The 2021 Year In Review

Well, friends. We’re here again.

Last year we started with a question: is this the life you thought you’d be living this time last year? And, are you happy with your answer?

This year, here’s my challenge to you: are you moving in the direction of the person whom you want to become? If not, how can you change course?

Whilst these questions can be painful and confronting, they do demand a response. Taking time to review the life we’re living can be difficult, but the perspective it provides is so rewarding. Looking back through the year, sharing the happy moments and some of the sad, it can make us feel joyful. What a time to be alive. I’m not saying we haven’t all faced difficulties, but there is still light. Sometimes we’ve just got to hunt for it. We can still be moving in the direction of the person we want to be, even if the movement is at a snail’s pace. Take some time to reflect on your year, keeping digging for joy and light and love – you’ll find it.

My 2021 Review

The year started with a lockdown, something we thought we’d all left behind in 2020, but the pandemic rumbled, rumbles on. As ever, looking back, I couldn’t have ever imagined that this is where I would be. What about you? How does this year look in retrospect?

We had snow in January, with lots of wonderful winter walks and box sets. I’m not sure I’m honest enough to tell you how many seasons of Below Deck we’ve watched (copy, copy), but I loved every second. My writing was going well, and I read so many books. I worked for the NHS in lockdown, and it felt so good to be allowed to leave the house for work.

In March we marked a whole year since the first lockdown. Wine by the fire and a new draft of a book. Teaching courses online and watching my spring bulbs grow. Friends having babies. Recording so many podcast episodes.

A close up at pub

Then April. My favourite month of the year. I thought I liked September, but over the last few years, my love for April has grown. It feels fresh and new and there is so much daylight. It feels like hope. Champagne in the garden at Easter. Picnics with friends and finally being allowed to the pub. Pints in beer gardens with extra coats to keep warm. New walking boots and a day trip to the beach with chunky rocky road slices and ice-cold cans of coke. Finally holding a copy of my second book. That long overdue haircut. Too much time on Instagram. Launching a new product. Running more courses. The summer hanging baskets that make me so disproportionally happy. Outdoor swimming. Remembering the good old days.

a group of people in a yard

Finally getting away in our van. Camping trips with champagne in plastic goblets. Sausage sandwiches for breakfast and watching England play on our phone TV screen. These were some of the most incredible days. The simple life is what I love. I know I’m happiest on a windy beach with sand on my shoes and sea salt in my hair. No make-up selfies as we stride towards a pub at the other end of the shore. How can I spend more days like this?

Phone on table

Supping in the sea. Visiting new places. Hikes and long overdue get-togethers. BBQs. A wedding! Exhaustion and more champagne. That time we broke down on a smart motorway in a heatwave. I’ve always wondered what that would be like. I don’t need to wonder anymore. The story about the AA man and the washing-up bowl. That iced coffee that never tasted so good. Cuddles with the babies I hadn’t seen grow. More books! Hen parties and hugs with strangers that turned into friends. A chance job application, that changed everything.

I bought my first car. I turned 33. More beach trips. Standing in front of the class delivering my first four-hour lecture and really feeling alive. Seeing my brother after nearly two years was also one of the highlights of my year. And staying for two coffees. I’m going to write about the power of the second coffee, because it’s life changing.

Another beach trip. More SUPing in the sea. Walks with my best friend. Blinking and it’s winter. Another glorious wedding. That time we sneaked into the outdoor pool at the spa and felt like we’d won at life. Travelling to another country, hopping on a plane after nearly two years of being here, was simply incredible. But travelling there to see my brother in a place he loves was the best part of my year.

Finally having drinks with friends in someone’s house! Laughing at nothing. Espresso martins at 2am. So many weekends away. More walks in the rain with my best friend.  The best Christmas day. A New Year’s Eve for two (again), and the promise that 2022 will be the best year yet as we welcome a four-legged friend into our family.

A person and person standing next to each other and smiling

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The Honest Truth

If I’m honest, I’ve spent most of 2021 with my fists clenched. Knuckles white. Moon shaped marks on my palms, a hangover from the imprints of nails piercing the flesh. Ready to defend. Gripping on for dear life. Unwilling to let go.

This wasn’t my intention. But when your fists are closed, it’s hard to dance, it’s hard to hug, it’s hard to type and writing is my exhale. So, as you can imagine, it’s been a difficult year for breathing. Because with an exhale, we gain space.

My hope is that in 2022, I can start to unfurl my fingers again and remember how to live my life with my palms open. With space. Space is what I’m seeking in 2022. It’s my single goal. What’s your hope for 2022? What’s your goal?

Whilst it’s easy to glance back at a year and see pain, anxiety, or fear. It’s also easy to miss the delicious joy, the good bits. The simple parts that make life so great. The parts of the year that were breathtaking because they were so beautiful.

A person and person taking a selfie on a hill

The lessons from 2021

My gratitude for the people who love me has only increased. At times, I’m incapacitated by their love. It feels undeserved, too much. Asif I’m not good enough to receive it. But it’s the invisible strings that lift me and my hope is that when their strings are slack, my strength is enough to lift them too. You see, what makes love so wonderful is that it’s unconditional. But what makes love so hard is that it’s unconditional. We can’t love others with conditions. We can’t love ourselves with conditions. It’s hard to live this. But we must take and give as we are. It’s a lesson that I’ll keep striving to live out. Even though at times I fall and fail. It’s one, I think, that’s worth learning.

