2020 Review: Alignment

Note: March is my birthday month — when I finish my year and start a new lap around the sun. That makes my year April to March (not Jan to Dec).

I typically conduct and publish my Annual Reviews in April each year, which can be found here: 2021, 2020, 2019.

Overall Reflection

Generally speaking, I wasn’t concerned at all about the COVID pandemic — catching the virus, job loss and economic downturn. I am fortunate that no one I know suffered from the outbreak and aftermath.

Health wise, I felt prepared as I’ve been improving my health and boosting my immune system since 2019.

Even though I had no job and no income, I didn’t stress out about money. I was generally calm despite my circumstances. In fact, I was grateful about the opportunity the pandemic created for me — time and freedom to work on the things I cared about from the comfort of home.

2020 felt like the beginning of my life’s work. A new chapter to live with purpose and meaning — feeling guided by an inner knowing and feeling of reassurance that I am on the right path.

My top 3 intentions for the year were:

  • Show up as myself
  • Create honest, soul-level work
  • Connect with people, make new friends

Because I’ve decided to learn to let go of my “achievement” mindset (still a work in progress), I want to focus on priorities and projects instead of goals.

I love Jason Fried’s take on goals — that everything in life is ‘continuous progress’ to make better things.

I resonate with that approach a lot more compared to the business world’s incessant need to focus on goals and KPIs. He focuses only on one metric which is a much better way to live and make important decisions.

While I watched and felt the chaos ensue around the world… the panic, fear, frustration and frantic energy didn’t affect me. I was calm throughout the crisis (feeling zen) — It was almost like I was operating at different frequencies to everyone else.

My outlook and mindset was positive throughout the year, which is the reason why 2020 felt like the best year I’ve had to date.

Things To Celebrate

Meaningful Work

I finally overcame my fear of writing, which dramatically changed my personal, professional interests and the projects I want to do.

Writing is now a part of my work because it’s how I’m choosing to express myself in the world. This new capability is giving me the foundation I need to create a new personal brand and career for myself. It definitely feels like the beginning of a new chapter of life.

I’m getting better at trusting what flows out of me, and becoming more confident about sharing my work.

Even though the pandemic took away the new job opportunity I had at the beginning of the year, it opened up space for me to develop new business ideas with support around me, as I was invited back into the Business Mentorship Program I pulled out of in 2019.

The business development work felt somewhat easier this time around as coming into alignment plays an important role in that process.

Revamped PKM System

My PKM (Personal Knowledge Management) System is an important part of my work because I’m a knowledge worker that needs a place to capture and connect ideas, as well as having a system for information that’s important to me.

Because I always look to improve my productivity, over the years I have tried a bunch of note taking apps and productivity tools to improve my workflow, but was frustrated at how limiting they felt to me as I tried organising my notes, ideas, projects and tasks in them.

The first version of my PKM system was Evernote, then I eventually switched to Bear as I was attracted to the beautiful and simple design. However, I continued to run into the same issues with the way I wanted to organise, connect and store my notes because they cannot be easily retrieved when I need them. None of the tools I tried matched how my brain works.

When I finally found Roam, everything changed. The magic is in the “bi-directional linking” capability between notes, and it made perfect sense to me straight away. I loved the thinking behind the ‘bi-directional’ design. Roam allowed me to organise and store my notes the way I’ve always wanted to.

Discovering Roam lead me to Building A Second Brain (BASB) which I happily invested in. I finally found some answers to the nagging structural, note taking and organising issues I’ve been trying to solve on my own for years.

Since taking BASB, I revamped the foundations of my PKM system in Roam which has allowed me to:

  • capture, organise, distill and store the information I want to keep
  • allow my future self to find notes for reference when I need them
  • work better, faster and more efficiently

New Friends Around The World

As soon as I felt like I was coming into alignment with myself, I wanted to expand my network, connect with people and make new friends. Because I wanted to surround myself with the right people.

Continuing to invest in my own education and actively participating in courses, programs and communities allowed me to meet other like-minded people around the world. I started building relationships virtually through social media and zoom this year.

