2019 New Year’s Resolutions

Since 2016, I’ve been writing down my annual goals and sharing them here to keep myself accountable. Since then, the process has evolved and a good number of these self-promises have been fulfilled–like completing an Ironman, taking a more authentic tack in my career, or challenging myself to get over my fear of rejection.

This year, my goals are shaped by the insight that I don’t intend to travel the way I am now for the rest of my life. I’ve had plenty of great experiences, and I’ve learned a lot, but I’m not certain this lifestyle is sustainable for me. In some ways, I’m already quite tired of moving around so much–constantly uprooting is fast losing its appeal and taking its toll. I’m also starting to see the benefit of longer stays, as they allow me to settle into a routine, engage in communities, and form deeper relationships with people. Eventually, I can see myself picking a few places to spend most of my time. I’m not quite ready to give up traveling, however. There are a few things that are easier to do while on the road that I’d like to accomplish first:

  • Reach conversational fluency in French, Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese.
    • A continuation of my goal to become a polyglot, motivated by a desire to more deeply experience foreign cultures and mindsets.
  • Attend culinary programs in France and Japan, ideally in native language.
    • I just really enjoy the experience of food and cooking. I see food as a way to experience new cultures, bring people together, and express myself. I don’t really have plans to become a professional chef, however.
    • I have my eye on Le Cordon Bleu and Tokyo Sushi Academy, but admittedly don’t know much yet about how actually attending them would work or what my alternatives are.
  • Spend a few months volunteering in a developing country.
    • To continue furthering my understanding of the problems facing the underprivileged and begin to understand how I can best be of service.
  • Experience what it’s like to live in a multitude of different cities, countries, and situations.
    • So when I’m ready to pick somewhere to settle down I have a better idea of what I’m looking for and why.
  • Generate profit of at least $5000/mo from independent business ventures (consulting does not count!!)
    • While it doesn’t sound like a lot, this is potentially enough to pay my living expenses plus a small amount of disposable income almost anywhere in the world.

I don’t think it makes sense to divert my attention towards hobbyist culinary pursuits before I have a stable income source, so this year I’ll be focusing mostly on my business ventures while attempting to pull my Chinese and Spanish levels up to where my French is now.

My overall goals therefore don’t look much different from how they did last year, though they are once again slimmed down to concentrate on what I think is really important:

  • Running my own business
    • Launch 4-6 (more ideally, 8-12) different projects this year. These don’t all have to be of the same magnitude or significance, but they should all have some monetization plan from the beginning. Learn to scope projects well, learn not to be afraid of throwing something over the fence before it’s perfect, and really get the process down to a science.
    • Limit consulting work to only what’s necessary to a) maintain the business so it remains a viable fallback strategy and b) pay my annual living budget plus some money to invest in retirement. (~$30k)
  • Reach conversational fluency in Chinese.
    • Spend at least 3 months in Chinese-speaking countries. Push to have a natural language conversation every day.
  • Reach conversational fluency in Spanish.
    • Spend at least 3 months in Spanish-speaking countries. Push to have a natural language conversation every day.
  • Travel
    • Meet new people and have adventures wherever I go. Don’t get so singularly focused on running a business that I become a shut-in.
  • Mindfulness
    • Meditate for at least 20 minutes every day.
  • Reading
    • Read or listen to 52 books.
  • Learn to start conversations with women I’m attracted to
    • Why
      • This is a continuation of previous goals of mine to become more comfortable dating and learn not to turn into a nervous puddle around women I’m attracted to. I think I’ve actually made a lot of progress on this–dating for me is now less about scrambling to figure out how to nervously impress a woman simply because I think she’s a woman or because I think she’s pretty, and more about investigating whether or not she’s actually someone I’d want to spend more time with.I think overall, I’m settling into to two realizations: 1) that I’m a good guy, and a rare kind of guy whom plenty of women would be lucky to have in their life and 2) the kind of woman I’m looking for is likewise pretty rare, and most women I meet aren’t going to be a good fit, so there’s no need to get so emotionally invested until I assess the fit. The one place where I still have a lot of trouble, though, is actually meeting new women and asking them out on dates. I’m not really sure I’m ready for another go at a serious relationship, but I think I am ready to get over my anxieties around approaching and starting conversations with women.
    • Key Results
      • Start a conversation with at least one woman I’d like to talk to each week.
        • The goal isn’t  necessarily to land a phone number or a date, but rather simply to gain more experience feeling the desire to talk with someone and then following through on doing it. It also doesn’t matter what I say, or how long the conversation lasts, just that I make the leap to start it. The rest, I think, will take care of itself with reps.

