Twice and thrice over, as they say, good is it to repeat and review what is good. – Plato
As 2017 comes to a close, it’s time to reflect on the year gone by. I don’t typically ruminate. Dwelling on the past gets me in trouble. But, I’m happy to reflect in-depth once a year.
2017 is the third full year since I’ve ended my travels and relocated to Colorado. A lot has happened. The word that captures the feeling of the year is surrender. I planned less and learned to discard my ego-driven goals and ambitions. Yet, I did a lot. I bought a house, made new friends and grew my business. In spite of the activity, this was a year of low-stress. I also had plenty of surprises, mostly pleasant.
I like to structure my year-end reflection against the backdrop of a wheel of life. It’s a handy tool that helps me gut-check that my life isn’t lopsided, or if it is, that it’s intentionally so! But first, I’d like to share a significant insight from the past year…
My Big Insight
The major theme of the year was that of living an inspired life, not a planned life.
This meant less structure and goal-orientation. Those who know me will be astonished. It’s a 180-degree turn from how typically lived. I’m the kind of person that thrived on goals, habits and making relentless progress towards the desired end. Heck, my entire previous career was spent as a leader in various Product Management and Strategic Planning roles!
Even stranger, as a coach I’ve become an expert on helping people achieve goals and build new habits. How could I abandon the thing I’ve become known for? Let me explain the why and how:
As is typical, I started the year with a set of goals (and habits), and a big spreadsheet tracker to “manage” them. I was crystal clear on my purpose, my “why’s” and who I thought I needed to “be” to accomplish my goals. I dove deeper and thought about the right habits to cultivate. It all seemed so planned out and well-put-together.
Then, after a couple months, I had a frightening insight.
I realized that I was literally hand-cuffed to my goals and habits. My plans were not liberating, they were irritating and confining. If the point of achievement is to be content and happy, I was progressing in the opposite direction. My grasping for self-improvement and business growth led to all sorts of malcontent. I was less appreciative of what I had, always reflecting on how I wished things to be. It wasn’t a deep frustration, just an undercurrent of pressure that I didn’t like.
I left my corproate job years ago to create a life of contribution and freedom, and here I was feeling confined and limited. How ironic!
More importantly, I realized that great things that had happened to me in life and business over the past few years were mostly unplanned. New clients, great friendships, a new home and place to live; none of this stuff was designed and achieved through my force-fed goals or habits.
I saw that my ego was trying to take credit for all the wonderful unplanned experiences that had come my way. This was not the truth of what was going on, and I don’t like living a lie. I was giving my goals and planning way too much credit. The truth was that by being fully engaged and open to the world and my innate creative potential, I was making my way and creating results without needing to figure everything out.
I realized that I don’t need goals and massive structures (habits, systems, etc…) or more book knowledge to achieve amazing things in life. Goals are fine and dandy if they are working for you. Learning is also wonderful if the process is fun. However, it’s vital to hold desires lightly. Ensure that your ambitions are putting wind in your sails and not limiting an openness to the unplanned wonders of life.
The ego is a slippery beast.
The ego strives for certainty and will force fit the wonders of life into a linear plan if you let it! However, the truth is that insight always flow from unknown. Certainty is the enemy of creative potential.
This year I’ve become far more trusting, open to uncertainty and appreciative of life as it is, without needing change. My stress has been low, and my mind has been calmer than many past years. One might think that such an outlook would lead to sloth and complacency. The opposite turned out to be true.
I’ve been more productive this year than in the past two. Most mornings I naturally wake up at 4–5AM, ready to jump into my work (for example I got up at 4:45AM today, read for an hour and am working on this blog post at 6AM). I’ve been receptive to new ideas. I’ve been more outgoing and extroverted, without needing to force it. Useful ideas and insights pop into my head all the time.
This is a direction worth heading in! I plan on keeping it up, weaving in new goals and habits if they naturally occur as fun and interesting.
Now, let’s take a look at what exactly happened and what else I learned throughout the year…
Almost every year in my adult life has featured some sort of athletic and health goal. Ironmans. Long distance runs. That kind of stuff. Last year my big goal was to run 100 miles (I ended up doing a 50 miler). This year was very different.
I started out trying to come up with a big goal race to train for. It felt forced and ego-driven. Then I realized that I didn’t want to race. Why pick a goal race if the thought of training and racing for a 50 or 100 miler wasn’t joyful? Instead, I decided to do whatever felt fun. For most of Jan, Feb, and March I skied a lot. In April and May, I ran a bunch, typically 2–3 miles at a stretch. During the summer I did a lot of hiking. Now, in the fall, I walk more.
I discovered bad eating habits that I started to clean up. Despite less exercise no consistent routines, I lost ~8 pounds without trying and have better energy throughout the day.
