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Evaluation Vacation

April 15, 2016 — by Matt

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Evaluation is key to progress.

Think about it. Companies have quarterly reviews to make sure they’re on the right track and make adjustments to stay competitive. Professional sports teams have post-game meetings and review game tape to see what they can do better. Software teams retrospect on their last release or sprint to figure out how they can improve their output or velocity for the next one.

As driven, motivated, creative individuals, we should be applying some of the rigor, focus, and measurement these groups do to our own lives to make sure we’re maximizing our own important resources – time, energy, and attention.

When we have limited time and attention, we need to be careful how we spend it. I’m a huge fan of minimalism – the concept that removing the unnecessary and superfluous from your life allows you to give more of yourself and your energy to what is important. But just like making progress and failing, using minimalism effectively requires evaluation – of yourself, your possessions, and most importantly, your attention.

Lately I’ve been moving forward on many of my goals, making good progress – but some, such as writing, have been creating some friction, and I’m not sure why. I’ve also been creating stress for myself in areas I don’t think I need to be. I love to write, so why is it causing me so much anxiety lately?

This is why I’m taking a hiatus from writing this blog. Call it an “evaluation vacation”.

I’ve been writing and posting on this blog for around 9 months now, and it’s time for me to evaluate what I really want from this blog and from my writing habit in general. I love writing, and posting here is one way I express that. However, there may be other ways. Or, I may be able to share ideas more effectively here by changing things up. Right now I’m not sure if the way I’m approaching writing here is the most beneficial to my own goals, and the most helpful to all of you.

So I’m taking a step back to adjust. Without doing that, I’m doomed to continue on a path that I may or may not know is the right one. So I hold experimentation and evaluation in very high regard.

No matter what I find, I’ll return here to report what I pondered, evaluated, and ultimately, decided. I expect this exercise to be eye opening and, most importantly, helpful in continuing to focus my goals.

And if you’re need to re-focus (or even if you don’t think you do), I recommend taking some time to evaluate as well. At the very least, you’ll discover that you’re still on the right track and can soldier on. Or you might find that by changing your approach results in much more enjoyment and a whole lot more progress in your goals. Or, you might find that you can jettison something from your life to make you more productive, focused, and happy.

Let me know what you find!

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.

ExperimentationExplorationRisk

You need a hug

March 8, 2016 — by Matt

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I’m not going to lie. I’ve had some times in the last few weeks when I just needed a hug.

First there was a DJ performance at a networking night that just went abysmally. Then there was the crippling feeling of being overwhelmed when working late, promoting and organizing two events and the flights for three trips, and failing to work on any of my own projects all culminated in a single week of deadlines, lost sleep, and stress headaches. And there are just life issues that crop up here and there that make you feel like you can’t win.

I know these things are surmountable. I know life doesn’t intentionally try to screw with you; it just provides winds that you can either let knock you over or harness to steer you toward something better. And I’m confident that I can handle these winds, and so can you.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t times I feel I just need a hug. And I believe that’s a GOOD thing – even as a fully functioning adult.

kids hugging

When we were kids, we needed hugs all the time – skinned knees, bad dreams, and scary, unknown experiences tested our resolve almost daily. If we needed a hug it usually meant we had run into a situation with which we were unfamiliar, or tried something that ended up being scary. Sometimes it meant we failed. But while the hug made us feel better in the short term, it was really just a symptom of something larger. We were learning, experimenting, taking risks and facing fears in order to learn about the world around us (and ourselves).

As we grow up, we learn how the world around us works. We learn lessons, we build assumptions, and we build an identity. None of these are bad things – we need them to become a real person, functioning member of society.

But I think some other things happen also. We find a comfort zone, and then we carve out a groove there. We become less vulnerable, less willing to put ourselves in a position to get hurt. We’ve had so much pain in life that as adults, we’ve learned ways to avoid it. We do what feels comfortable, we shield our passions, and we take fewer risks. In fact, there are studies that suggest that risk-taking decreases with age.

If you make yourself someone who never needs a hug, never needs a shoulder to lean on, then you’re self-sufficient, resilient, and strong. Right?

Yeah, maybe you’re those things. But guess what you aren’t? You aren’t excited about anything. You don’t have anything that really revs your engine. You’re OK with mediocrity because breaking out of it would require too much effort, too much risk.

