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2020 Annual Year in Review

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Nicole Hensley

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December 11, 2020

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My 2020 Year in Review

I feel like a broken record when I say that the end of the year is truly my favorite time. It’s when I prepare for intentional time to reflect on the year, acknowledge the good, the bad and the ugly and set my intentions for the year ahead. 

As we all know… at this time last year almost every single one of us was eager to put 2019 in the past and get ready for a new and fabulous decade ahead! haha. hahahaha. 

However, as absolutely devastating 2020 was for many of us (and for each, our own experience) I hope you too, came about learnings and takeaways for future years. 

2020 is the year I never asked for but desperately needed. It’s provided me with confidence, peace, accountability and optimism for dark moments.

I’ll begin with my word of the year.

2020 Word of the Year

Persistence. 

I chose this word because I wanted to really focus on the difficult goals that I had set for myself, my family and my company in the year ahead. 

Although I am a goal-getter by nature, I had used my 2019 word of “Discovery” to try and test out new things, to not get too settled or serious and have fun experimenting. I had just hired new team members at Storybook Weddings and Events, I had another baby, I was coaching other wedding planning companies and although I accomplished a lot, the numerical and measurable goals sat on a back burner. 

2020 was on its way and I was feeling enough stability with the team to confidently step forth into the new year and be persistent with the challenging goals that we set forth. The goal was to stay focused and keep our eyes on those goals.

In 2019, we discovered what we wanted and 2020 was our year to grasp it.

Well, 2020 let me know who was in charge and my word in the year, reverted back to “Discovery” along with …… “Letting go”

Just because 2020 made me her passenger this year, doesn’t mean I can’t push her out of the driver seat. 

Okay, let’s get to reflecting. 

(Quick Note: I write my annual reflections by working through what I consider to be the 12 Aspects of Life. You can see the cornerstone post HERE)

If you want to journal your year right along with me, you can download my FREE WORKBOOK HERE

Creative Expression

I love blogging. Can you tell? This year, I began journalling and writing when I needed it most. I use writing as a way to work out my mind’s conflict, document success and share my most impactful advice.

All in all, I feel like I’ve done a really great job with this aspect this year. I expressed what I needed and fully committed myself to writing more often. 

Aside from writing, I’ve enjoyed learning how to use a “real professional” camera! haha. The pandemic created physical barriers to being in-person with a photographer to capture my annual family and branding photos. So rather, I made the investment to learn how to take better photos at home for “in the moment” snapshots. Although I cannot wait to get back to using professional photographers friends, it was fun to learn a new skill.

I have a few other creative projects lined up like making my own natural soap! Can’t wait to give these fun activities a try.

Family

This was interesting. There was a huge continual contrast of experiences in this category this year. 

I was able to share so much time with my sons and husband and well… we’ve never seen each other more. The days when I spend 8 hours in my room working are some of the longest moments I’ve spent away from them this year. 

There were no intentional (I’ll chat more about why I chose this word later) family vacations this year. Time out of the house consisted of going over to Nana and Papas (which we love). Having to block my oldest from playing at the park, going to school or seeing friends was really difficult. 

Losing my Grandfather

The most impactful and tragic loss we encountered as a family this year was the loss of my Papi. We knew it was inevitable. But no one’s ever ready to lose someone they love so much. I will forever be grateful that at 32, I still had all of my grandparents. I am so fortunate for the amount of time I had with my Papi.

My Papi created many special memories and a life long impact.

(SIDE NOTE: I’m writing an entirely separate post dedicated to my Papi. I needed more space to devote to talking about him alone. If I added all that to this post, we would go from blog post to novel. Post Link will be added here shortly)

Papi and Me

2020 really had a knack for making an already devastating moment, even more devastating. Realizing my Papi had little time left, we jumped on a family call to discuss options. My youngest brother was living in Utah and my middle brother and his wife in London. My mom and I knew we couldn’t not be there. So we chose to make a divisive decision and drive to Texas. We were risking a lot if we went and would live with regrets if we didn’t. What’s the right decision when you have dying family member who needs you in the middle of a global pandemic? – There isn’t one.

My cousins in Texas also made the drive to my Nani and Papi’s. Those trying to get to Papi, made it in the knick of time. We were able to say our good byes. My brothers were able to share their memories by phone. We had an intimate funeral with mariachis performing “Cielito Lindo” at a distance.

I do owe some to stay at home orders and school closures. We had beautiful family moments that we wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. At at the same time, these same things kept us apart for Thanksgiving. This Christmas, we will be seeing my brother and sister over zoom.

Like I mentioned, there was so much contrast. Nothing was fair. Although it worked for some, it didn’t work for others.