Since I failed to make as much progress as I’d hoped to last year on a similar goal set, I’m making a few changes this year.

First, in order to promote the conditions for focus and general well-being, I’m slowing down my travel rate. Last year I thought that one month in a city or a country would be a long time. The truth is, with only a month, I get about a week to get my bearings, a week to start feeling at home, and then by the end of two weeks I start emotionally divesting because I realize I’m already leaving again so soon. My solution is to increase my typical stay to three months instead of just one or to spend shorter stays in places where I’m already familiar and already know people. Specifically, I’m already scheming to spend three months in Taiwan, where I hope to practice my Mandarin and connect more deeply with my cultural heritage, and loosely planning to spend 6-ish months in South and Central America (potentially Medellin in Colombia and Mexico City).

Second, in addition to my typical OKR style for goals, I’m defining a set of habits I’d like to develop this year to support my goals. As the famous quote goes, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” (Fun fact: this quote comes from American philosopher Will Durant, but is often apocryphally attributed to Aristotle.) The importance of habits is several fold: they lend themselves well to routines, which I’m realizing are important for creating a sense of structure, normalcy, and continuity despite how often I change my setting, and despite whatever emotional state I’m in; additionally, for longer-term goals that can’t be accomplished in just a day, a week, or even in a month, or a year, habits are the most effective way to make consistent progress. Self-motivation, I found in 2018, can be really fickle, especially because I’m an impatient person prone to becoming discouraged when I perceive a lack of progress. Self-discipline through habits is my new strategy–I trust that if I can muster the discipline to maintain my habits, then I am making certain progress towards where I want to go even if I can’t see a daily difference.

Here are the habits I’d like to establish this year, and keep for life:

  • Daily
    • Wake up early, and at the same time each day, without the snooze button
      • I find that I operate best when I’m up early enough to take care of all of my self-care habits and still feel like I’m getting to work early. Conversely, if I wake up too late then I feel constantly behind for the rest of the day, which usually just results in me skipping my morning routine.
    • Exercise
      • Likely some combination of running, cycling, swimming, weightlifting, and martial arts.
    • Meditate
    • Complete my Anki reviews
      • These are my self-made spaced-repetition flashcards for a variety of topics, including language. This is my primary engine for learning and remembering information with the lowest overall effort.
    • Review tomorrow’s action list and meetings at the end of the day
    • Reach inbox zero every day, but never do email first thing in the morning
      • My best energy is always in the morning. I want to reserve it for things that really require it.
    • Log at least 6 hours of productive work
      • This translates to two 2-4 hour working sessions each day, one before lunch, and one after. On busier days each session can be longer, and an additional session can optionally be added before dinner.
    • Read before bed
      • While this also builds reading as a habit into my day, this one also ideally pushes out other bad nighttime habits which sometimes result in unplanned loss of sleep, which tends to unravel the entire routine. For example, I’m often fond of winding down through Netflix or video games, both of which I sometimes have a hard time stopping.
    • Get 8 hours of sleep every night
      • Feeling too tired to function is also something that commonly unravels my daily routines. Coffee only solves the problem so much…
  • Weekly
    • Reach out to family and friends
    • At least one language exchange in all languages I’m actively studying
    • Review next week’s action list and meetings at the end of the week
    • Spend a few hours optimizing a process in my life or working on something important but not urgent
  • Monthly
    • At least one language exchange in all languages I’m passively maintaining
    • Review my personal budget and finances, and re-strategize for the next month as necessary
  • Quarterly
    • Make sure my business finances are up-to-date
    • Self-review on progress toward annual goals
  • Annually
    • Review these goals and formulate new ones.

