2020 Recap (and 2021 Goals)

New Year’s Resolutions™ are overrated, but time-based goals are nice, and so are general life reflections. I find it’s valuable to put them in writing and in public, mostly for reference and reflection down the line. I’ve been doing these since 2016 (2017, 2018, 2019) and find them fun and useful.

2020 Was a Good Year (Recap)

2020 wasn’t my favorite year, but it was my best year ever.

In Greenlights, Matthew McConaughey writes about “dirt roads and autobahns.” He makes the case that “the road less traveled” is indeed important, but that road differs for different people and at different times in their lives.

I’m generally quite extraverted and have depended on having a fast paced lifestyle filled with social engagements, travel, and new projects. 2020, driven by a global pandemic, forced me off my autobahn and onto my own dirt road, which was filled with introspection, reduction/minimalism, and most importantly, an insane amount of downtime to simply look internally and meet with myself.

As an illustration of this, right before the pandemic I had fully planned on my most social year ever. I was re-reading “Never Eat Alone,” and I was beginning to plan weekly dinners at my place. So much hope! Then, I had to pivot.

It wasn’t the year I wanted, but it was the year I needed.

I’ll cover more in each section below responding to a particular pillar of my life.

Career

This year was a huge success on paper for my career, but internally was a bit tumultuous. I’ve had multiple moments of reckoning, where I’ve sought and anxiously tried to find an answer to the questions, “do I like what I’m doing?” and “what do I actually want to do?”

At this point, I’m feeling more clear-headed than ever about where I am and where I’m going. Doubt led to reflection which, followed through, led to clarity.

HubSpot

This year I spent several months in a role that was merely ‘okay’ — didn’t give me a ton of intellectual satisfaction or challenge. Given my high degree of satisfaction with my 2019 work (building products, managing data pipelines, scaling strategy through software), this seemed like it would have been a low for me. However, it gave me time to pause and reflect and ask, “what do I actually want out of a job?”

I want to be involved in technical & product work, and I want my work to be data- and experimentation-centric. I learned, also, that I love management and mentorship (having pseudo-managed someone at HubSpot in this role and also having hired a marketer at Omniscient). These two pillars will need to be front and center of a fulfilled career for me.

I also really love being stretched and challenged. I love learning.

This probably isn’t uncommon, but I dislike bloat — too many meetings, slide decks, memos and presentations. There was a period during the first few months of the pandemic that I felt completely jaded and dissociated from my work, and it turns out it was because I was just sitting in Zoom meetings all day. At heart, I like building things. The more I can build and ship, the happier I am.

Anyway, I turned the corner at the end of the year and am now in a new role at HubSpot. Though it’s still ambiguous right now, I’ll be working on a net new product and it feels like a mixture of product management and growth work — which is right where I want to be. As things take a stronger shape, I hope to shift more and more towards product work, and less towards marketing (especially the campaigns side of things).

Omniscient Digital

This year at Omniscient was incredibly fun (outside of the month of March where we lost most of our clients temporarily — now we’ve got them back and more clients, too. So everything turned out okay).

We launched a course, launched a podcast, and began blogging. We increased our prices and optimized our sales process. We hired a super talented content and growth marketer to help us build out our own marketing channels.

It has reminded me a lot of how I felt when I played in a band and ran it like a business.

Drafting cover artwork to send off to the designer, negotiating with venues and bands, setting goals and visions, leadership, etc. I love the entrepreneurial stuff. The agency has given me a valuable creative outlet where I’m simply building stuff, no politics involved. And it’s working — we’re growing. Slowly, but surely. Doubled revenue this year. We’ll get to $50k MRR in 2021.

We also dropped a few projects to get there. To get the course done, we stopped working on Cup of Kava, despite it getting pretty decent traffic after only publishing a handful of articles. Perhaps one day we’ll revisit that project, but for now we’ve got our hands tied in content creation and services for our clients.

On the side, I’ve also been helping Everything But The Plant grow. A very fun space to work on, and especially doing content marketing.

Personal Brand & Professional Development

Well, I spoke at zero in-person conferences this year. But I spoke at like two online events, including Inbound. They went alright. I’ve done a couple webinars for Omniscient, too. We’ll keep doing those to build up our email list. They’re decently successful so far.

Traffic is the same (more or less) on my blog. Email list grew by about 30%. Twitter and LinkedIn stagnant.

