Aw heck. Is it April already?
I did something this month that I’ve never done before, and that is to completely forget that it was time to do my goals check-in. I blew it.
Possibly like a lot of people, I am thoroughly fed up, bored, and annoyed by isolation. I’m climbing the walls of our dinky apartment. I don’t want to do any of the things I am allowed to do, while simultaneously not feeling like doing any of the stuff I’m not allowed to do, either. It’s not like, I dunno, flying to Japan would even be fun right now.
All I do is work and clean my apartment! Blearghhhhh!
Okay, now that I have that out of my system, what have I actually done this year and what do I intend to do with the remaining three quarters of the year?
Well, one thing was that I got my first shot! Hooray! Another is that I’m coming along in my Italian lessons. And another is that I’m trying to teach Noelle how to open a La Croix can, which will either prove to be my single best or single worst idea of all time.
My personal goal was to work on my math anxiety. I don’t even care who knows that I have not started working on this yet. I’m building up to it. In fact, I think I’m close to working up a head of steam on the idea that I can Prove Something to my engineer husband, who thinks my current math skills are comical to the extreme.
My career goal is to become a futurist. I have actually made good traction on this. I found out the application deadlines for grad school are months earlier than I had assumed, so now I know that I can start applying in August for academic year 2022. (Which does give me plenty of time to study remedial math...) I’ve also discovered which universities have programs that interest me, including one where I could study both futurism and space policy. Cool, right??
My physical goal is to get back to my goal weight. I got another chiding little note from Kaiser, an action plan to lose three pounds. I am pleased to say that I finally seem to have broken the barrier on this thing that I have been actively trying to do for something like a year and a half. I am DETERMINED!!! to reach my goal by my birthday this year, or at least be well on my way.
My home goal is probably to move to a larger home. Progress on this is that we’ve started looking at listings. We reminded ourselves that in our region at this time of year, the focus is on short-term rentals and summer listings, because apparently people from all over the world will pay high prices to rent a place here for one to three months. There wasn’t a single available place we saw in our price range where we would want to live. Probably we will start to have better luck at the end of summer.
Our couples goal is to save for a house. We are making such great progress that it is positively cheering us up. Yet it will take a Hollywood-level miracle for us to buy a house here for us to live in. I wouldn’t rule it out, but if we buy a place it will probably be a rental property elsewhere.
My stop goal is to stop hoarding reading material. I am very proud of my progress in this area! This was the stop goal from Heck-Darn, which I assure you is a real place. I am not “done” yet, but I’ve got all my various reading queues down to the double digits, rather than four digits. Two orders of magnitude! I know I can nail this before the end of the year, and possibly even by the end of the quarter.
Our lifestyle upgrade is to buy a new bed. We are waiting until we can safely visit a mattress store in person and test them out. We were also thinking about swapping them out when we move, so we can be sure the new bed will fit in the new home. (A lot of beach real estate has tiny, narrow little bedrooms). This one hasn’t happened yet, but we already have the money set aside and we’re counting the days.
In the meantime, our biggest lifestyle upgrade is probably that we both got our first shot! We’re two weeks away from getting our second dose of the Pfizer vaccine, and we couldn’t be more thrilled.
My Do the Obvious was to assume another year of working from home. Well, here we are, still working at home. If I eventually turn out to be wrong, it hasn’t happened yet. I’m sticking to my original prediction, from before I personally contracted COVID, that the pandemic won’t be officially “over” until January 2023. By “over” I mean that it’s safe to travel anywhere in the world without worrying about being exposed to coronavirus. Still waiting on that.
My ultralearning goal is data visualization. I can say that sometimes it feels like all I do is look at various formats of data visualization. I’m officially taking courses in both Tableau and Excel at work, so not only am I working on this goal, I’m getting paid to do so. What I’ve learned so far is that this is a complicated topic and also something of an art form.
My quest is to run a 50-mile ultramarathon for my 50th birthday. This will be yet another Hollywood-style miracle if I can pull it off. I have been plugging away at the elliptical several days a week, so I wouldn’t completely rule it out. Right now, running one mile outdoors would be pretty impressive for me.
My wish is to visit my family safely. Right now I’m pacing the floor waiting for the last few stragglers to please, please, pretty please get their vaccines. The last thing I would want to do is show up from LAX swarming with germs and get my favorite people deathly ill. Right now I guess we’re all stuck with Zoom.
I set out to write this post in a somewhat surly mood, disappointed with myself for not giving my goals much thought over the past three months. As I reviewed my progress, I started feeling gradually more excited, realizing that I really was on track in several areas. I reminded myself why I had chosen these things. Okay, I don’t really wanna sit around doing grade school math, but I think I will eventually. Everything else on my list is perfectly fine. I can see myself swanning around our new place, only to flop backward onto our new bed, satisfied with all the hard work and studying I have been doing.
How about you? How is your year going?
Personal: To expel my math anxiety
Career: Become a futurist
Physical: Back to my goal weight
Home: Probably move to a larger home
Couples: Save for a house
Stop goal: Stop hoarding reading material
Lifestyle upgrades: New bed
Do the Obvious: Assume another year of WFH
Ultralearning: Data visualization - Tableau, Excel, etc.
Quest: 50 for 50 ultramarathon (2025)
Wish: To visit my family safely
Skip January, I always say. I think the reason most people quit on their New Year’s Resolutions is that they feel like they need a perfect streak for it to really count. New Year’s Eve, in this formulation, is a magical portal that only exists for a few hours, and if the perfect streak is not maintained, then the spell is broken and the new habit is now forever off-limits.
I just added in a loophole that January is for getting ready, and nothing counts until February.
February is a good sampler month because it’s the shortest month, the weather in the Northern Hemisphere is usually terrible, and there’s not much else to do unless you love Valentine’s Day - which I’m gathering most of you don’t?
I made a bunch of New Year’s Resolutions, most of which I haven’t touched yet. Worse than that, I haven’t even finished filling out my goal planner, which is absolutely unprecedented in my life. I actually feel really bad about that because it’s a gift I give myself, and if I can’t find time once a year for something I find very fun and rewarding, then what is going on??
