Happy Holidays! I started drafting this post on Christmas Eve., but got so deep into writing that I ran out of time. The next few days were a flurry of family functions: An evening with the inlaws. A Lord of the Rings marathon for Christmas. A trek north to see my relatives on Boxing Day.
So here we are, a few days later. The chaos is behind us and the year actually feels like it’s coming to an end. What better time to publish a self-reflection than now?
Why bother with a “year in review” post?
Whether you consider these sorts of posts interesting depends on your personal perspective. I’m fascinated by the lives of others, and I enjoy skimming stories from people around the world.
It feels like a throwback to the old web, when we blogged for the sake of sharing and discovery.
So, with that, here’s what I’m thinking about as the year comes to a close.
I set a bunch of goals…
In 2017 I set a bunch of goals for myself and referred back to them throughout the year. It helped me stay grounded. I was working towards something instead of responding to what others threw at me.
So I did the same thing in 2018. I set my goals in January and kept them in mind each month. I even published a mid-year checkin during the summer.
Unfortunately, I forgot to save my list of goals before blowing up the previous version of my site. (Oops.)
My takeaway: A list of goals for the year gave me something to work towards. An effective approach was to make the goals action-oriented instead of outcome-oriented. That is, they’re something I do.
…but I should’ve had a vision, too.
Where do you want to be in a year from now? I stole this from my friend & colleague Chris Carfi, and it goes hand-in-hand with setting goals. It’s a useful tactic that starts with the outcome, and works backwards from that to define the goals.
Unfortunately I didn’t have a clear vision of where I wanted to be at the end of this year. Instead, I had some rough ideas about what I wanted to do, and the projects I wanted to work on. And that was fine. But it’s not the same as articulating exactly what a successful year looks like.
My takeaway: Have a vision for what life is going to be like a year from now. It helps inform the goals I set for the time between. Treat the vision as the destination, and goals as the milestones along the journey.
I turned 30.
Ten years ago I was in the middle of my second year of classes at St. Lawrence College in Kingston. I figured I’d stay put in the town after graduating. It was larger than my hometown, I knew people, and I thought that’d be enough.
In hindsight, I’m glad that I got out. Despite having an aversion to Toronto, I accepted a job offer and moved to the “big city” in 2010.
(That aversion to Toronto is a condition we’re all raised with in central Ontario.)
My self-taught skills in web development proved to be the most valuable thing I had. I fell sideways into tech – and I’m grateful for it. The recession wasn’t the best time to step into the ad industry.
A cycle of chasing new job opportunities defined most of my early-to-mid 20’s. I made snap decisions, hoping that the next job would help me move a little bit further, a little bit faster. I lived paycheque to paycheque while trying to chip away at student debt.
Now here I am on the other side of 30. I’ve paid off my student loans. I’ve been with the same company for three years. I have car, a dog, and a loving partner. Things are good. Even five years ago I never would’ve imagined that this would be my life. A decade ago? No way.
But what now? What’s next? I never stopped to think where I’d be at 30. But now I can start thinking about where I’ll be at 40. I reacted to my 20’s. I want to prepare for my 30’s. (#adulting)
My takeaway: Time flies with the rhythm of a fortunate position. Being able to plan for the future, instead of reacting to what the future throws at you, is a privilege. I want to acknowledge it, embrace it, and not waste it.
I took more road trips.
I’ve had my license for only a couple of years. People seem surprised when they learn that. But until recently, I never had the means or the motivation to get behind the wheel. I lived in downtown Toronto – why would I need a car? I took transit, I rode a bike, I called cabs. That was fine enough.
My mom was also late to get her license. And I’ll never forget what she said when I told her that I was getting mine. She said that being able to hop in the car and go wherever you want was one of the most liberating feelings I’d ever have.
And yeah, she was right.
I love taking little road trips whenever I get the chance. I like going for a drive, stopping in little towns to check out local small businesses. And I wouldn’t be able to do that if I didn’t have a car.
There were two highlights of my drives in the US this year. The first was a northbound jaunt from Phoenix to Flagstaff via Sedona. The second was a California sunset drive. I followed Skyline Boulevard southbound along the hills overlooking Silicon Valley.
Back home, it’s the weekend day trips I look forward to. It’s visiting Niagara on the Lake to grab a case of wine. Or it’s heading up north to the Muskokas for a hike. Or it’s hauling east to Montreal for some damn fine bagels. (The best bagels. Sorry NYC.)
