Happy New Year one and all! Hopefully you closed out the last year with a real sense of having lived the last 12 years intentionally; that you took action around the things you value. With any luck, like me, 2015 might have included a few unexpected high notes that added to a sense of living a life fulfilled. If not, that’s what we have this window for – to try again.
It is time for my annual accounting with you all; to see where I walked my talk and where I did not, which inevitably fuels my setting the table for the year ahead. I began this experiment in January 2008 when I was in the thick of searching for a vocation that was a better fit for my skills and passions (which were almost equally unknown to me). Friends and family kept tabs on my experience via a blog, something I was fortunate (still am) to have. A few even served as objective observers, offering feedback and insights I could not see. Putting pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard as it were – was one more mechanism to help that effort, which continues here. With that, let’s run the script.
Walked the Talk
It’s always easiest to start with perennial intentions of travel and exploring new places. This has been a characteristic of my life for as long as I can remember, but it increased by an order of magnitude starting with my time abroad as a volunteer in Jamaica in 2006 and 2007. Since then my list of “US States I Have Not Visited” has shrunk to seven (North and South Dakota, Oregon, Alabama, Alaska, and Arkansas) and I needed extra pages added to my passport a few years ago. Last year I added one new stamp to those pages: Guyana. Granted, I was there for work, which makes this a blend of the personal and professional, but it was a great experience for me personally. It was the first time I set foot on the South American continent, though I still have 99.99999 percent of it to explore. What I did see of that Northeast corner of the continent was beautiful. Like many countries of the region, its current culture has been influenced by colonialism, slavery, and indentured servitude giving it that crossroads feel I notice whenever I am in that corner of the world. It’s a lush jungle-covered country. A system of dams and levies helped dry the coastal area, which is more developed than the mountainous and, at times, inaccessible hinterland. For example, there is a beautiful waterfall in an inland section of the country that is only accessible via helicopter. Sadly, I did not have a chance to visit. In fact, I didn’t leave the capital. A return trip is in order.
I also set an intention to re-engage in community service work. Washington, DC suffers the same challenges of any big city and I felt I was not doing my part to address them. I was never going to resolve any of them but sitting on the sidelines wasn’t helping. I found a few events to be involved with. My alma mater, Marquette University, has an alumni chapter here and I participated in a few of their events preparing food and supplies to be handed out at homeless shelters. In addition, the Cathedral of Saint Matthew (where I go to Mass and am a regular-though-unregistered-parishioner) has a Social Justice ministry whose events I attended and, in some cases, pitched in some effort. I’ve resumed being an altar server there, so it was relatively easy to slide over to some of their outreach work. While I can technically check the box on this intention, there is a lot more to be done here. More on that later.
Keeping a monthly date night with Larina was another important intention on the personal side of the house last year. Work keeps us plenty busy and completing our graduate program here gave us the tremendous gift of a built in network of friends, with whom we get to spend a great deal of time. Date nights comprising just the two of us, however, can be rare. It can also slip off the radar without intention! I am happy to report we had a date night eight out of the last twelve months. Not bad but could have been better. Most of the dates were dinners and movies. June’s date, however, was one of the more notable ones. We were out west for a family wedding and took a few days to visit Glacier National Park, one of our favorite places in the country. We had a tremendous dinner at the Many Glacier Hotel overlooking Swiftcurent Lake at sunset, followed by a day and a half of hiking in what is arguably one of the most Zen places in the country.
This particular intention, which is quickly becoming a favorite, stems from something I learned from my parents. When I was around 13 years old, my parents’ lives were occupied with their respective jobs and shuttling my two sisters and I to our respective activities. They had no time for themselves and it wore on them. Finally, feeling a particular sense of distance, they decided on date nights. Babysitters were necessary at first, then, once I was old enough to fill that role, they comfortably left my sisters and I at home while they went and had a night alone. It helped. They were more connected and energized to be in the thick of the carefully orchestrated chaos that could be life with three kids.
On the professional side, I kept my annual intention of seizing opportunities to publicly present the work my team and I develop. (For anyone unfamiliar, that work is around energy and climate change.) I had two chances to do that last year. The first was at an annual conference hosted by S&P Global Platts, a company providing energy metrics and analytics. I was invited to present my team’s work on energy transition strategies at a conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Energy and climate change in Latin America and the Caribbean can be a type of sub-culture of an almost fixed set of professionals. I could go to three conferences per year and list ten people I expect to see at each. Still, this was a new company inviting Worldwatch to share its work and a chance to increase our visibility to a much more private sector-oriented crowd. In addition, it’s nice to know our hard work is being taken seriously.
The second opportunity, which took place immediately on the heels of the first, was the reason for my fore mentioned trip to Guyana. In the past, my team and I researched – and suggested – a regional renewable energy target for the CARICOM Energy Office, which was accepted and made formal CARICOM policy. We’ve been asked to upgrade that analysis and I had a chance to share some of that at the Secretariat’s headquarters with the energy subcommittee within its Council on Trade and Economic Development (COTED). This was a much smaller event with a higher potential for impact given the number of energy ministers in the room who could return to their respective governments and push more ambitious agendas for renewable energy and climate change adaptation. I don’t envy them. Political realities complicate a case that is, on paper, cut and dry with respect to solving the region’s energy challenges. Conversely, the private sector tends to consume our research immediately as they pursue renewable energy projects in a market ripe for investment.
