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BalanceMinimalismProductivityTools and Systems

The Now page and saying No

October 14, 2016 — by Matt

When you aren’t working toward something specific, it’s really hard to figure out what to do with your days, nights, and free time. Things float into your purview – some random event invite, a new Netflix show, some other lukewarm opportunity – and you just say yes; not because you’re really interested, or because it excites you, but because “why not”. You’re not in control of your own attention and energy.

I’m guilty of this. You probably are too.

That’s why I like this Derek Sivers’ “hell yeah or no” concept.

I also like the concept of a “now” page. It outlines the most important things you’re spending your time on. That way, when some opportunity comes up that doesn’t make you say “hell yeah!”, you can point to your “now” page and say “no thanks! I’m working on these things right now.”

I’ll have my now page soon, explaining why I’m saying no to all you beautiful people, and why I’ve been gone from this site for so long.

BalanceExperimentationExplorationRisk

Sometimes, Just Do Stuff Because It’s Cool

March 29, 2016 — by Matt

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Sometimes, I overthink.

Overthinking is not cool
Self portrait.

In fact, it’s one of the reason I’ve looked into meditation and started practicing mindfulness. Honestly, it’s probably one of the reasons I that I like a drink or two on occasion. These things turn the volume down on the over-analytical voice in my head.

Because a lot of time that analysis gets in the way of what could be a valuable, memorable, or life-altering experience. It gets in the way of discovering some truly cool shit.

You’ve probably heard the “do one thing a day that scares you” advice. Whether its actually done daily or just something you keep top-of-mind, it’s a valuable tidbit of guidance. I fully support it. But I’ve got another one for you:

Sometimes, just do stuff because it’s cool.

cool flow chart

We did it as kids. We explored because it piqued our curiosity – even before we understood the concept of “cool” or became slaves to it later as teens. Something seemed interesting, so we explored.

And sometimes, that’s enough of a reason to do it.

Now I’m not saying to ignore all inputs, factors, danger, or potential consequences of your actions. I don’t want you waking up in the hospital or staring down the katana blade of the ninja pirate loan shark to whom you now owe 3 months salary and your first born. We’ve been through however many years on this planet partially to learn lessons that protect us from disaster. So, you know, also don’t be dumb.

But let’s face it, most of the decisions we overanalyze aren’t going to take us to those places. Something seems like it could be cool? Won’t bankrupt you, you’re already not doing anything, doesn’t get in the way of any of your bigger goals? You’re with good people, or might meet some, or even… have no fucking clue what’s going to happen? Cool.

Because we deserve to give our overthinking brain the finger and throw caution to the wind. Not all the time. Not even most of the time. But SOMETIMES, damnit.

So let’s just find some cool shit to do.

BalanceBucket ListMinimalism

The Fuck It List

March 22, 2016 — by Matt

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Disclaimer: This article contains a well-known curse word loved, used, and abused the world over. If strong language offends you, you can skip this one. However I'm going to continue using the proper nomenclature, because (a) it's used in only the most positive, life-affirming, and splendiferous way, and (b) I just added "not cursing in my writing" to my Fuck It list. Enjoy.

We’re all familiar with the concept of the Bucket List: a list of activities, experiences, and goals you’d like to accomplish before you bid this life adieu. Sometimes though, it’s just as important to decide what’s NOT important to you as it is to decide what is important. This is where the concept of the Fuck It list comes into play.

What is the Fuck It list?

The Fuck It list is the Bucket List’s evil twin; a list of items that you really just don’t give a rat’s ass about accomplishing. The Fuck It list is a pretty powerful tool to help you focus your energy and decision-making on what is truly important to you and fully cut ties with what isn’t. The more we can do to tune out the bullshit, the better. (Three curses in the first paragraph? I hope you’re still with me…)

As you grow on your journey to unboring, you’ll try a bunch of new experiences and undoubtedly your focus on what is most important to you will change. This might result in adding a few related items to your bucket list, but more often than not your Fuck It list will be the real beneficiary of your experience. When you’ve explored enough to gain a real understanding of what values, experiences, and relationships are most important to you moving forward, your focus on your real goals makes it infinitely easier to cast off any experiences that you just know won’t be important to you.

And one of the advantages of dipping your toes in many different new things is that a lot of those things will not be for you, and you’ll know it almost immediately with very minimal investment in time and energy. Tried your hand at web design and knew immediately it wasn’t for you? Boot it to the Fuck It list, and feel the weight of one more consideration leave your shoulders.

Building your Fuck It list

fuck it list - ecard

Building your Fuck It list is best done as an offshoot of defining your own values and areas of interest. Just like in diet or exercise, defining your fitness or health goals (e.g. boosting your maximal squat, or gaining muscle, or hitting a target weight) will help you eliminate the types of training or nutrition that doesn’t help you reach your goals. Once you’ve written off these methods, it’s much easier to filter through the advice of friends, colleagues, or the internet to concentrate on what will help YOU, and ignore the advice that helps someone with different goals. Just like there is no exercise program that is perfect for everyone, there is no one-size-fits all bucket list.

