2014 Year in Review

2013-Desktop-Background-Free-1024x640Each year, I follow in the footsteps of Chris Guillebeau, and complete an annual review. I look back at what went well and what went badly, and make some goals for the following year. In the spirit of transparency, I’ve been sharing the majority of my notes publicly. I think it’s important to be honest about the good and the bad, and hope that it will help others.

In the next week and a half, I’ll wrap up 2014 with lists of my most popular posts and projects, and some lighter fare like end-of-the-year lists and shoutouts. But for now, here’s my painfully transparent year in review, warts and all. I hope it helps you take a look back at your year and plan for the next.

What went well this year?

Okay, this year was pretty amazing. Here it is in 21 bullets:

  • First and foremost, I got married to the love of my life in July. (!!!) Wedding planning can be hectic, of course, but everything came together so nicely and we had a beautiful ceremony and reception. Then we spent an amazing week honeymooning in Alaska. We went hiking, got massages, stayed in boutique hotels and tiny cabins, floated down the Kenai, had some beers in Homer, and spotted saw Dall sheep, mountain goats, grizzly bears, and moose… as well as a million eagles. We also ate some of the best seafood in the world. I couldn’t be more happy.
  • I turned 35 and celebrated my 5th year of freelancing.
  • I moved from Minneapolis to Phoenix, with stops in Omaha, Denver/Boulder, and Albuquerque. Getting back to the Southwest has been a goal of mine, so I’m pretty thrilled to be here. And it was a treat to visit friends along the way.
  • I went to the Contently Summit in New York City, the Online News Association conference in Chicago, and a UPOD Academy in Los Angeles. I also visited San Diego with my husband, just for fun. It was great to meet up with so many people for drinks or coffee at each stop. I really enjoyed all the events, especially the ONA conference.
  • I gave two lightning talks, one Ignite talk in Minneapolis in defense of mediocrity, and one Ignite Afterhours talk in Phoenix on naked photos in the age of surveillance (AKA safer sexting).
  • I took an improv class and also learned how to pick locks.
  • I got a nice crash course in online security, and learned all about encryption, password managers, two-factor authentication, etc.
  • Using what I’d learned firsthand and tapping into other people’s expertise, I wrote an ebook (which is free!) on ways to stay safer online. I worked hard to make it organized and accessible, unlike much of the material I’d seen in the wild.
  • I also moved this site over to SSL, to give people a bit more privacy while browsing.
  • I wrote 156 posts or articles and had about 150 published (including a few stragglers from last year). I interviewed a total of 137 sources, and worked with around 37 editors or clients, for about 28 sites or magazines and a handful of brands. My favorite sites were Slate’s Future Tense, and TakePart (the online arm of Participant Media). I also enjoyed writing for the Content Strategist, the Freelancer, Men’s Journal, Men’s Fitness, Made Man, and Experience Life… and many others.
  • I am really proud of around 32 of the stories I did. And although it sometimes feels like friends and strangers alike all want to jump in and nitpick often subjective or minute aspects of posts, I’m pretty confident that there were no major factual errors in my work, though I did misspell Johns Hopkins in a big-name site.
  • I got a total of 34,339 shares for posts I wrote (yes, I track all this stuff in a geeky spreadsheet), and 29 journalists shared one or more of my posts this year. I also increased my income by 25 percent.
  • I took my first email-free, work-free vacation (for my honeymoon!), and am about to take a second week off for the holidays.
  • This year, I also walked away from a lot of clients and projects that were bad fits, which is something I’d never previously had the luxury of doing.
  • I started a podcast, the Elephant in the Room, and had some fabulous guests discussing interesting and sometimes controversial topics in five episodes (and hoping to post the sixth soon).
  • I threw a really fun all-girl party here in Phoenix, and lots of amazing women came to drink wine and play Cards Against Humanity.
  • We also hosted my in-laws for Thanksgiving, and my husband’s three best friends stayed here for a while. Love having visitors.
  • I managed to have a super-classy, non-trashy bachelorette party (spa day, dinner and sketch comedy and drinks), and have a blast anyway. Though I did somehow lose my car at one point…
  • My travel hacking went amazingly well.
  • I’m kicking butt at fantasy football.
  • I helped grow tons of veggies and herbs in a really awesome garden (which I had to give away when we moved).
  • I renamed the “lazy Susan” the “effective Susan.”

What didn’t go well?

