My 2021 Annual Review

It’s been 4 years without writing an annual review. It’s Dec 31, 2021 at 17.04 PM, here in Berlin’s former Russian sector.

I’m excited because it’s only the second time I’m reviewing my year deliberately.

In the review, I will answer three (and a half) questions:

  1. What went well this year?
  2. What didn’t go so well this year?
  3. What did I learn, and what am I working toward?

Before we begin, it is worth noting that every Annual Review is a personal process. This is simply an overview of what my year looked like, not advice for how you should live your life. (That said, you are always welcome to use this general format for your own Annual Review --- thx James Clear)

1. What went well this year?

A couple of things went well this year.

I worked with Jordan B. Peterson (“12 Rules for Life” author). By proxy, through an agency, I was working with Jordan and his team, as well as with Mikhaila Peterson, his daughter. The agency is my first U.S.-based client, and I had been writing and editing for a high-caliber client and author that Jordan Peterson is, which lasted for 6 months. That meant 6 months of intellectual stimulation and awe. Writing included writing titles, so at the end of the contract with him, I wrote this title:

The Existential Bloody Catastrophe of the Left
in Their Destruction of Patriarchal Hierarchies
That Are Not Predicated on Power
but the Highest Universal Human Principles
Which Boils Down to Christ

It was a fun time coming up with a title that sums up one of Jordan’s core messages.

Clarity. I entered 2021 with the certainty that my 2020 attempt to “make it” as an email copywriter was not the right track. The three associated projects (emailcopywriter.io incl. the podcast The Adventures of Alex, the Email Copywriter, superresponder.com, and copywritingexamples.com) have therefore become dormant; I lynched them. In the last week of 2021, during my sabbatical week, it dawned on me that I want to go back to what I can do best: building my dream while documenting and being real about stuff (numbers, revenue, mood, etc.). That’s what I’ve been doing in 2021, and I have no intention to stop, because it’s MY JOURNEY, the right journey for me.

Cash surplus of €2,231.97. I started the year with €4,142.62 on my bank, and I finished it with €6,374.59.

I received a few donations. I received €52 from 4 people this year.

I published a very strange product: you can buy 22 Pure Faces on my Ko-fi store.

Big apartment cleanup. It was so overdue. I’m glad I did it. Especially my room was a mess. Within 3 weeks (since Jan 18th), I worked 99 hours in total. It started with my room, and then it escalated to the whole 3-room apartment, including the basement. That was a full-time job. Since my commitment with the iGaming agency only started on February 1, I had two weeks for off-business activities, so I took care of my room (the entire apartment) to declutter it completely. It was totally unplanned and unexpected, but it was totally the right thing:

Essentialism and reductionism have been an ongoing topic for me throughout the year 2021. It started in January when I spent a whopping 3 weeks to tidy up the apartment and cellar and remove everything so that only the essentials stayed, as said above. That’s why my room now looks “reduced,” and I’m loving it. And when it turned June, I continued to apply my “essentialism“ to food, where I only bought raw food (as good as possible) and only buy what actively, productively adds nutrients to my diet.

Two pro bono clients. I did written-word-editing of their video material. One client project concluded with a 30% conversion increase for her Skillshare class, which is a great achievement --- you can read the case study here. The other pro bono project is still work-in-progress, but I did my part and produced 54 premature (non-final) social-media-ready video clips for the client to review, so that we can proceed.

I became a 5-star writer. On this one text broker website, I was a 4-star author for the longest time. Payment-wise, it means 1,4 cents per word. Only a 5-star writer earns 4,3 cents. So becoming a five-star author was my goal. I wanted to reach it in January 2021, but that didn’t work out. I only became a 5-star writer on November 4, 2021. Only a 10-month delay, haha.

