Welcome to 2020, the year of hindsight, which, when I consider the last year, is very fitting. This is the thirteenth year in a row I have reviewed and set annual intentions, my alternative to traditional new year’s resolutions. There is more action and ownership behind intentions, at least I think so, than resolutions. I’ll have more on this later. If you are used to reading this annual review, you know I begin by looking at which intentions I fulfilled, followed by those I did not. I include unexpected highlights as well, and then try to wrap with observations, learning, or growth of note. One thing is certain: parenthood is providing me with more of these than I anticipated.
In my professional life, I successfully ticked all the boxes I set last year. I re-certified my Project Management Professional status, much earlier than I anticipated, and seized every opportunity to share the work I’ve been doing with interested audiences. One of those chances truly caught me by surprise, landing on my desk a mere five days prior to the event. It was here in San Salvador, and contrary to what I was told, it had no translation services, which required a last-minute switch to Spanish. Overall it was a successful presentation, though it was difficult to determine if the dozen-or-so disinterested faces I saw were bored with my slides or tolerating me to get to the lunch that followed. Regardless, I’m incredibly happy to have had the chance to further expose myself to the broader energy industry here. I could have easily declined once I learned of the language issue, but the thought of sharing that with you all in this space immediately steeled my spine.
I also set an intention regarding the consulting entity I’ve started. Even though I have been loosely consulting under the company name for almost four years, last month marked the official one-year anniversary of its incorporation. Specifically, I intended to sign at least one long-term client and end the year with a positive bank account balance. (Technically, ending in the red would be bankruptcy and having to close things down, right?) In review, I probably should have defined “long-term.” I spent a great deal of 2019 working on a World Bank-funded project, which technically meets the definition. However, the project began in late 2017 while I was still in Washington, DC. It took a while to get on its feet and I simply slid the work under my company’s umbrella. So while I technically met this intention, I have to admit to gaming it slightly. As for ending the year with positive cash flow, I have satisfied that intention as well, though barely.
Other long-term opportunities presented themselves and I did my best to capture them. On in particular needed an in-country point person for large solar PV projects, but it did not pan out due to a variety of reasons. However, new potential clients came my way in November and December, which I’ve successfully signed and am in the process of carrying out.
With regard to the personal, I set an intention to travel to Bologna for our 10-year class reunion.Larina and I met there. Our son’s name is closely connected with it. Our time there was unique and all-too-brief that altered everything for us. As I noted last January, canceling due to the price tag would have been an easy way out. And yes, it depleted our accounts. However, within hours of arriving I knew we had made the right decision as we roamed the sinuous portico-covered walkways of Bologna recounting stories over pasta, gelato, and wine with friends who made that year so special. Our stay extended into the following week due to a wedding of two of our classmates, which provided us yet another chance to run around Tuscany just as we did at the end of our school year a decade ago, only this time we had an infant with us, which offered a completely different vibe.
Our trip to Italy included a one-day stopover in Madrid. It was my first time in Spain, therefore providing a new (if slight) pin in the map. We hoped the stopover would provide us a chance to visit friends assigned to the US Embassy there (it did) and to help Luca adjust to the time zone change (it did not). As I shared on social media, if you ever think of trans-oceanic travel with an infant, don’t.
I traditionally do not focus on seeing new places while living abroad because I don’t want it to compete with exploring what’s right in front of me. However, the World Bank project I mentioned earlier included visits to Saint Lucia, Grenada, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, all of which are islands that had eluded me until this year.
Last year’s reading list was significantly paired down, which was… wait for it… intentional. I suspected that launching my own consultancy and adjusting to parenthood would require significant time and attention. Therefore, I kept my intended titles to three: It Worked For Me, The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, and Seat of the Soul.
Technically I started Colin Powell’s It Worked For Me at the end of 2018. It’s a short and entertaining read that shows the universality of some of the principles of leadership. Some of the chapters are unnecessary and irrelevant, but overall, it’s definitely worth the read. I have a more in-depth review here.
I also read Gary Zukov’s Seat of the Soul. Larina bought this for me last year because it seemed to align with my penchant for personal growth work. In full disclosure, this is a book beloved by Oprah Winfrey, a fact I was completely unaware of until I read the foreword. It apparently changed her life. I cannot say the same. However, I was excited to read the author’s chapters on the idea of intention! Zukov points out the same difference I have cited for years when it comes to intention versus resolutions: intention is more conscious, deliberate, and connected to a sense of creation. You may recall a friend once said to me, “Intention makes everything happen,” and that I seized on that as the basis for these annual reviews. I don’t know if Mike was quoting the book (if so, he never mentioned it), but it has always resonated. That said, much of the book went beyond my comfort zone with “new age.” I have never been a big believer in past lives, nor do I fully subscribe to the propensity for thinking that time-tested wisdom is easily supplanted with nebulous ideas that sound beautiful and esoteric but are built on shaky logic.
Leader of the Pack by Matt Sweetwood was a surprise read I managed to fit in. I’m not even sure how I heard of it but the idea of a single father of five, with a business he scrambled to keep afloat, while navigating divorce and other life challenges, interested me. It was a quick read – I read 80 percent of it on a 3-hour flight back to El Salvador – and it could have been shorter had Sweetwood omitted the repetitive parts. His disdain for his ex-wife is clear, but only needs to be explained clearly one time. Multiple citations throughout became overkill. However, from the standpoint of perseverance in the face of daunting odds and challenges – physical, financial, and emotional – it’s worth the read.
I once again set a personal intention of monthly date nights and was hit-or-miss with it (mostly miss). Living in a new country provides ample opportunities to explore, especially in a place where the cost of living is comparatively low. On more than one occasion we used a pre-planned event as an excuse for a date night. However, we did manage to leverage a vast pool of babysitters and get out from time to time. And we had a special opportunity to sneak off for our first official surf lesson at the year’s end, an activity we plan to explore more fully in 2020.
