Dandy Cat

Dandy Cat

My Year of Understanding

i.

Last year, I tried my hand at the Theme System. It was conceived by CGP Grey of YouTube fame and Myke Hurley of Relay FM fame. I first heard about it while listening to their Cortex podcast. The goal is to throw off the high-pressure, low-results shackles of annual resolutions and instead embrace, as they say, “an idea of how we would like to approach each year or season.”

I think it can be a stellar system if it’s done the right way. In fact, it’s quite hard to do the wrong way, which is nice. Instead of deciding on a single make-or-break goal to complete before the end of the year, you give yourself a guiding principle, or theme, to live by throughout the year. There are no other objectives than to do right by yourself, however that means to you.

Want to live a year of less? Then feel good about cleaning out your closet, buying fewer things, or decreasing the amount of stress you have in your life.

Think a year of gratitude is more up your alley? Be mindful of the things you appreciate and the people in your life.

Or maybe it’s even something like a year of elevation. Raise the needy people around you, or heck, climb a few mountains.

Whatever the case may be, try to adhere to these suggestions:

  • Make it meaningful and personal.
  • Keep it open-ended—you shouldn’t have a year of only learning a new language.
  • Keep track of your progress, however you’d like to do that.
  • Use your tracked progress to encourage you through the tough times.

ii.

I tried to live a Year of Growth in 2020. When I came up with the idea, I had my business in mind. I wanted to grow Dandy Cat, garner some attention, and start earning some money. In this way, I did not succeed at living a growth year. The business stagnated,1 and I didn’t grow its audience any larger than it already had been. That was a real disappointment.

It’s taken me a while to understand that a lack of growth in my business doesn’t mean I didn’t live a year of growth. That’s sort of the beautiful thing about the Theme System. It can be vague. Maybe not too vague—there should be some measurable success—but pretty vague. My then-fiancée/now-wife and I moved in together. I learned a lot about my country’s government.2 I started podcasting with a great friend of mine. If that’s not growth, then I don’t know what is.

Getting over the feeling that I didn’t live up to my hopes for the year is a hard thing to accomplish, though. I did a lot of great stuff, but I didn’t achieve what I was hoping for. Did I fail, though? Ultimately, no, I don’t think so—I did a lot of growing!

Maybe I can consider coming to that realization a moment of growth. Hey, extra theme points coming in out of nowhere. Score!

I’m planning on making this year a different story.

iii.

2021 is my Year of Understanding.

Last year was rough on just about everybody. I wish it could have been a lot better, but that just wasn’t in the cards for us. Instead, we’ve gotten a rampaging virus, shaky governments, and insane unemployment rates. We’ve all had to face many tough truths about the world and the people in it. It was a banner year for getting smacked in the face by the cold, indifferent hand of the universe.

2020 also gave us all the opportunity for self-reflection, and I hope you took the time to ask yourself some tough questions. Reflecting on the answers you give can allow you to learn more about yourself.

I tried to take advantage of that tumultuous year to ask myself a few questions. These have been on my mind because they’re the most important ones I need to answer at this point of my life. They’re also damn tough to crack, but I’m going to give them a go. I want to answer those questions because I want to gain a greater understanding of the world and my place in it.

To feel accomplished with my Year of Understanding, I’m going to tackle at least four topics:

  • I want to understand what I want from my life more than I currently do. Who do I want to be in the future? What sort of work do I really want to do?
  • I want to understand my wife better. I think a relationship is a long voyage of understanding, but it still takes day-to-day effort. I want to be the best person I can be for her, so how do I do that?
  • I want to understand how to be a better, more patient son for my mom. I’ve noticed that our relationship has gotten more combative over the years. I don’t like that, and I want it to improve.
  • How can I become more kind, understanding, and patient?

There’s a lot I don’t understand about my life and the world. Usually, I’ll just feel upset that I don’t have any answers. I’ll also feel upset that I let my lack of understanding get to me. It’s a pretty unpleasant cycle.

Instead of just feeling frustrated about my ignorance, it’s important to do the harder work of learning about these issues. Gaining understanding without trying to earn it is a rare thing. It’s not worth counting on. Instead, understanding is something that needs to be built, maintained, and allowed to flower.

iv.

My Year of Understanding may end up being a difficult one. Asking yourself tough questions and giving yourself tough answers is a hard thing to do. Most of the time, we don’t ever want to broach these subjects. They’re painful. There’s a fair chance they’ll take the shine off the images we hold of ourselves.

But what good is living in this world, and surrounding yourself with other people, if you don’t try to be better than you were before?

I want to be a better person, and the first step I need to take is understanding myself more than I do now.


  1. Certainly, COVID didn’t help with anything. [return]
  2. Due, in large part, to it being run by sadistic lunatics who want to burn the whole thing down. It’s hard not to pick up on names, events, and the workings associated with a government when there’s a fresh catastrophe in the news every day. [return]