A Look Back At 2020

What a year 2020 has been! The intentions I set in 2019 for this year were simple enough. Prioritize health, be mindful of how I spend my time and energy, limit distractions, make room for white space to be creative, and commit to travel opportunities when they present themselves. Little did I know what was in store for the world this year.

Things started off well enough. I quietly decided on January 1, 2020 to quit drinking. It felt like an idea whose time had come. For me, drinking was something I would do sporadically. I’d pick up a bottle of wine here or there or meet up with a friend for a drink or two. At the work holiday parties, having some drinks would help ease my social anxiety. When I hosted a dinner party, it was a good social lubricant. If I had a rough week, it was something to look forward to on Friday night to unwind. I’d say 9 times out of 10, the experience would be completely “normal” but 1 out of 10 times, I’d drink too much. Most of the time, the only repercussion from that was not feeling so great the next day or spending more money than I would have liked the night before. Too often I’d lose a whole day of productivity just so I could feel miserable. Occasionally, though, I’d make decisions I would never make sober that I would later regret and that would cause me anxiety in the light of day. Perhaps I’d say something that was a little too blunt or wouldn’t be as good a friend as I wanted to be. Sometimes I’d drink too much and end up throwing up in the concert hall or bar bathroom. These things happened a lot more when I was younger but they hadn’t completely gone away with age and still happened more than I’d like. I’m not sure what happens in my brain but occasionally, I just don’t have the switch that says “you’ve had enough”.

I figured 2020 would be a good year to see if not drinking would change my life significantly for the better and I think it has, on many levels. I want to be present and fully experience every moment, good or bad. I want to learn to be comfortable in my own skin in social settings and I can’t do that while using alcohol as a crutch. I don’t want to lose days of productivity to the self-imposed misery of a hangover. I don’t want to worry about regretting things I said or did the night before. I want to be in control of my actions. I don’t want to spend my hard earned money on anything that doesn’t support my values and goals. After kidney cancer, I don’t want to put any more substances in my body than I have to. Throughout my life I’ve seen far too many people center their lives around drinking and I want more than that for myself so I’ve recommitted to another year of sobriety.

I did get to travel a little bit this year. A former pet sitting client on the Oregon Coast asked if I could spend March caring for their pets while they took a trip to Indonesia. I happily agreed and planned a 10-day road trip adventure on my way to Oregon to explore parts of the Southwest that I missed my last time through. It was a super fun trip that mostly went according to plan. Before I left on the trip, I was aware that the new strain of Coronavirus that started in China was spreading but at that point, it was just a handful of known cases in the United States which all could be traced to direct contact with someone from Wuhann. I decided I wouldn’t let it get in the way of my trip. For the first 7-days on the road, I was blissfully unaware of what was transpiring in the news reports. On the 7th day when I arrived on the Northern California Coast, the first case of COVID-19 community spread had just been reported, where else but in Northern California. This was not looking good I thought to myself.

Slowly but surely, everything I had planned for my time in Oregon, including reconnecting with friends, was wiped away. My business plans for the year were suddenly all up in the air too as I couldn’t imagine going into any homes in the near future to help with interior design needs or to sit in a small room with a group of people to teach them what I knew about minimalism. To top off the trip, I celebrated my 40th birthday alone, lost my health insurance plan, and was laid off from my part-time bookkeeping job. Happy Birthday to me! If this is what it means to be 40, so far, I’m not impressed. My return road trip home in April became a mad dash to avoid as much contact as possible with other human beings all while checking into hotels, using public restrooms, and getting drive-thru food. I skipped all of the points of interest that I had mapped out to photograph and drove home as quickly as possible. As if traveling during a pandemic wasn’t stressful enough, there was an earthquake in Idaho and a blizzard in South Dakota, and I was having some cold-like symptoms that I couldn’t get tested for to rule out COVID-19. The one pleasant, albeit a bit creepy, part of driving cross country during that time were all the desolate roads. I have to say that part was quite enjoyable.

I did find ways to get outside over the spring and summer once back in Wisconsin. I purchased a kayak, a used-bike, and some new camping gear and enjoyed getting outside a bit, exploring different areas within a few hours or so of my home. I was eventually recalled back to work at my part-time job but my hours had been cut in half. With the expanded unemployment assistance, along with living rent-free with my sister, I was able to pay off all of my debt, with the exception of my student loan, and traded in my Kia Soul for a super fuel-efficient Honda Fit. I am fortunate, unlike so many other people right now, that I don’t have to worry about a place to live or food to eat. I am healthy and everyone I know and love is still with me. For that, I’m extremely grateful.

With my minimalist interior styling business indefinitely on hold, I began contemplating my career path again, knowing I still wanted to work for myself. First, I was thinking of getting my CPA license. That would require taking on more student loan debt though and I really didn’t want to do that. I consulted a career coach and through that process, determined being creative really was my passion and what I should be doing with my life. For years I had dreamed about “someday” opening an art gallery but always figured it was out of reach. When I seriously thought through the logistics of it though, it seemed completely within reach afterall. To fund it, I found a virtual full-time bookkeeping job with a company in New York. My plan was to work for a year, while the scientists worked on the COVID vaccine, and save up my salary to cover my first year or so of business expenses. After a month or two though I started doubting whether I really wanted to tie myself down with a brick and mortar business. There’s so much more traveling I want to do and someday, post-COVID, I’ll be able to do it. I decided to quit that full-time job and turned my sights to an eCommerce platform instead. I did the leg work and got my LLC and developed a plan to take my photography hobby and turn it into a bonafide business. I have been hard at work the past month or so setting the groundwork to officially launch that come January 1st, 2021.

In addition to my photography, I’ve been building other pathways to earn money. When I first moved back to Wisconsin I had signed up to be a dog walker and pet sitter through the Rover app. Living in a somewhat remote area, opportunities were few and far between until recently when I’ve seen an uptick in requests. It’s fun to meet all the new dogs and I know firsthand how important it is to have someone you can trust take care of your pets while you are away. This year I also decided to formalize the small business services I’ve been doing for the last 20-years or so for friends and employers via the creation of kCole Consulting. It makes use of a lot of the skills I’ve acquired over the years including but not limited to bookkeeping, technical support, training, writing and event planning. I thoroughly enjoy the process of starting and running my own business and want to help other people who are doing the same and is just one more way to diversify my revenue streams. I haven’t completely abandoned my dream of helping people discover the joys of minimalism either and am currently working on ideas to put together a series of SkillShare classes so I can help people virtually.

Having the freedom to travel when I want, live wherever I want, move as often as I like, and spend my time doing things I’m passionate about and that support my dreams is all I’ve aspired to these past years but I just didn’t know how I was going to get there. Now I know. As I write this, the COVID vaccine is shipping out all over the world and eventually, we’ll be on the other side of this pandemic. Travel opportunities will come back and in the meantime, income will start to roll in from my businesses. With a new Administration and a new career, 2021 is looking bright again. So that’s where I find myself at the end of this historic year. Hunkering down, trying my best to stay COVID-free, working hard for myself to build something special and sustaining, and waiting for the time to be right to get back on the road and travel a bit with my best friend by my side. Simple goals for a complex world.

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