curtain call: 2021

I started out 2021 staring down the face of the longest COVID-centric Canadian winter. While I knew the outside world wouldn't be kind for many months, I also saw the writing on the wall that I would need a new energy outlet. It was a once-in-a-lifetime-build-at-home situation that gave me the runway to pause, prepare, and pivot into the new. For the first time in my life, there was space to reimagine open possibilities and reinvent my identity to better fit my needs and wants.

Making space for structured goal setting in 2020 was my mindbending gateway drug into the world of self-development. What was most infectious about the process was getting to be scientific: tuning a set of parameters and boundaries over my stretch targets, aiming for iterations and cycles rather than feeding a static spreadsheet. But it also became clear to me that tracking line-by-line items regularly was not going to be a sustainable strategy in the long-run, and didn't leave as much room for spontaneity and serendipity as my soul craves.

I wanted this next iteration of 2021 planning to be less about what I needed to do and more about charting the direction that I wanted to head. It was more about creating a personal compass that would act as my guide through a year steeped in uncertainty and ambiguity. With a fresh love for seasonal planning, I wanted to check-in every few months to regulate, record, and reflect on the milestones.

Thus, I excitedly gave birth to the 2021 Strategic Pillars. While a classic metaphor in strategy circles, the “pillars" represented a comforting and supporting infrasturcture for both present-minded and future-minded principles. This intentional design choice was the way I anchored my present reality against any aspirational fantasy — a more detailed essay on this later!

This open-source Notion document became my go-to link whenever I was catching up with close friends or icebreaking with new strangers. That was one of my favourite side-effects of the Google Sheets method, and I was happy to share this portable version and stay accountable in a public way. Here are the five “pillars” I designed in January, and how I fared in each.

1. Embracing spirituality: I wanted to make this year about exploring my internal world, knowing that the external world was largely shut down. Meditation was the first layer to unlock here, which started with one of my favourite writing pieces about my Calm experience. There was a crazy period where I was waking up consistently at ~7:30 am before work and sit on the couch for 30 minute unguided meditations. Combined with diligent readings on Stoicism, Buddhism, and Taoism, I was doing so well here... until about halfway through the year, where priorities in the physical world overwhelmed my spiritual progress.
2. Practicing essentialism: This pillar ended up seeing double-sided results. I realized that in "explore" mode, it's so easy to justify any remotely-productive thing as a "fuck yes" activity. And by not defining the threshholds upfront, I probably said way more 'yeses' than hard 'nos' (especially during NYC summer). Looking back though, I'd also say that the majority of these opportunities were net-positive and aligned well with my charted direction, so I can't complain too much about my *fluid* approach.
3. Re-balancing routines: This didn't really work too well if I'm being honest, but is something I'm dedicated to improving for 2022. I tried to stack too many routines that were historically volatile: sleep, diet, exercise, meditation, reading combined both foundational and aspirational qualities, which was misstep #1. Secondly, this pillar would have benefitted most from actually setting tangible week-over-week goals. January was fine, but I definitely performed worse for each subsequent month. Welp! 
4. Working in public: This was the goal that I crushed the hardest, despite also having lots of new untapped potential for 2022. Launching my own personal website filled with side projects, speaheading my long-form Substack newsletter, increasing my Twitter presence, building with new friends from online fellowships... the list continues, and I'm so proud to have added a practice to my repertoire that purely compounds over time. 
5. Blending skill and impact: This pillar was a buffer I put in place to make sure I didn't just mindlessly go down infinite rabbit holes in the name of "learning". I had a lot to learn, but doing it passively only takes you so far. I started January with 9 different extracurricular activities, mainly cohort-based courses and fellowship programs, which was insane. But going for a volume-based approach helped me find invaluable communities that resonated greatly and paid their weight in gold. I got to jam, build, and interact with some of the brightest and boldest minds on the planet!

Dissecting my approach from a bird's-eye view reveals some important lessons. In my evaluation, I met about three of these pillars decently well and fell short on two, which I think is good — not bad, but not great. While the intention and rationale of the pillars was clear, I think the maintenance mechanisms could have structured better. Going into Summer 2021 definitely didn't help with the discipline part, as all I wanted to do was go out and play. And play I did!

I moreso spent the last year expanding the realm of imagined possibilities for my future self. At the same time, I noticed my increasing comfort in being present, whether it was the intense gauntlet of activity in the first half or my leap-of-faith adventures in the second half. The hallmark theme that emerged subtly over the backhalf of the year is the idea of choose your own adventure. The faith, conviction, and intuition to choose what you truly need and want.

If you told me a year ago that I'd have a chance to accomplish my pivot into technology — and by extension, startups and web3 — in just a few months, I'd have laughed. If you told me a year ago that I'd be promoting and publishing my own projects & pieces across different channels, I'd be chortling. If you told me a year ago that I would then be moving across the world to live in Turkey, I'd have rolled on the floor. But with my constantly nonlinear life path, I'd have stood back up and seriously considered each scenario.

Far from being a postmortem, this post is another widget on the reflective time machine that I've slowly started building for myself. Writing has been the best medium — it has activated me intellectually and supercharged me emotionally. For that, I'm so grateful for the creative tailwinds that 2021 brought me.

If you're somehow reading this, I appreciate you more than you'll ever know. we're all gonna make it. Here's to new saucy shenanigans in 2022 :)

Published by Sam (samwong) 5 months ago on Thursday the 30th of December 2021.

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