Tag Archives: Personal Development

Five Percent Better After An Extremely Annoying Year: My 2020 Story

My highlights from 2020

2020 was a tough year to have a lot of travel experiences to write about. Like many, I spent a good part of the year trying to find the right balance between my social responsibility to avoid any potential spreading of the virus and my mental health needs. Spending too much time at home can be distressing for almost anyone. For me, an extrovert who loves to travel, it was especially rough.

For a variety of reasons, 2020 turned out to be an extremely annoying year. In 2019, as a decade came to an end, I took stock of our culture and current challenges. Three of our key societal issues would become an even bigger issue as a result of all the events of 2020.

  1. For the sake of our physical and mental health, it felt obvious that we needed to spend less time alone, indoors and seated. If anyone managed to spend less time alone, indoors and seated in 2020, well, I would seriously like to meet you!
  2. With the nastiness and divisiveness of our political culture, I seriously felt like we needed less politics in our lives, particularly identity politics (usually about race, age, gender and economic status). In 2019, I was proud to say to anyone that brought up the 2020 election that I had personally decided I would only think about the 2020 election in the year 2020.
  3. It seemed obvious that our culture was too risk averse. In 2019 I told people that if there is a scale from 0 to 100, with 0 being taking no risks on anything and 100 being constantly taking over the top risks like the main character in Uncut Gems, the ideal state is 50. Our culture seems to default us to somewhere like 25 or 30.

2020 would force us not to gather in large groups.

Cheesman Park in April 2020

Close many of the establishment where we would gather.

The main Inn in Redcliff, CO in May 2020

Force us to often stay home alone looking at social media, and place a greater emphasis on both identity politics and avoiding risk.

A June protest in Denver, CO

I struggled not to fall into dispair.

I went through four of these between March and June

I got myself through by imagining how we will come out of this better.

I took a lot of screen shots of my songs on Spotify this year

I started to imagine a future world where work is less oppressive. One morning in September I woke up with all kinds of ideas in my head.

I imagined a world where we rediscovered the importance of friendships and community. I imagined that, with concerns about health, and our loved ones, we would prioritize the things that really matter. No longer would anyone be asked to come into work when feeling sick.

With a lot of stuff cancelled or shut down, and large groups discouraged, I embraced more 1-on-1 meetups with people, cultivating better relationships. Slowing down also allowed me to connect to a more spiritual side, through things like meditation. This all culminated with the spiritual experience I had on an August backpacking trip.

Since then, I have never felt more clear about who I am and my purpose in life.

I am also ending the year with a better job, better financial position and I actually managed to lose weight during the pandemic. Perhaps there really is something to cooking rather than eating out.

Still, I certainly could have done better with all the spare time I had this year. Looking back on 2020, there were three things that occupied too much of my time, preventing me from making even more progress.

  1. Drinking while watching television: Drinking can be a great social activity, but drinking in front of the television is not the greatest use of time. While stuck at home, it is far more productive to read. I could have finished all these books!

2. Scrolling on my phone: My screen time was up again, some weeks I averaged close to three hours per day

3. Overthinking: Sometimes you have to just make decisions and stop worrying about all the factors and what could potentially be better.

In 2021, we will be ready to move on, hopefully not back to the world as it was prior to the pandemic, but to something new, something that produces a happier overall human experience. When the vaccines get distributed and we re-engage in many of the activities we previously took part in, like travel, concerts and nights out at the bar, hopefully we take the lessons learned from all this, particularly about health, community and priorities into our new lives. I am under no impression that 2021 is going to be easy. On the contrary, through this and my many other endeavors, I plan to work hard in 2021 to ensure I at least have an input into what our world will look like moving forward.

Goals and Metrics Put in Context

The debate about how to set goals and determine “success” is quite well aligned with the debate over how to approach life itself. On one side, there are those who say “everything can be measured.” In places like the United States, only a fortunate few have never been asked to set SMART Goals.

The SMART Goal system

This goal setting method has plenty of support, especially in the world of business and personal development [1][2][3]. To be fair, setting goals in this manner does prevent them from becoming vague, disorganized, unrealistic pursuits where one can easily lose focus and have no idea when they have been achieved.

This is the path of the left-brained, the detail-oriented, the driven, often the successful, those who build things and guarantee quality.

