Looking back on 2020?

I tend to be pretty hard on myself. I generally undervalue progress I make or achievements that I reach. I’m not entirely sure where that comes from. Definitely some of that can be attributed to my family, and most certainly my father, but I think part of it was also a choice I made a long time ago. Or maybe more accurately a conflation of modesty with undercounting or undervaluing personal growth and achievements. I think I might be a teensy bit wiser about that today and I don’t see the 2 as the same any more. With that said, I wanted to take the opportunity to pat myself on the back to contrast a lot of the darkness and heaviness of so many past posts. And given how important 2020 has been for me, on so many different levels, this feels right.

2020 had no real traumas. I didn’t make any big mistakes. I didn’t hurt anyone or myself. In fact, I made a lot of really good decisions this year. And I think because of this, I’ve felt it was time to start writing a bit again. Not because I need the release or to even catalogue my travels, in fact, I don’t even consider this a travel blog at all anymore. It’s just me now. Just my thoughts, just how I feel, for whatever reason. No excuse needed to write a post. Just reconnecting with an old friend. And that friend, today, right now, wants me to leave a little note about what I’m grateful of this year, about where I am and what I’ve done.

1. Maintaining my Spanish. Continuing Spanish on duolingo every day. Speaking to friends in Spanish any chance I get. So while I still make mistakes I haven’t lost my fluency. Additionally, I’m taking classes which are helping me sand off the rough edges and refine my spoke Spanish even further.
2. Starting my journey in Italian. Daily practice and learning in Italian has allowed me to make some progress that I’m proud of, even if I’m nowhere near where I’d like to be.
3. 1.5 years of German under my belt. I do german on Duolingo every day, pretty much without fail. In fact, I have reached 173 consecutive days on Duolingo. Ich kann night gut sprechen, aber ich lerne gern und mit manche zeit, ich werde in vergangen gute sprechen. Well, I’m sure there are mistakes there, but this was with no Google, no looking anything up. It’s progress. And yes, German suuuucks. It’s a pretty freaking hard language to learn and I haven’t yet made the time to take lessons, but I decided many months ago that I would and I’m planning on doing that in early 2021. So, sure, again not where I’d like to be, but I’m really happy that I’ve been sticking with it and that I’m starting to develop a bit of comfort with it. A year and a half man. Ugh.
4. 2 minutes and 36 seconds. I can hold my breath for 2:46 and I’ve just started. My goal is to get to 4 minutes as an average. Why? Well, partly just why not, it’s cool, partly cause it’s part of a larger decision I made earlier which I’ll get into, and lastly and most importantly, because I want to be able to stay under water longer for snorkeling, which I plan on doing tons of in 2021 and beyond. So, I got an app, I do my exercises, and I am hoping that by 2021 I’ll be close to my 4 minutes.  
5. Work is going great. At the beginning of the year I started investing in creating and improving my Upwork account. Part of that decision is thanks to Magdalena, and it’s one of the many things I’m grateful to her for. But in creating that account and thinking about my career, my skills, my experience and where I fit in, I came to realize that I was a lot more competent than I’ve ever given myself credit for and I’ve received a lot of validation in 2020 on that front, and indeed over the years, but 2020 I think is the year where I’ve felt more like a professional than any other. The money isn’t quite pouring in yet, but I feel that I’m onto something life-changing and stabilizing and it feels great. My hourly rate is in USD which helps a lot and is muuuuuch higher than I would have felt comfortable charging even a year ago. I’ve gotten some great projects under my belt this year, and fantastic ratings/reviews, so I feel like I have this safety net of sort that I need to maintain, but that I can count on to provide resources whenever needed. It’s a great feeling.
6. I’ve been super consistent and responsible with my debts and responsibilities. I’m making steady progress to bring down my credit card balances and other debts out there. Yes, not every month is the same (I am a freelancer after all), but every month I manage my money really well, and have managed better discipline than I have in the past. It all adds up to feeling like a more balanced, strong, capable human being and member of society, and it’s allowed me to be more helpful to family and friends, not only in terms of money but also in terms of emotional support.
7. I’ve made tons of progress on my invention. In fact, I should have a patent pending by the end of 2020. That’s so incredibly exciting. I have no doubt we could have moved faster but all things considered I’m really happy with where things are. It’s truly gorgeous, is so feature rich, and I think will finally be that chess piece that once moved, will allow me to truly give back to my family, allow me the resources to live the life I have been dreaming of, and confirm that the path I’ve chosen for the past 2 decades, while long and windy, and full of uncertainty was in fact the one I wanted deep-down even though I could never really see it very clearly. I’m super proud about making it this far and am excited to bring all my career talents and experience in branding and marketing now, to bear in turning this invention into the life-changer I believe it has the potential to be.
8. At the end of 2019, my stock portfolio had hit its lowest point. It was down almost 70%. Meaning the 10k+ that had once been invested, was down to around $3k, $2000 of which wasn’t even sellable. I decided to change my tactic entirely and revert to something I had touched on in early 2019 but had abandoned. But this time, I decided I would employ much more patience. My goal was to get back to 10k by 2021, though I knew that would be incredibly challenging. But with said patience and discipline, I’ve managed to more than double that portfolio and should be at 80-85% of the original value by the end of the year. Dude, that’s an impressive achievement. I’m actually pretty proud of that. Yes, it took 2 years of failure or was it 3, to get to a point where I had to completely reassess, and there’s still not guarantee things won’t go belly up, but I’ve been smarter and more patient, and more importantly, I’ve trusted myself more and that’s made the difference. I’m hoping to be at 100% by spring, and then will play the long game for 50% of the stocks, and will figure out what to do with the rest. Still, I’m thankful.  
