Before we get started, I need to make an obligatory confession.
This article idea (the annual review) was flagrantly stolen from one of my virtual mentors, James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits. He’s an exceptional writer and someone whose work has been incredibly influential on my own life and journey.
If you’ve never heard of him before, I encourage you to check out his content here.
With that out of the way, I wanted to take some time today for reflection and introspection about the last twelve months.
I’ve personally followed this process for around five years now and it’s proved to be an edifying and enlightening exercise every time.
Specifically, this review will cover three things:
- What went well in 2019
- What didn’t
- What I learned (and what you can learn from my mistakes and successes).
My intention in sharing this review is neither to brag about my accomplishments or bare my soul to the world. Simply to give you a glimpse at my reality as I pursue many of the same goals and aspirations you likely have.
And while I’m sharing this review for all to see, the contents of it are intensely personal. More of a journal entry than a proper article. Unlike other posts I write here on this site, this is not intended to be prescriptive, simply cathartic.
Take the lessons that apply and use them in your own life. And feel free to discard the rest.
1. What Went Well?
As with every year, there’s good news and bad news and I, for one, prefer to lead with the good stuff.
1. Career and Income
In 2019, my income and professional success improved substantially. All told, I generated about $130,000 between my primary clients, side projects, and investments.
I wrote my first full book for a client and actually received credit for that work (you can pick up a copy of it here if you’re interested).
I negotiated raises that totaling $18,000, invested heavily in my professional development (forking out more than $14,000 for coaching and another $5,000 for courses/seminars), and hired my first full-time team member–an assistant who makes my life 20X easier and saves me at least 15 hours a week.
Most importantly, however…I finally took action toward establishing myself in the digital world.
I’ve been “dreaming” about writing my own content and publishing work under my own name for years. And finally, with some prodding from my coach, I lit a big enough fire under my ass to actually do it.
I’ve generated almost 2,000,000 views on Quora, built an email list of 100 strong, and begun laying the foundation for my personal brand (fuck I hate that term).
#Lifelessontime. Let me be clear. The money is awesome. But the satisfaction I feel from doing work for myself (work that happens to be a shit ton of fun) makes it seem inconsequential. This is something I’ll be carrying with me into 2020 and is a new value upon which I’ll be basing my career decisions (fun > money).
Despite all of the success, however, there were some substantial sacrifices that were made at the altar of the almighty dollar and I’ll get to those in just a bit.
2. Marriage & Relationships
In addition to my professional success, I finally gussied up the courage to propose to my girlfriend of 3 years and on November 16, 2019, we tied the knot and made our relationship “guvment official”.
Like any partnership, we’ve experienced a tumultuous set of ups and downs, from the highest of highs (both literally and metaphorically) to the lowest of lows. I couldn’t be happier with the woman who now shares my last name and she’s changed and supported me in more ways than she’ll ever know.
In addition to our marriage, 2019 also brought with it some amazing new friendships and reconnection with old friends.
For the first time in almost four years, I got to see my partner in crime–the friend with whom I dropped out of college and traveled for the first few months of my year-long adventure.
I met some amazing new people, established a few key connections, and continued to improve my social infrastructure.
3. Foundational Habits
I’ll be blunt.
For the first 6 or so months of 2019, I was a train wreck. My eating, exercise, and sleep habits were erratic at best. My performance was haphazard. And I gave up on a few habits that I consider to be essential to my health and well being.
But after hiring my coach, I was able to change trajectory and establish a few important habits that have dramatically improved my life.
First and foremost, after nearly 3 years of half-assed effort, I’ve finally adopted the habit of consistently going to the gym. I completed the first full workout program (of my life), gained 5 lbs of muscle, and shredded down my body fat to the single-digit level.
All told, I finished close to 100 workouts (with 65 of them taking place after June) and have made more progress on my performance and physique than any other year on record.
I also improved my sleeping habits, my recovery (read: taking time off), and my personal education. I read about a dozen books in 2019 and, for the first time in almost five years, took real time off to get clarity on my life and recharge my batteries.
