Welcome to 2012, all. I hope the holiday season was enjoyable for you and that you are as ready to start the year strong and with intention as I am. This annual review and planning has become one of my favorite traditions and projects, and I suspect it would not be as effective a tool without the feedback I receive from of few of you each January. So thank you for that.
By now the format should be well known. I review the intentions I set the year prior and examine how well I met them, examine why I missed any, review some highlights I did not expect but that made the year notable, and then cover my usual areas of interest including travel, books, etc. I then put a few stakes in the ground for the year ahead.
Last year I set the intention to seize opportunities to make public presentations. I enjoy it thoroughly and know it’s one of my better skills. During a few work trips I had the chance to speak in front of audiences related to my work on projects in countries like the Dominican Republic and Haiti. In addition, I presented some initial research at the annual United Nations Climate Change conference in Durban, South Africa. That last one was especially gratifying as it was broadcast globally on the UNFCCC’s web site. It also afforded me the fun opportunity to take a dip in the Indian Ocean!
I also set the intention to travel to new places. Specifically, I wanted stamps from at least three new countries and I achieved that (see the three listed in the previous paragraph.) I also traveled to Scotland with a good friend who works for United Airlines and had a free roundtrip ticket to hand out. He wanted to go someplace new overseas and we thought this would be a good chance to finally play golf at Saint Andrews, something we have talked about in the past. I’m incredibly grateful for the chance to see and explore these new places. These encounters further widen my word view, bring understanding, and increase my awareness of other cultures, which helps me better understand my own within the global community.
Related to travel, though it was not a new place, I finally made it back to Jamaica. It had been four years since my time as a volunteer ended; an influential year that greatly shaped my life. I was in Kingston for meetings related to the project I currently manage, but I took extra days to visit where I lived and spend some time with the missionary priests I helped. Touring the island again felt similar to my visits to Chicago or Connecticut. It was familiar, like checking in with an old friend. Thinking back to the very origins of this blog, (recording my experience trying to find a higher and better use of my talents) my decision to follow an inner whisper and years-long curiosity led to further education and a new career addressing the global challenge of energy and climate change. Visiting felt like a chance to thank that friend for her role in helping me get here.
I also intended to read specific titles. Of the ones I listed last year, Merchant of Venice was my only success. It helped that the Shakespeare Theatre Company here in D.C. staged it, which gave me a deadline to work with. I enjoyed it thoroughly for a few reasons. To begin, it was fun to get back to a play. I haven’t fully read one in years. Second, theme of mercy is a powerful one, and it was a nice reminder of the need to constantly develop that capacity. Thirdly, plays offer us a chance to examine our own lives through universal themes, like mercy. So, while I am inclined to beat myself up for not reading the other titles I intended to, I am going to cut myself some slack given the mountain of reports, white papers, and other research I did consume as part of my job.
One of the first items on last year’s list was to pay off the sizeable amount of credit card debt I amassed in graduate school. While I made significant progress, I only reduced it by about 47 percent in total. On the plus side, I followed a regimented payment schedule to make that progress. On the downside, I eroded that progress largely through travel expenditure. I am disappointed I did not achieve this goal because of the stress I feel from indebtedness and because paying interest on it is just rock salt in that wound. The sooner I mop that up, the happier I will be.
I also intended to have my personal web site fully operational, but that remains unresolved as well. I continually subordinated that intention to activities like working out and spending weekends traveling or simply relaxing. Had I implemented some kind of disciplined approach, I believe I could have realized this intention through an incremental process throughout the year. It’s been on my list for two years and I’ve made miniscule progress, which makes me question whether I really want the damn thing. Rebuilding it is a matter of principle at this point. I put a lot of time into it. It is almost a convenient time capsule to which I can return in those moments when I doubt I’ve made any real progress trying to find a life more fulfilled. Furthermore, I get to write and publish new material at my current job and I would like to share that hard work with you all.
Like previous years, 2011 had some highlights and noteworthy moments for which I set no intention but made the year special nonetheless. The first one came at the top of the year when Sargent Shriver, a personal hero of mine that I have mentioned many times in this space, passed away and his family held a public wake in Georgetown. They felt he impacted so many lives – many of whom were still dedicated to public service – that they should have a chance to pay their respects and say thank you. I jumped at that chance and on a very cold February night, stopped by a church in Georgetown to thank him for the inspiration and model of how to be dedicated to causes greater than myself.