And the most gratifying of all…. The following is more than one thing but they are all linked.
9. A few months ago, probably in July or late June, after having completely reverted to smoking regularly, even if not all that much, I set my mind to making a change in lifestyle. Not for anyone else but me. I was tired of the stresses that guilt was causing me, the feeling of fatigue going up 2 flights of stairs, and the doubt. I was tired of that pain in my abdomen, and tired of having nights where I’d wake up thinking I had cancer. It was all happening too regularly and I was living in a state of constant fear, and this goes back years but had been growing and getting worse in 2019 and 2020. I had managed to quit smoking for about 6 months in 2019, but started failing towards the end of the year and by the time I got to Egypt, I was smoking pretty much every day. But in July, I chose a date. September 26. My 45th birthday. That would be the day that I would begin the process. It wasn’t about smoking, it was about connection. I wanted to reconnect to something I had lost complete connection to over the decades. Yes, decades. It started in my early 20s, with partying and smoking pott, and in my 30s and 40s it had gotten to the point where I had little confidence in my body and was always so full of fear that I would just randomly die somewhere because of how little I was caring for myself, and how much damage I was doing. I mean, it’s been over 25 years of smoking at this point. So, the night of the 25th. I had my pack of smoked in hand, I made myself a drink, I went downstairs to the street in my dad’s condo complex around 11:45. I put some music on my headphones, had a rum and coke and chain-smoked for about 14 minutes. At 11:59 a neighbor came down, asked for a cigarette and, I gave him the pack and said I didn’t need it anymore. The time couldn’t have been perfect. I started my 45th year with a smile, a selfie and the determination that this year, I would reconnect with the most important person in my life. It’s been nearly 2 months (4 days to 2 months to be exact), and I’m doing really good. I do worry about sustaining this when I get to my next destination in a month and a bit but by then it’ll be 3 months and maybe I’ll be strong enough.  
10. Reconnecting with the body isn’t about not smoking. I have no doubt there are some people who are incredibly physical and who feel incredible connections to their body, who also smoke. Unfortunately though, for me, after so long as a smoker, I can really convince myself that that’s viable for me, nor do I want to. But the smoking is a small part of it regardless. Connection is about mobility, about breathing, about flexibility, about strength and balance. These are the things I seek out. On Oct. 1, I began that journey in earnest. Since then I have not had a single day without physical activity of some sort. But most importantly, it’s the yoga that I’m most connected to and that I believe is doing to most good. And in doing so, I’m finding inspiration and motivation. Not one day has gone by without doing a yoga session. I got a new awesome yoga mat that a friend manufactures and I do my sessions every single day. I’ve noticed an improvement in my flexibility, strength, balance, and how I look and feel. Adriene has accompanied me on this journey and with her I’ve managed to finish her 30 day yoga camp and am now on the 23rd day of her 30 day dedicate program. She’s amazing and I’m feeling better every day, though I’m struggling with weakness in my arms, triceps specifically.  
11. Yoga is a huge part of trying to reconnect but I felt it wasn’t enough and I wanted to also deal with this feeling of being outside my comfort zone in terms of weight. I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror. Life in Florida has been very uneventful and while I’ve managed to do all of the above I had also managed to get to my heaviest weight ever, at 190lbs. It kind of blew me away and I just didn’t like the feeling of carrying that extra weight or how it looked on me and one of my goals was to get to a better place there. And while I sweat like a rabid pig doing yoga many days, I wanted something that would help with cardio and strength as well. So, HIIT and Calisthenics it is. And it’s incredible how much of a difference it makes on my body. I went from hating my body to where I am now where I feel like I’m on the verge of having the best shape that I ever have. The truth is up until my 40s I always felt too thin. While I was relatively toned and almost no body fat, I just always felt too thin. And recently I felt too fat, with no definition at all. However, I did kind of like how thick I was. If only I could turn that fat into muscle I said, with a little definition, I’d be happy with my body. Well, I’m not fully there but man what a difference. Even my family has noticed it, though strangely in places I haven’t even been working, like my upper body. But, I have an ass again. Ya, ya, it’s freaking tiny. I mean you kinda need a magnifying glass to see it but it’s there again. And it’s kinda cute, lol. Look, all this to say, that while I’ve incorporate a very wide range of exercises to my daily routine, I’ve been reconnecting with my body on the inside and on the outside, and I’m both enjoying the process and the results. So, good job dude.
12. 9:41. That’s how quickly I run a mile. No, it’s not impressive by runners’ standards I know. But I’m not a runner. I never have been. I don’t think I ever will be, but going for a run every once in a while and tracking my progress has been satisfying. I don’t run for long, but I try to make it as intense as I can. But 9:41 isn’t too bad right? My goal is to get down to 9 minutes, though I doubt I’ll manage that before I leave Miami. But I’m taking every little progress that I can. I run, then I come home and I swim for 10-15 minutes, then I take a shower, then I continue sweating. Ha. But my resting heart rate has come down over these past 2 months, and I can feel the difference, so all of this is adding up.

