Belated Birthday Resolutions
I develop a longer-term perspective by looking back and forward 12 months each year.
Thanks, previous years!
First off, looking back at 2015, I am amazed and infinitely grateful! It's been a year beyond expectations. What went particularly well?
- Maintained my career independence all year through consulting work (in my first year, plunged right into full time!!)
- Worked while traveling, for extended periods of time!! (months)
- So much kiteboarding!
- Lots of individual growth in relation to others (broke new ground in relationships)
What did not go well?
- I had a back injury and am still recovering. I'm just now coming to see it as the great opportunity for growth that it really is. I already went back and forth in my head on what could I have done different. Unfortunately, I can't turn back time. But the lessons learned are useful for life.
- My relationships all dwindled. I messed up several times. I've had an easier time forgiving myself than before, which is a good thing. They were necessary lessons. I regret splitting myself too thin and doing too many things: there were times where a bit more focus and importance to the present risks of a relationship would have been very useful. I'm learning and applying lessons here... and I feel that there is more to learn.
Here's what goals I focused on achieving for 2015:
- Travel, travel, travel
- Grow myn own business
- Become more physically fit
- Improve emotional balance
Travel, travel, travel
I experienced travel in a whole new way this year. I briefly wrote about a recent milestone.
- Travel to 2 new countries minimum. Done and upped: Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Thailand, Cambodia, Turkey, Mexico.
- Travel solo to a place for at least a week. Done and upped: Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Mexico.
- Immerse myself in a culture and learn to speak Spanish. Done: Mexico.
- Visit Romania. And visit Turkey while I'm at it! Done! Only spent a few days in Istanbul, but totally worth it.
- Work and travel for at least a week. Done for months.
I would give this an A+ except I did not experience as much of the world as I would have liked. I prioritized work and did not make an effort to explore as much as I should have (especially in Costa Rica), which defeats part of the point of my initial traveling goals. The best decisions I made to break out of this inertia have been:
- Visiting Cluj was truly life-changing.
- Visiting Istanbul was remarkably straightforward and I had excellent local help guiding me around. I could write a helpful post on Istanbul now that I think about it...
Specific situations I see now that I could do better:
- Visiting Costa Rica without seeing much of the country because I worked and kited pretty much all day every day. This as opposed to a woman I met named Julia who explored that whole part of the Americas in almost as long a time as my trip. I think 3-5 days would have been enough to feel like I'm getting the exploration side.
- Visiting Romania without seeing much outside of Bucharest (excluding Cluj). I worked most days and this was a general sense among all my friends. I think one 3-5 day trip here would have been enough of a gamechanger.
- Plan a short (3-5 day) period of exploration as part of a trip to a new destination. Could be a long weekend, or half-day explorations if in a city.
- First day in: front the costs on a hotel with WiFi or plan on downtime/productivity cuts for a day or two to figure things out.
Grow my own business
Really, it could be a B+, because it's been a truly amazing year.
Feeling independent career-wise is SO liberating I cannot express. And I have had almost no problems with motivation. In the beginning I struggled somewhat, but have since reshaped my beliefs and my life to mediate that. Yet more ideas for future blog posts. Overall, I did learn a ton about owning a business and talked to specialists, learned from mentors, and generally invested way more time in learning than I thought I would. That's why I gave myself a B plus.
Frankly, on a purely pragmatic level, I am far away from achieving promising growth. The key reasons for this are:
- Not having automated lead generation
- Not having an audience
Those two are actually related, and are promising to be the main challenge for 2016.
In terms of the specific bullets I laid out last year, having my own business is turning out to be quite different than what I expected it to be. So my initial long-term goals of:
- a focus on particular kinds of great work I do and
- a reputation, a network aware of my abilities and demanding me.
