It’s been a while since I’ve written up a good ol’ listicle. And what better time to dust off my number listing skills than at the end of the year when I tend to look back at all the things that helped shape me this year.
Without rambling any longer, here are 20 things that played a big role in 2020 for my own personal development.
Also, just a heads up: quite a few links below are affiliate links which means I earn a small commission if you make a purchase. It doesn’t cost you anything but still helps me keep my lights on. Thank you 👊
1. Fiction Books
I read quite a few books this year. Typically I read 90% non-fiction but this year I made an effort to read more literature. Why? Well as surprising as it may seem, there is a lot of truth in fiction that just can’t be captured in a non-fiction book.
Here are all the fiction books I read this year:
- Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
- To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
- Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut
- Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides
- The Children of Men – P.D. James
- The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman
- Macbeth – William Shakespeare
- The Virgin Suicides – Jeffrey Eugenides
It’s hard to say which one is my favorite of the bunch. I’ve always loved Children of Men and To Kill a Mockingbird. But this year I will always remember as the year I discovered Jeffrey Eugenides.
2. 104-year-old Frances Hesselbein
Who knew a former Girl Scout leader would inspire a new way of looking at my own career.
3. This Nifty Graph
Ever wonder what the world’s aggregate happiness level is? Well, some scientists might have found a way to measure just that, by plotting our Tweets…
4. Deiter Rams and his 10 Principles of Good Design
I spent my 30th birthday this year in lockdown, so naturally, I watched an entire documentary about the legendary product designer, Deiter Rams.
Remember the original iPod? Who do you think inspired it’s design?
Rams is world-renown and has created a list of 10 design principles which strangely carry over into other facets of life.
Check out his list here: https://www.vitsoe.com/us/about/good-design
5. This Newsletter
Every morning I open this newsletter. Every. Single. Morning.
6. A Renewed Love of Chess
Thanks to The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix my wife finally decided to give chess a try. Now we’re playing every single day.
It’s hard to describe the thrill playing chess gives you. But it’s something I haven’t felt in a long time.
Feel free to add me as a friend at chess.com, I’m @thedeclan.
7. This book I wrote
Yup, I know this is a tad bit self-promotional but I wrote a book about finding contentment. 2020 was a cathartic experience for me as a stripped away envy and began to pursue the life I wanted.
I wrote about my journey and would love it if you bought a copy.
8. This Pull-Up Bar
Working out from home has been a staple of mine since March 2019. Back then I dropped to the floor and did 10 push-ups. Since then, I’ve added more resources to my fitness “gear” including this pull-up bar which has been the most bang for my buck:
FYI, that’s not me in the picture but I’m getting close. Pull-up bars are portable, simple to set up, and give you a killer upper body work out. Don’t underestimate the power of body weight exercises.
You can find the exact pull-up bar model here. For $30 it’s well worth the investment.
9. This Not-Your-Mother’s Alarm Clock
I live in North-ish Eastern United States which means by November I only have a small window of daylight. I’ve grown up with this seasonal change and have grown accustomed to it, however, the one thing I’ve always struggled with is waking up during the cold, dark mornings of winter.
To prepare for seasonal sleep in mode, my wife and I invested in an alarm clock. Well, it’s less of an alarm and more of a spot light.
Before you call me crazy, it works. Even now in deep, dark December, I’m consistently waking up at 6:15 AM to write because of this light alarm clock. How does it work? 30 minutes before I wake up, the light slowly increases in intensity, simulating a natural sunrise.
By 6:15 AM, the light which sits on my bedside table, is bright enough to light our entire room. And as anybody knows, it’s way easier to wake up to sunlight than complete darkness. It’s how we’re hardwired.
10. This Budgeting App
This year I read Dave Ramsay’s Total Money Makeover and completely transformed how I look at money and paying down debt.
YNAB, as us YNABers call it, is not just a budgeting software tool but a behavior changing tool. YNAB helps you to stick to their four rules:
- Give Every Dollar a Job
- Embrace Your True Expenses
- Roll With The Punches
- Age Your Money
Want to see results? Just look at the following graph. The red bar is how much credit card debt I had at the end of the month. The blue is how much cash I had saved up. Over the course of the year, we flipped those bars and even bought a house along the way (hence the dip in September).
11. Bill Bryson
I don’t know how I’ve skated through life without ever reading a single sentence from the witty yet knowledgeable, Bill Bryson. Recently I finished reading his behemoth of a book The Body: A Guide for Occupants which details head to toe (quite literally) everything about the human body.
