My 2016 Year In Review

Each December, I take a brief pause to look back at the entire year: what went well, what went poorly, and what my goals are moving forward. Inspired by Chris Guillebeau, I’ve posted an annual review in 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, and 2015. I get a lot of feedback that my painful transparency is helpful, so here’s a long-winded look back at 2016.

This year I’ll be breaking things down by the core desired feelings I picked while doing a desire map for 2016. My words were joyful, organized, and whole.

What went well

Joyful (relaxed/ included/nature/balanced/playful/community)

This year I moved beyond workaholicism and focused on things that make me happy, and on spending more time with friends and with my amazing husband.
The most joyful thing this year: we got a puppy! If we’re friends on Facebook or Instagram, you’ve probably seen a million and one pictures of our adorable rescue, Bailey. She’s an athletic, rambunctious, playful, energetic Chiweenie and we’re SO excited to have her in our lives.

Other than being a full-time stay at home puppy parent (wink), I spent more time reading, hiking, and volunteering. I went on a lot of plant walks and made all sorts of herbal concoctions (bioflavonoid bombs, anyone?). I solved confusing puzzles over beer with friends (and my husband) at Puzzled Pint. We also planted an amazing garden. We saw a lot of Shakespeare plays. We hosted my brother for Thanksgiving. I met with writer friends and hacker friends, old friends and new friends, over coffee or food or drinks. I caught some live music, and spent some time working on lockpicking skills. I got some traveling in, too. Overall, it was a joyful year.

Organized (tidy, solvent, etc.)

“Organized” originally referred to me wanting to do a lot of tidying/organizing of stuff in storage, and to pay off debt. I did a good job with both of these, paying off all of my non-student-loan debt, though I still have some boxes to get through (once and for all) in 2017.

In spite of my focus on joy, and prioritizing health and fitness, I spent a lot of time focusing on work, and I guess this is the section to discuss it… This year, I had 95 blog posts or articles published in 16 different sites or publications, including my very first bylines at Ars Technica, the Intercept, Daily Dot, Yes!, and Reveal News. I also got to write for some old favorites, like Experience Life, Motherboard (Vice), Slate (Future Tense), the Freelancer, Dice, the Performance Menu, etc. I got a group of hackers together to recap Mr. Robot episodes, which was a lot of fun, despite all of the emails I got about Forbes’ ad blocker blocker (which, news flash, I don’t control).

This is actually considerably fewer posts than 2015 (I had 146 posts published then), which ties in with my pursuit of in-depth, heavily researched reporting, so I’m moving in the right direction.

My posts got over 38,000 unique shares, including at least 81 from fellow journalists. Some made the front page of Hacker News, were widely discussed on Reddit, were used in college classes, and made various curated newsletters and websites, including Boing Boing. (I’ve already listed my top 10 posts of the year.) But most of all I’m thrilled to say that I care a lot about the work I did, that I got to dig deeply into issues I care about and do some investigative reporting, but not so much that I was burned out or exhausted. I’m pretty happy with the direction my career is going.

Image by Angelo Pardo

I was interviewed for a high school project and a grad school thesis, spoke on two podcasts, and did a reading at a poetry event. I also got verified on Twitter. (I know, I know, but it’s a big deal to me!)

This year I also started a podcast with Jimmy Jenkins called Monday Morning Dumpster Dive. We look at Friday news dumps, and interviewing amazing guests on the weekend. We have recorded 14 episodes.

Other highlights include speaking at various events, including an amazing panel at the Investigative Reports and Editors conference in New Orleans moderated by Dave Maass, alongside Cora Currier and Jeremy Gillula. I also spoke on a Chai Tech panel called Tales From The Cybercrypt, and was on a freelancing panel at a regional SPJ conference. And although I wasn’t on any panels, I was thrilled to get to go to the HOPE conference in New York City, RightsCon in San Francisco, and CactusCon here in Phoenix.

