2021 Year in Review

Published on — Around 9 minutes to read

Continuing the tradition from 2020, 2019, and 2018, here’s my reflection on 2021.

Family & Home

2021 marks the first full year my family and I have lived in our dream house. In general, I think of this as a calm house. It’s quiet. Maybe that’s the neighborhood. Maybe that’s the open floor plan or the minimal interior. Maybe we moved here in the middle of a recommended quarantine and there wasn’t much to do, so we didn’t do much other than be home with each other. I don’t exactly know why it is, but I like it.

The school district here is amazing; the kids seem to love it. I think they’re doing a great job of managing to keep the kids as safe as they can amidst a global pandemic that continues to ebb and flow.

Sidda has a teacher that makes learning fun. He seems to spend a lot of time developing his students’ critical thinking skills, and I’m grateful for that on behalf of Sidda’s future self. I’m sad that she no longer goes to school with her best friend since preschool, but we organize frequent enough play dates for them to spend time together.

Charlie seems to like her friends a lot more at the new school, and she seems to have a lot more of them here too.

This year, I saw Em start and immediately crush a new career in interior design. She’s so good at everything she does.

Tilly, our sheepadoodle Tilly & Max

Our dog Max seemed to need a friend, so we got him Matilda (Tilly for short). They seem to get along fine enough, although there are a little too many “I’m the big brother” moments for my liking, even though she’s already way bigger than he is.

Our new house has a pool. It’s the first time I’ve lived in a house with a pool, so I learned how to swim this summer. I’m so proud of myself for this! I’ve loved being in the water since I was a kid, but I never knew how to tread water or figure out what to do with my breathing. I watched this video, paid pretty close attention to my kids’ swim teacher, and practiced every day for at least an hour or two. By the end of the summer, I was swimming! I’m still not a strong swimmer, but I’m not afraid of being in the 10-foot deep end of our pool since I can tread water enough + know how to blow bubbles underwater, at least enough to casually make my way to the edge before I get too tired. Next summer, my goal is to be able to jump off our diving board without holding my nose!

Health, wellness, and self-care

Gosh it’s been tough to find some kind of regular way to invest in my physical health. I was playing basketball weekly in 2019, and then COVID happened. I started playing regularly again in September in a local pick-up league after getting vaccinated in April, and I did that every week until the end of the year. I was looking forward to picking that up again this year, but then Omicron. Grr.

I’m not sure what I’ll do to keep fit. I hate running. I’m vaguely interested in yoga lately. Em just got FightCamp, so I may try that. One of the nice things about photography is that I walk a few miles while shooting once every week or two.

I still drink a lot of soda.

On the mental health front, I’ve been working with a new therapist since August, and that’s been great. I previously used BetterHelp, which I thought was more than affordable. But I guess you get what you pay for. I was matched with and tried 3 therapists that I just didn’t jive with, and the 1 that I did jive with wasn’t licensed in my new state after I moved so I couldn’t continue working with her.

After that, I sought out a therapist who could work with me on the specific things I wanted to work on. A friend referred me to someone who is both a therapist and a coach. I’m paying more than I ever have for my mental health, but wow it’s worth every penny.

Dan Mall’ new tattoo Jon Mall’ new tattoo

In 2021, my brother and I got matching tattoos in memory of our grandfather. This year we finished those tattoos.

Videos & photos

In 2021, I took 28,893 photos and videos, which is 129% more than last year’s 12,641 photos and videos. Of those almost 30k photos and videos, I posted 111 (less than 1%) to my photo Instagram account, but the point for me was to invest more in shooting the photos as opposed to posting them. I’m proud to say I’ve done that!

Halfway through the year, I upgraded my Canon EF 70–20mm f/4L USM lens for a Canon EF 100–400mm f/4.5–5.6L IS II USM, and I’m so glad I did. Having a versatile spread of focal lengths (16–35mm, 24–70mm, 100–400mm) makes me that much more excited to shoot to see what I can capture.

I also picked up a DJI Air 2S drone this year, and I’m loving it. It’s not just the photos or videos; I really enjoy flying it around and seeing what the world looks like from that perspective.

Here are a few of my favorite shots I took in 2021:

Philadelphia skyline
Red LOVE statue on University of Pennsylvania campus nestled within green forestation
Man crossing the street in front of Philadelphia’ City Hall
Philadelphia skyline from the Benjamin Franklin Bridge at sunset
Amur leopard lying down
Lightning storm in New Mexico
Hancock Overlook hairpin road, New Hampshire
House nestled at the bottom of a hill in Vermont during fall with beautiful leaves changing colors
Long exposure of Parx Liberty Carousel in motion so that it looks like a spaceship
Sunrise at Point Udall, the easternmost point of the United States

I became way more comfortable with video processing and editing in 2021. I found a lot of excuses to shoot some home videos and make thanks and happy birthday videos to send to friends and clients that forced me to get better at Final Cut Pro. I’ve got a new course coming out this year that will certainly make those new skills come in handy.

