5 min read

Evaluating this year

What I said I wanted to do, and what I actually did (and how I feel about all of it)

(If you haven't read last week's entry on annual themes, you might want to before getting into this one)

Last week I shared with you my 3 themes for 2021 and the 7 goals that I had set out in line with them (OK, fine, 6 and 1 random throw in). Today, this is going to be less of a "give myself a grade" and more of a reflection on what worked and what didn't and - where I can figure it out - why.

As a quick reminder, the 3 themes:

  1. Infuse sustainability and vitality into every facet of our lives
  2. Lay the foundation for greater flexibility financially and professionally
  3. Own my identity as a creator

And the 7 goals

  • Standup 1 non-ALX side project (2, 3)
  • Move to Holland (1, 2)
  • At least a monthly date with Sarah (1)
  • All 3 kids comfortable on bikes and comfortable in Dutch (1)
  • Create 1 thing in 6 different media (2, 3)
  • A structured reflection at least 3 days/week (1, 3)
  • Read 30 books

Let's hit the goals first and use that to get into the themes.

Standup 1 non-ALX side project:

This one is pretty binary - did it happen or didn't it? Yet somehow I feel conflicted about it. I can't point to any single project that you, dear reader, could actually see, touch, feel. At the same time, this went well enough that I ended up leaving my "real" job at the end of the year to focus entirely on side projects (and one big one in particular). This is a classic example of where the themes really matter - this was something I did to create greater flexibility and to own my identity as a creator. On the first count, I would call this a pretty resounding success. On the second, the jury is still out - I think this upcoming year will clarify it even more.

Move to Holland

Another binary, but this one is pretty definitive - check and mate. I am a legal resident of the Netherlands. You may be thinking that moving a family of 5 and a dog halfway around the world during a pandemic is a pretty heavy lift. You would be correct. This was probably the equivalent of a second job for most of the year, but the intrinsic motivation for this one was substantial and the satisfaction that it has brought has been even more substantial. This took a lot of planning and still involved a small army of relocation support people (to wit: an immigration attorney, a tax attorney, a document validation service in the US, and a Dutch housing specialist). Honestly, if every other goal would have been a failure this year and this one would have been a success, I think I would have counted the year as a win.

At least a monthly date with Sarah

This is a good example of one where focusing too much on the metric can actually distract from the deeper purpose. Did we rack up 12 dates this year? I'm not sure that we did...so, with 11 days left in the year could we get there and check the box? I mean, yeah, probably (or, actually, the Netherlands just went back on a hard lockdown...so no). Maybe we can count the 3 days that we got away from the kids to visit a friend in Germany as 3 separate ones - or, maybe, like 6 because we had at least 2 meals a day just the two of us? This is one where the magic number itself isn't actually significant, another instance where the theme matters. The reality: my wife and I are still very much in the process of figuring out the transition from being "a couple that is having babies" to "a couple that has kids." The predictability of a monthly date will probably help with that, but there's still a long way to go. This one is at best incomplete.

All 3 kids comfortable on bikes and comfortable in Dutch

By the numbers, we have 2 out of 3 who are whizzing around town independently on their bikes; we have 1 out of 3 who his teachers say is already capable of transitioning into a Dutch public school (and the other 2 are well on track). But this is an example of where the goal itself was helpful for initial orientation but not actually the right goal for the year. At the heart of this goal is the desire for our kids to feel integrated into their new country, and what you see in that goal was the best way to express it a year ago. Turns out, most 4 year olds in the Netherlands are not out and about on their bikes, and while we could have pushed harder for them to accelerate their language acquisition, it was more important for us to just find the right school for them to do an immersion program. Turns out, what really helped each of them get integrated was finding new interests to explore that hadn't been available to them in Mauritius - we rocked a solid 3/3 on that front. The Netherlands feels like we have all put down some roots, so on that count I'd call this one a success.

Create 1 thing in 6 different media

Nope. Just no. It didn't happen. If I squint, I could see maybe 3 different media I explored. On its face, this is a total fail. I feel OK about it though. It didn't happen this year, but I can take some solace in the fact that I published more here than I have in any other year and I did shift my day to day work away from general leadership into more building, making, and creating. This is important to recognize: the goal itself was not a success, but it did actually act as a catalyst to help me advance the theme.

A structured reflection at least 3 days/week

I just counted it up to make it official, but I already knew the answer: 162 entries in my journal for the year. This is an example where the right scaffolds and appropriately lowered expectations helped to form a habit. For me, the key was twofold: using a digital journal with repeatable prompts so I didn't need to think about what I want to write, and letting it be good enough if it only took 3-5 minutes. This is one where it's a success by the numbers, and it's also a success on the themes. I feel much more present and aware of what's happening in my life, and I've been able to reflect quite a bit on creative process and my own approach to creative work.

Read 30 books

31 as of this writing. I can't really add anything to what I said at the beginning of the year. Huge thanks to my son for throwing down the gauntlet. It was a very satisfying year of books for me.

On those themes...

I'm not going to reflect on them one by one. They are inherently things that are not completable, but I feel like I made meaningful progress on every one. Something I've learned from the past few years: these themes have momentum, they don't just turn off when the year comes to an end. They are less about completing something and more about triggering something. For the year 2021 in particular, I triggered something profound. I am coming out of this year a very different person than I was coming into it. That doesn't happen every year, and we're not always aware of it when it is happening. In my case, so many of the most significant facts of my life changed this year (I live in a different country, I started a company and left my old one), so it was easier to sit up and take note.

It was a satisfying year. Next week, to close out the year I'm going to share the moments that are going to stick with me from my favorite books, films, music...and from life in general.