I co-organized three cryptoparties, teaching people secure communication basics: two at the Burton Barr Central Library in Phoenix, and one at Mod, a beautiful coworking space. I also gave a short session at my coworking space, CoHoots, during their MidWeek MindTweak.

Photo by Ted Han

I don’t typically talk about content marketing unless my work is bylined, but I will say that I got to manage teams of writers for a couple of brands. Hiring, editing, and working with writers is something I’m passionate about, and even though some of these projects have sunsetted, I have a new content marketing gig I’m really excited about. I’m also still editing the Performance Menu, and it’s always a joy to work with some of the brightest minds in the fitness industry. Additionally, I spoke about blogging, storytelling, social media marketing, and do-it-yourself PR at various businesses around the Valley.

I was selected as one of the top 100 content marketing influencers by KPS Digital Marketing in the UK, which was cool, but I don’t know if I trust the list since Brian Clark wasn’t on it.

Best of all, I sent holiday cards or chocolate to all of my clients, which made me giddy. It’s so nice to be able to do that.

Oh, and I celebrated my 7th freelance-versary with champagne and cupcakes at Mod with David Huerta and Ty Fishkind.

Freelance-versary photo by David Huerta

WHOLE (healthy/fit/rested/abundant/etc.)

Now that I’m on my way back to fitness success, I wanted to share a bit about some of the struggles on my journey. This is probably the hardest thing to write about, since I started out the year in pretty bad shape physically, something I didn’t really want to publicly discuss as a fitness writer/editor, etc. (and with fitness being a huge part of my identity). Even though I’d tried some group fitness classes and gotten some Groupons and such in 2015, nothing really stuck, so this was a 2016 focus area for me.

First, I joined LifeTime Fitness and got some sessions with a personal trainer, which was nice at first, except that he was late to most sessions. We had planned to do a certain amount of private sessions a week (some of which I got for free–yay health insurance benefits), and a few where I’d just do workouts he’d programmed that I could do on my own with good form, to get the most bang for my buck. Unfortunately, the program he wrote me didn’t really match my goals (and wasn’t long enough to justify the time I’d spend driving to the gym). He was nice, though!

After that attempt at getting back in shape, I decided to bite the bullet and sign up for Precision Nutrition’s nutrition coaching. I had luck with it all the way back in 2008 or something, back when it was a six-month program that cost $99/month for six months (with $99 down). Now it’s a year-long program that’s been completely revamped and costs a heck of a lot more ($179/month for 12 months). It includes a workout program and nutrition habits as well as monthly check-ins on weight and other goals. I actually signed up a second time about a year before my wedding but ended up dropping out since I didn’t see results, and a money-back guarantee isn’t really sufficient when you can’t fit into your wedding dress. I ended up playing with intermittent fasting to get to my goal weight before that magical day, which was perfect, but I gained the weight back and then some.

I figured I could give Precision Nutrition another try since I was on less of a time crunch. But this third time, I had a pretty similar experience as my second time. Despite following the program to the hilt (I really did do everything as prescribed), I failed to get any real results after about five months. The coaches do set up video calls with some of us squeaky wheels—the only problem was that mine mostly reiterated habits I was already following rather than giving me recommendations I could use. (Sometimes she would ask me what I thought I should do.)  Precision Nutrition isn’t exactly scalable, and it seems that it’s easier for them to offer people refunds rather than help them when they do not see results right away, or to accuse people of “negative self-talk” when they point out that the program isn’t working for them. Boo hiss.

I’d made plans to get back into Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but hurt my knee the day that a new (uh, larger) gi I’d ordered arrived in the mail. (Precision Nutrition isn’t great at modifying workouts for injuries, either—the coaches are pretty overworked and can’t even remember who has what injury, and the modified versions of programs are often not appropriate for the people they’re given to. My coach gave me a list of random exercises that didn’t seem to have any rhyme or reason other than that they were types of movement that didn’t use injured areas.)

