“Build a life you don’t need to escape from.” – Ryan Holiday, Stillness is the Key
Looking back, 2020 was a dumpster fire in many aspects.
From being cooped up indoors for months and not being able to visit friends and family, to the absolute uncertainty of “What does this mean for my family? My business? My life?” the year couldn’t have been more bizarre and frustrating.
2020 also happened to be a year of incredible growth, change, and leveling up.
This is my first attempt at a “year in review,” which I found to be both cathartic and informative.
Without taking this step back and looking at the year as a whole, I would have told you “not much happened in 2020, it was pretty boring.”
Which is a big fat lie, as I did a lot of shit in 2020!
- 2020 began in a rented townhouse in Hoboken, NJ.
- 2020 ended in a 1940’s home I own on an acre of land in Nashville, TN.
- For the first time in 5 years, I own a car.
- I’ve gone from Peter Pan to Bob Villa.
- My company, Nerd Fitness, has doubled in size.
- The number of dogs in my family have doubled.
Here’s how it went down.
2020: COVID CHANGED EVERYTHING
Back in January 2020, My finceée Alex and I were living in a townhouse Hoboken, NJ, with a lease that ended in April.
After a few years in Manhattan, and one year across the river in Hoboken, we were both interested in shaking things up and getting away from the chaos that is NYC.
I had spent most of 2019 reevaluating what was important to me:
- I didn’t NEED to be in or near Manhattan anymore.
- Instead of trying to scale Nerd Fitness as quickly as possible, I shifted my focus to creating a great daily schedule.
- I wanted to live in a place where I could do good work and take on projects that were interesting to me.
My life shifted from an aspirational “need to get this done ASAP” goals to simply, “how do I make today better?”
I used this quote from author Ryan Holiday’s Stillness is the Key, “Build a life you don’t need to escape from,” as my guiding principle.
Alex’s parents were moving out of the NYC area, and our ties to NYC had weakened. We were both interested in a few things: a home we could own, a big yard for our dog and for entertaining, and a quieter life focused on the right things.
We both love Nashville – and I’ve lived here twice before – so we flew down in February and found a house to rent in the Belmont area, and scheduled our move for early April.
Then Covid hit.
We hunkered down in Hoboken, waiting out the weeks until we could move to Nashville. We managed to get out just in the nick of time before everything got locked down completely. We made the drive in one day, and suddenly we found ourselves in a great house with a huge backyard!
Once the dust settled, we realized Covid wasn’t going to be a few weeks of disruption, but rather MONTHS, it was obvious that we weren’t going to be able to get married as planned in December.
We made the tough decision to postpone our wedding by a full year. This was initially frustrating and sad, but looking back it was the most obvious decision we could have made.
After decorating our rented home, Alex grew frustrated with putting time and energy into a house that wasn’t ours, and building a garden in a backyard that we were renting.
So, after just two months into our lease, we decided to begin a search to buy a home for ourselves. We figured if we couldn’t travel, and we couldn’t get married yet, then we could at least start the rest of our life and make a more permanent home.
We had been aggressively saving for a house downpayment for years prior, so advancing this timetable didn’t stretch us too thin.
We also figured Nashville was only going to become more popular: no state income tax, relatively low cost of living, covid, and a burgeoning entrepreneurship/tech scene meant that people were flocking here in droves.
Apple Music, Google Music, and Amazon were all building large presences here, which boded well for future property value.
We started the search for a home and found one that checked 9 out of 10 boxes for both of us.
And thus, after spending the previous 18 years moving 18 times…Steve Kamb became a homeowner!
2020 HOME OWNERSHIP
We managed to find a house on nearly an acre of land, within walking distance of the amazing coffee shops, stores, and parks of 12 South.
It also had everything else we were looking for (4+ bedrooms, a huge backyard, a basement in case of tornadoes, and in a quiet neighborhood).
We followed Ramit Sethi’s 3 rules for buying a home.
Rather than taking our income and asking “how much house can this buy?” we instead asked, “How much house do we reallllly need, and what’s important to us?”
This is how we ended up with a good-sized home, on an acre of land, in our preferred part of town, with a monthly mortgage that’s less than half of what our rent was in Hoboken/NYC.
The house was also built in 1946, so it has plenty of…character. Ha!
Although we paid extra for additional inspections during the buying process, there were areas we absolutely should have gotten extra specialists.
