There’s no doubt about it: 2021 was unquestionably better than the nightmare that was 2020. Of course, we’re still in the midst of a global pandemic that continues to throw a wrench into any attempt at living a normal life, but I’ll take that versus dealing with acute personal crises for months on end. As has been my tradition for the last 8 years, I’ll get into what I got up to this last year and what I’m looking forward to in 2022.
2021 kicked off with a mob of people trying to overthrow the United States government. So that was something we all had to process. Between COVID and the death rattles of the Trump presidency, early 2021 still very much felt like 2020 Plus™.
However, in the springtime it felt like the clouds began to lift, at least on the personal front. First, we got some resolution with our neighbor situation (I won’t recap it again, but you can read about in last year’s post) that allowed us to officially put that dreadful chapter of our lives behind us. It felt like a huge weight lifted off our shoulders.
And a week or two after that good news, we bought a house! My family had our home — both the physical space and that ineffable feeling — torn away from us in 2020. We were traumatized, and we now have a place to heal. In fact, our new home is right across the street from the woods where we hiked as essential therapy during our time of crisis. We’re on a quiet cul-de-sac street, and our house has become a bit of a hang out for the neighborhood kiddos. We couldn’t be happier.
Things continued to look up as the year progressed. We got vaccinated, which was an incredible relief. The acute political turmoil seemed to die down. Melissa got accepted into a Arts Therapy masters program to follow her calling to help with the mental health crisis we witnessed firsthand. Ella started preschool! We even got in a family trip to Maine and our annual trip Outer Banks. It truly felt like we were getting out of the woods.
But of course it couldn’t be that simple. The Delta variant reared its head and it became clear COVID was going to be a pain in our asses for the foreseeable future. We had family members who got breakthrough cases that turned into long-haul COVID, so the fear, unease and uncertainty returned.
On top of that, my mom got diagnosed with breast cancer. While all that continues to be stressful, the good news is that it was caught early, was small, and was a slow moving type. As the doctor told her and me at her consultation, “Obviously you don’t want to have breast cancer, but if you had to have it you’d want what you have.” She had surgery right after Thanksgiving and is about to start her radiation treatment. Again, the whole thing is stressful and undesirable, but thankfully it’s going well and she’ll finish her treatment soon and hopefully that will be that.
On the work front, we had an amazing — and busy! — year. After being pulled away from my professional life in 2020, it was great to generally be able to focus on getting work back on track. Josh, Jessi, Ian, myself, and a growing group of amazing collaborators and clients caught a really good stride. As design system consultants, we help big, complex organizations solve big, complex problems with design systems. Our approach of “teaching teams how to fish” continues to be incredibly rewarding and successful: we step in to help architect/evolve our clients’ design systems, co-build mission-critical pilot projects in close collaboration with our clients’ teams, help establish the right people, establish and model the processes for successfully governing the system long-term, and then see ourselves out the door once our clients are humming along. It’s such a great arrangement and it’s so great to see so many of our clients continue to thrive long after we’ve gone.
I continue to consult with and conduct workshops with a number of companies on all things design systems. Every organization is at a different place on their design system journey, and while there are always unique challenges there are also many common patterns that we see again and again. I love specializing in this field; teams who are creating their design systems are often doing it for the first time (and risk falling into all the common traps) or aren’t in a position within their organization to truly succeed. Coming in as an outsider helps both accelerate the work (by giving teams proven architecture, guidance, and hard-earned lessons) and provides an objective perspective in order to position our clients’ design systems (and people!) for the most success.
In last year’s post, I expressed how I wanted to get involved in the world of mental health. Designer Neil White reached out about possibly helping with a non-profit called Project Healthy Minds, who are helping address the mental health crisis in this country. I joined the Project Healthy Minds product team (as a volunteer) and we launched the MVP of a product to help connect people to mental health care resources. The world is truly in the midst of a mental health crisis, so it’s been really fulfilling to apply myself such a worthwhile and urgent cause. I’m excited about Project Healthy Minds’ momentum and am excited to continue to help with the mission.
2021 by the numbers
- Wrote 12 posts on my blog, which ties last year for my all-time lowest blogging record :/
- Shared only 22 links on my site, an all-time low.
