Howdy! Welcome to the third installment of my Year in Review practice.
Each of these years, since I left the comfortable nest of traditional employment, has been a wild ride in an of itself.
2019 was no exception.
Actually, no. 2019 was an exception to a string of exceptional years. As Michael and I joked while I was writing this:
2019 was a BIG year. And…this grew into a surprisingly long review as a result. When there’s more that grows and changes, there’s more that needs processing.
Why Conduct a Year in Review?
I started conducting a Year in Review so I could celebrate what was awesome from the year, reflect on key insights, and generally tie a bow on the year. By doing so, it helped me feel more grounded as I stepped into the new year and its innumerable challenges.
I also love reading the annual reviews of others. I find I can connect with people and their work on a deeper level when I’m grounded in a more high-level context of what’s going on in their life.
In addition, writing this review keeps me honest, holds me accountable, and supports me to practice vulnerably sharing myself in another setting.
For this review, I’m using a similar format as years past, but with a few small tweaks.
Before we get into the rest of my review, I wanted to remind you that I created a Year in Review + Year Planning workbook, and updated it for 2019-2020. It’s a different format than this one, and goes mega-deep to help you make 2020 your best year yet.
Enter your email here and I’ll send it your way:
Access the Year-In-Review and Best Year Yet Templates
End your year on a high note and create a bulletproof plan to make this your best year yet!
The Structure of this Review
The core framework I use for reviewing any period of time–whether a day, week, quarter, or year—is called Win + Learn + Optimize.
As you might guess, the framework has three parts.
- Win: What went well? What’s worth celebrating?
- Learn: What did I learn? What insights do I want to make sure I carry with me moving forward?
- Optimize: What needs work? How can I get better?
I got this framework from Optimize +1 #96: Win or Learn, and use Win + Learn + Optimize as the high-level buckets of self-inquiry for this reflection.
But…since a year of life contains SO many different things, I added another layer of structure to the reflection to simplify it.
I do this using another one of our core frameworks at Optimize—The Big 3—while adding a bonus category of my own that feels important to me in this life chapter.
The Big 3 = Energy + Work + Love.
- Energy is about physical vitality, health, and wellbeing. (You’ll have a hard time showing up to Work + Love if your Energy is off.)
- Work is about career—what you’re contributing to the world by giving your gifts in service to others.
- Love is about the relationships and the connections we build with others.
Plus…my bonus category of Adventure, which is about proactively exploring the new and unknown as a way to grow, gain perspective, have fun, and live a life free of regrets.
As I started getting into the nitty-gritty details of my review, I recognized a high-level theme. To get a sense for what my 2019 was all about, it’s best to start there.
2019: A Year of Unplanned Paradigm Shifts
Unplanned paradigm shifts.
Two parts to that.
First is a paradigm shift, which represents a major change in perspective and direction. I started the year seeing and approaching things in one way, and I’m ending it seeing and approaching them in a totally different way.
Second is that these shifts were entirely unplanned. I wasn’t actively seeking them out when I started the year. But at some point in the year, something unforeseen came up that created these shifts.
So…I was oriented towards Energy + Work + Love (+ Adventure) in one way at the start of the year. And somehow, through the course of the year, each of these areas has shifted dramatically.
I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced this before. But I couldn’t be happier with how things panned out this year, so I’m 100% open to it happening again.
With that as the three-part frame, let’s dive in.
Wins: What Went Well? What’s Worth Celebrating? 🎉🥳
1: Energy Wins
Started a new style of physical training. At the beginning of the year, I was struggling to overcome some nagging injuries. And I didn’t feel great about the progress I was making towards my physical goals. At the recommendation of my friend Max, I started working with a new trainer, Andrew Bolter. (Find him on IG @thevitalpursuit.)
I thought I knew a lot about movement, and wanted to make better progress in the way I’d been training. But I ended up having my mind completely blown, realized I knew next to nothing, and started training in an entirely new paradigm.
This way of training is based around a brilliant frame on human biomechanics. Namely, that homo sapiens evolved to support a few primary movement patterns: walking, running, and throwing. When we train around these functional patterns, we’re using our bodies as they were designed (by evolution!) to be used.
