Happy 2015! I hope you have ushered out 2014 with a sense of satisfaction and are greeting the next 12 months with intention. It’s time for my annual sharing of the intentions I set for myself and an accounting of how well I met them, where I did not, and unexpected highlights as I continue this perpetual experiment to cultivate a sense of living life with purpose. I believe intentions, not resolutions, are more connected with the actions necessary to create that sense of fulfillment. And as I continue sharing my accounting with you, I want to hear from you about the intentions you set, meet, and maybe even avoid. Reflecting on things like this brings about, I believe, an important sense of intentionality. So let’s get after it.
What I Have Done, and What I Have Failed To Do
From a sheer number’s perspective, 2014 looks unbalanced. It appears I was more involved with the professional than the personal, but the latter was more monumental for me and it begins with our wedding. Last year I semi-jokingly set the intention to marry now wife. What I meant by that was deliberately subordinating other potential interests for the sake of doing the very best I could at making our wedding a memorable event. This was especially poignant given the Do It Yourself aspect of it. We planned just about every aspect of the day down to the handmade decorations used at the back yard reception staged at her parents’ house. It was time intensive and nearly all-consuming but contributed to a sense of consciousness throughout the weekend. Even though the big day sped by, which I was warned it would, I felt present in each moment. Instead of the day being something a couple is just supposed to do, it felt like a very intentional act of commitment to each other and the cornerstone of the life we intend to build together in the years ahead.
For the record, it was also a helluva weekend! Indeed, it was the high water mark of the entire year. And for all of the hours we spent creating decorations, invites, determining seating arrangements, and creating the ceremony (a Catholic wedding can be more tailored than most people realize), it might have passed a little too quickly. Fortunately, I took some time the next day and wrote down everything I remembered about it before certain aspects vanished from my memory. A few details have come to me five months on and I add them. My intention is to review it on our anniversary so we can re-live the day.
The only other personal intention I set for 2014 was my reading list, and it was easy. Since I opted for books other than those I specifically listed for 2013, I carried those titles into 2014. The only one of those three I read was Smart Power by Chis Fox-Penner. It is a well-known book for its ability to put the complexity of the energy sector into easier-to-understand terms, and lays out a comprehensive view of the kind of changes necessary to adapt our approach to energy to modern realities and needs. The book is thorough without being overwhelming, and although one could assume it will be geeky and only of interest to those working in that sector, it is a great (and relatively quick) read for anyone who sees the energy debate going on around us and wants nothing more than to be able to follow it and understand it a bit more.
I did, however, read an unexpected book last year, On My Watch by Martha Johnson. Ms. Johnsonhas had a successful leadership and management career from which she has distilled poignant lessons. She has crossed from the private sector to public service and back again and has distilled key insights that can apply in worlds with disparate objectives, constraints, and rules for operating. Ms. Johnson’s most public leadership assignment was as the Director of the Government Accountability Office (GAO). While serving in that post, a lavish GAO conference in Las Vegas held during her predecessor’s time came to light and she, being the current office occupant, had to answer for it, during an election year to boot. It was a terrible experience for her but as she points out, leaders – the good ones – show up for the ugly days as well as the easy ones. I highly recommend the book to anyone whose career track includes an increasing level of responsibility leading and managing teams and departments. I suspect I will come back to it more than once in the future.
Rounding out the personal side of the intentions list, I put new pins in the map, which is always one of the first intentions I set each year. However, as I noted last January, the year’s travel intention was slightly rigged. Shortly after posting last year’s review, my bride-to-be and I boarded a honeymoon cruise around the Caribbean. Scheduling difficulties preclude us from enjoying a honeymoon now, so we took advantage of our proximity (and the associated price discount) while in the Dominican Republic. We explored Antigua, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Saint Maarten, and Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. It was the first time either of us had been on a cruise and it was a nice bookend to our two years in the Caribbean. I have had the chance to explore many islands in the Caribbean and I am always fascinated by their long, complex histories; and the factors behind their similarities and differences. They all have a history with colonialism and the slave trade. Saint Lucia changed hands seven times in its history. However, Saint Lucia is now fully independent (though it is still part of the Commonwealth of Nations), while Martinique is considered a “region” of France. So while food, music, and some customs may be very similar, language, levels of development, and industry can vary dramatically. The Caribbean is a dynamic region and I still wonder how I have been lucky enough to focus on it as much as I have.
That focus, of course, is largely due to my professional life. It is in this area I saw the nominally larger share of intentions in 2014. Topping the list was my intention to deliver the final Roadmap report for Haiti that my team has been working on these last few years. I visited the western side of Hispañola the week of Thanksgiving to participate in a multi-day energy workshop where we launched the report and I led an in-depth review of its findings and conclusions.
Of the three main reports we have been researching, this has been the most difficult due to challenges associated with Haiti’s unique situation. This was also one of the quickest turns I have done there. I arrived on Sunday of that week and headed back to the States on Wednesday (the busiest travel day of the year no less). Still, it was gratifying to final share something my team has been dedicated to since 2011, and to explain to key decision-makers the potential the struggling Caribbean nation has to completely overhaul its electricity sector in a way that can improve the lives of its 10 million citizens and in a way that will not exacerbate its fragile environmental condition. I consider myself lucky to have been a part of it all.
I also re-committed to seizing opportunities to get in front of an audience and talk about the work my team and I are conducting around the very urgent topic of energy and climate change. Last year’s biggest opportunities came in an unexpected form as the BBC World Service’s Business Matters and Public Radio International’s Marketplace, both invited me to mass communicate. (No, I did not get to meet Kai Rysdall, unfortunately.) In addition, I was invited to chair a day of the annual Caribbean-South America Summit, an event connecting countries from the respective blocs as they navigate the challenges of renewable energy projects, policy, financing, as well as climate change adaptation. This aspect of my work remains my favorite. I get to share important information about a very real global challenge that affects us all. Further, I am able to apply what I learned as an actor. This material – and these events – run the risk of being dry, technical, and repetitive. While I do not bust out into song, I do find ways to keep my audience engaged and more on their toes (and hopefully off their smartphones) as they might otherwise be. I especially enjoy opportunities to moderate panels and engage in conversations with people much smarter than me around this problem we are all dedicated to solving.