Sometimes Fuck It list fodder is best taken from the bucket list highlights of others. Your friends and family might have a few lofty goals and worthy endeavors that, although to them represent crowning achievements, don’t really rev your engine. These are sometimes the best fuck it list items, because other people, the media, and society will do a great job of talking them up. If you’ve already written them off, you can ignore all the noise and focus your energy and exploration into new areas, or into activities you know are up your alley.

This is how I’ve started to formulate my fuck it list. I’m still just beginning, so it’s pretty light. But I can breathe easy knowing that I don’t have to waste an ounce of energy thinking about the following items. I’ll also try to include how I settled each of these examples.

1. Running a marathon. This one was easy. My short-term fitness goals include building strength and a bit of muscle, looking like I’ve at least had brushes with athleticism, and being well-equipped to be socially active doing things I love like playing basketball, kickball, or clowning around at the beach. So although I have the utmost respect for those who train for marathons and other tests of endurance, it’s not going to get me into the kind of shape I’d like to be in. It’s not something I feel I need to prove to myself or anyone else, and by safely ignoring it I can focus on my real goals without the distraction of switching up my training.

2. Becoming a millionaire. This one came out of some self-evaluation and realizing where my values lie. I’ve always been of the mindset that experiences and relationships are worth way more than money in the bank, and although I think that financial stability and freedom is important, I believe this stability is worthwhile because of the happiness and health it helps provide for you and those around you. It’s not a goal you reach at a certain net worth or with a certain number of zeroes before the decimal point on your bank statement. If I ended up with a million dollars, I’ll be the last one to complain – but I’m not living my life explicitly to get there. This also brings up another great point about the Fuck It list – these don’t have to be items you’ll never do, just items you don’t have to explicitly strive toward.

3. Drive coast-to-coast alone. This is an example of an item I sniped from someone else’s bucket list; specifically, the excellent “75 Things Every Man Should Do” list from esquire.com. Although I found the entire list enjoyable and even earmarked a few items that might make it on my own bucket list, I found a few that were perfect Fuck It list fodder, including #7, “Drive by yourself from coast to coast.” This sounds really awesome, and I commend anyone who does it, but it’s just not something that revs my engine (no pun intended). Doing it with a few close friends? Now we might be talking.

Please note I’m not passing judgement on any of the above items, they just aren’t my cup-o-tea. One of these items on your bucket list? Great! That’s what makes us unique, and that’s what makes this my Fuck It list and not yours.

Undoubtedly I’ll add to this list as I get older. In fact, I might even remove some things. If one of these items really becomes important to me, it could get knocked off the Fuck It list – but I know it will just happen if it happens, no need to plan for it. I’m much better off investing my energy into the goals I have today.

Start your “Fuck It” list today!

Do you have a fuck it list yet? If not, take 3 or 4 minutes to jot down a few activities, accomplishments, or achievements that you just don’t give a flying fuck about. Put it somewhere safe (I keep mine in [Evernote]). Every time you try something and decide it won’t make you happier or enhance your life, add it to the list.

Start by looking at your bucket list (or if you don’t have one yet, think about some of your specific short- or long-term goals) and think about a few items that, while cool and worthwhile for some, would derail you from reaching those goals. Jot those items down first.

Next, take a look at one or more of the copious “Things every man/woman should do” or “things to do before you die” lists. In fact, go take a look at our [bucket list] items on this site; you might see a few right off the bat that make you think “well, that’s something I don’t care if I ever do.” Add those to your list and then forget about them and move on to something more important. The beauty of the Fuck It list is that if your outlook ever changes, it’s really easy to remove something; but until it does, you don’t have to bother wasting one ounce of energy thinking about it.

Start by writing down 3 or 4 things to get your list started. It shouldn’t take more than 5 or 10 minutes, and once you have the list started and somewhere readily available, you’ll be much more likely to add to it when you think of something new.

Started your list already? Let’s hear some of the goals you won’t be wasting any time or energy on in the comments section below!

BalanceProductivityTools and Systems

Consistency

March 15, 2016 — by Matt

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Get ready for a bombshell…

There is no one secret to success.

Shocker, I know.

And even though we all intuitively know this, it still feels good to believe that there’s only one small change between our current situation and a slingshot to blissful achievement.

I’ve come to learn that it doesn’t work like that. There are, however, a few not-so-secret tenants you’ll often hear. You know the usual suspects – perseverance, focus, networking, execution, luck, a really eye-catching business card, strategic eyebrow waggling – and each (most) of them can certainly help contribute to success.

One of the most important is consistency. And for me (and I suspect many others), it’s importance is often overlooked.

Why is consistency important?

Consistency is incredibly important for making progress. The likelihood of one meeting, one business proposal, one article submission, or one afternoon of working on your passion translating to some big success is very slim. The likelihood of repeated, concerted effort producing small, consistent progress that adds up, however, is very high.

Consistency is also like practice – by building a consistent habit, we’re likely to learn more and improve faster. James Clear, one of my favorite writers on the topic of building habits, penned this article which includes a few great examples of how consistent effort increases your chances of reaching your targets.