As a result, I feel more connected with my body, am more coordinated and controlled in my movements, am more aware of what it means to be mechanically efficient in my movement, am stronger in new ways, and have fewer aches and pains than ever before.
Ran a Spartan Race. As a part of the Optimize Coach program (more below) I knew I’d be running a Spartan Race at the end of the year. But I’d hardly done any running in the last 3 years. And I had a history of lower-body injuries.
My training with Andrew, plus insights on running form, nasal breathing, and aerobic-zone training, helped me make a transition back into running without creating injuries. Which culminated in running the Spartan with ease.
Running the Spartan Race was boatloads of fun, and I want to do a couple more this year.
Leveled-up my sleep game. I always knew sleep was important. And I used to think I was getting enough sleep. Turns out, I wasn’t. Even though I’d be in bed for 7-8 hours every night, I was never actually getting 8 hours of real sleep.
The combination of reading Why We Sleep at the end of 2018, buying an Oura Ring to track sleep data, and insights from the Optimize Coach program motivated me to approach sleep in a new way.
And as a result, I now know what it ACTUALLY feels like to be fully-rested and at my best energetically. It’s not 100% necessary for me to be in that place to show up at a high level. But man, is it ever nice to wake up feeling well-rested.
2: Work Wins
Started working with Optimize. Three years ago, after starting Mindful Ambition, Michael Balchan introduced me to Optimize. I had never heard of it before, but it turned out to be the world’s best collection of wisdom–related to all facets of how to be your best self.
As someone who was A) Insatiably curious about how to live a great life, B) Writing and teaching, and C) Coaching others, I became obsessed. Optimize became my go-to resource for all things personal development. I felt like I was learning so many helpful things, much quicker than I would have otherwise.
So when the opportunity to contribute to building the newly launched Optimize Coach program came my way, I jumped at the opportunity.
(Sidenote: You can get a free 30-day trial of Optimize by heading over to Optimize.me/free30.)
Went all-in with Team Optimize. At the beginning of the year, Optimize was a small part of my professional responsibilities. Mindful Ambition and my coaching business were still the #1 priority.
As the year went on, my contributions to Optimize expanded. But my priorities stayed the same. I wasn’t giving my coaching business the attention needed to grow it. As it started shrinking, I felt frustrated and conflicted about what to do within the constraints of this new reality.
I was determined to figure it out. And after a few insights and some helpful coaching (more on that below) I gained clarity on my path forward. Mid-way through the year, when I was given the opportunity to contribute in a full-time capacity with Optimize, I was a full-body “Yes!”
Grew as a coach. After expanding my role with Optimize, I continued my 1:1 coaching practice with a no-more-than 3 client roster. In my third year of professional coaching, I’ve become more grounded and confident than ever before. Thanks to another year’s experience coaching, continuing to be coached, and leaning heavily into my growth, I’m showing up more powerfully than ever before for my 1:1 clients.
One of my fav pieces of client feedback:
Patrick helped me realize that the best version of myself already exists within me. We partnered to get specific and define what my best looks like while artfully chipping away at the attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs that were not in service of achieving my goals. We went from a cumbersome block of marble to a well-defined sculpture, but more importantly, I feel that he gave me the tools to continue sculpting the details of how I want to show up in the world.
Certified our first class of Optimize Coaches. This is the program I was initially brought onto the team to support. (Though my role has since expanded.) We’re a small and scrappy team, and we pulled off an incredible experience for over 1,100 people from 50 countries around the world.
I had my fingerprints all over the program—from co-leading calls to writing emails to synthesizing data to creating designs to planning a weekend-long event. It feels incredible to have made a meaningful contribution to such an impactful program.
Completed the Optimize Coach program. In addition to helping run the program, I also participated in the Optimize Coach and completed all requirements for certification. The program helped me step my game up in ALL areas of life. 2019 wouldn’t have been as successful as it was if I weren’t enrolled in the program.
Grew as a leader. Working as a solopreneur is a different game than working with a team. This year with Optimize has provided me with a host of opportunities to step up my leadership game. It’s a fun new challenge that will continue to bear fruit in the years to come.
Paid off a family loan. Partway through 2018, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to continue on the path I was blazing for myself professionally. I wasn’t hitting my revenue targets for Mindful Ambition, and I had eaten through too much of my savings in the previous couple of years.
