Happy New Year & The Best of 2011

What a year. First, a huge thank you for everything and everyone wonderful from December: it was the surprise ending to an already-unforgettable year. I was blown away by the shout-out on Pro Blogger and the response to the recent Do Something: Slide Share presentation. (which reached 80,000 views!) WOW.  I’m completely blown away! Based on the reviews and reactions, I want to make a small coffee-table book version, since so many of you emailed to ask if it was available as a stand-alone document. I love this idea! More soon! 

Second, I am so glad that people enjoy stopping here. It’s been such a joy to meet so many new faces and I’m thankful for those gutsy folks out there who took the time to stop by my internet home, check out the work, send an email, do something they were afraid of, and then tell me about it. Honestly: you are my HEROES. Some of the most courageous of you sent me a message and said hello and how much site has meant to you–that you “get lost in it,” that you “identify with the ups, downs and struggles,” and that you “love how much I share.” I had no idea!  For me, sitting here, writing behind this computer, I am grateful. This was the best Christmas present of all: knowing that I can connect with so many of you. Thank you. 


To all of you, Happy New Year. 

Holiday mail!

One of my favorite things to do each year is sit down and reflect on the year past. I write a quarterly letter to myself (yes, it’s nerdy–just don’t ask what I call it!). The letter helps me stop and review what’s working and what’s not working.  The best way to get better is to look back and see what you’ve done so far–and where you can get better. Feedback is brutal, but it’s okay: it might sting in the short-term, but it’s good for the long term.

So, as you can imagine, I love writing my annual holiday letter! Here’s a picture of this year’s stack, stamped and ready to go. I thought I’d share a bit with you–although please, sit down and have a cup of coffee (or two) because this post is going to be a looooong one.

Where it began.

Where did this year begin? In a set of annual December prompts, one of my favorite Reverb questions is “where did your year begin?” And I sit, behind this desk of mine, looking back myself from a year ago.

 … 2010 was quite a year itself. In describing the end of last year, I had hope that 2011 would be slower. 

I wish I could paint a picture of it, of how much has changed in a year. A year ago, I wasn’t a long-distance open-water swimmer. A year ago, I didn’t have this job. I didn’t even have this blog, in fact–it only went live in June, days before I went to my first conference. (I wrote another blog, that I used posts from to build this one). A year ago, I wasn’t living in San Francisco.

A year ago, a lot was different.

A little over a year ago, as the new year was approaching, I was living by myself in a tiny garage in northern California, without a bed of my own, just my treasured sleeping bag and a borrowed twin bed.

Sometimes I feel ashamed of telling this, as though I won’t ever be able to get it–IT, LIFE–right. As though you could get “life” right. Sometimes it all feels like pretend; a story of someone else’s life, an idea that I fabricated, like I’ll wake up and pinch myself, and it won’t be real anymore. For most of the summer of 2010, I lived in a small tiny garage apartment, a room-within-a-room attached to a house the suburbs, alone by myself in a room with no windows, wrapped up in a sleeping bag. Almost all of my things were packed away at my parent’s houses or in storage; I took with me a book shelf, a bag, and my computer electronics. It’s raw to be with nothing, with no one: all you have, really, is you. Who you are. 

In the evenings, I’d dress up in my one black dress, putting the city on, my high heels teetering and clacking on the floor in the hollow house, made-up and dressed up, driving the 30 minutes down the dark highway into the city. The lights of the Golden Gate Bridge would beckon after the rainbow tunnels; the city sparkling, telling me to come be a part of it. 

The glitz and the glamour of the city disappeared as I drove home, slowly, the silence of the car deafening, and I’d retreat to my temporary home across the bridge, over the windy hills of the 101 and down into the sleepier, quiet, dark towns of the North Bay, the Marin headlands. Cyclists sped past me on the Bayfront trails as I walked and wandered through the towns. Safeway was Safeway; suburbia was suburbia. 

And so, I saved. I wanted to be back in San Francisco so badly, but I couldn’t afford it. I thought about selling my car but decided to keep the car and scrimp and save money for a few more months. In October, I saved up enough money to move into the city. At the beginning of the year, I got my things out of storage, drove to my new apartment, and started again.