This list is shorter, but the challenges run deep…

  • My very good friend Sam Blake committed suicide. This has been devastating for me, especially since we were so close and talked on chat almost every day (sometimes multiple times a day). I really, really miss him.
  • Somehow I ended up on someone’s bad side, and he/she sent me a nice batch of anonymous death and rape threat emails. This was followed by a lot of thinly veiled phishing attempts. Unfortunately, I didn’t handle the thing well (hello, Twitter meltdown!)–partially because I was dealing with Sam’s death at the same time. He would’ve been one of the first people I’d discussed it with. Stressful is an understatement.
  • I tried to get a group of people together for a birthday dinner at my favorite Thai place in Minneapolis, and everyone either no-showed without even canceling. This was really depressing and I spent about a month after that deliberately not talking to anyone socially–except for my husband, of course, and my friend Sam. It made me realize that–despite a group of friends I’m still in touch with–the Midwest isn’t a good fit for me. It is hard to live there without having grown up there like (almost) everyone else.
  • I had a failed crowdfunding campaign on Beacon, which was pretty depressing, especially since I would’ve lost money on the project I had outlined even if I had gotten enough subscribers.
  • I volunteered for the Nerdery’s Overnight Website Challenge, an event where teams of developers, designers, and sometimes copywriters work together to help nonprofit organizations redo their websites in a 24-hour marathon session. This was my second year at OWS, but didn’t go as smoothly as the first. Unfortunately, our new site never launched, nobody but me showed up to meet with our non-profit during the awards ceremony, and trying to resolve this after the fact went nowhere. It is hard to put a lot of time into a project that fizzles and ties because of one’s teammates/fellow volunteers, but there it is.
  • For the first time in years, I’ve been completely unmotivated as far as working out. I got my blue belt in BJJ at the end of 2013, and barely did BJJ in 2014. And for the first time in my life, I got on a weird weight loss rollercoaster–so I looked great for the wedding but gained all the weight back, and the some.
  • I had five posts killed and have three in purgatory. And even though I mentioned that I was proud of 32 of the posts I’ve written, that means I was ambivalent about 118 of them, or around 80 percent. I felt like a lot of the work I did was somewhat meaningless. A lot of the topics I had to write about, especially relating to marketing and SEO, just felt like I was adding more noise to the world. In some instances, I felt like it was edited in a way that detracted from my message or weakened the post (though this was subtle and not blatant, unlike past years). I had several editors who wouldn’t allow me to see final edits before a post went live, and though I walked away from these clients, it was still disappointing. In general, I felt like most e of the people I worked with this year didn’t care about my professional development–which makes sense as a freelancer. I know that I will need to find a way to address this going forward. I want to work with more people who will push me to improve and really challenge me.
  • I worked too much. Part of this was to save up money for the wedding, for moving, and so forth. At one point I literally made a list of neglected items (like going to the dentist) and it took me months to get to it. I didn’t have a lot of balance this year.
  • Although I had a lot of fun traveling, at conferences, etc. I have felt pretty lonely for good chunks of the year. I feel like there’s a big disconnect at times between many people who want to talk to me (often because they want introductions, etc.), and many of the people I want to talk to (who often don’t really want to talk to me and are busy trying to find higher status people they want to talk to). At times I feel that there is very little resonance, and I haven’t made the types of meaningful connections I’d like to make. Despite all of the connections I’ve made, it’s been a pretty lonely year.

What do I want in 2015?

It’s a little embarrassing, since many of these items were on my list last year to accomplish this year…but here they still are.

  • Work-wise, I want to do more investigative reporting and perhaps long-form pieces covering science and tech and even social movements. I want my work to make a real difference in the world…and I want it to be more personally challenging.
  • I have a book idea I’ve been nursing, which I want to consider pursuing.
  • I want to go through the available resources in some professional groups I’m in, and add “learn Python/Django” back to the list as well.
  • Updating this site is on the list as well, specifically the images on the right.
  • I’d like to find more like-minded people I respect to spend time with. I’ve been to a lot of events and meet-ups, but haven’t really met many people I resonate with to hang out with. Maybe another improv class? I’m also trying to find the best coworking place for me.
  • I’d like to do non-work things, such as reading fiction, and spend time outdoors. I am looking at two potential courses I’m interested in which have nothing to do with work..
  • I’m still working through a lot of decluttering madness.
  • My ongoing quest to become 100% debt-free is always on my mind. I made great strides in 2014, but am still looking forward to more.
  • The usual health goals: sleeping more, watching my diet, working out, maybe even finding a new BJJ gym. I really miss the physical fitness aspect of my life, and need to bake in more consistency.

Whether you share what’s on your plate for 2015 or keep it close to the chest, I hope you have the best year ever! Here’s to learning and growing and evolving as we move forward.

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  1. Hey, I didn’t realized you moved into my city! We should definitely meet up sometime. And it’s always good to connect with a freelancer for possibilities with my day job.

  2. I’d love to meet up!

  3. ive had many of the same struggles. Thanks for sharing. Check out The Life Changing Magic of Tidying. Helped me a ton.

  4. I loved reading this, Yael. As a fellow freelancer, I identified with so much of what you said. I’m surprised — and delighted — you are so honest about your self-assessment. Thanks for having the courage to share.

  5. Thanks! So glad it was helpful! And I felt the same way when I read Chris Guillebeau’s annual review.

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