Finally, doing something consistently can define you. If you want to be a writer, sit down and write… a lot. If you fancy yourself a musician, you had better be making music consistently. And it doesn’t just apply to productive habits. You might not want to admit it, but if you smoke every day, guess what – you’re a smoker. Batman said it in a really gravely voice – “It’s what you do that defines you” – but he wasn’t the first to realize that consistent habit makes you who you are. The ancient Greeks had it figured out ages ago.

We-Repeatedly-Do-Excellence
Consistency in fonts, apparently, not as important.

Our problem with consistency

Yes, staying consistent in our habits is super important and beneficial. But that shit is also HARD. Like, really hard.

First, starting a new habit is always difficult. Doing one thing once is really easy – doing it repeatedly isn’t.

Consistency also requires an acceptance of both failure and of non-perfect work. Doing something over and over is likely to produce varying results – if you write a new blog post every week, for example, you’re likely to have some duds. That’s OK – and in fact will make you better at your craft through repetition, learning, and adjustment. But we’re so petrified of failure that we forgo consistent output in favor of “perfectionism” – a codeword that often means being too scared to finish something, share it, and move onto the next thing.

perfectionism meme

Finally, consistency take patience. We all want instant results. It’s the reason why people go so hard on their new year’s resolutions and then give them up in frustration a few weeks later. Meaningful change happens in small doses over time. Most people either simply don’t have the patience, or they set their expectations for instant results so high that the frustration of not meeting them makes them give up.

fuck this

There is no such thing as “overnight success”

The fact is that we love overnight success stories, but in almost every case it’s a myth. This article includes some great examples, but one of my favorite examples concerns the cast of the FX show “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”.

charlie day

If you follow the show, you’ve probably heard the story that the main cast of the show decided to write their own pilot, filmed it for $200, and then successfully pitched it to FX. It sounds so easy, anyone could do it – and in a bubble, it seems like an overnight success off of a single idea.

But all the members of the cast had been grinding for YEARS – working on their writing and acting, going to audition after audition, facing rejection and failure. It was their consistency, coupled with opportunity and a belief in themselves, that set the stage for their eventual success.


This is a long video, but just watch the last 45 seconds for some real gold. Charlie Day speaks to Rob McElhenney’s near-constant failure – failure that, without perseverance and consistency, might have caused him to quit before getting his big opportunity.

And that’s the other salient point – consistency is often difficult because it feels like we’re putting in tons of work but going nowhere. Even months after starting this blog, I don’t feel like I’m making any progress. But staying consistent not only keeps us moving forward, it also keeps us in a position to take advantage of opportunities that arise. If we’re consistently working on our passions, when something great does present itself, we’re ready to tackle it.

Here’s my plan

Consistency isn’t easy – so it’s best tackled one task or habit at a time. I’m going to start by getting more consistent about posting here.

If you’ve followed this blog, you may have noticed I post on a wildly inconsistent schedule. I’ve posted on every day of the week for no rhyme or reason. Sometimes I post twice a week, sometimes I completely miss a week. Sometimes I’m scrambling to finish an article, sometimes I have a couple backlogged. It’s a crapshoot.

So my habit, publicly stated here, is to post a new article on this blog every Tuesday – without fail. Here’s why I’m choosing this habit:

  • It’s public and I’ll be held accountable. If it doesn’t happen, you all will notice – and I hope you’ll call me out.
  • It’s results-oriented. It requires I actually produce something, so it’s very easy to judge success or failure. Just saying “write every day” could mean writing one word, or writing garbage, while making the habit a posting schedule means the work has to be meaningful.
  • It’s a keystone habit. Following this habit will force me to follow other habits – like writing consistently and managing my time well enough to ensure the writing gets done.

So look for an article every Tuesday (with the option for a “bonus” article on Fridays as I see fit). And if you don’t see one you can send a swarm of highly trained assassin sparrows to peck my eyes out.

What are you working on?

What’s the one habit you’re going to work on to build consistency? Let us know in the comments!

BalanceHealth

A few deep breaths

February 24, 2016 — by Matt

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There’s no article this week.

I know, this shiny new post looks an awful lot like an article. It’s more of a reminder.

I find myself in one of the more stressful, anxiety-ridden weeks I’ve experienced in a while. The reasons aren’t important, but the feeling – that everything is urgent, that everything is being requested of me all at once, that the world is conspiring against any hope of peace or relief – is a feeling I’ve felt before. I’ll bet you have too.

At times like these it’s often difficult to even think about mitigating your stress. You’re too busy with the “real” things on your list, and forgoing those will only stress you out more. Meditation, solid sleep, and time alone seem like laughable propositions.

I mean, you should do those things. Your entire situation would improve, as would your outlook.

But I get it. Those things are daunting. And sometimes your mind isn’t in a place to take that much-beneficial “me” time.

So this is a reminder to just start with a few

… deep

… breaths.

Do it now. Start with three. Anyone can do three right? If it feels good, keep going. What’s it going to take, a minute out of your day?

When you feel like you’re about to snap and go Super Saiyan on the next person you see, take a few deep breaths, look around, and reframe. There’s no downside.

BalanceExperimentationHealthTools and Systems

Non-Goals for 2016

February 8, 2016 — by Matt

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I wrote down a bunch of my goals for 2016 a couple of weeks ago, mostly in the creativity realm (but in some other areas as well). And I tried to make them SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-Focused, and Time-Bound.

