The past few weeks have been a chance for deep reflection on 2015 and consideration of the year ahead.
The beginning of a new year brings with it the hope for positive change and the possibility of starting fresh. I love that feeling in so many ways, especially since it comes right on the heels of the Christmas season, which is always my favorite time of year.
As with so many of my friends, I’ve been influenced by Chris Guillebeau’s simple annual review process:
- What went well?
- What didn’t go so well?
- What would I like to change in the new year?
More than anything this is for me, and publishing it publicly keeps me accountable to the process. It also highlights some of the low points of the year, which I think is important, given the highlight reel we constantly see around the web.
What went well?
- Getting engaged – far and away, getting engaged to my beautiful fiancé was the highlight of my year. I am thrilled to have such a wonderful partner to experience life with. She keeps me accountable and serves as the unconditional love and support every person deserves to experience in life.
- Moving to Portland – living in a city other than Atlanta has always been on my “impossible list,” aka a thing I’ve always wanted to do. This year we made that a reality. It’s been challenging in a way that is helping us grow as humans, and that feels good. I’ve gotten to spend more time working in person with Corbett and Chase at Fizzle. But more importantly, we’ve quickly been embraced by a wonderful community of friends in the city. It’s also given us a chance to explore a new place and go on new adventures, which I thrive on.
- Attending the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum – the annual conference in Davos, Switzerland receives a flurry of both positive and negative press every year, but there’s no disputing it is one of the most important meetings of business, political, and NGO leaders in the world. I got lucky in being chosen as 1 of 50 members of the Global Shapers community to represent “youth” at the meeting. It was an experience I’ll never forget, and it was one that taught me so much about how high level leaders approach conversations related to the most challenging issues we face as a global society.
- Writing 110 days in a row – two people I respect have said repeatedly that writing and publishing everyday has fundamentally changed their careers. I couldn’t ignore the urge any longer, so in the second half of 2015, I set out to write daily for an indefinite period. Looking back at the year, this was my most significant contribution to my body of work this year. It taught me alot about the format of my most impactful writing and it will help me be a better creator going into 2016.
- Paid down a ton of debt – it turns out starting a company that ends up failing can be quite damaging to personal finances. This year, my fiancé and I took on the challenge of paying down debt as a shared adventure. In the process, we were able to make great progress towards our goal of being completely debt-free by the time we get married in April 2016.
- Mastermind retreats – this year my mastermind group hosted two retreats – one in Bryson City, North Carolina and another in McCall, Idaho. They were far and away the most important “business” travel I did this year. They served as important opportunities to build relationships with some of my best friends, think critically about building a career I’ll be proud of, and be encouraged to put my best work into the world. Caleb, Nathan, Barron, James, Matthew, Ryan, and Sean were absolutely indispensable to my growth as a human in 2015.
- Starting RCIA and reading the new testament – I’m a Christian and my faith is important to me. I had two major goals for the year with regards to growing in my faith: read the entire new testament, and start the process of converting to Catholicism so that I can enter married life under the same Christian denomination as my fiancé. This area of my life was one of two very bright spots this year and I’m proud of the discipline I applied to strengthening my spiritual life.
- Meeting my earning and giving goals – I set specific goals for earning and giving in 2015 and I met both. Between coaching, consulting, and my day job, I was able to earn the most I’ve ever earned in a year. Similarly, I gave away more money than ever before, which felt great. It also set a good example in my role on as board chair for a local Atlanta nonprofit. I don’t talk too much about my nonprofit work publicly, but I’ll probably start doing so more this year. I believe giving away money and community service in any form are remarkable ways to both serve others and to be more fulfilled as humans.
- Successfully battling physical and mental health challenges – I’m prone to anxiety and depression based on family and personal history. This year I battled with both, and I successfully identified triggers in my sleep, diet, and exercise patterns along the way. I feel much more confident in my ability to naturally cope with these stresses as I start the new year. I’m incredibly thankful for the patience of my support system as I tackled these things in 2015.
- Building community – my fiancé and I believe in the power and importance of strong community. We went out of our way to build friendships in both Atlanta and Portland after our move. It’s a work in progress, like anything, but a note from friends made me feel grateful late this year. It said, “We feel like the best version of ourselves when we’re with you.” That’s the kind of friends we want to be and we’ll continue to work towards that in the year ahead.
What didn’t go so well?
- Frustrations with my workflow – I had to do a lot of digging to understand why I was so frustrated with the work I produced over the past year. I went back to assessments from college to understand how my workflow and my natural abilities/personality are out of alignment. Thankfully, I think this will allow me to make adjustments in the new year to feel more fulfilled and be a more supportive team member.
- Strong feelings of anxiety and depression at the beginning of the year – the combination of previously unknown food allergies, poor sleep habits, and working remotely led to quite a bit of stress and frustration at the beginning of 2015. These stresses devolved into anxiety and depression. While successfully battling these things was a high, the feelings were also a low point earlier in the year. I’m hoping to maintain a better equilibrium in the year ahead.
- Money spent on doctors this year – I spent way too much money trying to find a doctor who actually understands the factors that contribute to good health. So much of the American healthcare system is built to address problems once they already exist. Preventive and elective care are foreign concepts to many doctors, especially when it comes to sleep, diet, and exercise. It took spending far too much time and money to finally find a holistic doctor who was able to help me begin to optimize my physical habits to improve my health. Thankfully, I’ll be set up to improve this in 2016 thanks to the efforts of 2015.
