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2021 Year in Review

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Nicole Hensley

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December 21, 2021

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My 2021 Year in Review

It’s the end of 2021 and speaking truthfully, I thought that this year would be much more positive than 2020. While there were many wonderful things that happened for my family this year, the magnitude of the negative things seemed to be much more substantial – something that I was hoping would be lesser than what I had experienced the year prior. 

However, I want to preface these thoughts as feeling “much more difficult” because many are still being worked through. Usually upon reflection we recognize that things “weren’t so bad after all”. Being present in the situation tends to make hard times feel much heavier. 

During this year, I’ve tried to expand my understanding of time and experience through a concept of, “as time flows, so many stories, interactions and experiences are taking place all at once, through billions of individual lives with no particular leniency to one person’s situation over another”, allowing life to appear so much more complex than I’ve ever leaned into or allowed myself to explore before. 

As Neil deGrasse Tyson said, “The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you” and as I connect the universe with the incredible existence we call life, I have acknowledged that my existence and the situations I experience happen in the way they do without a need for explanation. Life is simply a continuous flow of time in which we consciously experience situations, both positive and negative, through cause and effect and with an acceptance that we individually have little or no control on our specific outcomes. 

For the good majority of my life, I have felt a decent amount of control over my situations and life experiences. I assume I have had this feeling because the majority of my life experiences have been positive. However, with the last few years being much more difficult for us all, I feel as though I have finally been hit in the face with reality. It’s incredibly obvious now just how little control we have in life, and the realization of this has flipped a little fear switch (among many others that are working in productive ways) in my brain that I’ve been desperately seeking to shut off.

With that said, I’ve tried to work through my times of doubt and fear with grace and persistence. It hasn’t been easy, but the progress is apparent. Through this internal journey, I’ve tried to unlock where I’ve lost sight of my path and why this has been my most difficult year mentally. 

During this ongoing search, I was able to pin point a few things.

  • My most important recognition was realizing I’ve been chalking my worth up to the success of my career. When I let go of/lost my company this year, I felt like I lost everything. This feeling taught me a lot and I am still struggling with myself to admit that work is just a part of who I am. It isn’t all of me. Although there is a part of me that knows these things, my feelings around it have been contradicting. 
  • This year I found myself in the middle of many goals that have been in the works for years which each came to a halt. With no pivot. Just an ending. I’m a goal setter and I enjoy developing plans which lead me towards them. I usually have no problem shifting and updating plans when structures change. I appreciate the challenge of building a different staircase or entering through a different door that direct me to the finish line. Losing my goals and all the past effort that was put towards them was debilitating. I lost direction. 
  • As a being of productivity, sitting with so much space due to a lack of direction and goals has brought on so much discomfort. When the majority of my responsibilities were all wiped out, I felt forced to start over, while simultaneously not knowing where I was going.
  • My identity is changing. But despite my struggle with identity this year, I don’t see it as completely negative. I value and strive for growth. However, the problem I faced with 2021 are identity changes that impacted the core of so many important roles I’ve held. Many of the roles I had thought were “true” despite most circumstances.

2021 word of the year

Before I breakdown my 12 aspects of life, I want to reflect on my 2021 word of the year.

In 2021, I entered the year with the word “commit”. I am happy to admit outwardly that I failed at this just as much as I failed at my 2020 word of the year. But with this failure I’ve been able to open my eyes to what I succeeded at and why I’ll be updating my practice for choosing a word of the year moving forward.

To share why I chose this word, I copied my reason for it below from my 2021 Goal Blog Post. 

COMMIT

Definition: To be dedicated to something

I chose ‘commit’ as my word for 2021 because over the last couple years I’ve allowed excuses to get in the way of some very long term goals that I’ve had for myself. Quitting and starting over became the norm because I hadn’t seen the results I wanted quickly enough. I didn’t even start other things due to the feeling of having no time, when I clearly spent too much time randomly scrolling Facebook. 

This year, I want to commit to my longer term goals. I want to stop with the jumping around and stay consistent. 

