2020 Year in Review

The ups and downs of 2020.

Published on

Around 13 minutes to read

I really enjoyed writing “year in review” posts for 2019 and 2018, so I think this is officially a tradition now.

Family & home #

Our family takes pride in adventuring together, and boy was 2020 an adventure. Our adventures typically involve traveling on planes, but that definitely didn’t happen this year.

Instead, the adventures took the form of being together a lot. 9-year old Sidda and 7-year old Charlie go to a Catholic school that held in-person classes, but Em and I didn’t feel comfortable doing that, so we opted for virtual school for the first semester to see how the school handled such an unprecedented event. That was difficult. The kids handled it like champs, but introverted Em and I really felt the lack of our own space since we were all home, all the time. We had a welcome reprieve when my parents offered to do school with the kids 2 days a week so they could have some change of scenery and Em and I could get some personal space back.

Parenting kids in virtual school was tough. I pride myself on being pretty digitally savvy, but I just couldn’t get my head straight about how and when to submit assignments; what platforms to use between Google Classroom, ClassDojo, and others; when to print which handouts for the day, and lots more. I contemplated getting in touch with the school and offering to run all of their digital platform stuff for the kids, parents, and teachers, but taking on something new that big felt just as stressful as dealing with it. So we dealt with it. Em realized that dealing with homework sorting and submitting stressed her out, and I realized that sitting with the kids while in school was frustrating to me while I tried to get work done, so we switched: Em sat with the kids while they were “in class,” and I took over when school was done and they got into homework time. Come report card time, the kids got mediocre grades, not because they weren’t learning the material, but because I didn’t submit assignments on time or at the right place. Cue flashbacks of me in school learning all the stuff but not caring enough about the administrivia. Trigger city.

Living room #

We were doing all of this from home, the old church-turned-house we bought from my parents in 2012. When I was in high school, my parents ran a personal care home business for years as a way to take care of my grandparents while they aged. After my grandparents passed away in 2006 and 2009, my parents no longer needed the business, so they sold it, but they couldn’t sell the property because of the poor housing market at the time. When I decided to start SuperFriendly in 2012, Em and I were going to ask my parents if we could move into their basement to keep our expenses low as I started a business for the first time. Before we had the chance, my dad suggested that we could take over the small mortgage left on the property. The house needed work, but paying a modest sum every month was the right kind of pressure we needed while still having a fallback that being late a month or two would be forgiven. Over 9 years, we only missed a mortgage payment once while waiting on late client payments, but knowing that we had some cushion was an incredible privilege.

That house was a blessing and served us incredibly well for almost a decade. But the issues of a poorly-built house were starting to add up over time. Pests, failing appliances, shady neighbors, and other things started to slowly manifest.

The silver lining of quarantining together for months made us realize that we could do anything together. “Home” could be wherever we wanted it to be, wherever we were together.

So we changed it.

If we were going to be quarantining, we might as well do it in a place we liked. We got a rental apartment on the beach. Our schedule was simple: school in the morning while I worked, homework early afternoon while Em worked, then go sit on the beach together for a few hours while the kids played in the water. That created just the right amount of space for us to feel less pressure; it gave us some room to live.

A new house #

We moved into our current house since a poor housing market made it tough for my parents to sell otherwise. One of the things that kept us there for as long as we’ve been is that we didn’t think we get enough money for it to make it worth selling, not to mention beginning the search for a new house, having enough money for a down payment/closing/etc.

And then COVID-19 happened.

The housing market went nuts. Suddenly, we heard that houses were selling for well above their market value. If we were ever going to sell our house, now seemed to be the time.

A few other things conspired together in our favor. First, we’ve been putting money away little-by-little for the past few years in case we wanted to move. We didn’t know when or where, but having enough money for a down payment on a decent house gave us some optionality. Then, in Em’s occasional Zillow-stalking, she came across an amazing house that wasn’t even officially on the market yet. Things happened quickly. We found the house online on October 22, saw it in-person on October 25, put in an offer on October 26, the seller accepted after some light negotiating on October 27, we closed on December 17, and moved in on December 18.

We listed our current house on December 17 and received an offer on December 19 for way more than we ever thought we’d get on the house. We’re currently waiting on mortgage approval for the buyer but hoping that gets resolved very soon so we can be free and clear.

As we moved into our new house, I found myself wanting to make it nice. I know that might sound obvious, but I realized I never put much effort into making our old house nice. Partially because it wasn’t a house we picked and also that it needed a lot of work, I approached it pretty apathetically. I always chalked that up to the fact that I’m generally pretty content, but now that we have a nice house, I’m surprisingly finding more of a desire to keep it that way. I’m nesting hardcore. For the first time, I find myself lost in picking paint colors, watching YouTube videos about minimalist desks, making multiple trips to HomeSense every week, and assembling Pinterest boards of sofas and tables. I kinda like that.

