• Bob Ewing

#49: A Year in Review: 2021

One Idea. One Challenge. Once a Week.


“Without reflection we go blindly on our way.” ~ Meg Wheatley


We started our company in the fall of 2018.


I traveled often for workshops. If you told us back then that we’d begin 2021 with a dedicated group of clients spanning the country, we’d be thrilled. If you told us that all of our training would be done online from a remote bus in the mountains, we’d probably think you were crazy.


But that was how 2021 began. It’s been a wild, unforgettable year.


We spent the first half traveling in our bus. Playing outside, connecting with loved ones, and searching for a new mountain town to call home.


This summer we fell in love with Durango. On a multi-day family trip floating the Yellowstone River, we got cell reception and put in an offer on a house. On October 1st, we signed papers and officially moved in!


We’re now tucked in the woods on a mountain along a river in Southwestern Colorado. It’s our new home, and we love it.

Top Highlight

Maryrose and I got engaged!


This spring, we visited her family ranch in Montana. Her favorite place in the world. We watched the sunrise together over the mountains. I asked her to marry me. She said yes.

More Highlights


We lived in Joshua Tree for much of the winter. We parked our bus in a surreal landscape just outside the National Park. Maryrose completed her first trad climbing lead! We took a few days off to see the ocean and watch the sunset.


We had quality family time. We spent April in Ohio and celebrated Easter with my family. I went skydiving for the first time with my brothers and Dad. Maryrose’s parents officially met my parents and enjoyed several days together in the Montana sunshine. My brother Scott married the love of his life – my former IJ colleague Erica Smith!


Our close friends Schocker, Jeff, and Roger each traveled to remote places to meet us. We had a blast: climbing, jumping in freezing water, playing guitars late into the night, and chatting books and ideas. I met up with buddies to climb in the Red River Gorge. And I had the honor of officiating one of Maryrose’s best friend’s weddings.


Professionally, Maryrose joined the Ewing School full time. Our clients stayed with us and several more signed up. We started a newsletter that went out on time every week all year. And I completed a Harvard course on storytelling and leadership.


As a bonus, we helped prep clients for a landmark Supreme Court victory!

My Top Book for 2021


Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman.


From the moment I heard about this book (while flipping through a magazine killing time at the airport) I knew I would love it. And somehow Burkeman exceeded my high expectations. Here are my discussion notes and questions. I wrote two newsletter pieces inspired by Burkeman.


A Few More Books I Enjoyed This Year



Conjectures & Refutations by Karl Popper. Dense but readable. Popper explains the foundation for all progress. The past doesn’t always predict the future. We build the future. Embracing feedback and making regular adjustments is vital. I will return to Popper in 2022 – and likely most years after.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. This novel was a global sensation in 2021. A beautiful illustration of the idea that the stories we tell ourselves transform the lives we live. What if you could redo every regret? If you had superpowers, how would you build an ideal life? It’s never too late to begin telling ourselves new stories. Today we can embrace feedback and improve the direction of our lives. A quick, enjoyable, and thought-provoking read.


Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson. This is worthwhile for anyone serious about skill development. Ericsson spent decades studying what it takes to become an expert. His basic thesis is to block significant time to practice with your full attention. Push yourself into discomfort. Embrace feedback from experts. And make regular adjustments to how you practice based on the feedback you get.


The Art of Public Speaking by Stephen Lucas. This may be the best single volume that covers all aspects of public speaking. An indispensable textbook that I find myself turning to for guidance most weeks.


The Sovereign Individual by James Davidson & Lord William Rees-Mogg. Written two decades ago, this book was recently updated with a new foreword by tech entrepreneur Peter Thiel. It’s popular in Web3 circles to help conceptualize the coming shift to a more decentralized world.

Writing to Learn by William Zinsser. One of the best ways to learn a topic is to write about it. Zinsser gives examples of experts producing excellent writing from diverse fields. And he draws us into his life with deep and personal stories. A delightful companion to his classic On Writing Well.


Here’s my full list of books I enjoyed most in 2021.

My Most Popular Newsletter

#42: Brooks and the Eulogy Virtues


My Ten Favorites

Biggest Struggle


I did not set clear priorities and then hold myself to them. I stayed up late many nights to get the newsletter out on time. We set a goal to launch a new website, but I failed to do my part to make it happen.


Going forward I’ll be disciplined about regular weeklies with Maryrose to make sure we have clarity on our priorities. I’ll add skin in the game to hold myself accountable for what I prioritize and say I’m going to do.

More Struggles


My Uncle Mick died. He was a kind and wonderful person. An excellent listener, a passionate defender of liberty, and a teacher to many. Including me.


I continued to waste time and procrastinate. I’ll start tracking my work hours and understand how long my projects actually take. And revise plans as life changes things.


Maryrose and I both will be better in 2022 about focusing on what matters most and delegating everything else. Which means hiring contractors. And dropping stuff.


We got our bus stuck on an icy incline and ended up sliding slowly, and uncontrollably, backward. Mental note on par with never get involved in a land war in Asia: never drive through South Dakota in a blizzard.

A Year of Amazing Successes


Despite the negatives, 2021 was a year of incredible news.


A malaria vaccine has been invented and approved. A game-changer in our fight against one of the worst diseases in history. Countless lives will now be saved. Especially children in Africa.


The James Webb Space Telescope officially launched. An international construction project a quarter-century in the making. We will soon be able to look back to the beginning of time.


Fast Grants is leading a revolution in financial support. They get money quickly to entrepreneurs spread across the globe who are making the world better. This creates an incentive to build things that improve lives. The model is successful and widely applied.


With CRISPR we “now have the technological tools to quite literally code nature, and the payoff to human flourishing will be profound.”


More than ever before, people worldwide searched for these phrases: ways to help your community; how to honor someone; how to heal; how to help our planet; how to be yourself; and how to use my voice. (See Google’s must-watch 2021: Year in Search.)


Finally, consider this:


In 2020, despite tremendous dislocation, suffering, and uncertainty, more money was given charitably than ever before in history.


Until 2021.


***

IDEA


This was a wonderful year for Maryrose and me. Thank you for the role you played.


CHALLENGE


What were your highlights for 2021? Take a moment to pull together your Year in Review. And please share it with me!


***


This is my first time doing a Year in Review. I have much to learn. Dave Barry and Bill Gates are the best at it.


Cheers,

Bob


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