I also set an intention about re-running the gauntlet that is the State Department Foreign Service exam. My interest in the State Department began in 2008 as I began graduate school and has been a circuitous experience ever since. In May of 2013 I passed the third of three exams, but my score was not high enough to guarantee an invitation to a training class before its 18-month window expired. Therefore, I committed to re-applying and I am happy to say I passed for the second time in a row and improved my standing on said list. (Though it could have been better.) Joining the Foreign Service is very difficult. Many who go through – or have gone through – the process advise applicants to always have an option in their back pocket. Funding cuts, shutdowns, hiring freezes and a host of other uncontrollable factors can affect one’s trajectory. And that’s a shame because people willing to submit themselves to the rigors of this form of public service – its demands on your family life, and the uncertainty inherent in life abroad – are very often the type of people you want in dedicated positions. For me, the chance to be of service to the country in this way is very appealing. The work touches on various aspects of global affairs while also being the face of the country abroad. Over the last few years the primary way the US appears to engage the global community is militarily. It hasn’t always been that way, which, in my opinion, has been to our detriment. The world’s collective unconscious is aware of America’s military might. Were the country to channel equal resources and energy and allow its diplomatic corps to be its leading edge instead of its fist, we might see more progress on long-term objectives, foreign and domestic.
The final intention I set with respect to my professional life was around my project management certification. Good standing requires completing a certain amount of training within a three year window. In 2013 I found myself getting down to the wire and therefore set an intention to complete at least one third of the 60 Professional Development Units (PDU) required to re-certify. (Approximately 2 hours of training equals 1 PDU.) I am just shy of the 20 PDUs I had hoped to have under my belt – 19.5 as of this writing – and I am content with that.
Rounding out the professional aspect of my year was an unexpected chance to do some independent consulting. I was asked to examine the potential for Jamaica to incorporate “special economic zones” solely powered by renewable or “green” energy. It is a quick project I started in November and will finish before the end of this month. In total it was around 21 working days and put some decent money in my bank account. Aside from enjoying the work, it was nice to be recognized. It felt like a validation of the work I have done since quitting my job in 2005 to find more impactful work. Since then I have gone from resetting passwords and troubleshooting malfunctioning digital copiers to researching and analyzing ways a country can implement more environmentally healthy energy sources to drive investment in its economy. Not a bad arc so far.
Looking ahead to 2015, some of the usual intentions remain: travel to new places, jump on opportunities to present the work my team and I are doing, and read titles other than technical reports, research, and white papers related to my job. This year’s intended reading list includes The Guns of August, Colonel Roosevelt, and Team of Rivals. They continue to collect dust on my bookshelf, spines showing no signs of having been cracked. It’s pitiful.
In my personal life, I am setting the intention of a monthly date night with my new bride. We have very busy schedules and a very nice “problem” of a lot of friends with whom we spend a good deal of free time. But we hardly go on dates ourselves. It is not for a lack of things to do. Washington, DC is full of restaurants, museums, theatres, concerts, etc. It can be very pricey, but there are oodles of affordable – if not free – options. One simply has to be savvy and committed enough to find them.
Public service is also an area in which I feel I have to improve. For all of the great amenities and leisure activities available here, serious challenges like homelessness, food insecurity, and poverty are pervasive. Like many places, however, on the margins and in plain sight. Opportunities to be involved in service work abound and I intend to get involved in some of it this year, though I don’t know exactly what that looks like yet.
Regarding professional intentions, there remains one final Roadmap report my team and I have been working on these last few years. My team completed a pilot report for the Dominican Republic in 2012, but this updated report is a significant upgrade. Recall we finished similar reports for Jamaica (2013) and Haiti (2014). This third Roadmap will round out a project that was behind Worldwatch hiring me back in 2010. I intend to bring this gargantuan project across the finish line this year.
Related, you might recall my team and I finished a project in 2013 where we established a long-term renewable energy target for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). We have since been asked to update its research and expand on what the Caribbean can do regarding energy, carbon emissions reduction, and transportation. This upgrade is not very extensive and not nearly the same level of work as the original report or the fore mentioned Roadmap reports. However, it is a sizeable project that will allow us to bring the report up to a level we could not achieve the first time due to the limits of the initial budget.
The Parting Glass
Earlier I wrote that my wedding was the high water mark of last year. Just below it was a day spent back home in Connecticut with some dear high school friends. You might recall my mentioning last year that one of them had been battling cancer for a few years. Last April I, and another of our team who lives outside the Constitution State, flew home and we spent a day with our afflicted friend. Four of us descended on his house to laugh, eat, recall old stories, and share new ones. It was as great a day as I can remember. And while I set no intention around it, it remains one of the best things I did all year because six weeks later I returned to Connecticut for my friend’s funeral. He lost his battle with cancer, but his legacy lives in his wife, two children, and the countless lives he touched along the way. Ask anyone who knew him and they will tell you exactly how unique Dan was. Truly. Very few people like him come around in this life, and the world is poorer for his absence. He was generous to a fault, almost inexplicably upbeat, and was always aware of the big picture. Dan lived with passion, with vigor, with intention. I’ll always look to his example when it comes to the question of how to live life fully and will try to emulate it. I hope we all do. I think Dan would want that for us.
Happy New Year, everyone. Let’s get after it like we mean it this year!