Sometimes, though, I have more general stuff I just want to keep in mind. Yeah, “exercise more” isn’t a great goal because there’s no results defined, t’s tough to measure success, and it could be interpreted so loosely that it loses its meaning. But when I was writing my goals I also wrote down some things I would try to do in 2016 that any SMART goal purist would scoff at.

These things aren’t specific and at the end of the year I probably won’t be able to tell you that I “achieved” them. They’re more like themes. And just because it isn’t measurable or quantifiable doesn’t mean it isn’t important.

Here are some non-goals for 2016. And I think they are themes that all of us could benefit from keeping in mind.

Break some rules

Break the Rules non-goals

I analyze, I plan, I get lost in details. I organize, I set boundaries and rules for myself in the hope that I’ll stay focused. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. But I’ve realized that sometimes making and trying to enforce my own rules is in itself consuming my attention. Sometimes, setting rules for yourself and following them is just masturbatory. If I can admit that I don’t know everything and like everyone else, I’m just trying to figure it all out, then I need to admit that maybe the rules I’m setting are bullshit too.

Look, some rules and guidelines are important. Some are powerful tools to say no to the things that leech your energy and to ignore things that don’t honor your vision. But some are just rules, and you don’t know if they’re important or if you’re just wasting your time trying to follow them until you break them. So I’m going to break some rules, especially my own.

Be present

Everyone and their mother wants to be more present, you’ll see it proclaimed across a million blogs and social media posts by everyone until it starts to lose its meaning. And it’s the ultimate example of a shitty goal – how can you prove you’re doing better? How can you measure your progress? I’m not even sure myself. But I still think it’s important to do.

I don’t know HOW to do it, but I do know some things that help. Meditating. Taking deep breaths. Putting down my phone and looking around. Doing one thing at a time. So even though I can’t measure my success, I’ll try to be more present in 2016.

Have boundaries

boundaries non-goals

I realized very recently that I might have an issue with boundaries. I take on other peoples’ problems as my own often because in some weird way I feel like if I don’t work to help other people in their time of need, I’m being a bad friend/boyfriend/brother/son/whatever. I’m like a personal-life micromanager.

That’s stupid. All I’m doing it providing a crutch for others, setting a bad precedent, and eventually resenting others because I feel like I’m always helping them instead of working on my own shit even though really, they didn’t ask me to. Boundaries will help my peace of mind and my relationships across the board.

Have more fun

I put a lot of pressure on myself. Often the result of this is that I keep myself from having fun because I tell myself I have to work. Just as often, the result of that is that the pressure of telling myself I have to work causes my to self-sabotage and procrastinate. If you haven’t caught the theme of this an other articles yet, I’m very in my own head.

I want to have more fun this year. Not like in my mid-twenties, where every weekend was fun only and I got nothing done – but a good balance of fun and hard work. And taking time to relax, have some fun, and take the pressure off can only help my mindset and productivity when I do sit down to write, or make music, or whatever. I’m still young. There’s lots of fun shit to do out there. Let’s make a few bad decisions.

Say ‘No’ more

I worked on this a lot in 2015 but I sometimes still struggle with it. I often over-commit to things – someone comes to me with an idea or a project and in the moment it sounds great, so I say yes. But then I realize I’m adding it to the end of an already-too-long to-do list, I get overwhelmed, and nothing gets done. And a lot of time, this new thing is much less important than the things already on my list.

A shorter to-do list makes for less self-inflicted pressure and is more likely to get done. In fact, we can really only have one priority at a time. I love Derek Sivers’ “Hell Yeah or No” (and Mark Manson’s more vulgar “Fuck Yes or No“) philosophy for just this reason, and I’ll be employing this concept to be very selective with the new stuff I take on in 2016.

Say ‘Yes’ more

yesman non-goals

This one seems like the complete opposite of the last one. It is and it isn’t. I need to say no to stuff I don’t care about to make room for the stuff I do. but I also want to keep myself open to new opportunities and adventures. Sometimes just saying yes results in meeting some awesome people, creating some epic memories, and finding some new interests. This balance will be tough to figure out, I’m sure of it. But if an opportunity presents itself that doesn’t obviously fly in the face of my goals or my identity, I want to at least consider a “yes”, let go, and let the winds take me.

Speak my mind

I’m a conflict avoider by nature. So I sometimes bite my tongue or stifle my true thoughts because I don’t want to hurt others or start a fight. But that only hurts me and hurts others. And by its very nature I do it more often with those I care about most, because those are the people I’m most concerned about upsetting.

In all honesty, I’ve gotten a lot better at this, but I have some work to do. So in 2016 I’ll try to care less about coming across as a nice guy and just speak my mind. It might cause some fights or conflicts with other people, but they’ll either resolve and the relationship will grow stronger with the honesty, or they won’t resolve and we can both move on.


There are probably more things I’ll figure out as the year goes on, and maybe I’ll even figure out some strategies to make these part of my personal pillars. Oh! And I just stumbled upon a no-goal concept from one of my favorite blogs here. Check it out for another perspective.

