2018: New Year, New Priorities

After reflecting on last year’s resolutions, and reading through a lot of my personal writing, blog posts and other material, I noticed that there was a common theme to a lot of the content: in 2017, I had a priorities problem. It became the most apparent - and severe - after I purchased my fixer upper in September of 2017. Overall, I achieved or made measurable progress towards many of my 2017 goals, but even as I was achieving some of those goals, the lack of balance in my life between different things I consider my priorities was consistently making me feel unsuccessful and unhappy. So this year, I'm doing things a bit differently.

Out with the Resolutions, In with the Priorities

There were a lot of options I thought through when it came to presenting my top 5 goals for the coming year. I certainly could have made prioritization or balance one of the five. However, reprioritizing to ensure that I’m spending as much of my time as possible on the things I value most seemed like an overarching need - something that spanned the entire group of goals I was considering for this year. So I decided to present five priorities that I want to focus on in the coming year… with the intention to prioritize them as equally as possible.

Are there some risks with this format? Certainly. One that comes to mind is that priorities, at least in the way that I’ve written them, are more vague than resolutions. This could arguably mean that there is no way to measure success or failure at a particular priority, and therefore, no reason to work towards achieving it. While this may be true to an extent, I personally like the idea of the higher level themes for the year being broad, because this allows them to be broken down into supporting goals/action items/tasks throughout the year. Also, one of the primary reasons I like to share my priorities for the year here on the blog is that it helps hold me accountable to actually achieve my goals in each category... because I certainly don't want to be writing a Year in Review post for 2018 where I failed at everything!

My Top Five Priorities for 2018

Priority #1: Writing

For years, I've told the people I care about most something about myself that I've inherently known my entire life: I am a writer. More than anything else that I could do with my time, I want to write. However, even while knowing this about myself for years, I've actively chosen not to write. Sure, I write this blog, and I write some financial summaries at work, and I write down random ideas in my journal... but I don't make writing a priority in my everyday life. Since I'm pretty confident that the only way to know if something works for you is to try it, then I should definitely be writing to figure out if I like writing in practice as much as I think I do in theory. I should also be writing because I need the practice… and because writing helps keep me sane.

So why haven't I done this in the past?

Simple: fear. If I was most passionate about building statistical models, or chasing storms, or literally anything that doesn't involve baring my life, thoughts and soul for anyone to read, maybe I wouldn't be as scared. But honestly, I probably still would be. Because there's this thing that happens when you go after the thing you want the most in the world: you care if you fail. You fear that failure more than any other type of failure… because it matters. Sometimes, you may even fear it enough to not try to go after that big goal in the first place. After all - if you aren’t even trying, then you aren’t failing, right?

However, something has changed for me over this past year in particular: life just doesn’t feel authentic unless I’m doing the things that make me who I am… even if I’m failing at them. At age 27, maybe I’ve just become thoroughly fed up with inauthenticity. Maybe I don’t care what people think anymore. Maybe, it’s just time.

Whatever it is, I’m prioritizing writing this year, and this particular priority already has some supporting goals.

Writing Action Items

Write every day in 2018.

It doesn’t matter what, or when, or how much. But pen to page or fingers to keyboard, I want to write something every single day this year.

Read 25 books in 2018.

I decreased this book count from 2017 in order to make more time to write, but I’m certainly not giving this one up entirely… because reading is one of the best ways to become a better writer.

Blog Rebranding.

I was hesitant to add this action item because I don't have a lot of detail about it at this point. But I do know that I have to address my ongoing issues with content organization and topic definition here on the blog this year. Stay tuned...

Priority #2: Travel

My 2017 year in review post alluded to the fact that while I achieved my “one new city, one new country” goal from last year, I quite frankly wanted more travel. Believe me, I’m thankful for any and all travel I get to do in any given year, and couldn’t be happier about the places I got to explore in 2017. However, to the extent that this post has a theme, that theme is prioritization… and in 2018, my goal is to make travel more of an ongoing priority.

Unfortunately, the American system of vacation time is working against this particular goal. If you are reading this post and work full-time, you understand the issues firsthand: 40+ hours of work a week with just 10-15 days of vacation a year really makes international travel a challenge. While I’ve certainly done two international trips in a year since I started working full-time, those were usually in situations where I had more time (for example, I went on an international trip between quitting my old job and starting my current job). Generally, I'm only able to get abroad once each year.

As someone who balances work and travel, this is my reality for the foreseeable future... so I’m doing what I can to stretch the vacation time as far as I can in 2018.

And it's really going to have to stretch, because I have some pretty aggressive supporting goals in mind for this category already.

Travel Action Items

Go on at least 6 trips in 2018.

I got this idea from a friend of mine who made a goal in 2017 to travel every single month. She is a nurse, which in the U.S. means a lot more built-in travel time than I have in my finance role, but I still wanted to capture the essence of that goal because I thought it was awesome!