My goal is to reconnect. I’ve reconnected, or more accurately, connected with family like I never have in my entire life. I’m a better son and nephew, and cousin than I’ve ever been. I hope I can also be a better brother, but that’s a harder path that might take me more time. But I’m also trying to reconnect to my body, so I can feel better, so I can have more faith in myself, in my balance, my strength, my endurance, my flexibility to continue taking life on, not as a 40 year old but just as a person, as a fit individual. My goal is to be in better shape by the end of 2020 than I have been since I turned 40. And to be in better shape by the end of 2021 than I have been since I turned 30. It’s all doable, mostly because those bars are really quite low and also because I’m enjoying this now. I like the idea that I’ll be able to snorkel longer, deeper, more comfortably. I like the idea that I’ll be able to kite surf better, hike better, push harder, feel freer and manage stress better. I like the idea that I’ll like who I see in the mirror better, knowing that I’ve been working on that, and everything that comes with it, for a while and have been enjoying the journey. These are things I’ve owed myself for years but just couldn’t find the space, the love, the energy to give myself. 2020, is the year that I start really giving myself these little gifts, and hopefully it’ll also allow me to give many more little gifts to all those around me.  

So, the goal of 2020 has been to reconnect, but the lesson I’ve learned is that what I needed, what I need to maintain, is discipline. And I’ve been more disciplined this year that I have since my late teens and very early 20s when I was surprisingly disciplined. I lost that, and lost some of the connection that had come with it. I’m not trying to be young again, but I am trying to recapture some of the things that defined my youth. If I can combine those with some of the wisdom I’m hoping I’ve gained, then I will have a truly blessed life ahead of me. I’m grateful for the life I’ve had, the different periods and challenges, mistakes and opportunities, but today I’m ready for a new chapter and it seems I’ve already started writing it. The foundation is decent, now it’s time to build on it and see where it leads.

All this to say, 2020 has been incredibly rewarding. Part of it is the lack of distractions. I don’t have a girlfriend which means less time thinking about someone else, worrying, stressing, giving, and analyzing the taking. It’s just me and that has allowed me to really focus on what I need, where I want to go, how I want to get there and why the things that are important, are in fact important to me. Part of it ironically is Covid, and the fact that I can stay home and not feel guilty about not doing more, not being out more. In truth, I do more today, this year, than I have in years. My daily routine is wake up, maybe stretch a couple minutes, read the news, articles, commentary, watch Youtube videos on topics that are interesting and help me stay on top of things that I’m passionate about, then work, then my exercises, then Duolingo, and breathing exercises. And occasionally random conversations with the people I care about, though I don’t do much of that lately simply due to a lack of time. But when I do, it feels better, more authentic, more assured, more real. So, all of these things are happening in my life, and it’s all positive and it’s all empowering and satisfying.

So, when you look back in a few years, whether you’re on your death bed or in your new home, or traveling or reading to a newborn, maybe you’ll remember how important 2020 was in shaping this upcoming stage of your life. Yes Covid has been tragic and dreadful but it has also changed the world and the dynamics of daily life in a way that has allowed you the space to think and start the process of reconnecting. I hope that as you are reading this, that you maintained that connection even if it doesn’t entail all the points above. Good luck. Now, time for some yoga.

Oh, and one last thing, because this post is all about the present becoming past, I wanted to include this photo for you. 

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