At the end of each year, I look over the previous twelve months, dissect the parts, and analyze growth; improvement. I take several stabs at it – different angles, formats – over the course of several weeks, letting things steep a bit in between.
I borrowed my approach from people like Sarah Kathleen Peck and Chris Guillebeau, who look at things like: career, calling, fun, finance, health, physical environment (home, city), personal growth, health, friends, family, productivity, significant other, spirituality, travel, values/philosophy, and overall happiness. I don’t focus on all of these. Usually I prioritize just a few.
There were a few big categories for me this year…
Writing – quality over quantity.
I wrote one million words in 2013 – probably over it, really, given that I didn’t include any of the countless work emails I sent. While I had deliberately set out to write this much, and set up structure to do it, at times those words were simply to get myself to a count.
This year, I wanted words to write with more richness; more “butter.” This made my writing less accessible to everyone, but it is also far more rewarding for me as writer. Some of my favorite pieces were about:
- The way we construct our own realities
- The keeping of a self
- How to love
- The construct of possession
- The futility of attachment
I read about two or three dozen books a year. In 2013, I read 50, power-reading a few light novels in the last few days of December to get there. This year I read about 30.
By far the most important and meaningful was Rebecca Solnit’s Field Guide to Getting Lost – one of most beautifully-written pieces I have ever read. Solnit is a historian, activist, and author of sixteen books, in which she discusses environment, landscape, community, art, politics, hope, and memory. In Field Guide, she explores the merit and the wonder of “losing oneself” and of “wandering;” the pleasures and terrors of getting lost; the beauty of the white space in our own surroundings and ourselves. I read Field Guide either shortly before or shortly after my solo ride to Canada – reading both, one can see that the two were well-timed.
Over the course of the following months, went on to read two of her other pieces: The Faraway Nearby and Men Explain Things to Me. I also ordered but have not yet read Infinite City – San Francisco Atlas. Other important and impactful pieces from the year included: The Virtue of Selfishness (Ayn Rand) and a rereading of Man’s Search for Meaning (Viktor Frankl.) You can find the posts I wrote roughly in conjunction to these here and here, respectively. And you can find my full reading list from this year – and previous ones – here.
Health, especially drinking less.
I drink a lot. Probably every day, give or take, which I realize is, you know, “a lot,” but didn’t really think was a lot. I gave up alcohol for all of Lent, and for the better part of October, the latter partly as a nod to my old roommate Elizabeth, who also went booze-free during the month of October and called the thing “Octsober.”
Mindfulness, starting with food.
The first book I read this year was “Savor – Mindful Eating, Mindful Life” – not because I struggle with overeating (the book’s target audience), but because “life’ing properly” – existing well; living with deliberate intent and action – is important to me. As part of this, I wanted to deepen a practice of mindfulness—that is, of being fully aware of all that is going on within myself and all that is happening around me. And because food is such a central and consistent part of our overall wellbeing, I started with that. (One might almost say that I read the book “backwards as well as forwards” – using food as a tool for mindfulness, in addition to mindfulness as a tool for eating.)
My goal was to maintain the vitality of my program. Coming into this year, the vast majority of stakeholders – including upper management within my own company as well as the client’s – anticipated a degradation of the program and its projects, based purely on product life cycle. Some were adamant that project work would drop off entirely and the program would starve out partway through the year. My goal was to combat that by adjusting the team structure and adapting to the client’s changing needs, while maintaining an underlying partnership between the core leaders across both companies. I set out to secure at least $2 million in projects in 2014; by the end of the year, we had $2.024 million signed, and my program was one of the second or third largest, in terms of revenue, across my entire company.
It’s not all about revenue, though. Rather, the two things that are far more important are:
- Identifying and honoring values and priorities (my own as well as those of my team and my client.) Defending them; whole-heartedly fighting anything that undercuts or compromises them.
- Treating people right; managing with consideration.
I wrote quite a bit about work and management:
- Work that makes suffering worthwhile
- Prioritizing people over process
- How great management is a lot like great horsemanship
- The number one rule of being a manager
Yeah, Detroit itself was a goal going into this year. I like Detroit like I like no other city, and I wanted to spend more time there before I leave the Midwest. I intended to make at least one trip in 2014, and I ended up making two. The first: July, on my bike, on my way to Canada. The second: December, just after my birthday.
One of the most important highlights from 2014.
I had thought about getting a motorcycle since high school, then back-burnered the idea for about ten years… until a couple of different things sort of clicked over this past winter. I came back for it, and it has proven to be one of the best purchases I’ve ever made and one of my favorite possessions of all time… that bike makes me crazy happy.
I rode about every day this season. I rode in rain, rode in heat, rode in cold, rode in starlight, rode in leathers and rode in tanks and flats, rode with broken fuel light and rode with spiders, rode it every day on my commute to and from work and rode it for hours at a time on the weekends. My solo ride to Canada was really just a continuation of one of many rides south along the lake to Indiana, my favorite route from Chicago. I also rode west to the Mississippi and north to Wisconsin. I rode thousands of miles this season, from springtime into November… the bike is over 30 years old and has 18,000 miles on it; about a third of those were put on this summer.
Priorities and Philosophy, by way of Place.
I came into this year and spent over half of it in a blank slate, “white box” apartment that served as a “lack of place” to shed everything, ground, and rebuild. To change. And because the process of transformation consists almost entirely of decay, I needed a place that was neutral; secluded; where everything could be stripped away.
“The early stages of change or cure may mimic deterioration. Cut a chrysalis open, and you will find a rotting caterpillar. What you will never find is that mythical creature, half caterpillar, half butterfly, a fit emblem of the human soul, for those whose cast of mind leads them to seek such emblems. No, the process of transformation consists almost entirely of decay.” -Pat Barker, Regeneration
This apartment, right off both the Harvard green line stop and the metra stop in Oak Park, absolutely served that purpose. I moved out of this place and into a new one this fall, rebuilt with a richer perspective on values, philosophy, and compromise.
Overall, 2014 was the year of Self. A year of independence; a year of defining the self and then defending it; of unapologetically discarding and rejecting what didn’t work, especially anything that contradicted priorities, values, or ways of self, in both professional and personal realms. A year of exploration, transformation… a year of decay and of rebuilding.