When Socrates was on trial 2,400 years ago, he condemned himself to death with these words:
“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
I spent my first 30 years wandering and exploring – doing pretty much anything but examining my life. More recently, I’ve been obsessed with improving myself and the lives of the people around me. The only way I can do that is by looking at what’s working and what’s not.
Here then is my first public year in review. With inspiration from James Clear (I highly recommend you sign up for his email newsletter), I’ll look at the following:
- What went well this year?
- What didn’t go so well this year?
- What am I working toward in 2016?
What went well this year?
The birth of my son.
Percy’s birth was far and away the best thing that happened last year. I drove to my in-laws’ house to pick up my wife and take her to the hospital. I’ll never forget it. It’s like my consciousness split: part of my mind focused on driving as fast I could without wrecking. The other half of me kept thinking:
This is it, our lives are about to change in a massive way.
One chapter closes, another opens.
I poured my soul out when I wrote about Percy’s birth here, so I won’t rehash it, but I do remember this: I remember watching my wife take Percy into her arms. He was covered in white mucous, face pinched, arms bent into angry little Ls.
The look of love was so pure and raw on my wife’s face.
It’s the sort of look we only get to glimpse a few times in our lives. I want to remember it when I’m on my deathbed. It makes everything worth it.
The growth of my daughter.
Claire turned 2 in December, and I wrote her a birthday letter full of fatherly advice here. Every day, she amazes me.
She says new words.
She asks new questions.
She stands on the toilet and brushes her teeth beside me at night. When I do sit-ups, she’s wiggling on the ground beside me. I come home from work, and she holds her arms straight up in the air: “Up, please, daddy!”
She’s changed my life in a million ways.
My relationship with my wife and kids are the most important relationships in my life, and I want to make sure they’re as good as they can be. For 2015, I set a goal of reading three books on marriage and three books on parenting.
It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. Here are just a few things I learned:
- Children crave boundaries. Life’s scary and confusing without them.
- Love is really about self-sacrifice.
- Most men put more effort into their jobs than they do their home lives (something I’ve been guilty of).
If nothing else, the books have reminded me not to take my marriage and family for granted. Tomorrow makes no promises.
I set a goal of writing 100,000 words of fiction in 2015. I wrote 122,713. That’s more than four times as long as George Orwell’s Animal Farm. It’s longer than The Hobbit (95,356) but quite a bit shorter than The Fellowship of the Ring (187,790).
It might take me another two years to re-write those words into books that are publishable, but I couldn’t be happier.
I probably wrote more fiction in 2015 than I did in my first 30 years.
Landing an agent.
I took a big step toward fulfilling my lifelong dream of publishing a book when I signed with The Bent Agency in November (check out my post: The Day I Got an Agent).
Jenny Bent is representing my kids/young adult book, The Very Strange and Very Secret Trashcan Club. I’ll work with her to revise the book, and hopefully, we turn it into something she can sell.
Quest for a Guinness World Record.
I’ve been obsessed with breaking a Guinness record since I was a child. In 2014, I actually picked a record I want to attempt: the fastest mile of lunges. The time to beat is 25 minutes, 21 seconds. I’m no where near that (I’m in the 50-minute range), but I’ve been consistently training for 13 months now.
During 2015, I did 105 lunge workouts. I also did 80 hours of core workouts, played about 150 hours of tennis and mixed in some HIIT cardio and light jogging. I even started taking supplements:
- Pea or whey protein
- Karbolic (specialized carbs for pre and post workouts)
- A multivitamin
- Fish oil
It’s paying off. I’ve added four pounds of muscle, dropped my body fat to 6 percent and got my resting heartbeat into the upper 50s or low 60s.
After reading Arriana Huffington’s book Thrive, I realized how important it is to get a good night’s sleep. In 2015, I forced myself to go to bed on time (as often as possible). Now, I see how my mood and creativity are directly tied to my sleep schedule. Give me eight hours or more, and life’s irritations feel like fun little challenges. Give me eight hours or less, and I’m an impatient asshole (ask my wife).
Supposedly, missing two hours of sleep a night for a week can push an average person’s IQ into “borderline mental retardation.”
Getting more sleep has been the single most powerful thing I did to feel better and achieve more in 2015.
Including audiobooks and graphic novels, I read about 25 books last year (I need to keep better track this year). It’s my favorite hobby, and each book alters the direction of my life in some slight way.
James Altucher’s Choose Yourself got me flossing everyday. Stephen King’s On Writing taught me what it means to be a professional writer. Shad Helmstetter’s What to Say When You Talk to Your Self showed me how to manipulate that little voice in my head to my benefit. Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train made me feel like a paranoid drunk, and Joe Abercrombie’s Blade Itself series turned me into a wicked badass with a sword.
