down a pair of good-paying projects because they did not meet our criteria on what a healthy engagement looks like. We had a client who was upset at the notion of a discovery/research phase. That's fine, you don't have to work with us. Good day! Another project had so many red flags you could make a kite! I walked away from it. Had I chosen to do those projects we would be up over last year but I think I was just too traumatized by unhealthy client engagements and couldn't bring myself to justify doing work with folks who are unwilling to collaborate in a healthy manner.

Here are a few specific things I've done in 2021 that are bright spots.

  • Update criteria for what makes a good-fit client
  • Review our client roster based on this new good-fit client criteria and we began transitioning away clients who no longer fit with our updated definition.
  • We started maintaining a company changelog to keep track of our agency's wins throughout the year. Doing so has been a mental boost for sure.
  • We stopped billing hourly and have adopted day/weekly/monthly rates or we do sprint rates, whic leads me to…
  • We implemented Agile into our small agency. It took time to get it going, we had a lot to learn. Our early sprint planning meeting were… rough. But that's okay, working in specific, timed, intervals has helped us to keep a steady work velocity (I'm a clown).
  • We've improved our client onboarding process significantly along with our client communication. Our PM Kaelyn has been excellent in that role this past year.
  • I was able to give myself and my team the December 24th through the 4th of January off and be able to pay out small bonuses to the team for the holidays.

Saying that I'm over the moon doesn't quite describe how this small set of accomplishments I've listed made me feel.

Lessons learned

I fucked up a lot this year and over the course of my life. I'm responsible for my fuck-ups, numerous as they are. My shortfalls, my poor behavior/actions, don't define me (unless I choose to do nothing to improve and make amends). I know that I have to make amends for my choices and, with some time behind me, we'll see if I'm able to do that. Other than that, all I can do is try to do better.

Stop people-pleasing. Wanting to maintain peace or make sure others are comfortable isn't necessarily a bad thing but when it's to your detriment or when doing so silences your needs that's not a good thing. I won't get into it here but maintaining peace and safety was a core part of my upbringing, a survival mechanism I developed at a young age and have kept with me as an adult. I'm trying to unlearn this mechanism and lean into difficult conversations and advocate for myself. When we communicate what we need and we're able to express (and keep) healthy boundaries then we are serving ourselves and the relationships of those who meet us in that way.

Shame and guilt. These are not things we're meant to carry with us. They are guideposts that light your way when you fuck it up. Someone should have told me this a long time ago. I'm trying to work through my own regret and to detach from the past over decisions I've made—this new way of looking at things certainly helps.

Your thoughts are not always your reality. Sometimes they're just thoughts. We spend a lot of time thinking. I can't speak for you all but for myself, I know that my mind is endlessly streaming thoughts and scenarios, many of which are not reality.

So often, I found myself wrapped in thought, usually, a negative self-perception, or an imagined conflict, or an imagined scenario where I'm at risk, be it mentally, financially, or something else. Too often, these thoughts I took at face value rather than holding them up to the light of scrutiny. Why am I thinking about this? Is this real? Do I need to express how I feel on this topic?

Armed with a few more tools, I can catch these thoughts while they happen and I can change direction or stop altogether. Sometimes it's just asking the question is this reality? is this a real thing I'm worried about? Sometimes, it's rubbing my index finger to my thumb or snapping a finger to come out of my blind-thought-trance.

Breathe. Meditation has helped somewhat, I do it more than I used to. The breathing part is helpful more than anything. I still have a difficult time finding peace, silence, or just not being able to silence my mind. But the practice of sitting still and taking deep breaths helps. The breathing bit I've known, my grandmother used to take me through such exercises when I was young. When I get caught up in my negative thought cycles, I'm able to breathe and let my mind calm down so I can reset.

What I want in 2022

It should go without saying, I would love this pandemic to kick rocks but I'm not hopeful about that just yet. In the coming year, I hope to keep plying the things I'm learning and improving.

Things I would like to do or see happen
(NOT New Years Resolutions mind you)

  • Travel a little more than I did, take at least one camping trip by myself. I've had a rooftop tent on backorder since last summer. I'm hoping that it will come in at some point in the winter/spring.
  • Regarding travel, it would be nice to leave the US for a minute but that largely depends on how the pandemic continues to evolve.
  • Read more books but also read more fun books. I have read a LOT of personal finance books this year, as well as business-related books, and self-help books. If I can read the same number of books but increase the joy.
  • Take it easy and ultimately be less hard on myself.
  • Sever ties with that which no longer serve me. Specifically, identifying bad habits that need changing/removal and relationships that have expired. I can't expect old keys to open new doors.
  • Cultivate my curiosity more than I have.
  • Start working on that graphic novel finally.
  • Not take things so seriously…
  • The Trailblazers finally put it together for a chip. PLEASE!!!!!

1 comment

  1. Hi Alex! Thanks for sharing these moments of challenge and growth this past year- so much is relatable, refreshing, and insightful to read. I wish you much success, continued mindfulness and self-care this next go around. Onward!

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