January 1, 2021

2020 Year in Review


I can’t believe this year is over. We’ve lived through history, haven’t we?

Honestly, I wondered if I should even write an annual review this year. As an optimist I’m naturally inclined to focus on the bright spots in an otherwise shitty 2020, and it feels insensitive to talk about the things that made me happy when so many are still suffering. But these posts are an important time capsule for me and as much as we’d all collectively like to forget this year ever happened; it did. And we made it through. 

Here’s a look back at how 2020 changed me and my life, and the things that got me through it.

A year of two parts

January and February, when things were “normal” for me, feel like a lifetime ago now. 

My partner Mark and I kicked off the year with a trip to New Zealand to spend some time with my family in the Kiwi summer. Six blissful weeks working remotely, swimming in lakes, going on hikes, learning to paddle board and driving through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. 

I then went on to California for the biannual ConvertKit company retreat followed by my 31st birthday weekend spent in Palm Springs with some wonderful friends.

I had no idea when I returned to Spain at the end of February that that’s where I'd be for the rest of the year.

I remember back in March the first thing I would do in the morning was check the case count on the WHO site and read the news, trying to make a decision about cancelling a trip to Vegas at the end of the month. Was it all sensationalist journalism? Was simply washing hands thoroughly enough? Would I regret overreacting if I cancelled? 

Very quickly (to my relief) the decision was made for me: Spain went into a State of Alarm with a strict lockdown. Flights were cancelled and we were confined to our homes. No leaving the house except to purchase essentials. We weren’t even allowed out to exercise until May. 

Having moved into a sunny 3-bedroom apartment with a large terrace the year before, there were certainly worse places to be stuck inside. But with travel being such a huge part of how I live my life normally, it was tough to cancel trip after trip that I had planned for 2020 as the reality sank in that I would be staying put for the foreseeable future.

I spent the year figuring out who I am without travel and adventure, and learning to appreciate a slower pace of life; one where you can’t make any plans because the future was so up-in-the-air.

I also spent the year on a mental health rollercoaster where sometimes the ever-repeating days at home felt utterly helpless “why even bother doing anything”, and at other times the margin of having no other plans inspired me to create. 

Pandemic projects

Having projects to put my focus on definitely helped me this year, especially in the weeks when I was trapped inside my house unable to even go for a walk to clear my head. 

The first thing I poured my energy into was finally finishing the font I’d started designing a few years earlier. Every weekend I sat outside on our terrace sculpting vectors with my iPad and working through Teela Cunningham’s font design course. I launched Grayscale in May and was thrilled when people actually purchased it! My first digital product.

Get your own copy of Grayscale at charlimarie.store

I’ve loved seeing people share screenshots on Twitter of Grayscale in use in annotations on their designs. Shout out to Teddy who coined the term “grayscaling” to describe it.

I also took action on an idea for an interview series and launched a new long form video & audio show called Inside Marketing Design in July. 

In case you missed it, it’s a show that gives you and inside look at how marketing design functions within tech companies. This series was a lot of work, but it gave me an excuse to get on calls with designers around the world, and that made life a little less lonely. I’m super proud of the quality of the content, and although it perhaps hasn’t found a solid audience yet (it is a very niche topic after all) I’m definitely going to be producing season two in 2021.

New hobbies & habits

As well as new side hustle projects, I picked up a few new hobbies to pass the time and keep me sane in 2020 too. 

I started Spanish lessons in March, and actually got to have one class in person before the lockdown happened. Since then I’ve spent my Monday and Wednesday evenings on Zoom learning the official language of the country I live in. I love to learn and although I haven’t had much opportunity to practice it yet, improving my Spanish has definitely made me feel more settled and confident in my life here (even though I still never understand my neighbour when I see her in the hallway.... one day!).

One of my greatest loves of 2020 though was Animal Crossing New Horizons. 

Just chilling on my island, Elsewhere

This mood-boosting game was released just as the lockdown hit in Spain and it very quickly became my coping mechanism. Since March I’ve spent over 165 hours on my digital island fishing, crafting, designing and losing time. Is it healthy to spend so many hours looking at a screen in my downtime when I look at a screen constantly for work? No. But these days I’ll take my serotonin wherever I can get it.

Another thing Animal Crossing gave me was a whole new crowd of content creators to watch. I started watching Irish YouTuber Jacksepticeye build out his Animal Crossing island, then watched him play many other games as the year went on including my latest obsession: Among Us, where I found a whole raft of other streamers to enjoy like Valkyrae, Corpse & Sykkuno.