I’ve seen these grown-ups. Hell, I’ve BEEN that grown-up sometimes. The type that know everything, the type that don’t need to try new things because they’ve apparently experienced enough of life to know what they like and don’t like. The type that are cynical or apathetic about everything. I’m not talking about selective apathy here, which is a great tool to keep your focus. I’m talking about general apathy. If you don’t care about anything too much then it can’t hurt you too much.

DON’T suppress that part of you. DO go after things that scare you. Test your limits. Learn to fail. Put yourself in a position to need a hug once in a while. Because the people that have not hardened themselves to eliminate all vulnerability are also the ones willing to take the necessary risks to achieve their dreams.

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!

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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.

ExplorationTools and Systems

Weekend Reads: Articles that Challenge my Thinking

November 20, 2015 — by Matt

“The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” – Albert Einstein

Anyone who tells you they’ve figured it all out is lying or delusional. Even if we get some aspects of life, love, ambition, passion, or whatever “figured out” to the level we’re happy and energetic, it’s still in our best interests to always be exploring other approaches.

Just like everyone else, I’m trying to figure everything out. I try things, I do experiments, I read the stories of others, I find things that work or don’t work for me and I adjust. So when I stumble across an approach that flies completely in the face of my own assumptions or preconceptions, I’m elated. I get to explore another alternative! There’s the potential to find something in there that works for me!

Even if I don’t end up agreeing with or adopting any part of the advice or approach, seeing an issue from another angle is always beneficial. But more often than not, as long as I can keep an open mind, I’m likely to find something of value in there.

The following two articles really challenged my ideas on two topics about which I’ve recently posted – the value of writing every day, and defining the type of person you want to be.

Maybe there’s a better thing to write down each day?

One Research-Backed Way to Effectively Manage Your Stressful and Busy Schedule – by James Clear

A few weeks ago I wrote about how writing down on positive occurrence each day helped break me out of a funk and reframe my thinking toward positivity. I then wrote about how being challenged on that approach made me reconsider whether there were other equally effective methods more making a habit of positive thinking.

Well, leave it up to one of my favorite bloggers James Clear to challenge my thinking yet again and use a research-backed approach to take the idea further. In this article James highlights a study in which students tied their own personal values to their daily journal entries and saw a marked improvement in health, attitude, and energy.

It makes a ton of sense. Just like you’ll make a more emotional connection with your goals by focusing on the type of person you want to be (an idea that was, admittedly, heavily influenced by James’ writing), tying your underlying values to your journaling should make those journals more impactful in the long run. My approach changes your mood for the day or week; James’ sets the stage for fundamental changes in your attitude and approach.

Do you really need to “find” your passion?

Screw Finding Your Passion by Mark Manson

A friend sent me this article. She said she thought I’d enjoy it and that it fit into the themes about which I was writing. Boy, was she right.

I love so much about this article. Without spoiling it, the article posits that most of us trying to find “our passion” are really overcomplicating it. We know what we enjoy doing and what we’d spend our time doing if we had no commitments or expenses. So… is there much more to it than that? I’m trying to figure it out myself, so I’m not sure – but I loved the approach Mark Manson took in his post.

More than just challenging my thinking, this article challenged my approach to this blog. This article does what I originally wanted to do with this blog – pointing out how adult complacency can hamstring our growth and how sometimes a more child-like approach will identify what’s important to us faster. I did it in my intro article but looking back, I haven’t highlighted that concept a whole lot – and I think it’s a compelling one. So I’ll make more of an effort to take that angle in future articles.


 

Got any article that have shook up your opinions or thinking lately? Post them in the comments below!

ExperimentationExplorationHealth

What I learned from giving up alcohol for a month

November 5, 2015 — by Matt

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In late September (what seems like months ago now but is just over a month) I decided I was going to give up alcohol for the month of October.
I’m far from the first person to start such a challenge, or to write about it (check out links to similar articles at the bottom of this post). Nor is it the first time I’ve done it – I ditched the sauce for about a month and a half last year leading up to my birthday.
But as September drew to a close I felt the itch to do it again. And something about October felt like the perfect time to give it another shot. It’s not quite hibernation season, the only really big holiday is Halloween, and there’s even a cool name for it – “Ocsober” – that is popular in Australia as a fundraiser, similar to Movember.