Books

This year, I noticed that I enjoyed my reading more than I typically have in past years. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I had less of a stomach for business books than I typically do and I turned to more memoirs, biographies, and autobiographies written by or about mixed race people and/or people of color.

In 2021, I read or attempted to read:

  1. DisneyWar, by James. B Stewart
  2. Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood, by Trevor Noah
  3. A Meal with Jesus, by Tim Chester (abandoned)
  4. Becoming Kareem: Growing Up On and Off the Court, by Kareeem Abdul-Jabbar
  5. You, Your Child, and School, by Sir Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica (abandoned)
  6. Leading, by Alex Ferguson and Michael Moritz (abandoned)
  7. Fooled by Randomness, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (abandoned)
  8. A Promised Land, by Barack Obama
  9. Subtle Acts of Exclusion: How to Understand, Identify, and Stop Microaggressions, by Tiffany Jana and Michael Baran
  10. No Rules Rules, by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer (abandoned)
  11. Got to Give the People What They Want, by Jalen Rose
  12. Humor, Seriously, by Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonas (abandoned)
  13. We Promised You a Great Main Event, by Bill Hancock
  14. Great Demo! by Peter Cohan (abandoned)
  15. Spider-Man: The Darkest Hours, by Jim Butcher
  16. The Effective Executive, by Peter F. Drucker
  17. Mixed Plate, by Jo Koy
  18. Stamped from the Beginning, by Ibram X. Kendi (abandoned)
  19. Executive Presence, by Sylvia Ann Hewlett (abandoned)
  20. Reimagining Collaboration, by Phil Simon (abandoned)
  21. The Vision-Driven Leader, by Michael Hyatt
  22. That Sounds Fun, by Annie F. Downs (abandoned)
  23. Hit Refresh, by Satya Nadella (abandoned)
  24. Lying, by Sam Harris
  25. Give People Money, by Annie Lowrey
  26. How to Art Direct, by Laurence K. Withers
  27. The Marathon Don’t Stop, by Rob Kenner
  28. Lead with a Story, by Paul Smith (abandoned)
  29. Utopia for Realists, by Rutger Bregman (abandoned)
  30. Just as I Am, by Cicely Tyson
  31. The Woman Who Would Be King, by Kara Cooney (abandoned)
  32. Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson (abandoned)
  33. The Big Picture, by Ben Fritz (currently reading)

Travel

For the second year in a row, I didn’t travel once for work. All of my travel in 2021 was for personal reasons. I visited:

  1. Nassau, Bahamas
  2. Washington, DC
  3. Hunter, NY
  4. Orlando, FL (twice)
  5. Tucson, AZ
  6. Asheville, NC
  7. New England
  8. Shenandoah Valley, VA
  9. New York City, NY
  10. Los Angeles, CA
  11. St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands

Sole man

I added a few new sneakers to the collection in 2021:

  1. Paris Saint-Germain × Air Jordan 1 High Zoom Comfort “Paris”
  2. Air Jordan 1 “Bordeaux”
  3. Nike DBreak-Type
  4. Air Jordan 1 Hi FlyEase
  5. Nike Kobe 9 Elite “Inspiration”
  6. Air Jordan 1 Mid “Chile Red”

Work

Work was tough for me in 2021. I wrote a lot about that in my SuperFriendly 2021 Wrap-Up.

Arcade was also a big part of my professional life in 2021. Unfortunately, a lot of my attention was focused on trying to lead SuperFriendly, so progress on Arcade slowed to a crawl as a result. I’m hoping to dive back into Arcade in a serious way in 2022.

Dream project

2021 finally gave me the chance to work with my dream client of 23 years. While I can’t say too much more here, the work was my favorite kind of challenging and the team was incredible to work with. I’m still figuring out how to celebrate an achievement I’ve waited so long for, but I think I’ve landed on what I’m going to do. Hopefully I can share more about this soon.

Speaking

Early in my career, it was a big dream to speak at a conference. As much as being on a conference stage still feels like a great honor to me, I’ve spoken about design at almost 200 events and platforms in the last 13 years of my career. This is the first year I’ve strongly felt that urge waning.

I don’t think I have much that I’d like to say in that format anymore.

Also, I never really admitted until recently how little I enjoy writing a talk! No matter how much advance notice I have, I still somehow end up writing the talk a day before the event, pulling just-about-all-nighters and not giving myself enough revision time to clearly articulate what I’m trying to communicate anyway.

That said, I have learned that, although I like giving talks less and less, I still really enjoy teaching! When I’m in a room full of people—physical or virtual—I’d rather talk with them than at them. I prefer an interactive format to a broadcast format. It’s no coincidence that my work and “public appearances” are trending towards teaching, coaching, and workshops. I see this trend solidifying for me in the next year.

In 2021:

Miscellany

2022

My goals for 2022 are to do less, laugh more, and eat delicious food with family and friends.