Okay, First and foremost. I want to recognize that all my past words of the year have been centered around work and business. This year I’ve finally began separating myself from my work. I am not just a business owner or a wedding planner. Just as much as I know that my identity is much more than just being a mom or a wife. Yes, these are all beautiful and wonderful things to take a part in. But any one of these roles is simply not my only. 


I am working much harder to see the complexity that life and humankind holds.

In a way, by not seeing through some of my past words of the year, I’ve been able to establish and note that choosing a word of the year for myself, shouldn’t solely focus on my goals in my career. 

In my 2022 goals blog post, I’ll share how I’m moving forward with this practice. 

It’s time to dive into my reflection of the past 12 months. 

creative expression 

I’ve finally allowed myself to do something fun and attempt some hobbies without it having to be monetized, profitable or productive. A few months ago I wrote out a list of all the things I’ve been wanting to do and I plan to allow myself the freedom of exploring some of these new creative ventures. 

Most recently, I have found a lot of joy in baking and cooking. The act of baking and cooking allows me to be present in the experience, it has an ending (which I love) and allows me to grow at it. Okay, so it sounds contradicting to being a non-productive experience but to be honest, testing out the recipes and then diving deeper into the result has really allowed me to be in the here and now. From start to finish. It’s also allowed me to strengthen my senses. 

For the majority of the year I paid no attention to creative expression aside from a styled shoot and creating new designs and branding enhancements for work. So I’m grateful to be in a position to explore and expand on some of the creativity I’ve been more open to recently and see how this extends into the years to come. 

family

My gosh, what an incredible year it’s been for family. Since August of 2020, my immediate family has been planning for a big cross country move to Texas. After so much hard work and planning, a failed attempt to find a home in February (due to the crazy winter storm in Texas) and the multiple sales and falling through of our Chicago home, we made it! 

In July we packed up the UHaul, closed the door to our first home and made the one way trip down south. Although we had to say goodbye to some family, we reunited with another half in Austin. To say the experience has been amazing would not be doing it justice. We have been able to reconnect and rebuild relationships that had such long pauses in them. My kids have some cousins their age that they see somewhat often and we are so happy to be building new traditions and experiences in our new hometown. 

In August, we finally reunited with my brother and sister in law who were able to safely travel back to the US since the pandemic started. To have the family together was everything.

Nick’s sister and brother in law also visited us this year and our kids were able to finally spend some good cousin time together. 

Aside from reconnecting with our families, I personally seem to have much more time with my kids. Which can sound odd considering that I’ve technically worked from home since 2014, before they were born.

I credit a lot of this to my goals on shifting my role in business. Back in 2019, it was a mission of mine to take a minimal amount of weddings for many reasons but one of the most important was to have more space for family. Because despite being physically present with my kids in the past, I was never really there. 

I mentioned in an instagram post over the summer that I realized I’ve probably spent more time looking at my computer screen than I have at my own children. It’s embarrassing to say out loud but as I’ve gained more knowledge, I noticed that I was paying attention and listening to a ton of toxic things that made me feel like anything less than hustling 24/7 was an indication of laziness and a lack of ambition, two things that I just do not relate with. 

But as I also said in that same instagram post, I am so grateful that I came to this realization when I did rather than many more years down the road. 

With all of the great times we have had as a family this year, our annual trip to Disney World, exploring our new city, the kids making friends at school and attending birthday parties, I couldn’t end this post without acknowledging some devastation that also came this year. 

On December 5th 2021, we lost my grandmother, Barbara Petykowski. She had a stroke in September that created a waterfall of problems. My grandmother fought every day. In the end, there was just too much damage to come back from. It honestly pains me to think about what my grandmother experienced. 

When I think of the end, I hope that it can be peaceful for each of us, which I know is not the case for many. The unknown transition at the end of life is something that so many of us fear and hope that its approach comes with a peace and hope for what’s next. I wish that this experience could have been softer and kinder to my grandma. For that, I hold a bit of anger and much sadness.

I will miss my grandma and I truly hope that she left more peacefully than I’ve imagined she did. 

fitness

This category needs a lot of work. 

