Happy New Year to one and all! I hope the year ahead brings you plenty of joy, growth, happiness, discovery, and life full of realized intentions. It’s time again for a review of the past twelve months and to set the stage for the next 525,600 minutes.
I closed last year’s review with a comment about managing expectations. I set what I felt were manageable intentions while leaving room for events that, while aligned with a general idea, might not have been on my radar. For example, I am intentional regarding opportunities to speak publicly, but I never expected it to include eulogizing my grandmother. Though sad, it was an opportunity to honor her life and be there for my family in unique a way aligned with how I intended to live the year. More on that later.
With that, I begin with my favorite (and the easiest) intention: travel. This was a bit of a softball as Larina and I moved to the Dominican Republic in February. I had visited the country a few times prior due to my job so to call it a new place would be slightly misleading. Still, we have had opportunities to see corners of this half of the island (the other half being Haiti) that were new to me. For instance, we just celebrated the new year at a beach town on the north shore that we hadn’t seen prior to last week. Unsurprisingly, the D.R. is full of hidden gems well off the beaten path. Bahia de las Aguilas and Cabarete have been two of our favorites.
I was content to let our exploration of the D.R. be enough for 2012. Similar to my time in Italy, Kenya, and Jamaica, daily immersion in a local culture can be more fulfilling than running around and seeing more, more, more. One can travel 500 miles in a day, but it means nothing if you do not remember everything you saw. That said, my passport now has a stamp for the island of Saint Kitts, and my National Parks passport has an entry from the fortress in San Juan, Puerto Rico. We had to visit the latter during the move for a work training for Larina, and I visited the former for work during the summer. Aside from that, it has all been la Republica Dominican, and that’s has been sufficient.
For the second year in a row I intended to pay off my credit card debt. This has become a big issue for me, and I made substantive progress in 2011, though not enough. I am happy to report I realized this intention in 2012 and the debt – largely held over from graduate school – is off the books.
As I mentioned previously, I set the intention (again) of seizing speaking opportunities. A few events were already penciled in on the calendar including large workshops in Jamaica and the official launch of an in-depth report regarding the Dominican Republic’s electricity sector. Both events went according to plan (though the latter had to be pushed back due to editing delays). I even took my public speaking a step further by doing the latter in Spanish. To no one’s surprise, I still have a long way to go perfecting my bilingual status.
In addition, however, a few unexpected speaking opportunities came across my desk. I mentioned Saint Kitts earlier. I was invited to speak at the third Caribbean Sustainable Energy Forum regarding the work I am doing across various island countries in the region. Similarly, I was invited to speak at an energy workshop in Jamaica hosted by the Government of German, whose development agency, GIZ, is heavily involved with sustainability initiatives throughout the Caribbean. Related, I received an invitation to discuss my work at a workshop in Puerto Rico. However, that event happened during my event in Jamaica and we settled on me participating via Skype. I sent my graphics and data slides ahead of time and simply explained them while sitting in an empty business office at my hotel in Jamaica. It was my first official tele-talk and it went well – right up until I started talking to myself afterward without realizing the microphone was still on. Lesson learned for sure.
Lastly, with regard to speaking, there was my grandmother’s eulogy. This was my second time performing such a task in as many years. (Recall I gave the eulogy for my aunt in 2010.) As I said, it was not exactly what I had in mind when I committed myself to accepting offers to stand behind a microphone, but of all the chances to do so, this was by far the most meaningful. My grandmother was a complicated woman whose example taught me many things. She was also my last living grandparent, so delivering those words was the closing of a chapter for me. I have one or two living relatives from that generation, but none of direct lineage. I was humbled to have the chance to do that for her and be there for my family, especially my parents. You can read the eulogy here.
On a lighter note, I also intended to make progress resurrecting my personal web site. Yes, these updates are still going out via the email distribution list I cobbled together when I first started blogging and spending time abroad. (And I fully intend to post them ex-post facto once the site is fully operational.) I intended to re-establish the domain and put some photo galleries together, as that is what people seem most interested in these days. I am happy to report I realized the first half of that intention. The photos, however, remain on my hard drive. The web site www.markkonold.com currently is a sleek blank page signaling how “under construction” it is.
I’ve come to realize why I subordinate this intention so much: I am busy. One of the great aspects of my current job is the research and writing, which has me publishing online with some regularity. It scratches that itch of continuing an online presence. But similar to my thoughts last January, I put a lot into recording the risk I took when I quit my day job in search of a better use of my skills, and the experience that followed. It has personal value and meaning to me. Therefore, I am still committed to salvaging the material, but I remain ambivalent as to whether or not to make it such a concrete intention.
