2021 in Review

I did this exercise last year and I found it both comforting and motivating as I reflected on what went right and what went wrong. So I’m at it again. This is one of the more personal things I write and I do spend a while creating it, so enjoy!

Recap

Like a lot of people, I felt that the new year brought more than the usual feelings of new beginnings and hope as the news and deployment of effective vaccines came. Unfortunately, my end to 2020 included a car crash (not my fault) and a snowboarding ankle injury (my fault) that put a damper on the new year.

Still, a nice development was starting a new job at the local ski resort, Eldora. The commute and cold were difficult, but working on the mountain was a lot of fun. People are in good moods on the mountain, the type of employees that the mountain attracts are fun and laid back. Perks include ski breaks, free lift tickets at other resorts, and more.

I ended ski season with a week-long trip to visit my family in Telluride and get some make-up boarding in after my ankle injury.

My next gig was working at Whole Foods, which… sucked. Working for an Amazon affiliate is exactly what you would think. Your work is tracked meticulously and if your numbers aren’t great, all of your actions are scrutinized. I wasn’t there for very long.

Next up was a family trip to of all places… The Galapagos Islands. We had an original trip booked to Scotland which got COVID-cancelled. Thankfully, we were able to find another trip that fit our schedule and made the trip down to Ecuador. I could write a whole post on the trip, but I’ll spare you the details. We went at a great time. They had just restarted tourism on the islands, so the animals were less wary of people and none of the spots were busy. We went whole days without seeing people or signs of civilization that weren’t on our boat. The trip was a little more posh than we would typically enjoy (less adventuring, more relaxing) but was an all-around amazing experience.

In 2020, I tried to transition from my CRM roles into a product job by taking a handful of online courses/certifications and reworking my application materials. That didn’t work, at all. A literal hundred applications later and I was no closer to my goal. What was worse was getting ghosted by two companies that I did projects for. Companies that would’ve been awesome to work for, and projects I put considerable time and effort into. My level of frustration at my job search and overall career was at all-time highs — which is saying something.

Sensing that my efforts to re-skill weren’t quite enough, I had the thought of grad school in my back pocket. Throughout the end of 2020, I completed the requirements for two different programs in case I wanted to take that path. They were the Masters in Market Research & Consumer Behavior at IE in Madrid (yeah, I know) and the Masters in Marketing at the University of Denver. The program in Madrid was more up my alley, but I knew that it would be incredibly disruptive to the life I built and liked in Colorado.

Ultimately, I made the decision to enroll at the University of Denver, which set the tone for the rest of the year. I started apartment hunting in Denver, got my student hat back on, and tried to squeeze in some more fun before school began. It was bittersweet to leave Boulder. I had a solid and expanding friend group, and though I wasn’t going far, I knew I’d see a lot less of them. Night classes and a 45-minute drive are big enough obstacles. I knew I’d miss the views and access to the mountains, as well.

Living in Denver has reminded me of what I liked and disliked about living in bigger cities. There’s just more of… everything. More entertainment and food options, more young people, more energy. There’s also more traffic and the noise and smells of a bigger city. I think I’d like it more if I was in a better neighborhood. I live in a commercial area that was just convenient for school.

Grad school has been pretty good! I like my teachers and classmates but have been a little underwhelmed by the material. I geared myself up to go back to school, thinking about how I would need to level up to tackle courses at a graduate level that I hadn’t had much background in. I’ll give myself credit for being prepared and proactive but… things just weren’t that difficult. I have to remind myself that school is often only partially about the education. Especially in business grad school, it’s about connections, showing your intent, access to recruiters, gaining some hard skills, etc.

That just about brings me to the present. We have a massive 5-week winter break, I’m spending about half of it at home.

I’m healthy, I’ve made new friends, I read a lot more books this year, and went on some great trips. I didn’t make as much progress on the career or relationship fronts as I wanted to. They’re somewhat related. I didn’t go on as many outdoor adventures, but that’s mostly because I was more socially active.

What I (re)-learned this year

The importance of optimism

Pessimists get to sound smart and be right, optimists get to have fun and be successful. Something I wrote about early on in the year. I was a self-labeled pessimist for a while because I hated hearing points that were just unearned-lofty-expectations or the type of advice that is just about making the giver feel better (“it’ll be okay!”). Thing is, pessimism isn’t a good look and doesn’t help you with much. Sure, you might get to feel smug about being rational (something I do like) but you won’t win many supporters and you’re not likely to make yourself feel better. Obviously, it was difficult to be an optimist in 2020, but I learned to change my attitude towards things for the better.