Scope creep and overkill?
A lot of us feel like we’re letting ourselves down in some way. We don’t like setting goals because we feel like failures when we aren’t able to crush those goals in some kind of world-record timeframe.
Slow and steady is realistic, yet too boring to be inspirational.
What I’ve found from tracking my resolutions and goals on a quarterly basis is that it’s a lot easier to achieve these goals when they’re layered. Trying to do every single thing at once basically guarantees that none of it will happen.
The first goal for everyone should probably be baseline contentment.
This is something that’s been tougher for me. I always feel like I should be strenuously Doing Something. It’s an ADHD problem. I’m not great at simply sitting. This concept of “Netflix and chill” is a little mystifying to me.
My work buddy mentioned that she binge-watched an entire series over the weekend - something on cybersecurity - and I blinked in surprise. A whole series?? But you’d have to watch three or four hours a day! Is that even possible?? What would you do, just sit there??
What did you do the rest of the weekend?
It’s actually something to think about. What can you add to your baseline habits that would be fun?
‘Habit’ always seems to be seen in the context of ‘bad.’ When we think ‘habit’ we think of removing or stopping or quitting or taking away. This is very tough on human psychology, and probably not a useful formulation for a goal.
An example would be our poor old dog Spike. When he was a young dog, we got him a laser pointer, and he reacted to it about the way that any grade-school kid would react to getting a PlayStation 5. We would try to hide it, and he would sniff out where it was, and he would stare at that spot and bark obsessively.
The day we moved from that house, we took down the wall sorter where the laser pointer had been kept. He barked at the movers and showed them the blank spot on the wall and barked some more, asking if they would play with him, even though there was nothing there anymore.
See, it’s hard to eliminate a habit!
It’s much more tempting to think of something positive that you want to add to your life, and make it as easy and appealing to do as possible. By this method, you can gradually crowd out habits that you wish would go away, and eventually, they will.
For someone like my work buddy who likes to binge-watch TV, there are a raft of habits that can be added without letting go of the binge-watching. Putting on lotion. Doing your own mani-pedi. Stretching or doing PT exercises. Folding laundry. Brushing out your pets. Using a percussion massager or a facial steamer. Mindlessly eating a large salad. Who knows what else?
It’s also possible to watch TV on fitness equipment, like a treadmill or elliptical, although personally I find that this makes both the show and the workout feel ten hours long.
As I said, I haven’t done much on my goals yet this year, because I don’t take January seriously as a goal month. I have done a few things, though, in the spirit of getting ready.
I set up my new bullet journal, which is bright yellow and which I like very much.
I lost four pounds, a great start, although a pound a week is not exactly magazine-feature material.
I started using a language app to learn to speak Italian, and according to the app, I’ve already learned 78 words, even though I can’t seem to maintain a streak.
*** I hate streaks ***
I upgraded my phone and my fitness tracker and got them both up and running.
I got a laptop charging station and organized all the cables at my desk for work.
I scheduled up my periodontist appointments.
I learned how to order grocery delivery through multiple services.
I went through my digital hoard and got numbers. Confronting the extent of a problem is the most painful part - the clarity, the wake-up call - but that cold clear reality is what helps drive change.
So... I had a thousand items in my ‘Read at Leisure’ email folder, 700 in one news queue, 1000 in another, and yet another 1000 in yet another. This is not including various library app bookshelves. Nearly four thousand articles, why??
I got some apps and started making a dent. I’m now reading through stuff faster than I’m accumulating it, which means there is hope for me yet.
While it’s still true that I haven’t done a single thing toward most of my goals and resolutions for the year, I have done *some* things to make my life easier. Many of the things I have done in January are set-up tasks that I won’t have to do again. I’ve streamlined a few areas and bought myself some time.
Now, as I do at the first of every month, it’s time to pause and look at my list of goals and resolutions, where I wrote them longhand in the front of my bullet journal. Are these things I’m still committed to doing?
Okay, then when am I going to do them?
It’s February and it’s time to get started.
Most goals are easier than we think, especially if we pick the kind of commodity goals that millions of other people have already done.
Commodity goal - I just made that up and I think I’ll keep it!
A commodity is something that is widespread, inexpensive, and easy to acquire, like... ketchup packets. If you want to start a ketchup packet business, best of luck to you, because you’re going to need a pretty excellent idea to disrupt that industry.
Just like ketchup packets, a lot of goals are standardized and very easy to find.
Also just like ketchup packets, a lot of goals wind up never being used and just clutter up the place.
What are we keeping those commodity goals for, to impress people? Not hardly. Almost everyone has a ketchup packet problem. It’s more like we never realized they were building up to that point.
About your goals, I would ask the same questions that I would ask my hoarders about their ketchup packets.
When are you going to use them?
What are you going to use them for?
Throw them away, give them to someone else, or just start having, say, Tater Tot Fridays and eating your ketchup packets at home instead of adding more. Hey presto, problem solved.
It’s the same thing with goals and resolutions.
When are you going to do it?
What do you need to make it happen?
I was just talking to my friend about her resolution to DRINK MORE WATER (Hark! A commodity goal!). I pointed out that I have the same issue - true - and that I use a hydration app to remind me to drink enough fluids. Another way to go about it is to buy one of those water bottles with the hours of the day marked on it, or maybe a pretty one with a crystal in it or something.
The hydration answer would then be, When? First thing in the morning and then throughout the day. What? An attractive water bottle and/or a hydration app.
Another fairly common goal is to learn a new language. I love this goal for everyone in the galaxy so much that I refuse to label it as a commodity goal, but it sort of is. I’m personally working on my [counting...] seventh language and it’s the most fun possible. (Am I fluent? No. Can I read signs and menus and book tickets? Yes). I have a lot of advice on this particular one.