I cannot wait see my family in person without the fear of getting one another sick. But until then, zoom it is.

Friendships

This category started out strong in January! Lisa surprised me with a fun girls trip to Vegas. We had so much fun!! We went to shows, ate incredibly, and were treated to a fabulous room. Lisa and I spent this time together being friends – which is nice when you run businesses together. lol

It was a trip I will never forget and I am so thankful for such a wonderful friend. Lisa, you are amazing. Can’t wait until we can schedule another one. 

Once the pandemic hit, very similar to family, the in-person aspect of being together took a steep turn. My typical monthly (or more often) get togethers with friends stopped. The backyard patio furniture remained empty and each of us were more focused on our individual pressing issues.

We started out strong, trying to schedule zooms and the occasional summer social distancing meet ups. But like with most things, it has fallen out of routine and habit. 

I have also missed my industry networking events so bad. It was treasured time to catch up with friends without having to schedule around kid schedules and nap times. It’s surprisingly difficult to be on a cocktail and chat zoom call when your sons are needing one thing or another.

Needless to say, I need more friend time in my future. 

Fitness

Who would have thought being stuck in the house would get me back to my best physical shape ever?! 

This year I tried to get creative and trying out Obé Fitness. This is an online program with live and on demand classes ranging from yoga to HIIT. It’s also the most affordable gym membership I’ve ever had.

(Want a TWO WEEK GUEST PASS on me? – Click HERE)

On average I do about one class a week. But I’ll also have weeks in which I’ll complete a few. I love that I can workout anywhere and at anytime. 

My encouragement to get in better physical shape was after a horrific experience I had this summer. I was cleaning the bathroom (honestly) and all of a sudden, the muscles in my back tensed and locked. Nick had to carry me to bed and I spent the next 24 hours unable to walk. I had to be assisted wherever I went and the slightest movement caused so much pain I fainted constantly. It was so bad Nick had to literally lift each of my legs or my hips if I needed to adjust in bed.

The next morning we went to the hospital. I was given a ton of muscle relaxers and a prescription for physical therapy. 

At 32 years old, having a terrifying experience put my health back into perspective. I was so grateful that my husband were home at the moment. It was an eye opening realization to think I could have been immobile while home alone with my kids. Ugh… don’t want to think about it.

Suddenly, there became no excuse to get my pregnancy-broken body back into its pre-baby shape. So that’s what I focused on and that’s where I have made it to!

Home

This year was a great for this aspect of life. As we all know, we’ve been spending more time at home. So it made perfect sense to really make this house work for us. 

At this time (and I will share extensive photos and stories on the projects in a future post) we have remodeled both of our bathrooms. We started work in the kitchen and are so close to being done.

I’m so grateful for Nick who has been executing my designs and doing an incredible job making them come to life.

Love and Romance

I guess it’s a good thing that Nick and I went to Napa in December of 2019. Because that sure didn’t happen this year. 

This year was difficult for marriage because we’ve had to learn how to be under the same roof while working full time jobs. We’ve had to decipher our expectations for housework during work hours, who takes care of the kids when and so on. 

At the same time, we’ve found routines we like, have had much more time for conversation on early morning walks, thought about the future and what we wanted in life.

The conversations were rich but having time just to ourselves – whether that be for going on a dinner date or movie night – we’re just really non-existent. 

I look forward to the future for having more time to spend just us, having help with babysitters, and hopefully being able to schedule a short getaway.

Mindfulness | Spirituality

Wow, what a rollercoaster my mindset has been this year. This year I have experienced the lowest of lows and some good mental moments too. 

When the world first began to deal with the pandemic, I tried to talk it all out on our morning walks, reading encouraging books and journaling. It did well for a while and then eventually I think I just fell off the deep end. 

Having to be a mom, business owner, employee leader, wife, friend, daughter, college student (etc.) all at the same time became too much and I literally wanted to just run away from all my problems. With everyone working through their own version of this, it became really difficult to find someone to talk to without my problems feeling so trivial or for conversations to feel like we were one upping each other on who’s life was worst at the moment. Ugh – I hate negativity and feeling like everyone’s been so miserable became too much for me. 

Well, after several more mental breakdowns I am finally seeing a therapist. Mental health matters and it won’t do me any good to try and solve my problems by simply getting the hell out of here. 

It’s a decision I’ve been wanting to make for years, but as a realist and a person who likes to solve her own problems – it took me until now to realize, that I need help.

One more thing. I have found peace in routines. If you are struggling, I encourage you to really really focus on making a morning and evening routine. The goal is to become consistent with it, but allow yourself to take time to figure out what you like and what you don’t.