It was so good I saw his name on another book at our local used book store and bought it without question. This one is a 530 pages anthology of the history of homes. I already can’t stop reading it.
I was gifted a year long subscription to MasterClass on my birthday this past year. I’ve always loved the enticing MasterClass ads and finally had a chance this year to crack into a few. So far here are a few of my favorites:
- Margaret Atwood Teaches Creative Writing
- Neil Gaiman Teaches The Art of Storytelling
- Alice Waters Teaches The Art of Home Cooking
13. David Perell and his online business model
Ever since leaving my full-time job in 2017, I’ve tried many ways to put together a “business” that balances my desire to homeschool my kids (ie not have to work 40 hours a week) and my desire to create and share content.
My biggest struggle thus far is how to create an “ecosystem” of the various projects, websites, books, and newsletters I’ve created over the past couple years.
Enter David Perell.
David solved all my confusion with one Tweet:
David was inspired by Walt Disney’s original business model:
I now realize I still have a ways to go to build my own online empire. But until then, I at least have a roadmap to follow.
14. Hamilton the Movie
On July 3rd 2020, the family and I woke up to a special treat: Hamilton was released for streaming on Disney+.
We spent the morning singing word for word the entire musical. We even had a little viewing party with patriotic-themed snacks. It was the little things like this that helped get us through the pandemic.
15. Mac Miller’s Circles
On January 9th 2020, two years after his death, Mac Miller posthumously released a new single, Good News. A week later his final album Circles came out.
As a fellow Pittsburgher, Mac meant a lot to us. “What happened to Mac?” my 5-year-old son asked me. “He died,” I answered. My son paused and thought for a moment. “But his music is still alive,” he said.
Yes it is.
16. Deleting Facebook
This was the year I finally pulled the plug on my Facebook page. And boy was this the year to do it.
I can’t exactly point to only one reason why I made the decision. A good majority of my family is on Facebook and it’s an excellent reminder of birthdays. However, I’m coming to the point in my life where I’d like a little less attention and more time to devote to the few important people in my life. I also want to be less accessible, again for the same reason.
So I simplified my social media presence. I deleted my Facebook account. I froze my Instagram. I only use Twitter now.
So far so good. I’m assuming my next phase of life I’ll get rid of wifi and live among my books and plants.
17. House plants and books
My wife and I bought our first house this year. It marked the first time in our lives when we could think about how we wanted to decorate our living space (we’ve moved apartments so many times that we tended to keep our places sparse).
Our decision was instant: books and house plants.
Plants have one job: filter toxic carbon dioxide from the air and create fresh oxygen.
Books do the same: filter toxic ideas and create fresh knowledge.
The more plants you have in your home, the cleaner the space between your walls will be. The more books you have in your home, the cleaner the space between your ears will be.
But remember, plants need watering and just enough sunshine to work. They cannot think for themselves, thus you are responsible for their care.
Same with books. They must be touched, opened, and read.
Fill your home with books and plants. Take care of them, and they will take care of you.From “Fill Your Home With Books and Plants”
18. Band-Aid Solutions
It started with a quote, tucked away at the end of a book:
The Band-Aid is an inexpensive, convenient, and remarkably versatile solution to an astonishing array of problems. In their history, Band-Aids have probably allowed millions of people to keep working or playing tennis or cooking or walking when they would otherwise have had to stop.
The Band-Aid solution is actually the best kind of solution because it involves solving a problem with the minimum amount of effort and time and cost.-Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point
After years of always looking for elegant, complicated solutions to problems, I learned that sometimes all you need is a simple fix.
This mindset kept coming to mind throughout the year. Paying off debt, buying a house, writing a book. Every time I asked myself: What’s the simplest way I can achieve this goal?
19. Work from home
As a stay-at-home dad I’m technically always working from home. But this year I was especially grateful for my wife’s employment which allowed for the flexibility (and safety) of working from home. It was an adjustment for the both of us. With two kids at home it’s not always possible to find a quiet spot in the house for Zoom calls.
However, having my wife home more so than normal was nice and I’m certainly going to miss having her around as much in 2021 when things (hopefully) go back to normal.
Nevertheless, I’ll always be a work-from-home advocate. I believe flexibility is important, productive, and the future of work.
20. My readers
I’m amazed every day that there are people who read what I’ve written.
That never gets old.
And if you are one of those people still reading, thank you. You’ve made 2020 that much better.