7 min read

Hindsight 2020: The Tragedy and Triumph of the Hardest Year of My Life

Hindsight 2020: The Tragedy and Triumph of the Hardest Year of My Life

Without a doubt, 2020 was the hardest year of my 30 years on planet Earth.

I lost both my grandfather and my dad to cancer within the span of a few months. That alone would have been emotionally catastrophic, with the double dose of grief compounded by the immense burden landing on my shoulders after watching two generations of patriarchs fade into history.

Of course, 2020 was also the year that COVID-19 spiraled from pandemic into pandemonium as governments all over the world responded with unprecedented lockdowns that obliterated life as we knew it and created a “new normal” of isolation, fear, and uncertainty.

Practically speaking, that meant my brand new coworking space was closed for 48 days straight, only 58 days after opening. Even then, rebuilding coworking membership was a slow climb (although I'm pleased to report that we did rebuild membership, and Cowork Columbia stabilized by the one year anniversary of its grand opening).

I could go on with a long list of everything that went wrong this past year, and all the hardship that came with that, but I'd rather stop and shift to a celebration of what did go well, and what I've learned from this past year.

I could choose to record 2020 as a tragedy or a triumph, and either would be true.

My Biggest Wins

  • Celebrated Seven Years of Marriage. I am truly blessed by the love of my wife, Rachel, who has been my best friend for 16 years and my wife for a full seven. This year we watched our youngest son, Myron, turn one, while Lukas turned three and Damien turned five. They brought so much joy in the midst of a world in turmoil, this past year.
  • Spent Time with My Dad. I had the blessing to spend several hours with my dad every week for most of the year, taking him to weekly appointments while he was receiving cancer treatment, and driving with him to Ohio to visit his dad (my grandfather) before he died. I cherish those conversations my dad and I had about nothing and everything, right up until the end.
  • Started a Podcast. It's been a few years since I had an active podcast of my own (Unleash Your Blog) but this past year I interviewed dozens of the best and brightest minds in business for a brand new podcast, called Survive and Thrive.
  • Authored Survive and Thrive. I've been a writer for years, but this year I became an author. I distilled the most important takeaways from two dozen interviews with business mentors I respect and combined those with my own experience to write Survive and Thrive: How to Build a Profitable Business in Any Economy (Including This One), published by Morgan James.
  • Completed Platform University Acquisition. This has been a behind-the-scenes project for the past few years of my professional life, ever since I took a full-time job with Michael Hyatt. Ultimately, I completed the preparation leading up to the sale and working with a broker I helped Michael Hyatt Sell Platform University to Pete Vargas.
  • Authored Always Be Teaching. I was only planning on writing one book last year, but as part of the sale of Platform University I was able to get the rights to my best Platform University content from the last few years and I worked with Emily Mills to illustrate, design, and self-publish Always Be Teaching: 50 Illustrated Insights on How to Grow Your Business by Creating Content Online.
  • Released NotablePress. Mid-year, I revived an old business partnership with Thomas McGee of Notable Themes (a company I co-founded, but haven't been involved with for three years). We spent months crafting a new WordPress theme for Creators called NotablePress, and released that to beta customers first before releasing it publicly, at the end of last year.
  • Sustained Income. Thanks be to God (and my clients), I was able to sustain my income all year long despite shifting to full self-employment and a rough start to brick-and-mortar entrepreneurship.
  • Rest and reset. I took a full two weeks off work at the end of December, to rest, spend time with my family, and reset my spirit in advance of the new year. I have a history of working with very little pause or taking time off, and this year I committed to changing that habit for good.
  • Replaced myself as Parish Council Chairman. I've always thought the mark of an effective leader is what happens to an organization after they're at the helm, and I'm excited to step aside as Chairman of the Parish Council at my Church and watch a new slate of officers rise to lead the organization forward.

Admittedly, that is an impressive list of hard-won wins for a single year. That is a triumph. Still, I would like to circle back to acknowledge the two greatest losses I personally experienced in 2020.

