A Happy New Year to all! I hope you have enjoyed your holiday season, are looking back on 2010 with a sense of accomplishment, fulfillment, and peace, and are ready to get after it over the next 365 days.
I have received a lot of encouragement for this annual review and agenda setting. I am grateful for that. Admittedly my personal web site has been down for some time so I had to resort to sending this out via email. Still, it was nice to hear back from people. And before you suggest it, rebuilding my personal web site is on my list of intentions fo the upcoming year. More on that later.
As usual, I begin with a review of the past year through the lens of the intentions I set. I will follow that with a review of highlights I did not intend but that stand out and make the year worth remembering. Finally I will set the table for 2011.
To begin, I intended to travel in 2010 and I succeeded. As I admitted a year ago, I was only days away from a week-long winter break in Costa Rica, so I was admittedly stacking the deck a bit. The trip was a great adventure as Larina, four other classmates, and I hiked dormant volcanoes, lounged on a beach, and took in as much sun as we could. Just as I was feeling a bit rested, it was back to DC for the final semester of our Master’s program.
Other travel included a tour of Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Tetons National Parks. This was Larina’s Christmas gift to me in December 2009 and what a gift it was. We flew to her home state of Idaho and over the course of three weeks traversed a wide swatch of the Inland Northwest. I mistakenly called it the Pacific Northwest and was quickly reprimanded. Please do not repeat my egregious error.
The trip only solidified the special place the National Parks hold in my heart. They rejuvenate, surprise, challenge, and comfort me all at the same time. I saw animals up close (sometimes a little too up close) that I otherwise might have never seen. I took in the types of majestic landscapes that inspire national anthems. I stood in pouring rain and let it wash away the stress that had built up on my psyche these last two years. I scratched Montana off my list of states I had never visited. Every bit of it was glorious.
Speaking of SAIS, I graduated, and what a feeling it was to walk across the stage to the applause of my classmates, friends, and family. I wrapped with a solid GPA and some very tangible skills at my fingertips. I survived a class in Project Finance, which, if you do not know what that is, look it up. It is a very complex method for putting money into big projects like solar parks and wind farms, and it is painfully complicated to understand. I also wrote a forward-looking plan for Jamaica to transition off fossil fuel reliance to higher uses of renewable and sustainable energy.
That project, my last assignment, closed a significant arc that began during my time as a volunteer in Jamaica. Power outages were a thrice-daily occurrence where I lived in Jamaica, yet I could see a wind farm on a nearby mountain range. The more I looked into it, the more I realized exactly how much I did not know about something so important. This became a central theme in my application essay: wanting to blend my technical know-how with economic and policy skills to solve problems like this. This strategic plan blended almost every class I took into one final report directly aligned with my decision to take my life in this direction.
As much as that strategic plan closed an arc, it set another one in motion: my new job. During the semester my professor met with a colleague who works for an environmental think tank preparing to receive a large grant to examine energy transition plans for the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Jamaica. The gentleman told my professor he needed a project manager with Caribbean-based experience. I literally handed in my report, walked across the street, and had my first interview at Worldwatch Institute, which is where I currently work. And that meets another intention I set for myself in 2010: a job utilizing my new education. I began on November 1st and am managing the institute’s foray into the design of these very innovative plans for showing the way to a more sustainable energy future for these countries.
On a related note, I satisfied the intention to become a certified Project Management Professional. I spent the month after graduation working on my application to take the exam. It is quite lengthy. I then signed up for a “boot camp” to prepare. The methodology is incredibly complex and people spend months preparing. My boot camp was a Monday through Friday crash course that prepares you to take the three-hour exam the following week. Unfortunately mine was one of the few applications to be audited, which means I had to supply further information as to my project management history. Final approval took an additional six weeks so I had to stay on top of the material I learned with daily studying through the end of October. My perseverance paid off and I passed.
At this time last year I lamented not reading many books, though I cut myself some slack given the amount I was reading for school. However, I intended to change that and get through at least three books once I finished school. I can report I actually read four books cover-to-cover last year. The first was To End a War, Richard Holbrooke’s account of ending the war in Bosnia through some persistent (some might say heavy handed) and skilled diplomacy that gave us the Dayton Accord of 1995. I read the book as part of a conflict management class I took. If you are interested in how the war ended, and if you want a great example of revisionist history (boy does he make himself and his team look good), read this book.