Where people lose track on the language front is in either thinking that they have to study the same way they did in a school classroom, which is destined to failure for 99.5% of American students, or spend a bunch of money buying Rosetta Stone. Neither of those are true. There are lots of other ways that plenty of polyglots have used to become fluent in other languages, and it’s possible to do it for free.
For instance, where I live, I could become fluent in Spanish, Armenian, Vietnamese, Korean, or Ukrainian (to name a few) just by talking to people in my neighborhood. If the goal is to learn “a language” then why not pick one that you could use while you run errands?
That’s my first advice on most goals: make it more specific. If you’re going to study a language (or a musical instrument, as a parallel example) then which one? When are you going to use that new skill? Like, do you want to emigrate to another country, talk to your relatives, or go on a trip and visit cities all around the world? Your strategy is going to be a bit different for each of those, just as it would be if you want to play guitar by yourself versus joining a band.
If you’re going to study a language, *when* are you going to do your lessons? *What* study tools are you going to use? I aim to do my Italian lesson right when I clock out at work, so I can transition my mind to free time and also to keep me from getting sucked into the never-ending news vortex.
Replace your most annoying default habit with your exciting, fun, new habit. If you’ve chosen the right thing, which is something that you truly enjoy, then you’ll never look back.
I’m the kind of person who can’t resist making tons and tons of goals, and then struggling to fit them all into a realistic Earth-month. Maybe on a different planet it could work, I dunno. If you’re like me, it might actually help to lay out a month and plug in the different things you want to do. What are you going to do on weeknights and what are you going to do on weekends, for example?
For most people, people with more sense than me, it’s probably better to pick just one thing and experiment around what time of day you will engage with it. The ‘when’ is the toughest because all this time, you’ve been spending that same hour of the day doing something else. That different thing, that thing that is not your goal, is going to have to either leave your life or get moved to a different time.
Another thing to figure out is separate fallback plans for what to do if something interrupts your chosen time slot. For instance, I don’t necessarily want an audience for my Italian lesson, so I’m likely to do it when my hubby is either in the shower or brushing his teeth. Since I’m doing only 5-10 minutes a night, it’s a matter of 1. Wait for him to leave the room and 2. Open the app on my phone.
Make your goal as easy as possible to do. That’s contrary to the Calvinist idea that we must punish ourselves and work as hard as we can every single minute, but it works. You have the right to have fun and frivolous goals.
It’s easy to get a bit hung up on the ‘what.’ The perfect notebook before I can start my bullet journal! The perfect running shoes! The perfect water bottle! What’s likely to happen is that if you really start to make your goal a part of your identity, it will be such a part of your life that you’ll wind up replacing these objects many times. You’ll use them up.
It’s better to have commodity objects than to be uninspired by commodity goals.
What is it that you are working on these days? When are you doing it and what are you using?
For the first time, I took up the offer to be accountability partners with someone.
I’ve had supposed accountability arrangements with people before, and it hasn’t suited me. I had come to the conclusion that what people are asking for is to abdicate on their decisions and try to outsource their willpower.
“I will literally only ever do this if someone else forces me.”
Sure, I’m very good at this type of nagging, but it’s part of what I do at work. Essentially, if someone is asking for me to be their accountability coach, they’re asking me for administrative support.
You can program your smartphone to do this for you if you want to, and it will probably only take you a few minutes to set up.
I did this type of accountability coaching as a coach for about a year, but the amount of stress on my part went far beyond the measly pay. It seemed like, from my perspective, the clients would have either done it on their own without my help, or would never do it at all, either through blackmail or at gunpoint or for charity or under extreme hypnosis or any other reason.
I think it’s better if more of us just admit that we don’t want to do certain things, that we have no intention of ever doing them, and that we’re not going to pretend to try. The end.
I do! I do this. I have no intention of, let’s see: making scrapbooks, learning to wear liquid eyeliner, or making any kind of food that has a shape. When I see attractive stuff on someone’s pinboard, I just wave my hand, Ehh.
Another lifetime maybe.
It’s easy for me, as a Questioner. If I think something is a good idea, I’ll do it right away. If it makes sense to me, I only need to hear about it or see it once and I’ll jump on it. Or at least give it a try.
For instance, I tried those little suspenders for the fitted sheet? They work, but they’re miserable to put on. I’ve basically given up on them and determined to just buy slightly more expensive sheets next time.
This is the more challenging part of being a Questioner. If I don’t think something is a good idea, I won’t bother. This is fine for me but apparently very trying to other people, most of whom are not fellow Questioners but some of whom are, and should know better.
I have an Obliger friend (actually many, as a plurality of people are Obligers and they are the nicest kind of friend). What they have in common is that they will go far out of their way for others, but they have a tough time sticking to things that they see as benefiting only themselves.
The easy part of being a good friend to an Obliger is that I can explain to them how something they are reluctant to do for themselves actually benefits other people. For instance, if you take your meal breaks at work, you set a good example, but you’re also in a much better mood than when you attempt to go until 3 pm before you have your first calories of the day.
*ahem* You’ve all done it at least once, admit it.
So my Obliger friend asked if I wanted to be accountability partners, and I did the best I could. I told her my honest feelings.
Eww, she said. That wasn’t what she had in mind at all.
All she wanted was to check in every now and then and talk about our goals.
I agreed to this, because talking is something I know how to do. Also, and this is the secret lure if you’re trying to negotiate with a Questioner, she had privileged information that I found compelling. She was going to tell me about her system for tracking goals.
This wound up being a good part of our call. We traded details of how we’ve set our goals over the years. There was something about her system that really appealed to me, and something about my system that caught her attention too. It made me feel closer to my friend, realizing that goal-setting is such a big part of both our worlds.
There are very few people who take all this as seriously as I do, or at least, if they do, they haven’t told me yet.
Both of us had goals that we weren’t really sure how to tackle yet.
In this sense, our accountability arrangement is closer to what is usually referred to as a mastermind.
