2020 was a hell of a year. Am I right?
Here’s my personal retrospect in annual fashion. However, I want to do some quick reflection on the external side of life before I share what happened for me internally.
I see 2020 as the year of tests, especially in the United States. Or better stated, the year that the world put humans in check. Without going super deep on specific topics, here’s a quick summary of why I say that –
*Note: these are simply my interpretations of how we can learn from past events. You do not have to agree or disagree, nor am I suggesting any explanation for why things happened. Please read these with an open mind.
Humans have taken our health for granted.
We rely so heavily on a healthcare system that is vulnerable and predicated on reactive care. When did we forget about real food, good sleep and lots of water? We need to start taking better care of ourselves. That’s where healthcare starts. The pandemic was a test to see how resilient we are when our health is truly at risk.
Humans have taken each other for granted.
We’ve ignored serious issues and conflicts that have gone unaddressed for too long. We need to relearn how to treat each other. How to truly embrace equality. Every single life matters, always. The George Floyd murder was a test to see if we can start to rewrite history.
Humans have taken the Earth for granted.
We continue to pollute our air, dump waste in our oceans and destroy our fields. The Earth is the mother of all living things we know. It provides for us every day. Yet, we’ve forgotten that it’s something to take care of in return. The forest fires were a test to remember how valuable our real home is.
US Presidential Election
Humans in the US have taken our freedom for granted.
We’ve forgotten how lucky and fortunate we are. Instead of practicing gratitude and offering help to other nations who need leadership, we’re fighting over here about our leadership. I encourage you to lay down your political labels. All of you. They’re toxic and wasteful. The election was a test to see if we have what it takes to unite again.
p.s. We’re the [United] States of America.
With all of that out of the way, here was my year! 🙂
Let’s start with the fam. My children, Everest and Sepia, are now 5 and 3. They are both in preschool and starting to form early friendships. They have become beautiful creatures of curiosity and I continue to enjoy watching them grow every day. Gabrielle and I find ourselves smiling a lot in pure gratitude. We are very blessed to have these two children to love and inspire us.
Everest just turned 5 and he’s still got amazing amounts of energy. I wrote about this last year and I think his energy levels have increased! He often uses this energy to create movie scenes where he’s both the good guys and bad guys simultaneously. He’s generally more interested in bad guys. He also has a hard time watching movies that don’t include bad guys. Regardless, his imagination is definitely one of his own super powers and I love watching him exercise it.
Everest was also extremely infatuated by decorations this year. We walked the neighborhood during halloween amidst COVID-19 warnings, simply because he likes to look at decorations. I don’t think he even cares that much about the candy. And don’t get me started on Christmas decorations. This boy can look at lights all night long.
Some of his 2020 highlights:
- Met Santa Claus in person AND spoke with him on the phone
- Started playing with legos daily
- Started dressing himself
- Broke the record for most Halloween and Christmas decorations viewed in a single year
Sepia is about to turn 3. She’s her brother’s sidekick but also finds time to be autonomous. In fact, she plays so well by herself that we often forget she’s in the room! She’s usually drawing quietly or building with play-doh in a peaceful state. She also loves being outside in the dirt. One of my favorites activities this past year was teaching her to garden and water the plants.
Sepia has also evolved her fashion game from shoes into dresses. She sports a variety of dresses on random occasion simply to wear a dress. However, she will not be called a princess! Not even daddy’s princess unless I plead.
Some of her 2020 highlights:
- Drawing colorful murals
- Growing flowers
- Making oatmeal
- Telling mommy and daddy that, “It’ll be okay.”
Everest and Sepia are learning to play very well together. Sure, they have their sibling moments, but overall they are great companions. They frequently enjoy the following activities:
- Taking airport trips to St. Louis
- Role playing Chase & Mary (their cousin and his new wife)
- Doing puzzles
- Chasing dad around the house to the Jock Jams remix
- And of course… being super heros
*All of these activities are done inside our home via imagination.
Christmas was a notable highlight [again] this year. Both kids met Santa Claus in St. Louis and ended up on the nice list. We also followed some fun Christmas traditions including:
- Time with family
- Annual snowman build
- Several evening car trips to see Christmas lights
- Daily rehearsal of our favorite Christmas songs
- Books and movies around Santa Claus
- Custom ornament creation (NEW in 2020)
- Cookie baking with the Hemmerts (NEW in 2020)
As I type this we’re finalizing Everest’s plans for Kindergarten in the Fall of 2021. This is hard to fathom, as it seems like yesterday I was rocking him to sleep. The dad in me wants to slow down time now that I know the true meaning of “time flies.” However, I’m also keenly aware of how we use time together and intentional about being present with them as much as possible.