New permanent client. After some very low-paid writing jobs (1,4 cents per word resulting in €14 for 1,000 words) and some slightly better paid writing gigs (5 cents per word), I signed a 6-month contract with a new client at the end of February, and it got extended to another 6 months already. It might turn into a long-term gig. I’m making about €1,100 working about 20 hours a week (80h/mo), which is enough for me to pay the bills (currently €834/mo) and have a little surplus --- that’s about €13.75/hr, but it also took me 9 months to reach that performance level, because, initially, I started with €4/hr. That’s because I get paid for work delivered, not by the hour. So, the faster I’m able to deliver, the better the hourly rate. And that, again, took me nine months to reach an acceptable hourly rate, although that still varies from week to week, since some weeks run better than others, which is ok for me. But it also means, I became about 3,5 times faster than before --- a great sign of improvement!

Even better, the client (the agency) is happy with my work. They said, “You’ve consistently delivered high quality work, on time, and we love working with you.”

A lot of stories and videos produced and pre-produced. I produced and published 6 videos on YouTube:

For the partial public I produced 11 social-media-ready video clips (for one client), 54 premature (unfinished) video clips (for another client), and 1 voice-acted short piece for Twitch (Amazon) and Villeroy & Boch.

For the non-public, I published 1 feature-length film (2 hours) and 1 short version of it (32 minutes).

I had my first paid voiceover job at Voice123. It’s a platform where clients submit requests, voice-actors like me audition, and they pick you, or they don’t. In my case, they did :).

I helped plant trees with my voice – already 7,000+ trees were planted. Every time you listen to this song on Spotify, it earns a bit of cash for its creator. Around ~100 streams makes enough money to plant one tree. So far, the song has been streamed 700,000+ times on Spotify and other places. You can listen to my German spoken-word song on Spotify: Dieses Lied Pflanzt Bäume.

I finished my brother’s wedding film. I had recorded his wedding in 2018, and three years later it’s finally done. It’s become a huge burden, and now I’m relieved.

I helped a now-friend from Egypt to get a job. We had 44 sessions in German because her job would require knowledge of the German language. We started in March and stopped our formal language exchange in September. That’s half a year of effort, which was worth it, because now she has a new job, and we’ve become friends as well – we’re calling each other brother and sister. Greetings to Cairo, inshallah!

I said bye-bye to Big Tech. No more LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. There was a short time when I went back, but overall, I’m not actively using these platforms anymore. I took the red pill. It doesn’t add value to my life, business, or creativity anymore. And it’s harmful to society and our planet. One exception: I’ll stay active on YouTube because I find it really hard to dismiss this platform because of what it offers as a consumer and the reach it can provide for me as a creator. And of course you can find me on non-Big-Tech-owned communities like my own Mastodon instance.

Descript is my software app of the year. It’s a pain when it’s not working well, because it does have its glitches. But when it’s working, Descript is a dream. Editing audio and video through is a fabulous experience. I’ve been editing audio/video podcasts through it and Hollywood films as well.

The songs I discovered in 2021 were splendid, marvelous, wonderful, miraculous, and Hype Machine helped:

1 standing desk for my home office and 1 for my voice-over studio. It’s such a game-changer to be standing instead of sitting. The first few weeks, I was tired and slept longer, because it’s like working (mentally) and working out (physically) at the same time. I’ve been working on a standing desk since August (that’s 5 months, and these €275.48 I had invested twice were so much worth it!). I had picked this 120×60 cm, white frame, bamboo table-top standing desk from Flexispot with a crank handle.

I updated my naii.io website. A new, very legible font. Much shorter copy on the homepage. A comfortable navigation. A new tagline for naii: Adventures for Bold Storytellers. And an overall clearer message and call-to-action.

I finished the year with 52 {Sunday Truth} emails. It took me a few weeks to get into the weekly rhythm, and sometimes, I do send the email on Monday, but mostly do I send on Sunday, which is a consistency I’m particularly proud of. You can sign up for my {Sunday Truth} and see how I’m building my dream storytelling company and experience year two and beyond of the journey.

2. What didn’t go so well this year?

The unfinished online dance class. In January, I had started and stopped The Complete Art of Dance with Kyle Hanagami. I never finished it. But I didn’t stop dancing. So, after watching the documentary Last Hippie Standing (2001), a German production in English about the hippie movement and the psytrance scene in Goa, India, and a comparison of the hippie ear in the ’60s and ’70s to the situation in the noughties, and my favorite takeaway that dance is active meditation, I decided to dance to “Monsters”, the 80s-inspired album by The Midnight., which was a lot of fun!

