Each December, I like to pause for a moment to take a look back at the entire year: what went well, what went horribly, and what my goals are for moving forward. I’ve been posting an annual review, as inspired by Chris Guillebeau’s, Although I kept my 2012 review private, you can see posts about 2010, 2011, 2013, and 2014. I often get feedback that my painfully transparent annual reviews are helpful to others, so here’s a long-winded look back at 2015.
What went well
In a word, work went well this year. I had 146 posts published in 2015, and worked with around 30 editors or clients, for about 23 websites or magazines and a handful of brands. I had my first bylines at WIRED, Slate, Forbes, ReadWrite, and Motherboard. I don’t get access to many analytics, and track what I can, and know I got over 75,000 shares on my combined posts this year, and that they were shared publicly by about 80 journalists. (I’ve shared my top 20 posts and 12 additional off-topic posts already.)
Last year, I wrote about how I was ambivalent about around 80 percent of the work that I did. This year, I’m pleased to say that number has been reduced to around 20 percent. I was only really proud of 32 stories I did last year and ambivalent about 118. This year the number of stories I’m crazy proud of is 87, and there were 36 others I was happy with. And yes, there were 23 I didn’t care as much about.
Steering my career towards work I really care about did have its disadvantages. I worked longer hours, cried a lot more, and took my first income decrease in six years of freelancing-which I believe will be around 9 percent. Still, I think the benefits far outweigh the downsides, and I’m thrilled with the progress I’ve made in focusing on work I find fulfilling and that I believe will make an impact in the world. I’m also consistently impressed by information I discover and grateful to interview so many experts. I’ve been balancing hard-hitting research-intensive reporting, which can be stressful in large doses, with really fun editing projects on topics I find interesting (home decorating! health and wellness!) as well as whimsical posts on one-off topics I find interesting.
It’s usually hard for me to gauge the impact that my work is having, but I pay attention to the Verjus Manifesto and think I have been serving readers vegetables, which is what matters. In addition to the work I published, I’m pretty proud of what I didn’t publish—and that’s all I’ll say about that! Oh, and I’m a new member of the Internet Press Guild. And even though I sometimes find myself leaving journalism meet-ups quickly since nobody will talk to me, I started hosting Freelance Spark events once a month, first at Gangplank in Chandler and now in Phoenix at CoHoots, which is great for meeting like-minded folks.
This year, I was on the 0311 Media podcast and Global Influencer podcast, was interviewed for a post on the Authors Guild website, got to talk to 10th graders about freelancing and writing for a living, and was a guest on the Tech News Today show.
Work this year has been amazing.
Debt and Boxes of Clutter, Oh My
I used to be embarrassed because I seemed to be posting the same goals year after year, but in some ways, a year is a pretty arbitrary period of time and just like some goals can be completed in days or weeks or months, some goals take longer than a year. I’m pleased with my progress towards paying off debt, and towards getting rid of tons of boxes cluttering my home. I filled up many a recycling bag, and sold dozens of old books or replaced them with Fables graphic novels. Even though there’s still more to do, for both, I’ve made significant headway.
“Sex, Drugs, and Socrates, We Kick Ass on GREs”
The above is a quote from an old chant at my alma mater. In any case, I’ve been toying with going back to school to study journalism more formally, and so I took my GRE. I managed to get in the 93rd percentile for analytical writing and 95th percentile for verbal reasoning. I won’t tell you what my quantitative score was, but it was above average.
Travel and Adventure and Family and Community
My relationship with my amazing husband has never been better. We spent our 1-year anniversary in Albuquerque, and it was fabulous. We just have a lot of fun together, even if we’re just hanging out at home binge watching some new TV series, and while I don’t imagine that ever changing, I don’t want to take it for granted, either.
I didn’t travel far this year, but I did travel a lot for both work and pleasure… I think I went to the Bay Area thrice (Digital Rights in Libraries! Mixergy! and a memorial…), went to Def Con and BSides/PasswordsCon in Las Vegas, traveled to Albuquerque and Minnesota (and hiked in Sedona and Flagstaff!) with my husband and Grand Canyon with my in-laws, and went on a lot of camping trips to California, New Mexico, and remote parts of Arizona with aspiring herbalists. And people got to visit us here, too–including the in-laws during Thanksgiving. I was also initiated into the ways of Ingress with a friend of mine from L.A. (who was my pen pal back when I was in middle school, before Facebook). Good times.
We moved from the outskirts to Phoenix proper, which is great for less driving and being closer to the heart of town. I had a fabulous birthday celebration this year (with Bridgett) and unlike last year, tons of people showed up. I dressed up for Halloween for the first time in ages, did an Escape the Room challenge (though didn’t really get the chance to participate much), saw Jake Shimabukuro and Jayke Orvis play (the same two shows I go to every year), and am ending the year with a batch of parties and events. It feels good to get invited to things. This year I met Swiss Miss and I met Twig the Fairy (at the Renaissance Faire). I had a lot of other great adventures, too. I even bought cybertwee cookies on the deep web. A Crimethinc panel discussion which brought together organizers from Latin America, the Balkans, Eastern Europe, and the O’odham reservation to discuss the significance of anarchist tactics and ideas in the 21st century was particularly inspiring to me.
What didn’t go well
Too much work: health and mental health as casualties
The flip side of work going so well this year is that I worked way too much. I felt like I was always on call, often canceling events at the last minute and feeling guilty whenever I went out for drinks, always feeling like I had to make it up by staying up later and working later. Obviously this lack of balance means a lot of things fell by the wayside. I didn’t work out or eat as well as I’d like to this year, and certainly sleep was one of the casualties as well.