Conduct Personal Financial Review

Thanks to the pandemic and the fact that I don’t have a job this year, my circumstances made me more vigilant about managing my personal finances. It gave me the motivation I needed to kick start and develop the much needed habit of conducting financial reviews every 2 weeks.

Financial management has always been a weakness. It’s so easy for me to neglect because looking at numbers feels like a lot of work. I had a bad habit of avoiding business financial reviews in the past because it’s not something I’m good at.

I knew I needed to instill this important habit before I got back into business again, because I realised that having financial skills allows me to make better decisions.

I’m proud to have been able to perform financial reviews consistently this year and it is now becoming a habit and priority.

Push Ups Habit

Instead of continuing to make excuses knowing I needed to incorporate more movement in my day, I decided to start doing push ups in December. I told myself to just start with something small so it feels doable.

Doing something is better than doing nothing, no matter how tiny it is. So I decided to do push ups for 1 minute — non stop until my arms give out.

One of the best ways to design new habits so they become automatic is finding a trigger to kick start them, so I decided to do push ups when blending my heavy metals detox smoothie in the morning.

Instead of standing around in the kitchen waiting for my smoothie to blend, I press the button, walk to the living room and perform push ups. Around the same time my NutriBullet stops blending, I’ve also completed push ups.

I’ve been able to stay consistent with this new habit for over 3 months now. It’s actually not as hard as I thought to maintain because I took the time to design this habit properly.

Discovering My Human Design & Energy Mechanics

I discovered Human Design 2 weeks before I turned 40, and it has intrigued me ever since.

Since 2015, I’ve become obsessed about understanding myself because I felt lost for a long time. I didn’t know myself and struggled immensely to find my direction in life.

There were things about me that I’ve felt and recognised but never able to articulate that my human design confirmed for me. It’s helping me stop making myself wrong for the qualities and traits that I’m designed to have, and allowing me to fully accept myself for the way I am.

Human design also confirmed everything I learned in my own pursuit of personal transformation and it’s a nice feeling to know that I’m on the right track in terms of personal growth.

Learning how I’m designed to live, work and operate in the world is so useful, because I now know how to utilise my decision making strategy to be successful.

The more I look into it, the more I want to dive deeper because this body of work is amazingly deep, rich, nuanced and accurate. It makes sense to me.

I felt like this work came into my life at the right time. This is a perfect example of when the student is ready, the teacher shows up.

What I’ve learned in 5 weeks so far have helped me navigate 2 life events that recently showed up out of the blue (new job opportunity and ex-boyfriend). I used what I learned to make the decision for me that I felt good about.

What I’m Grateful For

  • Time to work on projects I felt called to create
  • Making new friends around the world virtually
  • Received financial support from the Australian government
  • Working in my preferred work environment at home
  • My landlord/housemate temporarily lowering my rent to help with finances

Things To Improve

Nutrition & Movement

Even before the pandemic, it’s always so easy for me to spend my day sitting in front of my iMac working. I am someone who can spend a week or two holed up in my room and not leave the house at all, which can be unhealthy because I don’t expose myself to the sun and I don’t move my body much.

I also haven’t been as diligent about my nutrition, and recognised that I need to eating cleaner again and redo WildFit to improve my energy and overall wellbeing.

I’m finding myself more fatigued at the end of the year, and need to make some changes.

Piano Practice & Music Skills

Even though I’ve been wanting to get back into music since 2018 (after stepping away for 15 years), music has continued to get shafted to the side because I continued to justify and prioritise work and my professional life over my “hobbies”.

Another reason why I haven’t been able to incorporate music back into my life is because my skills are nowhere near what they used to be in my teens and early 20s, so the thought of dedicating enough time to getting my music skills back and feeling like I can identify as a musician again feels like an enormous mountain to climb.

So it’s been easier to make excuses to not practice, rather than sit at the keyboard and face disappointment at the fact that I can’t play as well as I used to.

