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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!
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