After all, it is more effective to describe an athlete as someone who can run 100m in 10.4 seconds than to simply say this person is “really fast”, and it is easier to contextualize a video with 100 million views over one that is “really popular”.

However, those more vague terms represent the actual goal. People tend to think of those on the other side as the more artistic types.

However, there are plenty of people in more traditional and even corporate types of leadership critical of the extremely numeric style of goal setting exemplified by the SMART goal system [1][2][3]. They are criticized, and rightfully so, for possibly putting a cap on one’s activities and being too short-term in focus. Once the specific number is reached, what’s next? Is mile number 2,001 pointless?

What about the day after the year ends?

Perhaps more importantly, these goal setting systems are charged with lacking emotion and having no connection to the underlying reasons for the state of our live. Goals like riding 2,000 miles in a year have no connection to the manner in which habits and mentality truly shape a person’s life. In essence, they miss the center of Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle.

Whether or not one believes that everything (or most things) can and should be measured depends on experience and personality. It’s where the focus is. There is no sensical way to create a quantitative measurement of watching a sunset over a lake while a distant wildfire slowly expands.

Many other areas of life, both professional and fun, ARE all about numbers and only numbers.

Whether or not any individual should set a specific measurable goal depends on their personality and situation. However, not in the manner that most would expect. A person can understand that the ultimate goal in life is to be happy, or fulfilled, but have no idea how to go about finding that happiness or fulfillment. Likewise, one can toil over quarterly numbers and annual targets but one day find themselves completely disconnected from any meaning behind what they are doing. Both these states are recipes for depression.

At any given time in life, what a person needs is the piece of the puzzle they are lacking. Therefore, it is the unfocused creative with a vague idea of wanting to “make the world a better place”, that could benefit from a goal like getting 10,000 people to listen to their podcast. Meanwhile, the highly driven analytically-minded professional on the verge of burnout could benefit from laying off these numeric goals for a while and focusing on their mental state and underlying reason for wanting what they want.

After all, many of these experiences would not have been too much different had the year 2020 ended with only 1,900 logged miles, as opposed to the 2,200-ish it will likely end up at when the year ends.

The Monsoon the Never Arrived

The North American Monsoon typically arrives in the Southwestern United States in mid to late July. Unlike some monsoons in other parts of the world, this one does not bring a consistent or steady rain. After all, it is a very dry region. Normally, for four to six weeks, most days will feature scattered thunderstorms across the region.

As has been the case for many expected events this year, the 2020 monsoon never happened.

Many places, particularly in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada and Utah received little to no rain along with hotter than normal temperatures. While there is variance in how strong these monsoons are from year to year, this year it seriously NEVER ARRIVED. 2020 is tracking to be the driest summer ever in Phoenix, while Las Vegas is on the verge of breaking a record for its longest streak without rain.

This has lead to widespread drought, raging wildfires, particularly across central California and Colorado, road closures, and smoke everywhere!

It feels as if Denver and the other front range cities have been under a constant barrage of smoke, with air quality alerts every day for the entire month. Day in and day out its been the same story. It is usually pleasant at sunrise.

But, this pleasant period is reserved only for early risers. It only takes a couple of hours of sun for it to begin to feel quite hot. Some days a few clouds show up as a teaser.

But the storm never arrives, just a hot wind. The last time there was any measurable rain was the first of the month, and that wasn’t much at all.

Each day, I’ll check the forecast only to see more of the same.

Forecast for August 20-23, 2020

If there is one theme to 2020 thus far, it’s monotony. We all endured some amount of quarantine, where each day, day in and day out, we have been doing pretty much the same thing. What fascinates me about this whole time period has been different people’s responses to two aspects of what is going on.

First, the monotony. Some people thrive on routine. I don’t! My response to a world where there are no concerts, many special events are cancelled and any travel or socializing comes with an additional risk is to try to create as much variety as possible.

Both the pandemic and the extremely hot summer required many to adjust their routines. COVID-19 forced many people to embrace things like preparing their meals at home as opposed to eating out, working remotely, and finding new ways to connect with their friends.

When hot summer days arrive, it becomes advantageous to wake up earlier to take advantage of the most pleasant part of the day.