Learning Arabic stopped. It’s not that I lost interest, but it’s harder than I thought, and I wanted to learn two things (MSA: Modern Standard Arabic; and Egyptian Arabic) at the same time. That didn’t work. Eventually, I stopped because it was taking more time than I wanted to invest. Now learning Arabic has become a tertiary, leisure-time activity, not a priority.

No voiceover demo reel. It was a back and forth in terms of my commitment to voice-acting in 2021. On the one hand, I don’t want to work for clients, but on the other hand, I want to make money with voiceover. My solution is: I won’t create a traditional demo reel, because I think it’s a waste of time and energy. Instead, I will create authority voiceover content for the susēpatrolā YouTube channel, which does two things:

Learnistic & Memoirs of Mastery (Troy Broussard). I was really looking forward to having a mobile app that offers educational content. Triggered by Troy Broussard, I felt the call “Run Your Entire Business From The Palm Of Your Hot Little Hand”, but after 10 months I stopped the $99/mo subscription. I tried to make use of it, but I didn’t find a good usage for it. I also gave Troy Broussard’s Memoirs of Mastery audio-print newsletter ($88/mo price point) a chance for 4 months, but it was too expensive for what it delivered, and I’d rather use the money for something else.

Two attempts to work with a music composer. I had changed my mind, so these two projects didn’t come to fruition.

A secret podcast. It was born out of the idea to document my life on a daily basis. I made it to 126 episodes – from June 1, 2020 to February 11, 2021. Maybe the death of George Floyd was my inspiration, maybe not. But the idea of thinking out loud was further encouraged by what I had learned just 3 weeks after the kick-off, on June 18th, when academic Moritz Klenk explained to Tim Pritlove how he applies Thinking Through Speaking on Chaos Radio Express episode 220: Sprechendes Denken. I never knew where I was going with it, but now it serves as another memory, or artifact, that I can use when I’ll ultimately write my autobiography, with 75 or so. You could say doing this podcast was valuable and necessary. But you could say that it didn’t go so well, because I stopped it, eventually. Either way works.

Farewell to 2 online communities. Copy Chief and WIP.co/WIP.chat. The content is good/great, but the people inside Copy Chief I communicated with were not my type of people. So, on January 15, 2022, I’ll have my last day there. It’ll also save me $699/year, which is good. The WIP community was something I felt more aligned with, but its core feature, a public to-do list, was no longer worth $100/year for me. Again, it’s good, because I’ll save some cash. My last day will be on January 5, 2022.

I felt unwell, shivered, lost water, collapsed, shit my pants. Then I recovered. That was at the end of February. Without my mum’s help, it would have been much harder for me. I tell you that. So what happened? Honestly… I don’t know. I only know that Wednesday evening I started shaking. I felt cold, almost feverish. I simply wanted to lay down and rest. That’s what I did. During these hours, I was losing a lot of water because I was sweating a lot. I kept drinking water, but it wasn’t enough. At some point, I had to pee. I did. And once the bathroom job was done, I felt “wonky” so that the next moment after I opened the bathroom door to leave, I found myself with my face pointing towards the floor and a few seconds of mental absence. For a few seconds, I was dead. When I lose touch of time and space, that’s when I usually say that I was dead. Some call it “faint”. I’ve had these “dead” experiences now 4 times: first one in 2004 during a night-shift at the psychiatry where I had worked, second one around 2015 here in Berlin in the house, third one in 2017 in Cuba (in a too sultry bus), and now 2021 here in Berlin again. I like these moments because as soon as I get up again I know, “YES! doG has given me another chance.” But during the moment of waking up from DEATH NO. 4, I didn’t feel like celebrating much. I had no power, lacked food, lacked water in my system, had no appetite or hunger, and I had diarrhetic pressure that felt so good when I stopped fighting against it.

3. What did I learn, and what am I working toward?

Stories. What I care about the most is creating stories and telling stories.

