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What Happened (2018, Year In Review)

This year was a blur.

As my kids get older, it seems more and more likely that I will be thinking that every year…

“Wow. What just happened?”

Well, a lot happened, really. It was a successful year in many ways, and unsuccessful in many ways. I am hoping I got slightly better, made slightly better decisions, made the lives of the people around me slightly better.

Partially because I find myself needing to think through the last 365 days, I’m going to structure this post slightly differently (apparently, last year I thought I’d set quarterly goals, then promptly forgot about it…so it’d be a bit hard to fill one of these posts on just those goals, anyway).

What happened, in terms of life events?

I picked up some new hobbies.

Though it sounds strange to consider this a major win, I was definitely feeling that self-indulgent fun was in very short supply at the beginning of this year.

When Oliver was first born I read a book called All Joy, No Fun, which perfectly summarizes parenting. It’s great, and you form a deep emotional bond like no other.

But much of the time – if not most of the time – it kind of sucks.

This year I discovered LEGO for the first time. I was never much into it as a kid, but it’s strangely therapeutic as an adult (though the kids spend a whole bunch of the time moving the pieces around and knocking them beneath the heaters).

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WE DID IT

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I also made a conscious decision that, as an American male, I needed to enjoy at least a single spectator sport. That led to following the UFC, which has brought me a ridiculously large amount of enjoyment, between following fighters on Instagram, laughing at memes, and, oh yes, actually watching the fights.

The fight I was most excited for this year.

My Jiu Jitsu progress was erratic, at best.

I did not make as much progress as I wanted in BJJ. I did manage to compete in my first ever tournament…

In preparation for that I had been training pretty regularly, with much higher-level folks.

While that was great, it kind of knocked the wind out of my enthusiasm. The loss in the tournament, plus the non-stop ass kicking I was receiving in class, made everything less fun. I didn’t really realize this until much later, but I was struggling to keep the motivation to train.

As with almost everything in my life: I do what’s fun, and what I’m forced to do. That is a fact I have had a LOT of trouble accepting.

(I hope this year will be the year I internalize how little willpower I actually possess, and use systems to accommodate that fact.)

We moved to West Hartford.

Max in our “temporary house” in downtown West Hartford.

Bittersweet. I will really miss our old house, the house where I proposed, where our kids were born. I spent a huge chunk of my 20’s and most of my 30’s in Middletown and Middlefield, and I was sad to leave.

But moving was the right call. It was quite the ordeal – it always is – but it’s over now, and it’s starting to finally feel like we’re settling in.

Thao and I went to Paris.

“Take Thao to Paris” has been a goal of mine for a long, long time. It was good.

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Some moments in Paris.

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What happened, physically?

Overall, it was a good year – but that view is slanted slightly by a very difficult last few months.

My goal was to lose body fat. Was I successful?

Well, looking at the year as a whole, my weight certainly decreased a significant amount, from a high of 175.4 to a low of 162.4 (about two weeks ago).

You’ll notice the downward trend gets suddenly arrested start in July, when we started the process of moving to West Hartford. It took me MANY weeks of struggle to figure out why my weight was moving in the wrong direction, despite my calorie-counting indicating I was eating the same amount.

This is as good an example of “systems thinking” as any. Because of the move, I began eating lunch at a different place. Though I was tracking the same number of calories/fat/protein/carbs (and had the restaurant’s website backing me up), there was apparently way more “hidden fat” (oil used in the cooking process, etc) than I was accounting for.

The moment I started tracking some extra fat calories in my lunch, my weight began to trend back down. It took forever, but by the end of the year I finally felt I had a process dialed in.

While I certainly lost body fat over the course of the year, my body fat actually ticked up slightly over the last 6 months or so. That’s disappointing, but it is what it is – a major life transition almost always has some kind of unexpected behavioral fallout.

Interestingly, my body weight to calories ratio (i.e., how much can I eat while maintaining the lowest possible body weight?) peaked right around September, JUST after our move.

The peak BW:CAL ratio was on 9/24, just after our move.

I’ve been getting DEXA scans and blood work done every 4 months or so, mostly to track for precursors to heart disease (the thing that will almost kill me). I also added a pretty significant data set when my Oura ring finally came in August, giving me an accurate way to track sleep, heart rate variability, and resting heart rate (numbers I was very, very eager to get numbers for).

It’s only a few months so far, but the connection between stress, RHR, and HRV is pretty fascinating to me (not to mention both being great indicators of heart health, provided I get a decent sense of my baseline). I’m looking forward to doing more with this over time.

What happened, financially?

For the business, 2018 was our strongest year ever. Our revenue literally doubled, putting us right at the 2m mark. That was pretty shocking, even for me.

Revenue is a misleading number, however. To service that much business, I had to grow the team (to just about 10 people as of December). Don’t get me wrong – I love my team, and I am happy to go into work every day.

But a growing team means growing expenses, and our profit margins dipped pretty significantly in the back half of 2018 (from near 20% to closer to 7% at it’s lowest). We also moved everyone to salary, which has meant some anxiety about hitting our bi-weekly goals.

Investing back into the business was something we needed to do, but it coincided with a significant drop-off in growth – I based my decisions on building the team based on our rate of growth over the last year, but that growth leveled off almost instantaneously.

Why? I have a few ideas – more team meant more of my time spent working on internal issues (building systems, processes, management, etc), instead o marketing; housing market shifted, meaning lots of middle-tier investors stopped doing as much marketing; Google Ads have grown increasingly expensive while also becoming less targeted.

This month in particular was VERY slow, which made meeting payroll a bit of a sprint. We did it, but it drove home for me the need to be much more careful about spending.

Our growth has been fantastic, but it doesn’t mean it’s going to stay that way. Ignoring the bottom line, and “not having time” to keep the marketing flowing, is a sure-fire recipe for disaster.

Lot of great people – and their families – betting on my ability to manage these things. I take that responsibility very seriously.

What did we save?

All told, we saved about 50k this year.

Much of that was simply invested in the market via things like Wealthfront, a 401k, ROTH IRA, etc.

A gigantic chunk of that went to pay for the down payment on the house and some renovations (mostly, finishing the basement).

We did it, I knew we would do it, cool. I’m glad we did it.

But having our savings be, for now, almost all in stocks is EXTREMELY unnerving.

Cash, cash, cash. Cash on hand. Cash on hand is security. That’s my goal for 2019 – 3 months of expenses, for both us and the business, in the bank, accessible at any time.

I feel over-extended. It is not a feeling I enjoy at all. I’ve been reading lots of stories of the financially-ruined as a motivator to get back on the side of virtue.

So…how did it go?

Overall, this was a year marked by MASSIVE professional growth and a huge improvement in quality of life.

However, it was also marked by some significant over-extension, and a significant slow-down in progress in my personal life (physical appearance, attention to dress and grooming, etc).

Essentially, I had huge life transitions and used up a whole lot of attention and will power to manage them.

That’s fine, and I’m happy with what we’ve accomplished as a family. But it’s time to re-assess; I want to refocus on some priorities that have gotten short shrift, and re-orient overall towards security and savings.

I’ll go over my plan for that, and all my 2019 goals, in my next blog post.

Thanks a lot, 2018. You were a good one.