My 2020 Review, Reflection, and Key Lessons

By Nat Eliason in Life

Published or Updated on Jan 11, 2021

I spent two weeks doing my annual review and goal setting this year. 

I’ve never spent anywhere close to as long on this process before. It’s often happened in a few hours on a plane ride, or on some December Sunday afternoon. But this year I wanted to take it seriously. Especially since I happen to be at a pivotal point in my life. 

I don’t expect you to read this article, I’m kinda flattered you’re even here. This is to help me process everything in my head, set some directions moving forward, and try to figure out what to do next. I did bold all the relevant takeaways though if you want to skim around. 

If that’s valuable or interesting to you, fantastic. I’d love to hear from you on Twitter once you’ve read it. 

I’ll mention too that this is based on Anthony Gustin’s phenomenal annual review framework which I highly recommend to anyone who wants to do a serious annual review. 

Reflecting on 2020

I didn’t do a formal goal setting and reflection exercise at the end of 2019, but I did have a few goals going into 2020: 

  • Make more than $10k a month from this site
  • Promote Nora to CEO of Growth Machine 
  • Make the Cup & Leaf cafe profitable & self-sufficient 
  • Buy Cosette and My’s first investment property 
  • Make some more angel investments
  • Hit X net worth

Some of these are kinda funny in retrospect. I set the “$10k a month” goal at the start of January, launched Effortless Output at the end of January, and by the end of 2020 it had earned about $500,000. 

Cosette and I used some of the money from that to buy the first investment property, Walden ATX, which we’ll be spending a lot of time in and partially opening as an Airbnb probably in February. 

The success of the course also led me to invest in Roam’s early seed round when the valuation was about $28m. Six or so months later they announced their monster seed valuation of $200m, and I’m not sure I’m ever going to make an angel investment like that again. Related to all of this too, I ended up exceeding my net worth goal which felt pretty good. Though I admit the Bitcoin rally gave me some help there.

Nora and I had talked about her taking over as CEO as early as March, but with everything that happened during COVID it got put on the backburner. At the end of December we made it official, so that goal got checked off right at the last moment. 

Then there’s the cafe. I haven’t talked about it much because honestly it’s just a sad story. We spent 10 months renovating it, were really proud of what we built, opened for 2 months, got some incredibly nice reviews and were pretty close to it breaking even… then COVID hit. We had designed it around sitting in and relaxing, working, etc. for hours at a time, and that just isn’t coming back as a business model anytime soon. Thankfully, we were able to sell off the online business to Sencha Tea Bar in Minneapolis, so those proceeds can go towards covering the lease.

I had some other great things happen in 2020 that weren’t on my goals. My elk hunt in November was an incredible experience that significantly contributed to rethinking my focus and priorities.

Cosette and I got our second puppy, Tahoe, on a whim when we realized the world was locking down and we wouldn’t be traveling. He’s a very good boy.

I also checked off a long-term goal of running a marathon and deadlifting 405 in the same week… but then I lost all motivation for exercise and barely worked out for a few months. Funny how that works.

And I started investing in YouTube. I’m still not totally sure what my goal is here or how much I want to focus on it, but it’s been a fun way to mix up the mediums I’m working in, and I was glad to get close to 9k subscribers by the end of the year.

What Energized Me in 2020?

I’m extremely grateful I live in Austin surrounded by healthy, active people. 

After going into quarantine in mid March, we all started pushing the boundaries around mid May. I can see on my calendar when we all decided to be social again. Cosette and I didn’t dine alone for, literally, two weeks straight. 

We decided it wasn’t worth giving up our lives to mitigate one of the many ways we could die, especially given how incredibly low our risk and our community’s risk was. Maybe you would decide differently. But I’m incredibly happy we “risked it” by having a life this year because all the things that energized me most involved being with other people. 

The best parts of my year were dinners, hosting grill outs, staycations, co-working at coffee shops, new restaurants, swimming in Barton Springs, going on walks, Bachelor nights (yes, really), UFC nights, hunting, trips with friends, shooting lessons, cooking lessons, group exercise, beekeeping lessons, Mother Tongue luncheons…  

Every single thing on my “energized me” list involved spending time with other people, and/or going new places with Cosette. 