The idea of needing to go back to a “normal” job scared the shirts off of me. Especially since I felt was feeling a lot of momentum and felt SO close to turning the corner and being at the helm of a supportive + expanding business. So I asked my parents if they’d give me a loan to help bridge that gap. I feel tremendously grateful and privileged that they accepted my request. And overjoyed that I was able to pay back said loan in under a year.
3: Love Wins
Reprioritized relationships. For my first couple of years as an entrepreneur, relationships took the backseat. This was a 180° shift from how I grew up. As a kid, friendships were everything to me. I was aware that I wasn’t growing my relationships in a healthy way. But I wasn’t quite sure what to do about it.
Through the course of this year, and via insights that came from working with a new coach (Jacob Sokol) I’ve recommitted to investing in friendships, family, and intimate relationships. (Many of my other wins in Love this year came as a downstream effect of Jacob’s support.)
Started a new father-son tradition. When I realized I’d be moving away from Minneapolis (more below) I started thinking of ways to continue furthering my family relationships. At the top of the list was taking an annual trip together with my dad. Our relationship had grown significantly with the fuel of meaningful 1:1 conversations. As a way to ensure these continued happening, I proposed the tradition.
In our inaugural year, we took a trip to Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks.
Committing to relationships as a practice. If I want to achieve a particular result in life, I focus on practicing the thing that’s likely to lead to that result. Although that was crystal-clear for me in Energy + Work, it took me until this year to realize I can practice Love.
- If I want to create deep, incredible friendships…I need to practice the skill of connecting more authentically with friends.
- If I want to create an extraordinary long-term intimate partnership…I’d better practice connecting with women more deeply.
- And if I want my family relationships to flourish…I need to practice connecting with my family members in new ways.
I believe the right relationships can expand the awesomeness of our lives in unfathomable ways. Framing relationships as a practice has made it easier for me to create time to connect with others. Even if an individual relationship doesn’t end thriving long-term, if approached intentionally, the time spent with that person will have expanded my abilities to connect with others. It’s a win-win-win.
Started dating again. When I realized I’d be leaving Minneapolis at the end of 2018, I stopped dating. Not because I wasn’t interested in a long-term intimate relationship, but because it felt pointless to date if I wouldn’t be in the city a few months later. And with so many new professional responsibilities clamoring for my attention, the opportunity cost felt too high.
This continued after I left Minneapolis, for the same reasons. But after reframing relationships as practice (above,) and with encouragement from Jacob, I realized it made 110% sense to start dating again, despite my location transience.
Connected with my family. Through time spent together in Minneapolis, trips to the cabin, my sister Emily’s Master’s Degree graduation, my grandpa’s funeral, holidays, and a number of meaningful conversations, my familial relationships have grown stronger, and feel primed for additional growth, this year.
4: Adventure Wins
Started test-driving potential future home cities. For the last ~5 years, I felt a call to move westward. When I’d reflect on my favorite memories of the year, most included the outdoors. I wanted to live somewhere with access to mountains!
It wasn’t feasible in the earlier stages of my business. But I felt it would be doable in 2019. So I moved into a temporary lease with a close friend, using it as my jumping-off point to move.
I did all sorts of research on where to move…but I was completely stymied as to which city was the best fit for me. No one place stood out head-and-shoulders above the rest. I wanted more experiential data.
So I had the crazy idea to drive around from city to city while renting temporary accommodations. This way, I could test-drive each city, and walk away with better experiential data with which to make my decision.
So far, I’ve visited 7 candidate cities:
- Boise, ID
- Bend, OR
- Seattle, WA
- Portland, OR
- Salt Lake City, UT
- Encinitas, CA
- San Diego, CA
And 2 non-candidates:
- Reno, NV
- Los Angeles, CA
I still have a small handful of places left to visit. The journey continues!
Did a lot of hiking. My favorite way to spend a Saturday involves getting up early, going for a big hike, and returning to town for a great meal. I great stillness while hiking. The simple motion of walking in nature does wonders for my mind. Plus, the sunshine and great views never get old.
