With 2016 firmly in the past, it is time to look ahead to 2017. Welcome to a new year, everyone. These are strange times. The outcome of the presidential election has many people on edge, and for good reason in my opinion. Even a professed optimist like me has limits. However, I’m willing to give the new executive the benefit of the doubt in the very short term.
Beyond that, however, are things like this annual review, which can help keep some perspective. I find this exercise helpful in terms of understanding what I do (or do not) feel are priorities, gauging the level to which I am (or am not) taking advantage of opportunities, and understanding those things that are (or are not) important to me. This annual reflection helps clarify the degree to which I am intentionally generating a sense of fulfillment in my life, which was one of the main thrusts for starting this blog back in 2005.
That said, it’s time to review 206 and set a course for 2017.
Got It Done
Starting with the professional side of things, I successfully re-certified as a Project Management Professional. I learned a harsh lesson of waiting until the last minute when I re-certified in 2013 and set an intention thereafter to divide the workload of ongoing learning into thirds. In 2016, I cleaned up the fraction of learning I left on the table in 20-15 as well as the remaining one-third of Professional Development Units (PDU) necessary to maintain my standing. I had my paperwork finished and submitted well ahead of the October deadline and am covered for another three years. I’m especially happy about having set, maintained, and completed this intention. Securing my certification was incredibly difficult and has provided some very tangible results in my work. I look forward to keeping this going.
Related, I set the intention to bring across the finish line the renewable energy projects I manage on behalf of the US Army. These types of projects are novel and unique and processes for commissioning and finalizing them were not fully developed at this time last year. I intended to do what I could to get them online and operating, which largely meant coordinating various stakeholders responsible for different facets of project development. The fore mentioned certification came in handy for this. I am happy to report that every project I had “in development” last January has successfully come online and begun generating electricity for their respective communities, as well as advancing the clean energy goals set by the outgoing administration.
Last year I predicted a drop in the number of opportunities to get in front of an audience and share the results of my work. I was correct. Going from a full time member at Worldwatch to a Senior Fellow has drastically cut the amount of research work on my desk. However, I was asked to participate in a public energy event here in DC related to the Dominican Republic’s energy sector. Given my history of living and working there, and the substantial report connected to that time, I was very. Happy to accept. So, technically, I checked that box!
Moving to the more personal items on last year’s intentions list, I managed to travel to some new places and put some new pins in the map. All, places and put some new pins in the map. All, however, were domestic. Last year was the first since 2006 that I did not travel beyond US borders. However, I scratched two states from my list of remaining states to visit. My job took me to parts of Alabama last year, on more than one occasion. In addition, a very active and tightly-packed vacation to the Northwest helped me explore much of Oregon. While there, Larina and I continued collecting National Parks posters with a visit to Crater Lake. In addition, we took a few days after a North Carolina wedding for a 3-day camping trip in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. And while it was not our first time to Shenandoah National Park, we did manage our first camping trip there with friends in late Spring.
My endeavor to read things other than reports, white papers, and technical analysis was stronger this year than it has been in a while. I finally made it all the way through The Guns of August, Barbara Tuchmans’ account of the opening months of the first world war. Last year I started and re-started reading that book many times. I was determined to complete it this year and did. I also dove into some leadership and management literature with The Starfish and the Spider, and Great By Choice. Both were quick and engaging reads on how to think creatively vis-à-vis the modern business landscape and how teams are adapting to the myriad changes they face. The former introduced new concepts and ways of successfully de-centralizing teams as the need for flexibility increases. The latter examined how enduring businesses successfully – and intentionally – kept up with (or ins some cases ahead of) market transformations.
Rounding out my review of the personal, I set some intentions regarding household finances. While we made a significant dent in our long-term debt, I missed the goal I set for us by 8 percent, and our savings goal by 25 percent. Though, the shortcoming of the latter was due to being as aggressive as possible with the former. I’ve been very active in this area these last few years as we try and establish a foundation for ourselves and the future family that, as of now, exists only in the abstract. If the recent global financial crisis – and the precarious recovery that has followed – is any indicator, it takes very little to find one’s self without a chair when the music stops. I intend to make sure we always have a seat.
Of course, there are some intentions I set that remain unrealized. Either I simply did not have as much passion around them as I thought, or there is something deeper I should review. The one that eluded me in 2016 was a monthly date night with Larina. We went out from time to time, but I kept no formal record like I did the year before (which was little more than a Post-It Note.) I’ve gone through my calendar and can find a few specific nights out here and there. And we had some nice nights out while traveling. But my level of awareness regarding this intention was a far cry from last year. I suspect that a busy travel schedule, mixed with the few dates we did have, scratched the itch to want to spend time together. Still, I’d like it to be more deliberate.