Here’s what I wish we had done differently:
- On the second day of homeownership, we discovered there was a raccoon living in the attic, which wasn’t accessible until we cut a hole in the ceiling. We paid an pest-control specialist to evict the poor thing, and also had to pay to replace alllll of the insulation in the attic as well. We should have paid to cut a hole in the ceiling to get up in there before buying.
- In December, we paid to have the chimney cleaned and inspected before having our first fire of the season. The verdict: please do NOT put a fire in this fireplace, as the entire chimney needs to be replaced. We wouldn’t have expected the previous owners to do this, but we could have used this to negotiate our final cost down, as this is going to be costly to replace. We should have paid to get a chimney inspector out to the property during our due diligence period.
- The second floor air conditioner crapped out two months after we moved in. We knew it was OLD, and would have to be replaced sooner than later, but it’s a shame that it barely lasted a few months. Oh well.
These are all things we probably could have negotiated with the owners to reduce our offer.
I don’t feel too badly – though there were multiple offers on this house within 24 hours of it hitting the market, and we knew the house was 80+ years old, so we figured that into how much we wanted to spend monthly on mortgage.
2020 HOME PROJECTS
You don’t buy an 80 year old home without expecting to make a lot of updates, right?
Alex grew up in an 200-year old home her family refurbished over 30 years, so this is nothing new for her.
Of course, I’ve spent the past 18 years in rented condos and apartments, not needing to fix a damn thing.
So, this has been an area of my life I’ve done a pretty dramatic about-face! I now try to fix most things myself, and learn what I can in the process.
Here’s what I did in my first 4 months of home ownership:
- I bought a hedge trimmer, trimmed the hedges, which were in desperate need of a haircut. I also ended up with so much poison ivy that I still have scars 6 months later, but I wear these scars with pride.
2. We built a chain link fence to hold us over until we put in a new fence. Digging these post holes, pouring concrete, stretching the fence, exhausting, but fulfilling.
I fixed my office closet, patching the wall, using joint-compound, sanding down the wall, and re-setting the shelves.
I replaced the kitchen faucet and water lines. This required 4 trips to Home Depot and two lacerated fingers, but it was worth it. No more drip!
I wall-mounted our 75-inch television, drilling pilot holes and setting lag bolts into our wood studs beneath or plaster walls.
I built a workbench, which should make future home renovation projects easier!
Looking ahead, we have big plans for the rest of the house:
We want to renovate the kitchen, replace the windows, open up the staircase, and partially finish the basement.
We want to turn the backyard into a fun place for entertaining, add a screened in patio and deck, eventually add a pool, and more.
2020 CAR AND TRAVEL
I haven’t been on a plane since February 2020, which is easily the longest I’ve gone without getting on a plane since I was probably 4.
Because I knew we’d be road tripping to places instead of flying for the foreseeable future, I bought a Jeep – the same type of car I’ve owned multiple times in the past.
I had no interest in haggling for the best possible price with a car dealership, especially during covid, so I used CarMax and picked out my car online. I had Alex drive me over to the CarMax dealership, where I test drove my car for about 15 minutes, then made the purchase.
It was nice to just pick what I wanted, see the price, and then buy the car.
Despite not going on any planes, Alex and I still did two major trips:
We drove from Nashville to Phoenix with our pup to visit her parents for 2 weeks in October. We drove through Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and finally Arizona.
While out in Arizona, I managed to play 6 rounds of golf.
We also drove up to Cape Cod to visit my parents for Thanksgiving, going up through Virgina, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, NY, Connecticut, Providence and Massachusetts.
Luckily, our pup Pepper was an absolute champ in the car during this whole trip.
The roadtrips were a bit stressful, but ultimately good quality time with Alex and myself.
2020: DOUBLE DOGS
We adopted a second dog!
Our older pup Pepper loves dogs. When we lived in Hoboken, we lived 5 minutes from a dog park, so we could walk over there every day. Pepper was a dog park favorite, as she would be so excited to play and have fun with each and every dog.
Now that we’re in quarantine, and in Nashville, Pepper doesn’t get to spend nearly as much time playing with other dogs. So we adopted a second one.
Her name is Olive.
She’s adorable. But also, a handful.
2020 HEALTH AND FITNESS
I’ve been going to the gym 4 days a week, every week, for the past 15 years.
Covid wrecked this plan…initially.
For the few weeks before we moved out of Hoboken, I was doing home workouts exclusively with bodyweight a door frame pull-up bar.
As soon as I moved to Nashville, my friend Tyler Thompson (owner of Title Boxing Nashville) dropped off a barbell and some weights for me to use while I was getting settled.
