How to Look Back on 2020

From Dumpster fire to silver lining, 2020 has been a rollercoaster that no one predicted. In this episode, Michelle Dittmer shares how to use Kolb’s experiential learning method to unpack 2020 and plan realistically for 2021.



Kolb’s experiential learning method is a theory that knowledge is learned through lived experiences, which is a key theory used at the Canadian Gap Year Association.


Through this podcast, we will condense the theory down to three steps: what happened, so what and now what.


Step one: What Happened?


Grab a pen and paper and write out everything that happened in 2020. But, you need to take the emotion out of your list and simply write what happened as it happened. Trust me, you’ll be surprised with how much you write down. Check out my list:


  • Left my stable employment to become an entrepreneur

  • Started the year with a health crisis and was in and out of the hospital

  • A global pandemic hit and I had to cancel 36 in-person gap year events

  • Transitioned to full-time parenting

  • Developed the gap year certification portal

  • Created an online community for gap year professionals

  • Expanded online information session offerings

  • Hired my first employee

  • Launched the first ever Gap Year Frosh Week

  • Spoke at industry leading conferences

  • Launched and delivered 30+ episodes of this podcast


Step Two: So What?


Now that you have your list of “what,” it’s time to think about the ‘so what’. What did you learn about yourself, the world around you and the people in your life?


What did you learn about yourself?

  • What strengths and weaknesses did you notice in yourself this year?

  • What skills did you use and develop?

  • Try this fun activity to prepare for 2021: write yourself a cover letter applying to 2021 and include what skills you intend to use to help get you through the year.

  • This year I learned I am a good connector. I was able to bring together a community of gap year professionals who were all struggling and needed a place to be.

  • I also learned that I have limits and I need to respect them. I can’t do everything and be everything to everyone. It’s important to set boundaries and honour them.


What did you learn about the world?


  • What assumptions did you have about the world that were shattered this year?

  • For example, I thought everyone would want to take a gap year because of the pandemic preventing in person experiences and I thought everyone understood what a gap year was and the opportunities it offers even if it’s spent at home. But, people applied to university anyways and adjusted to online learning.

  • From this I learned that not everyone values in person experiences as much as I do.


What did you learn about your people?


  • I’m sure you’ve heard this quote before, “In the face of tragedy look for the heroes.”

  • Look For the Heros in your life: who in your life stepped up to support you? Send them a thank you card, they may not know what they have done for you and how much it impacted you.


Step Three: Now what?


Now it’s time to make an action plan for moving forward.


What did you learn this year that you can apply moving forward?

  • Look at the first two steps and imagine what 2021 will look like.

  • What can you apply to the new year and what can you do that will help you to feel positive about whatever 2021 will throw at you?

  • We are not out of this pandemic yet, we will see more curve balls coming our way, but with a knowledge of our strengths and by leveraging this year’s experiences, we can have a more pleasurable experience. It will still be hard and uncomfortable, but we can continue to grow and move through it with more awareness.

I wish you a wonderful end to 2020 and I hope you can take the time to reflect back to see how far you’ve come. It is something to celebrate and I am proud of you for making it this far.