Okay, I’m just using this blog as an excuse to show off sunrise photos

So, for many, this is not just a routine, but a new routine. The responses I have observed to this seem to be dependent on three factors…

  1. Does someone like routine or variety?
  2. Is the person enjoying the different routine that these events have created?
  3. How flexible and emotionally mature someone is.

It is hard for me not to dwell on the feeling that this entire year has been far more manageable for the introverted homebody types who love routine. I’ve had to almost entirely rely on item #3 to get me through this. Specifically, I’ve embraced this as the year to fully examine my mindset. How do I embrace gratitude rather than blame? Is there anything in my life that is still holding me back? What am I wasting energy on? Am I still getting trapped in too many negative thoughts? How do I really believe in myself? And, the list goes on and on.

It’s a strange journey because it requires two seemingly contradictory forms of internal dialogue. One one hand, for anyone to reach their true potential as a human being, they must be brutally honest with themselves. This means no more excuses, no more denial about shortcomings and taking responsibility for where one is in life. At the same time, it also requires radical self-acceptance and self-forgiveness. After all, it is important to not deny our problems, but one must love themselves for who they are and be confident in their value as a person to live a full life.

The monsoon is also far from the only expectation that the year 2020 has failed to meet.

Nearly everyone has had an event or a trip cancelled, had a career prospect not manifest, or even had to delay a major life event like a wedding or having a child. It has kind of become chaos, a kind of boring manifestation of chaos, but chaos nonetheless. 2020 has managed to cancel even the most basic things, like happy hours, the summer monsoon and travel on I-70! Handling this feels like an exercise in patience, flexibility and resiliency.

The question that 2020 is forcing all of us to answer is…

Can we put up with the flow of life taking us toward something different than what we had imagined it to be? Can we be ready to adjust to an unexpected change in circumstances? Can we stop fighting and blaming each other? Can we embrace something new? Can we let go of unnecessary assumptions: about the world, about life, about ourselves and about each other? Can we even find a way to come out better for it?

Leaving it in the 2010s

12 Things I’m Letting go of for a New Decade

Note: This is the first entry in a three part series about the dawn of a new decade. These entries are not about travel or destinations, but about life’s journey during a period of reflection.

1. Worrying about how people are perceiving me

If anything, this is a sign of maturity. High Schoolers are constantly worried about how they’re being judged by their peers, often based on things like fashion and entertainment. Maturity means first understanding that differences with respect to these surface level preferences are not that important. Next comes eliminating the fear of what is different with respect to more significant things like values and lifestyle.

The next step in the process involves managing the reactions of others. Many have not, and some never will, reach a point where they no longer fear those that are significantly different from them. Ironcially, it is often the people who go around claiming to be “accepting” or “open-minded”, and constantly contrast themselves with the xenophobes of the world that are least capable of dealing with those who see the world in fundamentally different matter. The truth is that a person’s reaction to someone else, or someone else’s ideas, is often more a reflection of themselves than the person they are responding to.

2. Guilt about anything that isn’t specifically my fault

It’s great to care, and it is great to want to help. But, feeling guilty about it and letting it get in the way of life’s other pursuits is a complete waste of time.

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3. Underestimating my value

Low self-esteem is so rampant in our culture that those with a healthy sense of self worth are often perceived as arrogant or full of themselves. Sure, there are people out there that are too full of themselves. Those are the people who will honestly defend holding others to a double standard, or showboat about skills they do not actually have. Still, many more are unnecessarily humble and don’t understand their true value, due to some combination of societal conditioning or having struggled in the past. Many struggles in life, including jobs and relationships are not the fault of the specific people involved. Rather, they are just the wrong fit.

4. Not believing in myself

Even worse than settling for less is not even trying!

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5. The easy way

This was discussed in a previous blog. Many of life’s choices involve a path that is easier vs. a path that is more challenging. The more challenging path is almost always the one that leads to a better long-term result. Taking the easy way means avoiding those difficult conversations that need to be had, finding a short cut to get something done rather than learning a new skill, and sticking to the same places and activities without expanding one’s comfort zone.

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6. Waiting for that perfect timing

This is a big one, especially with respect to major life moves such as marriage, children, getting another degree or starting a new business. At any moment in time, there is always something wrong with the specific situation: “The Economy is a little shaky.” “After I get this promotion.” “I need to lose 10 pounds.” And, the list goes on. The idea that some better moment in time is gonna come along can be crippling. In most situations, there’s no time like the present.