I also immediately ordered a squat rack and my own barbell and plates. I got this squat rack from Rogue, and I got the weights and bar from FringeSport. They showed up a few months later.
Once I hung up my gymnastic rings, I suddenly had a full blown gym!
I have missed more than my fair share of workouts this year, but I’ve got my nutrition dialed in so I’m still around 9-10% body fat at 170ish pounds.
Oh, I started playing golf seriously again. I played golf in high school, but living in manhattan and playing regular golf isn’t very easy.
Luckily, my friend Sameer here in Nashville is also is trying to play more, and golf is the perfect Covid activity. During the summer and fall, we played golf once a week or so.
My childhood best friend Cash happens to live in Knoxville, so every other week we drove halfway between our two cities and played a round of golf.
My best score of the year was an 81 out in Arizona. I knew I had taken my swing as far as it could go, and I was never going to shoot consistently in the 70s if I could hit my driver.
So I’ve been taking lessons over at Gaylord Springs at the Profectus Center with Errol. I’m signed up for an ongoing monthly membership, which pretty much FORCES me to take a lesson each month. It’s worth it to me.
I’m very fortunate that I’ve spent the last 11 years building a remote team and writing about home workouts.
Once the reality of Covid set in, our business got busy. We now have a team of 45+ people, including 25 coaches and 15 full-time team members, and another 5-10 part-time people.
We also launched a new habit building app, NF Journey. The response to this app has been overwhelmingly positive, and I’m excited to see how people respond to it.
I spent a lot of 2020 handing off other parts of my role to more capable team members, which freed me up to focus on the app and so on.
I also spent quite a bit of time cleaning up all of the management /tech /financial /entrepreneurial debt I had accumulated over the past decade
Now that I have a proper home office, I finally got a good minimalist desk setup going:
Nerd Fitness also got its first corporate client! It’s a company I’ve loved since I was a child, and a key member of that company happened to be an online coaching client of ours. He loved our Journey app so much that they bought 250 slots for his team members.
2020 FINANCE AND CHARITY
I am a nerd for personal finance. I track my net worth in a google document on a monthly basis, and I have 25 different automated savings accounts for various emergencies, contingencies, or upcoming projects I want to tackle.
Outside of saving more, I’ve been working on GIVING more.
I made donations to other causes and services that were important to me: friends who had lost their jobs due to Covid, others who lost family members due to cancer, and pretty much anybody else I knew doing an activity for any charitable reason
This is an area I want to level up even more in 2021. I’m glad I’ve set up automated donations to ProPublica and Effective Altruism, as I no longer have to think about it…so I’d like to think of more ways I can donate my time and money to worthwhile causes!
I’m also very excited – once the world opens up again – to find local organizations here in Nashville that I can make an impact with!
2020 CREATIVE PROJECTS
I finally got off my ass and started writing here at SteveKamb.com – I’ve been threatening to do this for 5+ years and finally gave myself permission to start.
I heard Seth Godin in a recent interview on Tim Ferriss’s podcast. “Flip the question: What would you do if you KNEW it would fail?”
For me, it’s writing.
I spent the past decade exclusively writing about personal development, strength training, nutrition, and wellness, which is how I built Nerd Fitness to 1 million+ readers a month.
This site is going to be my sandbox for just writing and trying out new stuff.
I only published 4 posts on the site in 2020, but it’s a start. My goal is to continue publishing creative work, and see where my brain takes me.
I don’t write when I have a good idea, I write to find a good idea.
I’m still dabbling with Piano, Guitar, and Violin – but it’s mostly keeping my current subpar skills where they are rather than focusing on improving them.
2021 AND BEYOND
I’m in a place where I don’t feel compelled to set audacious goals for myself or my business.
Instead of trying to set a goal and being dissatisfied until I get there, instead I’m inverting things.
I want to work on improving my day-to-day life: chop wood, carry water.
I still spend too much time sitting at my computer out of habit, and have tried to put steps in place to really time-box myself and get away from my computer when I’m done.
So I’ve gone old school: I keep an actual hourglass on my desk, and try to accumulate as many 30-minute focused sessions as possible each day, and tracking this on a physical wall calendar.
I’m rereading Essentialism, Effective Executive, and other books on the creative process to remind me to cut out the noise and focus on the most important work you can do each day.
I know that if I’m spending a few hours each day on the most important task, Nerd Fitness is going to be in a good place, and I’m going to be a good place.
Chop wood, carry water.
Close out all programs, flip the hour glass, and start typing.
Let’s see what 2021 brings…