2010 Annual Review: Braving The Rearview Mirror

by | Dec 20, 2010 | Achieving Balance | 33 comments

The closest most of us come to doing an annual review is writing the annual holiday letter.  We fill a page or two with our travels, job placements and new addresses, only to have most readers (yes, even your Aunt Vivian) yawning.  So I visited a foreign country and attended my 20 year high school reunion.  Who cares?

But pair your goals with their outcomes, and now you’ve got something worth reading.  Everyone likes to see if someone triumphed or failed.  Of course, it’s also a bit scary to be that accountable, even to yourself.  For an example of an annual review that’s not only interesting, but inspiring, check out this one by Chris Guillebeau.

I can’t claim anything quite as intriguing as Guillebeau’s “Year of the Cantaloupe,” but it has been one of the most exciting years of my life.  I started 2010 with a conviction to change my life and priorities for the better–no easy task.  Here’s how I fared.

What Went Well

In January, I decided I was ready to ditch the dread that descended on me every Sunday evening.  I believed, though I didn’t really have any evidence, my work should energize me, not drain me.  I wanted to be excited to wake up every morning, even though at that moment, I had no idea what excited me.

So I submitted my paperwork to leave the Air Force without a lot of clarity on what to do with my freedom.  A number of wise and wonderful people tried to talk some sense into me.  But I was tired of playing it safe.

Fortunately, bureaucracies don’t move that fast.  I had six months to figure it all out.

Only a month into my career design journey, I was thinking seriously about pursuing a writing career.  I’d been writing poetry in my free time my entire adult life, a good indication I was intrinsically motivated to do it.  But poetry doesn’t pay–the audience is too small.  I decided to write nonfiction, a genre I’d never explored.

I started this blog to see how I liked writing that frequently, and more importantly, how the world liked my writing.  I wrote a post every other day while working full time.  In July, I left active duty, took a part time consulting job, and devoted myself to connecting big ideas with others looking for a better life.  Since then, my readership has increased nearly 250%.

Encouraged by the response I was getting from readers as well as other bloggers, in November I made the very difficult decision to leave my part-time consulting job.

In the space of a year, I’d fully transformed myself from scientist to blogger.  Mission accomplished.

What Did Not Go Well

I would love to tell you that quitting my job involved a lot of courage, but it didn’t.  The most difficult part of career design is committing yourself to change.  Once you do that, everything else is pretty easy.

Much harder was fully embracing my new identity.  I still struggle, upon introduction, to say “I’m a writer” instead of “I’m a scientist.”  Until I have a best selling book, I realize my status in society’s eyes has taken a demotion.  I value fulfillment more than I do perception, but for a Type A personality, it requires quite the mental and emotional adjustment.

Another big realization was that calling myself a writer wasn’t nearly enough clarity to move forward smartly.  I often ran into walls as I tried to make my way through the dark (metaphorically speaking).  Did I just want to focus on blogging?  Or did I want to do magazine articles and books?  If the latter, how did the blog work with those goals and how could I balance the demanding and sometimes crosswise activities?  And how in the world was I going to make a living from this lifestyle?

With more questions than answers, I ultimately hired Jonathan Fields to help. I met Jonathan at BlogWorld and was impressed with what he had to say about navigating the publishing world.  The trick, as it is with most struggles, is not figuring out what you want to do, but how to do what you want successfully.  Jonathan gave me the encouragement (and details) I needed.

On a more personal note, the goal of adding to our family continues to elude us.  I’ve hinted at our fertility issues before, but let me say few things have tested my determination and desire more than this.  It’s been hard on my body and at times, I’ve fought a heavy heart.  I’ve been waiting to write about this, partially because I wanted something encouraging to share.  Now I think I’ll lay it all out in the new year as a case study from my life lessons on when to persist and when to walk away.

The Challenges Ahead

Next year is hereby dubbed the Year of Focus.  I found this excerpt from Chris’ annual review interesting:

I sometimes say that I’m a “maximalist” who wants to do everything. My strategy […] has been “say yes to everything,” and this strategy has served me well for the most part.

I have always felt the same way, but it’s time to change.  Maybe the fact I’m embracing minimalism in my material life is spilling over into my intellectual life.  What I know is that some things are going to have to give in order to pursue what’s most important to me.  I plan to use Leo Babauta’s book Focus: A simplicity manifesto in the Age of Distraction as my guide.

My number one goal is to get better at saying no.

I’m also continuing to look for opportunities to extend my everyday courage.  While traveling last week, I discovered my hotel had only given me one breakfast voucher even though I was staying two nights.  The old me would have just bemoaned the hotel’s efforts to save money.  The new me went up to the desk the second morning and asked for another voucher.  Not surprisingly, they gave me one.

Finally, I’m trying to ask for help on the tasks that need to be done, but take away from my writing goals.  That means, for example, I’ll be doing less blog promotion and reinvesting that time into producing better content.  This is a hard challenge because I already feel like a slow writer in the blogosphere.  While I probably average about 1000 words a day writing, I do a lot of editing.  Posts that don’t meet my standards don’t get published.

But Scott Stratten assures me great content doesn’t need marketing.  Readers will take care of that for you.

I sure hope so.  Here’s to focus!