A new year is almost upon us. With 2018 coming to a close, it’s time to reflect on what the year brought. Writing an annual review is something I’ve done for many years. In 2016 and 2017 I made them public. In the past, I would reflect on my audacious goals and accomplishments vs. failures. However, after waking up to the fact that the best results in life cannot be planned, I’ve embraced a different tone to my reviews in 2017 and this year. Instead of goal achievement (or lack thereof), I’ll instead focus on what happened, what I’ve learned, and what (if anything) I’m inspired to do next.
If you are curious about my radical shift in focus, read the first portion of my 2017 annual review. In a nutshell, it has occurred to me that the best things in my life, the real game-changers, were not planned (nor could they be planned!). I could either continue to run my life the way I had in prior years – ambitiously goal driven – or fully embrace the reality of how life actually works. The later is much more enjoyable (and fruitful) way of being.
The opposite of goal-driven isn’t lazy. It also doesn’t imply that I wander aimlessly around with no clue about what to do. Instead, it means that my primary aspiration is to meet each moment as thoroughly as I can, with whatever the moment requires of me. If I am inspired to chase a long-term goal, then I will. Turns out though, that this rarely happens. Instead, I find myself looking backward at the steps I’ve taken, and the path traveled, amazed at the accomplishments but bewildered by exactly how they happened!
As a backdrop to my year in review, I reflect on the major aspects of my life. I’m still a fan of the wheel of life as a framework for thinking about what goes into a full life. It’s a handy way to avoid fixation and promote a more comprehensive view of what matters. I use this tool with my coaching clients (occasionally), and the categories below represent aspects of life that matter to me.
I cast aside any specific goals this year for health. Instead, I just wanted my physical body to not get in the way of fully engaging in life. I suppose you can call this a goal, but it emerged naturally during the spring as allergy season went into full swing. After a few major allergy attacks (that knocked me out for a couple days at a time) and a visit to a doctor who said “there’s nothing we can do about it,” I resigned to just dealing with it and not letting it get int the way of my life as much as possible.
Then, I had one of the worst attacks in memory, and we (my wife and I) had to abandon a camping trip and return home days ahead of schedule. As I laid on my couch in a catatonic state (Benedryl will do that); I had an idea!
I’ve experimented with dietary changes to fix my allergies in the past, but nothing had worked. Gluten-free. Allergen-free. Nothing worked. However, I hadn’t tried not eating at all. I don’t know what motivated me to try this, but I decided that I wouldn’t eat for the next day and see how I felt. Within 24 hours, I felt better. This led me down a rabbit hole, researching intermittent fasting and the work of Dr. Jason Fung. There are a lot of benefits to be had with fasting. However, nothing I read turned up anything about fasting and improvement with seasonal allergies. However, I decided to experiment with it anyway. I had a firm sense that it might work.
Since not eating is a terrible strategy for managing a health issue, I experimented with eating one meal a day. Immediately, I noticed a tremendous relief of my symptoms. I kept this up for several more weeks. During this time, I didn’t have a single allergy attack (I usually get a couple every month), and more surprisingly, my chronically runny nose and frequent sneezing stopped cold.
Throughout the summer, I eased my diet to a couple meals a day (lunch and dinner), occasionally switching to one meal a day if I felt my allergies acting up. The result has been nothing short of miraculous. I’m not claiming to be cured, but after 20+ years of suffering from this problem, it’s nice to know that a random dietary experiment is yielding promising results.
Beyond this, I’ve noticed a few things happening over the past few months positively impacting my health. I’ve been running consistently, going to the gym and meditating for more extended periods. I also switched to decaf coffee, which has had a surprisingly positive impact on my overall well-being. All these shifts have been wonderfully positive, and willpower-free. I’m finding a natural motivation to break specific routines and build new ones. It’s not stretch to say that all these supposed “habits” have spontaneously arisen out of nowhere. I wouldn’t even call them habits, any more than sleeping is a habit. I do them because it just feels good and right to do them.