My grandfather, Colonel John Meese, fought in both the Vietnam and Korean wars as part of Army Special Forces (the Green Beret). He experienced atrocities first-hand and tried to do the right thing in the midst of politics, war, and people spitting at him as he shepherded soldiers to their graves. Despite the horrors of war, he became a kind, generous man more and more as years went by and I am honored to be named after him. He was diagnosed with advanced bone cancer in July and I was able to visit him in hospice mere hours before he died.

My dad, Robert Meese, has been my constant mentor, example, and loving father for all 30 years of my life, and I lost him this year, too. My dad has been dealing with another cancer, Lymphoma, for five years and he had three years of good health before his health began to rapidly decline on the very same trip where we said goodbye to his dad, my grandfather.

After several months of aggressive treatment, my dad became so weak they had to stop treatment and he was able to spend his final days resting at home. We thought he would recover his strength up until 30 hours before he died, when he called me at 5 AM to come over to his house, and let me know that he wasn't going to get better, and it was time for him to go.

That conversation was hard, of course (which is an understatement) but I'm grateful we had the chance to say goodbye, one-by-one, and I was sitting with my dad when he died.

I think I aged about a decade in the last year, but I'm choosing to be grateful for the foundation of diversity and resilience I have from last year.

I've preemptively declared 2021 “The Year of Harvest” (that's the heading on my personal dashboard in Notion). With that in mind, here's how I'm approaching the new year:

What Will I Keep Doing in 2021?

  • Writing. I am the best version of myself when I write well and write often. I fully intend to do more of that, whether that writing turns into books, articles, or other anecdotes.
  • Building businesses. My first-hand experience with entrepreneurship makes me a better writer, and teacher of entrepreneurs. I've got my hands full with three distinct businesses, so I don't plan to start any new ones, but I do plan to continue building the three businesses I own.
  • Walking to work. This is one of those crazy silver linings from 2020, where I got rid of my car and began walking to my office at Cowork Columbia each day. That 15-minute walk has become a calming, spiritual exercise rain, cold, or shine.

What Will I Improve in 2021?

  • Focus on residual income. Rather than focus on increasing overall income, my intention for this year is to focus on increasing residual income from products (rather than services), especially subscription products like NotablePress and Cowork Columbia membership.
  • Prioritization of goals. I regularly set personal and business goals when I take a quarterly offsite retreat, but I sometimes lose sight of those goals in the whirlwind of day-to-day projects. Priority literally means “the first thing” and that's how I intend to treat my goals.
  • Using a personal dashboard. Because I have multiple companies, clients, and kids, there is a lot to keep up with in my daily life! I use the Full Focus Planner for daily productivity, and Asana for detailed project management, but Notion has become my go-to personal dashboard where I review my goals, calendar, and current focus at the beginning of each day.

What Will I Start Doing in 2021?

  • Going to the gym. I've developed a pretty good stretching routine at home, and I've kept active this year by walking or biking to my office each day, but it's time for me to level up at a gym.
  • Collaborating with partners. Much of my success in 2020 was solitary in nature, writing a book alone at a bed & breakfast or pouring over due diligence for an acquisition at my desk. This year, I'm making it a point to lean into business partnerships―even taking on two new partners in my coworking business, to start.
  • Sending a weekly newsletter. I'm still working on the specifics of the content, but I'm committed to starting a weekly newsletter for subscribers of this blog. I expect that to take shape soon, and continue to evolve over time.

What Will I Stop Doing in 2021?

  • Seeking out new clients. I will continue to offer my services as a strategic business advisor, but I will only keep a couple of clients at a time so I can focus on my product-based businesses.
  • Using a Smartphone. For me, the psychological toll of 2020 was compounded by my connection to the world through a smartphone, a tool that no longer serves me (and I suspect, many of the smartphone's willing users). I now use The Light Phone II as my mobile phone.
  • Worrying about things beyond my control. I wasted too much of last year caught up in pandemic politics on a global scale, and I need to refocus on my little world and my area of influence. I now have the serenity prayer printed by my desk, which you may be somewhat familiar with, but the full prayer is really quite special:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen. – Reinhold Niebuhr