My 2022 Yearly Theme: The Year of Retreat
In 2021, there was a lot of good, but there was also a lot of stress. In fact, there was a lot of everything. Seems like a year or less would do me good. But not really less of everything. I need to do less of something specific — over-commitment. So I’ve come up with The Year of Retreat.
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Joe Casabona: In college, I had a friend named Mark. And whenever I asked Mark how he was doing, he’d say, “I’ve never had a bad day in my life.” He said it even if there were bad moments in his day. He wouldn’t let that ruin the entire day. And I know this was back in the before time and a lot has changed since then but the point of view has stuck with me ever since.
And looking back on my 2021 and trying to figure out what I want to focus on for my yearly theme in 2022, I kept that mindset in mind. And so in today’s episode, I am going to tell you all about my 2022 yearly theme: The year of retreat. We’ll also grade my 2021 yearly theme: The year of opportunity.
And if you’re part of the Creator Crew, I’ll give you real numbers for my goals and some specifics on how I am going to implement the yearly theme. So we’ll cover all of that. You can find the show notes over at howibuilt.it/248. But first, let’s get to the intro.
Intro: Hey everybody, and welcome to How I Built It, the podcast that helps small business owners create engaging content that drives sales. Each week I talk about how you can build good content faster to increase revenue and establish yourself as an authority. I’m your host Joe Casabona. Now let’s get to it.
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Joe Casabona: Hey, everybody, we’re kicking off 2022 with just me. We’ll have some great interviews coming up for the next few weeks. I’m actually really excited about the people that I got to interview.
As I said at the end of 2021, this year 2022 is going to focus on content creators. I’m sure you’ve heard it in the new intro with the new bed music and the new format, which I’m really excited about. It’s been a while since things have changed around here.
And speaking of changes, my yearly theme is something that will hopefully help bring about some changes as my year of opportunity did. I’ll talk about that in a minute. But first two housekeeping notes. If you need a refresher on yearly themes, there’ll be a link in the show notes over at howibuilt.it/248, which will take you to my 2020 yearly theme where I explain what yearly themes are.
And if you’d rather read this, you can go to Casabona.org/2022-yearly-theme. That will also be in the show notes over at howibuilt.it/248. It should also be in your podcast app of choice, so you can just look there.
So in the cold open, I told a story about my friend Mark. Again, I know this was back in the before time, before COVID and pandemic time. This is in 2009. I was getting my master’s degree. Mark was I think a senior. Maybe he was a junior and graduating 2010. But I always appreciated that answer. Again, it stuck with me ever since don’t let one point in a 24 hour period ruin all 24 hours.
And at the end of 2021, in December, I saw a lot of people talk about how terrible 2021 was for them. I generally don’t like to look at full years as terrible even if there were several terrible moments.
Looking back at my journal, it would be easy to think that my whole year was terrible. At the end of each day, I’d write down how I was feeling. And the word “stressed” came up more than any other word. I should say at a glance. I didn’t actually run the numbers but the word “stressed” stood out a lot to me in that little feeling section.
And several times, not overwhelmingly, but several times positive feelings were preceded with the word “actually,” as if I were surprised to be happy for a moment. And that’s not true I can assure you. 2021 was full of great moments. I got to watch my kids grow. My son walks around and moves and almost talks now. I spent really good time with my family.
And I feel even though it was very stressful having my kids home for the first half of the year or more without a babysitter, that was bonus time. And when I sent my daughter to school for the first time this year in September, or last year in September, I thought about that bonus time—how my time with her is now shifting from at home all the time to at school most of the time.
And maybe it was just easier for me to capture the negative feelings for some reason. Maybe it’s because the really good days were spent at my desk where I usually keep my journal.
But as I considered my yearly theme for 2022, in addition to reviewing my journals, which was this was the first time I did that, in addition to reviewing my journals for the past year, I did another exercise. I wrote down what I felt worst about in 2021. And here’s the list.
Again, if you look at the blog post, you’ll actually see a picture of my notebook where I wrote this down. And I wrote down six things. Too much stress. Too much work. Too much phone time. Too much spending. Too much sadness. And too much wasted time. Too much stress, work, phone time, spending, sadness, and wasted time.
It seems like a year of less would do me good, but not really less of everything. After all, 2022 is the year of more kids for me, as my youngest is I record this as is due in a few days. I need to do less of some specific thing. And that’s over-commitment. So I’ve come up with the year of retreat for 2022.