... I barely touched on in 2015. Instead, I learned more about:
- all the different kinds of work I should be great at
- to succeed at getting steady, satisfied clients
As for the concrete sub-goals:
- Earn enough to be extra comfortable. Overdone. My first year has been wildly succesful financially. At the expense of long-term investment in a sustainable growing business. More on this later.
- Legal and tax stuff. Done and ongoing. Got myself a CPA, financial advisor, and working on more.
- Create an emergency fund.
- Save, save, save.
- Bill at least 900 hours.
- Learn what I enjoy to offer through my business and focus on that. Partial but satisfactory, since I have learned about so many things I didn't initially set out to.
- Get involved with mentors. Thanks, Brennan, Ramit, and others!
- Invest in growing my own technical skills (angular, dynamodb, minimal design, pm, devops).
- Make a dream come true: work and travel (combine with above goal), a big reason I decided to be independent. Absolutely done!
Fell short on:
- Developing a client base. Only had a handful of clients.
- Did not get involved with groups. I'd like a mastermind group.
- Creating something of public value: an app, a website, a service, software tools, a blog. BUT! I have a few solid ideas to pursue for 2016 that I am really excited about. More on this later.
Become more physically fit
I definitely feel and look more fit and relaxed than before. However, in the process of losing fat I learned that my body is unhappy with less than where I'm at right now. As soon as I get sorta- visible abs, my circulation is poorer and I get cold way too easily--in 70 degrees!! (21 celsius)
I have also succeeded at gaining at least 5lbs of muscle, maybe more. I'd say most of it is core and leg muscle, which I actually love, and there's a fair gain in my arms and less so my chest. That has to do more with the way I've gained the muscle, which is mostly kiteboarding and rock climbing.
So here's how I did:
- Got a standing desk and used it for a few months. I love it.
- Gained muscle and lost fat.
- Kited my ass off.
- Learned a lot about stretching and still learning. Through massage therapists, chiropractors and other kiteboarders. I'm still developing my own routine, but I have daily exercises now.
- Awesome diet improvements. I'm excited to continue this in 2016. I learned that eating wheat is not a problem for me in Europe, but it is in the US. Similar for various kinds of cheese. So I'm staying off of grains and still avoid processed foods.
And fell short like so:
- I still spend too much time sitting and having poor posture
- Sucked at regular exercise and yoga while traveling. Since I spent 4+ months traveling this year, I need to come up with a better system.
- Didn't do any organized biking. Did some spontaneous trips myself, probably the most in a day was 15 miles.
- I still barely danced. It can't be a regular thing. I'm letting go of regular dancing as a goal for now. I still hope to improve in the next few years.
Improve emotional balance
This almost feels like an B+, but I actually accomplished the things that are healthiest for me best, and fell short on other ones. Sooo... I'm cutting myself a break (or in the spirit of meditation-speak, I'm treating myself with loving kindness)
- Meditated once per day most of the year. Given the difficulty of this habit, I'm calling it "done well". Also, I decided once a day is enough, and I prefer 30-40 minutes in one go. My daily average is about 20 minutes.
- I generally let bygones be bygones. And when I didn't, I learned from it.
- I've been excellent at keeping my inbox organized and handling incoming tasks.
- Embraced urgency and generally did not panic or stress out.
- Respected my own boundaries much more, and became more comfortable with time alone and traveling solo.
- Learned a ton about working while traveling.
- Did not always focus on the most productive tasks. In fact, I have an ambition for 2016 around this: devise several routines for productive days, and a high frequency to engrain them as habit. Morning routines get a special focus.
- Having a more concrete direction and setup for myself, especially while traveling. I'm cutting myself a break since I've been learning how to travel and work this year, and it's been more challenging than I expected.
Overall I'm impressed and proud of myself for handling this one so well.
- One of my best relationships transitioned to friendship
- I saw my close friends from Romania and opened up to them about my changed mindsets, with some tough conversations
- I stepped away from kiteboarding when my body told me to
Going back another year: 2014
This year I'm starting something different. I'm looking back two years.