The importance of good habits

I think mostly has to do with getting a little older. The older you get, the more upkeep you need to do to feel good. It sucks but there’s nothing you can do about it, EXCEPT maintain better and better habits. I’ve noticed that when I don’t stick to my bedtime routine I feel worse the next day, if I don’t do my morning routine I’m not as productive if I don’t keep up my journaling practice my headspace isn’t as good, etc. People often want to know what the “secret” to success is. Being great at anything is just being good, consistently. You see this advice everywhere in self-help literature, but it’s worth acknowledging.

Just how social humans are

Humans are social animals. Stop me if you’ve heard that before. Actually don’t because I want to keep writing and for you to keep reading. I’ve long been interested in behavioral sciences, and I took it up a notch this year with my reading. Why do people behave the way they do? It mostly boils down to… other people. We have this ideal in our culture of individuality and independence. Of being unique, uninfluenced, not basic, basically. Turns out, it’s nearly impossible for us to be that individual ideal. “Don’t care about what others think” sorry, we’re all constantly evaluating other people and our social status consciously and unconsciously. Why do you want the things you want? Probably because other people want them. Social norms heavily influence what you do and say, and if you break those norms it’s probably because you’re trying to send a strong signal about who you are to others. (If you wear a pink tutu to work, it’s not because you don’t care about what others think, it’s because you want everyone to think that you don’t care, and what that says about you)

Alright, onto the categories!

Favorites

Movies

Dune — I read Dune at the beginning of the pandemic since I thought it would be nice to escape into a deeper world. When I finished I learned about the upcoming movie and got all kinds of hyped for it. Then it was delayed to October ’22. Well, my patience paid off when I went to see it in IMAX. It was ambitious, true to the book, and just incredible to look at.

Inside — Bo Burnham is so talented it’s simply unfair. Inside is generation-defining art. It made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me think. The pandemic fucking sucks, but at least it gave us this.

TV

The Great — A satirical historical dramedy that brilliantly walks the line between funny and heartfelt in each episode. I love love love this show.

Loki — I’m not a big Marvel guy, but I thought Loki was excellent. Lots of powerful scenes with plenty of comedic relief. Big-budget shows pay off when you get this combination of actors, writers, and FX.

Mythic Quest — I never watched much Sunny, so I was skeptical that I would like this show by one of the same creators. I was wrong. Mythic Quest is part Sunny, part Silicon Valley. If maybe not quite as good as either it’s still great fun.

Books

The Elephant in the Brain — I downloaded this book over a year ago but never read it because the tagline sounded too similar to a few other social psychology books I had recently read. Biiig mistake to not read more of a synopsis because when I finally did read the book, it was eye-opening. I love this book because it helps explain things that don’t make sense (Why do we laugh? To signal to each other that we’re not being serious), and because it shines a bright light on parts of our nature we’d rather not.

Station Eleven — Another book that I sat on for a while because of all things, it’s about a post-apocalyptic world caused by a… pandemic. Too soon and too heavy for my tastes. I finally listened to it this summer and was so impressed. The way the storylines slowly start to make sense as they’re weaved together is novel. Though it’s a dark book at times, it’s ultimately uplifting. A clever and soulful book.

Project Hail Mary — No originality points for me here, but massive originality points for Andy Weir. On the surface, it’s another “man survives in space with science” book, but the story, conflict, characters, and more are refreshingly original for Sci-Fi. How much you enjoy this book will depend on how much you can stomach Weir describing science experiments and his intention to make either himself or the reader (or both) feel smart about liking it. Regardless, an excellent read.

The Biggest Bluff — The first book I read this year, and it’s still sitting with me. Part captivating narrative, part self-help, part pop-science. It’s a unique and compelling book that I recommend often.

Music

My music tastes took a bit of a turn this year. I’ve long liked synth-y/house-y music but it’s never been near the forefront of my tastes. I didn’t listen to as many new releases as I typically do. Here are a handful of my favorite songs from throughout the year.

Discoveries

Lichess — Like a lot of people, I started to learn chess in the pandemic, then I gave it up. Then I watched Queens Gambit and got back into it, but this time taking more advantage of Lichess… “the free online chess server”. Lichess is one of the more impressive open-source, community-run platforms I’ve seen. Now, I still suck at chess, but I have logged 1000 games on there so…

Peanut Butter Powder — I used to shy away from this stuff because of the price, but it’s worth it. It’s low-cal, protein-dense, and mixes into smoothies, oatmeal, baked goods, whatever, and is so much easier than regular PB.

