Early 2020 Reflections and Goals

Our current moment

These are strange times.

The world has abruptly entered quarantine. There are over 200,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Possible upwards of twenty times more unconfirmed cases. Almost everywhere is closed and people are hiding away in their homes.

The stock market is back to its levels in 2016. Businesses are failing. Interest rates have been slashed twice. The Canadian government has introduced a $85 billion stimulus package. Equivalent to $5,300 per tax payer in Canada. Borders are closed and airports are closing.

These are stressful and hard times, and unfortunately we’ve lost the primary thing to help us cope with anxiety. Connection. The best we can safely do is have video calls with friends and loved ones. It’s not the same, but it does help.

Luckily, I work from home already and unlikely to feel intense financial strain due to this. But my heart goes out to all the businesses with tight margins that are closing. All the people living paycheque to paycheque who have suddenly stopped receiving them. I hope dearly this ends as soon as possible.

My year in review

The rest of this blog post is unfortunately about myself. My reflections on my year and my goals for the next. It seems rather unimportant versus what’s happening on a global scale, but at least for me it’s the most important thing for me to do right now.

First, to understand my reflections and goals you need some context.

Five days ago, I returned from a month long vacation to Argentina and Antarctica. When I left, COVID-19 was still fairly localized in China. The stock market was at its all time crazy high.

Three weeks ago, days before getting on a boat for 11 days where we’d have no Internet or connection to the outside world, Italy started to become overrun. Our boat banned all people who had been to China or Italy recently, and checked everyone’s temperatures before letting them on. The stock market dropped nearly 20%.

Then we embarked on one of the most incredible adventures I’ve ever been on. Two and half days of crossing the Drake Passage, one of the most notoriously rough patches of open ocean. Fifteen meter waves are not unheard of. Luckily for us they were only about eight meters. For two straight days the boat rocked from 20 degrees tipped left, to 20 degrees right — maxing out at 30 degrees each way causing chairs to slide, items to tip, people to nearly fall, and stomachs to churn.

Eventually we reached land and were greeted by hoards of penguins, seals, and whales. And the most pristine and rugged environment I’ve ever seen. Everywhere I looked was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. Icebergs the size of buildings that rivalled some of the best abstract art. Twice per day we’d throw on our waterproof gear and bomb around in zodiacs, either exploring by boat or landing on an island to bump elbows with penguins.

It was incredible. To be in a place completely untamed. Unplugged and connecting with your environment and the people around you. It was a special time.

The return home

However, on the way back we all started to become more stressed. We joked we should all stay on the boat since it was the only guaranteed uninfected zone. If only.

But then we returned. In the meantime the virus had started to hit Washington state hard, and my three travel companions all being from Seattle were very worried about returning. The stock markets dived further. Businesses started closing, either forcing people to work from home, or laying them off completely.

Unfortunately, to return to Vancouver I flew through both Atlanta and Seattle. Seattle being a major hotbed for the virus. It was also the day my province announced all returning Canadians needed to self quarantine for fourteen days.

During the flights and transfers, I was paranoid about touching anything. I washed my hands constantly, avoided people, and tried so damn hard to not touch my face. I was convinced I was going to get it.

Eventually I got home, exhausted and stressed. I planned to do a grocery run and not see anyone for the next two weeks. After a month straight of being in constant company of three close friends,  admittedly I was looking forward to some amount alone time.

But my girlfriend decided to end it with me. I don’t blame her for it. She made the right decision based on how I’ve been this past year. I’m glad she didn’t drag it out after she had made a decision. Unfortunately, that only makes it slightly easier to stomach. And suddenly the alone time I was anticipating didn’t sound that great.

Luckily my company is doing fine so far. But we were in the process of creating an investment fund, which is now completely up in air given the recession. This going well could have been one of the biggest things for my career. Obviously the loss of this is nothing compared to the stress others are facing. But it throws a wrench into my plans all the same.

