(You’ve stumbled upon a long, gratuitous, reflective post that I write every year on my birthday. This is my 17th year. It’s really for my own personal archive, but if you’re curious: happy reading!)

Looking back at last year’s birthday post, it’s pretty clear how unexpected this year turned out to be.

While at this point last year I had begun to explore the possibility of winding down my consulting practice and going back to an “office job,” I have absolutely no plans to move back to the west coast. I couldn’t have predicted even a quarter of how this year turned out.

A few days after my 31st birthday, I took a phone interview with Zendesk. It was kind of on a lark, really. I knew they were based in San Francisco, but I figured it never really hurts to take an interview, for practice and to just sort of see what’s out there.

A few weeks later I was flying out to San Francisco for an on-site interview and a few days after that I had signed an offer to uproot the life I’d spent all of last year cultivating in New Jersey - finally starting to feel like I had some “roots” - and basically starting over in San Francisco.

It wasn’t an easy decision by any means. I’d been so deliberate about setting up my life so that I can spend more IRL time with the people I wanted to spend time with. I’d finally gotten to a place where I actually had a strong sense of “home.” Between the end of high school and until ~2016, Pt. Pleasant was technically the “home” where I went for holidays, to see my mom, etc., but it never really felt like “home” to me because I didn’t have any friends, connections, or community there outside of the perimeter of my mom’s house.

But I figured I have one last uproot left in me before it becomes increasingly difficult due to age, responsibilities, etc, so why the hell not? There wasn’t anything to lose and a lot to gain. So I went for it.

I moved out to SF in January and slowly, but surely, have been making a little home for myself here. I’m still working on developing a sense of community, friends, and all that, but on the whole I’m very happy with the decision and I’ve made it a point to travel back to NJ to see friends and family. I even took a trip home specifically to host my annual summer BBQ as an excuse to get all of my friends together. In fact, I’d even say it felt like even more of a “homecoming” because I’d established that sense of home before I left. I don’t feel like a stranger in Pt. Pleasant anymore and being further from my friends doesn’t feel as bad when I’m in the same place vs. traveling all over the world with an erratic schedule.

Speaking of erratic schedules… despite the fact that I didn’t set out to do much traveling this year (in fact I had no travel plans beyond going home for my BBQ and the holidays), I’ve ended up doing a ton of traveling for work. I started off with a trip to NYC in March, a trip to London and Dublin in May, another trip to NYC in July, plus trips to Austin and Singapore. Before the year is up, I’ll have flown over 75,000 miles. That’s 25K more miles than a few years back when I was actually trying to break the 50K mark. Funny how things work out.

It’s meant I haven’t had a ton of time to really spend time going out and making non-work friends here in SF, which is fine. I’ve made progress in SF in other ways. I’ve settled into my apartment, built nice routines including going to the gym every morning (for a 6AM class!), and generally feeling much more comfortable living here now than I did in 2009-10 when I first moved out here.

I’ve been thinking about why that’s true - what’s different this time around than when I was 22? I think it comes down to just generally being more comfortable in my skin and with my choices. A lot of that really started to come together in the last 2-3 years and though it was rocky along the way, I think I’m starting to see the upside. I don’t feel any sort of pressures to conform to other people’s (society’s?) timelines, expectations, etc. I’m totally comfortable just doing me and whatever people think about that is their prerogative. Case in point: I got all sorts of messages today saying “doing anything tonight to celebrate?” How I’m choosing to spend my birthday evening: I bought myself some grocery store sushi and an ice cream sandwich, and once I finish up this post, I’ll be binging on some TV while doing a donut puzzle on the floor of my living room. Sure I could go out for dinner or drinks or something festive, but this is what makes me happy so this is what I’m doing.

The other piece, I think, stems from the understanding I gained last year about “passion projects” vs. “livelihood.” I finally realized that I don’t do well when I mix the two. And while I absolutely enjoy and feel challenged and invested in what I’m working on at “work,” I’ve also made it a point to separate “work” from my projects for fun. I’ve tinkered with watercolors and crochet. I have a growing house plant jungle. I continued work on Just Product Jobs until last month when it was (unexpectedly!) acquired. I’ve enjoyed separating my creative pursuits from “time sitting in front of the computer.” It’s rare that I’ll open my laptop after work or on weekends. I’ll check in on social media and stuff via my phone or occasionally my iPad, but the break from doing “digital” work is actually refreshing.

On the fitness front, I’ve been going to the gym consistently since March (except for traveling and 2 days where I didn’t feel well). While my weight has fluctuated a fair amount this year, I still feel very fit and like I’m putting my time and energy in the right place. It’s amazing how my sense of calm and focus is directly correlated to how much I’m exercising. Plus I can do a decent few push ups and generally feel much stronger than I have since maybe high school.