After years of competitive sports and goal-oriented health achievement, I’m seeing a more enjoyable and profound rate of progress by casting aside my fixed goals and engaging with what life brings to me, be that bad (major allergy issues) or good (an insight to try fasting as a cure). I am very curious about what would happen if other people did the same. What would happen if people stopped chasing a fabricated health goal and instead really listened to what was happening in their body, and acted on the natural inner knowing of what to do next about it?
This year included plenty of time with family. No mega-family-reunion type stuff…but a few trips across the country to connect with my parents (on the east coast), in-laws (in Minnesota) and siblings (east coast and California). We also had family members fly through Denver (spur-of-the-moment) for chance meetings. These rendezvous were serendipitous and great, sticking to the theme of “unplanning” my life. I’ve also been more actively video-chatting, using WhatsApp Video and Marco Polo (group video messaging). Both are nice ways to stay in touch with people far away.
Only a couple of the family meetups this year took much planning. The rest either happened randomly or by taking advantage of spur-of-the-moment deals for last-minute flights. The big lesson of the year regarding family was to make use of the technology to have more video chats. I backed off on passive Facebook shares (basically going off the platform when it comes to “news feed sharing”) and instead focused on real conversations. I’m not a #DeleteFacebook zealot, though I’ve come to see it as a woefully inadequate tool for fostering meaningful connection.
This year I continued my practice of setting up a waitlist for my coaching business when I hit a sufficient number of clients. This helped me stay sane and devote all my energy and attention to the people I am working with, as opposed to feeling like I have to drum up new business constantly. I also started focusing more on working with people who are looking for an executive / transformational coach as opposed to tactical job-search oriented coaching. While I still do the latter, the former is really what I enjoy and what creates lasting and powerful results for people. This shift in focus resulted in a slight dip in my business income for a few months, though over time an increase in referrals made up for the gap.
I invested a lot in coaching skill and training year (as I always tend to!), spending the first half of the year working and coaching with a group of talented coaches from all over the world. I’m amazed when I meet people who aren’t investing any time/money/energy on becoming more skilled in some aspect of their life. I’ve created a personal growth “budget” for myself (since I was 20) and I’ve never regretted spending the money.
Yes, there is such a thing as too much focus on personal growth and not enough focus on living life. Ultimately, the most important thing is to be fully engaged in living well. It’s also true that learning and mastering skills can be incredibly rewarding and fun. So finding the right balance is critical. Unfortunately, most people I encounter are completely ignoring the most important investment they can make, which is in themselves.
After four full years in business and thousands of hours of paid coaching work, I realize just how much I have to learn when it comes to being an outstanding coach. How I coach dramatically changed this year, in no small part motivated by my direct experience of the limitations of goal-driven/empowerment-based coaching styles. There is infinite depth in any field of work, and coaching for personal growth is no different.
What is wealth? Is it a bank balance or is it a feeling?
I’m convinced that it is the latter.
This year a few things happened that positively impacted my feeling of wealth. On a lark, for a full month, my wife and I operated in “austerity mode,” cooking all our meals and not buying anything beyond the essentials for our home. This experiment helped us reconnect with our joy of cooking, find all kind of cool stuff we had packed away in boxes and inspired a spontaneous wave of sales of old goods on eBay. All this left us feeling genuinely wealthy. After all, if the definition of wealth is that you have enough money to afford the things and experiences you desire, we hit that nail on the head! One way to be wealthy is to make a lot of money, but the other (much more attainable) method is just to learn to love what you have.
Unlike last year, this year featured a cryptocurrency crash as opposed to boom. I’m lucky to have sold a bunch of my holdings last year, but unlucky to have reinvested much of those gains early in 2018. I’m now in full HODL mode. 🙂
I also deviated from my personal rule of never buying an individual stock. I’ve written at length about my investment strategy and the perils of trying to pick stocks. That said, I broke my rule upon seeing Facebook crash recently and snapped up some shares. This was a greed-driven move on my part (as I’m not even a fan of the Facebook service!). Within a few weeks, I regretted my choice and unloaded the shares at a 10% loss. Small price to pay for a valuable lesson: When it comes to investing, Gordon Gecko was wrong, greed isn’t good!