On the home front, two highlights came this past autumn. There was my drive to WordCamp Rochester, which included a stop at the Niagara Gorge. Then there was our family day trip up to Hardy Lake Provincial Park.
My takeaway: I know these little treks aren’t great for my carbon footprint. But they let me appreciate nature in a way I couldn’t before. I’m looking for other means to offset my environmental impact, so I can keep taking these drives.
I went on a Caribbean cruise for the first time.
This isn’t the best segue from “reducing my carbon footprint”, but c’est la vie.
In the spring I took a Caribbean cruise for the first time in my life. It was aboard Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, one of the largest cruise ships in the world. And while the ship was impressive, it was the excursions that stuck out.
We treated the ship like a ferry that shuttled us from island to island. Each destination had its own activity. There was hiking, ATV’ing, snorkeling, and scuba diving – another first for me.
This was also the first time that I’ve seen such extreme levels of poverty up close. I remember one excursion in particular. Our driver was rushing us back to the port, zipping down side roads to avoid traffic. I saw makeshift homes, one after another, built with scavenged supplies. I’d never seen anything like it.
But I did recognize something else. Strangers tapping and scrolling through their phones. Despite the conditions, despite the surroundings, despite my assumptions, they had internet access. I doubt it was very fast, but it was there.
My takeaway: I enjoyed the cruise. I enjoyed the food. I enjoyed the activities. But I’ll remember those momentary glimpses out the window more than anything else.
I joined bike rides.
I signed up for the rides back in late 2017. I wanted to get in the saddle again, and these events seemed like good milestones to work towards. I joined spin classes through the fall and winter, bought a new bike, and did some training rides in the spring.
Unfortunately, after the Ride to Conquer Cancer in June, I just… stopped. I stopped spinning. I stopped going on long rides. And the rest of my fitness regimen kinda slid backwards, too.
I’m happy to say that I’m back at it, as of the last month or so, in preparation for the new year. I’ve signed up for the 2019 Ride to Conquer Cancer (and am looking for donors). I’m making spin classes a routine again. I even picked up some cold weather riding gear. No excuses!
My takeaway: I made the mistake of setting the rides as my goal, rather than setting a vision of being a cyclist. What’s the difference? When you’re a cyclist, you keep riding. And when one ride ends, you start planning for the next. I didn’t do that this year. I finished my rides and stopped altogether.
I worked on professional development.
My career goal for the year was to move into a defined role. Even if my work was the same, I figured a familiar title would help others understand what I do, even if it’s at a high level.
I got it in September: Senior Marketing Manager. The work hasn’t changed. I’m still doing content strategy and technical marketing. But Senior Marketing Manager means something to people regardless of their org. Plus, it doesn’t pigeon hole me into a specific subset of expertise.
My takeaway: I liked working towards a position that had a documented set of requirements. It helped me identify, focus, and address my knowledge and skill gaps. I wish I did it sooner. But now I know, and I’m taking that into account as I look to the future.
I tried to make responsible choices.
One of my big realizations this year is that our lives are defined by our choices. But not everyone has the ability to make those choices.
I chose to go to college, but only because I was able to. I received student loans and a line of credit because I had a co-signer. Not everyone does.
Growing up, I built websites as a hobby. Because of that experience I was able to start working in tech straight out of college. But I only had that experience because we had a PC with internet access at home. Not everyone did.
As I look back on these choices, I’m starting to recognize the advantages that allowed me to make a choice. And as I look to the future and what comes next, I’m thinking more about the effect of those privileged choices.
What clothes do I buy? What do I eat? Where do I spend my time? Where do I spend my money? If I’m in a better position now than I was ten years ago, can I leverage that advantage to make responsible choices?
My takeaway: If I have the privilege of making a choice, I’m trying to make the responsible one. That includes buying things that are sustainable, local, ethical, and cruelty-free.
We got a “practice house”.
I grew up in apartments. They were usually basement apartments. And since coming to Toronto I’ve usually lived in condos. But that changed this autumn when we moved into a townhouse.
It’s a rental, and we won’t be here forever. But it looks like the house was somewhat neglected over the years, so we’re doing our best to fix it up. We call it our practice house. We needed the space, and the new responsibilities are a learning experience.