WIP.co community friend Marc Köhlbrugge said it well:

ask yourself if it’s the right idea for you.

Play to your strengths.

And story-writing is my strength. I made that clear later this year, in August, in my {Sunday Truth 32} email when I said, “i wanna dedicate a big chunk of MY LIFE to that.”

The ONE Thing exercise. My former business mentor Troy Broussard had made me aware of the book “ONE Thing” by Gary Keller (and Jay Papasan). The book contains the Focusing Question, which is extraordinarily helpful. If you ever wonder what to prioritize on a small scale (e.g., today or this week) or a big scale (e.g., one year), ask yourself this question: What’s the ONE Thing you can do such that by doing it everything else would be easier or unnecessary?

A new ideal: 8 productive hours a day. Whether I’ll actually reach eight hours of productivity every day is not dogmatically important. The attempt of the pursue matters. In November, which was pretty late into the year, I figured that working 8h/day is not as horrible as it sounds. And now with 2 months of having tried it out, I’m happy to have integrated it into my collection of habits. The point of working 8 hours per day (56h/week) is to find a number of hours that I can sustainably perform, while still enjoying my life and not burning out, but also working towards realizing my goals. Working eight hours is a sweet spot where I don’t feel (too) drained thinking about working that amount, and eight hours are still challenging enough that I feel motivated to pursue it. Yes, I do have days of slacking off, when I don’t work at all, it happens, but the ideal of 8 productive hours a day stays intact nevertheless.

In summary:

Execution is a muscle you develop through the regular application of intentional habit, in which you’re repeating cycles of daily eight-hour workouts that result in a harmonic rhythm that flows like a melody and makes you move like Uncle-Grizzly-saying-“Hi”-to-your-shoulder ROOAAWRR!!

From Buy Me Coffee (BMC) and Gumroad to Ko-fi, and now? Ko-fi is the most attractive option for me right now to receive donations, because the annual payment of about $54 they charge no commission on transactions, which is different from BMC and Gumroad.

I learned to identify amateur communicators. In this case, I don’t mean the “lover of” meaning of amateur. I’m referring to communicator who send emails with no subject lines, who puts more than one topic into one email thread, leading to chaos, confusion, and lots of wasted time when trying to find small bits of information. When having an amateur communicator in mind, I’m thinking of someone who gives wishy-washy feedback which helps no soul on this planet and makes the communication unnecessarily hard. An amateur communicator is lazy, doesn’t care about how the other person is receiving the communication, and this amateur is not interested in making progress and having fruitful, productive conversations. I don’t work with amateurs.

Having little money helps make decisions easier. From 25 web domains that I used to have, the little money I had available helped me say goodbye to most of them, and now 9 domains are left and 1 domain that I plan to sell.

My mum is still my biggest supporter. After having paid the rent for my room/home office at her place for 6 months, we now agreed that I won’t have to pay the rent anymore, so I can keep more cash for building my story production company, susēpatrolā.

The peace of mind of regular income is priceless. January, February, and March were tough. I made €279 per month with average monthly costs about €950 at that time. I was burning around €671 every month. At the end of February, I wrote in one of my {Sunday Truth} emails: It’s a survival game right now. Building the company is absolutely not in the center of my attention because I simply don’t have the energy or time to do anything else than writing commissioned pieces, making sure what I’m sending to the clients is great work, dealing with bureaucratic obstacles, and doing some business development work.

The quality of your connections and the things you share with them, that’s what matters. Whether you share your thoughts, ideas, and what you’ve done or whether it’s someone else’s intellectual creations, as long as it adds value to your mutual connection, it’s worth sharing. That was one of my favorite epiphanies I had shared in my {Sunday Truth 11} email.

I cancelled Adobe Creative Suite, but then subscribed again. I cannot/don’t want to decouple from Adobe Audition and Adobe Premiere. I really enjoy working with them, although working with DaVinci Resolve has been a good experience as well, and I’m still in the process of getting warm with Reaper as a DAW.