Connected to the intention to travel, Larina and I visited a new National Park: Mt. Rainier. For me this was a stamp in a passport of a different kind. Yes, that hobby continues. It was only a day visit, but it was awesome to drive toward a giant mountain that sat on the horizon like a lighthouse, and then hike in its shadow for a few hours, feeling like this hulking giant quietly looked down on us the entire time. It was July and while the lower reaches of the park were in full bloom, plenty of snow slowly melted. We drove to a visitor’s center at a higher elevation only to be met with howling winds, a still-very-thick blanket of snow everywhere, and a reminder of nature’s raw power. Please, please, please go see this marvel if you have not yet done so.
Another unexpected highlight of the year was officially becoming a published author.
Worldwatch Institute has a long-running series called Vital Signs, which looks at global trends and indicators on various subjects. I was invited to write an overview of the global wind power industry. I have written numerous blog posts under the Energy & Climate program, but this was a much more rigorous process regarding research, citations, copy editing and quality management. The report is also officially part of the Worldwatch press and – get this – is for sale! People and organizations are actually paying to read it. That feels especially gratifying.
Lastly, I have mentioned before how being asked to do something – especially if that something is important to the requestor – is a high honor. I had that honor twice this year. Worldwatch conducted an in-house strategic planning day and its leadership asked me to play a role in planning and leading it. This type of work is not especially new to me and I was happy (read: eager) to accept. In addition, I resumed my old practice of going to morning Mass. The Cathedral of Saint Matthew is literally just around the corner from my office, so a 30-minute Mass at 8:00 a.m. is a nice way to begin the day. The priest who normally presides, after seeing me there repeatedly, asked me to be one of the Cathedral’s altar servers and I accepted. It was an unexpected invitation and way to contribute to a community I have only felt tangentially a part of.
That is the summary of 2011. A full year to be sure. Looking ahead to 2012, things will be very interesting, not least because we move to the Dominican Republic in six weeks. Larina matched her State Department assignment with the countries with which I am already working as a part of my project at Worldwatch (the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Jamaica). Therefore, I am going to cut back my usual travel intentions as we will have an entire country to explore. I will obviously jump at any new travel opportunities, but if the D.R. is the only new ink in my passport, it will be enough.
My intention to pay off my credit card debt – largely left over from graduate school – is back on the board. Last year I referred to this revolving debt as fire with which I would rather not play. I stand by that statement. It bothers me in a way that student loans – though irksome – do not.
I am resetting the intention to rebuild my web site, but I am going to manage this expectation more than I did last year. I intend to have the domain established and at the very least some photo galleries established. If I managed to salvage the entries I created before I wrecked the site - and the ones I have been keeping in a Word document since then – then I will consider it a big win.
My work is becoming more interesting the more I work with the partner governments previously mentioned. Workshops and conferences are tentatively on the schedule over the next twelve months and I fully intend to run with any opportunities to share my team’s work with any audience that will listen. Like last year, it is not enough to simply wait for them to appear. Where I can do my bit to bring them to fruition, I intend to.
I also have a few titles I intend to read. First, I want to keep the Shakespeare theme going and will read Macbeth. I’ve read it before and even taught it while volunteering in Jamaica. But it’s been a few years, so I’m due for a refresher course. I also intend to finish First Things First, which I started toward the end of 2011. Devil In a White City and Founding Rivals are also on my intended reading list, as are Colonel Roosevelt, Smart Power, and The Guns of August.
I will leave it at that for fear of overloading expectations. This exercise has taught me to set reasonable intentions while leaving room for the unknown. A lot happens in a year, some of it unplanned. This can bring great experiences but can also lead to a crowding out of other activities. There are about 20 other books – at least – that I would like to read and places I would like to explore. But no sense in setting myself up for disappointment ahead of next year’s check-in.
As always, if you would like to share your annual intentions with me (assuming you make them), I am all ears (or eyes). I am interested to hear about your progress in 2011, and what awaits you in the year ahead. I look forward to reporting my progress from the tropical environs of the Caribbean when the time comes.
Happy New Year, all!