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End of Year Review & 2020 Vision

The theme for 2020 is magic.

2019. Where to start? I started off the year chronically ill and spent weeks (months) shut-in and in bed. I was too weak to walk. Too weak to cook. Too weak to work. Too weak to sit up for longer than an hour or two. I didn't know when I'd recover so I had resigned myself to having an inactive year.

I was wrong.I still remember what it felt like to notice that I had less pain than the day before. I remember the feeling of the sun on my face when I finally got the strength to go on walks again. I remember trying to remember the last time I was in pain and having to dig through my archives a bit to fully recall.

And yet - I was able to have these experiences:

Spending a month in the Mayan Jungle on a spiritual retreat. Buying handmade jewelry from artisan markets in Athens. Wandering through the Louvre and watching the Eiffel Tower from a cruise on the Seine. Dropping everything and flying to Paris to see Drake on a weeknight because I was sad and I hoped a change in scenery would cheer me up - and the fact that I could even exercise that much freedom and flexibility was an experience within itself. Being driven around the steep cliffs of Santorini and kicking up pebbles on the black beach. Enjoying a dozen chic lunches in Vogue Cafe. Admiring the azulejos in Sao Bento and the magnificence of the cathedrals and eating so many pastel de natas. Eating cod while drinking port on the coast of Porto without a concern about how well they pair. Shopping in mega-malls in Shenzhen. Taking the best bath of my life in a massive tub with floor-to-ceiling wraparound windows overlooking Madrid. Eating my weight in street tacos in Tulum from the truck outside of the Super Aki that only sells two kinds of tacos until they run out ...which was always around 2pm. They were (and still are) the best tacos I've ever had in my life. Tasting wine at the oldest port cellar in the world. Having Bellini's on the coast of Sicily and eating handmade fresh pasta every day for weeks on end. Eating bao buns and drinking milk tea like it's going out of style. Customizing an apartment space for the first time in years (so much pink! so many plants!).

In 2019, I lived in and traveled through Portugal, France, Greece, Italy, Mexico, the US, and China - including some of my bucket-list places like Paris and Santorini. This felt ...monumental. From the time that I moved out of the US in early 2018, my goal was to build location-independent income. I earned money when I lived in Asia (so I wasn't living off of savings the entire time), but it wasn't remote, flexible income. Moving to Europe was a life-long dream realized. When I was in undergrad, I DREAMED off being able to spend two weeks in Italy. When I was a kid, I fantasized about being in Paris. And it was all magnified by the fact that I was doing it as a self-employed person.

I was worried that I wouldn't be able to "do enough." I had aggressive goals but my physical and mental health through my plans completely off. Still, throughout the year, I was able to do a lot of things that I was really proud of, like:

  • created and launched Flourishing - a project that teaches self-guided therapeutic skills and creative healing practices.
  • launched intentions which helps people create experiences by identifying goals + dreams and bringing them to life  - and designed dozens of products that have already had a number of international sales(!)
  • created and launched INSPIRE - a creative media platform around travel, art, design and food.
  • published 100+ photos, wrote 50+ articles in the fields of business, psychology and learning, designed and developed 5 University courses, negotiated some of my largest client contracts to date and landed a number of bigger publications like AARP and trade publications in my field.
  • advanced (or started) my education in the fields of Visual Arts, Design, Psychology (Counseling), and Data Science - working through about 6 certifications and reading 20+ books. I experimented with new mediums like paper art (and origami), watercolor painting and botanical drawings. 
  • Defined the Better Living with Design playbook - and detailed the impact that I want it to make across the next several years, the life areas that we want to support people with, and the broader mission and values.
  • Had a number of conversations in Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and Mandarin! I'm really shy (even in English) so having conversations, even when I know the words, is usually something that I avoid. I tend to stick to reading or writing. 

And perhaps most important:

  • Redefined my relationship to myself, to others, to work, to life and allowed myself to have long contemplative breaks while I worked to uncover my purpose, mission and what really matters. In many ways, this year was the first time that I've felt truly present. I answered the question: "What would I do and how would I spend my time if money was not a factor?" and I built my present-day around that dream. This allowed me to focus on my inner world, my relationships, and how I want to grow - versus a fixed-gaze on financial choices exclusively. In so many ways, this year didn't make financial sense - like when I dropped all of my client projects to kick sand around in Greece because I was having a difficult time and I needed to disconnect, or when I paused client services from June - September to visit my family and help my brother through his own difficult time. I spent almost 9 months of the year not actively working towards income - and I wouldn't have it any other way. The breakthroughs were on the other side of chasing traditional models of "success."