I am still finding a way to reframe and reconcile this struggle within myself, because at the end of the day, I do want music back in my life.

Publish More Consistently

Even though I started the year feeling called to write, I ended up burying myself in all the business development work required to develop a new business that came from the pressure of finding ways to generate income.

The frequency of my newsletter dropped from once per week to once per month, and I haven’t been able to write as many articles as I wanted to.

Main Lessons Learned

Be Aware of Monkey Mind

monkey looking at mirror

As much as I’d like to believe that I have learned to listen to my body and my intuition in the past 2 years… I realised that I am still listening to my mind. This became clear to me when I looked back at how I’ve made decisions that didn’t end up serving me. Oh the joys and beauty of hindsight.

For the second half of 2020, I pushed myself to generate income — I was trying my best to force a result by investing in tools and programs I shouldn’t have to launch a business, because my mind is brilliant at alerting me that my savings is depleting.

I realised I was reacting out of the need to survive and the need to prove myself. My mind justified all the things I thought I should do because it wants to be in control, which all stems from expectations. My expectations of myself and what is expected of me from family, culture and society.

I am noticing how powerful the mind can be. It will always try to rationalise our decisions because of our unconscious conditioning for survival.

I’ve seen how this has repeatedly played out in my life and I’ve always regretted the decisions I end up justifying with my mind (there were a metric shit ton of them). Understanding the importance of body awareness through my own learning and experimentation has helped me get closer to my true self and further away from conditioning.

The life lessons I’ve learned on my own were validated through my recent discovery of Human Design. It profoundly confirmed to me that the mind is not for making decisions — and that the correct decisions always come from the body.

Writing this annual review helped cement this learning for me even more. The work I’ll need to continue to do is to pay attention and observe how my monkey mind tries to trick me into making decisions that doesn’t end up serving me.

The big lesson is to continue to trust myself, trust my body, trust my intuition and trust my own timing in life.

Ambition Vs. Ability

This lesson showed up repeatedly this year as I tried implementing new habits into my life. I decided to dive deeper into habit design in October to improve my skills of designing and implementing the habits I want with a higher rate of success.

Historically, most of the habits I tried developing for myself were done by brute force because I didn’t understand the science behind behaviour change. So my results were haphazard — some habits stuck and some didn’t.

The habits I’ve been able to integrate into my life before this year required a lot of effort (motivation, focus and dedication) for them to stick. At the end of the day, will power is not sustainable and I also wanted to be able to create behaviour change for myself with more ease and sustainability.

Working on my habits this year made me aware of the Ambition Vs. Ability Gap.

My ambitions to achieve my goals have always been high, which means I always set goals too many levels above my current ability to do them, so I end up failing and feeling discouraged. It was counterproductive, because it used to lead to a string of negative self talk which caused me to give up until I’m ready to try again.

When I tried incorporating a new writing habit this year, I would’ve had a better chance at sustaining it, if I started writing 100 words per day in July and worked my way up, instead of trying to write 1,000 words per day right out the gate.

Learning from my mistake in September, I changed my approach. This year, I was reminded again of the importance of mindful breathing and wanted to add it to my morning routine.

I decided to breathe for 2 minutes every morning before I start working. It’s tiny and easy enough for me to do. Since starting the new breathing habit in October, and seeing how successful I became at sustaining it, I applied the same approach to adding a new push ups habit in my day in December.

Life Works Itself Out

When I’m not listening to my monkey mind that’s pushing me to do something or make something happen… I noticed that life just works itself out.

I’m learning that life happens whether or not we try to control it, and that life somehow has a way to provide what we need when we need it. It’s teaching me that I’m not here to just survive, and that there is no need to push, chase, force and hustle for some outcome that our minds conjure up that we should have.

This year, I’ve started to learn that people and opportunities show up in my life when I need them. They also showed up to help me see myself better.

Experiencing life this way and seeing its magic unfold is allowing me to trust myself more and more.

