2020 Year in Review

At the beginning of 2020, I chose a word as my intention for the year: calm. It’s funny that a turbulent year like 2020 followed.

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2020 was not “perfect”. I spent nearly 4 months of it at home due to voluntary social distancing, strict lockdowns, and depression. But those turbulent times taught me how to ground myself and focus on what I can control in order to be calm.

I acknowledge that I’m so privileged and fortunate to be where I am. Although I’ve spent the past three years living abroad and travelling as a digital nomad, I planted roots in Vietnam this year due to covid.

Of course, I miss my family and friends back home. But I’ve taken the opportunity to approach 2020 as a year of looking inward and discovering what it means to be myself.

This is my first annual review! When I sat down to write one last year, every category (relationships, health, career, and development) related back to my then-recent decision to live sober. Instead of writing a formal Year in Review, I wrote about finding myself through sobriety instead.

I’m writing this Year in Review to reflect upon 2020. Writing a Year in Review can be better than setting a goal that you probably won’t stick to beyond January. This is because you take the time to reflect about what worked for you in the past year, and what didn’t, and set intentions based on that.

  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go well?
  • How would I like to improve next year? 

I’m taking this time to think about moments I enjoyed, commitments I dreaded, and activities that made me happy. 

Friends, Family + Relationships

I’ve spent my life prioritizing relationships with an SO. This year, I prioritized building friendships.

As a highly sensitive person, I value deep and open friendships where we can get vulnerable about our feelings, dreams, passions or intentions. Moving around, it’s not always easy to break the protective bubble people keep around them. But I’m trying my best.

To build deep friendships in new places, I worked directly on my self-confidence. Often, I disqualify myself from new connections. I tend to assume people are too busy, cool, or disinterested. It’s something I realized stemmed from childhood but this is programming I no longer want to carry with me. 

This year, I began to work on shifting these assumptions.

As I leave my childhood stories of rejection behind, I’m also embracing the fact that we can choose friendships and relationships where we feel safe, encouraged and inspired.

I can choose to build connections with people who inspire me to grow as a person and a runner. I can match the energy/commitment that people bring to the table. And I can associate with positive people who default to encouragement rather than underhanded compliments, passive aggressiveness and gossip.

There were a few times I let myself get off-track prioritizing friendships or let someone else’s thoughts influence my own. I take full ownership of these things.

Next year, I’d like to continue to prioritize building friendships by scheduling 2 coffee dates with 2 different people per month.

Health + Fitness

In 2019, I started running. It’s been a rollercoaster ride (like everything else this year) but I managed to run my first half-marathon, and complete my first full marathon. This year, I also started dancing ballet again (once per week). 

At Christmas dinner, someone from my coworking space mentioned how I keep so much of my fitness and active life under the radar.

Comments like that from people who are also physically active catch me off guard. I only started running one year ago, and before that I referred to myself as a proud potato.

I’m also not a fast runner by any means – just a consistent one. I didn’t even start enjoying running until August or September, which was nine months after I started. I’m still in the process of seeing myself as someone who is fit, healthy and active. 

Because of health issues, I drastically changed my diet this year as well to reduce the amount of gluten I eat. 

Overall, I would say I struggled with consistency with both my diet and fitness routine. 

Next year, I’d love to integrate daily bodyweight training into my routine and train to run a full marathon (maybe a trail marathon?). 

Career

I run a solo-business as a freelance web designer. When I reviewed my P&L at the end of last year, I realized I spent a lot of money working with contractors to help me complete small projects (like social media management, logo design, and virtual assistant tasks) with an overall low return.

I chose to narrow my offer, focusing on bespoke website design services. This has helped me dive deeper into my offering and grow my expertise as a marketing strategist as well as a designer. 

Because I chose to take on only two projects at a time, I also had the time and energy to do more of the work instead of collaborating with contractors to complete projects. 

At the end of the day, I reduced spending on contractors by 33% and increased my net income after expenses by 12%

Income Breakdown: Overview

Overall, a large part of my income (93.5%) comes from services I offer. I also put time into side projects, which account for a modest yet helpful 6.5% of my income. 

Without a doubt, I make the most from my primary offering: web design. 

I break down some of my freelance mindset in this post, but I’ve done my best to double down on this. This year, I invested in design and marketing courses so that I can consult and guide my clients through online marketing in general.

2020 Income Breakdown

  • Web Design: 70%
  • Web Development: 15%
  • Design (Other): 8%
  • Affiliate Commission: 4%
  • Writing: 2%
  • Products + Gratuity: <1%

This is income before expenses – including website hosting, partnering with contractors, software subscriptions and Creative Market purchases (ha ha!). For example, although web development accounts for 15% of my main hustle income, I actually spent 50% of that income to keep my clients’ websites secure and bring their creative requests to life.

What went well?

  • I launched 9 client websites and 2 landing pages this year!
    • Lazy Travel Blog, Jenny is Free, Lydia Paulina, Slow Your Roll, Circle of Love Weddings, Stomp the Pavement, The Tempesta Group, Junction Acupuncture, Ocean Bleu Development
    • Landing Pages: Happily Ever Wellness, QDFG
  • Regular stream of clients
  • Reduced spending on contractors by 33%

What didn’t go well? 

  • Weak spots: logo design, following up with leads
  • Towards the end of the year, felt like everything was too industrialized or whatever the word is
  • As a way to deal with “down” feelings that come with freelancing – turbulent months, loneliness, lack of growth, I realized I spent a considerable amount of time applying for jobs that… I wouldn’t get honestly lol.