Time to reflect

So I sit at home after nearly 5 days quarantine. Knowing I have at least 9 more days until I can see anyone at all. Unsure about whether it’ll be safe to see anyone even then given where it’s going. Anxious about the health and safety of my family, friends, and people around the world. And newly single.

If there’s ever a time to reflect on my life and how I’ve been living and what I want it to look like going forward — it’s now. So let’s get started.

Things I don’t like about how I acted this past year

I want to start with what I don’t like about myself this past year. I’ll tear myself down and then build myself upon again.

For context, I think I was better at the beginning of 2019. But I got increasingly worse as time went on. I was working four days per week at the start. Halfway through I started probably 50% to 100% more than I was before.

  • I failed to meditate. A friend recently quoted “pressing snooze is the first excuse you’ll make each day.” For me, choosing to not meditate was my first excuse. I always had a reason. Meditation makes me stop, breathe, reflect, and relax. Nearly every time I meditate I walk away with an idea for something I should do. Generally it has to do with something I should do for or say to someone else who matters to me. It’s my time to stop and realize what I’m doing wrong and what I can do to improve. Not meditating is likely what caused many of my other issues.
  • I’m not proud of my performance at a 3 day meditation retreat I did in November. I used excuses to keep myself distracted. For one day in particular I stewed in misery of discomfort and shame. The remainder of the time I waited for it to end. I missed the whole point. Before going I was hoping it would force me back into a meditation habit. It did not. Instead I should have meditated the whole time and used the retreat to further my practice.
  • I worked way too much. And used work as an excuse. Each day I’d wake up and work until the moment I had to run out the door to do something that evening. This meant I was often late and unprepared. I didn’t plan weekends and evenings. I got caught in the grind and neglected things I should have done to improve relationships and my wellbeing.
  • We also spun our wheels a lot. We worked on a lot of different things, made some progress, but nothing like we had hoped or dreamed.
  • I didn’t read. Books are unique. They give you a window into someone’s mind. I’ve had my life and world views changed by books. I failed to read this year and it stunted my growth.
  • I didn’t write. Writing helps me think through problems and come to a conclusion on how I think or feel. I also express myself a lot better and more thoroughly when I write. I’m horrible at expressing myself at a deep level when I speak. I failed to write my girlfriend letters to help her better understand me.
  • I neglected my friends. I got absorbed into the everyday minutiae and failed to routinely check in and maintain relationships on a consistent basis. I used to pride myself on staying connected with the people who matter to me. This past year I failed to do that. Many of my friends were forced to reach out to me instead. Many I drifted apart from completely.
  • I didn’t cook enough. I did a two month intensive culinary course three years ago. Cooking and food used to be my biggest passion that I never shut up about. This past year food was a means to an end. I put zero effort into cooking. I ate out more than I should have. The food I did make was on repeat.
  • I ate too much meat. I was vegetarian for three years back when I was a lot more committed to sustainability. After a while I loosened up so I could inject meat proteins and vitamins into my diet. But this year I ate meat way too consistently. I let taste and convenience trump my values.