Assuming Sidda and Char leave the nest when they’re each 18, that means just about half the time they’ll live with us is gone. I want to make sure the other half of that time together is time well spent. I hope this house allows us to do that better.

Health, wellness, and self-care #


2020’s been awful for me in terms of physical self-care.

My soda addiction didn’t dwindle at all, as I made 0 attempts to curb it. I just didn’t have the willpower to attempt it this year.

I stopped playing in my weekly basketball games in March, and I’m pretty sad about that as I’ve done very little physical fitness activity other than walking around the neighborhood every few days. Now that I live in a beautiful neighborhood, I think I’m going to start running outside even though I hate running. I’ll probably give Couch to 5K a shot.

The only good thing I can say is that I’ve been eating much less fast food as I’m really enjoying my CookUnity subscription.

I stopped working with my therapist in July because I wasn’t really sure what I was getting out of working with him. I found a new therapist through BetterHelp and working with her for the last 6 months has been great. However, because I moved to a different state, I had to switch therapists yet again. I’ve had one session with her, and so far, I’m looking forward to my work with her even more than my previous therapists.

New tattoos for Dan & Jon Mall

My brother and I finally got the tattoos we’ve been meaning to get for a while now in honor of our grandfather. This was the last plane ride I took in 2020 was to Portland, ME to get this tattoo, which makes it even extra special.

Books #

This year, I read:

  1. Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer
  2. Dare to Lead, by Brené Brown (abandoned)
  3. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me, by Mindy Kaling
  4. Teaming, by Amy Edmondson (abandoned)
  5. Where Good Ideas Come From, by Steven Johnson
  6. The Making of a Manager, by Julie Zhuo
  7. Your Money Made Simple, by Russ Crosson
  8. Delivering Happiness, by Tony Hsieh
  9. The Challenger Sale, by Matthew Dixon & Brent Adamson
  10. Stiff, by Mary Roach (abandoned)
  11. Do Scale, by Les McKeown
  12. Coaching for Performance, by Sir John Whitmore
  13. So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo
  14. Civil War, by Stuart Moore
  15. Save the Cat!, by Blake Snyder
  16. Range, by David Epstein
  17. Shark Tales, by Barbara Corcoran
  18. Give and Take, by Adam Grant
  19. The Three-Body Problem, by Liu Cixin (abandoned)
  20. It’s About Damn Time, by Arlan Hamilton
  21. King of the World, by David Remnick
  22. Secrets of Sand Hill Road, by Scott Kupor
  23. Mismatch, by Kat Holmes
  24. Joy, Inc. by Richard Sheridan
  25. Watching You, by Lisa Jewell
  26. DisneyWar, by James B. Stewart (currently reading)

Travel #

I usually have a list of places I’ve traveled in the year, but the list is pretty slim for 2020. From January to March, I traveled to:

  1. Banff, Canada
  2. Tulum, Mexico
  3. Portland, ME

Unusually, all of those places were personal trips, not work trips.

On the bright side, because of the lack of flying this year, I was only “randomly” selected for screening twice this year as opposed to 5 times last year.

Although we couldn’t fly anywhere this year, our family still tried to take some trips together that were all within driving distance.

I’m hoping we can fly again in 2021, but if not, I have a feeling we’ll get creative about scratching that itch.

Videos & photos #

In last year’s review, I lamented doing less video stuff than I had anticipated and hoped that some online course ideas would be enough motivation to change that. I was right! I made a 12-video course about design systems called “Make Design Systems People Want to Use” that I wrote, shot, and edited all by myself. I dreaded how long editing takes, but I did underestimate how quickly I could get comfortable in Final Cut Pro after spending some time with YouTube tutorials. Now I don’t feel as intimidated about making videos and find myself making fun little 90-second to 2-minute videos of things like preparing a Thanksgiving meal, a silly Christmas play we did a few years ago, or random b-roll from around the house.

On the photography front, I’m still as enthusiastic about taking photos as I was a year ago. I started my photo site and Instagram account around this time last year, and I’ve posted about 125 photos to them since. Winter without snow on the East Coast of the United States isn’t terribly picturesque, so I find myself longing for a photo trip to a super snowy location or for a soon-to-come photogenic season like cherry blossoms in the spring. I’m slowly curating a list of photo trips I’d like to take soon. In the meantime, I’m still taking a few online courses to get better at this hobby, like Introduction to Landscape Photography with Tiffany Nguyen, Composite Photography & Retouching for Advertising by Erik Almas, and Hyperreal Landscapes.

I expect to do a lot more photo and video stuff in 2021.