Explore connections with people
I've come to look at love (the "giving") as a very deep intuition of giving love and caring for another person in a way they feel loved and cared for (as opposed to in a way we think they should be loved and cared for). Thanks to a very special person for this remark :)
- I have an even deeper understanding of love: we love those who makes us feel loved the way we want to be loved.
- I have become a better listener. However, I should confidently establish my credibility to be revered.
- I am still learning to give more and healthily.
- I am still working on my model of sustainable relationships. I want to read more and meet more people around this, perhaps by going to meetups.
Strengthen my sense of self
- My ego still gets in the way and I still let frustration or even mild anger take control at times. This happens more when someone breaks my expectations repeatedly and then makes a comment about me, even when it's not a criticism. I'm grateful that it's such a small thing, and I'm hopeful of managing my temper better.
- In my career I am expanding my sense of self so much that I need to re-examine my career focus for 2016.
- Courage has taken on another level of meaning: the ability to make intelligent decisions and understand the risk. This must be the true mastery of fear that I read all those quotes about. Meditation has been helping, too.
- I'd like to incorporate gratefulness into my meditation practice. It will help create more abundance and calm in my life.
Produce more and consume less
I still suck at producing regularly outside of my work. I cannot become a leader and continue this consumerist trend.
In order to become a producer I think I really need to prioritize it. Some of it has been a natural part of my consulting career, but there is room for more. 2016 -- have at it, please.
A part of this was inspired by Steve Pavlina. Steve writes really well. His 11 year retrospective has inspired me to look back at my growth as well and ask these questions:
- What was my greatest growth experience during those 11 years?
- What was my greatest growth lesson during those 11 years?
- For him, this was the lesson: When I fail to consciously create my own path of growth, I slow myself down and enjoy my life less.
- What areas of my life am I coasting instead of growing?
Here it is for me:
What was my greatest growth experience during the past 5 years?
Daring to be who I want to be in my relationships with others. Creating my own path, defining and attracting my own success.
What was my greatest growth lesson during those 5 years?
It's basically the same as Steve's. When I fail to follow my own goals and path, I enjoy life less. I've succeeded at following my path much more in the past two years than in the prior two.
What areas of my life am I coasting instead of growing?
I don't feel like I'm coasting in any area at the moment. But these may come up during 2016 and I'd like to keep an eye on them:
- Physically. My flexibility and balance is improving, but very slowly.
- Kiteboarding, partially because I am recovering from an injury still
- Flexibility, because I haven't been doing regular yoga. I need an exercise routine.
- Emotionally. I've transitioned away from many relationships. After tending to myself, it will soon be time to open up to others deeply.
- Experience higher intimacy with one or a few people. Increase this with my brother and my family.
- Spiritually. Experience more peace and less anger and frustration. I expect some sort of epiphany here.
- Commit to a higher connection to myself and my spiritual beliefs. Probably through meditation.
Startups for the rest of us made a great point. They suggested asking this question: If it was December 2016 today and I looked back on it, what would I want to celebrate?
Here are the top things:
- Being more patient with my mind, my body, and other people.
- Healing and recovering from my back injury so I can continue my favorite exercises: kiteboarding, rock climbing, yoga (last one is part of recovery)
- Continuing to be self employed and earning a living through it
- Starting an online business and making a first sale
- Creating (and maintaining) a social life of healthy relationships
Even those are a lot, and I hope to come close to them.
Grow my revenue by 50% with future potential
As part of taking my business to the next level, I thought about what 2x or 3x would look like. Honestly, I think there is potential to 3x or even 5x in terms of revenue.
However, life is not about money. Money is important up to a point. That point is surviving comfortable. After that, providing value to the world is much more important.
And in that spirit, 2016 is going to be a year of investment and research. Instead of growing my client base doing the same thing or increasing my rates and working more hours, I want to build something of lasting value and devise processes around it. This is key.