2021 has taught me that when we hold space for the people we love. We stop the walls from closing in. We let the light in. But we must also ensure we hold this space for ourselves. This feels hard.

A picture containing outdoor, person, in mist

Sometimes I feel I’m living two parallel lives, the one I want, the one I’ve dreamt of and the one I’m in. At times, they dance and meet, and it feels like my life is on fire. Like I’m the person I’m supposed to be. That I act in the way that aligns with my soul. I feel real. And at other times, I’m floating on the parallel line below. Always missing the mark. Always disappointing the person I should be. Always reaching, but never grasping, the life I can imagine. I can see the one I want. The person is the happiest person I’ve met. It feels like a possibility; I hope it’s an inevitability, but it also feels like that person is so far away. It’s a lifetime’s work to reach her, to create that life. But each day is a fresh start, each week a chance to start again, each year a new beginning. It’s an exciting challenge.

Whilst I’ve managed some travel this year, and the lots of delicious weekends away, this year the journey has mostly been a personal one. Instead of jet setting to beaches, I’ve been to dark corners, places that have scared me. But each year, the clarity of my dreams becomes more vivid. Which is why it’s about the journey, the stories, and the people we meet along the way. Clichés are cliches for a reason. It really isn’t about any destination. It was never about the destination.

This was the soundtrack of my year. My brother introduced me to Chillhop and I’m in love. I pretty sure everyone else figured this out back in 2017. But it’s new for me. It’s classed as Lo-Fi music. Low Fidelity. This means it’s not perfect. It wasn’t even meant to be. It was made to sound fuzzy, or broken and messy. And it’s why I love it.

Moving Into a New Year

You’ve heard of the Pareto Principle, right? My new goal is to figure of what my 20% is. Where do I need to spend my time and energy to get the best results? The rest I’m leaving behind so I can gain the space I need. Our time is not infinite, it’s the most precious and expensive thing we own. I’m going to be more careful about how I spend it this year.

Here’s to 2022. How lucky am I to not even begin to imagine the exciting things that will happen. Here’s to hope. Here’s to more laughter. Here’s to gratitude. Here’s to living fully. Here’s to the journey of joining the parallel lines. Here’s to creating space. And finally, here’s to writing more stories.

Let go of the shoulds, the wished I’d, the pressure. Make space for new people, new stories, new perspectives.

A person standing next to a large rock

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This picture makes me laugh so much. I think it sums up 2021 ❤️ It’s the sort of picture that would get lost or deleted, (for obvious reasons) but it’s real and that’s what documenting your life is about. Allow yourself some space to be real.

How to Review Your Year

This is the fourth year I’ve created a year in review post, 2018, 2019, 2020 and now 2021. At times I want to cringe at what past me wrote, I can’t deny her honesty. I’ve always questioned the point in sharing words if they’re not going to be true. Warts and all. We’ve got to be all in for each other and all in for ourselves, and that starts with the truth.  So, take some time this year to review your life. You don’t have to share it, but having a true record of your thoughts and feelings can be immensely powerful. Looking back, you’ll see how you’ve grown and changed, you’ll start to see themes and highlights. Eventually, you’ll be able to shape a life you love with ease, when you know what you want it to look like.

Start with photos. Head back to the 1st of January 2021 and move through each day, week, each month. It won’t take as long as you think. But the pictures we save on our phone are a portal for us to enter. We can see the lens we’ve looked at life through. You can see the stories you’ve told and the ones you’ve been part of, simply by looking at the snapshots of the world you’ve saved.

Start making notes as you move through the photos, ideas, memories, lovely phrases, or a simple description of what you did. Can you link any together? Can you identify highlights? Are there significant periods that missing? Is there a reason why?

Then move through the prompts below.

Your Year in Review Prompts

  • Make a timeline. Looking back over the year, what were the key events, moments, or season that stuck out.
  • Make a list of all the wonderful things you achieved that year.  
  • What memory sums up the year for you?
  • List all of the wonderful things you did.
  • Can you reflect on the lessons you’ve learnt?
  • How do you want to move forward from 2021?
  • Can you summarise how you’ve grown or changed this year?
  • What are you proud of?

Once you’ve gathered your notes, set a timer for twenty minutes and just type. Write about your year. Don’t worry about editing or changing anything. Simply collate your thoughts. Then sit with this for a few days. Come back and edit sections or add parts you’ve missed. Save this, share it, hide it. Whatever feels right for you, but look back on it as you reach the end of 2022. You’ve saved part of your story, you’ve documented your life, and that’s something you’ll never regret spending time on.

I’d love to know if you’ve written a review of your 2021. Email [email protected].

Stories From A Backpack is a place that celebrates the process of documenting our life through stories. You don’t have to see yourself as a writer to want to document your life. You can start to save your memories and share your story today.

Become an Everyday Storyteller by writing about your life. Your story matters and Stories From A Backpack is here to help you live a life worth writing about. Join our monthly newsletter to become an Everyday Storyteller with us. Or buy the book Everyday Storytellers and learn how to turn your memories into stories.


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