How would I like to improve next year?

  • Be more confident with web design onboarding process
  • One web design client per month
  • Use Todoist regularly to stay organized
  • Bring in more $ from side hustles

Side Projects

Because I spent most of the year ramping up my freelance business, I didn’t focus on personal projects until Q4. 

Throughout the year, I published 14 stories on Medium, the most popular of which were:

In Q4, I also launched two side projects:

  • Reroute Lifestyle: I would love this website to be a living, breathing resource of people who live unconventional lives.
  • Econalu: This was a project I started with a friend. 

Honestly, I also launched two products which received sales…but this overall was not my strength. Instead of putting more time and energy into learning how to market my products better, I chose to focus on other projects.

Next year, I would love to double the revenue I bring in from side projects (affiliate marketing, freelance writing + ad revenue).

Finances

Overall, I feel positive about where I am financially. 

I still have student loans. Because of covid forbearance, interest has not accrued on my loans for 8 months now. A part of me would love to have the weight of student loans off my shoulders! But student loan interest can be tax deductible, so I don’t feel complete urgency to snowball this debt.

  • Student Loans: In 2014, I graduated with about $30,000 in student loan debt. I started this year with $12,322 total in student loan debt. Many student loans have interest that compounds daily, which means that interest adds up every day based on the principal balance and interest accrued. Because of covid, interest has not accrued since mid-March or April. That doesn’t change my strategy of focusing on my student loan with the highest interest rate (5.875%). This year, I brought that loan down from -$9,446 to -$8,000. 
  • Investments: This includes the amount in my retirement fund, a wealth-building account, and a safety net. The amount in my investments grew, but I’m choosing to add to these more slowly until I pay off my student loan with the highest interest rate.
  • Budgeting: If you couldn’t tell by reading this report, I just enjoy knowing how my money moves. I started the year tracking every penny spent. In Q4 I got lazy about this and stopped tracking my spending. Instead, I used Personal Capital to see how much I spent every month. Next year, I would love to get back into the habit of tracking my spending. 

Books & Personal Development

In 2020, I started reading more. 

Whilst I have a Kindle, I found I enjoy listening to books on Audible and taking notes using the Notability app on my iPad. I reckon I finished 2 books in 2019, whereas in 2020 I finished 9.

Other notable things I started this year included investing in therapy and journaling regularly.

Highlights

This year, I started reading books about habits and overall living a healthy life. 

Something I learnt this year was that women have a tendency to lose themselves to a relationship. Saying this, I understand 1) gender is not binary and 2) this can happen to all genders. I read books that explored how women turn away from themselves to make their partner happy. These books have given me the motivation to spend significant time working on my own growth and happiness.

  • Atomic Habits by James Clear
  • 7 Laws of Mindful Living by Vernon Foster
  • The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson
  • Think Like a Monk by Jay Shetty
  • Women Who Love Too Much by Robin Norwood
  • Facing Love Addiction by Pia Mellody
  • Men Who Can’t Love by Julia Sokol and Steven Carter
  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
  • The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael Singer 

What didn’t go so well? Not as consistent with reading as I’d like to be. Can have a book to listen to during my run as well as reading before bed? I have the bad habit of watching videos before bed rn. Should turn off my phone and read for 30 mins.

Recap of 2020 Goals

You can read the thread of my 2020 goals here.

  • Bring my net worth from -$6,535 to -$2,500. Is having a negative net worth embarrassing? I feel nervous writing about it even though 70% of students in the USA take out loans to go to university. I’m happy to say that I surpassed this goal in 2020, bringing my net worth to -$2,000. I do not include my business asset in my personal net worth. 
  • Pay myself more and pay myself first. This year, I ended up paying myself more! In general, this is difficult to track. Some of my business and personal spending is mixed because I pay for some business expenses here in Asia in cash. Overall, my net income after expenses increased by 12% this year. 
  • Publish 50 articles to Medium. This was overambitious for a side project. This year I published 14 stories on Medium, which is just about 1 article per month. There are a few nearly-finished drafts I may submit to publications in 2021.
  • Add eCommerce expertise to my website design resumé. I didn’t complete this in 2020. Instead, I niched down to serve therapists and coaches and focused on upleveling that core offer.
  • Run a half-marathon. When I revisited this goal in May, I laughed because I could barely commit mentally to a 5km run. To be honest, I wouldn’t have completed this goal without the support of crazy friends! But I ended up completing this goal right before turning 29.

My word of choice to set an intention for the year was “calm.” Thanks to investments in therapy, the support of my social network, and good habits like running, my year turned out to be calm.

New Goals for 2021

Last year, I had a couple immeasurable or non-specific goals (like “pay myself more”). This year, every goal I have is measurable.

  • Schedule 2 coffee dates with 2 different friends (or new friends) every month. 
  • Bring my student loan with the highest interest rate down from -$8,000 to -$6,000.
  • Increase my net income after expenses by 25%.
  • Finish 12 books. 
  • Design & launch 12 client websites. 
  • Run 1,000km, including a full-marathon.
  • Double the revenue I bring in from side projects.

My word of choice for 2021? Quality.

keep reading

2021 Year in Review

Throughout my life, I believed settling was the key to survival. Since I didn’t know what I deserved, I accepted everything into my life, hoping that I would find fulfillment.

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