When I sit down to write out (in list form) my annual review, there are always highlights I did not expect. The biggest one last year was organizing Larina’s 30th birthday party weekend in New York, which revolved around the Broadway smash, Hamilton. I paid an arm and a leg for those tickets – money that might have helped me meet my long-term debt intention – and it was worth it. The show lived up to the hype and I will forever remember the look on her face as we walked in front of the Richard Rogers Theatre and I put the tickets in her hand. Had I been quicker with my camera, I’d be able to share it with you. Alas.
Equally elating was the Cubs winning the World Series for the first time since 1908. I had nothing to do with this whatsoever and it’s far beyond the usual premise of this annual review. Still, I continue to smile over it and would be remiss if I did not mention it as a highlight to my year.
Lastly, and again, I had little to do with it, was getting to tour the West Wing after hours. A friend arranged it and Larina and I extended the invitation to my parents. For a few hours, the four of us walked the halls of power a few hours after the president of the United States announced his pick for a Supreme Court judge in the Rose Garden. For a family with a love of history and ties to public service, it was a real treat.
Swiveling from rear view to forward looking, here are my intentions, personal and professional, for the year ahead. I listed these on paper before typing this and already I know it will be a busy twelve months.
On the professional side of the house, I once again intend to accept invitations to publicly present any research I am doing as part of my continuing Senior Fellow role at Worldwatch. I already have one lined up in March and there are murmurings of a spot on a panel this fall.
Somewhat related is the potential to incorporate my own small business. A new overseas assignment is on the horizon and I want to be able to keep working in this field of energy and climate change (save my efforts to join the Foreign Service, which I will explain in a moment.) In order to more effectively continue this career, and do it in a way that provides the flexibility I’d require, having a US-based entity would be advantageous. Therefore, I intend to explore what it would take to establish my own business (I understand it’s rather easy) and, if necessary, have it up and running before the end of the year.
In addition, I intend to enroll in a Quantitative Methods course to try and pick up a skill or two. My quant abilities are fine, but they were focused more on various types of calculus. While I understand and use the basics of statistical analysis, there are deeper skills I would like to be able to apply to my work. This course should help with that.
Lastly, my journey toward the Foreign Service continues. If you’ve been following that thread in these posts, this is something I’ve devoted many hours to over the last few years starting with a potential internship when I was in graduate school in 2009. I am enrolled in the exam process for the fifth time. I successfully completed the entire process the first two times but both candidacies eventually expired. The subsequent two entries saw me eliminated before the third and final round. I begin again with the first exam in a few weeks. Should I secure an invitation to the final round, I intend to prepare myself such that out out-do my previous scores substantially. (Although it’s a very subjective final exam so much of it is rarely up to me.)
On the personal side of things, I intend to continue setting monthly date nights with Larina. We had a good success rate last year and I want to build on that. I also intend to continue trying to collect new ink in my passport. The speaking engagement in March will be in Panama, a place I’ve already visited, but hopefully the new year will bring new opportunities to put new pins in the map.
I also intend to improve my physical condition. I exercise intermittently and could be more focused regarding a routine and goals. This is the usual stuff of New Year’s resolutions, but I’ve been lucky enough to not have to focus on it. My marginal exercising efforts have been largely sufficient. This year I intend to develop a regimen that by year’s end, has me slightly leaner than I am now and any weight gain be attributable to exercise rather than a slowing metabolism.
As per usual, I also have a reading list. I’m once again keeping the list minimal. I’ve resigned myself to assuming much of my reading will comprise technical reports, white papers, and industry-related literature. I intend to read Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, and Colonel Roosevelt. The latter is quite a thick read as it is the last installment of a trilogy that covers everything in Roosevelt’s life after his presidency, which was a lot.
Lastly, I have some intentions around our house financials. We have a decent level of credit card debt and our savings positions could be better. I intend the reduce the former by 25 percent of where it is now and increase the latter by 15 percent.
Some Last Words
The year ahead is going to be an unnerving one. The current political climate is in such a great state of flux that more people are unnerved by it than are soothed. I know I’m anxious about it, and not in the good way. Some of you may feel the opposite. I don’t pretend to know why beyond a simplistic “my side good, the other side bad” mentality. Honestly, I’d be more curious about it if I weren’t so worried.
In moments like these, it’s best to focus on what we can control. And there’s quite a bit of that. Putting our focus elsewhere changes little and robs us of the chance to make the most of our opportunities. So if, like me, you are stressed over the foreseeable-yet-more-unpredictable-than-ever future, may I suggest you focus your energy on what you can control. Set your intentions. Build discipline around them. Incorporate them in your life and, to the extent you can, prioritize them. It helps provide some semblance of stability in unstable times. Let’s get to work, shall we?
Happy new year!