I hiked in dry heat, wet rain, and cold snow. I hiked through old-growth forests, along rivers, and through scrubby desert hills. I hiked with friends, (and a couple dogs,) but mostly I hiked by myself.
Bought a car. After realizing that I’d be driving around the country for months at a time, including driving in mountains, I knew the car I was driving (my Dad’s old sedan) wasn’t the best fit for my journey. After considering all my options, I followed some of Ramit Sethi’s wisdom and bought a new Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. This was the biggest purchase I’ve ever committed to in my life, and felt like a scary move at the time. But I made it with confidence that my continued growth would make a purchase like this a no-brainer years down the road. We aren’t years down the road yet, but so far so good! I absolutely love the car, and am excited for it to carry me (+ many others) on countless adventures in the next decade.
Traveled domestically. I traveled to (or through!) X different states, many on multiple occasions. California (3), Idaho, Illinois (3), Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota (2), Missouri (2), Oregon (2), South Dakota, Washington, Wisconsin (2), and Wyoming made 2019 a full one.
Met new people. Whether via the Craft + Commerce conference in Boise, a long-table dinner in Bend, Shabbat dinners in Seattle and Portland, men’s group in San Diego, Thanksgiving in Orange County, our Optimize Coach graduation weekend, or so many other events…I’m grateful for the many new friendships that came into my life this year.
Reconnected with old friends. Through my travels, and a 5-year college reunion, I’ve been able to connect with tons of friends who I wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise.
Learnings: What Insights Did I Have? What Did I Learn? ⚡️🧐🤔
Shifting paradigms is hard and you gotta check your ego at the door. Training with Andrew revealed the weakest links in my physical structure. To address those, I needed to take a whole bunch of steps “backwards.” I couldn’t move big heavy weights, or get the satisfying burn or pump from this training in the beginning, because simply maintaining proper posture in these movements with hardly no resistance was max difficulty for me.
It was humbling to say the least. And part of me kinda wanted to quit. But it was the work I needed to make real long-term progress.
Strength training doesn’t necessitate you feel aches and pains. Since it was all I’d ever experienced, I used to think there was a certain amount of joint pain, tightness, etc. that was a given with strength training. Turns out, when you train with posture and tensegrity in mind, these things simply go away. I’m as pain-free as ever before.
I was holding unseen limiting beliefs about “not being a good runner.” I didn’t grow up as a particularly fast runner, so I had labeled myself as not a great runner. I realized this year that I had never been properly taught how to run, and that it’s a skill I could learn. I no longer see myself as a bad runner, just a runner who has a lot of room to improve (and is actively engaged in the learning and practice to do so.)
Being in bed for 10 hours is a powerful recovery tool. If you go to bed early (~8pm) you can be in bed for 10 (!!) hours and still wake up at 6am. I started doing this on occasion (or multiple nights in a row) as an experiment, and it’s re-established my gold standard in sleep and recovery.
It feels positively AMAZING to wake up feeling refreshed and well-rested. Note to self: sleep matters. Continue prioritizing it, even when you don’t want to.
Posture matters. When my posture suffers (throughout the day, or while exercising) it distributes stress poorly in my body, and I feel aches and pains in my joints, muscles, and fascia. When my posture is good, these disappear. Movement is mandatory. Pain is not.
We’re meant to breathe through the nose. All-day, every day. Breathing through the nose helps our cells stay properly oxygenated, calms our nervous system, boosts concentration, and promotes a host of other good things. Whenever humanly possible, I’m now breathing through my nose.
My breath is my #1 tool for staying grounded. Related to the above, through lots of trial and error, I’ve uncovered a new layer of understanding of the power of the breath. Conscious breathing helps me stay connected with my highest self, and anchored in a place of calm confidence and energized tranquility.
It’s normal outgrow our goals. Partway through the year, my professional life felt like a wrestling match between two big priorities. Growing Mindful Ambition had been my #1 goal for multiple years running…and part of me was really resistant to easing my grip on that goal to create more space for Optimize.
A conversation with Jacob unlocked this for me, and I made the connection that my attachment to Mindful Ambition’s growth was coming from a contracted, ego-centered place.
My deeper purpose isn’t about Mindful Ambition. It’s about helping people thrive in the world. I know what it feels like to be down-and-out. So I wanna do everything I can to help people live their best lives.