As is customary with these episodes, though, before getting into the details of this year’s theme, let’s see how I did with my 2021 theme.
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Joe Casabona: So let’s look at grading the year of opportunity. Overall, I think I did pretty well. I said yes to more of the right things and I said no to some other things. And I made some big changes in my life.
The first big payoff for the year of opportunity was the free $400 headphones that I got from Wix for not ignoring them when they slid into my Twitter DMs. And maybe the fact that I was the recipient of such nice headphones made my opinion about the whole Wix vs WordPress situation different. I’ll link to that post in the show notes as well.
But I’m counting this as my first year of opportunity to win. Because while they reached out in late December, it was the first major year of opportunity decision I made. I had decided what my yearly theme would be, they DM’d me on Twitter, and I thought, “Well, here’s my first test of the year of opportunity.” And it paid off.
I also implemented a better process for guest pitches for my podcast. Usually, when someone just cold pitches me, I would say no outright to them. But in 2021, I created a simple form with some leading questions so they knew what kind of guests I was looking for. Then I’m easily able to send responses to those applications.
As a result, I’ve had some fantastic interviews I otherwise wouldn’t have had because I was getting a canned pitch, people didn’t know what the show was about. And I was able to efficiently, again efficiently, respond to these folks.
If it was clear that they didn’t read the instructions, they just copy and pasted a cold pitch, they automatically got rejected. But if they actually answered the questions, then I would consider and even have some folks on
In fact, this season, I have a fella named RT Custer coming on the show. Another guy later in the year Brian Bristol is one of the most interesting conversations that I’ve had in a while. These both came from cold outreaches. So taking the opportunity to be open to cold outreach when it’s done right has served me well.
The biggest payoff of the year of opportunity, this is going to sound weird, but it was getting Type 2 diabetes. Anyone whom I’ve hung out with or shared a meal with since May of 2021 will know I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. And while it was a shock, though, it shouldn’t have been, I used as an opportunity to make real changes.
I’m not a guy who posts about his physical or mental health on social media. I don’t get pleasure from that. I don’t think it’s something… it’s genuinely a private matter to me. But this is relevant to the year of opportunity. I could have just said, “Load me up with medicine I’m not going to stop eating my cake or whatever,” but I used it as an opportunity to make real change.
And as a result, I’ve lost nearly 40 pounds, I sleep a lot better provided my children sleep better or sleep well, and I feel healthier. I had blood work done in December, five months after my diagnosis, and my blood sugar was back to normal range. My doctor even cut my medication in half and was so excited that he asked me what I did.
And for those who are curious about the numbers, who know the numbers, my A1C was 11.9 in May. Normal is around 5.7. So I was double what should be. My average blood sugar was 360 when it should be closer to 100. So things looked very bad.
In December though, my A1C was 5.3, which is great. And my average blood sugar was 105. When I asked my doctor why he was so surprised, he said usually you don’t see a change that big over the course of a few months without dramatic changes, lifestyle changes. He was expecting my A1C to be 8, maybe 7. And so he was very impressed. And I believe that the year of opportunity had a lot to do with that.
As a side note, it’s also the first time a doctor has ever said “amazing job” to me, so that felt really good too. So that was strangely the biggest payoff. And I’m not doing that to make light of diabetes. I know lots of people with Type 1 diabetes, and it’s a real problem. But Type 2 diabetes is not only manageable, it could be reversible if you do the right things. And I did the right things and will continue to do the right things.
So part of the year of opportunity was saying no to things that I didn’t think would be a good fit for my overall goals. And the biggest no for me this year was saying no to a really good job offer. You know those jobs where you think you’d be perfect for the role and the job would be perfect for you, that job that you would kill to get, that you would pray your application is accepted, and that you would pray that you crush the interview, I got one of those job offers around September without having to apply or interview. I was told the job was mine if I wanted it.
The only problem was I’ve spent all year making moves in my business, getting it to a place where I’m poised to do very well in 2022. And I felt like the four-plus years of work I’ve put in are about to pay off. I wasn’t ready to put my business on the side.
So this was a situation where the year of opportunity guided me to be open but ultimately choose a different path. And my wife and a couple of my close friends know how much I labored over this decision. For a while I wondered if it was the right decision to make. I had buyer’s remorse a little bit when the door closed. But I’m optimistic going into 2022.
