My 2021 Annual Review

This is my first Annual Review, which is a chance to check in with myself and reflect on how things went in the areas that I value, what has been most fulfilling and what I learned about myself and life over the past twelve months.

The Annual Review is also an opportunity to align my priorities to that which is most fulfilling and for revealing how well my choices are supporting my intention to be who I am living the life I have with wisdom, courage and compassion.

While I feel vulnerable writing this, I believe allowing myself to be seen will help me grow and mature as a human being and also be more accountable to the ideas proposed in my writing. Finally, the Annual Review is a moment to savor my private successes.

In the spirit of experimentation and tinkering, this Annual Review will answer three questions:

1. How did it go this year in the areas that I value?
2. What was most fulfilling this year?
3. What did I learn?

How did it go this year in the areas that I value (no particular order)?

Love, connection and intimacy. Nothing brings me more joy (and pain) than people. Building relationships with my partner and step kids is not without challenges and continued to be an ongoing dynamic this year. Also, I rarely saw friends due to the ongoing pandemic, family responsibilities and other competing priorities. Despite these challenges, my intimate relationship feels more connected and aligned. And through steady presence and invitations to connect, my step kids feel closer.

Nature and beauty. Nature has always played a central role in my life, whether climbing trees and sledding down hills as a kid or hiking, trail running, backpacking and climbing mountains as an adult. This year I walked 121x in the early morning, usually weekends, which is less than I'd like but the best I can do at this time. I appreciate the stillness before the city comes alive, feeling the cool, damp air on my skin, and taking in the jasmine, rosemary and pepper trees.

Movement. Physical activity is an essential part of my life. But when the local gym closed due to COVID-19, I stopped exercising like many people. It’s taken me a year and a half to regain a regular rhythm of daily physical activity, which now includes HASfit, indoor cycling, walking, stretching and physical therapy exercises.

Spiritual and emotional wellbeing. I’ve explored many spiritual practices over the years. This year I focused on daily sitting (and walking) meditation, mindfulness, and listening to Dharma talks while driving and walking, though not at the same time. I meditated 372 times (not every day) for a total of 186 hours while averaging 30 minutes per sitting. That said, my mindfulness practice wasn’t as strong this year, so I’m rediscovering curiosity, awareness and my original intention.

Being present while working on more significant projects. This continued to be one of the most interesting, challenging and compelling aspects of my spiritual practice. Historically, the more ambitious I’ve been, the less happy I am. When consumed with doing, I miss the moment-to-moment sweetness of life. And when savoring the moment-to-moment sweetness while neglecting life’s bigger projects, I feel dissatisfied and unfulfilled. Jack Kornfield includes “ambition” among the great challenges of modern society. Is it possible to find peace within ambition, i.e., “work-life harmony?” And if so, how do we do it? So I was relieved to hear one of my teachers, Gil Fronsdal, comment that he sacrifices mindfulness for larger projects like writing books. This year I continued to tinker and adjust how my life flows between ambition and peace, and it continues to be a process and a practice.

Contribution. While both are necessary, I donate more life energy than money. I helped clean up a waterway with my stepdaughter and partner this year, but most giving back was sharing what I’ve learned on the spiritual path on my blog. Unfortunately, my mind quickly became consumed with how I would stand out among the two billion blog posts published annually, not to mention the billions of social media posts. This year, I intend to (re)focus on my original purpose: giving back to the online community that has given me so much by sharing the ideas and practices that have helped transform my life based on my own lived experience studying, practicing, experimenting and tinkering.

Learning and ideas. I love learning, and I love libraries and college campuses. I usually read 20 books a year, but I read and posted 30 book summaries to my blog this year. Actively summarizing these books caused me to pay closer attention, think more critically, and retain more of what I read. It’s been one of the best things I’ve done for myself, and I would highly recommend it to anyone with a website or blog. Next year I will summarize books in my own words while quoting the author.

Adventure. Adventure provides me something that ordinary life can’t. For me, that means backpacking, traveling and climbing mountains. This year I visited one country and two states. I traveled to Mexico two times and visited Arizona and southern California. Four trips in one year felt like nirvana compared to sheltering. I have not, however, backpacked or climbed for several years. So, next year I’m looking forward to at least one backpacking trip and climbing one mountain.

What was most fulfilling this year?