An excessive exercise routine can cover up a dietary disaster. When I stopped training as much, I realized that I needed to adjust my food intake to keep from gaining weight. This seems to be a common problem for people who use exercise as a tool for weight management. It’s not a sustainable strategy over the long-term. What happens when you can’t run, bike or swim all those miles every week?
It was a valuable lesson for me, and I’ve made it a priority to improve my diet and sleep quality as a building block to health, as opposed to focusing on training-oriented goals that could mask a dietary disaster. I previously equated fitness and athletic prowess with health, more than diet. The priority has been flipped.
I wanted to connect more with my family this year. We are spread all over the country. I didn’t know how it would happen, but lo and behold, it did. If anything, this year has featured more family gatherings than usual, and several family visits to our new home in Colorado.
Social media is a poor replacement for real gatherings. Organizing family reunions are a lot of work, but worth it!
If ego is the enemy, so are goals born out of self-gratification.
I’ve written at length about what I’ve learned being an entrepreneur. This is a part of my life where I was crazy about goals in past years. Social media growth. Revenue growth. Tracking referrals. Lead generation. Writing blog posts like clock-work. I started out the year with a bunch of desires, but quickly realized I would better off putting my energy and intention into serving my clients and creating useful content instead of fixating on an artificially created revenue goal.
We live in a culture that praises growth for growth’s sake. Who says growth is always right? Why do businesses need to grow to be considered successful? Is revenue even the right metric to use in measuring success?
I stopped fixating on outcomes and instead followed my inner wisdom and put my energy where I felt it needed to go. I immersed myself in training to take my coaching skill to a new level. I re-hired my coach. I started a podcast. I wrote dozens of blog posts. I connected with plenty of new friends in the coaching and business communities.
I stopped tracking progress with minute detail or focusing on outcomes. I just did stuff that felt appropriate and interesting. What happened next astonished me.
For the first time since becoming a coach, I filled up my coaching practice by mid-summer and established a wait list. Yes, my revenues grew significantly compared with last year, but most importantly I felt great about how I ran my business, and it was more joyful than ever.
Lower stress. Better results. I’ll take that!
If the process of building my business feels like a chore, I’m going about it all wrong. Success and achievement do not have to take a massive effort and limitless grit. We can achieve results through joy and wonder and remaining open to the world bringing opportunities and insights our way. We don’t need to muscle our way through it. Striving our way to success blocks us from our true potential.
The culture we live in praises an ethos of hard work and the pursuit of big goals. Nowadays, it’s sexy to cloak goals in “sheeps clothing” and reframe them as habits and systems. I’m not convinced that this is the path to long-term joy or success. As my friend Andrew has counseled me on numerous occasions, there is a different path, one of effortless success that we can choose to wander down as we make our way in the world.
The irony is, when one is focused less on the outcomes and more on the journey, what is achieved far surpasses expectations! Striving is self-limiting. Like trying to sink deeper into a stretch: relaxing helps one go deeper while pushing harder leads to injury. Note: I taught yoga for years, I know this to be true!
I’ve been far less concerned about building wealth than in previous years. I consider this a good thing. I have plenty of experience as an investor. I started investing when I was 10 years old and was an active stock and derivatives trader in my teens and early twenties. All that experience has taught me that unless one’s full time career is investing, that wealth is best built when it’s not the constant focal point of attention. Fixating on wealth plays with one’s emotions, and this leads to disaster.
Instead, make a simple plan for saving and investing and put your energy into your work! The value generated by your skill and work is the most significant source of wealth you have. It helps that my business is cash flow positive and I consider Chipotle a fine-dining experience! With modest tastes and spending habits, things are moving along just fine for me on the wealth front.
To the theme of unplanned surprises and insights popping up this year, my insight (after long conversations with a few friends early in 2017) to invest a modest amount of saving in Cryptocurrencies has been a pleasant boost financially speaking. On paper at least, it provided a mental cushion to help weather the inevitable ups and downs of cash flow that tend to go along with being an entrepreneur. Of course, the crypto market could crash, but that’s OK. I’m in it for the long term and haven’t invested more than I’m prepared to lose.
Create a long term plan for saving and investing and stick to it! Don’t make investment decisions based on emotions. This is especially true given the massive bull market we have been experiencing for the past few years. No-one knows when it will end. Stick to the plan. Devote your time and energy to your biggest asset, the value generated by your work.
At the same time, when a new trend appears that holds great promise, be ready to dive in, learn all you can about it and get involved. With investing in high-risk ventures, never spend more than you are prepared to lose!
Yes, there is a contradiction here. Plans and automated saving is a good strategy for wealth building. Similarly, your head can’t be buried in the sand. When you see opportunities, be ready to move after them in a responsible and safe manner.
The big home-oriented event in 2016 was selling what we thought would be our “forever” home in Seattle. This year, our big event was purchasing a new house in Morrison, Colorado – a short drive from Denver and close-in to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The process of finding the house was painless, and we had an outstanding realtor (highly recommend Christy Watson for Boulder/Denver area home seekers!).
