Shedding a Skin: 2020, A Year In Review
“We go through life. We shed our skins. We become ourselves.” — Patti Smith
Some people called 2020 a dumpster fire.
For others, it was an opportunity to shed a skin and begin a new chapter. This is my attempt to piece through this extra-ordinary year — to uncover the gems, reflect on the struggle, and highlight the peaks and valleys that defined my experience.
I won’t lie and say this was easy — in fact, I’d call my resistance to this process bordering on unbearable (I started feeling a little manic)— but after looking through every journal entry I wrote in 2020, all my notes, photos, and projects — I uncovered some learnings and lessons that felt too important not to share.
My hope is that these words encourage you to look back on your year with fresh eyes. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “No mud, no lotus.” We need to face the hard stuff to be present and available for what’s good in our lives.
So let’s dive into the mud, shall we?
“The call to the creative life is a call to dignity, to a life of vulnerability and adventure and the call to a life that exquisite excitement and indeed ecstasy will often visit.” — John O’Donohue
Lessons from 2020 🙏🏽
If it’s not a “hell yes”, it’s a no. Trust your gut.
Do fewer things, but do them well.
Channel your inner grandfather.
You can’t both fit in, and stand out, at the same time.
It’s easy to hide behind humility as an excuse to not take risks.
“Look good — feel good. Feel good — play good. Play good — get paid good.” — Khamall Jahi
Every day, ask yourself: “How can I make today the best day of my life?” and “How does it get any better than this?” — Yasmeen Turayhi
“If you don’t know where you are going, you will never get there.” — Yogi Berra
“You are already healed. Your mind just doesn’t know it yet.“ — Joel Decker
“A lot of times the person we are complaining about is actually our teacher.” — Jim Dethmer
“Sometimes you need to let yourself fall through the cracks to remember that the Earth will always be there to catch you.” — Joel Decker
“Your word is your wand. “ — Yasmeen Turayhi
“Breathe.” — Wim Hof
“The inhale is essential if you want to continue to exhale.” — Roshi Joan Halifax
“Stop walking through the world looking for confirmation that you don’t belong.” — Brené Brown
“No fact has ever caused you any suffering. The only thing that causes you suffering is your stories. And you make them all up.” — Jim Dethmer
“Our true home is the present moment. The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green Earth in the present moment.” — Tich Nhat Hahn
Daily quarantine questions (to keep me sane during the Covid-19 lockdown) ✨
What am I grateful for?
Who am I checking-in on or connecting with today?
What expectations of “normal” am I letting go of today?
How am I moving my body today?
What beauty am I cultivating or inviting in, or creating today?
Projects and Facilitation in 2020 🙋🏼♂️
Delivering my first TEDx talk 🎤
On January 11th, 2020, I delivered my first TEDx talk at TEDxSonomaCounty (in Santa Rosa close to where I grew up!). Here are a few lessons I learned:
- No one does this alone. I am deeply grateful for the people who helped me hone my message and crystalize my talk: My Mom, Denise Blanc, and friend Smiley Poswolsky were truly instrumental in this process. As were Nadia Chaney, Andrew Nalani, Marilyn Nagel, and so many others!
- “After you are mic’d up and about to get on stage, take some deep breaths and strike a warrior pose.” — Ashanti Branch.
- “Blast them open with your heart!” — Forest Stearns. This is not about acting, it’s about being authentic.
- Don’t be afraid to pause. Trust your voice. There is no need to fill space.
- “Before you begin, take a deep breath and look out at the crowd. This will connect you with everyone and help get you grounded. Make eye contact with one person you feel comfortable with and focus on them. Tell your stories to THAT person.” — Denise Blanc (My Mom)
- “Take your time getting off-stage. Acknowledge everyone. Give it a moment. Let people clap for you. Take it in.” — Forest Stearns
Shifting Late Nite Art® to virtual
“Everybody is the creative type .” — David Kelley
For the last 8 years, I’ve led creative workshops for teams around the globe, transforming the typical business gathering into an unforgettable and connective experience.
For Late Nite Art®, 2020 started off with a bang 💥. In January and February, we hosted live events in Philidelphia, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Phoenix, with plans to head to Cambridge, U.K., and São Paulo, Brazil later in the year. Business was booming.
But things came to a jarring halt in March when Covid-19 shut down the world. I watched in a state of disbelief as my full calendar of events slipped like sand through my fingertips, and I received email after email from my clients: “I’m sorry, but we are going to have to cancel.”
It got dark there for a minute. In March I became sick with a fever and went through a grieving period — “is my business going to survive this?” “Am I going to survive this!?”
But at its core, Late Nite Art has always held the spirit of experimentation.
