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  • Writer's pictureNick Couyoumjian

12 seconds: 12 Takeaways from 2021

Updated: Feb 19, 2022



“If you hear a voice within you saying ‘you are not a painter’ then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.” – Vincent Van Gogh

I've wanted to start a blog for years. Every time the thought crosses my mind, I ask myself 'who would want to read that?' There is inherent comfort in avoiding putting yourself out there, but when has comfort ever led to something meaningful in your life? This post is as much a challenge as it is exciting for me. I'm not a writer, or at least not until now.


I made the 12-second video above just for fun, but it made me realize how many amazing things happened in my life last year. I carefully selected those pictures because they represent the most meaningful moments of the past year. The year started by making big strides in my track career, I proved to myself that I have what it takes to compete with the best runners in the country. Then summer came and presented so many incredible opportunities. I worked for Abbott and saw the inner workings of an amazing company that is changing lives every day. I got to spend time in a couple of my favorite places in the world, Northern Michigan and Colorado, with my close friends and family. Whether it was golfing Arcadia Bluffs with my friend Kiran or running iconic routes with my friends in Boulder, Colorado, last summer was truly unforgettable. Entering the end of the year, I carried with me those new experiences and mindsets. I learned so much at the end of the year and made many improvements to my lifestyle. Now in 2022, I can say that last year was one of the most impactful and integral periods of my life.


I was inspired to tie my experiences from the past year to a blog post. Come along as I share my biggest moments and impactful developments of 2021!


12 Takeaways


1. We've Faced a Lot of Adversity


Last year was tough. A whole year spent in a pandemic that seemingly has no end. Restrictions and compromises filled our lives. While there's nothing good about a deadly pandemic, it is important to realize that it has strengthened us. I know that I will emerge from this situation being more resilient, flexible, patient, and savvy. There needs to be some level of discomfort in order to learn from a situation, and I benefited from that reality this past year.


2. Life's a Movie, You're the Director


Yes, last year brought a lot of challenges that we couldn't avoid; however, I found myself more in control of my life than ever before. There are two ways to approach life: you can either be passive and let life direct you or actively participate as the director of your life. Last year, the door was wide open to directors.


I spent last summer interning for a healthcare company called Abbott and took advantage of that reality. Knowing that the program was mostly virtual and everyone was figuring things out as they went, I pushed myself to challenge the status quo. Looking for unique opportunities in any situation can be fruitful. In my case, I learned that the president of the division of the company that I was working in was an avid runner. I connected with him early in the program and by the end of the summer, we were able to meet up and go on a run together.


(I also had these custom shirts made for us. Now, when he puts on this shirt, he'll think about our run last summer. Good one, Nick ;)

Putting myself out there proved that being active can allow you to maintain control over your life during adverse situations. Not only did my relationship with the company grow tremendously by doing so, but I learned what can come of challenging myself to get creative and break the status quo.


3. Take Time to Slow Down


As a competitive runner and business student, it is easy to get caught up in hustle culture. I'm surrounded by people with their switches always on, whether it's chasing the competitive edge or the best job opportunity. I've learned this past year that nothing good comes if I don't turn that switch off at times and slow my life down.

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” — Ferris Bueller

For me, I've turned to journaling, prayer and mediation, nature, hangouts with friends, and mental recovery days as means of pumping the brakes on life. In 2021, I've started using Headspace to meditate which has been a great resource to help me get into the practice. My self-defined mental recovery days are just days where I feel drained and opt to limit my commitments and engage in enjoyable low-energy activities. Recovery runs are common in the running world, why not apply that concept to the mental side of things too, right?


4. The Best Learning is Self-Prescribed


I'm a firm believer that I learn more when I choose to explore the topic than when I'm told to do so in class or elsewhere. I learned a lot in 2021, but it wasn't from a textbook. Education is changing radically nowadays. What once had to be learned through texts and lectures is now available in more engaging and approachable formats.


I have grown tremendously from watching Youtube. Channels such as Seth James DeMoor and New Generation Track and Field have changed the way I view and approach the sport of running. The best way to put it is: I'm learning because the content is fun, palatable, and impactful. There may not always be a directive in the videos, but there is always something I can learn from.


