2020 Reflections & 2021 Intentions

By Kate Riley December 30, 2020

2020 sure gave all of us plenty of time for stillness and reflection, didn’t it. And perhaps that’s what we all needed.

I remember in the beginning of the year reading stories of a virus in China and didn’t think much about it other than hoping they contained it and all would be fine. I remember saying to several friends “no worries, it won’t reach us” but oh my how I was so wrong. Who could have imagined a virus would shut down the modern world?

I remember in early March coming back from a five day trip to the Florida Keys and noticing at the airport on my return that the mood had shifted. People were worried and wearing masks because the virus had reached our shores, and sure enough the very next week California went into lockdown and like the rest of the world I was in shock that this could be happening: schools canceled, businesses shut down, and only essential travel.

My creative work was unaffected, but I lost the ability to travel so I had to pivot and adapt. Many friends and family members suffered economically and our circle and community lost some loved ones to the virus, like the rest of the world. It goes without saying 2020 has been the strangest most challenging year ever, but with the extra time spent at home and working from my studio I learned some valuable lessons.


I enrolled myself in the school of personal development last year and it continued in 2020. I spent a lot of time reading books and listening to podcasts on that topic which helped me grow and gain a lot of clarity. I shared my thoughts on personal growth on the Restless Art instagram account throughout the year, so I’ll link to a few of those thoughts below and some lessons I learned.

The Slower Pace Was Good for Humanity

I spent a lot of time in nature, walking, hiking, biking, and sitting by the ocean and was reminded there is cadence to nature. The waves don’t rush to shore, and the clouds don’t rush by in the sky, and the flowers don’t rush to bloom. They all take their time and occur in proper course because they are in touch with the gentle flow of life. We humans can learn from this. So much of society was caught up in the rat race of productivity and a quest for more stuff. Nature reminds us a slower pace is more in tune with the rhythm of the earth, and to trust that everything happens at the proper time. In 2020, I learned to release attachment to expectations and instead began to trust the timing of life. I decided to make peace with my circumstances, to trust that there is a flow to the chapters of life, and to float with the current of it. Instead of trying to control outcomes, I prefer the idea of letting life surprise me.

Happiness is an Inside Job

Joy does not come from external sources, it comes from within. A new house, car, relationship, or vacation will not make you happy. Those things may give you a quick dopamine hit, but that’s all, and you will eventually be left wanting again. There’s a marketing campaign at work in the world which tells us to buy this, do that, look this way, to be happy, but I see that messaging as manipulation designed to deprive you of your money and happiness by making you feel like you’re not good enough. As the saying goes, comparison is the thief of joy and social media hits us with this everyday.

Sustained peace and moments of joy come from within. They come from being alive and aware in the present moment and experiencing days by degree of presence. Happiness comes from creating a life *you* love, not what the media or your family or friends tell you you *should* do. Any pressure to act or live a certain way that’s not authentic to you is a recipe for resentment and unhappiness. Doing what you’re simply “supposed to” do out of duty is people pleasing, and “supposed to” is a dangerous phrase to live by. I’m not saying we ignore our obligations, I’m saying we shouldn’t mold or create a life that’s dictated solely by how others tell us we’re “supposed to” live, instead we learn to trust our inner knowing and make choices from that centered and grounded place.

Your Energy Has Value

We are a reflection of the company we keep. Your energy has value. Surround yourself with people who build you up and keep your distance from those who do not. Find your tribe by showing up as the real you. Let the ones who don’t see your value fall away, and keep close the ones who appreciate your love, light, energy, and uniqueness.

As I wrote last year, boundaries are key, they show people how to treat you. It’s important to have them so that you can grant access only when you know people have good intentions. But it’s also important to meet people where they are at and love them as they are. Everyone is at a different place in their journey. I’ve experienced the pain of people I care about withholding their love because I don’t perform for them like they want me to or I’ve said no to their demands. People will break your heart when they act badly, and they will project their pain onto you, but it’s best to be compassionate because their issues aren’t really about you, they have unresolved stuff inside them. This doesn’t mean we let people manipulate or walk all over us, we just love them from a distance.

Practicing Awareness Brings Peace

The one thing that shifted my mindset dramatically in 2020 was the practice of becoming the watchful observer of my thoughts. I learned that you are not your thoughts, the real “you” deep down inside is the awareness of your thoughts. Learning to observe your thoughts and becoming conscious of them instead of constantly reacting to the melodrama of the mind is life changing. Once you master this you’re no longer a victim or puppet to all the thoughts that enter your head, you are the watchful observer. You are conscious, you are aware.

Your family, your culture, the media all began conditioning you to believe certain things at a young age and as we get older we begin to feel like we’re not living an authentic life or being our true self. As Emily writes, you’re not lost, you were there all along. When you begin to peel back the layers of conditioning that control your thoughts and behaviors, when you stop playing roles you find unfulfilling, when you stop numbing your pain and face your shadows, you heal and you find peace. When we sit with our childhood wounds, and invite our fears in to study them instead of running from them, they begin to dissolve.