Luckily, Precision Nutrition giving up on me and opting to give me a refund instead of trying to help me get results meant that I could try a different approach. So I decided that even with my vast knowledge of health and fitness, myriad resources and programs and books, and past experience, that I needed to suck it up and get someone else to tell me what to do—especially since I wasn’t even sure what would work with my injury.

Enter OPEX. I’ve been a big fan of the owner, James FitzGerald, for eons, and almost joined the gym when I first moved to the Phoenix area. It offers individualized workout programs and monthly assessments both remotely and in person here in the Phoenix area.When you’ve spent a LOT of time in the gym and on the mats (I went to a CrossFit cert back in 2006!) and have some 7-odd years of experience as a health writer, it’s NOT easy to walk into a gym and admit you need help with your fitness and nutrition! But you know what’s even harder? Being sidelined with injuries that are keeping you from doing the sport you love and trying to ignore the fact that none of your clothes fit anymore.

So I signed up at the end of July. It’s not cheap, but I was able to make it work with the money I was saving from dropping the overpriced, ineffective Precision Nutrition program, canceling my membership at LifeTime, and making a few other changes. (I canceled my Stitch Fix subscription since it doesn’t make sense to buy clothes that fit now knowing I’ll be swimming in them a few months from now.)

The coaches are ridiculously knowledgeable. I’ve been working with Michael Bann and diligently following all of his workouts, nutrition suggestions, and lifestyle recommendations and gotten pretty great results. (The first thing we did was increase my calories as I was eating way too little under Precision Nutrition, and needed to rev my metabolism again.) In five months of training, I lost 6 percent body fat, dropped about 12.9 pounds of fat, and packed on about five pounds of muscle. I also got a 225 sumo deadlift, which is a personal best. In fact, I just got a 228 lb. trap deadlift by accident. (Next, I want my bodyweight front squat back.)

When you keep coming up just shy of your goals, it’s time to make a change and that’s exactly what @yaelgrauer did. Yael came to me awhile back wanting to get back into shape, lose weight, and start grappling again. She had pretty bad knee pain but always showed up with a smile and that’s all I require. After we dove into all her biomechanics we dove into the physiology and nutrition side of things. She’s an amazing example of what happens when you buy into the process. She started to prioritize sleep, and she focused on eating not only to her macros but also quality food. This lifetime deadlift PR and the fact that she just wore a dress she hasn’t been able to wear in ages is just the beginning for her. So many more awesome results to come. #BannWagon @opexfitness #IAmOpex #OPEXFit

A video posted by Michael Bann (@coach_michael_bann) on

Working with Bann is pretty cool (even though I hate him sometimes); he does a great job of answering all of my questions and putting up with my bullshit and keeping me motivated.

I try not to focus on weight, but this chart is pretty cool. Check out my rollercoaster weight prior to starting at OPEX and my steady weight loss August through December.

My coach also referred me to a physical therapist, Jeff Beran, to deal with movement imbalances leading to knee issues I’ve had for as long as I can remember. Being able to correct the underlying issue (which had to do with single-leg stabilization and glute and ankle activation) after just two sessions is amazing, and I really think coaches working with PTs (the good ones) is the way to go.

Images by my brother Eyal Grauer and I

In addition, I’ve also been eating better, focusing on sleep and gut health, getting massage, and so forth. And spending time at the gym has stopped me from working 60 to 80 hour weeks, luckily without taking too much of a hit financially.

I also ran (okay jogged/walked) a 5K with my brother on Thanksgiving without any training, which was cool.

And as I continue to work on underlying movement imbalances, not only is my pain pretty much gone, I’m happy to say that just a week ago I and even visited a jiu-jitsu gym for the first time in over a year. Getting back on the mats makes me so happy that I can’t even describe it, but it’s definitely a big win.

Image by Todd Butkowski

What Went Badly

I try not to be a big whiner on social media or this blog, but unfortunately, people sometimes think this means that everything is running smoothly for me, and this year was actually really hard in a lot of ways.

