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, 2015, and 2016. Although these feel a little self-indulgent, I always get feedback from people who found my annual review helpful or were even inspired to do their own. And so the tradition continues.
This year’s annual review has actually been the first one where I’ve really struggled with what to include and what not to include. A lot of it is deeply personal, or enough so that I’m hesitant to broadcast it. Some of it includes details I’d rather not delve into just yet, because I’m switching things up a bit next year and want to write about it after I’ve spent some time actually doing it and can compare my intent and thoughts with the actual results. That said, I’ll share what I feel comfortable with, divided by my core desired feelings for the year (playful, vibrant, and creative).
Playful is more of an attitude than anything, and I chose this word in large part to focus on maintaining a serious of playfulness when appropriate instead of taking things unnecessarily seriously. But when I think of play, I think of traveling and events. I did a LOT of traveling in 2017. Chicago, Minneapolis, Las Vegas, San Diego… I went to Portland for a great trip and an amazing wedding. I went to my high school reunion in Philadelphia. I did some fun trips closer to home, too–hiking in Sedona, a boat ride around Saguaro Lake with my in-laws, and a lot of touristy adventures when my brother visited during Thanksgiving. We had some conferences in Phoenix this year, too–CactusCon, Investigative Reporters and Editors, and the Southwest Conference of Botanical Medicine. I also did a few sporadic speaking gigs in town this year. I spoke about logical fallacies at Nerd Nite 29 in my favorite arcade bar, spoke about hacking tools in Mr. Robot at a Phoenix Linux User Group meeting, and spoke about data brokers at a local CryptoParty I helped organize. Beyond travel and conferences and talks, I did a lot of puzzle hunts and got invited to more than my fair share of parties. I also enjoyed the volunteer work I did this year for the Overnight Website Challenge and for Feed My Starving Children. It’s always nice to give back a little when you can.
The less playful part of my year was filled with a few random one-off annoyances, most of which were easily remedied by reading online reviews and switching providers. It’s so easy to get stagnant and stay with the devil you know, but finding a vet you like, a doctor you like, a gym you like, a coworking space you like, etc. is worth the time and inconvenience of going through that process. In general, I spend a lot of time reading online reviews and pay special attention to the negative ones and also how businesses respond. To pay it forward, I’ve been trying to leave online reviews for businesses I have both good and bad experiences with to help other people with their choices. Every once in a while, some dude will call the cops on you for leaving an honest review, but luckily, it’s still legally protected speech.
Keeping things playful is not always easy when things are falling apart around you. This year has been as polarized as ever politically, leading to many misunderstandings and a lot of drama that didn’t necessarily need to happen. It seems like just watching the news this past year has been overwhelmingly traumatic, and without going into details, I’ve had a few of my own bad experiences to add to the mix. They’ve all been dealt with appropriately (and handled quite well, I might add), but I’m really ready to put this year behind me.
It’s stereotypical to set big, audacious health goals at the beginning of the year and lose track of those shortly thereafter. My year was a bit strange in that I was laser-focused on fitness for part of the year but wasn’t getting as much meaningful work done, and then the opposite was true for the latter part of the year.
I started the year out really positive about my fitness since I’d had a fabulous last half of 2016. Not only did I get stronger (and leaner), but I finally got in shape for Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which I’d been hoping to get back into once I found a way to do so while avoiding injuries (and fitting back into my old gis). Unfortunately, my 2017 fitness quest wasn’t as fruitful. The first obstacle was when I became aware that the coach I was working with was unable to program appropriate volume for me once I started grappling again, and didn’t adequately respond to feedback. I tried switching coaches but he, too, had difficulty coming up with programming for me since I didn’t want to choose between several goals—overall health and wellness, being in shape for my sport, and losing around 15 lbs. It’s always disappointing when fitness professionals are going through the motions, and even more so when you are paying top dollar for the privilege, so by the time my contract ran out, choosing not to renew was a no-brainer. Instead, I joined a box gym near my house and spent the bulk of my health/fitness budget on grappling. For a while, I was training regularly—probably overtraining, to be honest, with as many as 5-6 classes a week between two gyms.
I did not do as much jiu-jitsu as I’d hoped to in 2017, but I had a lot of fun with it in the beginning of the year, getting to train in the mornings Ares/Nava BJJ, some sessions at DMA Athletic Club, and even going to a fun seminar in Vegas right before Def Con. I did 102 jiu-jitsu classes all year, but only 10 of those since August. A lot of this had to do with huge projects and overzealous deadlines, which is not a cycle I want to sustain.
