(You’ve stumbled upon a long, gratuitous, reflective post that I write every year on my birthday. This is my 16th year. It’s really for my own personal archive, but if you’re curious: happy reading!)
I almost forgot to write this. It didn’t even occur to me until about 7PM. Blogging used to be such an integral part of my online existence. Now it’s relegated to a static page on a subdomain of my site that I complete forget about for months at a time…or in this case, an entire year.
Luckily, though, it popped into my mind out of nowhere before it was too late and I ruined a 16-year streak!
This year, in many ways, has been a complete 180 from last year. It was a much slower, more introverted year. I think a bit more reflective, and a bit more forward-thinking… or maybe forward-planning or forward-evaluating? Except for finishing up my time in South Korea and a quick trick to Stockholm before the end of 2016, there were no crazy international adventures. There weren’t even many crazy domestic adventures. This year was very much about reconnecting with a sense of “home.”
I don’t know what happened, really. I never made an explicit decision not to travel this year. I just didn’t really have a desire to. I do think deep down there were some nerves/anxiety about various attacks that have been happening around the world in seemingly safe places, but it also came down to the fact that there wasn’t really anywhere I was dying to visit. The travel bug was in deep hibernation and has only really started to re-emerge in the last month or so.
All of this “home” time gave me all sorts of opportunities to reconnect with old friends, explore new hobbies and projects that I wouldn’t be able to if I were on the road, and, unexpectedly, time to think about the things I do and don’t want in my life over the next few years.
That last piece - what I want in my live in the next few years - has really changed shape from even 6 months ago, and certainly from a year ago. In my 30th birthday post, I talked a lot about finally achieving the lifestyle I’d always wanted. I’d reached my goal and spent the last year with the luxury of being able to work from wherever I wanted on the planet. I surprised myself by wanting to work from right here in good ole New Jersey.
I spent a good part of the year working on my backyard garden. It’s taught me a lot about patience and reminded me that instant gratification isn’t always the best kind of gratification. Hours of work to get a single cucumber, months of waiting and tending to get that ear of corn. It’s also given me a fantastic excuse/reminder to get off of the computer and go outside. I did most of my working from the table in the yard during the warmer months so that I could tinker in the garden between work items. I think it was a huge, early contributor to getting my fitness back on track.
I paid a lot of attention to my motivations and energy this year - what excited me and what I found myself avoiding. One of my biggest realizations about work/life was the idea that I want my work to enable my passions. For a long time, my work was my passion. The two were intertwined. But I’ve realized that I’m much happier when I decouple them. I like having space in my life to think about things, create, explore, etc. freely without them needing to contribute to my livelihood. While I don’t want to be dispassionate about my work - I still want to make sure I work on things I care about - constantly thinking about how my projects and work can support my lifestyle (as minimal as it is) takes a lot of the fun out of it for me. When it comes to creating, exploring, I like to create to create, not to make money. If that were an organic side effect, cool. But it’s not my goal. There’s a study about the correlation between motivation and money somewhere. Turns out it was probably right.
Through this whole journey of self-reflection (…or whatever it was…), I think I’ve found myself in a place where I’m more comfortable with myself, my life, my choices, etc. than ever. Maybe it took shedding those last bits of “expectation” - wherever it was from - and being totally OK with living my life the way I want. And choosing the people I want in it.
Reading through my last few years’ worth of birthday posts, I find myself wondering if I ended up right back where I started. I know I needed to go on this adventure of independence, exploration, travel, etc. I don’t regret a single moment of it. I needed the clarity those experiences brought. The good and bad.
I don’t see myself giving up travel forever. There are still so many amazing places in the world I’ve yet to explore. And there are some amazing places I’ve loved and would like to revisit. But at the same time, I don’t know that I want to travel full-time (which I sort of guessed might be the case in my “5 year prediction” last year). I don’t see myself taking months-long trips or relocating across the globe - at least not in the near-term. 1-3 week trips a few times a year feels far more reasonable/sustainable at the moment.
It gives me the best of both worlds. I’d still get to travel and explore and do all the things I love to do, but I’d still get to have a sense of “home.” No more missing birthdays, weddings, random get togethers, or feeling like a stranger everywhere I went.