We do live, already, in an edited world. From American film editor and sound designer Walter Murch, I learned that vision itself is cut up into pieces, and we neurologically knit it together so that it seems continuous. But the reality is, we’re dealing with fragmented images every moment of our waking life.

I wrote down my idea of a Perfect Day. Great exercise, as shared in my {Sunday Truth 15} email.

I’ve learned to work with no music in the background. As the music aficionado that I am this is still relatively novel to me, but, especially when doing agency copywriting work, I work in utter silence. It’s meditative and relaxing, and therefore expresses my growing and growing desire of living a monk-like lifestyle – I’ve been talking about this lifestyle now for 3-4 years or so.

I’m on my way to becoming independent of tech. My reminder on Basecamp tells me every Sunday: Don’t forget that you want to be able to do everything with your body – without technical devices. You can sing without tech, and you can write, too. Do it. This inclination or proclivity of mine manifests itself in my accompanying desire to draw by hand, e.g., via Circle Line Art School rub by Tom McPherson. I had bought one of Tom’s courses, and it’s great!

Overproduce, let yourself go, and assume you’re going to get rid of 95% of what you produce. This advice comes from Jordan Peterson as he explained the creative process when you’re starting out your creative endeavor --- as shared in my {Sunday Truth 23} email.

Experimentation over money. Inspired by an interview that Mikhaila Peterson did with Gymshark founder Ben Francis, and after a completed barefoot walk at 36 degrees Celsius (ca. 97 °F), I came up with these headlines that give a glimpse of my current convictions:

  1. Experimentation over money
  2. Creation over fame
  3. Process over success
  4. Curiosity over strategy
  5. Practicality over decoration

It’s the moments, not the scenes, that matter for me. This was the acting advice from actor Shaun Benson had shared in the Acting with Asha podcast, and I shared it in my {Sunday Truth 31} email. He said:

It’s the moments, not the scenes, that matter for me. So if you ask me about a style of acting: it’s moment to moment, and that’s where the range comes from.

That’s why…

You want to play the gay preacher? No problem.

You want to play the head of the biker gang? No problem.

You want to play the guy who’s charming, but kills women in his basement? No problem.

It takes work, and it costs.

But the moment to moment is why it’ll never actually matter what the role is because the moments are all human and translatable.

Then you add the costume of a big beard, dyed hair, or a shaved head; and all of a sudden you walk a little different, talk a little different, but it’s still just me and having a moment.

Queer divine dissatisfaction keeps us marching. On the same podcast episode, Shaun Benson also shared the following advice by Martha Graham to fellow dancer Agnes de Mille:

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there’s only one of you, in all of time, this expression is unique.

If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium, and it will be lost. The world will not have it.

It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable it is, or how valuable it is compared with other expressions.

It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly to keep the channel open.

You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work.

You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you.

Keep the channel open.

No artist is pleased.

There is no satisfaction, whatever, at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest, that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.

LIFE IS SUFFERING, as expressed by Jordan Peterson.

The shortest marketing plan I’ve EVER created. Do (the thing you prefer spending your time with). Write (down what you did). Share (what you wrote down what you did in easily digestible snippets). Go back to step 1, and do it again next week. This can work, and it goes hand in hand with what Ali Abdaal said, which were one of my favorite words this year: YouTube can change your life, but you have to put out a video every single week for the next two years.

3 tips for a nicer life. Care about what’s in your control only. Break a sweat every day incl. deep breathing. Jot down… “This is getting on my nerves right here and now” (if something bothers you), and “I am grateful/thankful for” (at least one thing). This can be a lot of writing, depending on your state of mind, which can be detrimental too because if you write too often and with not enough living in-between the words you put to paper, you run the risk of repeating yourself.

Genuine humor always has its basis and its substance in tragedy. That’s what Reinhard Schwabenitzky in the German Christoph Waltz documentary “The Allure of Evil” said. He continued by saying,

By playing on tragedy as a substance, you have to feel the tragedy to be genuinely funny.

Otherwise, it’s just slapstick or a comedy.

That’s it! As always, thanks for reading. Happy New Year!

The Annual Review Archives

This is a complete list of Annual Reviews I have written.

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