My friend wants to learn a language, and wasn’t really sure how to go about it. I don’t think she realized quite what a linguistics nerd I am. I told her all about language exchange partners, and which exact app has the language she wants to learn, since they’re all different. I told her, if she has any questions at all, I can’t help her with her chosen language, but I definitely can help her find resources and figure out her study plan.
It turns out that my big work goal of learning data visualization is right in my friend’s wheelhouse. I wouldn’t have gone so far as to ask her to look over my charts, because that’s overstepping. We did agree, though, that she could point me toward some resources. She told me I was making a really sound choice and that being good at data visualization sets people apart more than anything else.
After our talk, we were both laughing and excited. We agreed that we would do two-week sprints, just like we do at work. Our first task would be to share what we’re working on for our first sprint. Then we’ll check in every two weeks and see how we’re doing.
Our accountability arrangement is as much about sharing how thrilled we are with the whole goal-setting process and making accomplishments. I think we’ve both found that most of our friends are not up for this sort of discussion in any way. Couple of goal nerds.
If you want to do something similar, the most important thing is who not to choose. Almost all humans of Earth will naysay everything you ever wanted to do, left, right, sideways, and upside down. It’s better to keep your ideas to yourself than to expose them to this sort of negativity.
Honestly, it might be better to meet a random Internet friend who enjoys goal-setting than to choose from amongst your family or friends?
The main thing to remember is that your life is yours. You don’t owe other people an explanation for why you want to learn certain things or do certain things with your free time. You are perfectly entitled to have goals and resolutions, and enjoy them to the fullest extent. If your goal is to spend 18 hours a day with your phone, who’s to stop you?
I haven’t finished my New Year’s planning yet.
This is the first time this has happened that I can think of. Usually I spend all December working on my goals and resolutions. Now that I have a day job again, I’m super busy.
I figured it would be fine if I did the rough sketch, then spent New Year’s Day and the rest of the weekend filling in my bullet journal, making my goal board, and all that stuff.
Instead I wound up sleeping all day on the first. By “all day” I mean that I woke up in the morning, ate breakfast, and fell asleep for an hour and a half. Then I woke up again just enough to waddle to the bedroom and pass out again until 4:00 pm. I slept an average of 11 hours a day all weekend and barely did a thing.
I felt pretty bummed that I had slept all day, when I hadn’t finished all my goal stuff on New Year’s Eve either.
By the end of the weekend, when I still had basically nothing done, I thought, Oh no, the magic moment has passed.
It hasn’t, though. In one way, every day is like every other day. We each get 24 hours, and that’s the one and only thing that everyone has in common.
What I did, rather than write up all my plans like normal, was try to fit in the few things I had determined I would do. Mini actions. These are also known as ‘habits’ but I think that the word ‘habit’ has negative connotations. Action, maybe not so much.
One thing I did was to order a new Apple Watch to replace my old one, which is now over five years old. I’ve managed to crack the screen (ask me about my outrageously aggressive arm-swinging habits, which also involve having punched a fire hydrant). It’s also going dim in the middle, so that it doesn’t really serve as a watch anymore. Mainly I use it to unlock my computer in the morning.
It’ll take two weeks to get here, but that’s okay. In a way it gives me a fresh new start on trying to rebuild my baseline fitness. The only thing I really want this year is to feel that I’ve totally recovered from coronavirus.
Another thing I did was to start a new foreign language app (Speakly) and start doing 5-minute Italian lessons. If you’ve been following along, I was going to learn Dutch last year, but this app doesn’t have Dutch lessons, so *shrug* whatever. Next on the list.
This has been so much fun and so instantly rewarding that I’ve maintained a perfect streak so far. Normally I advocate for avoiding streaks in all situations (and I mean all) but especially in the sense of trying to attain instant perfection. Whatever we do, it’s more valuable if we do it 45% of the time than if we get discouraged and quit after skipping a couple days.
Io non parlo inglese!
In the app world, I also started logging my hydration and food intake again. It turns out I’ve been relentlessly dehydrated during the day. Logging my water helps me remember to make sure to drink water - it shouldn’t be 3 pm before I grab a glass. I’ve also had basically instant success with the food log, which is uplifting.
I took care of setting up a few appointments and ordering some stuff, since we were running out of shampoo and a few other things. I did manage to get the case of prescription parrot kibble, so that’s a relief. It’s hard to say what a big deal it feels like to do these 5- and 10-minute tasks when things are popping so much at work.
Sometimes it feels like a big deal just to start the robot mop, and how dumb is that?
Something that happened last year that I didn’t like was that the blog started to fall apart. I was posting more regularly when I was desperately ill than I have been since I got my job. This task that I can never quite seem to get to is to write up a list of topics and then schedule a few posts in advance, the way I used to do for years.
Part of the problem has been feeling like I’ve run out of things to talk about. It’s hard to figure out ways to talk about my cool new job without, you know, talking about it.
This is part of what I love about New Year’s. I have all these shiny new projects that I’d like to do, and I finally have enough energy recovered to attempt them. It gives me plenty to think about, and thus plenty to write about.
Not everyone likes making resolutions or having goals or projects. In fact, it seems like most people don’t, because they get so discouraged when they quit. I think this is because of unhelpful framing, lack of planning, and probably having a dark concept of what resolutions are for and how they work.
For me, it’s the light of my life.
When I was lonely and single after my divorce - I had a plan. I made over my bedroom to make space for a new love, and I started learning to cook - and then I got married again.
When I was flat broke and desperate - I had a plan. I went back to school, and I got a cruddy job, and I determined that I would focus on that job even if all I did was work, eat dinner, and go to bed. I paid off all my loans years early and the degree paid for itself the first year.
At a certain point, I didn’t have as many immediate fixes any more. I had more room to want to play around, go on adventures, and learn new things. This is of course when I started forcing difficult challenges on myself. Those have probably paid off most of all.
Could it be that I’m procrastinating on my big new personal challenge of beating my math anxiety? Perhaps.