What didn’t go so well this year?
Ridiculous head injuries.
I got two concussions last year. I was skating without a helmet when I got the first. I over-jumped a rail, fell three feet onto my hands and knees, and bonked my forehead on concrete.
I saw stars.
Worse, I was sick for two weeks: nauseous, fatigued, dizzy and unable to focus.
A few months later, I got a second concussion playing tennis. I chased a ball off the court, tripped over some metal baskets and hit my temple on an iron bar. There went another week of my life down the tubes.
Now, I wear a helmet whenever I skate or bike, and I don’t try to chase down tennis balls like I’m Rafael Nadal. Post-concussion syndrome could seriously f– up my life, so I need to do everything I can to avoid taking another head shot.
I’ve been so focused on my family and writing that I haven’t made much time to hang out with my friends. I need to make a conscious effort to keep those relationships going.
Hospice nurse Bonnie Ware says people on their deathbeds always wish they’d maintained stronger relationships with their friends — particularly their close friends from childhood.
I don’t want to have that regret.
Between childcare, saving for retirement (since I don’t have a 401K at work), spending on home repairs (we needed a new furnace) and helping others when we can, we don’t have much wiggle room in the budget. That didn’t stop us from going out to eat a lot, and it didn’t stop me from buying a ton of ebooks, audiobooks and workout supplements/gear.
I need to make it a priority to eat at home even more and try to use the library for books, audiobooks and movies whenever possible.
Taking on too much.
I turned down several opportunities to do freelance web or graphic design work in 2015. But I still did too much of it. It brings in extra money, but it cuts into my family and writing time. There’s something about my personality that makes it hard for me to say no when a job pops up or someone invites me to do something. The reality is I don’t have time to do extra work or go to events that I’m not super stoked about.
What am I working toward in 2016?
Being a great father and husband.
Recently, one of my close friends lost her father. If there was a model for how much your kids could love a parent, her dad was it.
I want my kids to revere me as much as my friend revered her dad. So I asked her what made him great. She said this:
“He was just there. Anytime I went to him with a question or a problem, it was like the world stopped and he was there for me.”
I want to be more like that.
Someday, I’ll be able to hole myself up in a room and write full time. There’s nothing else I do that gives me more meaning. And I hope that one day, something I write could impact the lives of young people around the world.
For 2016, I’m specifically setting a goal of finishing two books (including the one I’m working on with my agent) and finishing a first draft of a third book.
Breaking a Guinness World Record.
Sometimes, I ask myself why the hell I’m bothering to go after a Guinness World Record — especially if I’m working out after midnight on a weeknight.
The truth of the matter is, I don’t have a great answer. I do know this, though: every time I do a lunge workout, its a victory over my own laziness. The workouts themselves are so long and exhausting I’ve had to learn to keep pushing forward no matter how much my mind and body want to quit. I feel like that indomitable grit has spilled over into my work and my writing.
In 2016, I want to get fast enough to officially challenge the lunge record.
Every year, I set a theme for my non-fiction reading. Last year, it was family and parenting. This year, it’s spirituality. I plan to read at least three major religious texts. I’ve started on the bible (KJV), which I’d like to read cover-to-cover for the first time.
I also plan to read the core Buddhist texts and possibly the Tao-Te-Ching, Talmud, Koran or Bhagavad Gita. I believe there are important teachings in all the world’s major religious texts, but I haven’t made it a priority to explore them. This year, I need to change that.
Giving back to the community.
I know money’s tight. We don’t get to take big trips or go out to eat that often, but we’re a hell of a lot better off than a lot of people. And I want to give back to universe in a way that’s meaningful to me on a personal level.
Specifically, I’ve set a goal of getting books into the hands of at least a few disadvantaged kids in Dayton. I haven’t figured out the best way to do it, but here’s one option: filling up my bicycle trailer with great kids books and riding around Dayton giving them away. If I can foster a love of reading in a kid who wouldn’t otherwise have gotten that, I could impact his or her life for years or decades to come.
Being more engaged/engaging.
It’s probably a curse all writer’s have, but I think I’m too wrapped up in my own thoughts a lot of times. I want to focus on lightening up, sharing what I’m thinking more freely with others and just enjoying what’s right in front of me.
There’s a lot to be thankful for.
There’s a lot to enjoy.
2015 was the best year of my life, and I’m excited to see what 2016 brings. I try to grow a little more every day, and enjoy the journey no matter where it takes me. The destination, after all, is never guaranteed.