My 2021 Annual Reflection: Languishing, Flourishing, Momentum, and a Hard Loss

Here is my annual reflection for 2021 and what I learned to take into 2022.

My 2021 Annual Reflection: Languishing, Flourishing, Momentum, and a Hard Loss
Our old man, Toby, looking dapper in his younger days.

After I wrote How To Do an Annual Reflection to Get The Most Out Of The Year Ahead, I went through the process myself.

As I looked back through my calendar and read my daily reflections, it was neat to see the different pieces of the year take shape. I noticed my habits and routines and how they contributed to some of the things I am most proud of. I saw the crescendo of different factors come to a head with a big shift and how I carried through with that shift. I got to celebrate some big wins and identify where I know I can be better.

This is my annual reflection of 2021 and some of my learnings for 2022!

My 2021 split into 4 parts

Part 1: Languishing through endless winter

The fatigue of 2020 did not disappear when the clock struck 12:01 on January 1, 2021. It carried forward into what is historically a hard time of year for me making our dark, cold winter feel endless. Combined with wave after wave of covid, lockdowns, and the interminable wait for vaccines, the first few months of the year were rough.

A normal occurrence in Edmonton in January/February (temps in Celsius).

It wasn’t all bad of course. I wouldn’t even say that it was mostly bad. It was that the many good things were struggling past the undercurrents of the hard things. Leading into early spring, things started to ease but I still felt drained and unmotivated.

It was around this time that I learned the word languishing, which felt like the perfect way to describe the first half of 2021.

Languishing, as described by organizational psychologist Adam Grant, “is the neglected middle child of mental health. You’re not depressed; you still have hope. You’re not burned out; you still have energy. But, you feel a little bit aimless and a little bit joyless. It’s that sense of emptiness and stagnation—like you’re in a void or you’re looking at the world through a foggy windshield.”

It fit.

That languishing feeling came to a head in June. Everything was fine. We were healthy, our businesses were doing well. My husband and I were fully vaccinated and we started to see more of our friends and family again. I had picked up my outdoor running season and planted my little garden. Things were looking up...but I was still languishing.

Part 2: Finding a way to flourish

On June 21, I sat down with my husband, Dana, and talked about what I want and what needed to happen for me to flourish again. It was an awesome discussion, a turning point in the year, and even my life. It was the day I decided I was going to build Ashley Janssen Consulting (AJC) from something I did off the side of my desk into a full-time practice.

My other businesses, Tadum and Code and Effect, were doing well and in a position where I could step back from the day-to-day. Dana and Matt, my business partners, were completely supportive. Honestly, it was a revelation that I would get this opportunity to focus on something I had loved doing for so long but never had the bandwidth to give my full attention.

I started to feel like colour was bleeding back into my days.

A week after that discussion with Dana, I went on a solo trip to the mountains and stayed for 5 days in a guest house that one of my wonderful friends had offered. That week was a collection of unique experiences: I drove the longest and farthest I ever had by myself, was alone the longest I had been...maybe ever, and did some solo hiking for the first time. It was a fruitful, restorative experience as I got some clarity on what this change could look like and set the initial strategy and direction for AJC.

The view on my solo hike of the Baldy Loop in Fernie. 1 hour 56 min, 8.13km, 598m elevation gain.

When I got home from this solo week away, I dived into getting ready to launch with a passion and fervour that I hadn’t experienced in a long time. I started my daily writing practice and the words flowed out of me. I went to bed and woke up with ideas and the beginnings of articles swirling around in my head. The feeling of languishing had been stamped out and replaced with a delicate balance of excitement and uncertainty.

Part 3: Launch and momentum

I launched my website, published my first newsletter, and announced my shift to focus on AJC on August 11. On the same day, I started the Akimbo Story Skills Workshop (under Seth Godin’s umbrella of workshops) which was a month-long course on how to become a better storyteller.

The rest of August and September was a whirlwind of writing, publishing, and the vulnerability of sharing my work through my newsletter and the workshop. I connected with people from all over the world, read and heard their stories, and had the opportunity to share and get feedback on my own. I improved my own storytelling and also made some wonderful new friends.

Throughout the fall I tested and iterated on my messaging. I joined and left a few networking groups, met with dozens of interesting people, taught a few workshops, and started to gain ground on building my newsletter subscriber list. After experimenting with the various options, I decided to focus my social media efforts on Twitter and Linkedin--and added some new consulting clients.