Yes, I met some professional milestones, but this year was hardly without its frustrations, and as part of my annual planning meeting with the amazing Pam Slim, we made a list of “bad client behavior”–editors that sit on your writing, don’t pay right away, are hard to pitch, edit errors into your work (and don’t let you do the final check), are guilty of scope creep, don’t pay well, have poor journalistic practices (such as pushing bad science, walking back accurate claims when responses are negative, or having a lack of integrity). These are all issues I dealt with this year, in addition to editors who assigned me work, had me work on revisions, and then pretended the piece was never assigned to begin with. (Yes, I had a contract, but it didn’t help.) I was also frustrated by too many meetings when they were mandatory, poorly planned, and included an expectation of forced happiness. And I was put in a position–multiple times–where I had to advocate on behalf of writers when unscrupulous editors wanted to slash pay, had unreasonable expectations, decided to kill work they’d assigned and call new posts “revisions,” and basically treated people poorly. I never want to be in that position again.

Other than that, my column at WIRED sadly came to an end, though the column lives on with in-house staff. This was a bummer, though, because I really liked that byline. And I got more rejections this year than I can count. I’m struggling to get grant money for an ongoing FOIA project I really want to work on, was rejected from multiple fellowships, and even from the Pro Publica Summer Data Institute (which made me super sad). Cash flow was a bit of an issue this year (due to unpaid, past due invoices), as were projects that just got sat on for weeks and months, but all eventually came to fruition. Cash flow issues (and not feeling like part of a team, and spending tons of time on admin work) were one of the reasons I decided to consider full-time employment this year all the way back in January (see Yael Hires An Editor [or Editors]) which led to a handful of job offers–but sadly, none of which I wanted. I did apply for dream jobs at the Center for Investigative Reporting and at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, but didn’t even make it to the interviews.

I don’t want to go on and on about all the non-work-related things that stressed me out this year, so I’ll just touch on a few: driving in Phoenix is stressful because sometimes it feels like everyone is literally trying to kill you, dealing with incompetent businesses or service providers is stressful when the stakes are high, and communication issues don’t seem to get much easier as you get older. Also, having tools that continually break (whether that’s computers or cars) is never much fun. I definitely had more joy this year than last year (when I mostly just worked non-stop until I collapsed into bed every night at around 2 AM), but I also cried a lot this year. And even though I’m really pleased with progress I’ve made in my physical fitness journey, it’s been a bumpy ride.

Looking Forward to 2017

image by me, handwriting by Pam Slim

In 2017, I’m hoping to find more ideal clients, increase my income, examine my blend of content marketing and journalism,  prioritize health and fitness, and continue to work reasonable hours. I also want to finish a book proposal, read more, and do a lot of continuing education.

One of my goals for the year, after discussing this with Pam Slim, involves focusing on my mindset, and being more accepting of things that I sometimes think are unnecessary at work but which other people find extremely valuable (such as long meetings).

Some of it involves worrying less about some of my work frustrations by scheduling time for following up on past due payments, spending time following up on sources that are MIA, spending time working on really good pitches (so I’m not scrambling and sending off-target pitches out of desperation when I realize there’s an ebb in my flow).

This should free up mental energy to focus on the work I love with clients that edit my work well and make my writing better, are easy to pitch (come up with ideas, and don’t make me guess), are easy to work with (they’re problem solvers who communicate from the get-go, know what they want, and have my back if a source gets upset), pay well (and on time), give me useful feedback, share my work on social media, have a clear scope, and have a good brand. (Bonus if I also get to manage/hire/edit writers.)

Oh, and more cryptoparties would be fun!

I’m still working on a list of goals and my core desired feelings, which I’ll write about in another post.

I hope my long-winded annual recap helps you with your goals and planning–and would love to hear about it if you’re willing to share, either in the comments or via email.

If you’d like to do your own recap, I’d highly recommend Chris Guillebeau’s model. And if you’re looking forward to next year, I’ve found Danielle LaPorte’s Desire Map model extremely helpful.

In any case, here’s to 2017! Happy New Years!

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