So why did I do it?

I’m not a recovering alcoholic; although I used to be quite the drinker throughout my 20s, I’ve slowed down quite a bit since then. Mostly it just felt like something to do. But there were a few goals I had as I embarked on my 31-day challenge:
  • Challenge: I like a challenge and to test myself. I think that challenging ourselves is a good way to remind ourselves of our strength and avoid falling into complacency.
  • Freedom: Being able to give up something you’re used to – be it alcohol, certain foods, physical possessions – is an expression of freedom. If you remind yourself that you are not a slave to these external factors, you’re also expressing your freedom from them.
  • Sacrifice: Similar to Challenge and Freedom, I believe it’s important to exercise our Sacrifice muscles sometimes to prove we can give up stuff if we need to, and to prime us to sacrifice when it really matters in the future. I’ll explore this concept more in an upcoming article.
  • Health: The last time I gave up alcohol there were some definite health benefits. I was excited to reap these again.
  • Money: Even with a lower appetite for alcohol, I have some expensive tastes and I was looking forward to the financial benefit giving up alcohol would bring, especially as I worked to build up my financial safety net.
My original plan was to write a week-by-week summary of how I felt, but I soon realized that this would be boring and unnecessary. So here’s the long-story-short: I did it. I’m glad I did it. It wasn’t too difficult, but there were some cravings. And I did learn a few lessons.

What I learned

Here’s what I experienced (and learned) during my month of sobriety.

It’s much easier if you make it part of your identity.

Just like when defining your [personal pillars], I find much more success when you make your goals part of your identity. I just said “I don’t drink in October”. Not “I’m trying to stop drinking” or “This is a challenge I’m doing”. To me, it was just a fact. It wasn’t a thing I brought up, it just was. Making it that matter-of-fact made it surprisingly easy to not drink – it’s just something I didn’t do.

Doing cool stuff together is cool!

Before I started Ocsober I posted my plan on Facebook and a few friends actually decided to join me. So I set up a Facebook event and we shared our stories, successes, and observations. Even though I didn’t see too many of these friends over the course of the month, the online conversation and support made it feel like we were in it together.

Putting your intent toward a healthy habit feeds into other healthy habits.

One thing I learned from my friends is that many of them also decided to adopt some other healthy habits for the month. Some of them gave up caffeine. Some of them cut down on sugar or adjusted their diet. Even I put more focus on eating better. I think it’s because keeping one healthy habit top-of-mind makes you think about other healthy choices as well. One choice (healthy or unhealthy) can start a snowball effect of other similar choices However…

It doesn’t fix everything.

Even though my friends found success in other healthy habits in addition to alcohol, I found myself falling into some bad habits, the most prominent of which was massive sleep deprivation. This had to do with unrelated factors (starting a new job, change in schedule, a busy month in general) but it still dulled the mental edge I hoped would be sharpened through sobriety. It’s not like I expected giving up alcohol to solve all my problems, but some of my other struggles during the month reminded me that it;s important to view health holistically.

Alcohol is expensive.

The biggest area of improvement was in my finances. Without making any other major efforts, I found more money in my checking account the days before my paycheck than I had seen in the months prior. And I wasn’t a monk during October; I still went out with friends, I still drove a lot, and due to my schedule issues I ordered much more take-out than I usually would. But I still found myself with a little extra dough just by cutting out the booze.

I’m a celebratory drinker, not a coping one.

I kind of knew this about myself already, but my biggest cravings to drink come at times of celebration. I had some rough days and weeks this October and never felt like I “needed” a drink. In fact, my only slight cravings came at times of celebration – my last day at my old job, celebrating my new job with my girlfriend, and checking out my favorite monthly party in Boston. But none of the cravings were strong enough to break me – and I took the celebratory nature of those instances as a good sign that although I enjoy sharing a drink among friends, I’m not dependent on it.
So where does that leave me? I’m not sure. But I found the exercise to be enlightening and beneficial. It feel good to prove to myself that I am not a slave to the sauce, and knowing I can sacrifice will strengthen my resolve the next time I need to.
I love 30-day challenges. Have you tried one that was particularly useful to you? If so, leave a comment – and maybe we’ll give it a try!
Other examples of 30-day alcohol challenges:

Article photo courtesy of Jason Williams.

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