7. Indecisiveness

This is the era of analysis paralysis and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). With more access to information that ever before, it is difficult to make a choice or commit to anything. The idea that something better will come along is not only out there, but it is now on everyone’s social media feeds. The same way waiting for the perfect time to do something will results in it never getting done, always waiting around for what is prefect will result in, well, a lot of waiting.

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8. Those that have treated me unfairly

There were plenty of those this decade. Those experiences are now all over and cannot be changed. It is impossible to get the proper closure to every situation in life. Time to focus on the future.

9. My past mistakes

There were also plenty of these in the 2010s. They also can’t be changed. Some of them can be atoned for, others, well, unfortunately never will. All that can be done is to let them go, and focus on the future (as well as the present).

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10. Picking up my phone without a specific reason

It’s time to do things intentionally. Phones will always be there, to alert their holders to life’s important developments. Everything else can wait. Seriously, despite being less than average – this is still too much time!

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11. Putting things off

Obviously, there are times when something comes up and cannot be dealt with right away. However, when there is time and something needs to get done, well, it should get done.

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12. Blaming others

This has been a horrible practice for many years. When there is always someone or something to blame, the uncomfortable feeling of having done something wrong does not need to be dealt with. Unfortunately, blame also comes at the cost of growth opportunities. It is also, like the other items on this list, as symptom of one of the things that holds us back the most … fear.

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A Phone Free Day Every Month

The last time you picked up your phone…

Did you intend to look at your phone at that specific time?

What prompted you to look at your phone?

How long did you end up looking at your phone?

Did you stick to the original purpose, or open up another app?

Did you get value out of the time you spent on your phone?

Did your decision to look at your phone cost you other opportunities?

smartphone-addiction-design

Having observed what many others have observed, regarding excessive smart phone use, and its potential link to poor mental health outcomes, I recently decided I needed to build a periodic mini digital detox into my life. One year ago, I decided to go without my phone the first Sunday of every month.

I figured that periodically going a day without my phone would help me become more mindful of how I use my phone, and reconnect me with how I would go about doing certain things in the pre-smart phone era. Maybe it would even give me some clues as to how smart phone use is actually impacting our society as a whole.

Since then, awareness of the impact smart phones are having on our lives has only increased. Apple added a feature to the iPhone that tracks and gives users the ability to limit their smart phone use.

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By the way, here is proof that I actually did shut my phone off for the day on Sunday.

Others have even resorted to creative ways to encourage less phone use. One hotel in Sweden began charging guests by how much time they spend on social media. Rooms at Hotel Bellora are being offered to guests for free if they can refrain from using their phones!

After experiencing twelve of these phone free First Sundays, I have concluded that…

1. It is not realistic, nor does it seem beneficial, for us to completely ditch smart phones.

There are some conveniences, such as using Google Maps to look at traffic, that are a significant benefit.

2. All smart phone use can’t be painted in one light.

Picking up a phone has different utility when used for different purposes. I am actually not too ashamed that I spend a significant amount of time on YouTube. Much of the content is either informational or provides entertainment value, which is value.

3.  The setting needs to also be considered.

What had originally prompted me to become concerned about smart phones is observing them having a negative impact on people’s experiences. Watching someone pull out their phone when I am trying to have a conversation with them frustrates me. I also see people miss out on what is going on around them because of their phones. However, what if someone is just sitting at home alone, or on the same bus they take to work every day, exhausted and just needing some entertainment?

4. Smart phone use needs to serve a purpose.

If we intended to look someone up on Wikipedia, reference traffic on Google Maps, or even entertain ourselves with videos or games, that is fine. This is why, even after this experience, I still don’t believe in blanket statements such as “less than two hours per day”. It is more appropriate to say we should pick up our phones for an intended purpose, and put them down when that intended purpose is done, whatever length of time that is.

5. It is hard to stop using our phones as a crutch.

I’m talking about those times when we are waiting in line, or when we arrive at a restaurant ten minutes before our friends. We can either face the fear of boredom and/or awkwardness or bury ourselves in our phones. After each First Sunday, I resolve to stop picking up my phone in these instances. I’m typically able to do so for about five days.

Every time we engage with our phones, we disengage with the world around us.