Sometimes I reflect back on 2016 and 2017, when I was told that being an entrepreneur was in my future, to which I responded: "Me? I could never! I don't even have any ideas." and it makes me look back on this year in pure awe. I fulfilled dreams that I've had for over a decade. I was able to cherish time with my grandmother and my little brothers and my cousin who lives in Cuba - spending more time at home than I have ever spent since graduating high school a decade ago. I connected more deeply with myself and my wants and needs than I have before. And I realized that some dreams were better in my head.

I thought that I knew exactly what I wanted and I prided myself on going after it, but this year I learned that what I want ...is what's best for me. And I may not always know what that is. (For example) I thought that I wanted to retire to a countryside house in Italy ...but when I spent extended time there, I found that I'm not as crazy about living in the region long-term as I expected I'd be, and that actually, Portugal is much better suited for me. Am I willing to scrap a year and a half's worth of design efforts on a house and admit that I made a mistake? Last year, I probably wouldn't have been. This year? Absolutely. If it's not the right fit, I won't force it. In any context or area of life. Force nothing.

I cannot wait to see what unfolds next year. In fact, I'm not planning it *too* closely because I want to leave room for the magic and the experiences that I haven't even considered yet. This year has gone completely "off-course" since January - and it was absolutely wonderful. Better than anything I could've planned.

The theme for 2020 is magic. I'm open to more magic, more serendipity, more unfolding, more surprise.

Here is a small part of my vision:

Launching vital - my studio that uses art, neuroscience and design to create aesthetic experiences and build well-being.

Launching capitalize and supporting 10+ projects, people or experiences that build human capital or support poverty alleviation.

Launching sensations - for sensory experiences through teas, plant medicine, sound healing, and aromatherapy.

Launching betterschools - my method of integrating social and emotional learning, positive psychology, wellness, and compassion fatigue recovery into schools for students and teachers.

Expanding existing projects - like launching the intentions planners, publishing my first book, and continuing to build a body of work here and through my other projects.

More exploring and creating experiences. I haven't defined exactly what yet, because I want to remain open but here are some experiences that I'd like to have:

  • Hiking the Great Wall of China + experiencing the cuisine of Sichuan 
  • Taking a romantic getaway with someone special (person TBD) in a place that neither of us has seen before
  • Experiencing food, design and craftsmanship in Japan and India
  • Living in a traditional riad in Morocco
  • Learning Afro-Carribean and Afro-Latinx healing practices in Jamaica and Brazil

Never-ending learning - like my global art school curriculum, my self-created design curriculum, and (slow but steady) progress in grad school. I'm also considering becoming certified to teach art and music and continuing my Mandarin study.

Living Nine Lives - an emerging media project where I dive into every experience that I ever wanted to have.

I also have financial goals that I want to reach around earning, investing, and giving.

And of course - leaving room for magic, and opening myself to experiences I haven't thought of, places I've never heard of, and dreams that I haven't even dreamed yet.

In the vein of magic, I'd like to share some of the most impactful writing that I've read all year, written by Jessica Dore:

"When a person has achieved mastery in the domain of behavior, they understand the ways that action influences all other domains of being: thoughts, feelings, and energy. And when we've learned this, we use behavior like the wave of a magic wand. Moving in deliberate ways to manifest the lives we desire.

In the realm of behavior, one of the best interventions for unworthiness is to just act worthy. Start to move like you're worthy and speak like you're worthy. And when you encounter a situation that reflects anything other than that you are here to be good and well, say no to it. Not with words - I deserve better! - though words may certainly be involved. But with actions - walk away, block a number, leave a job.

Do any action that directly states "I deserve better and will have it." It is not enough to say that you deserve better, you have to prove it. Even if you don't believe it all the way. Act like you do, and see what happens. Sometimes, to do a behavior that you don't feel like doing is like doing magic. Try it."

And so it'll be.

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