Do you have anything you’re trying to focus on this year that doesn’t necessarily fit into traditional goals? Share them in the comments below, and let’s help each other make these achievement-oriented for 2016!

BalanceCreativityExperimentationExplorationProductivityTools and SystemsTravel

My 2016 Goals (and the Impermanence of Plans)

January 13, 2016 — by Matt

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None of us know what’s in store for us.

I mean, we’re only two weeks into 2016 and I’ve already been hit with surprises that affect the goals I wrote down for this year a few weeks ago. I’ve had some wake-up calls about some of my approaches and some of my behavior. I’m even more sure not that I don’t really know anything – I’m just figuring it all out. We all are.

But of course the lack of knowledge shouldn’t stop us from taking action, trying things, and to some extent, leaping without looking. We try, we fail, we learn, we adjust, and we try again. It’s all we can do.

So when I was reviewing my 2016 goals prior to to writing this article, I thought it important to make clear both to you all and to especially to myself) that our plans our impermanent. We don’t know everything going into a year, or a new opportunity, or a new project, or an adventure. We should go in with a plan, with some goals in mind. But we should be aware that unexpected things happen – both good and bad. And to adhere to our original plans instead of adjusting course when these unexpected things occur is lunacy.

With all that said, I still believe in goals. They’re still important to have. And I still believe that working in a specific direction is infinitely better than working without aiming toward something bigger. I just know that being dogmatic and inflexible in those goals can be equally harmful. So I will work toward my short-term 2016 goals with an eye to make sure that larger, more important goals like smiling, and having fun, and experiencing love and connecting with people, don’t take a back seat. (In fact my next article will be my “non-goals” for 2016. More on that later).

My 2016 Goals

These aren’t the end-all and be-all of what I want to do in 2016. They’re not all-encompassing. They’re simply the things that I’d like to shoot for in the few areas I was thinking about when I took the time to think about them. I’m including them here for some sense of accountability and to keep myself and others energized in following their passion.

One other note – these are my personal goals. I’m a part of some groups that have separate group goals that I’m not including here. I also won’t go into too much detail on why each one is important to me as I expect to write more about many of these as the year goes on.

Writing

  • Publish at least 50 articles in 2016. This is about one week with a little fudge room, and potentially more if I meet my next goal.
  • Get published in at least three other online publications. I love writing here but in order to get a larger audience and get more feedback on my content, I want to expand my reach a bit.

Music

  • Release one instrumental/rework/remix project. The barriers to this should just be my own willpower and abandoning my perfectionism, as they don’t require coordinating any other artists. The one I’m working on now is pretty exciting too!
  • Get at least 5 beat placements. I’ve stopped sending artists beats in the last few years but I love working with artists and hearing what they come up with. I’ll ramp this back up this year.
  • DJ at least 6 events. I’m keeping the definition of “event” fairly loose right now.
  • Get a song played on Beat Haus radio. One of my favorite internet radio shows, I’d like to produce something of high enough quality to be featured on one of their episodes.
  • Record at least one complete song in a studio. I love the convenience of recording at home, but miss being in the studio. I’ll return there this year.
  • Get at least one paid DJ gig. Although I already technically have my first one lined up, it’s a group event and I won’t be paid directly.
  • Release at least 5 DJ mixes. I released 3 in 2015, and with the events I’ll be DJing, this should be a piece of cake.
  • Make some money from production. I don’t care if it’s $10, I’d like to experiment with charging for my production services.

Art and Other Creative Endeavors

  • Complete one video project. I love working in video even though I’m not particular skilled, and I have tons of ideas. I’ll make sure to bring at least one of them to life this year.
  • Complete at least three paintings.
  • Sell one painting. Are you seeing a theme here? I’d like to start making some money from my creative passions – mostly to prove to myself that I can.
  • Build a creative portfolio/CV site. It’s time to stop thinking of my creative pursuits as a “hobby” and start identifying myself as my ideal version of myself.

Financial

Note that I have some additional financial goals here but for whatever reason I’m not yet comfortable sharing the details on the internet. Here are the ones I am comfortable sharing.

  • Eliminate credit card debt.I made a great dent in this in 2015 and expect 2016 to land the knockout punch.
  • Sell my car. This will not only be a big win for my wallet, but also for my peace of mind.
  • Increase my savings safety net. I won’t put my specific figure here, but this is a big thrust in 2016 for me. I’ll write more about the systems I’ll use to help meet this goal.

Startup

I’d like to take a deeper dive into the world of startup and determine my appetite for it. These goals are a bit fluffier right now because I don’t know what to expect – but I’ll refine them as I learn more.

  • Attend at least 5 startup networking sessions. This will help me determine what I need to know or if this is even an avenue I want to pursue.
  • Detailed write-ups of top 3 ideas. This is my “just show up” step to get the ball rolling.
  • Run my ideas past a focus group. This is my “ask for help” step.

Travel

  • Travel to at least 5 countries. This one is pretty simple, but will force me to travel more this year. That said, I’ll try to prioritize meaningful travel to a few places rather than frantic, touristy travel to many.

