Happy 2018, one and all. I hope 2017 ended on as a high note for you all as it did for me. Keeping with my annual tradition, I am taking a moment to review the last year and the intentions I set last January. I believe, as you know by now, that intention makes everything happen. That is a line a friend shared with me in 2008 and that I have used as a kind of personal motto ever since. Instead of just a resolution, I believe focusing on intention brings with it an added sense of action and responsibility to manifest that which I say I want to do with my time. Of course, my rate of success and failure varies, but the more important element is the cognizance of my role in whether or not I put in the effort necessary. With that, let’s review the last twelve months.
During last year’s review I noted how abysmal my record of monthly date nights with Larina was in 2016. I set an intention to get back on track and I’m happy to report that the ship was (mostly) righted on this one. The majority of our date nights were movies, but that’s because last year had strong offerings; a nice change of pace. But among things like Wonder Woman and Finest Hour, we also took in a show at the local Shakespeare Theatre Company and recently had our annual December date night of dinner and the NPR Piano Jazz Christmas concert at the Kennedy Center.
As with every year, I try to get to new places, collect new stamps in my passport, and place new pins in the map. This year I visited Panama and Bermuda, and both combined with another of my usual intentions: speaking in front of an audience regarding the research I get to undertake as part of my work through Worldwatch Institute. The former was interested in hearing about renewable energy potential in Central America, and the latter asked me to talk about integrated resource planning as it looks to develop a long-term strategy for dealing with the challenges that come with being a small-island state.
On the topic of getting in front of an audience, two friends asked me to unofficially officiate their wedding ceremony in Palm Springs. They legally married last year with only immediate family and a small number of friends present. This year they threw a larger bash for the rest of us and I had the very distinct honor to emcee the event from top to bottom. This marks the fifth or sixth time I’ve done such a thing and it remains probably the best wedding gift I can give anyone.
Last year I also set an intention to complete a Quantitative Methods course to fill in some skills gaps I’ve noticed. I started the class in the beginning of the year and finished in May. Now I can collect more data on my intentions, accomplished and unfinished, and maybe provide you a more robust regression analysis of it all.
For the fifth time, I began the State Department’s very long process of joining the Foreign Service. I successfully made it to the final round for the third time and, for the third time, passed and am once again on the agency’s list of potential candidates. I set the intention for being as prepared as possible and, though the day is largely subjective (or so it seems to me), I scored my highest yet. I am at the top of the list for the particular “track” I’ve chosen. Even if I decide to not pursue this option – there are many factors at play – I consider this a very large success.
I kept my intentions around household finances on the table in 2017 and successfully achieved them. Year-on-year long-term debt was cut by 25 percent and our savings was up, though I missed the mark slightly. The longer we live in a city with an enormously high cost of living, the happier I am that we’re having any success at all in this area.
Lastly, in the category of intentions realized, is my reading list. It was mostly realized. I intended to read Colonel Roosevelt, and Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. I began both but have yet to finish them. However, sun Tzu’s Art of War did make my completed reading list, largely because someone gifted me an audiobook analysis of it and I decided to listen to it and study the book simultaneously. It was a very interesting experience, though it can hamper one’s ability to make progress on other reading simply because of the time involved.
I set an intention last year to investigate establishing my own small business in advance of heading overseas later this year. I did minimal research, but largely punted on the topic. It’s clear to me that this was me avoiding the idea that we are leaving. I’m always excited to explore some place new in the world, but I’ve grown accustom to being near family again and have become quite fond of Washington, D.C. I let this intention go by simply as an avoidance. I’ll need to change that going forward.
Regarding last year’s intention around a more regimented workout routine, I could have done better. I worked out regularly, but mostly plateaued with my exercises and their impact. I could have done better with this intention but decided to focus elsewhere.
Once again, the previous year brought some surprises that made the year more notable. A classmate of ours got married in London. Larina and I were on separate work trips and we met there and spent three days exploring and spending time with some incredibly dear friends. At the top of last year, I wasn’t sure we’d make the trip, but it worked out and was a great way to go into the holiday season.
Over the last few years I’ve set intentions to become more involved in community outreach and service work, particularly with the Social Justice Committee at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew. Halfway through 2017 I was asked to become one of the committee’s co-chairs, which was a tremendous honor. I’ve enjoyed the position and the work very much.
Equally honorable, though it is always derided, was the chance to serve on a jury. I went through the selection process, where I was certain I would be eliminated, but eventually found myself as part of a jury and in a deliberation room using a white board to gauge “reasonable doubt” among my fellow jurors. I was completely fascinated by how the judicial system works. My high school civics classes came flooding back during the process. Of course, it was accentuated by the current tumultuous political climate and frequent deference to the courts because of the administration’s lack of basic knowledge of government.
The last unexpected highlight is something that occurred frequently in the nation’s capital this year: protests and marches. Again, the current political climate is an uneasy one and has stirred the civic passions of many people. The running joke in Washington has been “Marching Is the New Brunch.” It’s been exciting not just because the causes taking to the streets are ones I largely support, but because has re-engaged a citizenry that, heretofore, was fairly dormant. I’ve spent time in countries where this sort of civic engagement is repressed or curtailed in some fashion, so to take part in something so fundamental to American democracy was a big highlight for me.
Looking to the next twelve months, I once again set my usual intentions of traveling to new places, sharing my research with audiences, and monthly date nights with Larina. It almost seems so obvious that I should not need to state it, but I feel it crystallizes their importance to me and, keeps me more honest and aware of them since I know I’m going to share them here a year from now.
I’m also re-establishing the intentions around our finances at home: reducing long-term debt and increasing our savings. There is a very real chance that once we head abroad again, our income will be drastically different if I am working to get a new business off the ground.
Related to that and following up on an intention I vastly ignored last year, I intend to have the necessary research done and paperwork filed to establish my own entity in case I need it while abroad. Of the research I did do last year, I learned it’s quite easy to set up and take down a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC). I want to be ahead of that curve as much as possible.
As for my reading list, I intend to continue and finish the two books I began last year. I also intend to read a book Larina gave me for Christmas: The Killer Angels. It’s one of a trilogy of books set during eh Civil War and centers on the Battle of Gettysburg. The idea is that I’ll read the book and, as part of the overall Christmas gift, we go take a guided tour of the battlefield. This will help scratch our National Park itch while we’re at it.
A Final Thought
There is no doubt this is a time of upheaval and uncertainty. I suppose if you look at past trends, it was due. And I suspect that trend will continue for the foreseeable future. I know it will be the norm for me later this year. How to deal with that? Last year I suggested focusing on the things we can control, rather than those we cannot, and that remains my prescription. I’m trying – with varying degrees of success – to focus my time and energy where I can; on those needles that will move a bit simply because of my efforts. Sometimes that seems trivial and meaningless in the face of the seismic shifts and challenges bombarding us in the ever-churning new cycle, but it’s really the only way, I believe, to feel some sense of stability right now. Crowding out the noise and focusing on your own signal – what is urgent and important to you and that you can actually impact – is one of the best ways to hold steady during unsteady times.
Some of you might think things are fine, that there is no need to feel such uncertainty and (possibly) despair. It’s clear we disagree. And that’s fine. It is unlikely either of us is going to change the other’s opinion – which is partially my point. I’m not going to put my energy into something I cannot impact when I can spend it elsewhere. Hopefully we can agree on that.
And with that, let’s find the needles we can move and get after it. The year ahead is very promising – no matter how turbulent. I’d love to hear the intentions you are setting for yourself over the next 12 months. Good luck, and Happy New Year!