My body is feeling like it’s in rough spot from a physical standpoint. I don’t have a lot of strength which I contribute partially to being homebound more often than not for a good two years and being home with my kids 24/7 which hasn’t left a lot of opportunity for fitness classes or being active. 

I have hit my low point with how I feel strength-wise in my body and have this as a huge priority in 2022. I can’t wait to work my muscles back up to pre-baby strength. 

So although I would categorize myself as healthy, there are lots of opportunities for improvement.

home

2021 was a funny year for home. We sold our first home in Palatine in July and made a huge move to Austin. We are currently in an apartment but have begun the search to find our long term home that we hope to watch our children grown up in. 

Although living in an apartment hasn’t been my favorite for a multitude of reasons, I do want to note that I love the location of our apartment. One of my favorite things about this apartment is our back deck. We get to look off into Austin’s hill country and it is just so beautiful. It gets dark at night allowing Nick and I to look off into the stars and in the morning it’s quiet and peaceful and perfect for reading and enjoying coffee. 

Moving to this area has really shifted some perspectives for me and I’m thankful to have landed where we did.

Our home journey is becoming so exciting. I cannot wait to see where we end up in the new year. 

love and romance

This category has had its highs and lows but with a lot more great moments than bad. Moving across the country is tough. Moving across the country while having two shifting careers, grieving the loss of family members on both sides, navigating a pandemic with two young children, and trying to explore what’s next while handling all the on going life responsibilities makes it tough to focus on just the two of us. 

This year Nick and I didn’t get the chance to have many date nights (if any at all) and it’s been two years since a vacation for us. (I don’t count our February Texas trip – which was intended to scout a new home as a vacation, considering we didn’t even have the ability to look for a new home).

But regardless of the non existent dates and vacations, Nick and I have spent a lot more time just talking. We can spend hours on the patio discussing life, about what’s next, and I’m grateful that Nick can be a great listener. Sometimes just an hour of good conversation over coffee makes up for all the time we don’t get to spend together. 

Hopefully next year, as long as we are confident in the safety of travel, we will go to London and explore some of the world outside of the small spaces we have ventured to in the past. 

In addition to being more intentional of leisure time together, I hope that with the step back in my career and work, I can give back more time to our relationship too. 

mindfulness | spirituality 

In this category, I focus on mental health. I don’t believe in religion so I really try to use my deep understanding on the universe as my connection to what some may call “spirituality”.

First and foremost, my connection with the universe has been really incredible this year. I have read, watched and expanded my attention towards everything that I can to help me understand life and what it has “or doesn’t have” in store for us. Comprehending the insignificance of the human experience in comparison to depth of everything that exists within time and space has in turn made me aware of just how significant this human experience actually is. I’m sure that statement may sound confusing to some and if it’s confusing to you, I implore you to search for connection to something beyond your individual life experience. 

However, with that said, I cannot ignore the debilitating mental state I found myself in this fall. It’s not to say that things we perfect in the past but this fall, everything seemed to be compiling one on top of another. I had too many urgent situations to work through. 

The biggest theme I dealt with this year was fear. I’ve never experienced anything like it. Fear of poor health for not just myself, but my kids and family. I felt desperation for a vaccination for my kids, fear of sending them back to school for more reasons than just the pandemic. I’ve had a fear of violence, fear for the increasing division between groups in this country and the world. I’m scared that I could be living with a life threatening issue although I have no symptoms to confirm my thoughts. I’ve spend time at the doctors thinking I need to find something that doesn’t really exist.

I’ve been working with my therapist to discuss and work through the traumatic near death experiences I encountered in 2016 and 2019 which have obviously left me with unconscious reactions which I experience today. 

Being able to break things down have made me feel relief in how I can live though some of these experiences moving forward. 

I’m not saying that I’ve hit the end point of my journey and I do plan to remain in therapy for quite some time. It has been a really enjoyable journey partially to finding a therapist that I really vibe with but also because I feel like I have given myself space to explore more and give back time to myself. Which is something I had made myself feel I didn’t have time for in the past. 

nutrition

Just like last year, this category has been a success! I thought last year was my best year nutritionally and this year has surpassed even that. 

