Articles

My Annual Review 2021 Edition

Published: 13 Dec 2021
Coulson family jumping on a beach

For the past three years I’ve made the decision to publicly audit my year, examining what went well, what didn’t, and what I’ve learned. (Here you can find 2018, 2019, and 2020.) These years in review are designed to help me live with intention. They point out growth, opportunities for improvement, and gifts, blessings, trials, and upheavals that life sends our way. 

As I always say when I share these kinds of things publicly:

  1. This is not a PR stunt. It’s not about vanity. I’m not oversharing with any desire to highlight brilliance or pretend to be humble. It’s an honest reflection that I’m sharing because it helps me be more accountable. Some things in life are awesome. Some stink. I’m sharing the lot because it’s real and I like to be transparent about the ups and the downs.
  2. Please don’t use this review as a way of comparing your life to mine. Unless you have 6 kids, run a business, and live a life like this, it’s an unfair and unhelpful comparison. The point of me sharing is to offer a model of what format your annual review might take.
  3. I’ll review what went well, what didn’t, and what I learned. That’s the format my family meetings take, and it’s a format that serves the purpose of this review.

Writing about our experiences helps us process and grow. James Pennebaker has done oodles of research around the power of journaling, reflecting, and writing that leads to growth and healing. So as I share the highs and lows of 2021, I hope it leads to processing and growth for all of us, and prompts something in you that moves you towards a personal audit or review of your year too.

What went well

It’s been a cracker of a year… 

Podcasting

The Happy Families podcast has consistently been ranked as the #1 parenting/family podcast in Australia by the Australian podcast ranker. Bringing Kylie on board has been fabulous - but it’s also added significant strain. Overall, we love sharing parenting ideas with our ever expanding audience.

Happy Families Membership

I love our Happy Families members. Every month we see more and more people join the “family”. Our monthly Q&As, webinars, blogs and articles, and so many other pieces of content support thousands of families. And in 2022, the membership is going to be even better. Watch out for more to come on this.

The Happy Families Website and App

This year we’ve invested heavily in building a better user experience for everyone to access help for their family. As people pay for memberships, we can provide better resources and improved access, and that’s what we’ve done this year. The website is revamped. The app is available in the Apple and Google Play stores. And we are building a continually improving membership and parenting content service. There’s still plenty of room for improvement, but the main thing is that we are improving.

Parental Guidance - on TV

The big highlight of the year was a national prime-time tv show on one of our largest commercial tv networks! Parental Guidance averaged about 1 million viewers per episode and was a surprise hit on the television. Being the parenting expert and co-host of the show meant I was able to reach hundreds of thousands of people in a new way and share parenting tips and advice that I might never have had the opportunity to reach in any other medium. What an experience!

Oh, and I’m thrilled with the way the show came out. Lots of people were concerned about exploiting families for reality tv. However the show’s producers did a great job respecting the families, the kids, and the viewers.

Social (vanity) metrics

We continue to grow on our social networks boosting from 169 000 Facebook followers to 190 000. An improvement of 20 000 means an extra 400 followers per week. Instagram also lifted from 22 300 to 32 000, which is an extra 200 per week. 

These numbers represent real people with real families. It’s humbling to have the responsibility to try to help so many. I continue to feel immensely grateful for the trust people have in what I share, and the amazing feedback I receive from people who have been helped by my parenting advice.

Book update

I chose not to write this year… but have just signed my next book deal with a deadline for my next manuscript in the middle of 2022. I can’t wait to share my new book with you.

The team

We have enjoyed perfect stability in our team this year. No one left. Everyone is happy. And we love serving our community. Oh… we did hire a new social media community manager! Mim is doing an amazing job helping to moderate comments and keep the community updated, served, and positive. We love Mim’s addition to our team.

Family and personal life

Briefly:

  • We saw our 5th daughter graduate from Primary School this year. 
  • We had a farewell ceremony (funeral) to say goodbye to our beloved dog, Benson. So many tears but so many happy memories for our family.
  • Our couples retreats have been curtailed due to challenges with baby-sitters (grandparents), but they’ve done what they could so Kylie and I have had semi-regular one-night getaways rather than our usual two-night family strategy getaways each quarter.
  • And we enjoyed one major family holiday: 8 days in Bowen and the Whitsundays. 

Because I was home rather than flying - which I’m still delighted about - I’ve been able to enjoy some levels of consistency and fitness on the bike. This year I rode a little over 7000 kms on about 120 rides. 

And from a spiritual wellbeing perspective, some strong habits have been solidified and Kylie and I are in a good place. We are grateful for a faith that helps to elevate us, challenge us, and teach us. 

Reading through all of that, I have to say it seems like we had a ripper of a year. And truthfully, I think it’s been pretty extraordinary. But life is never perfect. You can’t stay on top of the mountain forever. Eventually you come back down. 

What hasn’t worked so well

I’m going to be honest. Happy Families has been pretty great. As the list above attests, we have seen tremendous growth and a wonderful opportunity to reach more people than ever. However…

Trusting the wrong people

Now and then we make decisions where we must rely on other people. We just don’t know enough about something and so we ask for someone else to guide us through new territory. This year we spent lots of money and time working with some people who promised us they knew that “new territory” we were exploring, and rather than helping us navigate it, they left us lost in the woods. We’ve learned a lot about how to deal with these situations better, but it’s been a hard, painful experience. Next time we’ll ask for evidence that they’ve mapped the terrain. A results sheet would have given us the assurance we needed or the recognition we needed to find the door.