On the business side of things, it’s also nice to know that in spite of having no specific income goal for my business, I did just fine. My business continues to move along at a healthy pace, as referrals have picked up significantly this year, in addition to a few former clients coming back for another round of coaching.
Wealth is not about getting what you don’t have. It’s about being grateful for and content with your current state of affairs. I don’t think there is any way around this understanding. If you cannot be entirely at peace with your current level of wealth (and the things and experiences you currently have) then you never will be.
The paradox here is, when you are content with what you have, you are better able to be of service to others without a hidden agenda. In turn, it’s being of service and offering real value to others that is the bedrock of building wealth over the long-term. In other words, it’s by not trying to create wealth that it becomes possible to build real wealth over the long term! Think about that for a minute.
Also, my experience with cryptocurrency has taught me the value in banking “gains” and protecting against downside risk in any investment by never investing more (in a risky venture) than you are willing to lose, which is what I did. My experience with buying Facebook stock, breaking my own cardinal rule of never buying individual company shares, reminded me about just how powerful a motivator greed can be.
This is the second year in our home here in Colorado. It’s great having a stable living situation and getting to know our wonderful neighbors makes it even better. We even are in the process of getting solar panels installed! Slowly but surely we have been modestly decorating and settling into the house. The more we get to know all the nooks and crannies of our neighborhood, the more we like it.
Leaving Seattle four years ago I really did wonder if any other place would feel like home in the same way. As the years tick by, Colorado is starting to feel much more like home. I didn’t have to do anything to create this shift. Time did the work for me!
We had a ton of fun this year. Much of it had to do with exploring the area we live in. We visited a bunch of mountain towns, went to new hiking trails, and spent a lot of time paddle boarding at one of the lakes near our home. Travel (particularly to Minnesota and LA) was super fun. Movies and the occasional comedy show at home rounded things out.
Traveling afar is excellent (as I learned after taking a gap year in 2014), but homemaking can be just as fun. Exploring local hiking trails or sitting on the couch and reading are equally enjoyable ways of passing the time. I used to think that if I wasn’t traveling to a new and exotic locale every year I was wasting my vacation time. Now, I don’t distinguish between exploring a local park and a new country. Exploring is exploring, wherever I am.
Contribution is about giving back to society, and it showed up in unexpected ways this year. In past years, my contribution was primarily about donating money to worthy causes. However, since leaving my old job and the cushy salary, bonuses and stock grants that came with it; I’ve had to reassess things. In recent years I haven’t done much that I would classify as “giving.” This year, I made a shift.
While I don’t have tons of cash to give away, I do have something much more valuable, my skill as a coach. I was asked to join the board of the International Coach Federation in Colorado for 2019, and I’ve also offered pro-bono coaching sessions to plenty of individuals who don’t have the resources to hire me but have a significant need.
Money is great to give if you have it, but I do think that giving one’s time and skill can make an even more significant impact on the world. I feel really good about my level of contribution this year, and it had nothing to do with writing checks. On the flip side, even in past years where I donated a lot of money, I often felt a bit unsettled about it, since I didn’t actually engage by offering my time or skill to the organizations I supported.
There is one big thing missing in this annual review, and that is how life felt this year. As opposed to past years, my level of stress massively declined, and my overall level of engagement in life (at all levels) rose sharply. I found myself spending less time thinking about things and more time doing stuff. Life seemed a lot less effortful and far more insightful and fun. Even when I was not busy doing things, I often felt a level of contentment that is unsurpassed in prior years.
What was the cause? Was it a deep sense of relief born from the surrender of my personal goals and wants? Was it a greater willingness to play fully in life as it was showing up without judgment? Was it a greater awareness of a key principle of life – that it always provides what is needed in the moment?
I think so.
2018 lacked goals, and yet, so many outstanding things still happened.
As I look forward to 2019, I’m not setting goals, resolutions or trying to 10X any part of life or business. Instead, I’m going to continue the path I’ve been on the past few years. It’s all about meeting life as it is, wholly embracing the world and knowing that the same creative force that is moving the universe forward is within me and worth riding, not resisting.
How was 2018 for you? What happened? What did you learn?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!