Last year was the first year I set goals, and even then, did so half-heartedly. My 'ambitions' as I called them at the time were to meditate daily and to buy less stuff.
Though I didn't meditate daily, I did develop a much healthier sense of gratitude and I am a better person for it. I may not take a moment each day to be grateful, but I became more conscious of moments to be grateful for. When I take time to be grateful it's like a successful fishing trip that serves as dinner. Recognizing the moments though is like finding a blackberry bush when I'm enjoying a walk. Both ways have provided spiritual sustenance.
My second goal, to be less materialistic, also was successful for the most part. I did buy a half dozen books this year and two articles of clothing, but in doing so I learned why I buy things and what ends they serve.
These two ambitions had their roots in minimalism, personal finance, and stoicism. That they were encompassed in broad domains was important. This year I thought about the domains first and settled on four areas:
- Physical health
- Mental growth
- Relationship development
- Business success
My physical health goals
My long-term health goal is to live as long as possible with as much mobility and strength as possible. In the next twenty years my daughters will grow through childhood, the teenage years, and into young adults. During this time I want to be able to hike, bike, ski, run, chase, catch, flip, bump, and swim along with them. I'm in good shape now, but for long term health I need to add some muscle to my frame. As an action this means that I need to have a sweat filled workout three times each week and to go for walks twice a week. Walking has a history of bringing creative ideas to people, "After a midday dinner, Beethoven embarked on a long, vigorous walk, which would occupy much of the rest of the afternoon. He always carried a paper in his pocket, to record chance musical thoughts." That quote is from the tasty, Daily Rituals: How artists work by Mason Currey who researched the daily habits of over 150 artists. After walking the next most frequent habits seem to be drinking and smoking, I'll focus on the walking.
My mental health goals
Not only do I want to keep pace with my kids as we both age, I want my brain to remain like a nimble gymnast. I don't know how to challenge the seven pound mass that lives upstairs, but I will do two things.
My first goal this year is to read 52 books in 2014. In 2013, I read 33 books so 52 is going to be a stretch. To do this I'm going to take a pair of new approaches. First, I'm going to be re-reading a lot of stuff from my shelves. Many of the books I own have advice that can constantly be applied to my life if I just wipe the dust off my book and mind. My second tool will be to listen to more audio books. This past year I listened to two books (Dad is Fat, and Born to Run) and enjoyed both of them.
My second goal is to successfully complete three free online courses. I've started classes at Coursera or MITOCW before, but I've never finished them. My biggest setback is that I learn best from reading and writing but the online courses typically aren't set up this way. Completing them and processing new information seems like a good challenge.
My relationship goals
I love being married, I was made to be married. Dating in college was not an overall enjoyable experience. I felt a pressure to conform to certain stereotypes or take certain actions that didn't fit within who I was. In finding my wife, I found someone who loves me and I love her. This is funny if you were to look at some of my actions towards her. I can snip at her for small things and when our kids were younger I leaned on her heavily to help me emotionally deal with the kids.
This is the person I married for the rest of my life and I get pissy at her like a child? It embarrasses me to write that, but writing it means I notice it and can change it. My two prongs of attack are to not make snippy comments and fill our relationship with more love. Gretchen Rubin wrote that there is no love, only actions of love.
My second goal is no screens after 9:15. When the kids go to bed and it's just us awake, I want to be available to her. This is going to be a challenge considering my final domain but I think it's going to be good for both of us. For me it will force a focus to my work. For her, she'll know that I'm listening, a skill of mine that has sharply dulled.
My second main relationship is with my daughters. Being a better husband is easier than being a better dad because the qualities of a good father are concealed in a fog. Being a father to me is like driving down a strange road at night. I know what to do for the next hundred feet as my headlights shine, but past that I don't know. Do I hover and help them reach a goal or let them fail to learn and try again on their own? Do we learn Spanish words at lunch or talk or do worksheets? Should we watch television together or do I use that time to reset myself emotionally before we continue our day? These types of questions run through my mind constantly, like a stock market ticker tape, and like a day-trader I'm making my best guesses. This year I'm trying three things.
- Put down my phone when they are around. If we are eating, talking, or playing my phone doesn't need to be out.
- Be ready to help when they ask. I hope my daughters play basketball more than any other sport, but I can only be ready if they ask. I heard a story Archie Manning, father to Peyton, told his sons they could play any sport and if they chose football to come to him.
- Think larger in terms of life lessons. When something goes wrong in my daughters' lives my first thought is to deal with the immediate problem, but this year I'm going to try to think in larger terms. In The Secret of Happy Families, Bruce Fielder interviewed a variety of sports coaches, psychologists, and parents and the best thing parents can do is relate the trials and successes of sports to life. That's what I'm going to try to do too.
I also want to volunteer more in my community or within communities. What this looks like I'm not sure, but like a bird watcher who moves through the forest, I plan to keep my eyes up.
My business goals
A site I run, 27 Good Things made a few hundred dollars this year. This was an incredible personal success for me, a financial validation of my skills. As a stay-at-home father, I occasionally feel the need to prove my worth in dollars. In 2014, as my kids begin to transition to their academic careers, I'm going to transition my career into its next phase too.
For the past year, on and off, I've been taking James Altucher's advice to write down ten ideas each day. While I don't hit that number each day, I did end the year with over 200 ideas on business to start, books to write, and services I could offer. The last two weeks I've been categorizing and rearranging these ideas, and I've got a few to start rolling out.
Like the other goals for this year, I need to develop Key Performance Indicators, a tip Penelope Trunk recently blogged about. Her goals were dollars and mine should be too. Being a stay-at-home father has made me recognize the value of time over money and whatever business success I have needs to be built around the flexibility and freedom I've discovered.
This reflection on goals has gotten me excited about the new year and the opportunities that lay ahead. In 1997 I played a lot of Mario Kart with my friends. In each level of the game, there are an array of boxes that contain weapons to use on your competitors, tricks for a faster time, and challenges inherent in the AI. I feel a bit like that now. I know that in running this course and following these goals, I may not win the race, but it's going to be fun trying.