Sole man #

I added a few new sneakers to the collection in 2020:

  1. Nike Acronym x Air Presto Mid “Racer Pink”
  2. Air Jordan 1 High Zoom “Zen Green”
  3. Union LA x Air Jordan 1 Retro High NRG “Storm Blue”
  4. Air Jordan 1 Mid SE “Amarillo”
  5. Puma Rebound LayUp Casual
  6. Air Jordan 1 High Zoom “Crater”
  7. Custom Air Jordan 1 by Neo

I also signed up for The Shoe Surgeon’s course for creating a custom pair of Jordan 1’s. So excited about this one!

Speaking #

I expected to do way less “public appearances” in 2020 because of COVID, but I only did 1 less thing than last year (17 in 2020 as opposed to 18 in 2019):

I usually have a few events for the following year lined up at this point, but 2020 was weird. I’ll be announcing a few public design system workshops shortly, so watch this space if you’re interested.

Work #

I wrote elsewhere in detail about how SuperFriendly did in 2020, so suffice it to say here that I’m extremely grateful for my SuperFriends and my clients. I’m excited and hopeful for what we can do in 2021.

I’m also figuring out a way to make more impact while working less, and my family and I can feel it. That’s really important to me.

I co-founded Arcade in 2020 with Mike Carbone and Leslie Camacho. It’s the third business I’ve ever owned/co-owned, so I guess that officially makes me an entrepreneur? We have lots of plans for Arcade in 2021, and we’ll be sharing them on the Arcade blog as we progress.

There’s also likely one more company that I’ll hopefully be announcing this year. More on that soon.

This site #

In 2020, I published my 500th piece of content to this site, which I’ve had for 15 years! I’m very grateful to Past Dan™ for documenting so much over the years, and I really do wish I had written even more.

I wrote 35 posts in 2020, which is way more than I’ve ever posted to this site. (The last highest year was 2019 when I wrote 14 posts.) My favorites from the year were documenting my DSLR-as-webcam setup (with a few updates), tracking my evolving calendar blocking approach, and finally making public my syllabus for running a 9-month design or development apprenticeship in case others want to try to create something like it.

Of the 35 posts I wrote in 2020, 31 of them were in the new weeknotes format I was trying out. I like this format, partly because it’s a nice way for me to see what I do on a weekly cadence and because it gets me writing to my site more frequently. But that also reveals a problem: my Articles page is now mostly weeknotes, which it wasn’t really designed for. It buries all the other posts that aren’t weeknotes that I’d love to highlight more. Cue the plight of all designers/developers with a personal website, especially this time of year: I want a new site.

Sure, I could make a few adjustments to the design to solve the hierarchy problem, but like all sites that have been around for a while, there’s a bunch of medium-sized things I’ve been meaning to do. A redesign is often a good excuse to bundle all of those individual issues into an actual project. I’m proud to have constantly iterated on this site and make small fixes over the years, but it’s about time to do some work to make the foundation more sturdy.

The other big reason for a new site is a technical one. I’ve had free hosting from MediaTemple for years, ever since I met some nice MediaTemple folks at SXSW one year and they offered to host my site. Then one day earlier this year, my free hosting stopped and I was suddenly on the hook to pay $100/month, which I definitely don’t want to pay just to host this site. Just about all of SuperFriendly’s work as well as the site is hosted on Netlify now, so this new hosting charge is a good catalyst for getting everything migrated. I’m incredibly grateful for the free hosting I’ve had for years, which is way more than I deserve, but if I’m going to pay, I’d rather pay for features I value like out-of-the-box SSL/TLS certificates and smart branch deploys as well as a place where all my sites can live together.

Related, I’m excited about a new URL. When I put up my first personal site in 2005, I used danielmall.com, because danmall.com wasn’t available. I also used the handle @danielmall on Twitter so I could keep my Twitter handle and personal website URL the same.

But I’m Dan, not Daniel. No one calls me “Daniel”, except for the people that don’t really know me and assume I go by “Daniel” because of my URL.

So I switched from @danielmall to @danmall on Twitter a few years ago. And I switched from danielmall.com to danmall.me. But I’ve never really liked a .me domain for me. Feels unofficial, for some reason.

I check domain registrars every so often for danmall.com to be available. Usually, it’s not. But a few weeks ago, I saw it available for purchase, albeit at a pretty premium price. For most big purchases I make, I have a guideline to not buy on the spot but to sleep on it and decide in the morning. That usually keeps my impulse purchases to a minimum. But, as a professional web designer who has waited on this domain for 15 years, I figured this didn’t really qualify as impulsive. (Also, business expense!)

So! Whenever I can get around to making it, the new version of this site is finally going to live at danmall.com! I was also thinking that I would build the site in public and even make an affordable little course about the process in case anyone’s curious about how I design and build a site from scratch. I even have a tagline ready: “All the boring stuff you wanted to see.”

Miscellany #

2021 #

Goodbye, 2020. You were good, bad, and ugly.

Ready for 2021.

Read Next

SuperFriendly 2020 Wrap-Up

Join 50,100+ subscribers to the weekly Dan Mall Teaches newsletter. I promise to keep my communication light and valuable!