I walked into this year without high expectations. Coming from 2020 and the mess that was, I was grateful that things were starting to look normal.
I didn’t really have goals I was trying to hit other than a general idea of things that I wanted to do. Unlike most people, I wasn’t aiming for a certain amount in salary, prestige, or bodyweight.
Maybe it’s because I’ve done the “new year, new me” strategy in the past and always felt like I came up short. I decided that this year, I would simply try new things. I told myself I would say yes to opportunities, try to not overthink things, give myself small challenges, and just show up as the best version of myself.
Oddly enough, 2021 has been the best year I’ve ever had.
Here are some of my top highlights this year:
It’s funny how an entire year can be summarized into a few bullet points. I’m sure my list could’ve been longer, but when I look back on my highlights from 2021, these are the ones that stand out.
Out of everything on that list, traveling and getting engaged were my best moments. This is surprising because I had thought my biggest achievements this year were growing my career, increasing my knowledge as a business strategist, and launching a few side projects.
But as I reflect on my happiest memories of 2021, I realize that what’s been motivating me to keep pushing and growing has been the idea that I can experience other parts of the world. It’s been the thought that I can one day drink tea in Japan or ride a Jeep through Africa. It’s been the thought that I can experience interesting places with someone I love and hopefully revisit them in the future with my kid.
As I get older, I realize how important it is to have a strong why in your life, and a lot of times that why has to do with people you love. Once you have a strong why, it’s easy to figure out how to make things happen.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a lot of career-related accomplishments that I’m really proud of this year. A few that come to mind are helping a client’s business get to $300k in monthly revenue and growing a client’s account from three locations to six.
But it’s hard to say that those memories make me as happy as the one of me listening to “Wish You Were Here” by Incubus while on a boat going from Santorini to Mykonos, staring out into the vastness of the Aegean Sea.
This year I’ve begun seeing the value in saying yes. Saying yes opens the door to opportunities that would’ve never happened had you been closed off. Our natural inclination is to reject new things and stay in our comfort zone, but in my opinion, that’s the fastest way to live a boring life.
What really sparked this mentality was my trip to Aruba back in March. To be honest, I don’t know how my fiancée and I decided on going there. We might have been talking about going somewhere tropical. But I do remember that we watched a few YouTube videos, bought our plane tickets, and left.
When we landed, we drove to our hotel, left our stuff, and decided to go to a quiet, little beach called Tres Trapi. I kid you not, that's one of the happiest memories I’ve ever had. The water was as clear as a pool, clear enough that you could see the floor. I had brought snorkeling gear in my bookbag, so I put my goggles on, dunked my head underwater, and began swimming around.
Schools of fish stared up at me. Little stragglers inched their way toward my hand and then darted away as I followed the colorful crowd. It was gorgeous. I popped out of the water to tell my fiancée to look under when I noticed a group of small crabs hopping up and down the rocks. Seagulls squawked as they flew across the yellow sky. All I could think of was how blissful this moment was.
We spent the rest of our trip going to beaches and jumping off cliffs. We ate good food, fed flamingos, and jammed to reggae music while exploring the island in a Jeep Wrangler. It was awesome. That trip made me want to turn my girlfriend into my wife.
I often wonder what would’ve happened if we hadn’t taken that trip. What would’ve happened if we had decided to save our money, focus on our careers, play it safe for that month? What would’ve happened if we had said no?
We would’ve never had one of our happiest memories. We would’ve never been bit by wanderlust, that wonderful bug that reminds us that there’s a bigger world to explore. We probably would’ve never been motivated to ride bikes in Chicago, watch the sun set in Santorini, or ski down a mountain in Vail.
But because we said yes to Aruba and we saw all the adventures that came with saying yes, we started 2021 off with a bang. We decided we would travel as much as we could and then some. We decided our priority was our adventurous relationship.
After months of waiting, the day (September 14, 2021) was finally here. It was time to take an 8-hour flight to London, enjoy a 3-hour layover, and then take a 4-hour flight to Thira. I remember how blue everything was the second we flew into Greece.
I had been hiding my fiancée’s ring throughout the trip. She’d try to look in my bookbag for an iPhone charger or sanitizer, and I’d have to shoo her hand away to avoid her from finding the wooden ring box that had our names etched on its cover.
The day of our engagement was magical. We woke up early that day because I convinced her that I wanted to take photos at a spot overlooking all of Oia. The truth was that I had a photographer posing as a tourist waiting to capture our moment there.
Everything was quiet that morning. The only sounds I remember hearing were the footsteps of my fiancée as I followed her up the stairway that led to the spot. We took some pictures along the way, and I texted the photographer a photo of us so he knew how we were dressed.
After walking for a few minutes, we finally made it to the spot. I set up my tripod in a corner to capture the moment, telling my fiancée that I wanted to take a picture of the landscape. I clicked record on my phone and then asked for hers. As soon as she handed it to me, I rushed to the photographer, asking if he’d be willing to take a picture of us.
We proceeded to spend the next few minutes taking photos, him guiding her to stand this way, him guiding me to stand that way. We followed his directions until he gave me a look. He smiled. And that’s when I knew. I knew I was about to make one of the biggest decisions of my life.
I felt for the ring box. He gave me a thumbs up.
We spent the rest of our trip floating around restaurants and boutiques. Neither of us could believe the decision I just made, but we both knew it was the right one and a long time coming. We were happy.
In 2021, I said yes to living. I said yes to having fun. I said yes to exploration. I said yes to jumping off cliffs. I said yes to opportunities. I said yes to moving forward. I said yes to showing up. I said yes to trying to be the best version of myself. I said yes to getting out of my comfort zone. I said yes to buying a ticket and packing my bags. I said yes to following my curiosities. I said yes to spending time, energy, and money on the things I care about.
But most importantly, I said yes to falling in love.
Motivation is a myth.