Rest in Power
None of my friends were murdered or committed suicide this year (that I know of), but I did lose two loved ones. My grandmother passed away, as did my dear friend Bright. And I learned this year that Maria, who owned a café I loved to visit (Morning Glory café in Flagstaff), passed away six years ago, at the young age of 49. She used to let me wash dishes in exchange for food, but really it was like a party in the kitchen with great conversation, that made me feel like a human being again at a time I really needed it. So I was saddened to learn about that.
Unfinished projects, canceled plans, and other shattered dreams
There were other big fails, too, like all the grants I applied for but didn’t get. I also set out to learn all sorts of tech stuff and didn’t really get very far in my multiple attempts to learn Python, learn Linux, take Dan Boneh’s crypto course, finish a project I’ve been trying to hash out with a friend/mentor, etc.
I tried and failed to organize a crypto party (mostly just a lot of talk and no action) and never did organize a Library Freedom Project event, as I’d planned to. I missed Obscura Day, missed Dia de los Muertos, missed the Winter Street Fair in Tucson, missed Tucson Meet Yourself.
Some good things must come to an end
I had four posts killed this year. One I managed to place elsewhere, one is in purgatory, and two were completely axed. This happens every year, but I learned that the more I care about a piece, the more it hurts when it never sees the light of day.
And some of my favorite projects also ended their run this year. Access Tucson, the community media center where I worked for four years in my first real job after college, shut its doors at 124 E. Broadway earlier this year after a years-long funding battle with the city. Circa, my favorite news app, met its untimely demise, as did GigaOm, one of my favorite sites. Access Tucson is attempting to carry on parts of its mission in some form, but it’ll never be the same. Circa and GigaOm have been re-bought, but the magic is gone.
I signed up for an herbal medicine course in Tucson but apparently should have heeded warnings from past students. It ended up being a bit of a joke. Even the handouts we were given, which we were led to believe were original, were often ripped off from random anatomy courses online. The instructor was racist and overall unpleasant, and has some sort of 1950s ideas about women. Several students were kicked out or bullied into quitting, but I guess that’s between the instructor and their spouses! (See what I did there?) It’s always depressing to realize you put time and money into a course that wasn’t worth either, or to put your trust into an instructor who’s more dedicated to his backwards political agenda than educating his students.
This wasn’t the only disappointing event of the year–hearing Bill Nye speak wasn’t worth the cost of tickets, and Luminaria Nights in Tucson just wasn’t as good as I remembered it–it’s just the only disappointing course that I spent $895 on, but shouldn’t have. We did get to spend time outdoors with the plants, so it wasn’t a complete fail, but I’ll be writing a lot more about what I learned and didn’t learn in the future.
Looking forward to 2016
All Work And No Play Makes Yael A Dull Girl
The one big thing I want to work on in the Year of the Monkey (and beyond) is working less. I want to be able to get a drink with friends after an event without feeling like I need to “make up” for that lost time by going home and working more afterwards. I feel like a lot of my health goals (sleeping more, eating better, exercising more, etc.) stem out of this goal, so I’m hoping that once I address the root issue, the rest will take care of themselves.
Fun, fun, fun
I want to pursue hobbies outside of work, though I haven’t pinpointed which ones specifically. In the past I’ve dabbled in improv comedy, gardening, cycling, locksport, herbalism etc. and taught lots of workshops, and did a lot of volunteer work, so those are all possibilities.
One of my goals is to get a group together regularly to play games like Diplomacy and Eclipse Phase and Changeling and Wolf Among Us. I also have a game of my own I’m toying with.
I’m also working on rehabbing an old injury (finally!) and hoping to eventually start grappling again.
Old Goals, Revisited
And then of course I’d like to finish what I started w/r/t abolishing debt and continuing to go through boxes and creating a cozy home office.
Okay, but work
As far as professional goals, this year they’re not so much a list of bylines I’m shooting for like I’ve had in the past but more of a focus on the type of writing I want to do—which is investigative or adversarial. I admire the writing in the Intercept and ProPublica and Mother Jones, and also sites like Good. I’d like to continue down the road of doing work I care about rather than just focusing on making money.
I want to at least apply to graduate school programs again.
Ideally I’d like to find a podcast cohost and get that going again. And I want to figure out exactly which type of coding I want to learn, and then do it (and finish last year’s coding project). Plus there’s a book proposal hidden in here somewhere…
Oh, and I want to stop tracking on my website. I already disabled analytics, but still have some more trackers to turn off.
I’m resisting the urge to list off a batch of health-related goals in order to focus on the root issue, which is taking a bit of a breather (on a regular basis) instead of working non-stop. I really do think doing this will be pivotal. So instead of listing off have-to-dos, I want to focus on doing things that feel good (like eating real food and lifting heavy things and having creative side projects).
Time outdoors. Wilderness awareness. Finding a way to see Shakespeare this year. Maybe finish a zine I started with a friend. I want to make food seen in Miyazaki films. There’s a dream zine idea I want to toy around with as well… it may even be a good Tor Hidden Service if I can find a tool like Anonymouth to let people contribute anonymously… And we really want to get a puppy…
I hope that in a year as I look back on 2016 I’ll have fun adventures (and plenty of down time) to report instead of just long hours…