2019 was an exceptional year in terms of networking and I added to my rolodex one billionaire entrepreneur (for whom I’ll be writing a book), a New York Times best-seller (who turned out to be a bit of an asshole), and several other high level individuals.
The most fascinating part of this, however, was the obvious but overlooked truth that the most successful people in the world are just that…people.
Just like you. Just like me. They aren’t special and many of them aren’t all that exceptional at what they do.
They’ve simply followed the right processes for long enough and are now reaping the rewards. (I also learned the wisdom of the saying, “Never meet your heroes”. Because some of them are royal dickheads).
During the first few months of 2019, my wife and I lived in Mexico City and Tulum and, even though the experience turned into a giant cluster fuck (more on that later), it was our first time traveling outside of the country together.
We shared some amazing experiences, met some equally amazing people, and generally had a ton of fun.
Adding to that list, we also traveled to Miami, San Diego, Las Angeles, and San Fransisco. Making it a decent (if not record breaking) year of travel.
6. Delegation and Systematization
One of the biggest and most important changes I made in 2019 was to finally hire a virtual executive assistant and a small team of writers to help me with the increasing volume of work I’ve been given.
I still have a long way to go as a leader and strategist and I still struggle to let go of tasks and trust others to complete them to my standards.
But the foundation is there. My work load has been reduced substantially and I’m producing more results for my clients than ever before.
2. What Went to Shit?
While the good parts of 2019 were great, the bad parts were absolute shit. Here are just a few of the many mistakes I made in 2019 (and these are only the ones I’m comfortable sharing on such a public platform).
Like most 20-somethings who make more money than they know what to do with early in their careers, I made a lot of mistakes in my financial life this year.
Although the majority of my purchases served an important purpose (e.g. the $14,000 for coaching, the $3,000+ for supplements, and the $1,500/month grocery bill for organic foods), I allowed convenience and comfort to run my bank accounts into the ground.
As of this writing, I have a grand total of about $35,000 in debt (most of that in the form of back taxes owed to the IRS) and failed, for the third year in a row, to adequately save for my taxes.
Although the book deal I’m negotiating should enable me to end 2020 with no debt and at least an extra $5,000 in my IRA, I’ll need to make some serious changed to my spending habits if I ever want to see a positive net worth.
As a 22-year old who’s never gone above 11% body fat in his life, nutrition has always been something of an after thought for me.
Yes, I eat mostly organic whole foods. But in 2019, I allowed my nutrition to slip in a big way.
Namely, by snacking late at night (which has wrecked my sleep quality and metabolism) and failing to eat enough calories (despite my improvements in the gym, my body weight has flatlined at 167 lbs, a far cry from my goal weight of 190 lbs).
I often defer eating my first meal until 2 or 3 in the afternoon and, as a result, my energy is a roller coaster that typically results in a giant crash.
In 2020, I’m going to be more strategic about my meal planning to ensure optimal energy levels and consistent muscle growth. But for 2019, I screwed the pooch on this big time.
3. Work/Life Balance
Because of my increasing work load and professional obligations, I spent the first 6-8 months of 2019 in a perpetual state of anxiety and overwhelm.
I let my work get the better of me and failed to adequately prioritize family and personal time which lead to some unnecessary stress and missed experiences I now regret.
Although I’ve made some big improvements in this area and took my first vacation in five years this June, I still have a long way to go.
My haphazard and often thoughtless work schedule has made my weeks a miserable workahol fest. Weekends don’t exist and taking real time off continues to be a struggle.
In 2020, I’ll be prioritizing leadership and team building so I can accomplish more while working less. I’ll be putting some boundaries and barriers in place to ensure productivity and setting some strict rules around distractions and time management.
4. Travel & Living Situation
Although the trip to Mexico had its moments, by the time the dust settled, it was one of the worst experiences of our life.
We’d intended to live abroad for 11 months (to qualify for the Foreign Earned Income Exemption and reduce our taxes to about $1,000 in total) but after a few thefts, credit card fraud, sexual harassment, and failure to plan on my part, we ended up returning home 7 months early.
