I don’t have a formal annual review process and I’m terrible about making and keeping new year’s resolutions. I feel, like a lot of people, that new year’s resolutions set us up for failure. We’re feeling terrible about our weight or health in the holiday mayhem, we make lofty goals, and they fall flat within a month or two. Starting habits like going to the gym or eating healthily are really hard to do and shouldn’t be bitten off in one giant chunk with all that expectation hanging around like an ominous storm cloud.
In fact, until this year, I haven’t even done a whole lot of year-end planning, save for some personal budgeting. There is one trend I picked up from my best friend many years ago, however. When Erin and I were first living together, she introduced her yearly themes to me, and they’ve stuck with me ever since. At the time, one of her themes was The Year of Skin Care, but she always chose two—one tended to be personal, and one more professional in nature.
What I’ve always loved about the yearly themes is that they’re more guiding principles than specific goals or futile attempts at forming habits. This last year my themes were The Year of Nation-Building and The Year of Debt Reduction. On a professional level, I needed to focus on launching Maker’s Nation after 18 months of research and planning. On a personal level, I wanted to continue down the path of credit repair and debt reduction and make up for some poor spending choices in my youth, as well as grapple with the student debt I acquired in college. Here’s how I did.
2014: Year of Nation-Building
In sum, I did it! Maker’s Nation launched officially on May 1, 2014, and I’m so happy to have my baby out into the world. When it comes to actual nation-building, however, I fell shorter than anticipated.
Successes: The Creative Clubhouse event in October was an enormous success, thanks to the incredible collaboration of a few friends and colleagues that were just as jazzed about the idea as I was.
Challenges: I relied too heavily on an if-you-build-it-they-will-come approach to promoting the workshops and programs that I put together for the organization this year, and I realized that my own personal network isn’t large enough to meet the marketing needs of the program as a whole.
Lessons: I work better with a team than by myself (shared accountability is huge). I’m not very good at hustling (but I need to do it more). It always takes longer than you think (but that’s okay).
2014: Year of Debt Reduction
I have a terrible history with managing my own money (strangely, I excel at managing other people’s money or project budgets), but I’ve greatly benefitted over the past several years from the stellar fiscal responsibility of my guy, Justin. Creating and maintaining a detailed budget spreadsheet and expense tracker has been huge in keeping my personal finances on track, especially in the mad, mad, mad, mad world of freelancing and self-employment. In January 2014, I had $34,999.98 in debt, the majority of which is in old student loans from the degree I never completed. Did I reduce my overall debt throughout the year? Yes. (I realize putting these numbers out there is incredibly personal, but I’m a huge advocate for financial transparency and how it can benefit others.)
Successes: I was able to successfully pay off one of my two credit cards (with the highest interest rate). I also made minimum or greater payments on all debt accounts throughout the year. My personal credit score started at 640 in January, and thanks to paying off that credit card, my credit limit increasing, and some old, nasty charge-offs expiring from my history, it’s clocking in at 697 now. Much more of an increase than I expected, and so close to 700!
Challenges: The second I paid off that credit card, the bank tripled my credit limit (those sneaky buggers!), and when I shelled out for a few large, unplanned expenses and took a fun trip to New York City with my best friend, I spiraled into a flurry spending splurges and stopped faithfully tracking my monthly income and expenses for nearly six months. Uh-oh spaghetti-ohs. This derailed my plans to get the second credit card paid off by the end of the year, and when all was said and done, my total debt isn’t that much lower, still clocking in at $32,344.95.
Lessons: Don’t fall into this trap again! Keep tracking your income and expenses in your magical spreadsheet and stay on top of things. Allow for budget contingencies and resist the temptation to use the shiny new credit carrot that gets dangled in front of your eyes.
2014 was a good year overall, but I let some of my own personal weaknesses get the best of me. That said, I learned a lot about myself through these choices and consequences, and the only thing I really regret is spending so much in New York. Keeping that in mind (and thanks to some short-notice prodding from my friend Chris to share my themes at his annual holiday party), I've made my choices. Here are my two major areas of focus for this new year.
2015: Year of Writing
If you look back at the last post on this here blog, you’ll notice that it was published on December 5, 2013. The one before that? Six months earlier. I’ve never been terribly regular with writing in the past, but 2014 was definitely a gaping void with no words on the virtual page. I realized in revamping my website last month and in various conversations with friends and colleagues that I need to be writing more, both personally and professionally. Over the holiday break, I finally sat down and took some time to start telling the story of buying a property and building a tiny cabin, and it felt good. Really good. I also have notes and disjointed thoughts galore about creative entrepreneurship and what it means to be working and/or creating for yourself, which will benefit Maker’s Nation as well as my own professional pursuits. Those thoughts need to be put out there in the world this year—I will embrace writing as a necessary part of what I do, as a creative outlet, and as a means of communication.
2015: Year of Debt Elimination
On the heels of very little progress on the personal debt front, I’m doubling down with a focus on eliminating the debt I currently have. I have no illusions that I’ll be able to pay it all off (my debt nearly equals my anticipated annual income), but I already have plans in place to eliminate both credit cards (for serious) and pay off one of seven individual student loans, all within this month of January. (What?!) That will reduce my monthly expenses by about $150, and allow me to focus on paying down the rest of my student loans with more gusto.
Mapping Out a Year of Awesome
In addition to these two overarching themes, I’m extremely excited for 2015 and the plans that are in store. Here’s are some highlights that I’m looking forward to:
- At least four trips to our tiny cabin in Central Washington to keep building/improving. I love visiting that place as a getaway, and love putting my hands into the work there. I'm also super-psyched to share the experience with you on my other blog, Built.
- A full year of programs and activities for Maker’s Nation. This is when the true nation-building happens.
- A new (ad)venture with Justin to buy a rental property and start some real estate investing (if that doesn’t make me feel like an adult, I don’t know what will).
- The fifth anniversary of the World Domination Summit this summer. I know it will be epic, and I can’t wait to work with the team on creating an experience that 3,000 people will never forget.
- Commemorating a decade of incredible friendship with Erin this fall with what is sure to be an epic vacation to a sunny clime.
To sum up:
You were great, but I’ve moved on.
Bring. It. On. Let's get shit done.
What about you? Themes, words, or big-picture goals for the year?