Home ownership has always been at the back of my mind. I come from a family of home builders. I’ve seen entire fields cleared and turned into neighbourhoods in a matter of months. I’ve seen houses take shape from poured foundation to fixture installation.
But home ownership in Toronto is a pipe dream. It’s too expensive here. We’re the hottest market in Canada. I don’t care how bad Doug Ford and his buddies want to clear out the Greenbelt. I don’t expect any amount of housing volume to bring prices back down to a reasonable level.
I have friends who’ve left the city, moved out to Niagara or Hamilton or Guelph, in pursuit of the dream. But is that worth leaving Toronto for? Again, it comes down to choices. Do you leave the city so you can own a parcel of land, or do you stay put and invest your money elsewhere?
My takeaway: We’ll see what happens. In the meantime, I’m excited to watch the Eglinton Crosstown come to life. The Golden Mile is on track to transform from a big box retail strip into an actual neighbourhood. If I decided to buy a condo in Toronto, I’d likely buy it there.
I tried to improve at overcoming obstacles.
I have an inconsistent track record of perseverance. Unless I’m particularly confident, my tendency is to back off or back down. I have an aversion to conflict and confrontation, and I don’t like riling people up. I’d rather say “oh well!” and move on.
But I also believe that perseverance is a virtue, and I do like solving problems. So this year I’ve tried to keep my reactions in check, and to treat unexpected surprises like a puzzle. What’s the problem, and what are the options for solving it?
I’m still working on this, and I’m well aware that I have a long way to go. (Especially if the obstacle is travel related. Ho boy.) But I am getting better, and that’s worth something.
My takeaway: Resist the temptation to bail out. When that feeling strikes, treat it as a signal to step back, slow down, and consider all the options.
I moved on.
Counterpoint to above: Sometimes you gotta pack it in. There’s a delightful feeling of relief that comes from stepping away. It’s knowing that you’re free of it. You’re done. What happens next isn’t your problem.
I was toying with a bunch of potential projects this year. Most of them never got off the ground. And I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful that they hardly began, because those are fewer things I may need to walk away from in the future.
And there were other activities that I walked away from, too. I walked away from WPToronto after years of co-organizing. There was a big week-long bike ride that I was training for, but never completed.
Back in high school I had a teacher roast me for not completing the things that I set out to do. I won’t forgive him, but I do acknowledge the truth in it. I want to do a lot, so I start a lot.
But what I’ve learned is that, even if I don’t finish everything, at least I’ve started. And I’d rather be in a position of having started to do a lot, than to have never started anything at all.
My takeaway: It’s a constant battle between trying something new and not trying to do too much. I doubt I’ll ever get it right. It’s likely a battle I’ll always be fighting. But if that’s the cost of trying new things, so be it.
I need to do better with protecting my flow.
“Flow” is that magical state of mind where everything happens without interruption. It’s when you’re deep into an activity and time slips by. It happens to me when I’m doing dishes, or reading, or writing.
You can’t get into a state of flow in only 30 minutes, though. You need to carve out at least an hour to get into it. So for the past few years I’ve tried, with varying degrees of success, to create blocks of “flow” time.
Spoiler: It ain’t easy.
“Timeboxing” is the method I’m using. You put these boxes of time on your calendar, so that you are (in theory) committed like any other appointment.
Unfortunately, it’s very easy for this allocated time to get disrupted or deferred. It’s usually a last minute change, “high priority”, that someone else puts on your calendar.
That’s been one of my biggest issues this year. There are so many blocks of time that got knocked off my calendar because something else came up.
And it’s almost always the same activities that get bumped off. Professional development. Reading. Writing. Pretty much any task where I needed to be in a state of flow, and where I’m accountable to myself and not someone else.
I’m not a betting man, but if I were, I’d bet that I’m not alone here. I’m sure many of us put time aside to work on our development, even if it’s only a couple hours a week. Then we find that time usurped and abandoned for one reason or another.
My takeaway: I need to do a better job of holding myself accountable to the time I set aside for myself. Timeboxing only works if you protect the time that’s blocked off.
How did your year go?
I’ve spent the last week kicking the draft of this post around. I’ve lost myself in revisions and reflections about what happened in 2018.
With it now (finally!) published, I’m interested in how others are feeling about their year. Was it good? Bad? Productive? Regressive? Drop a comment below or give me a shout on Twitter.