New calendar, same exercise: I go to the big board to evaluate progress made on intentions set last January, lay out intentions for the year ahead, and share some take always from the last 12 months. For those new to this space, the difference between intention and resolution is that the former – in my judgment – has an element of action and ownership not found in the latter. Hence the adopted motto in the title. For those of you familiar with this annual attempt at some level of accountability, your continued follow-up and suggestions for continuous improvement are always welcome and appreciated.
I casually opened last year’s review by calling 2020 the year of hindsight. I thought it would be a chance to reflect more than most years. What an understatement! The pandemic magnified every opportunity for reflection as no corner of life was spared upheaval. It also heightened the usual yearly challenge of staying on course as life creeps in. What we labeled “important” last January 1st was constantly derailed by “urgent” throughout the year. It is tempting to use that as justification for a “pass” this year, but that’s not how this works.
I tried to find silver linings where I could, though they were probably, at best, only tin. Regardless, COVID did create more reading time than I have had in recent years. Admittedly, some of those hours were between 1:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. when my brain booted up and I could not sleep, but I did the best I could with what I had in the moment.
Of the books I put on my desk last January, I completed Leadership in Turbulent Times by noted presidential historian Doris Kearns-Goodwin; and A Nice Little Place On the North Side by George Will. The humor of the latter balanced the seriousness of the former, and was a nice break during stressful times. That is where my stated list ended. I never made it to Between Heaven and Mirth (though I probably could have used that one a lot), or The Stuff Americans Are Made Of.
However, some unexpected titles landed in my hands. Someone handed me Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates,thinking I would like it. They were wrong. And during my insomniac hours, I re-visited some titles I have not looked at in years. I began with two quick reads I’ve retained from a history course at Marquette: The Rise of Big Business and Politics As Usual: The Age of Truman and Eisenhower. And given the current tumult of geo-politics, I re-read Francis Fukuyama’s State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century. I also picked up a title I’ve long been curious about: Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box. As a very welcome surprise, I read Pilgrim, a collection of poetry by David Whyte, an Irish poet who has re-settled in the Pacific Northwest.
Regarding the professional side of the house, I set a significant (for me) revenue goal for my company and missed it by 1.9 percent. Not a full check in the box but I’ll take it considering the year. In addition, I set an intention to follow through on a request from a potential client regarding long-term strategic planning. It was a line of work I did not expect and hesitated to explore, but I challenged myself to grow into it as best I could. It evolved nicely throughout the year and I’m proud of the work we accomplished together.
Another work-related intention centered on expanding the client base in my wheelhouse of energy and climate. I was able to do just that as new clients came to me in need of local market intelligence and research. Whether or not physical projects will result from the work is far from known, especially in this new economic landscape. Still, being sought out for my work was a great affirmation.
I also set an intention last year about a series of articles sharing what I’ve learned in the fifteen years since I quit my I.T. job to find a higher and better use of my skills. Those of you who have been with me from the start – something for which I am eternally grateful and for which I feel a certain indebtedness – know that decision was the catalyst for this entire blog. I posted the first installment on the anniversary of the day I quit, the second shortly thereafter, and just posted the third to round out the year. I intend to continue and finish the series in 2021.
Moving over to the “personal” column, I set an intention to finalize a web site I have tinkered with ever since Larina and I first went overseas together back in 2012. I began jotting down notes and brief stories and marginally kept it going since then. I had set finalization as an intention in years past (multiple times) but always chose to focus elsewhere. I suppose I just needed my past intentions to meet a pandemic in order to have more time at home in front of a computer. Now, I am happy to say the web site is fully up and running.
The intentions of 2020 also included some “adulting” that required constant attention. As I mentioned last year, our home finances took a large hit in 2019 when I focused on starting my consulting business, which was more about finding paid work rather than executing it. We also had a new member of the family to provide for. Therefore, my intention was to re-establish our eroded financial cushion. Despite the tumultuous year, we pulled it off.
Related, I set an intention around our “in case of emergency” plan. For too long we skated on thinner ice than we should have, especially after Luca arrived. I set an intention to get our wills, levels of life insurance, and other preparedness measures in place. Done. And while my guilt for our cavalier approach was assuaged when I discovered we were not the only ones overlooking such measures, I was (and am) surprised at how widespread such unpreparedness is. If 2020 taught us anything, it is to be prepared.
In addition to the fore mentioned book titles I never read, I also missed a few intentions in the rest of the usual columns. My annual date night intention fell to pieces with the arrival of the pandemic. I tried as best I could with online events and other limited gatherings, but by and large, this was a big miss.
Professionally, I failed the intention of publishing the final report on solar PV development in Caribbean islands, a project I had managed over the last two years. Despite hours upon hours of edits, revisions, and addressing countless “Ooh, one more thing…” requests from the project sponsor, the report stalled amid a very bureaucratic World Bank process. I’m disappointed. Powers beyond my control (and beyond the project’s budget) seem to have the final say, but I’m taking a lot of good project management lessons from the experience, especially around taking over a project that someone else started.
My annual intentions exercise – and the attendant struggle to stay focused – can often be a reminder of how to weed out the unnecessary. The past year took that lesson to a new level. Push came to shove more abruptly than ever, and many hobbies, distractions, and interests were scuttled for the sake of urgency and importance. So, even if I did not accomplish all that I had wanted in 2020, I now have a more scrutinous (effective?) rubric for evaluating what I’m doing that may improve future “on track”-ness.