Most of these are habits that I’ve had at various points, but haven’t kept consistently. In order to avoid overwhelming myself, I’ll be introducing these habits in phases, perhaps a few at a time every 15-30 days. An ideal outcome this year is that all of these things become reflexive habit, and that they guide me towards success in the larger goal set. I’ll be searching for or creating software to help me with these things when I struggle.

This year I’m also giving myself a few deep thematic questions to ponder, as I think it’s imperative to continue developing my personal philosophy, and I’d like to start doing so intentionally. Here are some questions on my mind:

  • What goal for individuals, governments, and societies does the present day American ethic implicitly or explicitly espouse? How does this differ from other nations?
    • Whether or not we consciously know what motivates us, our behaviors stem from our motivations. I’d like to dig deeper into the motivations that drive the American ethic, and begin to compare them to what I’ve observed during my travels.
  • What is the relationship between happiness, meaning, and purpose?
    • I started to explore this while at Plum Village this year, but I think there’s something we look for beyond just happiness. I don’t think happiness and joy don’t exist without pain and suffering anymore than light does without dark. I think someone can feel happy, but still feel like something is missing. I’d like to explore this further.
  • What does the philosophy of ethics have to say about the goal of life and how to realize it?
    • Exploring this question led me to insights from Stoicism and Buddhism, but I’m far from having as deep an understanding of them as I’d like, and I haven’t familiarized myself enough with other ethical frameworks to see where I do and don’t agree.
  • What is value, really? And how does currency capture it?
    • In Silicon Valley, we used to like to talk about creating value for people, and I’m realizing that I understand this phrasing intuitively, but when I dig into it it’s hard to define exactly what “value” is, why people pay for it, and how we quantify it. It seems to me that we purchase things in order to help us achieve certain aims, so the economic value of a thing is somehow tied to how well it helps us to achieve those aims. As other questions on this list have suggested, I have a lot of questions about what people aim for and why, and I have a hunch that these questions are related.

I’ll let these questions loosely guide my travels, my conversations, and my reading this year. Perhaps I’ll find time to write essays about my findings.

I’m optimistic that 2019 will be a good year. I learned a lot in 2018, and I’m excited to apply those learnings, and feeling ready to face some new challenges. Wish me luck!

1 comment

  1. A few thoughts here.

    1) I think you potentially have too many goals and daily habits, which could be contributing to less success in achieving them. They are ambitious lists, especially given that you have left out the way time leaks when you have to travel between two points, when you have to do laundry, etc. One problem with long lists is that they can lead to feeling guilty or disappointed.

    2) I once asked an old Catholic priest how he spoke six languages, and he said, “One is always forgetting them.” Over a lifetime, I’ve started at least five languages; I’ve achieved conversation in Spanish and Dutch and traveling ability in Japanese and French (though the Japanese is long forgotten). Three of the five I started in my twenties. Certainly, there are more ways today than ever for acquiring and maintaining languages, but I might argue for considering this goal a little more closely, as the maintenance is very time consuming, and unless you have a real purpose for it, it may not be the best use of your time when you are trying to achieve so many other things. Potentially, better to embed language with your work, so you have to learn it. Alternately, make yourself watch all of your Netflix in the language you are trying to learn or read books in the languages you are trying to learn, i.e. double up your goals.

    3) Ask yourself: do you have an attraction to countries that pose a risk to Americans or just life in general? If so, you’ve left Venezuela and Nicaragua off your list. Check out “The Trade” on Showtime. I would propose instead: Panama and Costa Rica. Much safer, very different from each other.

    4) Because you are reading so widely, it’s hard to recommend books to you, but on the question of happiness, meaning and purpose, have you read “Being Mortal?” If not, I would recommend it.

    5) Would recommend trying volunteering as doing more things on behalf of others for the sheer joy of helping out may be a component that is missing both from your goals and your consideration of meaning. Even setting up networks and printers for nonprofits in these countries could have an amazing impact.

    You really learned a great deal from your experiences in 2018. 2019 won’t just be good, it will be great!

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