How Did You Do In 2017?
The first musical I remember listening to was Miss Saigon. My mother played the cassette on weekends, and we listened to it dozens of times. As a boy, I tried assembling the story by the songs alone: Why did Chris leave Kim so suddenly? Why did he marry Ellen? For years, for some reason, I thought she was stuck in a Vietnamese jail with her son Tam, not hiding in a village.
A couple weeks ago, I saw the musical for the first time, and songs like Why God Why? and I Still Believe transported me back to those weekends, that cassette, those moments wondering what transpired between Chris and Kim.
I wanted to sit with it some more, compare and contrast what I thought then with what I know now. But before I got the chance, it was time to get back to life: catch an Uber, get back to the apartment, feed the dog, get on with life.
It’s a mistake, to let the reflection period go by without a backwards glance. The best part of an experience (a show, a family vacation, a performance, a match, etc.) is the anticipation. The second best part is reliving it afterwards with people you shared it with. Without the denouement, there’s no gratitude.
This is my long way of saying that as #basic as it may be to #reflect at the end of a calendar year, it’s still important.
My process for reflection
I focus on a handful of topics, more or less in order of importance to me: Family, friends, career, creation, finances, health, habits. Sporadically, throughout the month of December, I’ll think about these topics. Nothing too structured, just letting whatever thoughts bubble up to the surface while I’m brushing my teeth, making coffee, reading in bed:
What did I do to move these areas of my life forward? What were favorite moments? Where are places I can improve? I’ll jot these down.
Later in the month, I’ll go through the following sources to fill in the gaping holes in my memories: My Evernote journal (where I record what I get done daily), FourSquare (places I’ve checked in), Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. I also refer to my training log, my finances log, my email (where I save “good” and “bad” emails) as well as Day One, a diary app I recently started using.
I go through the same process: How did I move forward? Favorite moments? Areas of improvement?
I mostly keep these to bullet points. Trying to write in prose would just slow the process down. This isn’t about finding a narrative, but observing a single trend: Do my actions reflect my priorities? Let’s say my priority was to build a better relationship with my siblings. How much time did I spend with them? How often did I call or text them?
Or if I said at the start of 2017, I wanted to lose 10 pounds. How much of a priority did I make my health? Did I consistently track in my training log? Was I checking into the gym every week? Did I make time to meal prep every Sunday?
Losing the 10 pounds or not is less important as:
Am I honest with myself?
Did my actions map to my ambition?
And where can I course correct for next year?
Trends in 2017
Here are a few trends this year I wanted to highlight:
I probably saw my parents and sister more in the last year than the last 4-5 combined, thanks to living in Queens. The apartment is a two and a half hour drive to Albany, plus a 10-minute walk to my sister’s apartment. Even though Park Slope in Brooklyn only adds an additional 30-45 minutes, it was a big enough barrier for regular visits (for example, much easier now to invite my sister over for Sunday night dinner at the last minute).
I’d love to see my brothers more, but it’s difficult when both of them are out of state (Massachusetts and Wisconsin). I did make it to Massachusetts for a weekend visit, and we all went on a family vacation to Taiwan. We all stayed in the same Airbnb so we got some serious quality time in.
This trend challenges my belief that as we grow older, we see less and less of our family. It’s natural if it does happen — life takes us away as we pursue certain ambitions. However, it’s not a given. It can be a tough balance but “ambition” and “family” aren’t mutually exclusive.
Lifestyle design can solve for ambition. Working out “family” isn’t rocket science either, but a function of proximity. Prioritize proximity, and the rest will work itself out.
Over the last 3 years, I shed a lot of the “micro-optimizations” in my financial planning: Tracking receipts, using the YNAB (You Need A Budget) app, calling credit card companies to increase my credit line, etc.
I think all of these steps — especially taking an honest look at how much you ACTUALLY spend — is critical to develop your financial education. But once you’ve got the skill, the training wheels come off.
I still play the credit card game to get travel points, which paid for several trips to Ireland and a trip to Mexico City.
But I finally accepted that I’m never going to sit down and calculate my asset allocation, or how to save for mid-term goals, like buying a house. I hadn’t done it in the last 5 years, and didn’t see myself doing it soon. So I started working with StashWealth to manage my finances, and it’s been great. Highly recommend.
Finally, started investing in cryptocurrency a few months back, using the dollar cost average investing strategy recommended here.
Not much has changed nutrition-wise. Meal prep game remained strong the entire year. We’ll continue to keep that on point, and tweak our meals to make different things or make it more convenient.
Progress photos and weighing myself continue to be great reality checks. I started weighing myself every week, which I like more than weighing myself once a month. It helps me course correct much faster, but I get why it might not work for everyone. Progress photos I still take once a month.
Over the course of the year, my weight fluctuated within a range of 10lbs. Last year, that range was 12lbs, and the year before, it was 16lbs.
Weight training I’ve cut back to once per week, which allows me to maintain strength but has decreased my tendency to get injured. I got 2 stripes to my white belt this year. My goal this year is to get my blue belt, and compete once in a BJJ competition.
I started a new role this year, at an education startup called Reforge as a Senior Program Developer. Leaving I Will Teach was definitely bittersweet, as I learned an incredible from Ramit, Jeff, and the entire team over the last two years.
My last project was developing Ramit’s second book, called Your Move: The Underdog’s Guide to Building Your Business. I put myself on lock-down mode and delivered it one-day ahead of an extremely tight deadline. There were moments I didn’t think I’d make it:
When I delivered to Ramit a day early, neither of knew what to do with ourselves. It was werid to be ahead of schedule. “Well, take a break then,” he said. The book hit #1 on the WSJ bestseller list.
Reforge introduced me to the world of Growth Marketing and the tech scene in Silicon Valley. Currently, I’m working on a new Retention and Engagement program, and have really been fortunate to meet so many top thinkers in the field (a short, incomplete list: Shaun Clowes, Casey Winters, Andrew Chen, Mayur Gupta, Joanna Lord, Gina Gotthilf, to name just a few.)
And I’m beyond excited to shape the programs we build and the direction of the company as a whole.
Writing and Side Projects
I tried (and quit) a lot of things this year:
I paused work on Fighting Broke, my blog that helped people move to Los Angeles and land their first job. Then, partnered with another blog called I’m Moving to LA, and ultimately quit that one as well.
I did a free project for a company called Student Loan Hero, that got me an interview and then didn’t go anywhere.
I did some free work for the MMA analyst, Robin Black. Then paused that after a few months.
I worked with a virtual assistant in a significant capacity for the first time. That lasted a few months.
Early this year, I tried blogging consistently again. Didn’t develop the system to do it consistently, and fell off. Now I’m trying again, this time with a more robust system, and I’m writing a monthly newsletter to go along with it.
Played A LOT with Instagram stories, and tried learning how to speak to camera without sounding like I hated life (way harder than I thought it would be). This turned into the gateway to shoot more video documenting everyday life, and edit those videos on my phone. Which in turn, led to me cutting 112 videos(!) and creating a repository of the year’s highlights. I’m thrilled to have these moments documented, to be honest.
However your year went, I hope you can appreciate it and be grateful for where you are. Without gratitude, every experience is ultimately an empty one.
Photo Credit: David Barnas