With that as a frame, it became crystal clear. Making Optimize the “lead horse” in my race was 100% purpose-aligned, and supported my growth in myriad other ways. I had outgrown my previously-held goal to grow my coaching business at all costs.
Work is way more fun when you do it with friends. I thought solopreneurship was my end-game. I wanted the freedom and flexibility of doing it all myself. As it turns out, I’m having way more fun working with a team.
Hard things are easy when we do them together. A philosophically aligned group of people can accomplish extraordinary things together with relative ease. (When compared with what it’d be like to do something on your own.)
We can never see the full picture of what’s going on in the lives of others. Early in the year, one of my 1:1 clients sent me a surprising message. He told me that he’d been suffering from depression, and was choosing to end our coaching relationship to seek support from a specialized therapist. This caught me entirely off guard, and helped me understand that–even when we’re trying our best–we can’t know everything that’s happening in someone else’s life.
Relationships matter. A LOT. When I reached out to Jacob to see if we were a fit for a coaching relationship, I thought I wanted help growing my coaching business, and developing as a coach amidst new constraints. (This was before my all-in-ness with Team O.) But what Jacob helped me understand is that what I really wanted—what my soul was craving—was connection. And without addressing that core need, I would continue to fail to experience the fullest expression of my life.
At the time, I was feeling, and had been feeling, a persistent sense of loneliness in my life. I was conscious that I had unmet needs here, but I had swept this under the rug and ignored it. Jacob’s support has helped me expand into a greater sense of connection in my life, and I no longer feel those pangs of loneliness. (Working with a team made a difference here too.)
Relationships are a practice. I went deep on this in the Wins section. But it’s worth repeating again.
Leap and the net will appear. You don’t need to have all the details figured out in order to take a leap into something new. In fact, you can’t. 😄 The only way to learn is by taking the leap. I almost chose not to start my nomadic adventure this year. Fear was getting in the way. But by simply taking the first step, and then the next…it’s all worked out beautifully.
It’s not actually that hard to meet people in new places. One of my biggest fears before this journey is that I’d feel lonely. I certainly have been lonely at times. But I’ve also built new skills that help me connect with people wherever I go. Whether it’s proactively introducing myself to someone who I feel drawn towards, asking friends for introductions, honestly expressing myself with new people, or saying “yes!” to opportunities…I’ve grown my ability to make friends and connect with others in new places.
Sometimes it’s best to NOT have things planned out. Flexibility is a huge gift when you’re traveling. Towards the beginning of this journey, I felt a lot of stress about getting my next steps in-order. I worried about not having a good place to stay, or having to pay too much money, or a host of other things. But by not having my next-steps planned, I’ve been able to easily say yes to some great opportunities that made my year better than it would have otherwise. Over-planning be restrictive to spontaneity.
Sunshine makes life better (But only always.) I’m a better version of myself when I have consistent access to sunshine. Though I grew up as a hardy Minnesotan who judged people for wanting to live in more comfortable climates, I’ve changed my tune. It’s not a question of “CAN I be happy in X climate?” but a “Which climate most-effecitvely supports me to show up at my best?” For me, sunshine is a necessary ingredient.
Optimize: What Needs Work? How Can I Improve? 💪 🏔
Sleep. Despite prioritizing sleep to a degree I never have before, I have a lot of room to improve. I typically don’t sleep through the night in one shot these days, where I used to never have an issue with that.
Conquering physical weaknesses. Despite my improvements this year, I still have a host of physical limitations from past injuries to a wrist, an ankle, a shoulder, and a foot. I’m committed to staying active for as many decades as I possibly can. I want to play and move freely with future grandchildren. So the more effectively I can address my physical dysfunctions, the better I’ll be long-term.
Nosebleeds. I’ve had these since I was a kid. I’ve had my nose cauterized multiple times. Nevertheless, they persist. It interferes with my nasal breathing, and can be disruptive to other areas of life. I’m committed to solving this for myself.
Running. I bridged the gap from not-running to a little bit of running this year. But I have tons of room to grow. I want to run faster, with greater ease, and for longer distances. I love hiking, and want to take that to the next level with confident trail running.