Reflecting on this list, I’m sad that so many people probably had a terrible year devoid of these things. For some of those people, that was a reasonable sacrifice. But for many, it was out of unnecessary fear. 

Going into next year, it’s clear that the things to prioritize are getting out and spending time with friends, learning things, sharing meals, hosting dinners, and exploring. The more of that I had in my week, the better the week was. The less I had, the more stressed and anxious I felt. 

What Drained Me in 2020? 

What drained me most in 2020 was, first and foremost, alcohol. 

At the start of quarantine it was very easy to slip into the routine of drinking every night, playing video games, eating junk food, and generally feeling like shit. 

Alcohol is toxic. It’s definitely fun in the right setting, but as a daily habit, it’s a source of depression, excess fat, anxiety, anger, and earlier death. Ignore the tenuous correlations between moderate drinking and longevity or heart health, there’s absolutely a third variable (probably socialization and stress reduction) that explains it. 

It’s so easy to let alcohol creep into our lives. A glass or two of wine with dinner with friends turns into having wine with dinner at home turns into having an end-of-work drink around 5. Pretty soon you’re drinking every night, spiraling into worse and worse health, fraying your mental sanity, and you don’t even realize it. 

Alcohol and COVID have been a deadly combination because of how many people probably spent most of the year stuck inside, drinking every day, watching the news, and getting triggered by whatever new dumb shit Trump said. It’s not a good way to live.

I’ve always struggled to have a reasonable relationship with alcohol. I’m good at complete abstinence, and I’m great at getting drunk, but I’m not great at moderation. One or two glasses of wine almost always lead to more, and eventually to regretting it the next day, something I talked about in my “stupid monkey” post. 

So just as “getting out with friends” was the big obvious thing to carry forward for energizing me in 2021, alcohol is the big obvious thing to leave behind as what drained me in 2020. I don’t want to completely quit drinking: I honestly do love the craftsmanship of great wine and beers, but I need to change something. 

Another big thing that drained me in 2020 was work meetings. I’m not sure what it is about them. I could absolutely love the other person in the call, but I always feel drained by work meetings. Perhaps it’s Zoom. I really hate video calls. 

I’ll add any kind of live presentation or webinar, and most podcasts (as a guest) too. I’ve put an indefinite hold on all of those for now, since the vast majority don’t end up being super worthwhile and eat up a lot of the day. I really didn’t enjoy doing the live sessions for my Roam course, despite the extra income, and I doubt I’ll do those again. 

Then there’s the news. I wish I could use Twitter without seeing the “trending” section, but there’s not a great way to do it on mobile. Anyway, the news has gotten pretty toxic and I wish I could completely nix it without also losing Twitter, but alas, the Discover tab is there to ruin my mood. 

Which leads me to the actual last last thing: Internet fights. They’re fun, but definitely mess with my mood for a bit. I should stop letting myself get sucked into them. 

How Did I Grow in 2020?

Travel is the first big area that comes to mind. Only two of my favorite memories from 2020 involve travel, but that was more for what I was doing and who I was with than where I was going.

Travel used to be a big priority for me, and I did the whole digital nomad thing for a bit, but it’s not a priority anymore. This year solidified how much I love my life here in Austin and how incredible of a trip something would have to be to get me to leave. 

Beach vacations? Working from another city for a week? No thank you. Axis deer hunting in Hawai’i with 6 of my good friends? Yeah let’s go. 

This year also made me realize how important relationships are, and some of the ways I’ve been failing to be a good friend. While I love productivity and “getting things done,” productivity advice has made me a worse person by encouraging ignoring notifications and social media in the pursuit of more work.

I’ve been actively trying to deprogram that for the last few months: responding to texts faster, being more active on Instagram, things like that. It might seem like a silly thing to have to prioritize but anyone who knows me in real life will tell you I’m frustratingly, rudely unresponsive, and that’s something I need to work on. 

On that subject though, Cosette and I both became significantly more social this year, which I’ve loved. At this point we’re hosting friends for dinner, or going to friends’ for dinner, almost every night of the week, which has to have been one of the best lifestyle changes I’ve ever made. COVID made us realize how important community is, and I’m grateful for everyone in Austin I’ve been able to get closer to this year.