During the lockdown, individuals and teams were experiencing loneliness, isolation, grief, disconnection, and overwhelm on an unprecedented level. With support from my friend and colleague Lotus Wong, we put together the first virtual Late Nite Art prototype “Creative Doorway,” as a way to heal, come together, and process the swirl of emotions we were all feeling. Before long, we were leading online workshops with organizations of all sizes and bending the capacity of Zoom to bring intimacy, creativity, connection, and cohesion to teams, conferences, and universities around the world.
Here are a few highlights for Late Nite Art in 2020:
- We facilitated 31 experiences (8 in-person, and 23 virtual)
- We pivoted the business from leading face-to-face events to 100% virtual (until we can come back together in person!)
- We designed a new website with a fantastic designer: Lala Openi and creative copywriter Corey Rosenberg
- I joined the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) Accelerator, a rigorous business development program that will help launch Late Nite Art to the next level (and reach $1 Million in revenue).
- We had the opportunity to work alongside amazing clients this year — many of whom, have become friends. Our 2020 clients: Adobe, Clif Bar, Twilio, Verizon Media, Kaiser Permanente, Asana, Genentech, Google, Girls in Tech, Gainsight, Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau, FinancialForce, Affinity, Common Future, Beneficial State Foundation, and LaunchDarkly
“Late Nite Art recently brought joy, movement, and connection to our globally distributed team. During these unprecedented times, with teammates working from home, it can be a challenge to cultivate a sense of community, but they created a warm, welcoming virtual space for us. It was 100 minutes of pure magic!— Bailey Sharrocks, Program Manager & Organizer of Adobe Design Summit, Adobe
Illuminated Notes 🖌
“Show up and do good work.” — Forest Stearns
2020 was an exciting year for Illuminated Notes, a project I created with my dear friend and illustration mentor Forest Stearns. Illuminated Notes capture the spirit of keynote speakers, leaders, and their teams through beautiful illustrations.
I’ve been drawing portraits of people since I was a kid at the dinner table. Part of the fun is the reaction I get when people see themselves illustrated on the page. Sometimes it’s surprising laughter or self-criticism, but other times it looks like genuine disbelief or tears from feeling “seen.” It’s a natural pattern interrupt and has a way of shaking people awake.
Here are a few highlights from Illuminated Notes in 2020:
- Verizon Media hired Forest and me to illustrate portraits of 33 leaders from the Spark Multicultural Leadership Program as a gift for each leader as they closed out their 1-year leadership journey (check out a few of the pieces below).
- Forest and I taught “Bring Your Notes to Life with Illuminated Notes,” as a virtual class for the students at Santa Barbara Visual Arts and Design Academy.
- I led a “Bring Your Notes to Life” workshop for the employees at Verizon Media.
- I was delighted to see some of my close friends and clients begin using the Illuminated Notes method in their notetaking :)
Illuminated Sounds 🎶
Music plays a huge role in my life. As a music consultant, I use soundtracks to transform stale and traditional environments into more creative, lively, and playful spaces. I’ve been creating playlists since I was 12 years old and it continues to be somewhat of an obsession for me.
My Top Spotify Playlists of 2020:
Click each link to listen 🎧
Adam’s Top 20 of 2020 🚀
H E A R T 💓
H E A D 🗣️
H A N D S 🙏🏽
Scaling Intimacy ⚡️
The Scaling Intimacy School of Experience Design
“Go slow to move fast.” — Jenny Sauer-Klein
This year I officially joined The Scaling Intimacy School of Experience Design team as a Senior Facilitator. It’s been an amazing learning journey working alongside Jenny Sauer-Klein, Julia Winston, and Joanna Miller, all of whom are close friends and fabulous facilitators.
During this age of Zoom fatigue, isolation, and burnout, the work we are doing feels incredibly important. We train leaders from around the world to deliver life-changing programs that transform how we gather and learn both online and in-person. As Jenny heads out on maternity leave in March, Julia, Joanna, and I will be taking the reigns on Scaling Intimacy’s programming in 2021.
Peaks and Valleys of 2020 ⛰
Boom 2020 🥁
It started as an idea in Jenny’s living room. We were jamming on a loop pedal, singing our hearts out, and remembering how damn healing it feels to sing and play music without an end-goal in mind. We thought, “let’s get some of our wildest, music-loving, improvisational friends together to jam in the woods for a few days!” Boom 2020 was born.
On Jan 3–6, we kicked off the year with a rambunctious weekend of spontaneous music-making and unbridled play. This retreat was a good reminder for all of us that singing and making music is restorative, inspiring, and healing for the soul!
Officiating Eli and Jannah’s wedding on the beach in Koh Samui, Thailand 🇹🇭
When Eli and Jannah asked me to officiate their wedding, I was deeply honored. Who would have known that their wedding would take place just weeks before the whole world shut down?