That upgraded research was the first of three publications last year. The second publication was also the first large project I have taken on as an independent consultant. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) approached me in 2014 with a request to study “green” special economic zones (SEZ) in Jamaica. These zones allow businesses to operate under different trade laws than in other parts of a country in order to increase trade, mitigate barriers, create jobs, and reduce operating costs for businesses. They are usually grouped in a specific industrial park to reinforce the separation, which raises the possibility of dedicating sustainable energy sources to powering them. It’s a complicated topic for which there are no easy answers. I worked with the Jamaica Promotions Corporation, an agency within the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture, and Fisheries, and submitted the final report in February of last year. I don’t know what impact, if any, it will have on any decisions going forward, but I enjoyed once again having the opportunity to help a place that has been so pivotal to my personal story. It was home to my first extended overseas experience. It led me to graduate school and my first job on this new career trajectory. I don’t know why Jamaica keeps offering opportunities to try new things and expand myself, which was the whole point of this experiment, but I’m grateful for it all.
Last year’s final publication was the upgraded long-term energy transition plan, also known as a Roadmap, for the Dominican Republic. This report finished a four-year, nearly $2 million project I was hired to manage and one I desperately wanted to finish last year. My team released a pilot version in 2012 and full Roadmaps for Jamaica and Haiti in 2013 and 2014, respectively. I led much of the research for this final report while living in Santo Domingo and, because of the personal relationships I developed while living there, am particularly gratified by its completion. This project has become the cornerstone of this new specialization I’ve settled into since quitting my job a decade ago, so I there is an added sentimentality to its closing.
Inevitably, I set intentions last January that did not materialize. When that happens, it tells me I subordinated them for things I felt were more important. Every year this happens around the intention of reading books. I finished no new books in 2015, though I started reading The Guns of August, a book detailing the first few months of World War I. I did, however, re-start it three different times after various long interruptions. My usual churn of work-related reading material retained its dominance or, as was the case with the Dominican Republic Roadmap, I spent evenings writing, reviewing, and editing material. I felt that work was more important than pleasure reading, apparently. Further, my re-starts were related to the book’s very detailed research behind various troop movement and tactical decisions by the war’s competing sides. The author, Barbara Tuchman, provides an account that, at times, brings the reader directly to the moment in 1914 where miscommunications and misunderstandings spiraled into one of the worst conflicts in history. Therefore, putting it down for a few weeks (maybe even a month) meant having to re-read chapters so I could understand why a particular German division made a particular choice at a particular town in Belgium, etc. Inevitably I would only get so far, put it down, and do it all again a few weeks later. Much like the war itself, my reading of that opening month started with vigor – much like the German onslaught – before setting into a long stall.
In addition, though I did not clearly write it last January, I fell far short of an intention I carried over from 2014 regarding my project management credential. It does not expire until the end of October 2016 but because of a “waiting until the last minute” episode in 2013, I established a timetable to complete my PDUs (Professional Development Units) in a timely fashion. Of the 20 PDUs I intended to earn last year, I only collected about six, which means I have that many more to finish before expiration later this year.
While I did not set an official intention around finances in last year’s annual review, I had one written down elsewhere. After the wedding in 2014, we consolidated various credit card bills into one spot and I’m flipping the total among various cards by taking advantage of zero percent interest offers. It’s a sizeable amount and we’ll have to be diligent in paying it off over the next few years. I got a little ahead of myself by wanting to halve the total last year, and while I made a dent, I did not come close to a 50 percent reduction. I see this as less of an intention unfulfilled and more of a misreading of the situation.
Didn’t See That Coming
As with every annual review, there were highlights in the past year that, while not connected to a specific intention, are worth a specific mention. The first was the greatest 40th birthday celebration I could have asked for. For years I have been saying I hope to be roasted someday. I love the old Dean Martin roasts and occasionally catch the roast events on Comedy Central. However, I always imagined this would happen around the age of 60 or so. Larina decided the time was now and secretly organized an evening with family and friends where they raked me over the coals.
It. Was. Glorious!
Around 30 people attended and of them, around ten of them took that floor. Two of my closest friends flew in from Chicago, and even my immediate family got in on the act. I think my dad looked forward to this the most. It was almost poetic watching a Catholic Deacon crucify his son on Good Friday! (Hey-ooooo!) But seriously, folks, I cannot think of a better way to celebrate. I was humbled by how many people showed up, and even more humbled by how well they know me. For in the end, that is what this type of humor is: a sign of how well friends and family really know you. Granted, not everyone can take that kind of bashing no matter how lovingly it is delivered. But those who can walk away with that special feeling of being truly seen by those who matter most.
The second major surprise of the year happened a month later when I changed jobs. I left Worldwatch Institute after nearly five years, though I remain attached as a Senior Fellow. I had an opportunity to return to the private sector as a consultant to the US Army’s Office of Energy Initiatives. The Army is developing renewable energy projects on some of its bases across the country as a resilience measure, and is leveraging private sector expertise – and money – to do it. I have more to say about this at the close of the review.