Most of my friends don’t even know I ever left the city. 

Unpacking all my things made me realize how much I could do with out.

And in December, when I got to the city, I said YES.

Yes to the city, Yes to new things, Yes to escaping the tired and the dreary, Yes to none of the same, Yes to opening new worlds. Yes to meeting new people, to starting a new life, to actually doing the things I said I wanted to do.

Sometimes you just need a little motivation …

A word? 

If I could sum up this year in a word, it would be “yes.” This year was a year of yes; an experiment in trying new things, meeting new people, and getting out of my comfort zone. It’s easy to stay at home, read books, and do the same thing over and over again; it’s much harder (for me at least!) to get outside and push myself into the uncomfortable places where growth happens.

At the beginning of 2011, I vowed to do several things: many of which failed, and many others which were more successful than I imagined. In that list, I wanted to write more, start a blog, travel, speak Spanish again, do more open water swimming, and change my job. And here, another year has gone by, and I’m taking time this December to look back and see what’s changed, for better and for worse, and understand where I’ve come from.  I really learn a lot by looking back and using it as a guidepost for the future.


I adventured with my sister to London and Paris  in April (and got conned); on back-to-back weekends in May and June I made it to Portland, Maine and Portland, Oregon.  In July I went to Tucson, Arizona for a roller-coaster weekend of heat, humidity, thunderstorms, and long talks with my Grandpa; In October, I found myself in New York, Toronto, and Philadelphia for both work and fun, and in November, my work took on me to Los Angeles and San Diego. Finally, in December, I escaped the city to Costa Rica with a group entrepreneurial women to reflect on 2011 and plan for the 2012 year ahead. Perhaps 2012 will be a bit less nomadic, but life on the road was fun: it meant I get to see so many more faces that I don’t always see.

Projects, Jobs, Dreams + Ideas. 

In March, after years as a full-time draftsperson/designer focused on landscape architecture and urban design, I started a new position in communications and marketing for architecture and design industries, which we created anew. I’m now spearheading our communications endeavors for our seven offices, with a focus on business, strategy and marketing. The projects on my plate vary from website design + strategy, internal + external communications, designing for print and web, publications, meeting with editors, coordinating conferences, and bringing more visibility to our firm and work. In short, it means I get to write and design.

Themes: innovation, entrepreneurship, intra-preneurship.

When in doubt?

Innovating work within an existing company or by building a new company fascinates me, and has been the theme of this year: new job, new career, and many, many new projects. It’s an exercise in learning, growing and adapting, so I spend quite a bit of time in the late evenings and early mornings self-teaching, or reaching out to folks to get advice and feedback on these new processes. The job and my own interests (which often fold into each other in unexpected ways) – have taken me to several events including Start Up Weekend, Blog World, WDS in Portland, ASLA’s national conference, ULI and Green Build.

Launch! Landscape Urbanism.

In March we launched the Landscape Urbanism beta site, and in September launched the full site, a process in team-building, strategy and design that taxed my capabilities and stretched my limits, certainly. It’s amazing to be able to point to something and say, “we did that,” – and see a project that was an idea built into reality. These are skills and lessons I’ll never forget. For the complete breakdown of post-hoc lessons learned, see “The lessons you need most (part 1)” and “20 lessons from launching a project (part 2).”

The best of posts: 2011 

This blog reached new hits, with some of the most well-loved posts including:


What happiness looks like ...

Last year I asked myself what the scariest athletic event I could do would be, and I decided to go all-in with my open water swimming. It’s hard to believe that two years ago I had my doctor tell me I might never swim again. This year, in May, we did a 6 mile Bridge-to-Bridge swim from the Bay Bridge to the Golden Gate bridge. In June, we did a 10 mile “Prison to Prison” swim from San Quentin to Alcatraz, crossing the San Francisco Bay. And in October, my friend Nate Damm finished his walk across America.Why? Because we wanted to do something worth talking about. I am so thankful for my health and ability to be outside, to move, to live. There’s nothing like running the San Francisco hills in the early morning and watching the fog roll away to help me achieve clarity and motivation.