Family. Some family moments this year were so profoundly satisfying that they made the task of parenting worthwhile (I think). Perhaps that’s why Steve Jobs once remarked that raising kids was “10,000 times better than anything I’ve ever done.” Kids are susceptible to their environment, so the more time I spent with them, and the more engaged I was, the more these moments were likely to occur. They certainly didn’t happen when my partner and I were engaged in petty arguments.

Writing. After dabbling in writing for several years, I began publishing articles on my blog. Before then, I was too crippled by perfectionism to publicly share myself and my ideas. I intended to publish 13 articles and 26 book summaries, but I ended up with 6 articles and 30 book summaries. Despite coming up short, I still feel good because it took enormous courage and willpower just to get this far. And while difficult, it has been one of the most rewarding challenges I’ve ever taken on. This year I plan to end the year with 25 articles, 80 book summaries, and to have begun posting “shorts” (short articles) and cartoons. I don’t know how to draw, so cartoons will be a stretch.

Home. I spent a couple hundred hours fixing up the home that I share with my partner and step kids this year. Painting the house, in particular, was a lot of work, but I learned about home improvement, and I can see why people like flipping houses. While the house may not be on par with Bobby from Queer Eye, it looks pretty good.

Work. I wouldn’t usually include work in a list of “most fulfilling” activities. But switching careers was not easy. Good fortune notwithstanding, making the transition to work that is more enjoyable and sustainable without the manic-depressive rollercoaster of selling is one step closer to ideal work. While I don’t always enjoy writing, I find the process to be satisfying. For me, it’s like solving a riddle.

Travel. After isolating during COVID-19, it felt marvelously refreshing to spread my wings and see people and different ways of living.

Posture. I’ve struggled with poor posture for most of my life, which may stem, in part, from a lifetime of self-doubt. In September, I bought a Balans kneeling chair, which allows me to sit up straighter while working. I also realized that for years I’ve been fighting my own posture. While consciously pulling my shoulders back, simultaneously, I have been unconsciously pulling my shoulders forward. Bizarre, right? Some say we pull our shoulders forward to protect our heart. I agree, so I’m bringing awareness to this dynamic and letting my shoulders fall back naturally rather than pulling them back, which never worked anyway. As self-doubt continues to dissolve, I stand increasingly taller while taking up my rightful space. Looking forward to sharing more in a future post.

Finance. After making a mess of my finances while betting against the stock market, and suffering severe depression, my finances have stabilized, and I’m saving money. Losing my hard-earned, after-tax money was extremely painful. Someday I’ll write about this too in the hopes that others (maybe you?) can avoid my own sorrowful experience.

Spanish. I studied Spanish 162 days for 5 minutes daily, or about 15 hours, and I learned approximately 200 words. Not much, but it’s a start!

What did I learn?

Importance of nature. Walking in my neighborhood does not allow me to immerse deeply enough in nature, so I’m looking forward to getting back to hiking in the woods next year.

Sex is a practice. Daily life and kids tend to squeeze the sexiness right out of life. Unless I support the conditions that promote intimacy and sexual polarity, say like “date night,” sex is the first casualty of being a “human doing.”

Meditation and mindfulness support one another. Sitting meditation alone is not enough to sustain a clear, stable mind throughout the day. Buffett has said that being an investor makes him a better businessman, and being a businessman makes him a better investor. In the same way, mindfulness makes me better at meditating, and meditating makes me better at mindfulness.

Vacations are vital. I rediscovered the need for periodic breaks for deep relaxation and restoration while doing something thoroughly engaging without responsibilities. Bonus: holidays provide pleasant memories, as Nobel economist Daniel Kahneman reminds us.

Writing. I've discovered that writing is to publishing as activity is to productivity.

Parenting. Not only is raising kids humbling, but it’s an impossible task. “Good enough” really is good enough. So I regularly forgive myself for my step kids' future therapy.

Finance. I believed I had no addictions, but this year I discovered that I'm addicted after all-to the stock market. Looking back, it's obvious that every mistake I've made can be traced back to a facet of my immaturity and addiction.

The Bottom Line

This was a good year, and yet there’s always room for growth. I’m looking forward to applying what I learned this year to next year and producing more, laughing more, and connecting more deeply. Finally, the more I learn, the more I wonder what I really know.