It is our thoughts that produce emotions, so I’ve taught myself to get curious about why negative thoughts enter the mind. You can always trace them back to fear or pain from the past and stories you tell yourself from past experiences. The practice of observing and filtering the negative thoughts is a powerful practice that’s challenging at first, but in time, with awareness, the practice brings inner peace because you no longer live at the mercy of every thought in a reactive state, instead you observe your thoughts and respond from a knowing, centered place. Recommended books that explain this practice: A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle and The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer.


I’m not a big fan of new year’s resolutions because they seem rigid and a recipe for disappointment if you fail. I prefer to set intentions which take me in a positive direction but allow for flexibility. I’ve created a life that I love and feel more closely aligned with purpose than ever before. In 2021, I plan to keep learning and creating and traveling again, and sharing it all on here the blog. I’ll continue to take small steps with everything I create, because small steps lead to big results.

I’m excited about the slow growth of my new art company and I’m opening a sister shop on Etsy for more exposure. Sales are small but they will grow in time. I remind myself it’s never the speed that matters, it’s the direction.

I’m designing a series of new fabrics that I’ll release on Spoonflower next year. I’m actively searching real estate listings for a flip house to renovate (but real estate is crazy here, so that may take some time). I love design and home improvement so I am looking forward to getting my hands on a new project!

I’m not as young as I used to be, but I wouldn’t trade what I’ve learned just to be younger. I’m not my ideal weight but I don’t care because I’m healthy and I exercise every day and my body takes me where I want to go. I haven’t reached a level in my business that I desire, but I don’t dwell on it because I truly love the journey. I don’t think happiness lies in the future. Or at a lesser weight. Or having more likes, views, followers, or revenue. I’m happy to report I’m content right where I’m at.


What about you? What lessons did 2020 teach you and what are your goals for 2021?


  1. I’ve been wondering how to process the end of such a year. I haven’t had the stillness you speak of because my five young children are online schooling and my husband now works from home. I used to have time by myself and now I almost never do. I am not even sure if I want to celebrate the coming of a new year because as odd as it sounds, I’m not ready to let go of 2020. I felt like I accomplished next to nothing besides getting through every day. I wish I had resolution before I make any resolutions.

    • Getting through every day in a global pandemic IS an accomplishment. And that’s not even counting the bit where you were locked down with five (!) small children. Don’t underestimate what you have been through, and what you have helped to bring your family successfully through.

  2. You just nailed it…YOU MAKE WHAT YOU ARE! I’ve spent “more time” in my outdoors swing…watching, watching and if this is called meditation (which sounds much more grown up) it works.. for me. Make it the best it can be…for you. franki

  3. Wonderful post and beautifully said. I spent a lot of time in nature this year also, and I tried to appreciate the days, in spite of what they brought (or didn’t). I am hopeful for a better 2021, but I also had some great experiences this year that I wouldn’t have had otherwise, and I do appreciate that part of 2020 for sure. Thanks for your continued posting and sharing. Happy New Year to you!

    • I agree, 2020 brought some experiences that I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t had to stay home more.
      Happy New Year to you Tracey!

  4. I agree with the others – beautifully said. I’ve always enjoyed your posts because of your talented artistic design. Your words today are equally as moving and so poignant. Thank you.

  5. Hi Kate!
    Happy new year to you too! Love reading your thoughts on self development and you are so right about running in the rat race. Thank you for taking the time to write this post. I agree with you on so many points you made.
    Take care!

  6. I’ve always looked forward to your end-of-year reflections for many years now. Many pearls of wisdom and I will add them to my reflections. Thank you.

    • That is so kind Milly!
      thank you for sharing this, sometimes I hesitate to be so open, but I decide to just be brave instead.

  7. This is such a beautifully sincere, reflective piece. I read every word and it spoke to me. I will be rereading it many times and I thank you for expressing yourself with such clarity that you’ve inspired me to do some work myself. It is obvious that your thoughts are the product of a lot of soul-searching and intention. So grateful for your openness and sharing.Sometimes life brings exactly what is needed at precisely the right time.

    • Best compliment ever!
      I wish you well on your journey… enjoy the process, it’s what makes life so delicious.

  8. Thank you for inspirations over the last several years! Everything from bathroom redesign ideas to a cool studded motorcycle jacket.
    it’s been a milestone year. Some of the forced turning points let us see how strong we can be. Your gracious way of working thru the challenges. Embracing this hardship and making it an opportunity for you to come out on the other side enriched. Comforts me. And you kept your eyes on the prize. Love your indomitable character.
    Living and learning —-and you are beautiful
    Good work Kate!
    Best wishes for continued success ! I am excited to see your latest burst of creative fabrics and oooo ! maybe a reno. :-)

  9. What a delight to read your post today! It is so wonderful to welcome you into the family of the self-aware and for you to use your platform to share your experience and extend the invitation to others; this is how we manifest real change, not only within ourselves, but in our world.

    To me, it seems like 2020 was your best year yet! I wish you well on your continued journey :)

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