Something new we recently introduced are family theme nights. This breaks the monotony of sitting on the couch every night surfing Netflix. Instead, we do the following:
Monday = Book night
Tuesday = Show night
Wednesday = Game night
Thursday = Fire night
Friday = Dinner and a Movie night
This limits our family screen time to two nights maximum, and provides us with much better ways to spend time together. Fire night, for example, is us sitting by the fire together and simply being present. Sometimes we talk about our day, sometimes we give each other back rubs, and other times we just cuddle up and fall asleep together. We literally fell asleep by the fire as a family twice now! Those are the magical moments.
Gabrielle and I had some breakthrough moments this year. We also had a couple big challenges. Let’s start with the hard stuff.
In July we experienced a miscarriage. I wrote an entire post about that here. It was a painful experience, and as fate would have it, we ended up going through it again in January of 2021 (right before this post). We both love the idea of expanding our family… but at this point we might be content with the signs life is sending us.
Another rift that divided us was related to COVID. We went to St. Louis for Thanksgiving when the pandemic was in it’s 2nd acceleration phase. Cases and deaths were sky-rocketing and I lobbied to cancel the trip a week before we were scheduled to leave. Gabrielle’s huge family heart was broken, and we had an awkward silence for 48 hours or so. There was no anger, just pain and sadness from the thought of her not seeing family. Gabrielle’s mom was also very distraught by the idea… so I decided to find a compromise. We shortened the trip and limited our exposure to only visiting with her direct family.
This was a rare example of where I let emotion win over logic. In other words, I knew there was high risk with traveling and the logical decision would be to stay home. However, I was persuaded to travel because of the emotions in play.
I am cautious of when I let this happen because I know all too well how easily human emotions can blur our decision making. That said, there are always exceptions in life and this happened to be one. I’m glad we had a good and safe trip given the circumstance.
Now for the positive stuff!
Gabrielle and I have been married for 6.5 years now and or relationship continues to flourish. We also continue to work on it. I emphasized this in my last year’s review. Many of us take our marriages for granted, when in fact, they are the one thing in our life that should command the most work.
Here are some of the things that stood out for me this year:
- We created “parent time” right after dinner, which is space for us to talk without the kids interrupting us. Sometimes it’s 10 minutes, sometimes it’s 60. Sometimes we talk about simple things, and other times we go deep. The whole point is that we’re together in conversation, eye to eye, without distractions. This is where some of the best stuff comes out.
- We listen to the same podcast episodes on occasion. One of us will recommend it when we hear something profound. This builds alignment on things we feel strongly about.
- We gave her CFO responsibilities of our family finances this year. That means she’s basically taken over the job of managing our money. This has been amazing (for me) thus far because I don’t enjoy managing money and she’s much better at it. I can now focus on making money while she handles saving and spending.
- We watched a lot of new documentaries that we both enjoyed, from gardening to minimalism. I’ve found that watching documentaries together is very different than watching a typical show or movie together. The major variance is that documentaries give you something meaningful to discuss afterwords, and in our case, take action on. Whereas shows and movies just leave you with temporary feelings. I think the only topic we don’t mutually enjoy is space exploration 🙂
- We created a new rule when going out to dinner that only one of us orders food for the kids, instead of it being a collaborative decision. This is a simple exercise of establishing trust in each other.
Overall, we’ve become more aligned and connected. This doesn’t mean we agree on everything, nor does it mean that we have all the same interests. It means we prioritize our relationship and create space to strengthen it where we can. It requires making time and having an open dialog.
I think Gabrielle and I have ultimately found continued success in our relationship because we’re committed to helping each other become the best version of ourselves. That’s the key – future blog post to come!
This was year 2 of our family garden. We expanded our backyard gardening area and found success with some new things. Here’s what we grew:
- Zucchini (green and gold)
- Lemon cucumbers
- Chinese cabbage
We had a pretty good yield this year and learned some new things. We’re still nowhere close to being self-sufficient, but that will come in due time. I love the act of gardening and getting the kids involved. There are so many benefits of gardening for us as a family and society as a whole. COVID was a great reminder of how reliant we are on our farming system. I intend to double our farming footprint in 2021 and continue the homegrown food journey.
Travel was limited this year due to you know what. However, we were blessed to still squeeze a few trips in.
We took a full family trip to Guatemala right before the pandemic hit. My brother was actually blocked from getting back into China when we returned! This trip included the majority of our direct families (on both sides), and was amazing on several levels. I wrote an entire post about this trip which covers the experience in detail.
Some of the highlights included:
- Direct access to Lake Atitlan and surrounding volcanoes
- Beautiful house built into the land
- Native home-cooked meals
- Boat rides and kayaking
- Coffee plantation tour
- Mayan ruins tour
- Competitive family vs family [GAME]
- And some good ole rest and relaxation
Lake Atitlan is a gorgeous part of Guatemala. It is still very much a 3rd world country, but there is major potential for this area to become a tourist hot spot in due time.