Andrew Huberman, Joe Rogan, David Goggins, and Matthew Walker are other people whose content has allowed me to grow in so many ways. Even taking 10 minutes to skim the newspaper between classes, read a magazine, or take in a quick article online have been great ways for me to diversify my means of learning. I think it's a mistake to let my education stop when I leave the classroom. That's where the best learning begins.


“Don’t let schooling get in the way of your education" -Mark Twain

5. Unplug


Screen time has taken over my life. I pick up my phone 150 separate times a day, and this is the new normal. Smart people at big tech companies have designed their devices and platforms in such a way to compete for and win our attention. Distraction and disengagement are increasingly harmful byproducts that are resulting from this new reality.


Recently, I've found myself sitting at the table with everyone on their phones, checking my phone during a conversation and not hearing what someone said, or studying for hours just to realize I actually spent most of the time on my phone. And what scares me is these habits are only becoming more common. I do these things now more than ever before.


With all of the noise that technology creates, there are ways to get away from it and reset. I've started taking notes by hand in class and realized how much more focused I am than when I use my computer, which typically results in tangents away from notes into lands of online shopping and unrelated articles. Leaving my phone tucked away during meals and conversations and engaging wholly in the moment has improved the quality of my daily interactions.


6. Get Outside


The outdoors and immersion in nature have incredible restorative power. Whether it be to unplug from technology, slow down the pace of life, or find beauty in the world around you, the answer can be found outdoors.


Personally, I feel my emotional balance shift in a negative direction when I spend too much time inside during the day, and conversely, the opposite effect when I spend more time outside. When I feel myself spending too much time inside and feel down or drained, choosing to head out the door and towards nature always surprises me with how quickly those feelings improve.


My time in Colorado surrounded by nature was an invaluable opportunity to reset and replenish my overall wellness. It's hard to explain, but it seems the farther away I get from the hustle of society and into nature, the more fulfilling I find my experiences. One weekend last July, I went on a hike with my friends in the Sangre De Cristo Wilderness of Colorado. We hiked up a trail surrounded by mountains that tower 14,000 feet above sea level. Along the route were crystal-clear lakes fed by snowmelt. The entire journey felt surreal, a place larger than life, grandiose, and endlessly expansive. I told myself that one day, I must go back. I will.



Nature! This was one of those places that feels larger than life. A place that pictures don't do justice. And yes, I did dive in the freezing cold lake. So special!



7. Sometimes, It's Best to Run from Your Problems


I'll admit, this section is a little clickbait-y, I'll explain. We all deal with stress in our lives regularly. Stress can be a good thing, we need it to perform and function at a high level. Our body's natural reaction to stress taps into our fight or flight response and promotes focus and performance. The issue is when stressors in our lives pile up and we cannot cope with the effects on our emotions. This past year, stress was plentiful; the routine stress we already dealt with was compounded by increased societal stress.


What I've found to be a great way to manage this reality is through creating space to temporarily distance my connection to the stress in my life. There are many ways I do this, but the premise is to pursue an outlet that distracts my attention away from the constant anxiety stressors can cause in life. For me, this is most easily achieved through exercise. Going for a run or getting a lift in at the gym allows me to leave outside stressors behind and feel light and present in the moment.


I notice this effect the most during exam weeks. When I am dealing with lots of stress from school, the two hours or so spent at track practice have a big impact on my mental state. In those times, I appreciate the chance to get away from everything going on in life and just focus on the running and time to chat with my teammates. Even the hardest workout days are opportunities to hone in on the moment and beat stress one rep at a time. I've found surprising strength in my ability to cope with stress by just running from it, for a little while.


What my time Out of Office looked like in July

8. Healthy Living is Cool


Learning from people like Andrew Huberman or Matthew Walker, who I mentioned earlier in this article, has led me down a path of improving my quality of healthy living. Recently, I've taken steps to improve my routine, seek out better sleep, and optimize my diet and supplementation of nutrients. I've done lots of research on the benefits of sleep, habits during the day, powdered greens and proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Gradually, I've added new elements to my routine and continue to see increasingly positive effects. These topics aren't too popular for people my age, college students tend to test their bodies' limits with unhealthy sleep and diet practices. I've also been there and can say that healthy living can be cool, too.