This year’s misses had some tough lessons about accepting things beyond my control and doing my best within constrained circumstances. That is not an easy lesson to learn when one’s identity is closely connected to “achieving.” But I discovered good application of the lesson in the larger context of parenting. For example, I know the broad outcomes I want from raising my kids: that they be rooted in a set of values and principles, be dedicated to worthy causes larger than themselves, and that they be as educated by the world as in a classroom. I may not be able to influence, let alone control, that outcome. Therefore, my metric should be the degree to which I do or do not show up every day. That outcome, subjective though it may be, is completely on me.
The year also had a brutal way of teaching flexibility, though I am far from the first person to make that observation. When the pandemic first hit, Larina and I, like everyone else, swapped between work and childcare. Plans were perpetually modified, postponed, or outright canceled. While the year unfolded in ways we never could have foreseen, we managed to keep the major muscle movements of day-to-day life on track thanks to resources most people did not have. In the end, I was reminded that many roads do in fact lead to Rome, but sometimes just arriving at the outskirts of town can suffice.
As with every year, a few off-the-radar events colored the narrative. One of the biggest was my de
cision to accept an invitation to join the US Department of State as a Foreign Service Officer. Those of you who have followed the arc of this blog know that I have been through the process not once, not twice, but three times. There are many reasons I decided to accept, not the least of which is an opportunity for public service in a department I judge does some of the most important (read: coolest) work in the government. I can think of few higher honors in public service than representing the US abroad and I excited to start.
Accepting the job led me back to the US for a few weeks during orientation, which meant a nice six-week stretch with family. I had not planned for it, but it certainly was a high water mark on the year that would have been better had Larina and Luca been able to join me.
There is a downside to the change, however. I have to put a pause on the consulting entity I’ve created. I’m sad about this. I’ve often heard business owners refer to their companies as feeling like another child. I empathize. Jakinda Consulting is mine. I conjured it up, took the steps necessary to bring it to life, and put it out into the world. People responded. And now I have to put it on hold. I am not shutting it down because it may be useful down the road, but I’ve definitely turned off the lights for the foreseeable future, and that’s hard to do when you’ve got momentum going.
More important than all of this, however, was the news that, God willing, we will welcome a child into the world next April! It was not completely out of the blue. We decided early in the year we were ready to switch to man-to-man defense. Still, we never knew when (if) it would happen. Regardless, something that was on the fringe of my mind last January instantly moved front-and-center and I couldn’t be happier about it.
Lastly, and as a bit of a lark, and juuuust before the pandemic set in, we ventured to Antigua, Guatemala. So, an unexpected new stamp in the passport!
They year ahead is already full of large changes. Next summer I’ll officially start my position at the US Embassy in Maputo, Mozambique. Thankfully, Larina was able to find an opening commensurate with her level of experience, a result not always guaranteed for “tandem couples.” Luca will be 3 when we arrive, and his new sibling will be but a few months old. My intention is to move through all of it as fluidly as possible. This will test if I’ve integrated the learning of 2020. I will can’t quantify this, but I’ll be brutally honest in my assessment next January.
My job change brings with it a different tack on intentions. In the past, I often received invitations to speak publicly and I always set the intention to seize them. I know for a fact this will not be part of my future work. However, my job requires proficiency in Portuguese (the language spoken in Mozambique) and I have until mid-April to achieve it. But the baby is due the first week of April and I want to be as present as possible. Therefore, my intention is to attain proficiency by the end of March.
Date nights are usually on the board, but I’m calling an audible this year. We still have many sites to see before we leave El Salvador and before the baby arrives. Now that Luca is old enough to be left with a sitter for a full day, we really have no excuse not to get out for a bit. Therefore, and since all bets between leaving El Salvador and settling in Mozambique, I intend for us to complete our El Salvador site seeing list before April.
As always, the
re are books I want to read. I’m putting Between Heaven and Mirth and The Stuff Americans Are Made Of back on the list. I also intend to finish We Hold These Truths: Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition, a collection of essays by John Courtney Murray, S.J. I picked it up in July after reading a summary article about it. It seemed (and it was) appropriate ahead of the 2020 general election, but it is far from light reading. Given the seismic shake-ups planned for this year, I feel three books is manageable. I’ll save more aggressive intentions for next January.
Similar to last year’s intention to restore our significantly-depleted savings, I am setting an intention around retiring some long-held credit card debt. I have chipped away at this mountain for years but have never had the guts to put it on this list because it seemed so insurmountable. So, because I am tired of seeing this line item in our family budget, and because a few of you will hold me to it, the debt will be gone by this time next year. The above-mentioned date nights (or excursions) might be more bare bones than they otherwise might have been but, so be it.
I have, until now, left fitness intentions off these lists. They have felt a little too worn to me, but that does not mean I don’t have them. Last January I (privately) wrote an intention around body weight and body fat percentage. I reached the former but not the latter. More importantly, newborns require a level of attention that can derail even the most well-oiled exercise regimen. Therefore, my intention is to maintain my current numbers throughout the year. Improvement is always welcome, and I’ll allow a worsening of no more than 1.5 percent.
I mentioned earlier the poems of David Whyte in his book, Pilgrim. The collection explores relationships and the transitory nature of comings and goings, arrivals, departures. It examines life’s flow , in solitude or togetherness, as people experience their respective journeys. It is a fascinating collection and as I read it, I examined the arc of my own path and how I will interpret the impact of 2020 looking back during my sunset years. Without question, the past year will be an inflection point, a significant trail marker for each of us, but it will read differently for each depending on how they met the moment, who we shared it with, who and what we lost, who and what we’ve gained. The task now is to apply it in shaping the vision we hope to see when, after many years, we prepare to cross the point where the sun meets the horizon.
And we can set the intention to make it happen.
Happy New Year, everyone.