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Risk Mitigation – 2017 Year In Review

Each year, as the weather cools and things get quiet, I take some time to look back over my goals from January and ponder how far I’ve come – or how little I’ve changed.

This also gives me a convenient way to process and try to understand the past year. Looking back at who you were – and understanding how you feel about that person – is a very effective way of understanding who you are right now.

This year is proving a bit harder to process than most.

For one, it has been a year of intense upheaval. Nearly every part of my life – personal and professional, physical and mental – was in the midst of some kind of traumatic reformation at the end of 2016. I’d spent several years trying to work my way out of unsolvable problems, and spent longer than that sublimating my frustrations and whistling past many a proverbial graveyard.

As with many so-called ambitious people, I only allowed myself to notice how bad things were when I hit peak depression. Depression, if you go through that relatively frequently (as I do), is the very best bellwether. It tells you when you’ve fucked up.

What makes depression functional, for me, rather than purely destructive, is that it often turns into anger – and anger fuels action. There is simply a point at which I refuse to listen to my own negative self-talk, and that part of me that screamed at my parents and teachers and threw rocks through classroom windows re-emerges. No one tells me what I can and can’t do.

The key is funneling that anger into healthy and fruitful pursuits. Channel it inward, or channel it too far outward, and all you become is bitter. Channel it into some useful activity, and the momentum can carry you quite far.

That cycle played out several times in 2017, minor variations of the theme that started the year. I worked, harder than I’ve ever worked, on attacking my own faults and addressing my own shortcomings. I faced up to, and then ignored, my own capacity to bury my own needs and desires beneath the expectations of others. I tried to overcome, and then became swept up in, my own disappointment, entitlement, and helplessness.

The good, and the bad. Periods of intense growth, followed by periods of depression, futility, frustration…followed again by growth. My business tripled in revenue and doubled in size. I went to the gym consistently, week in and week out, for the first time in my life. I followed a nutritional program for the first time. I became more confident. I become more assertive. I became less terrified of the emotions of others – and simultaneously, more terrified of my own emotions. I performed. I wrote music. I parented. I tried.

Just now, I had to stop typing this to go upstairs and soothe my son. He had woken up early from a nap, disturbed by the sounds of a neighbor’s generator kicking on after our power went out. I lay next to him, hand on his chest, but he cried and tossed my arm off before falling back to sleep.

It was a hard year. It was also an exhilarating year, and year in which I felt I was truly working on something; I felt like an adolescent. I also felt like an old man. I was not and am not sure how to merge the two, but I do feel like this version of myself is the best I’ve ever been…and that, for the first time, I am actually moving towards something like self-actualization. Whatever that means.

There is a feeling, just before you step on stage….the expectation of something happening. I have that feeling now.

I just don’t know why. I suppose the question is, when the time comes, when I will be ready to walk onstage?


Let’s review some goals, shall we?

1. COMPETE IN A JIU JITSU TOURNAMENT. (Fail)

I did not do this. However, I do have plans to do this in March.

Giving myself a year for this kind of goal was a mistake. For physical things I really need a deadline – running that half marathon a few years back is a good example. That was a specific race, on a specific date, and the looming day of reckoning was what actually got me onto the track.

I did continue to study jiu jitsu, and while I am still overtly terrible at it, I am less overtly terrible than I was. I’m certainly much calmer, much more open to the experience and able to think my way through what’s happening. I appreciate this because I spend a lot of my time being choked by other people. I am not joking when I say that this occurs so frequently that “let yourself get choked by the other person until they tire themselves out” is literally my strategy most of the time.

I wish I trained more, but my currently gym/bjj schedule is already tough on me. I’m hoping the tournament at the end of March encourages me to get onto the mats more often.

2. TAKE A SOLO VACATION. PAY FOR THAO’S (Success)

This, I did. Thao didn’t end up taking a trip – she opted to use the money to pay some credit card bills, instead.

I took a trip to Seattle and spent a week or so by myself, drinking coffee, writing, thinking, and going to a self help seminar.

Now – it is true that I didn’t have the best time. For whatever reason – most likely the change of seasons – I got hit by a pretty dark period right around this time, and the extended time alone and disruption of my schedule (not sleeping great, not working out, not following diet plan) generally threw me off balance.

Actual trip aside, for me it was a major success simply to establish the fact that I am a person outside of my marriage, family, and work; that I have desires and interests and can exist without the constraints of my responsibilities.

Don’t get me wrong – I love those responsibilities. But it’s beyond useful to remember that responsibility is a choice…I choice I make, of my own free will. each and every day.

3. THREE LIVE PERFORMANCES. (Success)

HAVE A NICE LIFE performed a number of times this year – all of them sold out, all of them intense, all of them better than I could have hoped for.

Before these shows, I literally worried that I would not remember what to do onstage. What was my schtick, again? Am I a mic stand guy, or a “hold the mic” guy? What the hell do you do with your hands?

The moment the music started, I remembered. You don’t have a shtick, and you don’t “do” anything. It “does” you.

The band – Tim, Ian, Rich, Myke – were absolutely incredible. I was so lucky to get to play with those guys. The people that showed up to the shows were amazing. It meant the world to me to get to speak to so many people that had been affected by what we put out.

HAVE A NICE LIFE is an accidental band. I am continually humbled by the chance to be involved with it. It made me want to make this a bigger part of my life, and I hope I follow through on that.