My biggest opportunity for change, again, you might think that my diabetes diagnosis is that but I wanted to take care of my mental health too. And so the biggest opportunity to change was actually through therapy. For about seven months in 2021, I signed up for BetterHelp.
Therapy was something that I suspect became destigmatized in 2020. But I always viewed therapy as something I didn’t need. Like I would just muscle through the emotional angst. That it was more of a mindset and it was mind over matter.
Then one day towards the end 2020 while I was watching my kids, I had the closest thing I’ve ever had to a panic attack. Or at least I thought I did. I don’t actually know what a panic attack feels like but I started shaking, I got very stressed and anxious. And I had to sit down.
My daughter, who was three and a half at the time, brought me water, and a blanket. I was simultaneously touched in how thoughtful and empathetic this three-and-a-half-year-old girl was. But I was immediately sad and angry with myself that my child felt like she had to take care of me. That’s not fair. So I got help.
And from late December, early January, through the end of June I spoke weakly to a therapist who specialized in helping parents with small children. She reminded me that these were strange times and that this stress was likely temporary.
That even though as a parent you should feel like you should be with your kids all the time, no one is supposed to spend every waking hour with their child, whether it’s going out for a few hours without them while somebody else watches them, or sending them off to school or daycare. But for much of 2020 and a large portion of 2021 before we got a babysitter, we didn’t have any of that.
So I took the opportunity to get the help I needed. And I was tested pretty immediately after therapy sessions ended at the end of June. In my last session, I told my therapist that in the last week or so I found out I had diabetes and that we were having a third child much sooner than we were planning. In fact, my son still wasn’t sleeping through the night. And so I thought how in the world are we going to handle a third when I don’t feel like I can handle two.
Again, she reminded me and I knew that the immense stress was temporary. But having someone to talk to to get out of my own head was so important during that time. I’m glad that I took that opportunity to do something out of my comfort zone. That was one of the big goals of the year of opportunity. So, all in all, it was successful.
The biggest failed aspect was less screen time. I was on my phone too much, way too much. Like my daughter would hide it from me sometimes so that I wouldn’t be looking at my phone while we were playing. And I was totally okay with that. And I appreciate that she did that. So, less screen time was a big failure. But I have a better plan for 2022.
Overall, I’m going to give myself an A-minus. I made some pretty huge changes in 2021. Thanks to my yearly theme. I changed my thinking, I expanded my network, and I am physically and emotionally healthier. But there are some places I need to improve now that I’ve given myself lots of opportunities. And that’s where the year of retreat comes in.
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Joe Casabona: The idea of the year of retreat came to me while I was reading “The Authority Code” by Rochelle Moulton, who is the first guest on this podcast. She’ll be Episode 249. She said in her book, “If you’re happiest teaching a roomful of real estate agents how to sell, wouldn’t you outsource everything else you possibly could?” The idea being this: only do the things in your business that make you the happiest and in turn, the things that build your authority and make you money.
Last year over on Podcast Liftoff, I wrote about how mowing the lawn costs you money as a small business owner, which is a similar idea. And so this idea of spending your time wisely serves as the thesis for my yearly theme. The year of retreat is two-pronged, one prong for each meaning of the word retreat.
First, retreat like withdraw. I want to move away from the things I don’t want to do and where I spend my time unwisely. And number two, retreat like secluded place. I want to make more time for solitude, deep thinking, and growth.
And to accomplish this, I plan to focus on a few areas. The first is time management. Time management will be the biggest area of improvement and the key to making the entire year of retreat a success. I need to delegate more, cut out work I don’t want to do, charge more for the work I want to do, and create a clear schedule.
Granted that should be easier in 2022 with the kids in daycare. But with the third being here and us not really wanting to send him or her to daycare for a while, we’ll see what happens. But I’m armed with this goal now.
There are also some tangible goals associated with these actions I need to take. I want to coach more speakers, authors, and educators with respect to podcasting. I want to get rid of most of my legacy web development support and design work. This is not making a lot of money for me and it’s increasingly where I don’t want to spend my time.
And I want to automate more income by making my Done For You Podcasting service subscription-based and improve my email funnel to convert more members. Speaking of I do share actual numbers in the members-only version of this podcast, which you can sign up for over at howibuilt.it/249. There’s also be a link in your podcast player. So become a member of the Creator Crew to hear this and every episode of the podcast ad-free and extended.