I don't really have any restrictions on this goal, except that I'd like at least two of my targeted six trips to be international. In 2017, I went on three trips - to New Orleans, Austin, and Europe - so taking six trips this year would double my travel from last year. Overall, I'm hoping this goal will push me to travel more consistently.

True to form, I started early on this particular goal with a long weekend trip to Asheville, NC  (more details on that to come). One down, five to go...

Learn a language in 2018.

Keeping this one a bit vague on purpose, since I'm still deciding which language I want to learn... but as an avid world traveler, I think it's high time I put some time into learning to speak something other than English.

Priority #3: House

This year, my goal for the house is pretty simple: get things done, but not at the expense of everything else in my life that needs to be done. This will mean being more intentional about which projects are the highest priority, and only starting one major project at a time (even if it means I'm making slower overall progress than I was last year). In a nutshell, I want to learn from the mistakes I made in 2017 in this particular category so that at the end of 2018 I can feel like I have a house that is improving... but I also have a life.

While I haven't created any formal supporting goals for this priority just yet, I do have a master list of things that need to be done on the house. Since Summer is the most expensive time to travel (and I have a lot of friends with major life events scheduled to occur this summer in Nashville), I've planned a bit of a traveling hiatus from June to August of 2018... which will hopefully give me some time to tackle the biggest house project on the 2018 agenda: the kitchen.

Now that my anxiety is kicking in, let's move on to the next priority...

Priority #4: Finances

I'll start with stating the obvious: saving money isn't a sexy goal. I mean, if I'm only making five resolutions (or priorities) a year, why would I waste one on something dull like finances? To put it simply, because my finances are my responsibility - and if I'm not focusing on them, no one is.

The way I've been describing these third and fourth priorities to myself is like a package deal: "Get your house in order, and get your financial house in order." There are two particular action items that I've vaguely defined in support of this goal, but as of now, that's all I've decided on (so I'll keep you updated on developments in this category).

Personal Finance Action Items

Save Money Aggressively.

Since graduating from college in 2013, I had two large expenditures I was focused on saving for: a down payment on a house or graduate school. To be honest, I thought graduate school was more likely... but in 2017, I surprised myself by buying a fifties fixer upper in Nashville. So in 2018, I need to focus on rebuilding my savings.

Invest Money.

If you were thinking that since I work in finance I must have a healthy portfolio of stocks and bonds and real estate holdings... THINK AGAIN.  My experience is primarily in small business lending, so I'm pretty much the furthest thing possible from an investment banker. That being said, I want to focus on being smarter with my money in 2018, and I know enough to know that shoving it all in a mattress (or the 2018 equivalent - a savings account drawing virtually no interest) isn't smart.

Priority #5: Self

You may have seen the #selfcare hashtag show up on Instagram photos of everything from spa visits to green juices to freshly manicured nails. While I can't say that treating yourself occasionally isn't a component of caring for yourself... truly prioritizing yourself is a bit more complicated. I'm classifying all the things that directly benefit my health, wellness, well being, development and relationships in this category, as well as things I just want to learn more about, which means I already have a few supporting goals in mind.

Self Action Items

Personal Rebranding.

Obviously this topic goes hand-in-hand with blog rebranding, which I've categorized as a Writing Action Item above. Overall, I want to make sure both my blog and my personal brand reflect who I really am (as noted elsewhere in this post: I'm ready for a year of authenticity in 2018).

Learn to Cook.

This particular action item supports Priority Number 4 above (because eating at home is a lot cheaper than exploring the Nashville food scene, believe me), but it’s also something I’ve been wanting to learn for awhile. Since my current food preparation repertoire consists primarily of sandwiches and refrigerated pasta that is ready to eat after boiling for 4 minutes, this should be interesting.

Have fun.

I put this goal at the end of this list because I think it’s the perfect conclusion to this post.

In case you haven’t guessed after reading this novel, I’m a goals person. I like setting goals, and breaking them down into smaller tasks, and tracking my progress on them. But I’ll be the first to admit that living life in pursuit of goals can have its downsides. While defining the things you want to accomplish and working towards those things is ultimately a better alternative than never putting any thought into what you want in life and therefore never achieving anything you want to achieve (in my opinion, at least)... the day-to-day pursuit of goals isn’t always fun. It means hours and minutes and days and months of sacrificing what you want to do more in the moment (binge Netflix?) to work on things you absolutely don’t want to do in the moment (power through writers' block).

Even while I’m pursuing a pretty aggressive list of priorities and supporting action items during 2018, I want to remember to have some fun this year. It may seem counterintuitive, but occasionally doing things for “no reason” is great for productivity and creativity. So if there is something I want to do this year just for fun… even if I can’t figure out how it supports any of the priorities listed above… I’m going to do it anyway.

And you should too.