Health, Wellbeing, and Growth

  • Make meditation a habit. Meditate at least twice per week in 2016.
  • Make exercise a habit (again). Go to the gym twice a week (to start). Adjust this to include other activities as the year goes on and the weather improves.
  • Attend one class or seminar on something that interests you. My post-collegiate education has been mostly self-directed, but I’d attend a class on something in which I’m interested.
  • Improve your handwriting. It’s abysmal. Like, the worst. I’m not sure what the actual target is here but it’s something I want to work on, so I’m including it.

Is that it?

Of course not. There are areas of my life that are equally or more important than what is listed above – my happiness, my relationships with my friends, family, and significant other, seeking adventure, exploring, deep connections, peace and presence, and so much more. In my next article I’ll talk about these larger concepts, and how making them a bigger part of my identity in 2016 could trump some of these more specific goals – or, how it might make them easier to accomplish.

So although there are bigger things at play and I, like you, have no idea how the year will shake out, this is my starting point for 2016 in these very specific areas. If some monumental shift occurs in a month or two, I won’t hesitate to adjust or abandon any goals that no longer make sense. That doesn’t mean these goals aren’t important to establish. It just means they’re directional, aiming toward them as I barrel through 2016, until the target is hit, it becomes less important, or a (truly) more important target presents itself.

BalanceCreativityExplorationHealthTravel

My 2015 Annual Review

January 5, 2016 — by Matt

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2015 has ended, and 2016 is but a few days old. Ah, what a bittersweet moment.
Not really. I’ve never put much importance on the changing of the year. New Years Eve celebrations are typically overrated, as are traditional resolutions. I write the date wrong for a month or two after before my brain finally registers the new year, and life goes on.
But this year I decided to use this time to retrospect on what did and didn’t go well in the past year with the goal of setting myself up for an even better 2016. My hope is that evaluating where I’ve been will help focus where I’m going, and identifying areas in which I could have done better will help me conquer similar obstacles much better in the future.
So without further ado, my 2015 Annual Review!

A Year In Review

2015 was a year of discovery and foundation-building. Much of what I hoped to accomplish didn’t happen, but I built a stable framework to make meaningful change, more so than I have in any other year. I learned a lot about what drives me, how I work best, and where I have room to improve. The stage feels set for a great 2016.

What Went Well

This is my favorite part of the exercise. I’m typically overly-self critical and compiling this list reminded me of all my victories. It was incredibly motivating!

Travel

I rang in 2015 on a beach in southern Thailand, 1/4 of the way through a life changing solo adventure. My Thailand trip taught me so much about my resilience, what I could do without, and was a major factor in convincing me to finally start this blog. I’ll write more about this trip’s lessons in future posts.
Beach in Krabi, Thailand
A beautiful sunset on Ao Nang beach in Krabi, Thailand
Travel the rest of the year was sparse, but very rewarding. In June my girlfriend and I spent time in Puerto Rico, exploring Old San Juan, the beaches, and the rest of the island. In August, I traveled to Montreal with a crew of buddies for our second Osheaga Music Festival, which was a blast. September rid me of my multi-year aversion to camping through mountain climbing, hiking, and the most beautiful views of the coast of Maine and the untainted night sky I’ve ever seen. I traveled a decent amount for work too, but nothing super noteworthy. So although overall travel was on the light side, the trips I took were fun, reflective, focusing, and in the case of Thailand, life-changing. And I’ve already got my first trip of 2016 booked – Cartagena, Colombia in late January!

 

Art and Music

2015 was the year I ramped up my DJ skills. Although I didn’t DJ any major events, I got comfortable behind the decks and at parties, logged some serious hours, and dropped 3 DJ mixes on SoundCloudFumesco and I produced and released a fun dance track at the beginning of the year. I also made two radio appearances thanks to Uncle Sam at LFOD Radio and performed on stage once as well.
I tried my hand at video production and editing in 2015, putting together a promo video for Bad Decisions Collective and a Jake and Amir spoof. Although it was fun to do, it’s something I’ll likely outsource in the future. Speaking of Bad Decisions Collective, we set the stage for some fantastic events and music for early 2016 which I’m excited to see through.
Finally, I started painting again. Although it’s definitely a side hobby, I’d like to use painting as a change-of-pace activity when I hit a wall with Writing or Music, instead of turning to Netflix.

Writing

I launched this site, Boring Grownups, in July. An idea that had been on the back-burner for too long, I finally bit the bullet, finished the site design, and posted my first few articles. Although I didn’t post every week, I’ve posted a stream of content so far and sparked some great discussions with friends are readers. I hope to do even better in 2016. And I got my first article published on another blog!

Career

2015 was a big year for my “9 to 5” career of Software Product Manager. In the late summer, I was part of the group that helped orchestrate the acquisition of my company, performing due diligence, giving demos, and traveling across the country to ensure the deal went through. It was a great experience filled with lessons that will be invaluable no matter my future path.
And in October, I finally made the move from that company to a new company in Boston. The commute to to my job in the suburbs north of Boston had been difficult for over a year and I finally kicked myself in the ass got over my fear, and made the move. Not only that, it’s with a startup doing some super exciting stuff, and I’m already learning a ton.