My teammates probably think I'm a little crazy when I pull out my blender bottle with protein and collagen powder ready to mix after a practice or race. I too would've laughed at myself for doing it not so long ago. But, the benefits of these healthy practices have been so pronounced that the new routines are here to stay.



9. On the Track


Most people think of me as the track runner. For years, I enjoyed my track runner identity. Then college came and the sport went from conquerable to challenging. While the way others viewed me did not change, internally I faced a large uphill battle to maintain my confidence and preserve my identity.


Those early moments in my college career presented many hurdles to overcome. At times, it was exhausting and frustrating. I viewed my place on the team as something I had to fight for and was eager to prove myself. Then sickness and COVID came to interrupt my journey. I entered 2021 prepared to run track for the first time in the IU uniform with many question marks surrounding me.


So much changed in the early moments of 2021. I learned the contagious effects of a positive mentality and what can come from being in a place with nothing to lose and everything to prove.


"He’s got nothing to lose. When a fighter ain’t got nothing to lose, he’s dangerous!" - Rocky, Creed II

In the 2021 indoor track season, I proved to myself that I can contend with some of the best runners in the country. I finally was back to a place where I viewed the sport as conquerable and fun again. I was running for the right reasons and there's no looking back now. With that nothing to lose, everything to prove spirit within me, I too can be dangerous!



Chasing bigger goals and a running career to be proud of


10. Don't Back Away from Challenges, Own Them

“I don’t run away from a challenge because I am afraid. Instead, I run towards it because the only way to escape fear is to trample it beneath your foot.” – Nadia Comaneci

Last year, I learned that I will find myself time and again in situations where I'm being tested. Whether it is someone testing me, the situation I'm in, or the environment at large, I cannot avoid challenges. What I do in response, however, means everything. Owning my challenges, and actively choosing to pursue them makes me a more confident and capable person. It also has earned me the respect of my peers and opened doors in my life that I didn't even know were possible.



I went rock climbing with my friends recently. I'm scared of heights. Too bad, that. It was a blast, and yes, I made it all the way up the big walls and even took a chance to look down


11. Keep an Open Mind


"If a window of opportunity appears, don't pull down the shade." Tom Peters

The best decisions of my life so far have been just that, decisions. Opportunities present themselves, but it takes action for good things to happen. Last year, some of those good things came to me in disguise and required an open mind. If I didn't allow myself an open mind, I wouldn't be where I am today. Simple as that.


When COVID caused my internship program to shift from plans to be in-person to virtual work, I could have sulked in the disappointment and sat at home all summer. Instead, I thought to seek out unique adventures that I would have never experienced by spending the summer in an office. Soon after learning of plans to go virtual, I had booked a trip to Colorado for the month of July and the rest was history.


Me and my friends on Pike's Peak after hiking up to the summit. Also me repping Pedialyte, a product line I worked on over the summer for Abbott. I'll say this, it sure helped me climb that mountain!



12. Seek out What Makes You Happy


I saved the best for last. If there's one thing I could take away from the past year, it'd be this: finding what makes me happy in life is the most important thing I will ever do.


Happiness is just a state and can come and go. Meaning, however, is a more lasting sense of purpose in life. Meaning can be hard to discover, especially at my age, but what you can do in pursuit of a meaningful life is seek out what makes you happy.


In 2021, I pursued things that made me happy. I went on a month-long trip to Colorado with friends, went golfing, strengthened quality relationships, and made deliberate decisions based on what would promote the state of happiness in my life. I encourage you to do the same!

 

These are the biggest takeaways from my experiences in 2021. I think it is also important to acknowledge that I slip from these practices often. I'm not perfect, but I'm always looking to improve. I hope you were able to gain something from this post and that it prompts you to reflect on the lessons you've learned in your life recently too.


Cheers, to another year full of opportunities to grow and lessons to be learned. Thanks for reading!


-Nick

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