Failing to live up to our own standards isn’t the end of the world. It’s the beginning. It’s recognizing that it’s better to have values and desired end goals than not to. It’s a reminder, one of many in a series, that we’ve chosen these purposes for reasons that are valid.
I haven’t finished all my planning for the year, even though it’s one of my favorite things, and that’s okay. The year is still pretty much brand new and we haven’t even cut the tags off yet.
It’s been said that we create our own reality. I believe that is only true to a certain extent. It does seem obvious, though, that we can have more or less influence over our lives depending on how prepared we are.
Preparation, not prediction. It’s a futurism thing.
We can’t necessarily guess what’s going to happen next, whether in the near or distant future.
I didn’t guess that I would get COVID-19 last March, that’s for sure. As a senior in high school, I never guessed that I would wind up working in the space industry - since there effectively *was no* space industry at that time. Anyone who pauses to think about it can probably list of a bunch of events that were major surprises when they happened.
Everyone has major surprises at some point or other. Sometimes those surprises happen to all of us at once, like a category five storm, or a global pandemic. (Just because you don’t believe in it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t believe in you).
The question isn’t what happens, the question is how we react to what happens.
The further question is, what do we *make happen* regardless of external events?
Everyone responds to stress and trauma in different ways, and there’s no right answer. There’s no correct speed or reaction time when something goes wrong. I would never say otherwise.
Personally, though, I strongly resent being toppled by external events. Shocks in my life like my early divorce, an IRS error, or getting COVID have been deeply, shall I say, offensive and annoying. My response is to drag myself back to my feet and keep on pushing.
That’s why I applied for a job when I still wasn’t 100% convinced that I would survive COVID. I wasn’t about to quit setting goals just because I might die in a couple days.
(I tried. I tried to officially relinquish all my goals, but my system didn’t really accept it).
What if you can’t guess what’s going to happen next?
Well, you can. Anyone can take a wild guess. Can you get it right? By the time you know the answer to that, it’s a moot point because you already know the answer.
This is the inherent frustration of living in the place of uncertainty.
There are probably infinite ways to deal with the emotional load of being in the place of uncertainty. One of them is to shrug, and another is to go WHEEEEE and wave your arms in the air. Of course another is to curl into a ball with your hands over your head.
My preferred way is to go back to strategy.
The great thing about finding out that the rules have all suddenly changed is that, guess what? If the old rules no longer apply, then it’s likely that almost *no rules* apply.
You can step out of the maelstrom with a new identity.
Not to say that it’s easy. It’s not.
It hasn’t been easy, for example, to get onboarded at a new job while still recovering from a near-death experience. It’s hard to learn proficiency in half a dozen new software titles while still so tired that it’s hard to sit up straight.
It felt familiar, though. It felt a lot like getting back on my feet after my divorce.
This is why people who have lived through hard times can look back and say that it all turned out okay. Not that going through trauma has any sort of intrinsic value - I don’t think that it does at all.
It’s more like being backed into a corner by life forces people to be more decisive and bold than usual. We spend more time strategizing because that’s our only choice, and if we made it out, that’s why. We finally thought of options that normally wouldn’t have occurred to us, and did things that were out of character because that felt like the only choice that made sense.
This is where preparation comes into the picture.
What I did after my divorce was to eventually go back to school and get my degree. That put me in a significantly better position to deal with the next batch of high weirdness that life threw my way.
There is nothing about college that makes a natural and obvious connection to ending a marriage. “I have nothing, let’s add thousands of dollars in debt” is not an automatic response, right?
It just seemed to be the most obvious place to add skills, and adding skills is always a good answer.
I reacted the same way when I was bucked off my horse by COVID. Should I keep on doing what I was doing before? Not really, not when I had just had a universal reset.
Instead I thought, what is the most interesting thing I could be doing right now? And I got a new job.
Other people in other situations might have a natural “most obvious” repositioning station. For some, it would probably be moving in with their parents, especially if there was a need for a caregiver around the place. For others, it might be selling all their stuff and relocating, or taking some time off and getting their teeth fixed, or something else that feels more personal and necessary.
What is always helpful is to regroup and try to put things in their new, oddball perspective.
Remember, when times are tough, that every minute feels like a million years. It isn’t clear at all what the right choices are, or how things will turn out. That’s prediction and it isn’t something that humans are very good at.
In retrospect, though, what felt like forever might only be a few months.
Looking backward from whatever happened next in the storyline, whatever was going on during that time of mysterious transition won’t even be an interesting footnote. Nobody will care.
I could tell my story as “my husband left me and I lived on my friend’s couch for a year” - which happened over twenty years ago - or I could say, “I got a degree in history and then I became a futurist, and let me tell you what I think about lunar habitats.” Both versions are true.
That’s how preparation can turn into prediction. In that one sense, whatever you do to prepare for your next phase of life has the ability to predict how your life will turn out. You can shape it if you choose which direction you want to go and put yourself in motion.
I’m starting this year with a mix of pessimism and optimism, both because I can’t help it.
I’m pessimistic about the pandemic and the vaccine rollout. I think it will happen very slowly, partly because it already has and partly because there are just so many people to vaccinate. Israel is crushing it, with 10% of their population vaccinated in just two weeks - but that means it will take 5 months to reach everyone. My county happens to have roughly the same population as Israel, meaning if we were extremely efficient, I could have my vaccine by June.
Therefore, I’m accepting that there may be another lost year, another year when we can’t safely travel or visit people in person. This sucks, but not as much as dying of COVID-19. (Or COVID-21?) I’d rather assume that 2021 will be more of the same, and be wrong, than get my hopes up and have to keep resetting expectations.
The optimistic part is that I’m still alive, and there don’t appear to be any vaccine refusers in my immediate family. That means all I have to worry about this year is staying safe and keeping busy enough to manage my disappointment.
Making my goals and resolutions is my favorite part of the entire year, even when I don’t reach them all. Many years I’ve hit all of them, or 90%, and that’s enough reason to keep trying and keep planning even when the outside world is a mess.