I was not as consistent at the end of the year while writing an online textbook along with the rest of my workload. My work schedule is inconsistent, so consistency in the gym has always been a challenge (and crazy Phoenix traffic doesn’t help-I try to do all of my training in the AM, which isn’t always possible). There were days when I got up, immediately started working on my laptop, barely ate anything, and went to bed 16 hours later without so much as having taken a shower. I think these crunch times were necessary for some of the projects I was completing, but I’m looking into ways to cut back on extraneous activities so I can get my work done and prioritize health, fitness and self-care. Now that the book is wrapped up, I think things will be easier. There’s a trend in the health and fitness industry to spew (false) positivity, and at the same time people constantly struggle with fitness, rebound on diets, deal with injuries (fingers!), etc. and so I think honesty is really important.
My strength and conditioning work was a little more consistent than my grappling, but also petered off as I got slammed with projects for work. One thing that helped was joining a gym right around the corner, which may not be super fancy but is excuse-proof. Not getting what you need or are paying top dollar for can be frustrating, but I think is important to remember in the world of fitness is that if something’s not working for whatever reason, you’re not married to it and it’s okay to switch things up! It’s easy to just wait it out month after month, but if your programs are half-copied or it’s apparent that your coaches are either unable to write a program for someone with your goals or just don’t feel like trying, it’s okay to try something else that might work!
I have plans in place next year both to help me to keep my workload down to a manageable level so I have plenty of time to train, and working with an amazing coach who I’ve known for years that’ll help me take things to the next level. He has a different strategy and approach that I resonate with, and is far more flexible. I’ll be able to share a lot more this time next year!
I wanted to feel creative at work this year instead of falling into the trap of going through the motions. I’m pleased to say that work went phenomenally well this year. I’ve already extensively detailed this year’s greatest hits, so I won’t rehash my favorite 12 projects from 2017 except to say that I’m thrilled with them. I’m also really happy with many projects that didn’t make the list (in part because they were not bylined or haven’t been published yet). It’s always pretty interesting because I spend most of the year thinking about how I suck and don’t get anything done, but always have a lot to show for myself come December. I am equally thrilled that I was able to maintain my same income level even with all of the projects I dropped.
My unintentional theme for 2017 seems to have been replacing things that just weren’t working with ones that were, which is also true in my professional life. There were some great working relationships that evolved to the point where it didn’t make sense for us to collaborate anymore. Beyond that, I also spent a large chunk of the year replacing toxic or stagnant client relationships with vibrant, healthy new ones. That’s probably why I don’t have the same complaints about poor client behavior that I shared in 2016. I continued podcasting this year and did 21 episodes, including 7 with a brand new cohost, Trevor Hultner. (The podcast is now available on Apple Podcasts for those of you who want to subscribe to it on iTunes.) I think it’s pretty evident from the episodes how great our chemistry is, due in no small part to our shared ideals, and to Trevor being a podcasting pro. The seven episodes we worked on together were downloaded 15,421 times in just two and a half months. We’ll be doing some crowdfunding in 2018, so stay tuned for that.
The only thing that really went badly workwise this year is being owed $2600 from Consumers Digest. This is particularly ironic given that the publication claims to assist people in becoming smarter consumers and avoiding unethical or corrupt behavior–the very type of behavior which they themselves exhibit. Unfortunately, I’m not the only one in this boat—an additional five writers are owed a combined total of more than $17,000, and those are just the ones I know about. I’d heard some warnings about the magazine after I’d signed a contract; the mistake I made was to honor my agreement and hope for the best. Now I just have to wait for my case to work through the court system.
Another part of creativity for me is having a great environment from which to work. Like just about everyone else, I decided to try to organize my home using the Kon Mari method. (Who doesn’t want to tidy their home once and never have to do it again?) I got through all of my clothes and completely rearranged my closet and dresser. I got through my books, getting tons of cash and credit at various used bookstores. My books all fit on my shelves now instead of all over the floor, which is nice. But when it got time to go through papers, I got a little stuck. Her approach involves putting everything you own in one room and sorting through it, which is difficult when all of your papers don’t fit in one room. I definitely still want to get through it, but am trying to figure out how to approach it. After papers are kimono (miscellaneous items) followed by sentimental items, and I hope to get through them all by the end of next year.
Last but not least, community gardening is one outlet for my creativity. Our garden sadly closed early this year, but we have a new plot now and are getting ready to plant soon (since we live in Phoenix, where you can grow year-round).
I’d say I made good headway into my goals in 2017, but didn’t quite get as far as I would’ve liked. It’s like if I set out to solve 10 puzzles, but only solved five or six of them. Maybe my expectations were a tad unrealistic. Maybe I tried to make unworkable things work a bit too long. In 2018, I’m working on finishing the rest of those puzzles, but mostly I want to emphasize balance and deep rest. I give lip service to self-care, but find myself thinking I should just be able to push through. I do push myself incredibly hard and just want to allow myself to hit the pause button now and again. I want to focus on feeling nourished with the same intensity and determination that I focus on my writing.
I feel very hopeful for 2018 and can’t wait to share what happens next. Happy New Year!