Penny, my trusty writing companion, keeping me company while I write.

By (Canadian) Thanksgiving, I was starting to feel the effects of going full force for such a long stretch. Dana and I took a couple of extra days off over the Thanksgiving weekend. I deliberately slowed my pace to a more reasonable clip to stave off the beginning stages of burnout. Turns out, even when you are doing something you love, it can take its toll!

In the first week of November, I hit 4 years since my MS diagnosis and was able to celebrate my continued remission and good health. With the encouragement of my sister-in-law, I decided to give winter outdoor running a try, after years of telling myself it was not for me. I even ran on my MS anniversary date as a small 🖕 to MS.

One of my articles was featured in HackerNews near the end of November and marked another upswing in subscribers, consultations, and new clients. It was neat to see something I wrote result in a conversation for people from all over the world. The snowball kept rolling forward.

My article, An Introverts Guide to Increasing Energy, found its way onto Hacker News.

Part 4: A hard loss

Things took a hard turn at the beginning of December. Our elderly cat, Toby, who had been with us for 15 years, rapidly declined. We made the heartbreaking but necessary decision to put him to sleep. He died peacefully at home in a sunbeam, on his favourite blanket, with me and Dana at his side.

It hit hard. I was 22 when we brought him home and he was part of most of my adult life. Thousands of hours on our laps, through all the iterations of our businesses, Dana's cancer, my MS, and every other up and down in our life. 15 years is a long time to have a little creature be a part of so many of the moments.

Toby, looking handsome, demanding immediate attention, as was his due.

It's only been a few weeks without him now and I miss him every day. I suspect I will for a long time.

My energy and motivation definitely took a blow leading into the holiday break, but it was a gift to have some space to grieve and take a rest before a big push into the new year.

What I learned in 2021 for 2022

My major learnings are:

1. What I want to keep doing

Making the shift to building AJC, publishing my articles, and sharing stories in the StorySkills course all pushed me into areas that I was not entirely comfortable in. Sharing my work, my ideas, my ways of doing things. It has been both vulnerable and liberating.

I discovered new language to describe myself and changed some of the stories I tell myself about who I am and what I am capable of:

  • I am a writer. I want to maintain my daily writing practice and continue to improve my writing skills.
  • I am a winter runner. I want to keep my workout streak and keep winter running.
  • I am a productivity consultant. My superpower is calming chaos. I am a serial entrepreneur and this is the next iteration of my entrepreneurial journey.
  • I can build something by myself. I have always had a business partner. While they are still important supports, ultimately building AJC is up to me. Cool. 🙂
    I want to keep pushing my boundaries and add to this list!

2. What I want to stop doing or change

Even someone like me, who teaches and is a major proponent of protecting time, can get caught up in working too much! It was easy to slip into working more than usual on something I was excited about, but it still wore me out.

I want to make sure I am vigilant in protecting my downtime and energy. I will do this through strong boundary management.

Part of protecting my energy is also staying focused on what I am doing and not worrying so much about what other people are doing. I can learn from others but don’t necessarily need to change what I am doing. I want to iterate, learn, and keep going.

3. What I want to start doing

I did a good job of staying connected with my friends and family through the Covid lockdowns. I am looking forward to seeing more of them in person. My hermit introverted habits are dialled way up and I need to start turning them back down a bit!

Cheers from me to you for an awesome 2022!

My theme for 2022: Keep it going, keep it steady

As I look back on the last year, I am struck by how much I have changed. I am not sure that anyone but those closest to me would notice a difference in me, perhaps only Dana. But I feel different. I feel like there is more change still to come and that is exciting.

Going through this annual reflection process has been so valuable in giving me some perspective on how far I have come in such a short time. I also had the realization that this growth is based on a foundation I have been building for myself over many years. I have gained a lot of knowledge and it feels remarkable to be able to both apply it to building AJC, while also sharing it through my newsletter and with my consulting clients.

I have all the building blocks for 2022. I know that I want to keep the momentum going, while also making sure to enjoy the journey, protect my downtime, and learn everything I can along the way.

Do you need some help with your 2021 reflection as you set goals for 2022? I would love to help.