Financial

Although I hoped to do a better job saving this year, I did nearly eliminate my credit card debt, lifting a huge weight from my shoulders. I still have a little way to go with debt in general (car payments etc.) but I didn’t realize how much progress I had made until I saw my debt turndown from Jan 1 2015 until now.

Social/Relationships

This is an important category that I sometimes struggle with – I love my solitude and sometimes get lost in my introverted tendencies because they often spark my creativity. Throughout 2015 I tried to form deeper relationships with many of the important people in my life. Although I didn’t do great in some areas (see below) I did connect with many friends on a deeper level, had some great conversations, and fostered some important relationships.
Most importantly, I started a wonderful relationship with a beautiful, intelligent, creative spirit. I’m so excited to see where our relationship goes as we continue to grow together.

What Didn’t Go Well

Despite the growth, there were a few areas of stagnation and some to which I just didn’t pay enough attention. In the moment these may seem like failures, but the purpose of this exercise is to reflect on them, make peace with them, and then learn from them so 2016 can be even better.

Art and Music

Despite DJing a bit more last year, I didn’t make and release a whole lot of new music. I found myself distracted, starting many projects but finishing very few. I fell victim to the “Resistance” Steven Pressfield wrote of in The War of Art. It took me a long time to recognize it and even longer to push through it, and as such my creative output stagnated in 2015.
I also could have better taken advantage of my network – something I’ve never been good at. I must remember that there’s making art, there’s getting it out there, and that both benefit from involving others in the process. I don’t have to do everything myself for it to be authentic. I’m vowing to get better about collaboration and asking for help and advice in 2016. I’ll be writing more about this struggle in an upcoming article.

Health

2015 was probably my least-in-shape year in a long time. I could point to a lot of factors – an extended commute, a brutal, snowed-in winter, conflicting priorities, or just plain laziness – but I hit the gym with far less frequency than I’d like. Since physical health improves mental health (and vice-versa), it’s time to get back on the grind.

Finance

I made a significant dent in my credit card debt but my saving was sub-par. Automated transfers to my savings will help, as will cutting out my commute and gas prices. But I’m not yet at the level of non-retirement savings I’d hoped, and will auto-pay myself more each paycheck in 2016.
My biggest financial hit this year was having to buy a new car. I was vehemently opposed to owning a car a couple of years ago and was forced to buy one when my company moved out of Boston. So when the Boston winter and generally poor maintenance required me to trade it in for another, newer model earlier in 2015, I was not a happy camper. More debt, larger monthly payments, and the ache in my heart of making what I considered a goal-divergent mistake AGAIN was a tough pill to swallow. But on a positive note, that same ache helped me get over my fear of leaving that job, and I’m looking forward to being carless again soon.

Travel

As I mentioned above, although the trips I did take were very meaningful, my travel schedule was a light in 2015. What with work, job search, and paying down debt, my priorities skewed toward staying home. Although my 3-years-ago self my have expected me to be location-independent and traveling the world at this point, in reality I don’t consider this an actual loss. I’m working on building a life in which that level of travel and true location-independence is sustainable. Work I put in now will make those things a part of my life for the long run.

Social and Lifestyle

I’ve had issues balancing work and social life in the past, and this year was no different. I romanticize the notion of becoming a recluse in a cabin in the woods somewhere for months on end making art, but too often I do the former without the output of the latter. I’m getting better at recognizing this and I’m working harder on finding a balance between going ass-to-chair to make art, and living a life worth making art about.
Due to time constraints I also had to end a long-stranding volunteer activity I had been participating in for years before. It was sad to call it quits as it was very rewarding, but as I work to find more balance in my energies I know I’ll find something similar.

The Next Step

So… that’s my year in review. Even as I type of this list I’m reminded that small measures of progress are possible all the time – and that these measures add up to big change. Even though I set a grand vision for myself, I have to remember not to be discouraged by its enormity, and to make consistent small steps toward. With the right focus, a year’s worth of small changes can result in a major shift.
And that’s the aim for 2016. In my next post, I’ll outline some of this years’ goals and how I’m treating them as guideposts on a journey rather than destinations themselves.
Have you done an annual review? If so, I’d love to read it and share notes! If it’s online, leave a link to it in the comments. If you’ve done it informally and want to share anything, please do. We get stronger when we share ideas and I’m excited for all of us to get stronger in 2016.

BalanceExplorationProductivityTools and Systems

The Power of the Annual Review

December 29, 2015 — by Matt

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“It’s so difficult, isn’t it? To see what’s going on when you’re in the absolute middle of something? It’s only with hindsight we can see things for what they are.”
My day job is in computer software. At the end of a 2-week sprint (working period), right before we release a new version of our app, we hold a Retrospective. It’s a meeting with the whole team, and its purpose is to look back at the last 2 weeks and identify what went well, what didn’t, and what we can do better next time.
It can get lousy with complaints and gripes, but it can be cathartic to release frustration about the process or the roadblocks that were hit. It can also be very satisfying – at the end of a sprint, when everyone’s tired and stressed from trying to meet deadlines, identifying and celebrating the team’s victories is a nice reminder that some real good work was done. And finally, it’s prescriptive; if done right, the grievances from the start of the exercise turn into guidelines for how to improve next time.
This same concept can be used for our personal journeys – either for individual projects or for life in general. And what better time to conduct a retrospective than at the end of the year?