For a two-month window, we forewent external date nights and decided to stay in and watch all of the Avengers movies. The final installment, End Game, dropped in the Spring and we could not see it without being up to speed. Therefore, we searched for the ideal sequence to follow and utilized Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon to watch them in an order that teed up the finale. We religiously ordered tacos from a beloved local food truck and spent consecutive Friday and Saturday nights exploring the Avengers universe. We caught End Game the weekend it was available to stream and I consider our having watched the series from start to finish a high water mark of doing something just for the fun of it.
There were a few intentions I did not share in this space because they seemed more like items on a To Do list, that remain unfulfilled. For example, I wanted to get wills and life insurance in place for us now that we have a child to think of. That went entirely unaddressed in 2019, something I intend to rectify in the year ahead. Similarly, I avoided any intentions surrounding finances because I knew the year would be tumultuous as I use this time abroad as top cover while launching my own consultancy.
Didn’t See It Coming
As usual, the year presented some unexpected highlights. Each US Embassy has its American Embassy Association, a group dedicated to providing services and events for the wider Embassy community, which can include locally employed staff (citizens of the host country working at the embassy in various positions). The Association is governed by a Board of Directors and I was encouraged to apply and was selected for one of the positions. It has been a great opportunity to be of use and give back to a community that has been welcoming and generous since we arrived.
I also had the very unexpected, but very gratifying, chance to share what I’ve learned in terms of career transitions and finding a more suitable calling in life. My graduate program invited me to mentor a student who is poised to graduate next year and who is looking to enter the field of energy and development. In addition, I have mentored/coached a few people looking to make drastic changes and find vocations more in line with their personal interests and passions, some of which have become paying clients. I never saw this coming, but I’ve enjoyed the experience and plan to continue it in the new year to see where it leads.
As for the year ahead, much awaits. Regarding the personal side of things, the monthly date night with Larina is, as usual, on the list. I was horrible with this intention last year and I suspect much of that had to do with falling into the easy and well-worn trap of domestic family life. Luca was the starting point for every decision, including to just stay in because we were tired. This year I intend to get us back on track.
And because so much revolves around Luca, one of the year’s most important intentions will be to set up wills and all the related pieces of an “in case of emergency” plan. It’s never a pleasant thought but it is a necessity, one I’ve been more cavalier about than I probably should have.
In addition, I intend to re-build the savings we seriously eroded last year. Heading overseas again meant shifting to a sing income family while as I launched my independent consulting practice. Fortunately, the cost of living abroad is significantly lower than in Washington, D.C., which gave us some breathing room. Still, the chart on my family budget spreadsheet shows a precipitous decline in overall savings. Thankfully, things are improving. New clients and work are on the horizon and I intend to use those opportunities to replenish our “rainy day” resources.
When Larina and I first went overseas, I started jotting down notes for a separate blog or web site so people back home could keep up with us. Social media might have served this purpose, saving me the time and effort, but I wanted the chance to create something more personalized. My effort in this area was always half-hearted as I focused elsewhere. Hence my never setting an intention around it. This year I am bringing the idea to the front burner and intend to fully launch a site sharing the stories I’ve chronicled for what is almost a decade.
And then there is the reading list. I intend to continue with what feels like good momentum around reading more than just work-related articles, reports, and analysis. First up is Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Leadership In Turbulent Times. Larina bought that for me at Christmas 2018 and it did a great job keeping my nightstand in place all year. I also intend to mop up last year's reading list with the Marcus Aurelius book.
Also on my list is The Stuff Americans Are Made Of. My dad gave it to me years ago and I made it through the first few chapters before turning my attention elsewhere. Its premise is that “[there are] seven cultural forces that define Americans and determine the way Americans respond to the products and services of public policy, demonstrating how these forces shape attitudes and tastes and distinguish our nation in the global marketplace.” It feels like a timely read during an election year.
On the lighter side of things, I intend to read A Nice Little Place On the North Side, George Will’s history of Wrigley Field. In addition, Between Heaven and Mirth, by Fr. James Martin, S.J. has been sitting on my shelf for far too long. A little laughter goes a long way.
On the professional side of the house, I intend to continue accepting invitations to participate in panels or present my work around renewable energy and climate change. I’ve been working on a report for the last two years with a great team of researchers from various companies and if all goes well, it will publish later in the year and we will have plenty to share.
I also intend to take advantage of a new opportunity regarding my business offerings. Toward the end of 2019 word got out that I have some background in strategic planning. It has never been my leading edge, but I have helped organizations and individuals with it. A group approached me asking for my help guiding them through planning and I successfully designed and led a one-day workshop for them before Christmas. They have contacted me for follow-up work. It would be easy to decline and stay in my more comfortable lane of energy and climate change. However, I intend to do otherwise, try something new, and see where it takes me.
On that note, this year marks the 15thanniversary of me quitting I.T. and striking out on my own to build a life more meaningful. The ensuing journey took twists and turns I never imagined, took me to places and led to a life I more colorful and eye-opening than I could have ever planned for myself. It taught me a lot and I intend to write a series of articles about lessons gleaned. As of now there are six of them but there may be more as I continue to reflect on it all.
I’m signing off with one of my most favorite images from last year. In November we visited the Eastern shores of El Salvador and snapped this picture of Luca running toward the ocean full steam. I love it because Luca is miniscule versus the size and power of the ocean. But he’s running toward it anyway. Fearless. Excited. Ready to meet it head on. There is so much potential in such a small body. For us, life can seem like the ocean, and we so small. It’s important that we not be afraid to meet it head on as well. I hope that for you in this coming year.
Happy New Year, everyone.