I can see us making another trip here at some point in the future.
In August we made a 5-day trip out to North Carolina without the kids. The impetus for this trip was a potential move from Colorado in the near future. While nothing is final, we have been exploring a new home for our family. North Carolina was a strong candidate due to it’s location, access to water and the proximity to family.
Along those lines, we spent some quality time out there with Gabrielle’s family – Ross, Courtney, Amelia and Nathan.
Not only were they gracious hosts, but they gave us a fantastic tour of Charlotte. It was a tour to remember. We became familiar with the city, rode bikes down greenways, visited several surrounding cities, and much more. I think there’s potential for Ross & Courtney Real Estate, Inc. at some point in the future.
During our time in NC we also spent a day out in Asheville. This is a unique city at the foot of the Blue Ridge mountains. We took a beautiful hike on Mt Mitchell which I really enjoyed. It provided a nice change of scenery from our familiar Rocky Mountain climate.
Later that evening we relaxed with a brew and some grub at one of the famous local breweries. North Carolina was an awesome place to visit. We’ll be back for sure.
As I mentioned earlier, we made a quick trip back to STL for Thanksgiving. This was a nice 4-day break with Gabrielle’s family, especially for the kids. I remember how much I looked forward to visiting with grandma and grandpa when I was young, and I see that same excitement in my children. It’s a beautiful thing to observe.
I also got to meet our nephew, Chase’s, new wife for the first time. Mary is a lovely gal from Venezuela who brings even more love to the family. She shared some realities of Venezuela that actually inspired another post I wrote about abundance.
Thanksgiving felt extra thankful this year. The heaviness of COVID and economic hardship left us all with much to be grateful for. I always use this time to reset and evaluate our blessings in life.
Health & Fitness
Fitness is still a strong priority in my life. At this point I am working out 100% from home. I find myself attracted to endurance sports, yet I’m still doing a variety of cardio and light weight lifting. I also got my bike tuned up this year and began riding around the neighborhood.
My favorite fitness activity was our full family workouts. All four of us would gather in the backyard and participate in a timed workout, much like we used to do in CrossFit. The kids love running the hill with us and doing simple body movements like squats / pushups.
We also had a lot of time outside hiking as a family. We probably got 15-20 hikes in as a full family unit. This is easily my favorite family activity. I feel so connected to nature and my family when I’m in the wild exerting physical effort. There were a couple moments where both of my kids expressed their own love for nature, which made me a very happy father 🙂
To that point, I think it’s important to teach our children about the Earth and how we’re connected to it. We hold a high respect for nature in this family, and every time we embrace it we generally find it brings out the best in us.
In addition to hiking, I also started trail running this year. I only got out twice but both experiences were awesome. I plan to do more trail running in 2021 for sure. This was the “next gear” I’ve been looking for in terms of mountain sports.
We’re still a mostly vegetables kind of family. Gabrielle maintains a vegan discipline while I still eat eggs and fish sparingly. We’re very adamant about eating real food at this point in life.
I also did some experimentation this year to cycle off normal things like coffee and alcohol for 30 day periods. It was interesting to see to see how my body reacted and I’m paying more attention to the things I consume on a regular basis.
To wrap up the fitness summary, I had a great 14er excursion with one of my best friends, Hemad. We scaled Quandary’s Peak in record time. This was an exhilarating climb that we both enjoyed. In fact, we’ve committed to doing an annual adventure because of it. Each year one of us will pick an outdoor challenge to do together.
2020 was another strong year for me on the business side. In summary, I grew two businesses and sold another.
MemberDev continues to grow and serve small businesses. Kyle became more integrated this year and helped us establish a niche in the fitness/coaching space, especially during the pandemic. Our membership platform has helped a lot of struggling businesses shift their offerings online. We’ve also found some traction with organizations looking to build and engage their private communities.
We added a couple new team members this year, Katie and Liz, who are making great contributions. I am grateful for our team and all the new clients we’ve started serving. It feels good to build software that helps strengthen human connection.
2020 was the year I said good-bye to CM Fusion. I wrestled with the decision to keep or sell it for a while… and finally came to a healthy conclusion that it was time to move on. My partners and I sold the business in November to a great new owner. I wrote about the experience here if you’re interested in deeper details.
This was not life-changing money by any means, but it was certainly a win and level up on the business side. It’s also given me some time back to focus on my other two businesses.
Credo had an eventful 2020 as John and I transitioned it away from the previous marketplace model and back into a lead generation business. This was a huge shift for us energetically and emotionally. It started paying immediate dividends and the business is now stronger than ever. We’ve expanded the team and continue to grow the business as a reflection of our lifestyle.