- Not growing my body of work – compared to years past, my body of work grew very little in 2015. The crowning accomplishments of 2015 related to my body of work were 110 days of daily publishing and 50 episodes of the Fizzle Show. However, as I look back on the year, I’m disappointed that I didn’t produce more work to help serve people. I have so many ideas to share that I believe will positively impact people. I often share these ideas with my close circle of friends but I need to do a better job of getting those ideas into the world.
- Not building my hard skills – I want to be proficient in design, front-end code, video, and audio skills. I’ve been saying these same things for years. And yet, another year went by without me taking the time to invest in myself. This year, I either need to make the time, or stop saying it’s important to me.
- Being distracted by social media – I let social media get the best of me this year. I used Facebook and Twitter as crutches in moments when I was hiding from the challenges at hand or the big projects I needed to tackle. I was still very productive at work, but as I look back I realize that, by and large, social media takes away from my life more than it adds to it. I’m not sure what to do about that just yet, but it’s definitely on my mind.
- Lack of sleep – I know I do my best work on days when I’ve gotten at least 8 hours of sleep the night before. In 2015, those nights were few and far between. Sleep is a foundational habit for my health, wellbeing, and productivity. It needs to become a cornerstone habit in my life if I want to stay healthy and show up with a great attitude everyday. TV, too much coffee, and quitting work too late in the evening were factors in not getting enough sleep in 2015.
- Challenges in nonprofit work – nonprofit work, whether in volunteer organizations or at the board level, can be challenging. The equation is simple: talented people are attracted to volunteer roles in nonprofit organizations; talented people are also usually very busy people; it’s very difficult to stay engaged in nonprofit work, especially when there is a lack of momentum towards shared goals. These challenges in my nonprofit work helped me grow as a leader, but they were also personally taxing. I’m so grateful for all of the volunteers who I got to work alongside in 2015, and I also want to find a way to make the work less stressful going forward.
- Staying in touch with family and friends after moving to Portland – it turns out that staying in touch takes time and energy when you move across the country. In the first four months after moving, I didn’t form a good habit of staying in touch with my family and close friends. That will be something to work on in 2016.
- Adventure – I had so many great trips and travels this past year. And yet, I have to admit that I talked about going on adventures to ski, fish, hike, and other fun things more than I actually did them. Much like building new professional skills, I want to do these things because I love them and care to learn more about them, not because of some sense of obligation. Approaching this from a place of joy and fun in 2016 should be a good start.
What do I want to change in 2016?
- Set fewer goals – as I looked back at my personal goals from this past year, I saw that I had failed to keep up with many of them, which naturally led me to ask, “Why?” There were probably many contributing factors, but one of the big ones was trying to pursue too many goals at once and imposing too much structure on myself. I think this led to being unhappy at work and at home, even though there was so much to celebrate. This year I’m going to set fewer goals and allow myself to pursue what feels right throughout the year.
- Focus on cornerstone habits – while I want to give myself much more freedom by avoiding too many goals, I also know there are a small number of habits that serve as the foundation for feeling good and doing my best work. In 2016, I want to focus on those habits: sleep, diet, exercise, morning routine, and writing (whether in public or through journaling). Everything else will flow from what feels right (which I’ll address shortly).
- Automate finances – I’m finally coming to a time of life where we have the resources to start actively managing our money in productive and generous ways. To help with that, I want to automate our saving, investing, and giving so that we’re sure to accomplish our shared financial goals throughout the year.
- Write – I know I mentioned writing already, but it deserves it’s own line item here. Writing is what allows me to process my emotions, plan for the future, develop new ideas, and solidify learning. At the core, I’m a writer. Yes, I exercise other skills in my work and I enjoy many different types of projects… and yet, when I don’t write, it feels like I’m missing a key component of my life. It’s time to fix that in 2016.
- Light on my feet – This post from Seth Godin changed my perspective in a moment when I needed a reminder of why I do what I do. In 2016, I want to approach my work from a place of joy and generosity. I want to constantly remind myself that it’s a privilege to do the work I do everyday. I want the great people I work with at Fizzle, at Camp Horizon, and in the Global Shapers to see me as a person who lifts spirits, encourages the team, and reminds us all that it’s a joy to do what we do to serve others.
- Seek out joy – And finally, in 2016 I want to seek out joy. That will be my theme for this year. I tend to take myself so seriously that I forget to enjoy life along the way. In lieu of hard goals, I’ll start each day this year with a simple question: “How will you seek out joy today?” Maybe that means asking permission to go skiing on a Tuesday. Maybe that means writing a post for The Sparkline. Maybe that means buying a friend lunch or planning a dinner party. But the point is simple: It’s time to focus on enjoying life just as much as I focus on “changing the world.” I deserve that (and so do you).
2015 was a huge year in my life. I got engaged to the woman to whom I’ll make a lifelong commitment. I continued to build my career by working with the team at Fizzle to become an even better company. We moved to Portland, OR for a grand adventure in a new place. We started to take control of our financial future. And I wrote more days in a row than I ever have before.
And it wouldn’t have been any of those things without the people who help me learn and grow and become a better person. To all of the family, friends, mentors, teachers, and colleagues who helped make it a great year – thank you.
I hope 2016 is another great year. It’s an opportunity for me to grow in new ways. To trust that if I focus on a few cornerstone habits, operate from a place of generosity and curiosity, and seek out joy everyday… I’ll do what I was put here to do.
So here’s to doing just that. Let’s do this, 2016.