  • I drove too much. I went ten years of adult life without a car and not wanting a car for environmental and health reasons. I walked and biked everywhere I could. This past year I used being busy as an excuse to drive nearly everywhere. I’d be busy until the very last minute that I’d have to drive in order to get there in time.
  • I didn’t go outside enough. I used to go to a park for lunch or a break nearly every day. I’d have picnics with friends. I would do hikes weekly. Not this year. The summer and fall blew past. I had intended to do lots of hiking, camping, and outdoor climbing, but again I just got sucked into daily city life and failed to do it. I was much better at doing this previously.
  • I didn’t improve or learn as much about climbing as I wanted. I refined my technique but my strength stalled. I didn’t devote time or cross train to improve. I only learned the basics of outdoor climbing and went a couple of times. And before the climbing trips I didn’t research into learning how to do everything before going and instead scrambled to learn it on the spot.
  • I failed to do a two day long distance bike ride from Seattle to Portland. I procrastinated on training and buying a bike and tried to make up for lost time. Combined with getting a bike and shoes that were the wrong size I caused and exacerbated injuries.
  • I focused too much on money. I spent  time and energy considering a move to Seattle for purely financial reasons. It went against my ethics and values (since the US’s political system is not something I want to engage with further). And I worried about money I was spending too much, very often at odds with my desire to be generous with others. Unfortunately, I learn that just because you become more financially comfortable, the stress doesn’t go away. It just changes shape.
  • I stopped hosting my friends. I used to love bringing people together. I’d have a group over to my place to all cook together. I’d throw parties. This past year I stopped doing that entirely.
  • I was noticeably more stressed. Normally I try to be very stoic and calm. This year I felt increasingly anxious and would feel a tightness in my chest.
  • I let my love of cars and technology get me to focus too much on the dream of owning a Tesla. I almost bought one, but only recently decided not to. Financially it’s not a great decision. They’re still a luxurious and fun purchase wrapped up in an environmentalist package. I used to pride myself on minimalism, and getting a Tesla is still very much an extravagant purchase. My small hybrid car is plenty for now.
  • I’ve procrastinated healing my foot. I injured it with climbing and yoga and biking over a year ago. It still hurts often. I still haven’t talked to a doctor or physical or massage therapist to fix it.
  • I made a couple rash and stupid decisions. One, I rushed into adopting a puppy  and that night I had a breakdown realizing my mistake and returned it the next day. I let stress and impulsiveness cloud my judgment. I’m deeply ashamed by my actions. Two, I purchased an expensive painting at an art auction in Seattle as “an investment.” Again I acted without thinking and purchased something I know nothing about, and will very likely lose money over.
  • Lastly, I went backwards on my progress towards complete candour and openness. Two years ago I did a men’s retreat which helped crack the thick shell I had constructed around myself. After that I did my utmost to be completely open and honest with the people in my life. I strove to share my true self at all times. This past year I have unfortunately slowly but surely retreated back into my shell. I stopped telling my friends everything. I’d keep my mistakes, suffering, and emotions to myself.