John continues to be a great leader in this business. I enjoy supporting him and becoming more aligned as entrepreneurs. Partnerships can be challenging, and much like marriages, I’ve found that they require commitment and connection.
Overall, I had a really good business year in 2020. Some of the key learnings / takeaways include:
- Business yields more clarity and momentum when you simplify.
- Focus on building systems, not hitting goals.
- It’s easier to optimize sales for products you’ve built, instead of seeking new sales for new products.
- Say no until you have to say yes.
- Find ways to unplug and reset. Work will always be here when you get back. #WorkCanWait 🙂
Front Row Dads
Front Row Dads (FRD) was a huge part of my life again in 2020. It’s my primary social community, and honestly, one of the only reasons I’m still on Facebook. The group has expanded to 200+ members and continues to grow across the world. Our membership community is called the “Brotherhood,” however, we typically refer to it as a dad’s mastermind.
FRD continues to serve me and my family at the highest level. It makes me a better father, husband, brother, son, business man, and overall human. I would be a completely different man today without FRD and the impact it’s made on me in the 2 years I’ve been a member. I’m forever grateful for the Brotherhood and will continue to show up and advocate for this group.
Some of the 2020 highlights include:
- Strengthening my band relationships with Nick and the two Matts. We meet virtually every month for 90 minutes to discuss fatherhood and align on various wins/challenges.
- Attending the first legacy retreat in Silverthorne, CO. This was an amazing experience out here in my backyard, which I wrote an entire post about it here.
- Attending the new online summits where we jump on Zoom for a virtual retreat. These events sound intimidating at first (7 hours on Zoom), but end up being a great spark for new connections and camraderie.
If you’re a father who runs a business, or has an intense career for that matter, I highly recommend Front Row Dads. I promise you will learn something and end up becoming a better version of yourself. Contact me directly if you want more details.
Last but not least, I’ve been working a lot on myself these past few years, so I decided it would make sense to share some of that in a new category from last year. Personal development is affected by everything I’ve shared above. However, it’s also important to recognize what we do for ourselves. I’m becoming more in tune with how I show up for myself vs showing up for others.
Here are some things I worked on in 2020:
- I’ve been reading A LOT. I always have more than one book going and it’s a core part of my weekly routine. That said, I do not read every single day. Which leads into my next point…
- I’ve been experimenting with breaking habits. I’ve always held strong discipline in my life and the way I father my children. 2020 gave me reason to ease up on discipline and challenge some of my normal routines. For example, I’m giving myself permission to miss a workout every now and then. I’m also trying to shed as many belief systems as possible, and see the world from different view points. Habits are great, don’t get me wrong. But I think there’s value in breaking them and/or establishing some variance in our normal routines.
- I stopped setting an alarm to wake up. I think we’re at our best when we follow circadian rhythms, which suggest you rise and set with the sun. This is harder to pull off in the winter but the warmer months were so rewarding with this practice. My quality of sleep and daily energy has drastically improved without an alarm.
- I’m spending more time with my thoughts. Many people refer to this as meditation. I refer to it as being with myself. Life becomes fascinating when you start to gain more control of your thoughts. Everything really is in our mind. Yet we have so little control over what goes in! I’m continuing to work on this and it’s taking me into some interesting places.
- I’m rarely on my phone anymore. Apple tells me I spend roughly 30 minutes per day using my iPhone, which is mostly related to listening to podcasts or streaming Pandora while I work out. I have zero notifications and I often leave my phone in another room. I look at it as a device of distraction at this point.
- To that last point, I’m also missing out on social interactions. From Facebook to text messages, I realize my friends and family are not getting access to me. So I’m actually making a conscious effort to be more present on the devices in moderation.
I also think I’m really starting to understand that everything we do is ultimately for us. A great book I read helped me realize this. It’s easy to think we’re doing things for others, and I’ve often told myself that story, but in reality everything we do is for ourselves. When you see the world from this perspective it brings a lot of clarity to things. I can more easily recognize why I do things and even why I think other people do things.
Writing this blog post for example, is something I want to write for others to benefit from. That’s a big part in why I write anything. But that story is just a facade or reflection of what I want to feel when others benefit from reading my thoughts. It’s all about me whether I want to admit that or not.
That said, I do appreciate YOU reading this and it makes me feel great if it helps or inspires you in any way. I want to acknowledge that. We can only go so far by ourselves. I think the energy we receive from others helps us become a better version of ourselves.
2020 certainly had it’s challenges. There’s no doubt about that. It was a year to remember with many challenges, lessons and learnings.
I’m excited to see what 2021 has in store.
Ali is a father, husband and serial entrepreneur with a deep drive to create. He writes, records, codes and builds things to inspire the artist in all of us.