I have some hunches this year. I have a super strong hunch that we’re going to wind up moving. There is a non-zero chance that we will wind up relocating for work at some future point, and it’s absolutely impossible to guess when that might be, but this year is more likely than last year. I dreamed I was driving again, so I think it will be outside of SoCal. (Several years ago I had a premonitory dream that we moved to Sacramento, and then we did).
Some people would be horrified at the prospect of moving, especially a sudden move to a new city. For me, at this point, in many ways it’s less hassle than packing for a camping trip or... going to Costco. Mainly this possibility will inform whether I hang stuff on the walls or make bulk purchases.
I also think this might be the year I manage to get back into school in some way. This would impact whether I commit to any other large-scale projects. I’d like to keep my dance card open.
Now for my 2021 goals:
Personal: To expel my math anxiety. [uggggghhhhhh] Every year I like to take on a massive personal challenge, something that intimidates me to the point of making myself a little ill. It started with running, then public speaking, then martial arts, and now I don’t have all that much left that freaks me out! The only thing that really and truly gives me dread and trepidation now is mathematics, by which I mean, algebra and beyond. The deal here is that I want to go to grad school, which likely means the GRE, which means I have to master calculus, and that is something I’ve never done. I did a math placement test that had me stuck on some 5th-grade math things, so I guess this fits the bill. Try to always work on something that keeps you humble and it can help from having your ego balloon out of control.
Career: Become a futurist. It’s plausible that I can move in this direction without grad school, and it’s also plausible that this can happen through my current job. I really love the company where I work, and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be right now, so I’m going with it. This promises to be a very lively and intriguing year at work.
Physical: Back to my goal weight. I was shooting for this last year, but I got COVID instead. I’m at the point where I feel like my weight gain is actively interfering with my respiration. Strangely, I was in the same position in 2004-5, so I have reason to believe this will work. It’s not that I regret learning to box, but the weight I put on that year has been disastrous for my health and energy level.
Home: Probably move to a larger home. We’re waiting until the pandemic winds down, because it just doesn’t make sense to move right now. But we are ready for a place with a washer and dryer and a proper kitchen. Probably also a second bedroom, so we can shut a door between us when we’re both on conference calls.
Couples: Save for a house. We’ve decided that if we buy a house here, where we currently live, it would have to be after a slightly improbable series of events. (Start our own company etc). Maybe we’ll buy a house elsewhere. We’re learning a bit about remodeling and interior design, trying to figure out what style of place we would like.
Stop goal: Stop hoarding reading material. Okay, this one is painful but I feel it has to be done. My husband looked at me and asked, “Including digital?” I nodded and he winced. It is a key part of my job to Read All the Things, but I don’t really need to have absolutely thousands of articles in my queue. Do I? I don’t even know how to do this goal other than to quit putting library books on hold. The point of all these goals and resolutions (this is a resolution, BTW) is to explore and learn new ways of doing things.
Lifestyle upgrades: New bed. Our bed went like this: Years 0-10, glorious. Year 10, lumpy. Year 11, terrible. If only we’d known to replace it before the pandemic...
Do the Obvious: Assume another year of WFH. I might work from home forever and I like it that way.
Ultralearning: Data visualization - Tableau, Excel, etc. This is a goal that is inevitable, due to my job responsibilities, so I might as well give myself credit for it. By this time next year, I’ll know all sorts of things that I don’t know right now.
Quest: 50 for 50 ultramarathon (2025). A quest is quixotic and I’m not ready to let this one go. If I can ever run any decent distance again, I’m sure I’ll cry so hard I’ll soak my shirt.
Wish: To visit my family safely!
Personal: To expel my math anxiety
Career: Become a futurist
Physical: Back to my goal weight
Home: Probably move to a larger home
Couples: Save for a house
Stop goal: Stop hoarding reading material
Lifestyle upgrades: New bed
Do the Obvious: Assume another year of WFH
Ultralearning: Data visualization - Tableau, Excel, etc.
Quest: 50 for 50 ultramarathon (2025)
Wish: To visit my family safely
Categorizing these, the math anxiety thing is a challenge; the futurism career is a mission; reaching my goal weight again, moving to a larger home, saving for a house, and getting a new bed are goals; and it is a resolution to stop hoarding reading material. Ultralearning is a project. A quest is something big that probably takes more than a year to do, and a wish is something that you can’t simply make happen through an obvious action. I like to be clear with myself about how I’m going to go about making something happen in my life. That’s all this is: pick something and do it!
Choose a resolution you can finish in one day, and you automatically get the same bragging rights as the people who choose something more complicated. If you never make resolutions because you “know” you’ll let yourself down, change the rules! You are invited to look over this list of one-day resolutions. Pick one if you think it could make your life better, easier, more fun, or more interesting.
Get your flu shot.
Apply for a passport.
If you already have a passport, get it out and check the expiration date.
Change all your passwords and find out where you can use dual authentication.
Go around and set all your clocks, including the microwave and the dashboard in your vehicle.
Throw out everything in your kitchen that is past its expiration date.
Throw out any expired medications.
Throw out worn-out socks and underwear.
Cash in your change jar.
If you haven’t already, find out if you can open an IRA account at your bank.
Make an appointment to get your teeth cleaned if it’s been more than 6 months.
Make sure you’ve had a tetanus shot booster within the last 10 years.
Pull out your driver’s license and check to see when it expires. Is it this year? Oh snap.
Give back anything you borrowed from someone else.
If you have overdue library books, return them. A lot of libraries no longer charge overdue fines!
If you quit reading a book because you lost interest, let it go. Give it away or trade it in.
Match up the lids with all your pots, pans, travel mugs, and plastic containers.
Make a “dump run” and get rid of the broken junk from your garage, yard, or anywhere else it’s piled up.
If you have a mending pile, look it over right now and decide to fix it or throw it away.
Increase your retirement contribution 1%.
Get a free copy of your credit report and check it for errors.
Fill out a living will and have it witnessed.
Set a reminder to sign up for a first aid/CPR certification class (maybe this fall).