John, a meditation teacher, once told me: “we pay a big price to live in cities.” I didn’t understand his point. At the time I had moved into a posh condo in downtown Seattle. Wasn’t being around lots of people and opportunities a good thing? It took me many years to realize the truth in his comment.
A quiet home improves my quality of life. While some opt to live in urban centers, I thrive on peace. Our house, smack dab in a sleepy suburban neighborhood is the perfect fit.
I’m also seeing how stuff can weigh me down. I’ve been pretty minimal throughout my life, but I still have too much stuff! It’s been a year-long process of unpacking, donating and selling things that have been in storage for years. The cost of buying things is not only the sticker price, but also the cost of storing and dealing with the items down the road when usefulness runs out!
Most people know me as the type of person who is always planning (or recovering from) a trip to a new and exotic place. With all the travel I did during my gap year, I don’t feel the need to travel to exotic places as much as before. Colorado (and New Mexico, which is close by) have so much to offer! Between family gatherings, friends visiting Colorado and regular hikes and skiing trips, I had plenty of fun this year without needing to use a passport.
…or maybe I’m just getting old!
Exploring doesn’t require a passport. It’s a mindset. Take advantages of opportunities to explore your backyard.
I’m a broken record this year on the contribution front. Similar to last year, I haven’t engaged in a local charity or cause. At the same time, I don’t feel bad about it, unlike previous years. Part of the reason may be that my work gives me a profound sense of service. Through coaching, I get to help people get unstuck and moving in their careers. I’ve worked with dozens of people pro-bono this year as well. That feels good.
I also realize that one of the most useful things I can do is provide content that is practical and helpful to people. Between the 130+ blog posts I’ve written and the new podcast, I feel like I am contributing to the community even though it doesn’t require my physical labor (just a lot of mental labor).
About twice a month I get an email from someone who really appreciates the content and has made a positive move in their life as a result. I love hearing that!
Contributing is more than writing a check or picking up a hammer. It’s about feeling like you are making a difference. There are many ways to do that. I also know that doing everything at a high level every year isn’t a reasonable or helpful expectation to have. Just as my career and home environment have been priorities this year, community service may naturally become more of a focus in later years.
I’m more interested in living an inspired life than a goal-driven life. Goals are good if they feel good. If not, hold those goals lightly (or get rid of them altogether) and jump into life. Get on with doing things in the world, without expectation. Point yourself in general direction that interests you. Move on with your journey but don’t fixate on the destination.
This has been the theme of my year, and it’s worked out wonderfully. I’ve grown my business. I’ve bought a house. I’ve had fun. I’ve learned a ton. I’ve met new friends. I’m motivated to wake up every day and jump into my work. That’s a great life as far as I’m concerned.
What’s been the highlight of your year? Let me know in the comments below!
Lovely Ravi. Thank you for sharing what I read as the evolution of your life journey.
Agree with your conclusion about an inspired life. In case you are interested, see slide 13 of my Playbook for Purpose-Driven Employee Engagement.
Inspired employees outperform/out produce the rest. It would take two and a quarter satisfied employees to generate the same output as ONE inspired employee. That’s from the business owner/employee side but what’s more exciting is for the worker/employee/entrepreneur. I know I jump out of bed when I am inspired to go do stuff that has meaning for me.
Take what serves, drop the rest.
Dear Ravi! Thank you very much for writing about the joy of the journey instead of being blinded focused on the outcomes. In the past I devoted 22 years (as a national level track&field runner) on my goals of being faster than my previous fast time on a certain distance. Now, years later I see clearly that my mind was never ever satisfied. These days in my Seventies I am able to still run and completely enjoying being outside on trails or on grass fields. So yes, nothing wrong here. Because of these 22 years, I am now where I am now and that’s being happy on the trails while running and breathing lightly. Thank you again, Ravi, for inspiration and letting me think about that special period in my life.
Hi Reemi, I appreciate your sharing. That’s wonderful that you are still out on the trails and enjoying the process. That’s one goal I do have…to be active and enjoying the trails throughout my life!
Ravi, your insights really resonated with me. I have questioned the whole ‘growth is good’ idea – in business/the economy and in work – for a long time. And there are so many things we miss in life when we don’t realise which way the current is trying to take us. My father was seriously ill for some months and I cut back work almost completely to spend time with my son and be free to visit my parents more. I think that’s an example of letting yourself flowing the direction life is trying to take you. There have many important moment to cherish along the way.
The best goals to focus on, IMHO, are ones related to relationships. What’s the relationship I want to have with my son in 5 or 10 years’ time? That’s a more substantial goal than work priorities, money or ‘objects’.
I’m not saying work isn’t important. I LOVE working, but I have realised it’s important to take a step back and get a different perspective on what is happening around me.
Am now heading over to subscribe to your podcast 🙂
All the best for 2018!
Thanks so much for sharing and I hope you enjoy the podcast!