Lessons Learned.

Through it all, there have been some persistent meditations that keep cropping up as I work through projects and dreams that are tiring, difficult, taxing, and challenging. I’ve found, over and over again, that the hard work is worth it. It’s no easy feat, “designing your life,” but the benefit of persistence, dedication, and embracing challenging goals has been by far unbelievably rewarding.

It’s not without lessons, tears, fears, and scared moments. Yet without a doubt, the more I do the things I’m afraid of, the more joy, happiness, and love I experience. There is a direct correlation.

Nothing I do is ever alone, and I am grateful, encouraged, inspired by the people I am surrounded with. Living in San Francisco again has been a joy in unexpected encounters, adventures, and meeting new smart, talented people who are working hard to create amazing things. People like YOU have taught me and shared with me over the years, and I’m lucky to have you as my friends and family.

Some of my favorite quotes from this year, for inspiration and motivation:

What’s holding you back?Adversity is beautiful.Learn by doing. | Give yourself permission. | Do something worth talking about. | What would you do if you knew you would not fail? | Do it anyways. | It’s all about attitude. | You get back what you give. If you’re not doing something about it, you’re doing something about it. |  Stop putting stuff between you and your work.Give yourself a chance to get good.If you don’t commit, it won’t happen. | Leap boldly.Finish or Punt. |  Put it out there.

And of course, my all-time personal favorite:

Do something.

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14 Responses to Happy New Year & The Best of 2011

  1. Kate says:

    I discovered the awesomeness that is your blog not too long ago and I’m completely in love with all of the wonderful bits of inspiration that you provide and I love reading about your adventures.

    Wishing you a wonderful 2012 – to bigger, bolder, and gutsier adventures!

    Cheers! :)

    • Sarah says:

      Kate — Thanks so much! And right back at you, too: wishing you an oustanding, adventurous 2012. Keep me updated with your explorations and the turns and twists as you do fun things. Can’t wait to see how it turns out!!

  2. Laura Roeder says:

    2011 . . . The year I met you! Awww :)

    • Sarah says:

      YAYYY! Yes! This year has been AMAZING, and I love the story of having a cheese-date with you up in that restaurant in Portland, skipping out on the party bus and talking over all of our fun ideas. You have been such an inspiration to me. :)

  3. Meredith says:

    I love this! My word for the year is “Do” so that picture at the bottom of your post is perfect!

  4. Dan says:

    Sarah, thanks for all your writing and inspiration in 2011. I see this post and I think about 3-5 year goals as a lot of us set… and I look at all that you have accomplished in one year! This is some awesome work and I look forward to reading what 2012 has in store for you. Thanks!

    • Sarah says:

      Dan — thanks! I’m so glad my writing is helpful and inspiring to others. It makes me so happy, because I absolutely love writing. Keep me posted on all of your ideas and experiments for 2012 … I hope you’re able to chase after a few dreams and shake things up for the better every now and then. :)

  5. Sarah,
    Meeting you this year one of my highlights as well! You have inspired me to start blogging again, from the heart and not for just business/professional.
    Love your spirit and I hope you make it back to Costa Rica someday soon.

    • Sarah says:

      MEETING YOU WAS AMAZING! I’m so glad that we went to Costa Rica and had such an awesome adventure together. Getting away from the city and having reflection time with you lovelies was exactly what I needed. I can’t wait to see your blog evolve — keep me posted. :)

  6. Adam says:

    Great post, Sarah!

    Starting the new year by looking back is a great way to review goals and reset priorities. Your writing, work, and adventures are an inspiration to work harder and take more chances in 2012.


    • Sarah says:

      Thanks Adam! It’s always good to spend a bit of time (but not too much) looking back. It helps me figure out where I can get better, whether or not I’m happy with what I did, and what worked that I should keep doing. Definitely take more chances in 2012! I’ve found the more I leap, the more fun and adventure I have, even if it’s terrifying at first. When you do something, you can figure out whether or not you like it. If you stay in the same place, you already know what that’s like. Good luck and happy new year!

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