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We may be missing out o some important things; That person that would have started a conversation with us had we not looked needlessly occupied. Observing what is happening around us, in the natural world. Even the ability for us to engage our own thought processes. These are real costs that make it worthwhile for us to be more intentional with the use of our smart phones. Taking a day off from phone use once a month reminds me of the times I typically pull out my phone, and what I could be missing out on when I do.

 

My 2018 End of the Year Note

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It feels strange to be writing another entry that is not about travel. I did travel this holiday season, back to Chicago, but the primary purpose of the trip was to visit family, not to explore new places.

I have also already written about both visiting places I have previously lived and about New Years as a time of reflection. Now that I feel more grown-up, I want to provide what other serious individuals provide, a year-end summary.

2018 in Review

I will always yearn for travel and adventure. However, 2018 took my attention in other directions. The year started with some major trips, including Vegas, Whistler, and Death Valley.

After those trips, I really needed to get my career back on track. The five years prior to this one had seen tons of great adventures, which I catalog on this blog. However, they had not been too great for my career. We all have to earn a living, and it can be hard having to do so in places that are not the right fit.

At first I was going about it in the manner that most do in 2018, looking for opportunities online. By springtime, I decided that getting out there, networking, and meeting people would be a better way to try to create something new in my life.

I ended up catching a break. In August, I started a new job which is both in the field I had originally studied, meteorology, and provides a working environment that is both flexible and collaborative. Not too many people can travel for a living, and not too many people actually want that lifestyle. Having a job where the work itself is fulfilling, and is also flexible enough that I can pursue significant travel and adventure, is probably the best scenario I could have hoped for. Therefore, I can say 2018 was a hard year but also a great one!

Before starting that job, I did go on one more major road trip, in Early August.

Since then, my life has actually been quite busy. In addition to starting a new job with a significant commute…

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I continued some of the freelance work I had been doing prior to starting the job, as well as some of my involvements in professional organizations. There were some weeks, particularly in September and October, where there was very little spare time. I came into the holiday season quite exhausted!

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2019 and a New Sense of Self

In addition to getting my career back on track, I feel that I am coming out of this exhausting but fruitful year with a better sense of who I am than I have had for years. A lot of people talk about “discovering themselves”. I feel this is an appropriate, yet sad, way of putting it. What I “discovered” about myself is stuff that I had known all along. I had just lost sight of them because of some of the disappointments and negative feedback I had received at various points in my life.

I determined I loved weather and science by the time I was five years old. It didn’t take much longer for me to figure out what else makes me who I am.

I often do not match what people expect from me. A lot of people think they understand the world, and the people in it, based on rudimentary aspects of who someone is; race, age, gender, economic status, and partisan politics. It saddens me to see people placing more, not less, emphasis on theses things in the past few years. This is one component of today’s world I refuse to be a part of or encourage, as who someone is is more about what they value and how they treat people.

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For the first time in my life, I actually feel like I am in a position to help people, as opposed to being the one that needs help. With this spirit, as well as my new job and other engagements, I want to encourage the following in the world around me:

  • Bridging the worlds of science and enterprise. I believe this is the best manner in which we can bring the benefits of scientific research and scientific knowledge to the general public, in a manner that is fair and equitable.
  • Encouraging people to spend less time alone, indoors, and seated. There are a lot of mental and physical health problems in my country that are only getting worse thanks to things like people spending more time in front of screens and less time conversing with one another.
  • Creating a more flexible world, particularly in the workplace. This means removing outdated rules and assumptions which are costing many people the opportunity to be who they really are.

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This may not be what some people desire of me, but it is my life. These pursuits were determined by matching my interests, values, and expertise with a desire to improve the condition of humanity.

I personally learned a lot more about life the year, which I will cover in my next entry. In addition to traveling and exploring less towards the end of 2018, a few other areas of my life also ended up getting neglected, particularly my physical health and social life. While going to an event with a professional organization can be enjoyable and productive, I have realized that it is no substitute for taking part in activities with friends. As I start 2019, I plan to place a higher priority on…

  • Physical health and particularly getting active and moving
  • Creating and nurturing some kind of a community
  • Expressing myself, and my unique-ness at all times
  • Finding new activities, new restaurants, new ideas, and exploring new places

Thank you for reading- hope you all have great plans for 2019!