I am still using Sun Basket and Daily Harvest and loving them both for the sake that they provide me with vitamin and nutrient rich foods and they are also delicious. This year I also have drank a substantially lesser amount of alcohol, for no particular reason aside from I have just been drinking less. It’s a great feeling and I hope to try out a few “no alcohol months” in 2022 just for the challenge.

This year I scaled back on the vitamin packs as I feel like I am getting all the nutrients I need from my food, which has also been an enjoyable feeling. 

personal finance

Last year, Nick and I laid out some pretty hefty financial goals. Our goal is to become debt free by 2023 and in the past 12 months we have made so much more progress!

We are close to hitting our original goal and I’m looking forward to seeing what the next year brings. 

self development

I have spent a significant amount of time on self development over the last 12 months. My main focuses have been on systemic and societal issues of this country and world. I really encourage each person reading this to spend more time truly understanding the impact of our decisions, the past decisions by our country and globe and doing some inner self-work to see if “the way we’ve been living” is one you actively want to take part in.

If something feels wrong, research it and right it. 

Some of this self development and deep reckoning has pushed me into distancing specific relationships and although difficult, it has been the “right” or “good” decision from my own standpoint. 

I am dedicated to leaving this world and society in a better place than it was handed to me. I want a more peaceful world for my children and all future generations. 

It takes the efforts of everyone to make change. I am so fulfilled to be doing my part. 

Although self development was truly pivoting from an identity standpoint, I do want to say that I also am encouraging myself to do self development in a lighter way too. Next year I want to dive into more hobbies that can teach me something. I have a love and passion for physics and science and love learning about mathematics and theories about “everything”. I also have been enjoying cooking and baking which is a part of self development but has also been really fun for me. 

I’m looking forward to leaning in to much more of this in the next year and focusing on my “YEAR OFF LIST”. 

spontaneity

We had a lot more spontaneous moments this year than in any of the past. I believe it’s because of the move to Texas and jumping on to all the new and exciting things to do in our new city. 

As many parents know, spontaneous adventures or last minute commitments are really difficult to come by. It’s hard when every decision you make has to run through a variety of scenarios focused around kids, their energy, behavior and other out of our control factors. 

I’ve been really hesitant to do things in the past couple years due to fear of all of the above. But recently, I’ve been trying to say yes to much more and to my surprise, realizing that the outcome is much more enjoyable than I originally tried to convince myself it wouldn’t be.

I see space for much more spontaneity next year. 

work and career

As always, I round out my life review with typically, my longest reflection. But this year, it’s my shortest. Because right now. WTF is work and career? I do still have three wedding clients that I’m working with but I’m not actively trying to book any new business at the moment. I don’t know when or if I will really dive into the “end” of Storybook’s story as a lot of it is still a bit of a shock to work through. But with that said, I am excited to be leaving this category blank for a while. 

entering 2022 

To continue on the idea of entering 2022 with so much unknown, I’m pretty excited for the year and years to come. Going into 2022 is incredibly different than any of my previous years. 

However, this shift that started off feeling debilitating is starting to turn into a beautiful opportunity that I cannot wait to explore more. 

My goals for the next year are going to shift among so many other routine behaviors I’ve held in the past. I’m eager to share my journey with you. Changes in life happen and will continue to happen. As Jane Goodall said in her most recent book “ The Book of Hope”, “I simply cannot believe in coincidences, not anymore…a coincidence implies a random event occurring in juxtaposition with something happening in your life – and I can’t believe that all of the seeming coincidences in our lives are random. It’s more as if they are offering us opportunities”. We can each grab on to our own conclusion from this quote, but it speaks to me deeply. 

I see lots of movement in my future that is very far from anything I’ve placed focus on in the past. A lot of it seems foreign and sometimes scary as new territory tends to be. But I do see these shifts as beautiful opportunities that lie ahead. My goal is to move through these opportunities with no firm control, only openness to experience. What happens will happen. Rather than myself being the dictator of my future and being disappointed when it doesn’t come to fruition, I’m happy to have this universe take the reins and simply be a spectator to this beautiful life I have the privilege of living. 

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