In the last 12 months, I wrote exactly 2 blog posts on this website, so, if nothing else, 2020 taught me that lack of time to write is not my biggest barrier to writing. However, I did write many sermons and more than 90 newsletters, so it wasn’t a total loss. But still, long form writing is something I want to be better at, so I need to do more of it.
I learned some other things about myself in 2020 as well, some of which I talk about below. The way I have it set up is the thing I learned is in bold, and the action I want to take as a result is in italics.
As I plan what 2021 will look like, I am trying to optimize around these seven things:
I crave variety
I like to mix things up. I like to have a week where I fly to a different city to give a talk, then come home and work in my garden, then have a meeting with city leaders, then write my newsletter, then work with my interns, then go watch a movie with my wife and eat in a nice restaurant.
Instead, for most of last year I stayed home, had some zoom meetings, cooked almost every meal I ate, and sat at my computer. Every day felt the same. I hated that.
I crave variety, and have always felt a bit ashamed of that. Seeking variety is a typical ADHD symptom, and people (like me) who have lots of interests appear flighty to the rest of the world. But now I know it isn’t just that I like variety, I need it. So, expect Hugh’s public life to look a lot less focused.
I need a schedule
A friend once said that ADHD is the craving of structure and the inability to create it. I feel this in my soul. If I don’t have a schedule, I can literally sit on the couch all day, lost in a book on whatever my current interest is, or doom scrolling on Facebook, or pursuing whatever current passion project I am curious about rather than doing work people actually pay me to do.
So I need a schedule. But a loose one, because I crave variety, and if the structure is too rigorous, I will rebel and abandon it.
I do my best work when there are ways I can integrate it into a routine. I think this is one reason I like newsletter writing so much – Every Monday and Friday, I have to hit send on that day’s letter. That deadline, and that it happens every week, brings a routine with it. In 2021, I will try to work to schedule more.
Daily practices are good, but I hate to meditate
One thing I added in 2020 was the habit of going for a 2 mile walk every day. It’s a brisk walk – a bit above leisure, but not a race-walk pace, either. I usually use that time to listen to an audio book that I only listen to during the walk, as a reward for doing it. I refuse to beat myself up if I miss a day, and so I get my walk in perhaps 95% of the time, which is good enough for me.
I tried really hard to pick up meditating this year, and tried all the methods I could find – apps, guided meditation, breath, lovingkindness, and so on, and while I liked some of them better than others, and see the value, I just can’t manage to keep it as a practice.
I like practices other than daily, too. Church on Sundays is a practice, as is the practice of my writing on Mondays and Fridays for the newsletters. I have high rates of compliance with those as well. In 2021, I will try to tie things that I find meaningful to regular practices.
Everybody is too many
My projects I worked on this past year that meant the most to me were my newsletters. I have tried to think of why that is and I have come to understand it is because of the intimacy of the medium – I am writing directly to you, and you can reply directly to me, and nobody is looking on, like they would be in a Facebook post.
But also, I just like the idea that I am doing a project for a select group of people. This is the same reason I like having my work supported via Patreon. Less than 80 people finance all my creative work, and so I don’t have to make everyone happy – I just have to make things that appeal to those 80 people.
But the freeing thing is that the converse of this is also true – I don’t have to make everyone happy. Some folks are gonna get pissed off. Some folks won’t like me, or what I write. That’s fine. If I had 250 folks that supported my creative work at the levels those 80 do, I could literally accomplish every financial goal I have.
So I don’t need to make all of the 7.8 billion people on the planet happy – I only need to find 250 of them that my work resonates with enough for them to support it. In 2021, I will try to pander less, and find more ways to make my audience narrower.
I like parenting
We had four different foster kids in our house in 2020, and one of them stayed with us for nine months. I loved all of it.
I like the routine of it all. I like the stolen moments with the kid while you are in the car together, the conversations you get when you hear how they view the world, the opportunities to pass along what you know, the chance to shape another life, the whole new perspective they give you. I like it all.
I would love it if we could adopt a kid. Or two. But adoption is hella expensive. So at the least, fostering another kid long-term is important to me in 2021.
I am a maker
My dad died in 2020, due to COVID. I will have more to say about that later, but among everything else he was, Dad was someone who made things. He liked woodworking, metal working, auto mechanics, computers, electronics. He was truly gifted in his ability to figure things out.
I was a clumsy kid, and as a result, felt like the “making” gene had missed me. But some introspection last year has shown me that this is not true. After all, last year I made a workbench, a chicken coop (two of them, actually), added flower beds to the house, built a swing and arbor for the yard, a deck, and a fence for the side yard. And that is just the “big” stuff.
I like making things. I’m decent at it. In 2021, I will embrace my identity as a maker more.
I’m OK not being a big deal
Let’s get one thing straight – I was never a big deal. But over the last 10 years, I turned down book contracts, traveled around the country lecturing, wrote for national publications, and was interviewed by national media. I was a subject matter expert in my field, and was paid to consult with organizations, colleges, and churches.
None of that is true right now, and wasn’t true for all of 2020. and hasn’t been true really since 2018. I have spent a lot of time and ink wondering who I was if I wasn’t all of that. But while 2020 was a dumpster fire in so many ways, it was also a year I began to feel comfortable in my own current reality as a pastor, director of a tiny non-profit, publisher, home owner, organizer, and parent. I don’t have big goals. I’m not a “thought leader” anymore. I’m just Hugh. And in 2021, that will be enough.
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2020 was horrible, and I am happy to be shot of it. But if I can take things I learned from it and make 2021 better, at least it won’t be a total loss.