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Annual Review 2021: writing, running and breaking through with our dog

John Nicholas
John Nicholas
8 min read
Annual Review 2021: writing, running and breaking through with our dog
Santorini, Greece (September 2021)

Hi there! Welcome to my first public annual review.

My review is inspired by writers I admire. David Perell and James Clear have been sharing annual reviews for a number of years. Here is David’s 2019 review and James’ 2013 review. It fosters transparency and it shows their process. It also helps people like me see that success doesn’t happen overnight. Successful creators are constantly tinkering and trying new things. They also have areas of improvement. We are all climbing our own mountain.

I want to share this review on my site to foster accountability and attract feedback. Hopefully this will also inspire others to reflect on the year that has been and build motivation for the year ahead. Let’s dive in!

Overview:

2021: the year in review

  1. Highlights
  2. Main themes: writing, running and breaking through with our dog
  3. Lessons
  4. Memories

2022: the year ahead (published here)

  1. Writing
  2. Building
  3. Other goals

2021: the year in review

2021 was a great year and I have a lot to be grateful for.

1. Highlights:

  • Jess and I moved in together in May. We found a beautiful apartment in Munich. A place that we could call our home.
  • We attended five beautiful weddings with close friends and family.
  • I had the privilege of being the master of ceremonies at my sister’s wedding in April. A very proud moment.
  • I took part in Write of Passage, an online writing course, in September. Something that has propelled my writing journey and changed my life for the better.
  • Traveled to eight countries: Germany, South Africa, Italy, Austria, Croatia, Greece, England, Wales.
  • Passed the B1 German exam. Makes life a bit easier as an expat in Munich.
  • Published eleven essays.

2. Main themes:

2021 had three main themes - writing, running and connecting with our dog.

Writing

This year was a major breakthrough on the writing front. I actually published essays. Real things on my website.

As I shared in Everyone Has a Writer in Them, for a long time I had a vague idea that one day I would write something and publish it online. One day the circumstances would be perfect. I would take a big cup of coffee to my study, sip some inspiration and crack out an essay.

After two years of false starts, my “one day” finally arrived. In September I joined 300 other aspiring writers from across the world and enrolled in Write of Passage. My homework was to publish five essays. I finally clicked “share” on my ideas and I haven’t looked back.

Write of Passage cohort 7

Writing online has been a game changer. I proved to myself that I can write and publish essays. I overcame impostor syndrome. I realized that I am creative. I generated multiple ideas for essays and even business ventures.

I also felt the power of community. The internet is a magical place. I made friends with people on five different continents. People I would never have met in the normal course of life. People with empathy. People on the same mission. I fostered new connections and friendships and found accountability partners.

Most importantly, I put my name on something. I proved that I can carve out a little piece of the internet for myself. I became what Theodore Roosevelt describes as the Man In The Arena:

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood.”

The journey continues in 2022. I want to continue creating more than I consume.

Running Club

Another big positive for the year was running and specifically the community of my running club, the Munich Running Society.

I moved to Munich in 2020. Moving to a new city is very exciting, but it also has its challenges. It’s difficult to build up a social network, especially if you don’t know the language. Joining a club with other young, like-minded people was the best decision I could have taken. I instantly made over 50 new connections. People I have subsequently gone on hikes with. People I can call up to grab a beer.

What really helped was making a point of remembering everyone’s name. Each Monday I tried to meet 3-5 new runners. I kept a list of names. Learning from Dale Carnegie. From How To Make Friends and Influence People:

“A person's name is to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language.”

The running society gave me a signal to keep looking after my fitness even when things were very busy at work and I had writing deadlines. Running on Mondays was a non-negotiable. We ran came rain or shine (or snow, as you can see in the pics below).

One of our last runs in December. Photo credit: Mischa Duschl
Olympia Park Munich. Photo credit: Mischa Duschl

Just like writing gave me a sense of community online, running gave me a physical community of people to interact with in Munich.

Pacco

Jess rescued our dog, Pacco, from a killing shelter in Mallorca in 2019. This was a year before she and I met.

Pacco and I didn’t click initially. I grew up with dogs at our family’s farm in South Africa. I was used to dogs spending most of their time outside or at least not getting too comfortable when they were inside. Pacco had different rules. He was allowed on the couch and could be described as a (spoiled) lapdog. I felt like he was getting away with murder.

He also didn’t trust me. He was abused by his previous owner. There are pellets in his leg where he was shot. He then lived on the streets for a while before being picked up by a shelter. Luckily Jess adopted him before it was too late. He absolutely adores her and I was an intruder in his new cosy life.