Set a timer for one hour and spend it cleaning or filing.
Go through your email inbox and unsubscribe to as much as possible.
Delete some apps.
Reconsider your social media engagement.
Call an old friend and say hello.
Apologize to someone.
If you have your own URLs, look them over and decide whether you still want them all.
Look through your queue of movies and TV episodes and delete anything that no longer interests you.
Look at your keys. Are there any you don’t need any more that you can get rid of? Mystery keys you don’t even recognize?
Think of any task you’ve been procrastinating for longer than a year. Make the decision to do it this month or let it go.
Read The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield.
Make a vow not to make negative comments about other people’s resolutions.
This was the year that I almost died, but that’s no excuse for skipping the annual review. In many ways, this is the weirdest and thus most interesting year I have had since I started publicly sharing my yearly progress report.
My husband had a severe eye injury, we had to put our dog down, and then I got COVID-19. It’s hard to believe that all of that happened before the shutdown.
I haven’t seen my family in over a year now.
2020 has been sad, confusing, infuriating, boring, frustrating - yet on a personal level, it’s been strangely great.
Here are some things that happened in our 2020:
My husband did not lose sight in his eye
I did not die of COVID-19
I got my dream job, despite doing the panel interview with a secondary lung infection
I gave a virtual presentation at work that was featured on our webpage and 80 people came
We doubled our savings
I started donating 1/4 of our grocery budget to the food bank
Also funded the planting of 40 trees
I learned to cut hair, both his and mine
We got our own personal hummingbird who lives three feet from the feeder; we call him Brownie and he is a rufous hummingbird and he is a little savage
We commissioned our first artwork, a piece from a local photographer
Noelie is working on whistling the Addams Family theme song
We saw an owl
My personal goal for the year was supposed to be getting my weight back down and recovering my health, after a year when I got a cold or the flu easily a dozen times. I said I wanted to “get my body back.” Then I got COVID and my whole “body transformation” / “get my body back” goal became a little too on-the-nose.
My career goal was to learn how to do webinars. Another goal that was a little on-the-nose. I sometimes spend over six hours a day on camera having meetings now. I’ve used, as far as I know, every available virtual meeting platform. I know how to make recordings, change my background, and all sorts of other tricks. More to the point, I got a full-time day job for the first time in over ten years, sort of stumbling into a goal 10x bigger than the one I had set.
My physical goal was to get my weight back to 125 lbs. (I’m 5’4”).
Lost 5 pounds, got coronavirus, gained 10.
(Probably five of that was pills)
My home goal was to continue our home automation project, which is related to the book I was writing when all this went down. 2020 was a great year to choose to do this, because two people who work from home for an engineering company are well positioned to automate everything in their place up, down, and sideways. Most of what we did was to organize cabinets and streamline surfaces, but we did upgrade our ailing Roomba for the fancy self-emptying one. It’s rad. Next is the window-washing robot, whenever they start shipping them again.
Our couples goal was to build an app together. That did not happen. What did happen was that my hubby saved my life, nursing me through six weeks of coronavirus. Isolating together and beating a deadly illness has brought us closer than I ever could have imagined. Crossing rivers together in the interior of Iceland did one type of thing for our marriage; 2020 did something else. I would do anything for this man and I already know he would do anything for me, because he has.
Oh, and then I got a job at the same company where he works. Our living room is now a sort of... field office. It’s like we’ve come full circle from when we first met.
My “stop goal” was to stop procrastinating on text messages and voicemail. I still sometimes feel resistance around this, but I’m so busy now that it’s quit being a problem. I simply don’t have time to psych myself out. Also half the time it’s my boss.
My lifestyle upgrade was possibly going to be getting gum surgery, since I maxed out my dental benefits last year and I had to wait. My periodontist (welcome to middle age, chica) - my periodontist put me through several invasive white-knuckle procedures, but he says I don’t need skin grafts yet, so that’s good news. The moral of the story is, if your dentist tells you to wear a night guard because you grind your teeth, pay attention.
Instead of gum surgery, my lifestyle upgrades were actually good. I had the idea of making Noelie a box fort, which rapidly expanded into the four-story folly that she has now. Extremely fun. We put up a plant stand and a hummingbird feeder on the porch. There were others, as I outlined earlier this week, but either of these things would count as a significant improvement over gum surgery, am I right?
My “Do the Obvious” was to plan around constant travel, since my hubby was on business travel over 50% of 2019. We sort of got the exact opposite of that. Very funny, 2020. The Do the Obvious that we actually did was to stay indoors, distance from people, and wear our masks.
My ultralearning project was to learn Dutch. That went to the same place that many people’s 2020 goals went, which was into a puff of vapor. Strangely, I did wind up doing a huge ultralearning project, which was to get up to speed on several software titles for my new job. I had to learn how to use VPN, learn all the new versions of the Microsoft Office software I hadn’t really used in a decade plus Teams, learn to administer our SharePoint sites, learn to use the video editing software, learn Jira and Confluence, and of course all the procedural things like our timecard system. Next year will be much more of the same, as I’m slated to learn a bunch of advanced Excel features, Tableau, data visualization, Microsoft Project, and that’s just first quarter. This place moves fast. (Take notes if you’re looking for a job; I’ve just listed off a bunch of hot skills that you can study at home).
My quest was to start training for the ultramarathon I want to run at age 50. After COVID-19, I may never run anywhere ever again. Hard to say. I am more motivated than I was before, though, because running even a mile would mean I can get my lungs back.
My wish was to get a publishing deal. I fully believe I could have pulled this off. Other people did even though there was a global pandemic, so I can’t even use that as an excuse. Will I ever do this, now that I have a regular-people job again? No idea. I still want to but I don’t see how I could fit it around my current schedule.