4. ONE DAY A WEEK FOR CREATIVE WORK. (Partial)

This was not successful in the way I first intended it – making Monday, for example, a day dedicated solely to creative output.

However, in the grander scheme of things, I spent a great deal more time this year working on creative stuff. For nearly 3/4 of the year I was traveling up to Boston for band practice once a week. I recorded a lot of Black Wing material – a few really strong ideas, a lot of middling ones. I found it much easier to open up Logic towards the end of the work day and get something done than I had the year prior.

If the goal was to reconnect with my creative life, that certainly happened. Did I dedicate an entire working day to it? No – and I still think that’s the ideal. But I was happy enough with my effort.

5. CLOSE RATE ON THE PHONE UP TO 40%. (Success)

I say success, but this goal transformed, as they so often do, partway through the year.

My issue, at the time, was that I was in my own head about my sales ability, and it was affecting sales. If I had gotten my close rate up, that would’ve solved my problem…but, of course, if I had been able to do that I wouldn’t have had the problem to begin with. Not a great goal.

Instead, I made two major changes that not only solved this problem, but massively increased our rate of growth and made my own working day-to-day much, much better:

– I got off sales calls altogether and had Andrew take over;
– I brought on a second salesperson (Lou).

Andrew did an amazing job; he was almost immediately better at sales than I was. I invested in sales training for him and he absolutely killed it.

When Andrew took paternity leave towards the end of the year, we brought on Lou to help out. Lou has been an amazing addition to the team; he closes like a boss and fit into the company culture instantly.

Those two together, while not quite at 40%, close a great deal and have our sales process locked down. That frees me up to think about other problems, and to actually do things I’m naturally good at – rather than trying to become good at something I’m not naturally inclined to.

In any case, I much prefer our current solution to the one I had in mind last year.

6. LAUNCH TWO NEW SERVICE LINES. (Success)

Interesting to go back and see how excited I was about our “Partners” program, which I never actually did anything with.

However, we did launch two new service lines this year: We started managing Facebook ads, and we launched an SEO service (not to mention bringing on a whole SEO team).

The addition of SEO, in particular, has been a huge boost for our business; by this time next year, I expect it to be as big or bigger than our core business of online advertising.

It was a big step, and I’m sure lots of problems lurk just below our field of vision…but it was a strong move and one that really helped boost revenue this year.

7. PROVIDE HEALTH CARE FOR THE PEOPLE I WORK WITH. (Fail)

Didn’t happen. I’m not sure where I lost this thread – I think when I was exploring it, earlier in the year, I didn’t have the revenue to support it.

I did officially sign up to offer 401k’s this year, which is pretty rad, but they don’t go into effect until 2018.

Benefits are a big deal to me, but I won’t lie – taking on so much responsibility (as well as the cost and risk associated with that responsibility) makes me nervous. For a long as we’ve been around, everyone’s gotten paid like I got paid – by the client. Now that we’ve grown, that’s no longer appropriate….but taking the jump to “real business” is scary.

8. BE IN THE BEST SHAPE OF MY LIFE. (Success – barely)

This is technically a success.

I maintained a steady gym habit for the entire year – a first in my life. The positive impact of that habit cannot be understated, as much as I still don’t particularly enjoy it. I also kept up with BJJ, and followed a diet program.

All that’s led me to add some muscle mass and lose a bit of body fat percentage; though I actually slightly prefer the way I looked last year (leaner, but also with less muscle), I would say I am, by the numbers, in better shape now.

Am I where I want to be? No. Am I where I feel I should be, after a year of effort? No.

Looking back on the year, I see some fatal flaws in my approach:

– though I consistently made it to the gym, I often skipped sets or cut workouts short in order to get to the office earlier;
– I did not always hit my perfect schedule (when I was going 4 days, I’d often only get 3 in; now that I’ve switched to 5 days, I often only get 4);
– I was often inexact with my diet plan – roughly in the ballpark of where I wanted to be, but not nailing my macros “to the gram”;

…etc. Basically, I followed the plan…but still managed to slack off.

That’s because I believed that a little variation here or there wouldn’t make much of a difference. The evidence would seem to say otherwise. Is that because my plans were off – wrong diet, wrong exercise? Is that because I have innate quality that makes adding muscle difficult?

Maybe. Being honest, I simply don’t know. But I trust the people I’m working with, and at the very least I know I need to see what happens when I actually do EXACTLY what I’m supposed to.

9. ADD A NEW, SOCIAL HOBBY TO MY LIFE. (Partial)

Calling this a partial success.

At the time I had something like, oh, I don’t know…model trains, in mind. You know, a legit-ass “hobby.”

That didn’t really happen. What DID happen was that I put in the effort to rebuild my social life outside of the home. I reached out to local friends and made a habit of getting out about once a week to grab drinks, play games, play music, etc.

And it’s been great. It’s such an important of my life now, it’s hard to remember what things were like when I didn’t make that effort. Reconnecting with friends – particularly male friends – is increasingly difficult in your 30’s. It is, however, worth the effort.

SCORE: 6/8

Not too shabby.

Like I said – a tough year, with a lot of growth, on multiple fronts. A year like that can be painful, but looking back, I view 2017 as one of the most important years of my life – at least in terms of personal development.

Well, that’s it. Excited to look forward to 2018, and think about what’s to come. Onwards and upwards.