I also read a biography of Pope John Paul II for my Leaders and Leadership class. This class was not part of the energy or conflict management tracks I followed, but I love the subject and decided to give myself the gift of taking this one class simply because it interested me. I almost took Energy in the Americas instead, which would have been a very logical choice, but I decided to cut myself some slack. And am I glad I did. The course was engaging, challenging, and allowed me to explore a topic I love and never expected to be on my radar.
I also read The 8th Habit (again) and The Speed of Trust. The former is a follow-up to the well-known 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, the latter is a branch off by his son, also named Stephen. These books fall squarely my Personal Growth and Self Improvement interest category. I slowly worked through 80 percent of The 8th Habit before leaving for Jamaica in 2006 but never finished it. It spent the following three years in storage in Chicago. With grad school firmly behind me and a slightly better (though maybe not complete) idea of the direction I wanted to follow, it seemed like the right moment to dive into a book focused on applying one’s unique sent of talents in a way that brings the kind of fulfillment I sought when I first quite my job in 2005 and set this entire journey in motion. If that sounds like your cup of tea, read both of the “Habits” books.
So travel, graduation, reading, job, and certification. That felt like enough for 2010 and it certainly was. However, I had a few other stand-out moments in 2010 that I’d be remiss if I did not mention. The first is that two dear friends from Marquette married in 2010 and they asked me to emcee their wedding reception. This was the third time I had been asked to perform this important role and I must admit, I love the gig. Because I have known them both for so long, I had a chance to keep focusing on what makes them special, as individuals and as a couple. It was a high water mark of the year for me.
I also found myself behind a microphone for an equally important event that I would have rather not had. My aunt and godmother, Angela, passed away in April and my cousins asked me to deliver the eulogy. It was obviously a tremendous honor and I hope I did it well and true. I like to think I did but one can never be sure about these things. My aunt was a bright light, a strong personality, an enormous heart, and a feisty and opinionated Italian woman. She had a tremendous impact on me and I will miss her dearly. When I was packing up to leave for Jamaica she gave me a necklace with an image of Jesus on it. It belonged to her husband, my Uncle Charlie, who passed away in 2006. She told me to take it and know he would be watching over me while I was abroad. Now I will look at it knowing they both have a watchful eye on me.
So 2010 was a busy year. It included me spending a month back in Chicago from the middle of September to the middle of October. I was also a finalist for an International Development Fellows program at Catholic Relief Services (though I clearly did not get hired by them.)
Now on to 2011:
Once again, travel. Travel. Travel. I intend to visit three new countries before the year is out. Unlike last year I do not have pre-planned travel so I do not feel as though I have a leg up this time. There is no guarantee I will visit the countries on which I am focusing for my current job, though it would not surprise me.
I intend to pay off my credit cad debt. As you might imagine, after two years in grad school, I have a decent amount of it. Lord knows I have a mountain of student loan debt, but that comes with the territory. Revolving credit debt is a much more dangerous fire to play with.
I mentioned earlier that my web site has been offline for some time since I tried to meddle (quite unsuccessfully) with iMac, the program I used to design it. I have maintained the domain but you will only see a blank page if you visit it. I intend to republish the material I wrote between 2005 and 2009, plus add the material I have been keeping in this painfully long Word document ever since.
I intend to read another three books: Merchant of Venice, First Things First, and Devil In a White City. This is a miniscule amount for some people, but as much as I thought I would be done with white papers, reports, and smaller pieces all around, the opposite is true. My job has me reading plenty of research, but it is of the same variety I digested in school. I hope to balance this out a bit more and three books seem like an achievable goal considering the research I have to wade through.
I also intend to seize public speaking opportunities. It looks like I may have a chance to present some of the research related to my job. I intend to actively make these happen instead of waiting to see if they appear.
I am going to leave it there for 2011. As always, if you want to share your intentions for the coming year, please do. I am eager to hear them and support in any way I can.
Here’s to a fulfilling year for us all!