Overall strength. My training this year did make me stronger. But I also had to take steps away from building total strength to address a variety of long-term limitations. I know I can get a LOT stronger than I am today, and plan to do so.
Nutritional protocol + data tracking. Despite eating (what I think is) a very healthy diet, I have poor data to check in with to determine how effective my fueling is. I’ve never done any blood work, and don’t have any quantitative data to support the qualitative data of my felt experience.
Swimming. I have a goal to become a strong and confident swimmer. Similar to running, I grew up being able to swim, but never having learned how to do so with great form. As I’ve spent more time near the ocean this year, I want to add swimming to my movement repertoire.
Systems for remote collaboration. Optimize is a remote team filled with strong individual contributors. The couple of times that our team assembled together in-person in 2019 showed us how the right conditions can accelerate our progress in phenomenal ways. As we grow the business moving forward, we need to scale our collaborative and organizational systems to support it.
Reading. My reading habit fell to the wayside this year. I love reading and find it nourishing to my mind, heart, and soul. And I also failed to prioritize it this year. (Though I did create space to read lots of PhilosophersNotes!)
Creative output. I basically stopped writing for Mindful Ambition towards the end of the year. Though I scratched my creative itch through Optimize, it still feels important for me to do some regular publishing. It helps me clarify my thinking and keeps me sharp.
Prioritizing relationship practice (friendship + dating.) I’m really happy with the re-prioritization I’ve done this year. And…I have a TON of room for growth in these areas. I’m hungry to grow in these areas, and need to back up that desire by creating even more space and time for dating + connection with friends.
Going deeper with Family. As Ram Dass said “If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family.” I love my family. And, family time continues to be one of my greatest interpersonal challenges. I’ve felt a lot of growth in the last year with my family. And, I know we’re just beginning to scratch the surface of our potential–both in our 1:1 relationships, and as a unit. I’m really excited to see how we can grow together, amidst the constraint of me not being co-located with them in Minnesota.
Reflections on place. I started my journey this year with the intention of doing a deep dive unpack of my experience in the city, and giving a score to different elements so I could compare cities side-by-side. I haven’t followed through on this.
Maintaining equanimity. It’s tough to find the integration point of proactive planning and present moment experiencing. I’ve gotten better at this, but still have a ways to go before I’m maintaining calm confidence while planning ahead, leaving room for flexibility, and experiencing where I’m at to its fullest.
Macro-level recovery. I took fewer days-off this year than I ever have. Though I do a good job of recharging on the weekends, I realized that I didn’t take an entire week off of work at any point this year!
Granted, I love what I do. So it doesn’t really feel like “work” in the traditional sense. But I know my body and mind would benefit from taking a week or two off in a row with some regularity throughout each year.
Procrastinating on important (but not-urgent) life tasks. A day into my road-trip, someone crashed into my brand new car. But since it was simply cosmetic damage, and didn’t impact day-to-day driving, I ignored getting it repaired for months. I eventually got around to it (all covered by the other party’s insurance) but would have benefited from swifter action, as it hung over my head for a long time. There are lots of moving pieces on this journey, and I haven’t been on-point with dealing with logistical life stuff when it comes up.
International travel. As a result of starting my journey around the US, I didn’t do any international travel this year. I plan on remedying that in 2020, as traveling abroad is an unregrettable in my book. I always walk away with great memories, valuable perspective, and having had lots of fun!
With the foundation that 2019 laid–across Energy, Work, Love, and Adventure–I feel confident that 2020 is going to be my best year ever, and the start of my best decade yet.
I’ll be sitting down to do some big-picture thinking on my goals for the year soon. With this review in mind, that will be an easier task.
And, as I learned this year, no matter what you think you’re getting yourself into in a year…if you’re pushing your edges, you have no way of knowing where you’ll actually end up.
With that in mind, here’s to making 2020 a year of growth, love, expansion, creativity, joy, learning, connection, expression, courage, rest, play, and adventure.
And if you made it this far into this epically long Year in Review…Thank you! I appreciate you for tuning in and being a part of my life.
Lots of love,
P.S. If you wanna do your own Year in Review, here’s another reminder to grab that template.
Access the Year-In-Review and Best Year Yet Templates
End your year on a high note and create a bulletproof plan to make this your best year yet!