So, more concretely:
- Grow my revenue by 50% in 2016. Ultimately grow 3-5x within 2 years. (Possibly this results in reduced hours with similar total revenue. Also acceptable.)
- Produce valuable content for my clients or my industry (1 blog post a month)
- Develop a client pipeline to mitigate the drought of consulting
- Investigate potential audiences and Devise 2+ targeted landing pages (reach 100 subscribers?)
- Zone in on what my potential clients really want and get inside their heads via research
- Find an ambitious combination of skills that sets me apart
Ultimate goal: Grow 50% while building a growing business and audience. Use niching, quality content and client research to increase my value.
Treat my body with loving kindness
2015 has been wonderful for building strength. However, I've been feeling more tightness and muscle soreness than before. Both as part of aging and due to the intensity of my sport hobbies, I've found it necessary to stretch and care for my joints: wrists, knees, elbows.
My hopes are that I increase my flexibility and reduce my joint and muscle soreness while doing the sports I love. This will allow me to really make progress and improve my board and kite skills, and my climbing skills. If it doesn't work out, Plan B is to commit to yoga and stretching so as to strengthen my body and prepare for this to be possible in another year. Overall, I am confident I can find a healthy balance in 2016.
- Be patient. Be kind. Be graceful with others. When I need to step back, do so gently.
- Improve flexibility
- In particular, my legs and hips: hamstrings and quads. E.g. folding forward, opening my hips. Yoga is key here.
- Also my back: twisting and arching
- Average at least 20 minutes a day of stretching + yoga
- Develop my own routine and practice regularly with discipline
- Key areas:
- Tight muscles: hamstrings, back, wrists, shoulders, pects, neck
- Core strength
- Maintain healthy posture. Key areas:
- Back: upper, lower, shoulders
- Wrists: daily wrist self-masssage
- Neck: possibly cervical collar. Watch neck posture when on computer or phone
- Meditate regularly
- Average at least 20 minutes a day. Can combine with stretching and make it 30 minutes.
- Incorporate gratitude and loving kindness at least once per week
- Maintain a keen eye on how my body feels. This will help prevent injury and help me relax.
- Maintain core, legs and back strength with sports: kiteboarding, rock climbing, yoga
- Remind yourself to relax and be grateful. Every. Single. Day.
- Continue to eat well.
Ultimate goal: Maintain a healthy practice so I can still kiteboard, bike and rock climb while increasing flexiblity and having a healthy posture with yoga and stretching.
Engage an audience of 1,000+ people
So this is probably my scariest goal on the list. I'm not sure how I'm going to do this yet... I figure, worst case of "total failure" is I learn a valuable lesson in the process.
Here are the criteria:
- The audience can be engaged personally, professionally, or both
- Create a mailing list
- Establish credibility: why should you listen to me?
- Building this audience will require producing quality content
- Overall topic: Define and attract your own success.
- Potential narrower topics include consulting, travel and food (food on the road, even).
- Engage my audience and write content that they care about.
Ultimate goal: To produce quality work other people can truly benefit from. To finally commit to a regular way to give to the world. For me, the reward is learning, making friends, and possibly clients.
Note: This is a more concrete iteration of my goal from the past to "Produce more and consume less." History repeats itself :)
Work and travel productively
Despite the difficulty of working while traveling, I love love love love it! I am excited to continue this journey next year. The most challenging aspects this year have been:
- Finding reliable internet for my meetings.
- Finding a decent place to live.
- Eating healthy in countries and diets you've never experienced.
Other challenges where my pre-existing skills made a huge difference:
- Budgeting while on the road (this may be hard for most people, but I've been budgeting for years)
- Living in second world conditions (being from Romania helps)
The point here is that I was frustrated and annoyed while traveling several times due to my expectations and my unpreparedness. Admittedly it's hard to know what a place is going to be like before arrival, but it's not so difficult to plan for failure. Which I only started doing towards the end of my travel year.