I also listed a few titles I wanted to read during 2011. Of the ones I intentionally listed, I finished two: Founding Rivals and Devil In a White City. I also finished First Things First, which I had started in late 2010. Macbeth and Colonel Roosevelt, sadly, stayed on the shelf. Not realizing the Macbeth intention has me down. I have enjoyed the play in the past and wanted to keep rolling with the Shakespeare theme. Similar to last year’s review, pleasure reading was often crowded out by work-related material. However, I managed to polish off The Ascent of Money, and That Used To Be Us, two books suggested to me that dovetail nicely with my broader interest in global and historical affairs. As much as I wish I were one of those people who devour books, I suspect I simply might not be. At least not yet.
As always, there were some unexpected highlights as well. My presentation in Spanish was a direct outcome from having completed my first project at Worldwatch. I am currently working on in-depth, long-term energy transition strategies for Caribbean island states and this pilot report for the Dominican Republic was the first in what will be an ongoing series. I am happy about this accomplishment for multiple reasons. To begin, it’s the first project I’ve delivered since in this new career, one I wanted to find when I walked away from I.T. in August 2005. It is a tangible “next step” in an ongoing adventure whose positive outcome was very far from certain – or so it seemed – when I woke up one morning utterly unsure of what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Second, it continues this new trend of being a published author. I added another examination of the global wind power market to Worldwatch’s Vital Signs series and have this report to go along with it.
On the topic of examining new careers and trying to find the best fit for me – though some would argue I have found it – I returned to the idea of joining the Foreign Service at the U.S. Department of State. Recall that in graduate school I applied for an internship at the US Embassy to the Holy See in Rome that did not pan out due to delayed security clearances. The idea of putting my skills to use as a public servant has never really left so I began the testing process this year. It is a complex triad of tests and I successfully completed the first two. For context, 80 percent of applicants are weeded out by the end of the second test. I am now scheduled to take the third – and most difficult – test later this year.
On a less serious note, 2012 started with a last-minute decision to attend the New England Patriots’ AFCE Championship game at home. My bother-in-law burned the hotel points for us, and I cashed in some free flights on Southwest. Together we surprised our friends during their tailgate and cheered the Patriots on to the Super Bowl. In the past, spontaneous decisions regarding flights and sporting events would have been commonplace. This little gift to myself was a nice reminder of how to momentarily shed the seriousness of it all, just for a moment.
I also had the honor to host my family in the Dominican Republic to celebrate my parents’ 40th anniversary. I penciled-in that goal well before 2012, but was not sure how many people would be able to make it given the potential price tag. Unfortunately, one sister and brother-in-law were unable to make the trip. The rest, however, made it and we spent a long weekend celebrating my mom and dad and their life together.
That’s my summary of last year. I’m glad I managed my expectations regarding what I would accomplish because plenty of other great moments filled the landscape. There remain quite a few unfulfilled intentions, but I am comfortable with having prioritized other activities – like the time-intensive State Department exam process – connected to longer-term goals.
With that, it is time to look ahead. Similar to last year, travel remains a function of exploring the foreign country in which I live. If I happen to visit new places, more to the good. For now, the underlying principle of getting out into the world is more than satisfied via daily immersion here.
On a professional level, I intend to finish at least one of the three long-term country reports that I have been managing for two years. It is difficult to say which one it will be. The reports of Haiti and Jamaica are at a similar stage of development. But I believe one of them can be wrapped up and fully presented before the year is out. In addition, and as per usual, I intend to seize any public speaking opportunities that come my way. Further, my project management certification expires at the end of October and I intend to renew it prior to then.
There remains the unsettled intention of the damn web site. Again, I am going to tackle only a piece of this rather than commit to finishing it all. I have underestimated how difficult it will be to salvage the original material swimming in an ocean of garbled characters. (Note: always keep a separate Word document of all posts as back up!) Therefore, I intend to, at the very least, save the material I wrote between the time I quit my job and finished volunteering in Jamaica. That is, personally, an important two-year window and would be a respectable start.
I also intend to try my hand at investing. Warren Buffet I am not, but I took a Corporate Finance class at SAIS, learned some of the basics involved, and have been curious to apply them and understand that world more. It’s not like I have anything remotely resembling “play money” but I did receive a share of Disney stock when I was a kid and it has appreciated in value. (The company apparently has grown exponentially since the mid-1908s, though I clearly was not paying attention.) It’s enough to at least get started.
As for reading, The Guns of August, Smart Power, Colonel Roosevelt, and Team of Rivals are on my list. Some of those titles are repeats from last year’s intentions, and I of course leave the door open to titles that may find their way across my desk. I assume the usual mountain of white papers and technical reports related to my job will receive their fair share of time (if not more).
Thee you have it. 2012 was clearly a notable year and 2013 is gearing up to be the same. I hope the same applies to you. And as always, if you fee inclined to share your intentions for the year ahead, I would love to hear them.
Happy new year, everyone!