- Traveled just 1,451 miles to 5 cities in 1 country on 1 continent. 2021 marks the first year in over a decade that I haven’t traveled to another country, and in general we stayed put.
- Spoke at 2 virtual conferences (which I’ve discovered I don’t prefer), gave 4 keynote presentations at different companies, and gave 9 company and conference workshops
- Consulted with 7 clients and helped them create and evolve their respective design systems
- Built 3 enterprise-wide design systems for Fortune 500 companies
- Processed 1,794 ebook orders of Atomic Design
- Raised $4,660 for various charities
- Read 14 books
- Bought 1 house
2022 is a consequential year for me as I’m planning for it to be the last year of work as I’ve always known it. That’s a pretty bold statement, huh? I’ll explain things in detail in a later post, but I’ll share the gist here. I’m not retiring, but rather downshifting after taking some time off (in some form yet to be determined) in 2023.
Anyone who’s ever been self employed knows the questions “Am I making enough to provide for my family?” “What happens if work stops coming in?” “What if something bad happens?” These are nerve-wracking questions that I (and many others) ask on loop. In 8 years of running my own business, I’ve never been able to connect the dots between how much I earn and how that translates to my personal life and goals. That translates to me saying “yes” to nearly every opportunity that comes my way and entertaining every potential lead. Which of course translates to too much work. And too much work is too much work even if it’s fulfilling work that I enjoy doing. And too much work leads to burnout, poor health, and a rather one-dimensional existence.
Thankfully, my brother-in-law is an excellent financial planner, and we’ve spent the last number of years working on painting a complete picture of my family’s goals and what I need to earn in order to achieve them. We succeeded in painting that full picture, which means I know exactly how much I need to earn annually in order to make payroll, save for my daughter’s education, pay the bills, save for retirement, and so on. Thanks to his help and a lot of the literature I’ve devoured around FIRE, we put a plan in place and I feel I’ll be able downshift with confidence. Again, there’s a lot more to say about all of this, which I’ll do in another post, so I’ll stop here for now.
With all that said, we’ve already got a bunch of really exciting work for 2022 queued up, and I’m excited to make it all happen. Here’s what I’m looking to prioritize in 2022:
- Show up and work hard – To me, 2022 feels like the last mile or two of a long race. The finish line before downshifting is nearly in sight and knowing that gives me an extra boost I need to finish strong. We’re doing some great work with great clients and great teams so I’m energized and ready to sink my teeth in.
- Be there for my family – Despite these work ambitions, I’m planning on doing my best be a good partner, father, son, brother, and friend. I’m not trying to burn myself out or be a husk of a human as I cross the finish line, so I’m looking to maintain healthy habits and good work/life balance. I actually feel pretty good about making that happen.
- Stay connected with people – It really sucks that COVID is still preventing us all to get together comfortably. I now realize how much web conferences and work travel were a big part of my social life. After the insanity of 2020, I actually welcomed hunkering down in 2021, but I’m finally starting to really miss people. At the very least, I want to connect with some conference pals virtually, but hopefully once the weather gets nicer the COVID situation improves and I can start seeing people again.
- Get into nature – We moved across the street from a wonderful park with some wonderful trails, and I always feel great after venturing out in the woods. I’d love to make that a regular thing, as well as to hopefully visit some other great natural spots this year.
- Continue down a healthy path – I started using the app Noom last year with really great success. I lost about 10 pounds, but more importantly I feel like I better understand my relationship with food and established some healthier habits. My favorite thing about Noom is it’s not pushing a specific diet or plan; it’s really about education and the psychology of nutrition, exercise, and health. After the holiday glut, I’m excited to get back into a healthier flow.
- Make home my own – We love our house and while boxes are technically unpacked, there’s a lot we want to do to make our house the Frost family home. There’s still an absurd amount of beige throughout the house that we need to get rid of, and we have some other projects big and small we’re looking forward to tackling in 2022.
Whew! If you’re still here, thanks for reading. I’m hopeful 2022 will see more of a return to normalcy. In the meantime, stay healthy and safe! Wishing you all the best in the new year.