My routines have been a work in progress but I feel like I’m finally on a track that I really like and it gets me excited to begin my day and wind down at the end of them.

I’ll share my routines and how I set them up in a future post. 

Nutrition

Another win!!!

This year has been consistent in one thing, trying to find balance, not feel like I’m running in circles and be more productive with my time. (Okay…maybe that’s three things – But they all relate.)

Who would’ve known that improving nutrition and time productivity would go hand in hand?

I’ve always preferred to eat healthier and more intentionally, but finding the time to plan and prep what to eat ended up taking way more time in planning the I liked. You guys, I effing HATE meal planning and prep.

But in order to save time, my nutrition would suffer.

I decided to take another approach this year and say good bye to meal prepping. I committed to doing a meal delivery service. We use SunBasket and it has been LIFE CHANGING!!!

It has saved me time from meal planning, grocery shopping and trying to consistently figure out what we want to eat.

It has also allowed my husband and I to really fill our bodies with nutrients, properly portioned meal sizes and as people who LOVE trying out new and exciting cuisines, we get to experience a multitude on a weekly basis. We are definitely  not bored with our dinners anymore. 

Try Sunbasket with $40 off!

I also use Daily Harvest for lunch because it is quick, it gives me energy for my afternoon work responsibilities and provides me with a chance to eat fruits and veggies in a really delicious way. 

Try Daily Harvest with $25 off!

Okay, one more thing (and I swear, none of what I am saying is an AD!). I also have been using Persona Vitamin packs for more than four months. Again, I love it. 

Try Persona with $25 off!

Overall, I feel like my health from a nutrition stand point is at the best it has EVER and I mean EVER been. I’m grateful for being open to try new things and commit to ‘scary at times’ subscription plans.

Personal Finance 

Ding, Ding, Ding! Another winner here! 

Last year we set a goal to become debt free by 2023. We set a goal to pay off a portion of our debt in 2020 to a total of just under $7,000 and to save $3,000 for Sinking Funds. 

Did we do it?

We blew those goals out of the water! Not only did we hit our $3,000 sinking funds goal but we paid off $28,765 by November and we have one more month to count, baby!

We did so well with this goal because we were incredibly passionate about it and set up a literal play by play of what paying off our debt would look like.

I cannot wait to enter another year with fresh new money goals set for ourselves. 

Self Development

This year was interesting in the fact that it forced us to slow down. We’ve been stuck in the house, haven’t needed to drive anywhere and alongside my friends in the events industry, we were simply unable to work. 

I still feel uncertain as to when the event world will get back to “normal”. But I’m taking advantage of the downtime. This time has allowed me to explore some other areas of interest. 

In the summer, I began working towards finishing my bachelors degree. I began school at The Academy of Art Institute. My focus is a BFA in Interior Design and Architecture. Being able to formalize a creative passion of mine in the hopes of opening another business is so exciting.  

I thought I would read more books this year. I’m currently am at 13 books for the year. It would be incredible to hit my 24 book goal by the time the new years rings in. “Challenge Accepted”.

This year I have devoted much of my reading to learning about Systemic Racism. I want to learn more about what being an Ally for People of Color really means. I have been using my knowledge to spark conversations with friends and family, trying to expand minds and opening hearts. 

My current read is ‘Caste’ by Isabel Wilkerson and it may be my favorite anti-racism read so far. 

Lastly, one thing I have failed to do year after year is pick up on learning another language. So because of that, I want to make it a priority in 2021. 

Spontaneity

WFT does that mean in 2020? 

Okay, so I guess the most spontaneous thing we did this year was to make a fun little trip out of our drive home from Texas after my grandfathers passing. We had our dog with us, so it really limited what we could do, but we made the most out of it. 

On our drive up from San Benito, we decided to stay a day in Austin after a beautiful lunch in San Antonio. It was incredibly hot, but we were able to sit outside on the riverwalk and enjoy a great lunch. We made our way to Austin, spent the night at my Uncle and Aunt’s home and celebrated my cousin’s birthday. 

It was hot day in Texas!

The following morning, we hit the road and later pit stopped in Memphis. We got there later than we would have liked but still enjoyed a really wonderful dinner over oysters, steak and bottle of wine while keeping the kids occupied with our phones (a parent’s gotta do what a parent’s gotta do).

We finally made it back to Chicago and were so grateful to be out of that car! But overall, being spontaneous always makes for a fun memorable adventure.  There wasn’t much opportunity for it this year, but we held on to the small time we could with it.

Work and Career

I promise that it wasn’t intentional that I saved this one for last. But wow… what can I say about work this year? 

Work was wild. 

We started this year with Storybook on a roll!!! We were hitting our goals, booking business, and then bam! 