So personal brand building was sort of a fail in 2020. In 2021, I’m aligning many of my agency activities to simultaneously promote personal brand building. Leverage is the name of the game. I’ll be shipping more content, via writing, podcast, and video.

As far as learning goes, I took Reforge’s Advanced Growth Series. I felt like I got less out of this course than I had hoped, but it was still a nice refresher of certain concepts.

I got a lot of value out of one particular section on communication, as well.

Health

Best year for health ever!

I hit my goal of sub 10% body fat.

I did this through regular CrossFit, HiiT, and weight lifting, and also diet / nutrition coaching by my friend Garrett Conley. Through the winter I’m bulking up and adding muscle, and next year I’ll do a cutting cycle again. I mainly wanted to see if I *could* get super fit, and I treated it like a long term challenge. All I wanna do is see if I can look like Wolverine at one point in my life!

I like the lifestyle as well and find it quite easy to maintain. I also absolutely love doing CrossFit and weight lifting. More of a mental necessity at this point than a burden (and also a great way to meet cool people).

I also continued doing recovery work, including ice baths, sauna, etc. I hurt myself early in the year and did some ART and physical therapy to remedy it. It got me into regular stretching and mobility work, a good practice as I begin to enter my elderly years.

Mental health was huge for me this year, too. I began some pretty deep therapeutic practices that I’ll talk about in the relationships section, but also continued journaling daily and meditating (almost) daily this year. I began doing a daily Wim Hof breathing, as well, to start the day.

Alright, I’m going to drop a shirtless photo here. I don’t want to do it. Feels tacky. But I want to mark my progress for future reflection and also show off the hard work from this year. This is at 9.6% body fat and about 181 lb. Promise you won’t see too many more shirtless photos on this blog!

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Also, I got covid and had a light case. My family also all got covid (my sister twice) and had mild cases, which made me grateful but also reflective. It made me reconsider my priorities and place health and relationships above all.

Relationships

I’ve historically been one to spread my reach far, but not as deep. Through traveling half the year and being a generally extraverted person, I’ve built a large network, but sometimes at the expense of building deep ties.

This year, that changed.

I began doing Zoom calls and Facetimes with my best friends from home, and I started talking to my family way more often. I snuck in a couple family and friend visits, too. In Austin, I stripped out most meetings with acquaintances and spent more time with my close friends.

This is the direction in which I want to continue moving. Though I do really miss meeting tons of new people, I’ve really felt fulfilled with the quality of my deep ties and want to continue investing in them. Long term games with long term people.

Travel

Well, I began the year on a 3 month nomadic adventure spanning three continents, so that was fun. I spent New Year’s in Medellin, flew back to Boston for HubSpot’s Marketing Kickoff Week, then did two months in Europe — London, Manchester, Munich, Davos/Zurich, Ghent, Ljubljana. Then I got back to NYC in late Feb and moved into my new apartment in Austin the first week of March.

I threw one housewarming party, and then the pandemic struck hard. All in all, I feel like I timed this quite well and got the travel mostly out of my system.

Since then, I’ve not used my passport. I did sneak a few road trips in, though. Spent some quality time with quality people in Colorado and North Carolina, and these trips were more fun than my international adventures anyway 🙂

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Whoops, that’s two shirtless photos in this blog post. A record.

Hobbies

This was a year to return to the stuff I loved most as a kid: music and outdoor activities (mainly skiing).

I continued learning German and reached a B1 fluency (and an impressive 260 day streak on Duolingo — thank you covid boredom). However, I’m going to stop here. It’s not enough of a desire to warrant the additional time consumption, so I’m pressing pause on German (and may eventually pick up again in the future).

I dove deeply back into my guitar and drums.

Video

I started doing biweekly jam sessions with Ryan Farley and other friends, writing music again, and just generally surrounding myself with music playing and creation. It has unlocked a side of me that I missed and had forgotten, a more playful, right brained, and creative side. I’m loving it.

Skiing, too.

I bought an Ikon pass and have already been out for some early season skiing in Aspen with a very cool friend. I got to do Davos earlier in the year before the pandemic hit, so I count that as good fortune. I’m saying “yes” to every ski trip, so let me know if you’re hitting the slopes this year.

Conclusion

Every year is better than the last.

2021 Will Be Even Better (Goals)

I’ve never felt more confident in my direction, both in terms of via positiva goals (things I want to add), and even more so, via negativa goals (things I want to subtract).

I always make a “scorecard” of sorts at the beginning of the year. I treat it like a big goal checklist, with big milestones like “achieve C1 fluency in French,” etc.