Huberman Lab Podcast — Andrew Huberman is a brilliant science communicator. He brings detailed research from the leading scientists down to earth for you to use to make your day-to-day experience better. I’ve been implementing some of his advice and have seen great results. The episodes are long and dense, but well worth it.

Formula 1 — Yes, like chess, I got into another Netflix-fueled pandemic trend that was Formula 1. Good thing because this season has been amazing. I like sports that have high-stakes, and F1 certainly checks that box. That it’s sexy and filled with the drama between teams makes it all the better.

Notion — Notion is an all-in-one productivity tool. I drafted this post in Notion. I take class notes in Notion. I made my personal website in Notion. It takes some time to get used to some of its unique functionality and commands, but I’m a big fan.

Moments

Visiting Family in Telluride — I stayed with my Aunt and Uncle in Telluride for a week. We hung out, skied, made good food, and just generally had an awesome time. Because of my ankle injury I felt like I had make-up snowboarding to do. I more than made up for lost time and had a great time doing it.

Getting Vaccinated — Yes, my little lib self was excited and proud to get vaccinated. It was at once both a selfish relief and a contribution to the public good. I had a worry lifted and I felt like I did my part to get things back to “normal”. I just got my booster and I feel comfortable doing just about anything, which is a great feeling.

Snorkeling in the Galapagos — We took a family vacation to the Galapagos Islands in June. Of course, the whole point is to see animals in their wondrous natural habitat. Actually, the islands are quite barren — they’re volcanic (hence the new-land, new-animals thing). However, the reefs and shallows that surround the islands were teeming with interesting marine life. Getting to swim with: seals, sea lions, penguins, flightless cormorants, sharks, sea turtles, and more was such a special experience. One that I won’t forget.

Who knew lobsters could be so pretty?

Pictures

Snow-shoeing with my aunt in Telluride, her little dog got tired and was content to let me put him in my backpack and go along for the ride.

Peeping at the 3rd Flatiron through the 2nd. Snapped this one on the first real day of Spring on a day-hike in Boulder.

Snapped this candid shot of a backyard hang with my friends, just a happy place kind of thing that makes this photo meaningful to me.

Chicago Lakes, probably my favorite hike of the year.

This is the best of the lot. Dad and I hanging out with some penguins in the Galapagos Islands.

The Dillon Amphitheater before the Lettuce show. What. A. Venue!

My kickball team, the “Junktown Melons” after the last game of the season.

Oyster roast on the banks of the Black River at my family’s farm. Sunny day, great company, amazing vibes.

Looking forward to 2022

I want 2022 to be more about action, ownership, and getting uncomfortable.

I’m addicted to planning and researching. I like to look ahead and remove obstacles — to make sure I’m going into anything with the best information. The problem is that I rarely translate this into action, which is the whole point. I think I give myself the feeling of progress by planning/researching, without having to do the actual hard bit of executing.

Despite considering myself mostly extroverted I have a decent amount of social anxiety when it comes to initiating plans, asking for favors, or likewise. I don’t always like to put myself out there.

In 2022 I want to default to action, to make more asks, and do more of the stuff I say I want to do but often put off.

I also want to expand my comfort zone by getting more uncomfortable. Things are rarely as bad (or good) as you think they’re going to be, but we can build these things up in our minds so much. Whether it’s waking up earlier to walk in the cold to the gym, approaching that girl, asking for the job, etc. In 2022 I want to make a point to choose the uncomfortable option more often, and take more risks.

Lastly, 2021 will be my last year in my 20s and I need to grow up a bit. Whether it’s been a bit of resistance to “adulting” (hate that word), general laziness, or a tendency to resist commitment and preserve optionality, I feel like it’s time to get more serious about things. Everyone’s on their own timeline, I get it, but I feel like I’ve neglected to take real ownership over my life. In 2022 I want to make fewer excuses and accept my accountability.

So, making it public in the hope that it sticks. In 2022 I will:

  • Default to action
  • Get out of my comfort zone
  • Take ownership

Happy New Year.

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Hi. I’m Thomas. I like to think about thoughts, and then write for clarity. Not everything here is a fully formed belief. Let’s talk :)

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Thomas Sloan

Thomas Sloan

Hi. I’m Thomas. I like to think about thoughts, and then write for clarity. Not everything here is a fully formed belief. Let’s talk :)

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