I had just finished putting together my ten-year goals for the first time, and I was pretty excited about them. They all seemed so, so possible on January First of 2020. Looking them over after this strange year that we’ve all had, they don’t actually seem completely IMpossible... I think ten years from now, all this pandemic stuff will be behind us. (Maybe we’ll have a different one between now and then, but hopefully everyone will have learned from the experience and we’ll be smarter and more careful). Anyway, in spite of it all, in spite of isolation and our tiny apartment and everything else, we did manage to put in a garden. That’s one ten-year goal, nine years ahead of schedule. Go us.
Personal: Body transformation - lol
Career: Learn how to do webinars - SUCCESS
Physical: Weight at 125 lbs. - FAIL
Home: Automation project - SUCCESS
Couples: Build an app together - NO PROGRESS
Stop goal: Stop procrastinating on text messages and voicemail - SUCCESS
Lifestyle upgrades: Probably gum surgery - SUCCESS+
Do the Obvious: Plan around constant travel - lol
Ultralearning: Dutch language - NO PROGRESS
Quest: 50 for 50 ultramarathon! (2025) - NO PROGRESS
Wish: Publishing deal! - NO PROGRESS
2030 - Ten Year Goals and Resolutions
Personal: Silver Fox project
Career: Published author
Physical: 50 for 50 ultramarathon!
Home: Buy a house to live in
Couples: Camping, hiking, backpacking, and bicycling together
Stop goal: Stop procrastinating in general
Lifestyle upgrades: A garden - SUCCESS
Do the Obvious: Plan around constant travel
Ultralearning: Write screenplays
Quest: Visit Antarctica
If there is one single piece of advice that is true for all fields, it is:
Be as specific as possible about what exactly you want to do.
I heard this as a young person, and it was not helpful at all, because I had no idea what I wanted to do! It turns out, over 25 years later, that the reason for that is that my ideal job did not yet exist.
But now it does.
The next most valuable piece of advice is to always learn as much as possible.
Even if you hate your job - even if you feel like you’re working for the worst company, in the worst field, in the worst company culture, with the meanest boss, the most awful coworkers, and the worst commute - learning new things is the only way to get out and do something else.
Another way to look at that is that if you’re going to work at a terrible job that doesn’t pay, make sure it’s in a field that you find interesting.
And if you’re not sure what that is, you’re just sure it’s not where you are now, then learning new things will help you figure it out.
I’ve started to look at my job as a kind of internship where I am continually paid to build skills.
I started a new job in May, and it is not an exaggeration to say that I have been learning new things every single day. I don’t know if I’ll ever be “caught up.” As a person who is motivated by curiosity, this is great news, because it means I’ll never have a chance to be bored.
I hadn’t had a traditional day job in over ten years. I knew all the basic enterprise software; in fact, I’d been a trainer for some of it. In the meantime, I hadn’t had much cause to use this stuff, and it turns out that a lot of features had popped up that were unfamiliar to me.
My first order of business was to reacquaint myself with all the basic Microsoft Office tools. For those of you who haven’t had to use these things on the job, that means Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook. I also had to bone up on SharePoint.
Next, I had to get used to using videoconferencing tools. We use all of them. We were using Skype, until a few months into my new job, when it was announced that Skype will be discontinued and we will be moving to Teams. I might use Skype, Teams, Zoomgov, and something like GoToMeeting on the same day, and then my boss will FaceTime me.
Then I had to get up to speed on a bunch of corporate tools, including our timecard system. I have payroll-adjacent duties, so I have had to learn to adjust other people’s timecards as well.
Right now I’m learning how to edit videos in Camtasia and upload them to Microsoft Stream.
I’m also learning more advanced Excel skills that I never had to use before. Those include conditional formatting, pivot tables, macros, and a bunch of new formulas.
For 2021, I’m going to learn Tableau. This is the most complicated new tool on my list. What it really means is not the technical aspects of the software, but data visualization in general. An easy way to stand out in a data-driven field is to be even marginally better at presenting the story behind the data. Or: can you make boring things interesting?
When I first joined Toastmasters, everyone said that presentation skills will help you in your career. I didn’t care about that - I was just done with my intense public speaking phobia and I wanted liberation. A few years down the road, with a DTM under my belt, I know it’s true. A lot of brilliant people are terrible presenters. Even a couple of months of coaching could lead to an almost magical transformation, but nobody wants to do it.
These are my broader work goals: To be seen as a go-to person for solving problems; to be regarded as a dynamic presenter; to observe and absorb what it takes to go to the next level in my organization.
Broad goals can either be very useful, or not useful at all, depending on what you choose.
I find broad goals most helpful if I am having a crisis or a low-energy day. I just remind myself of what I’m trying to accomplish by the end of the year, and it helps to put it into context. “Remember, you said you wanted to be a go-to person, and this is probably what that looks like.”
A goal that is too broad or vague, though, won’t get anybody anywhere. This is why it’s helpful to have a list of very specific things to learn, like “Excel filters.”
Some of our goals come down from the top level. We have division goals, and subdivision goals, and department goals, and goals that are assigned to us by our boss. I love this! If I’m going to “check the box” on a goal, I want to make sure it’s the thing that matters most to my superiors.
Rule Number One: Make your boss look good. Even if your boss doesn’t deserve it, even if your boss is an orc, everyone else probably knows that. It’s good for your reputation if you show that you can do a good job getting along with a cave troll.
People are the biggest issue in most jobs. That means it’s not usually a specific individual person who wakes up every day ready to cause friction and deliberately be irritating. Usually it’s some kind of systemic issue that, if discovered, could help everyone get along.
The best way to have people like you at work is to be good at your job. Get stuff done and be responsive.
I have worked with people who didn’t wash their clothes, had plumber’s crack, or fell asleep on the job. In each case, they continued on for years and years, because they were good at what they did. Also in each case, if they fixed that one little problem (doing laundry, wearing a belt, getting a standup desk?), their reputations would have been all the better.
For the brave, ask someone else what your work resolution should be for the New Year. Put an anonymous suggestion box out. Actually that might be the worst idea for the worst reality TV show of all time, but it is an interesting thought exercise. What would you wish other people around you to be doing differently, and what do you think they would ask of you?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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