I’ve wiped some of the personal and specific financial goals, but here are some of my 2021 milestone goals:

  • 1+ coastal sailing trip and coastal sailing certification
  • <10% body fat (again!)
  • 1200 club in lifting weights (almost there!)
  • $50k MRR at Omniscient Digital
  • Start BJJ classes
  • Buy 1+ property
  • Record an album
  • Write a book
  • Do a meditation or yoga retreat
  • Find fulfillment, love, and stillness

Here are some things I’m removing:

  • German (I reached B1 and may pick up again in the future, but I’m stalling with not a ton of desire)
  • Coding classes and learning (I’ll still pick up the patchwork I need to do little stuff, but no ML courses or anything crazy)
  • Social media (blocking in the morning, seeking <1 hr unproductive phone time)
  • Most drinking (the goal, really, is to have fewer hangovers, not less fun)
  • Long term nomadic/city hopping travel

Career

I’ve got a very ambitious income goal this year, but I won’t be focusing heavily on the outcome. Rather, I’m focusing on micro-KPIs as well as inputs to get there.

At HubSpot, I’m hoping to grow into a leadership role and hopefully work on design and engineering problems. As I mentioned last year, I’m trying to learn to build and learn to sell. At Omniscient, I’m full-on focused on selling and marketing. At HubSpot, I want to learn to build. I want to learn how to build world class products. If I can do that, then I’ve succeeded.

At Omniscient, I want to get us to $50k/MRR. That was our goal last year as well, but we’ve got some more firepower and a better foundation now. We’ve got processes set up, a better understanding of sales and services, and a marketer to help us get our brand name in front of our target clients.

So, to review. HubSpot = learn to build. Omniscient = learn to sell.

In terms of quant goals, which apply to all areas of my career including personal brand, here are some input metrics I’m hoping to hit:

  • 1x blog post per week on alexbirkett.com or guest post
  • 1x blog post per month on beomniscient.com
  • 1x newsletter per month for my personal list
  • 3x Tweets per day
  • 2x LinkedIn posts per week
  • 1x podcast per week for The Long Game

Through this, I’m hoping to hit a combo of 50k traffic per month (from both Omni and ab.com properties). Big goals this year, lots of writing.

I mentioned last year I wanted to buy a property, but didn’t end up doing that. However, I’m adding that as a goal again this year.

Personal & Hobbies

A return to my childhood loves: skiing/outdoors, reading, writing, playing music.

I’m hoping to ski as much as is feasible, take at least one coastal sailing trip, write a book (which could technically be considered ‘career’) and record an album. I’ve already been writing music, so at least a short 8 song record should be possible.

I’m dropping German lessons, and returning to casual Spanish learning. I’m already at a fluent level, so I can basically just read books, watch movies, and have conversations that I’d normally have in English, but in Spanish.

2020 was a great year for reading for me (50+ books). 2021, I hope to mostly return to the classics and reread several of my favorites. I’m not setting a quantitative reading goal for the first time since college, since that incentive is no longer aligned with my desired path.

Health

Health is the big one.

It’s been my #1 focus in 2020, and I’m continuing that into 2021.

First, I hired my friend Garrett to make me look like Wolverine and I’ve got about 8 months left of that pursuit. In tandem, I’ll keep doing CrossFit and lifting, continue doing yoga and my recovery studio, keep doing Wim Hof Method every morning, and I’ll add in some BJJ classes.

I’m also traveling deep down the mental health and therapy rabbit hole in 2021, having already committed several thousand dollars to inner child work, plant medicine therapy, and mindset coaching. This is a huge focus of mine this year, one that will have (positive) reverberating effects on everything, especially relationships and leadership at work.

Another goal is I’d like to do at least one meditation or yoga retreat this year. I’ve said that the last few years, but this one I’ll make it happen.

Relationships

I hate writing ‘goals’ for this section. I’m basically just trying to deepen the relationships I have now, take them seriously, and be more vulnerable with those close to me.

Travel

No travel goals. I’d like to take some road trips and get into South America a few times, but have no concrete goals.

Conclusion

I’m excited for 2021. Every year has been better the last so far in life, and I expect as much moving forward.

Alex Birkett
Alex Birkett is a product growth and experimentation expert as well as co-founder of Omniscient Digital, a premium content marketing agency. He enjoys skiing, making and experiencing music, reading and writing, and language learning. He lives in Austin, Texas with his dog, Biscuit.

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