I’m also going to focus on giving myself more space for thinking. Something I said to my wife before Christmas was that I don’t feel like I have any margin. I didn’t have the headroom I thought I needed to focus on instead of in the business.
And so to combat that, I’m going to have at least one hour of focused me time each workday. This will be time blocked on my calendar. So it will be in one of the eight hours I have designated to work. People will not be able to grab that time on my calendar. I also want to spend more time in front of my giant whiteboard, a retreat from screens, if you will, to do more big picture thinking.
I did this in the last two weeks of 2021 and it was a delight. I’d put on my headphones, I’d listen to some music, and I would just draw on the whiteboard, my phone being in a different room. And I would just have the space, the big blank, open canvas to think.
I also want to have one think weekend per quarter where I take 36 to 48 hours to have time to myself away from computers and read and write. This is modeled off of Bill Gates Think Week’s. And this one might be a little bit of a challenge especially with the newborn in the house for the first quarter. But I think we can make it work even if I don’t go someplace but if I have that time dedicated and I spend it in my shed.
So putting myself in a situation where I’m not going to be checking my phone will allow me to work or read or think distraction-free for a bit. It’ll give me that margin I feel I need.
Adding in that margin to clear my head combined with working on the right projects should also make me less distracted when I’m with my kids. I won’t be thinking about work in the spaces between doing the grunt work. And that means less screen time there, too.
I also plan on leaning into focus modes more than I already do. I have a bunch, but you can have up to 20. And I want 20. This is something I’ll likely cover for Creator Crew members.
Finally, I want to retreat from old strategies. There are a couple of things I’ve been doing for a long time and continued to do into 2021 that I thought were more opportunistic but ended up creating more stress. So I’m going to retreat from them as well.
One is the sheer volume of content I put out. At one point, I was doing two to three podcast episodes, plus two YouTube videos, plus a blog post, plus a live stream per week. That is a lot of content to shove into five days. It’s too much, and the quality suffered.
So instead, I’ll focus on creating quality content, not a large quantity of content. And I’ll still be consistent. This is something I preach. You need to be consistent. But it will be better less frequent content. It will still be on a normal schedule but it will be the kind of content I should be creating, and not content that just checks a box.
The second goal is to create and launch at least one cohort-based course. This is something that Wes Kao will come on the show to talk about in a few weeks. I still want to create courses. But the way I generally create them is the way everybody seems to be creating them.
Go in a hole for six months, create the course put all of this time and effort into it, and then hope it sells. But cohort-based courses align more with my goals. Less content upfront, more quality for the students, and the ability to charge more, because I’m teaching it in real-time.
Finally, I want to find communities outside of the WordPress space to participate in. Podcast author, speaker, and educator communities. The strategy I’ve relied on here is leaning into my WordPress connections to move into other spaces.
Really, what I need to do is to move into other spaces and maybe be a WordPress expert there. But with my focus outside of the WordPress space, I need to get in front of the biggest benefactors of my services. And frankly, I’m not going to do that inside the WordPress space for a number of reasons. And this is really a whole other blog post I could write. And I’m not going to.
Ultimately, I think the “I’m leaving the WordPress space” posts are never really entirely true and mostly self-serving. I don’t think that any good would come from me writing a blog post saying I’m leaving the WordPress space when I’m not. But I am going to cut back on my time there and look for better fitting clients and better fitting customers.
So wrapping up, having specific numbers in mind is generally antithetical to yearly themes, if you listen to the creators of the yearly theme, CGP Grey and Myke Hurley. But I do run a business. So I do have some numbers in mind. And as I said, members of the Creator Crew can hear what they are. But I’m optimistic.
With being a family of five in 2022, more, that is more focused work, more income, more time with less, that is less stress, unnecessary obligations, and spending is exactly what I need from my year of retreat.
Thanks so much for listening. I want to hear from you. Are you thinking about a yearly theme? Do you have goals for 2022? Let me know. Reach out on Twitter. Say hello. I’m at JCasabona. Or you can fill out the contact form over at howibuilt.it/248.
I want to thank this week’s sponsors Ahrefs, TextExpander, and Nexcess. And I want to thank all the members of the Creator Crew. Again to find out about any and all of that and to get all the show notes, you can head over to howibuilt.it/248. Thanks for listening. And until next time, get out there and build something.
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