One memorable highlight: after the surreal moment when Eli and Jannah both said “I do,” and ceremonially stomped on the wine glass, I asked everyone in the audience to get into two parallel lines and hold hands with the person across from them. The bride and groom then walked with a state of child-like wonder through the “love tunnel” as their closest friends and family reached out lovingly to touch them and whisper wishes and dreams for the newlyweds. The moment was unforgettable (photo below).
I have to give Priya Parker, author of The Art of Gathering, a shoutout here for inspiring me to create a truly unique and interactive wedding ceremony.
Traveling solo through Penang, Malaysia 🇲🇾
After the wedding, I traveled solo for 3 weeks in Thailand and Malaysia. My friend Azalina Eusope encouraged me to visit her brother Daus in her hometown of Georgetown, Penang. Daus, his wife Tina, and their three adorable daughters Arissa, Amanda, and Damia treated me like family. They called me “brother” and taught me about Mamak culture and cuisine. The term ‘Mamak’ is widely used to describe Indian Muslims and is at the confluence of Indian and Malay cultures.
I was deeply inspired by the playful and affectionate way their family interacted and it brought up beautiful visions of how I would like my future family to feel 💕.
Self-quarantine, and living alone during the pandemic
“I’m finding a small boat to carry me across the river of my anxiety. But that river is drying up and I am coming across to the other side.” — My journal
What I forgive myself for during quarantine:
- I forgive myself for getting moody.
- I forgive myself for not eating “on time” and turning into a monster.
- I forgive myself for spending too much time on screens.
- I forgive myself for being hard on myself.
- I forgive myself for the times I felt lazy, scattered, unproductive, and lost.
- I forgive myself for sometimes playing a victim.
#BlackLivesMatter and the global fight against racism
On May 25th, 2020, the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer triggered worldwide protests against police brutality, police racism, and the lack of police accountability. Upon watching the video of Floyd’s murder, I felt angry, ashamed, and horrified at the blatant dehumanization and open display of racist violence against my black brothers and sisters.
George Floyd’s friends called him “Big Floyd.” They said he loved Latin music and would dance badly to make people laugh. He had a quiet personality with a beautiful spirit and he loved to receive hugs from his regular customers. He was 46-years-old, a father, and he loved his city.
The journey of the fish man 🐠 and bull woman 🐂
“That’s what a man is, yaar. A man is truly a man when he wins the love of a good woman, earns her respect, and keeps her trust.” — Vikram (from the book Shantaram)
Our first date was April 11th, 2020. The rest is history :)
The biggest gift of 2020 was finding my life partner, best friend, and adventure companion. Despite the circumstances of this insane year, we lived it up!
A few of our magical adventures this year:
- Mount Shasta
- Sonoma County
- Livingston and Bozeman, Montana
- San Luis Obispo
- Tulum, Mexico
- Sedona, Arizona
- San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Friends and collaborators this year
“It’s not the quantity of friends but the quality of a few relationships that actually matters.” — Brené Brown
Teachers I studied with in 2020
“When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”
- Yasmeen Turayhi — Love, Spirituality, and Partnership
- Denise Blanc — Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and Life
- Jenny Sauer-Klein — Experience Design and Facilitation
- Sara Karritt — Afrobeats dance
- Joel Decker — Therapy and Somatic Experiencing (SE)
- Kate Shela — 360 Emergence Dance
- Nicole Boyar — Coaching
- Nick Baker — Coaching
- Paulo Rebello — Therapy and the Enneagram
- Bardia Hariri — Financial Planning and Life
- Kamaljit Bains — Bookkeeping and Life
- Sarah Tulin — Human Design
Growth and Learning
Books that changed my life this year
- Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood — Trevor Noah
- 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week— Tiffany Shlain
- Creative Quest — Questlove
- Shantaram — Gregory David Roberts
- The Beastie Boys Book — Michael Diamond (MCA) and Adam Horovitz (Adrock)
- The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck — Mark Manson
- Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear — Elizabeth Gilbert
- Understanding Women: Unlock the Mystery — Alison Armstrong
- The Amazing Development of Men: Every Man’s Journey from Knight to Prince to King— Alison Armstrong
- Like Brothers — Mark Duplass and Jay Duplass
- White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism — Robin DeAngelo
- Tattoos On the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion — Father Gregory Boyle
- When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times— Pema Chodron
- Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: And It’s All Small Stuff — Richard Carleson
- Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff in Love: Simple Ways to Nurture and Strengthen Your Relationships— Richard Carlson and Kristine Carlson
It’s been an intense year. Covid-19. California on fire. Economic despair. Worldwide protests for racial justice. The election. And it just goes on.
But like Leonard Cohen says, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Sometimes it’s only the places we are broken where we are able to find the light. No mud, no lotus 🌸.
“When day comes, we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid.
The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.” — Amanda Gorman