Balance

I’ve worked waaaaaaay too much. For a guy who teaches people how to have happier families - and who really emphasises the importance of T.I.M.E… - let’s just say I need to take some of my own medicine. I really love what I do for work. It’s fulfilling. It’s meaningful. It makes a difference in people’s lives. But I go way too hard way too often. This year has been unbalanced. A TV show, a podcast, a new website and app, and better content than we’ve ever produced comes at a cost. 

On a personal level, I’ve tried to cram too much in as well. Fitness efforts have usurped personal growth, reading, spiritual practice, and so on. And too many times the kids have taken a back seat to research for an article, an evening webinar, or an early morning zoom call with someone in the USA.

Family stuff

The randomness, unpredictability, and volatility of life mean we have to constantly adapt, triage, and react, which throws things off balance. And as I suggested above, my inability to get the balance right has meant that some big family things have provided unexpected challenges to our lives.

A child has been diagnosed with ADHD. That’s not a “what didn’t go well” kind of thing since we can’t do anything about this type of diagnosis… but more support and capacity to be there for her would have helped. Another child experienced an unexpected trauma during the year that created upheaval. Balance wasn’t an issue there. I stopped work and was available. But these things, within our control or not, make for challenging times and have left me wondering what more I could have done to be a better parent to my kids.

I know I’ve kept that section kind of vague, but for personal and privacy reasons I feel it’s the right thing to do. Some things happen in life that aren’t really mine to talk about despite the fact I’m affected by it.

Generally, however, they’re the only major challenges. It’s been a great 2021.

What I’ve learned

Surround yourself with great people

There is something powerful and inspiring about being around people who are thoughtful, considerate, patient, and willing to lift. I love being around great people, thinkers, builders. And as I’ve experienced a bit of both this year, I’m sure that choosing who gets my discretionary time may be one of the more critical decisions I can make.

Take risks

We consistently do things that we really don’t know how to do. My life motto, not specifically chosen but more as a reaction to how I live my life, is “bite off more than you can chew”, and the follow up motto is “make it up as you go along”.

This isn’t an exactly true reflection of me. I’ve worked long and hard to understand my area of specialty and I don’t make that stuff up. But in relation to making decisions about business or family activities and experiences, it’s totally there. I say yes to most things. I take risks. And I figure out how to make it all happen along the stressed out, up-and-down path. The risks don’t always pay off… but to quote Helen Keller, “Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all.” I love the daring adventure. And what I’ve found is that even when I fail (which is surprisingly often!) I still gain the benefit of learning and growth through that failure.

Savour

It’s been so busy this year that the few times I’ve taken to really slow down have been wonderful. A family holiday. A quiet Sunday afternoon. A stroll along the beach on a night away with Kylie. A child skipping delightedly into the living room on a school morning singing a song. Late night talks on the end of a bed with a daughter who is struggling. Pausing to soak it in, to magnify the pleasure of a positive experience: it’s a critical antidote to sadness and depression and a wellspring leading to flourishing and joy.

You can’t control everything

A painful lesson this year is that some things are actually out of my control. Psychologists have discovered that we often operate under an “illusion of control” which keeps us sane, but now and then we have to recognise our inability to control anything at all (outside of our thoughts) and simply come to terms with that. 

This year I couldn’t protect my kids.

We couldn't hire the right people for work that had to be done outside the team, which led to a range of unanticipated challenges and headaches.

I couldn’t manage a tricky situation with an offended person in one of my workshops, 

I couldn’t control… the list goes on. 

Being out of control is difficult, but it’s helped me to be grateful to be able to control the controllables and let go of the rest.

Be aware of scams via email

Right before the launch of Parental Guidance, some very sneaky hackers held our Instagram account to ransom. After a long, completely fruitless “recovery” process, we were eventually rescued by a knight in shining armour at channel 9 who had a contact at Facebook headquarters. Thankfully this story has a happy ending, but it was a rough couple of weeks and not something we want to go through again. 

Balance may not exist, but…

As I read a fabulous book by Oliver Burkeman this year about our limited time on earth I found this: 

“Our lives, thanks to their finitude, are inevitably full of activities that we’re doing for the very last time. Just as there will be a final occasion on which I pick up my son—a thought that appalls me, but one that’s hard to deny, since I surely won’t be doing it when he’s thirty—there will be a last time that you visit your childhood home, or swim in the ocean, or make love, or have a deep conversation with a certain close friend. Yet usually there’ll be no way to know, in the moment itself, that you’re doing it for the last time... [We] should therefore try to treat every such experience with the reverence we’d show if it were the final instance of it. And indeed there’s a sense in which every moment of life is a “last time.” It arrives; you’ll never get it again—and once it’s passed, your remaining supply of moments will be one smaller than before. To treat all these moments solely as stepping-stones to some future moment is to demonstrate a level of obliviousness to our real situation that would be jaw-dropping if it weren’t for the fact that we all do it, all the time.” 

So as I wrap up the review of a remarkable year, I’m savouring the positives. There were many. I’m curious about what last times will there be this year for me. It makes me want to be more present to savour what I can. And I’m excited to take more risks and continue on this delightful, sometimes frightening daring adventure.

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