Correct Use of My Energy

Because the COVID pandemic created my perfect work environment, opened up space to work on projects I care about, as well as creating the opportunity to develop a business again…

I ended up overworking this year, and realised I was being counterproductive by pushing myself too hard to complete projects, participate in the Business Mentorship Program and develop a new business.

I didn’t understand how my aura and energy worked until I discovered that I’m a Projector (Advisor) — non-energy type.

I started to understand why the incorrect use of my energy, operating from conditioning, spending my life working in jobs and environments not suitable for me has burned me out. It helped explain why I ended up suffering from adrenal fatigue at 36.

Learning about my design was profound. It helped me understand how I’m wired, why I have the strengths, qualities and traits I have and why the way I’ve operated in life hasn’t worked for me.

It allowed me to accept myself and who I am even more, because all my life I’ve been trying to be something I’m not, and operated in ways that’s unhealthy for me.

Overcommitting and overworking has been a huge theme in my life (thanks to my “achievement mindset”) that I am now learning to correct through better understanding of my design mechanics so I can take better care of myself.

Recap 2020 Goals

Build a personal brand website

Done — I built everything from scratch in April and launched my website (V1.0) on 1st May. In case you’re interested, I wrote a case study on my website project execution process.

Start a newsletter

Done — Got my very first subscriber on 21st April, and sent my first newsletter on 19th May. I wanted to keep people updated on what I’m creating, share lessons learned in my pursuit of finding purpose and meaning in the work I want to do.

Start writing

Done — I launched a new blog section on my website on 3rd July with 2 long form articles. Now that I have a website, I have a place to house my work and start writing more.

Write 1,000 words a day

Failed miserably — I started the writing habit on 1st July and quickly started to struggle.

I was only able to keep up with the writing streak for 24 days. My ambitions were too high for my ability (reality).

I had only just become comfortable with the idea of writing and publishing my work in the beginning of the year. 3 months later, I stupidly decided to set this ridiculous goal for myself because I was inspired by other people’s writing habits (who have been writing/publishing a lot longer than I have) and I wanted to do the same.

I basically set myself up to fail, because I was not being realistic with myself and haven’t learned how to design habits properly at the time.

Develop new business aligned with me

In progress — I spent the 2nd half of 2020 testing new business ideas to figure out what the market needs, who I want to serve, what problems I want to solve and whether the product/market fit feels right to me.

I managed to create an offer that I felt good about delivering in December.

The business model development, market research, audience profiling and messaging development work takes time to develop and refine. It’s an ongoing process.

Create great experiences

In progress — How people come into my world is important to me. Unless they meet me in person or know me personally, most people come across me on the interwebs. So it’s a given that their experience with me starts on my website or my social media profiles.

I believe in delivering a consistent and quality experience with people that cross paths with me — whether they find me online or meet me in person. Having disparities between my personal brand online and offline is a big no-no in my books, because I care about alignment, authenticity and integrity. Which is the fundamentals of a brand that lasts.

Relearn SEO

Nope — Never started going back down this traffic rabbit hole after deciding it was not a priority for me, and not a good use of my time and energy.

Continue to refine PKM system

Done and in progress — An overhaul of my PKM system was finally in the works in April when I took BASB. Refining and streamlining my system and improving my workflows is something I will continually work on because this is one of the biggest life projects in the life of a knowledge worker and creator.

New Priorities For 2021

  • Publish 24 educational articles on my website
  • Grow email subscribers (aim for 300 quality people)
  • Develop relationship management system
  • Grow my network
  • Study BG5 (Human Design)
  • Continue to refine audience, messaging and develop new offers
  • Complete WildFit again to improve health and energy
  • Incorporate leg workouts into my day (more movement)
  • Practice & play piano twice per week

I’m aiming for a balanced year to start my 40s on solid foundations. That means a healthy body & mind (no more burn outs, minimise aches and pains and improved energy levels) so I’m supporting myself to do the work I want to do professionally and personally.

  I’m Jen Kuo — advisor, strategist, designer, writer and personal growth enthusiast 🌱

But really, I’m a multi-passionate creator.

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