Perhaps it’s the idea of “starting from zero” that I’ve grown weary of.
As I’m writing this, I realize it may come across as a bit forlorn. And maybe it is a little. There was a rough patch for a few months in there. Starting in the spring, into early summer, though, I think I started to get my groove back and I’m more energized now than ever. So no, this year wasn’t all gumdrops and rainbows, but maybe it’s what they call a rebuilding year in the sports world. There were growing pains for sure. I think there might still be some growing pains. But I don’t think this year could have ended on a better note.
I feel more confident than I have in a long time. I feel more grounded than I have in a long time. I feel like I’ve learned some important things about myself this year and that has set me up for what I hope will be an epic 31st year (…or is it my 32nd year technically?).
Now for a look back at the goals I set for myself a year ago:
- Have traveled to all 6 continents (+ Antarctica if I can swing it by some miracle!) This goal was basically a way of me saying "Visit Australia", which I did not do this year. It's still very high on my list, but not urgently.
- Continue to support myself through location-independent work. Check! I've continued to operate as independent product & ux consultant this year. Though I was technically location-independent, I didn't quite use it in the definition I originally intended. I got to work remotely, but I kept the same location.
- Spend more time visiting friends and family in-person when I'm home. This was probably my most successful attempt! While I think I originally meant this goal as "travel around the US and visit friends," I took the more local approach and managed to catch up with a *lot* of old friends from childhood thru college and beyond. I also got to spend some time with family I hadn't seen in a while and generally feel so much more connected to the people that have been in my life for so long but I didn't actually see or communicate with on a regular basis.
- Invest in a piece of property that I use either as my home base or as an income source (or both). I spent a lot of time on this one over the course of the year. The long and short of it is: I would 100% buy a place or property right now if it were an option, but since I'm self-employed, I need 3 years of tax records as a self-employed person to be approved for a regular mortgage. I've been keeping my eye on the market just so I know what's out there, but I can't actually go through with buying anything until next year if all goes well.
- Establish a small exercise routine that I can do anywhere in the world without needing equipment. Do it at least 3x/week. Of course I was super specific in this one and it doesn't completely apply to how the year turned out, but the theme of the goal still holds and I think I was 100% successful in it. In June I signed up for a gym that I've really come to enjoy going to. It's class-based, but feels more athletic than the classes I've taken at gyms in the past. I guess it's maybe a mix of crossfit and some other fitness styles? Either way, I currently go about 4x/week and have lost over 30lbs since June, so I'm super proud of that and am signed up for unlimited classes until February. While I don't think I could take my current exercise routine on the road, I do see a clear correlation between my level of fitness activity and my overall mood/happiness, so if I were to travel, I would speak to the trainers about putting together a travel routine so I don't lapse while I'm gone.
- Explore some cities outside of NYC and SF as options for places to have my home base (i.e. Nashville, St. Louis, Boulder, Milwaukee, Richmond, etc.) I didn't explore too many, but I did spend some time in Philly and continue to consider it as an alternative to NYC or SF. I also like the idea of living in the "outer boroughs" of NYC or SF if it came to that - Oakland, Berkeley, Jersey City, Queens, the little city-type areas outside of the big cities themselves.
And goals for this coming year:
- Continue to focus on fitness and exercise at least 3x/week.
- Work toward a sustainable work/life balance that enables my passions instead of forcing my passion projects to produce income.
- Have my own place - preferrably owned.
- Maintain relationships and communication with friends and family, with as much IRL time as possible.
- Spend more time socializing IRL. Develop a group of friends in a similar life stage to hang out with.
Predictions for 5 years from now:
I’d be surprised if I were still an independent freelancer/consultant. Either my business will have grown to the point that I’m no longer a solo act, or I’ll be working in a more traditional w2 job.
I’ll be living in a smaller city somewhere in the US. I’ll have my own place, be pretty established as my home, still going on adventures, but have developed a group of friends and sense of community in wherever I have my base.
I likely won’t have kids by that point, but who knows.
I’ll be working on some technology that we probably don’t even know about yet - or at least hasn’t entered the mainstream. Because The Future.