So what's the next level here?
- Live outside the US at least 3 months
- Acknowledge that transitioning to a new place will cost me in productivity for even 1-2 weeks. Plan accordingly.
- Actually think about places I want to go to as places I might want to live in.
- Off of those, include nearby travel destinations that may not be "workable from", but that are beautiful and interesting otherwise. E.g. how Ko Phi Phi was in Thailand.
- Experiment with productive routines:
- Morning focus on what matters to me
- My body: meditation, yoga, stretching
- My career: what is the most productive thing I can do in the morning?
- My relationships?
- End of day:
- Plan out what are the first things I'm going to get done to avoid falling for "reactive mode". This should not need to take longer than 30 minutes, even 15 with practice.
- Sometimes, wind will encourage morning breaks. Alternative productive day requires end of day planning.
- Morning focus on what matters to me
- Work/life balance
- This year I worked my body quite hard. As I work towards a predictable consulting life, I want to limit the number of working hours per day. A healthy limit feels between 4-6 hours.
- I plan to use forcing functions to increase my productivity: working meetings and time-constrained work
- If I had just three hours to work today, what must I get done?
- Take more time to meet people and listen to them and understand them. This year has been great for that, but I can do better.
- Increase my spending budget by 25-30% for higher quality of life. This money goes towards:
- Nicer accomodations while traveling (#1)
- Newer kite gear
Ultimate goal: Enjoy work and travel more comfortably. Become a professional at leading a working life on the road.
Treat my relationships with loving kindness
In 2015, I didn't have relationships explicitly on my list. Relationships are such an important part of life that I felt suspicious of them not being on this list. Now they are back! This time, they are much less about my selfish needs. But really all about me growing as well, underneath it all.
My priorities for this:
- Listen. Listen. Listen.
- Be patient. Be kind. Be graceful with others. When I need to step back, do so gently.
- Learn what to give others to be respected and revered.
- Short, simple summaries about myself should suffice.
- Find a highly gratifying (for both sides) way to give. Ideally as surprise to people.
- Be patient and grateful to those that choose to enter my life.
- Approach any potential relationship with honesty, curiosity, patience and tenderness.
- Learn about humor. Actually worth researching this via books.
- Create or enter a new community of friends, preferably somewhere else in the world than the Bay Area.
Ultimate goal: Fill my life with patience, love and gratitude. Be present with other people. Let go of frustration, anger, fear, and guilt.
Looking back forwards
There's a term for this I heard before. Could it be future hindsight? The idea is to pretend you're in the future and look back to this moment.
What would I see after 2016 ends, if I look back? Well, most likely, I'll think I was completely wrong and I ended up in a different place than I thought I would. But then, why have these goals at all? Because, frankly, without goals, there is nothing to measure against. Goals give us purpose. They give us confidence. They give us reasons to do what we do. Even when those goals are wrong. There's a saying (and if you know who said it originally, please comment): if you don't set your own goals, you're working towards somebody else's.
I'm stoked for 2015 and I expect to be surprised!
Onward, I say!
I'd like to close with some gratitude for my year:
- All the wonderful people that have helped me as part of my newly launched consulting career: clients, friends, friends of friends, and pure strangers. I have met and bonded with so many people from various parts of the world, even taking the time to process all of that knowledge fully would take the whole year all over again.
- All the wonderful men and women who shared a part of themselves with me. Well, especially women. I have learned so much from people of all ages, and those who shared a big part of themselves have trusted me with so much more than I could have hoped for, and have enriched my life beyond what I could have imagined.
- My family. My brother and my parents have been immensely supportive and positive lights in my life as I've taken this journey into foreign lands: both literally and figuratively (travel, career, relationships).
- A special thank you to my friends from San Francisco Bay Area and Romania for digging themselves deep into my soul and supporting me with insightful advice and hugs :)
Thank you, 2015! And 2016, here I come!