This year I’ve felt firmly out of “young adulthood” and into “adulthood.” I’m starting to feel my experience in life in a way I didn’t expect. While I don’t feel much older than the more junior folks at work, when they come to me to ask questions, I realize just how long I’ve been doing this sort of work. It’s only 10 years, and it’s obvious mathematically, but it’s just sort of starting to hit more lately. I’ve reached the point in life where we start to have the more “serious” conversations about life, death, and everything in between. With all of the births and marriages around, it seems like deaths are starting to become more frequent too, and that’s a whole different reality. Earlier this year, my best friend and I had some frank conversations about handling each other’s affairs should anything happen to one of us and we don’t have any other family. Things like what to do with our remains and where the PIN to the bank account is hidden. Morbid? Completely. Necessary? Hopefully not.

If I had to tie this year to some themes, I think they would be progress, change, and a sense of contentment. Mixed with a strong reminder of my age and “maturity.” I’ve managed to reach every goal I set out for myself this year - and even had some successes I didn’t see coming like selling Just Product Jobs or paying off my student loans. I feel like everything this year has been pushing me forward in life, career, finances, relationships, communication, you name it. And best of all, I’m really happy with how much progress I’ve made without feeling like I left anything behind or had to sacrifice the things I value. It’s pretty amazing to read last year’s post and see how different things are across the board.

Now for a look back at the goals I set for myself a year ago:

  • Continue to focus on fitness and exercise at least 3x/week. Check! I go to the gym 4x/week and feel like that's an area of my life where I gain the most value.
  • Work toward a sustainable work/life balance that enables my passions instead of forcing my passion projects to produce income. Yes! At the moment, I can't say I have any identifiable passion projects since JPJ is no longer something I spend time on, but I like being able to be more creative in my creative endeavors and not having to worry about whether they'll produce income.
  • Have my own place - preferrably owned. Well, I have my own apartment in SF. Buying a place in the Bay Area is probably out of the question in the near future, partially because housing prices are obscene here, but also because I'm not sure if I plan to be here for more than 3-5 years at the moment. I still have my eye on buying a place in the NJ area to have for if I decide to move back or as an investment.
  • Maintain relationships and communication with friends and family, with as much IRL time as possible. This one has been much tougher with the cross-country move. I haven't been able to spend nearly as much IRL time as I'd like, but I think I've done an OK job at keeping in touch with the people I want to keep in touch with. I'll also be home for Thanksgiving and Christmas so there will be more opportunities then.
  • Spend more time socializing IRL. Develop a group of friends in a similar life stage to hang out with. Working on this. I have a fair number of "work friends" that I spend time with outside of work, but I do want to put more energy into making friends outside of work too.

And goals for this coming year:

  • Continue to focus on fitness and exercise at least 3x/week.
  • Take at least one proper vacation - with time off from work in a place that’s not SF or NJ.
  • Have purchased a property either for my own place or as an investment.
  • Host my annual BBQ in NJ.
  • Have developed a friend group / community in SF.
  • Explore more of the west coast / Bay Area.
  • Have a better sense of whether I plan to stay on the west coast.

Predictions for 5 years from now:

I’m still not sure if I’ll be on the west coast, east coast, or somewhere in between in 5 years and I think the answer to that will have a lot of impact on the rest of my life.

If I’m being really honest, I hope to be well on my way to financial independence to the point where it won’t matter which coast I live on. I’ll be able to live and work from wherever I decide to live. And whether that’s something that’ll be possible in my current job (I’m still pushing for remote work options!) or I’ll have moved on from this company to something a bit more remote-friendly, my goal remains to be able to live and work from wherever in the world I want to be.

I think either way, in 5 years I’ll hopefully own my own place, with a garden (the alpaca may still be a few years off). I still see myself having a home base somewhere with the flexibility to travel.

I go back and forth on whether I want to get married. I see my friends with families and kids and sometimes I think “that seems so great, I want that” and other times I think “I’m so glad to have the flexibility in my life to do whatever the hell I want.” So that’s a bit of a toss-up. For now, I think I’m going to stick to my “Best Aunt Ever” vision and spend time with my friends and family’s kids, but being able to send them back home when I head off on my next adventure.

Generally, I think I’ll be doing something technology-related, and hopefully pursuing the passion projects that make me happy and spending time with the people I care about.

Past Birthday Posts: 31, 30, 29, 28, 27, 26, 25, 24, 23, 22, 21, 20, 19 (lost), 18, 17 (lost), 16