I’ve also gotten healthier with my diet. I’m grateful to know people like Anthony who do all the health research so I don’t have to, and with whom I can nerd out on all this health stuff. My food selection has improved dramatically, as has the restaurants we go to when we do, and I can feel how much better my body feels from making those changes.

Health and community are clearly emerging themes: spending more time in nature with friends, sharing good food, ideally that we helped harvest ourselves. That’s a pretty good life. 

How Could I Have Been Better?

The first thing that comes to mind is just reiterating the drinking less topic from earlier. That would have been one easy way to be better. 

Being more responsive, too, would have made me a better person. That’s something I still need to continue working on. 

Acting earlier is one that’s come up a few times now. There were a few times in the year where I knew what I needed to do, but I procrastinated doing it because the action was scary, tough, whatever. Every time though everything was better after I’d done it, and I’ve wished I’d done it sooner. It’s hard to remember that when you’re in the moment, but the ice bath doesn’t get any warmer by dancing around it waiting to get in.

The last thing I’ll include here is I should have gotten outside and offline more. There were so many times in the first three quarters of the year I was stressed out, being frantic, and if I had just gone for a walk it really would have helped. Again, though, it’s hard to remember that in the moment when everything feels like it’s on fire. 

What Lessons Did Life Teach Me?

One lesson life taught me this year is how easy it is for bad habits to spiral. Drinking occasionally turns into drinking often, drinking often turns into skipping the gym, skipping the gym turns into ordering out more, it’s easy to lose track for a month and end up in a much unhealthier place.

Our modern environment pushes us into all kinds of bad habits: drinking, ordering food, watching TV, sitting on the couch, staring at our phones, and we have to actively resist most of these things in a way our brains aren’t naturally wired to push back against. The more of those areas we let slip, the more slippery the rest get. It’s easier to change all of them at once than to just change one since they pull each other down so much. 

The importance of firing fast was a recurring lesson this year. There were a few times where I needed to fire someone and I dilly-dallied on it for too long. This advice is so common it should be obvious, but you have to experience the downsides of ignoring this advice to really get it. 

Trust but verify is here, too. I had one person I trusted professionally take pretty big advantage of me this year which is disheartening. Partially because I’m sad for them that this is the path they’re on, but I’m also sad because I know it will affect how much I’m willing to trust other hires in the future.

Another which kinda ties in with the last two, is that if you have any spidey-sense that you shouldn’t work with someone, no matter how insanely good the deal seems or how much money you think you’re going to make, don’t work with them. Just don’t. That spidey sense is there for a reason. Trust it.

Okay a few less dark ones: don’t overcommit to areas was a good lesson. An “area of responsibility” is something you intend to uphold some standard of quality in, which means it’s going to take some amount of daily, weekly, or monthly work. Since areas don’t have finite end dates, each one you commit to is an obligation on your time indefinitely. Projects are easier to pick up, finish, and then be done with. So commit to individual projects more willingly. Be very selective with what areas you let into your life.

And stay aware of the bottlenecks and work hard to remove them. Keep in mind what your time is worth, and don’t let yourself do work way below your hourly value rate just because you haven’t figured out how to solve that bottleneck yet. Step back, find a way to remove the bottleneck, then let it run without you. Your time is your most important resource. 

Finally, you don’t have to make your money back where you lost it. Losing the cafe sucked, and we could have gone in there to fight to keep it open and eeking out a small amount of money, but there are a lot of ways to make money and if you’re just trying to cover losses, find the best way to cover those losses, not necessarily the way that is most closely related to where you’re losing money. 

Where Did I Take Risks?

Some of the other topics I’ve covered fall into this category so I won’t reiterate them here, I just want to touch on one that I haven’t talked about yet: my brief partnership with Tiago Forte’s Forte Academy for Effortless Output

It came together somewhat on a whim. I was originally just going to be an affiliate for his Building a Second Brain launch, but then I proposed we merge the Roam course into his school since there was so much overlap. 

So we did. We launched around the same time, I did the live sessions for Effortless Output, and then it lived on his school. But, after a few months, we realized it wasn’t the right fit for either of us. He talked about it more in his review here. I’m glad we tried it out, and even more glad that we could talk about it after a few months and unwrap it in a way that worked great for both of us. 

Tiago’s a fantastic guy to work with, his course is probably the best online course out there, and I’m grateful that we get to work together to the extent that we do. 