Ultimately, I didn’t prioritize self-care. I was inside too often. I focused too much on work, money, and objects. I didn’t meditate. I didn’t take the time to reflect. I was very reactive and not proactive. I didn’t take care of myself. I retreated into myself. And I neglected others.

All in all, not proud of my year.

I realize now that nearly everything that I’m saying above started to degrade after starting to work more. If this is the catalyst, hopefully the fix is simple (but perhaps difficult).

Things I liked about how I acted this past year

It was not all bad. I am proud of many personal developments I made.

Here they are:

  • I started the year working four days a week. On my spare day I went hiking, climbing, did chores, saw friends, and relaxed. This was very good for my mental and physical health.
  • Despite being busy, I was able to maintain my fitness. I prioritized it enough to remain about similar to where I was. Unfortunately traveling and quarantine will likely kill a lot of that.
  • I listened to podcasts that taught me more about the world. They’re not a perfect substitute for books, but I’m glad I devoted time to them to expand and sharpen my mind.
  • I used to become very anxious about calls. Personal and work calls I had to make. Ten years ago I’d sometimes go into a minor panic attack. This past year I was able to get over that. I started calling friends. I scheduled intimidating calls for work on a daily basis. I went on podcasts. I attribute this nearly completely to my ex and her love of phone calls.
  • For a long time I had the issue of self isolating myself from a group. I’d be involved and doing things with them, but I would feel like I wasn’t a member of the group. That I was separate. That they didn’t necessarily care if I was there. This year I continued to be much better at seeing myself as a true member of the group. It’s been a great improvement for my relationships within it and my psyche.
  • I was better at forcing myself to do group things and do things that I was not super comfortable with. I did a 4 day kayaking trip that I had talked myself out of previously out of nervousness. I learned to ski that I always talked myself out of. I did a climbing trip which I normally would have talked myself out of. I attribute a lot of this to my ex.
  • I did a lot of cool and interesting things. My ex-girlfriend was very excited about life and doing a variety of things. Because of her we did a lot of things I always wanted to do but never made the plan or time to do it.
  • I got art for my place. Aside from indecision and worrying about the cost of it. But mostly I was always shy about expressing my identity in any way. From teenager onwards I never had stuff on my walls. This year I finally got beautiful things to cover my walls. And I love them.
  • I learned to swim, ski, and kayak. All things I’d wanted to learn from a long time, but I let fear keep me from doing.
  • I became more confident speaking my mind and feeling at work and in my personal lives. And I became better at not avoiding conflict constantly.
  • A friend and I organized a pig roast weekend for nearly 50 people on Salt Spring Island. It went extremely well and was a blast. It was incredible to bring together so many people, to help create new friendships, and celebrate spring in a wacky way.
  • I went to Antarctica, crossing off every continent and 40 countries. Antarctica has been my dream for an incredibly long time. It was an incredible special time of my life that I will never forget.
  • I drank and partied less. I never drank a lot before, but I definitely decreased the amount I drank or partied this year. And my desire for intoxicants is nearly zero.
  • I battle with indecision a lot, but this year I was better. Not perfect or necessarily great. But definitely better.
  • My company got accepted into the startup accelerator Y Combinator (other companies include Dropbox, Airbnb, and Stripe). Something I’ve dreamed of for years. A huge thing to put on the resume. Around the same time we signed Microsoft as a client. I couldn’t believe it.
  • All the work we put in has made the actual day to day work a lot less stressful. A year ago I was managing multiple clients and building several products. It was a nightmare. Things would break, and clients had constant demands. Now all the stress is self imposed. The only fires are the ones I light under my own ass.

Some definite improvements in long term issues. A bunch of goals were achieved and things were done.

My commitments going forward

So my failings were mostly in how I conducted myself day to day. Not taking care of myself. Not taking time and space to reflect and plan.

Whereas my successes were mostly in things accomplished and done despite the personal disorder. And improvements in self-confidence issues stemming from childhood. This year will be about merging them.

To put this into specifics, if I can do all these things I should be a lot prouder during my reflections next year.

This year I promise to:

  • Meditate every day. No excuses.
  • Cook the vast majority of my meals. From scratch. And vary them. Mostly vegetarian.
  • Read every day. Mostly non-fiction.
  • Spend more time outdoors.
  • Work less and think about work less in the evening. Switch to four days a week again when I can. Instead focus on the tasks and projects that are the highest leverage.
  • Continue to listen to podcasts.
  • Once per week work on a blog post or a long letter to a friend.
  • Take time each week to check in with friends. Near and far. Jump on the phone or see someone I hadn’t in a while at least once per week.
  • At least once per month host a gathering of people.
  • Learn to lead climb. Go climbing at least 3 times per week. Mostly outdoors when I can.
  • Talk to a doctor about my foot.
  • Use my car less. Walk and bike if it’s walking or biking distance.
  • Take breaks. Go to the park.
  • Do overnight hiking trips.
  • Don’t talk myself out of doing new things because of anxiety.
  • Take time to plan. Plan what you’re going to eat. What you’re going to do. Put the time and effort to research fun things to do with people and bring people together.
  • Move to a place with ready access to parks, beaches, and/or mountains. One that has an outdoor space.
  • Be more generous with the people in my life.
  • Reduce the things in my life. Only purchase things that are either necessary or that enable activities. Or gifts for others of course.
  • Walk and bike whenever possible. Plan accordingly to have the time to make that possible.
  • Strive for complete openness and candour. Share my true self with everyone in my life.
  • I worried about spending, but did not have complete transparency to what I was spending and where. I'm going to start using Mint to track spending and set budgets and saving levels to standardize how I'm spending so anything within budget is stress free.

If you’ve made it this far you’re a champion. Or you’re really bored from quarantine. Or you must really like me. Either way I’ve taken enough of your time.

I wish you all the best. Stay safe out there. And if you need someone to talk to in these isolating times, let me know.

Neal O'Grady

Founder and CTO of DemandCurve.com and BellCurve.com.
Read his tweets at twitter.com/NealOGrady

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