My 2015 Annual Letter
One of the (only) blogs I read diligently is Farnam Street, founded by Shane Parrish. For the first time this year, Shane followed the lead of many public companies which issue an annual letter to their shareholders. I'm doing the same via this blog.
After all, those of you who read my blog are representative of all the people investing in me and my success - family, friends, colleagues, random strangers on the internet who sometimes follow me on twitter, etc. 2015 was a transformative year for me, and probably the best I've had. Aside from a little luck, it's been a stupendous year mostly because of you all. I honestly don't think I had much to do with it, other than showing up.
So first and foremost, thank you for investing your time in me throughout the year. I am grateful for your influence and caring on a daily basis. I've been doing my best to generate a return on your investment. Here's a recap.
A SUMMARY OF GOOD THINGS
The greatest result of the year, was the moment Robyn said yes to my proposal for engagement. It was truly a moment I have been anticipating my whole life, even before I knew her. It was the end of a long, slog, of a journey as a bachelor which so many folks helped me survive. Over the course of decades, people have been helping me to be more confident, mature, and persistent to find Robyn. Well friends, all your work (and patience in dealing with my shenanigans through single life) has finally paid off.
A few months later, I graduated from the Ross School of Business with a graduate degree. But the greatest result of my time at Ross was not my degree, but the great friends I made there. What's super cool is that these friends are not just interesting people to pal around with. They're thoughtful, courageous, people who have deep convictions about the world...beyond profits and being recognized for their accomplishments*.
People criticize MBA Programs for just being a two-year party where affluent people make the connections to stay affluent. Luckily, I received more than that, I'm now part of a tight-knit crew that really pushes me beyond the edge of my talents.
Some of you who know how frustrating I found business school to be, will probably be surprised by how much I appreciate what I learned there. In undergrad I learned how to think, and in my first job I learned how to work hard. In business school, I learned how to teach myself. After business school, I now feel like a learning machine because I learned how to transform myself, use deep reflection to learn from my experiences (and from other people), and developed the courage to proactively do things that are very difficult (which are the experiences you learn the most from)**.
Finally, I started a job working for the City of Detroit that has been dynamic, inspiring, and challenging in the best way. I don't like to draw attention directly to my work on this blog (it's not about me, and I don't want my opinions to be construed as the administration's), but I will say this - my colleagues and I have been pushing very hard on projects related to public safety. I'm optimistic that our labor will start bearing fruit in 2016 and the results will speak for themselves.
A SUMMARY OF FAILURES
For better or worse, my failures*** this year were small in scope and large in quantity. It all boils down to one root-cause, committing to too much. Here are the most notable examples:
- I have been an advisor to my college fraternity for several years. I recently stepped down because I didn't put in the effort to help them at all. I'm in the process of resigning my position.
- I was working on planning some events with 3 high school friends. My commitment has been hot and cold for months.
- A close friend of mine had a emotionally taxing autumn. My friend is fine now and came out of it okay, but I was not sufficiently supportive during that time. Luckily, others were there for my friend to lean on.
- I can't even count how many times I had to reply to e-mails and texts, with something to the effect of, "Sorry, I've been behind on my e-mail for months, but I'd love to get together..."
Committing to too much has always been a struggle for me. I've already started taking steps to narrow my scope and stay focused.
A SUMMARY OF WHAT I'VE LEARNED
Over the course of the year, I've tried to keep my eyes and ears open. Here are some of the more impactful observations I've had.
Over the past few months, I've been asking a daily question which is usually of the "it made me stop and think" variety. Friends have shared some remarkably sincere responses. I've certainly learned a lot about what really matters to others. But most importantly, I've noticed that the conventional wisdom of "people are usually averse to putting themselves out there" isn't true. People crave honest, heartfelt interactions with other people. I've been shocked at how just providing a safe-enough forum and a sincere desire to listen makes a difference.
For some time now, Robyn and I have enforced a rule that we don't check our phones at dinner time. It's taught me how hard it is to stay focused on the moment I'm in (my mind races to work, the future, anxieties, etc.). The broader lesson here is that you have to fundamentally approach "projects" with long time horizons (like marriage) differently than shorter ones.
For long projects, you have to be present and immerse your self in every second of it.
Longer projects tend to be harder, more complex, and more important. Because of that, you can't depend on quick fixes and short sprints of intensity to get them done. You have to show up every day, ready to work without cutting corners. To make it to the end of long projects, you have to find reward in the journey and not the outcome.
How To Change A Habit
I've been obsessed with changing habits as of late...because I'm getting married, because I'm getting older (and less healthy), and because my work requires it. I don't think there's one system to change habits that works for everyone. That said, there are three absolutely bedrock principles I've discovered when trying to change a habit.
First, you have to feel the consequences of your actions swiftly, ideally immediate after the action / decision occurs. Second, you have to find a way to make the new habit a ritual and build it into an existing habit. Third, changing habits doesn't just mean forming new habits, it also means killing old ones.
A SUMMARY OF WHAT'S NEXT
Because I'll be having so much life change in the next year (i.e., marriage and a dog, eventually) I don't intend on rocking the boat too much in other areas of my life. What I do plan to do, is continue to declutter my mind, my time, and the physical space around me. I've been cutting down on facebook and TV, and reading more. I've been trying to focus on changing no more than 3 habits at a time. I've been creating systems to reflect, refocus, and recharge. I've even been trying to downsize my t-shirt drawer. I'm not done with this yet and I intend to continue it into 2016.
What I do want to do is write more. I've been struggling to blog regularly and I intend to do so at least once a week in 2016. I also have been flirting with writing a book and it's time to get started. It'll be a memoir in two parts. Part I will be a series of observations about what is unprecedented about the times that we live in now. Part II will be a reflection on the sort of world I hope our grandchildren live in. I'm excited to share more as the year progresses.
Cheers to you and yours. Let's have a great year.
*Not many other business schools seem to have such a humble, thoughtful culture. Ross does more than others, and so does Haas.
**Being a learning machine starts with reading. The smartest people I know are all voracious readers. Shoutout to Dominik R., the most prolific reader I've ever met in person.
***I have lots of mistakes and failures. These were the ones that bothered me the most in 2015, namely because letting other people down is something that I really, really don't like to do.