My final surprise highlight is my improved Spanish speaking abilities. I’ve written before about my efforts to join the State Department Foreign Service and I remain on its register of potential candidates. In an effort to boost that standing, I have been taking intensive Spanish classes online. Despite living in the Dominican Republic for two years, my particular situation didn’t require me to speak Spanish every day. I had to come back to the US and hire a tutor in Mexico – by way of Skype – to improve to a level I arguably should have been at when we returned to Washington in February 2014. The end of these classes will be my taking an over-the-phone test in Spanish to try and earn “bonus points” and move up the candidate register and increase my odds of being invited to a training class in the near future.
The Year Ahead
Turning to the next 12 months, I am setting the first intention around the monthly date night with my wife. This brought good awareness to this foundational part of my life and I want to keep that going. Even if I once gain fall short of 12 actual dates, the spirit of the intention is fulfilled by putting everything aside for a moment to focus here.
Staying with the personal, my usual intention of traveling to new places remains on the board, though I feel it is a given at this point. Still, I want to go on record with this because I think it will be more difficult given this new job. More than half of the new countries I visited these last few years came as a result of my job sending me there. My new position is entirely focused on domestic locations. Although, as I mentioned at the top, there remain seven states I have yet to visit. Perhaps my work will take me to a few of them.
I am also recycling the intention to get involved in more public service work. Being connected with the Cathedral here in DC this should be relatively easy to do. I just need to commit the time to it.
As opposed to last year, I’m putting the credit card debt on the table. A 25 percent reduction seems reasonable. I’d be bolder, but I am also aware of a need to increase our savings. While engrossed in my work-related reading last year, I observed repeated mention of an abysmally low savings rate among consumers despite the ongoing recovery from the 2009 financial crisis. The present trajectory of the global economy is good, though not great. Therefore, and before the music abruptly stops again, I’m intend to be prepared. I was after all a Boy Scout and some ingrained training dies hard.
Reading. Yeah. Let’s set the bar lower this year and see if I can make it through The Guns of August. I don’t think I’ve expressed exactly how technical this book is once the fighting breaks out. But if it means setting up a map of Western Europe in 1914, complete with colored pins to follow troop movement explained in each chapter, I’m doing it. Any books on top of this one will be bonuses.
On the professional side of the house, my usual intention around publicly sharing the work my team is doing no longer applies. My new position as a consultant means I do not speak for my client or their work. People who actually work for the US Army do that. I am just support. Since I remain connected with Worldwatch as a Senior Fellow, an opportunity may yet arise. If it does, I intend to accept it.
Regarding my new position, I am responsible for shepherding new renewable energy projects from their current states of development into full operation. This part is rather standard for most projects. However, affiliation with the Army means extra rules, regulations, concerns, and scrutiny. I have five projects sitting between final construction and full operation. I intend to get them all to the ribbon cutting stage before the year is out.
Lastly, regarding my career, my project management certification expires in October. As noted earlier, I have set intentions in the past regarding completion of the learning units necessary to recertify. I intend to accomplish this before October and avoid my 2013 mistake of waiting until the last month to wrap it up.
I have two topics on which I am most reflective as I close out this year’s review. The first is starting my fifth decade. Statistically, I am officially entering the “middle aged” zone. Fortunately, I don’t feel a crisis of any kind that would cause me to go down the clichéd road of buying a sports car and trying to recapture my youth. The thought of doing so brings on feelings of fatigue. There is a sense, however, that time is expiring regarding doing substantive things with my life. That is, after all, one of the underlying themes that started this blog. As much as I have taken action in the last decade to discover my skills and talents, develop them, and apply them in a way that engenders a feeling of fulfillment, I have always felt there were miles and miles of runway ahead of me. Though my eyes are supposed to be worsening, crossing that threshold brought into sharper focus how much shorter the runway is. I suspect the elders in my life – particularly those who participated in my birthday roast – have a different view. Youth, after all, is always wasted on the young and when it comes to questions of “old,” where one stands often depends on where they sit (or vice versa depending on one’s age and the condition of their knees). The bottom line, therefore, is to remain cognizant of where I am relative to where I was, as well as intentional as my personal continuum advances.
Related to that, I’m impacted by last year’s latest career move. I started in this industry in 2010; a direct outcropping of quitting an unfulfilling job in 2005. Being at Worldwatch full time for nearly five years was a sign I had made it. I accomplished what I set out to do. And I deliberately left to continue doing it elsewhere. All of my jobs between 2005 and 2010 ended because of an established deadline, largely dictated by school. Leaving felt different this time. There was no forcing function. Further, the sadness of leaving my friends in 2005 was overtaken by a paralyzing fear of the unknown. This time, those feelings and their respective magnitudes were completely reversed.
That feels like a comfortable spot to end this year’s review. As always, if you find this exercise of use and what to share your personal intentions – and a review of how you met them in the previous year – feel free to drop me a line. By now, you all know where to find me. I wish you a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2016, lived with intention and eyes wide open. Let’s get after it!