After the rocky start, Jess suggested that Pacco and I start going for runs together. I didn’t love it. Pacco hated it. The first few attempts were a complete fail. We would run for a couple hundred meters and he would refuse to go any further. On other occasions he would run straight back home (through traffic) as soon as I took him off the leash.

One day, after a couple of months of stop-start running, he finally began to trust me. He started running next to me. Keeping up, smiling, enjoying the wind rushing through his ears. This was an incredible moment. To finally win his trust and break through after so many attempts.

We subsequently went for many runs and we have been best buds ever since. I never imagined I could love an animal so much. He taught me patience and he brings us a lot of joy every day.

Jess and Pacco on our balcony in Munich.

3. Lessons:

Perspective. I learned that there are different ways of doing things. I am better at accepting other people’s choices without judgment. There are many roads to Rome.

The value of time. Time is more important than I ever thought. I am waking up earlier to make the most of every day.

Walking. I completely changed my view on walking. I saw it as a waste of time before. I favoured exercise or running when I had 30 minutes to an hour free. Walking felt like a luxury. This year I have walked more than ever. Morning walks have been particularly special. Without headphones. Just meditating or thinking about an idea. It seems like I am in good company here. Albert Einstein on the power of taking walks:

I take time to go for long walks on the beach so that I can listen to what is going on inside my head. If my work isn’t going well, I lie down in the middle of a workday and gaze at the ceiling while I listen and visualize what goes on in my imagination.

Community. I used to be a lone wolf. I trained alone and worked alone. This year, I realized the power of community. The power of having friends and partners on the journey. Now I actively seek out a running buddy or writing buddy.

Feedback. I have grown stronger due to feedback and accountability. It’s not always fun, but it is necessary. You learn a lot from receiving feedback, but also from giving feedback. The best feedback I got was to bleed on the page more when writing. To get more personal, to allow the reader to connect more with my writing. Kudos to Nic Rosslee here. Main call to action: the 3x rule. For every piece you publish, give feedback on three other essays.

Awareness. More intentional about how I consume information and what I consume. More switched on. Taking notes the whole time, listening, observing. Everything is important, even the Netflix show you’re watching. Themes, plots, character development.

Skin in the game. The best way to learn is by doing. You need some skin in the game. This year I applied this principle to cryptocurrencies and Web3 (the next iteration of the internet). I know - Tom, Dick and Harry have probably also put this in their annual review (with a dedicated section on the next best coins). I was also circumspect for a long time. If you asked me about crypto in 2020 I would have laughed. This year I decided to experiment. I purchased NFTs (non-fungible tokens or digital art). I created an ENS name (a website name on the Ethereum blockchain). I am actively participating in a DAO (decentralized autonomous organization), The Shiny Object Social Club. Even if 90% of these projects go to zero, I am fine with it. Happy to learn as much as I can.

4. Memories

Coolest New Experience: kayaking in Cape Town while surrounded by dolphins.

Best Meal: Mast Weinbistro in Vienna

Favourite Weekend: Salzburg, Austria with Jess.

Favourite First Meetings: Nic Rosslee (we technically met in Johannesburg for the first time, but rekindled this year as a result of writing), Michael Sklar (Write of Passage) and Tobi Emonts-Holley (Write of Passage).

Favourite New City: Verona, Italy.

Favourite Activity: hiking up Brecherspitz with Pacco.

Favourite Sports Moment: attending the match between the Springboks and Wales at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff with Ricus Goussard and JP le Roux. The Springboks clinched it 23-18.

Favourite New Golf Course: Schlosshotel, Kronberg.

Favourite Work of Art: Jess and I bought a decent-looking NFT. Not worth much, but maybe we should frame it.

Favourite Tour: wine tour on the island of Santorini, Greece.

Favourite Day: Nina and Brad’s wedding, Paarl, South Africa.

Most Intense Week(s): all five weeks of Write of Passage.

Favourite Travel Experience: rowing out to the Green Cave just off the island of Vis, Croatia, with my mate JP le Roux.

Favourite Song: I Don’t Live Here Anymore by The War On Drugs

Most played playlist: Writing Flow by Julian Shapiro (lots of writing this year)

Favourite Quote: The Man In The Arena by Theodore Roosevelt

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I hope some of these reflections resonated with you. Good luck with the mountain you’ve set your sights on this year.

Happy New Year and wagmi!


Thanks to Jess Schanz for reading drafts of this essay.

Writing

John Nicholas Twitter

Actuary and creator.

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