To add insult to injury we foolishly signed a 13-month lease on a $2,000/month apartment in a city we don’t like we hate. Instead of taking the time to separate our emotions from our circumstances–I’ll explain what I mean in a minute–we rushed into things and made an expensive decision that continues to cost us far more than money (namely peace of mind, happiness, and social connections).
Next year, we’ll be moving from Charlotte to Asheville (a lovely little mountain town in the Blue Ridge) and downsizing substantially.
3. What Did I Learn?
Now for the part you’ve all been waiting for. The section of this review where you discover how my mistakes can help you live a better life in 2020.
1. Don’t Make (Semi) Permanent Decisions Based on Fleeting Emotions
The first, and possibly most important lesson I learned in 2019 is to avoid making permanent and semi-permanent decisions based on fleeting emotions (be they positive or negative).
Because of some passing drama in our Asheville social circle, my wife and I decided to stay in Charlotte and move into an oversized (and overpriced) apartment instead of renting a small house in the mountains as we’d originally intended.
Within 2 months, the drama had passed and we regretted our decision…but were forced to stick it out (or pay a $5,000 buy out fee).
This is a pattern that has repeated itself over and over again in my life and it seems that 2019 was the straw that finally broke the camel’s back and got my attention.
I learned to look through the chaos of the moment and instead base my decisions on my values and ultimate vision.
If I’d considered that, the drama notwithstanding, I value nature, leisure, fitness, community, and adventure…and that, more importantly, my “Ultimate Vision” is to live a quiet and low key life as a full time writer in the mountains…I would have immediately seen that the best course of action was to move to Asheville.
But instead, I ignored my values and my vision and based my decision on how I felt in the moment.
2. Live Below Your Means (Debt is a Bitch)
Despite earning a high-income, I am very bad with money.
Not because I spend it on silly and frivolous things (ok…sometimes I do that too), simply because I struggle to effectively prioritize my finances.
Once in a lifetime trips, expensive coaching, seminars halfway across the world…these things have always taken precedence over things like savings, emergency cash, and ya know…taxes.
But I’ve hit a point where the stress of being in debt and living paycheck to paycheck has hit a tipping point.
In 2020, I’ll be sticking to a strict budget and aggressively paying down debt.
3. Buy Back Your Time the Second You Can
Seriously. It’s worth every penny. If you can afford to pay an overseas VA $500-$1,000/month to take 15-20 hours of work off your plate each week, do it. Use that time to focus on higher profit tasks.
Hell, even if it’s something as simple as paying your neighbor’s kid $20 to cut your lawn (unless you really love doing it yourself) do it.
You’ll make more money in the long run and be a lot less stressed.
4. Balance Boldness and Prudence
It’s good to be a risk-taker, necessary actually. But there’s a difference between boldness and foolishness. I acted the part of the fool many times over the course of 2019 and if I’d pumped the brakes for just 10 seconds and thought about my decisions objectively, a lot of mistakes could have been avoided.
Know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em.
5. Look Through the Chaos
As I’m writing this, I’m dealing with one of the most frustrating weeks of the year. I won’t throw a pity party or divulge too many details, but suffice it to say that financially, professionally, socially, and personally…this week has sucked a 12′ dragon dong.
It hasn’t thrown my game off. Despite the chaos and frustration of life (which is inevitable for all of us regardless of our success or lack thereof), I’m looking through it.
I’ve learned to hold fast to my commitments (especially when I don’t want to) and detach myself from the outcomes of various situations.
And if you want 2020 to be “The Year” where things take a hairpin turn for the better…you must do the same.
Shit happens. All the time.
But the only thing you can do when a 100 lbs sack of fecal matter is hurled into the fan of your life is to hold the course. To look past the chaos of the moment and remember that, like all things, “This too shall pass.”
It’s been a powerful paradigm shift for me in 2019 and something I intend to remind myself of constantly throughout the new year.
That’s it! Thanks for reading.