 

The Annual Review

The annual review is not a new idea – lots of people do it – but it’s not something I’ve ever formally done. I was turned onto the concept of a personal annual review a few years ago by an article by Chris Guillebeau. He explained and espoused the benefits of the annual review better than I ever could – so check out his first post on the subject here. (His 2015 multi-post annual review is also a good example of how deep you can get with the exercise, and I found it particularly inspiring).
Each part has value, but it will differ for each person. For example, I never have any trouble reminding myself of the ways I (think I) fucked up, or missed opportunities, or didn’t work hard enough. But I don’t take enough tie to recognizes what I did get done, the barriers I did surmount, and all my victories. So for me, that part is one of the most important.
The last part, the “what can I do better” section, is equally important. No matter your stance on “New Years Resolutions” (I’m not the biggest fan in their most traditional sense) I think that if something (even a time of year) inspires you to make some changes for the better and build toward a life of fulfillment and happiness, then it’s useful – as long as the follow-through is there. And that’s the goal with this exercise; doing it is important, but what you do after going through the exercise is what really matters.

 

My Annual Review

I’ll be doing my very first year in review exercise this week. I’m excited for what I’ll discover and how the lessons of 2016 will impact my plan for 2016. I might even share it here. If you’re writing a year in review yourself, let me know – I’d love to share ideas, lessons, and get stronger as a community!

BalanceExperimentationExplorationTools and Systems

Moderation vs. Abstinence

December 18, 2015 — by Matt

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I like giving stuff up.

No, not “giving up on stuff” but “giving stuff up” for a while. Going without. Sacrificing.

I’m not totally sure why, but I have some theories. I think I like knowing that I don’t need a thing to get by. That I’m not dependent on it. That if I didn’t have it for a while I’d be just fine and I shouldn’t be scared of going without it. I also believe that sacrifice is a muscle you need to work out just like anything else. Going through life without having to sacrifice anything can make you soft and less willing to sacrifice when it really matters – like giving up your superficial comforts for a while to put your goals first. And finally, on a deeper level, I think I like giving stuff up because it makes me feel in control.

So when I gave up alcohol for the month of October, I felt great afterward – not just because I had challenged myself and won, but because it honestly hadn’t been too difficult.

But then I started to think – why hadn’t it been that hard? Was “giving something up” not the real challenge? Were some of my “sacrifice experiments” just me trading one extreme for another. After a friend brought up a similar concept in conversation, I wondered if abstinence wasn’t the real challenge I thought it would be. Maybe the real challenge was learning moderation.

Struggles with Moderation

“Everything in moderation except whiskey, and sometimes too much whiskey is just enough.” – Mark Twain

I’ve never been good with moderation.

Sometimes this has been a gift. If I’m excited about a new idea, I tend to go all out in pursuing it. Getting a new song idea might lead to pulling an all-nighter with no regard for the clock or work the next morning. It’s extreme – but I get my ideas out, and I make progress. (On the other hand I sometimes burn so hot on a new project initially that I fizzle out and give up on it, so there’s still a place where moderation should probably come into play).

Sometime’s it’s a curse. If I get home exhausted after a long day, I might put on an episode of a TV show on Netflix to wind down before I write or work on music. But one episode is just a taste, and 7 episodes later I’m way past my window to get a good night’s sleep and haven’t gotten anything creative done. And I had more than a few nights out in my 20s where once I got a few drinks in me, moderation went out the window.

In a way, binge watching Netflix, getting addicted to a game or a drug, or becoming a “workaholic” is not much different than completely giving something up. Yeah, the results of one extreme are often much more positive than the results of the other – but they both hold so much weight.

I know for me, a little moderation would go a long way. If I could watch one episode of TV, work on music for an hour, and go to bed at a reasonable time, I might get more done. I might be happier. I might be less frazzled, anxious, or stressed because I’m more balanced.

Or maybe not. I mean, is being “extreme” always bad? Most of us live and work in this limbo state, not straying too far from our comfort zone. Aren’t trips into the edges, jaunts into the extremes, and journeys into the Danger Zone necessary to test your boundaries and make big changes?

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I have no answer, no lesson. I don’t know that there is one place on that spectrum between complete abstinence and complete abandon that’s “healthier” than any other. I think both “going extreme” and “practicing moderation” have their place in life. Always doing one or the other isn’t “the way”, but there are no rules as to when each makes sense either. I guess we just try to find what works for us in different situations. The alcoholic might decide that their best approach to alcohol is extreme – give it up forever, for good. The writer may find that when brainstorming, locking themselves in a cabin for days (extreme) works – but when refining their first draft, an hour a day (moderation) delivers the best results.

It’s up to us to find where we are at our best for each situation, because when we do, we set ourselves up for greatness.

What do you think? Do you struggle with moderation, or do you struggle to make big changes? If you’ve recently found the place on that spectrum that works for you in even the smallest area of your life, I’d love you to share it. I have a feeling we are all trying to find that balance.

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