Part of me feels a little silly writing about gamers & streamers as part of my year-in-review, but 2020 has reminded me just how important creators are. Living in a city where I don’t know many people and where pandemic rules have been quite the hindrance when it comes to making new friends I’ve really appreciated being able to pop on a stream for some laughs and company in the day. I feel like I never truly appreciated the value of content for pure entertainment, rather than for education or self-development, until this year.

I even started my own Twitch channel a couple of months ago because I’ve been loving the format and the newfound freedom of realising that not every single thing I make has to be incredibly educational to be valuable. I’m putting this in the hobbies rather than side projects section because that’s what I’m treating it as.

Follow me on Twitch!

In case you’re starting to worry that all of my new hobbies are sounding slightly unhealthy, let me tell you that I also got into a great habit of working out this year. Having never managed to stick with regular workouts before I’ve built a habit of doing a workout almost every week day; whether it’s a walk or run in the park (once we were allowed out again), a yoga session, or a Barre 3 strength class. There were many times I slipped off the workout wagon, but unlike times in the past where it felt impossible to get back into it, I’ve been able to shake off the dust and get back to it pretty quickly this year. Maybe it’s because there hasn't been much else to do! But either way, I’m proud to have done so.

Career progression

This year I’ve been so grateful to work for a company that has not only weathered the COVID storm and is still profitable, but has given every employee so much grace and kindness in this difficult year. ConvertKit were quick to implement leave policies that allowed us to take extra mental health days when the pandemic was getting to us, and for those with families to deal with the lack of childcare options when the world closed down. 

I was promoted this year to Creative Director and now lead a team of three (soon to be four) which is something I didn’t see coming at the start of the year. This new role has been challenging, but is exactly what I needed to keep being pushed in my career. 

While I designed a lot of things this year, honestly my favorite project is one I didn’t push any pixels for: our new brand campaign.

I was put in charge of this before I was even promoted, and led the relationship with an agency to have two stunning new brand videos produced. I wrote more about that experience over on the ConvertKit blog if you’re interested. I’m so honoured to have been trusted with this by our leadership team, and I’m looking forward to tackling more big projects in 2021.

Life ups and downs

2020 saw me gain a family member, and sadly lose another.

In June, my sister gave birth to a baby boy: my nephew Finn. 

I’m so incredibly proud of her for the strength she showed in getting through her third trimester in lockdown in NZ, and giving birth while restrictions were still in place. And while I'm sad I haven’t gotten to meet him in person yet, every FaceTime call or photo in an iMessage of his adorable little face brings me such joy. I’m so excited to be the “cool aunt” who can show him the world and help him to achieve his dreams one day.

Visiting Grandpa with my glamourous cousin, Holly

Then not long after Finn was born, my Grandpa passed away. He had had health issues for a while and had lived a wonderful long life. I’ll forever be grateful that on my last day in New Zealand in February Mark and I rented a car and drove to visit him and bring him a cream donut (his favorite). Visiting NZ won’t be the same without getting to see him.

Speaking of NZ, I feel so lucky that my family has fared so well during the pandemic. While they can’t easily leave the country, they’re getting to live fairly normal lives there (and I'm only a little jealous of that...). I’m also lucky to have such a wonderful partner who has helped me get through 2020. While this year has been lonely at times, it’s helped to have my best friend a mere few meters away at all times. 😅 

Aside from losing my Grandpa, mental health ups & downs, loneliness and a general sense of despair for the world were the only hardships I had to face in 2020. I haven’t gotten sick. I have food in the fridge. I have a steady income. I have a roof over my head. And in a year when so many have lost these things I’m appreciating them more than ever.

Looking ahead

Every year as well as writing this post I like to work my way through Shawn Blanc’s Plan your Year workbook. This year I know not to get to attached to any specific when’s and where’s (2020 has taught me that I’m more adaptable than I ever thought I could be), but there are projects I want to complete: like the second season of IMD, and perhaps even a second font. 

To add on to my exercise habit, I need to form a good writing habit in 2021. I want to write every day, even if it’s just a sentence or two. Hopefully that will mean more posts on this blog, and more progress on my book. 

Thanks for reading this far. If you’re reading this, it means you made it through 2020 too. And I hope you’re proud of that.

Remember, while 2020 may be over the pandemic is sadly far from it. Stay safe everyone. Wear your masks, stay home as much as possible, and we will get through this.