In March, we were notified that Coronavirus was getting worse and that we were looking at complete closure of business. Everyone’s experience with this was different, but for those in the event industry this meant that our jobs were simply no longer doable. It was like I woke up with one job and to bed with another that I didn’t apply for.

I scrambled to find the messaging to share with our clients. But what the hell was I supposed to say? I was not prepared to deal with a pandemic and had no tangible advice on what the future looked like. But doing what I do best, I went in with a goal of solving the problem at hand and reassured our couples that we would be tirelessly working for them and that they had a support system. Which is what we’ve continued to be. 

In the first few months, we slowly had our planners leaving the team (I mean.. I couldn’t blame them, the whole world was turning upside down and ultimately, we each have to make our own best decision). The bigger problem was that I had paid for work for which now needed to be done again by someone else. Which meant coming up with additional cash or do it for free myself.

This year we saw a dark side to some of our clients. We had a few that took advantage of the situation and although services were rendered, used the pandemic to dispute their charges leaving me with thousands of dollars withdrawn from an already suffering bank account. 

Through divine intervention or just my willingness to attend an outdoor networking event this year, I managed to hear Megan Estrada of North Shore Weddings and Events speak of a new grant that Illinois was extending to businesses affected by Covid. After working through tons of self doubt and pessimism about actually receiving a grant, I sat my butt down and worked on the lengthy application. A month later, I received the grant and the entirety of financial disaster I encountered this year was taken care of. Megan, I can never express enough gratitude to thank you for being an advocate for our industry and encouraging me to go for the grant. 

In addition to money woes, I spoke with my lawyer too many times on things I never thought I’d have to. It reminded me how incredibly lonely entrepreneurship can be. Difficult decisions started and ended with me. Desperation sat with me and myself at the kitchen table. Embarrassment from falling apart while being mocked by those I had trusted on my lack of direction was the worst.

I know I definitely chose the road less traveled, but I never thought it would be so difficult to find support from those who are walking down a similar path.

It’s not intentional, but entrepreneurs tend to be focused on their individual battles.

My goal for next year is to increase my friendship and mentorship base with other entrepreneurs. I want to team up with other leaders who invite the hardship because we are so encouraged to holding tight to our passion and walking hand in hand with each other during those highs and lows.

In the end, I guess I put my money where my mouth is. I’ve always said I’d liked a challenge and 2020 laid it out on a silver platter.

Reconnecting with Intentions

However, through all of these experiences I reconnected to my “why”.

Why did I start Storybook in the first place? What do I miss and what can I let go of?

Deep discussions and this years awful moments were used as examples that placed me back in a direction that feels exciting.

I’ve come out the other end with a revised business plan and one that much more aligns with the life I want to lead. 

After discussing with Lisa, we ended up deciding that we were happy with where we were with the team right now. With no expectation to hire for wedding planners ever again. This may sound really harsh. Most importantly, I want to say that I love and have the utmost gratitude for my past and present team. But personally, I hate team management. I love focusing on my clients and my goals and focus on what’s in my control.

I tested out being a Leader of a planning team. But I really just want to be a wedding planner.

The team will remain intimate with just three of us.  With this said, our goal is no longer booking up three weddings a weekend.

I want Storybook to go back to its roots and give our clients the most thorough, in depth and personalized experience that they can only have with a company like our. So we’ve cut back the amount of weddings to 6-8 per planner depending on the size and scope. 

In turn this allowed us to drastically increase our prices. 

It may seem counter intuitive to raise prices in a time that many companies are scraping for cash but I thought…. “No better time than now. I’m losing money anyways so I may as well go all in and test this out while we’re down.”

The bigger surprise has been that we’ve been able to do another price increase since because we’ve already started hitting goal markers. 

My final “thumbs up” to the career category is coming to the decision on what I wanted with my coaching business, online courses and interior design. I’ve managed to sort out the chaos. (Which you can read about HERE).

We began the earlier part of the year in a huge mess, drowning and wondering how to resurface and ended up on more clear path than the one we entered the year on.

Entering 2021

After reflecting on this year, my heart aches for the loss of life, the loss of businesses, the loss of determination and optimism. 

My heart pours joy for the creative ways families have managed to connect, the passion and tenacity for those fighting to stay afloat financially. My soul is linking arms with my friends keeping their business open for another day.

But I see hope in the future. 

For my fellow peacemakers, love and equality protectors – we got rid of the worst president in American history. There is much more change to be made, but stay driven, keep your head up, do your reading and continue to advocate.

2021 will be what we make of it. Just like this year and every year in the past. 

Make for the best, regardless of what is thrown at us.

Until next time, 

Nicole

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