What Were My Biggest Surprises?

Effortless Output is by far the biggest surprise of the year. I never expected it to do 10% as well as it ended up doing. I’m not totally sure what the lesson is there, besides that when you’ve clearly struck on a growing interest, find some way to double down. 

Up there with the course success would be how life changing it’s been working with Amanda, my virtual assistant or perhaps more accurately project manager. I got in touch with her through Great Assistant, and I’ve been incredibly grateful to be able to work with her. I hope you feel the same Amanda! 

Reviewing my 2020 Outcomes

How Many Goals Did I Hit? Where Did I Miss The Mark? 

Like I mentioned in the beginning, this was a weird year since I basically hit most of my goals. I’m giving myself a pass on the cafe-related ones. It would have been hard to predict a pandemic. 

What that tells me though is I should aim higher in 2021. Obviously if I hit most of my goals this year, and blew a few out of the water, then I wasn’t aiming high enough. 

To the extent I missed the mark, I think it was from failures of imagination. The Bill Gates quotation says something like “We tend to overestimate what we can do in a year, and underestimate what we can do in a decade.” But maybe there’s also some truth to overestimating what we can do in a week and underestimating what we can do in a year. 

What Habits, Routines, People, or Environments Helped?

So much of effectiveness is determined by our environments, habits, routines, and the people we surround ourselves with. I found this part of the reflection very helpful.

The first thing that stood out to me was that the first two months of the year were unusually productive. I launched the Roam course, published five articles, read a bunch, made some important moves at Growth Machine, and helped Cosette get the cafe going. 

Then in the later half of March through April and May, I basically got nothing done. What happened? 

My theory is that in the first few months of the year, I was waking up at 7, going into the cafe, and spending 6-10 hours a day there. Friends would regularly stop by, it was a great work environment, and it forced me onto a rigid schedule with exercise. I was also training for the marathon, so I wasn’t drinking. 

Then March rolls around and I’m no longer in the cafe every day, no longer training for the marathon, and no longer not drinking. Instead I’m sitting inside getting some work done then playing Fortnite for 4+ hours a day. I know which life I prefer. 

The things that contributed most to doing work I was proud of this year were: 

  • Getting out of the house
  • Spending time with friends
  • Exercising regularly
  • Working with Central Athlete
  • Not drinking
  • Working outside of the house
  • Being outside
  • Reading in the morning

All of those were on point in January and February, but were gone by the end of March. I’m not sure I properly got most of them back in line again until December! And even then I was still kinda foggy from smoking so much. This sounds kinda depressing but right now I feel like I’m picking the work back up from early-March Nat in some ways. I intend to keep the good habits going more consistently this year. 

What Habits, Routines, People, or Environments Hurt?

This is essentially the inverse of the last list. The things that hurt my sense of well-being, and output, the most, were:

  • Alcohol 
  • Weed
  • Spending time in the house
  • Not seeing people
  • Not exercising
  • Eating junk 
  • Not reading 

But there were a few other subtle ones I noticed. Lunch meetings are one. I just don’t like meeting someone over lunch, especially since it usually involves being indoors. 

The number of work meetings I had per day, too, was a pretty accurate predictor of how highly I rated the day by the end of it. 

Boozy brunch is a funny one but it makes it pretty high on this list too. Having one or two drinks with brunch quickly spirals into an afternoon of day drinking, so avoiding letting that spiral start is paramount. 

Start, Stop, Continue

This is such a helpful exercise for figuring out how to adjust your work and time going into any new period. What do you want to start doing, stop doing, and continue doing? 

Start

Have dedicated meeting days. If possible, I want to try to put all of my work related meetings on one day so I have the other days free for whatever else I want to do. 

Find more recipes. I realized one of the bottlenecks to cooking more is that I only have a few recipes I cook over and over again, and even steak and veggies gets tiring sometimes. Having more in my arsenal would make me more motivated to cook and give me more options for grocery shopping. 

Morning exercise. Even if it’s just going for a longish walk, trying to get in some movement in the morning might be a good change. It’s worth trying at least. 

Post-work routine. Part of the reason I like to have a glass of wine or something after work is seeking a state-change from the productive period to the relaxing period. Finding another routine, hobby, something, to replace alcohol with would help address that habit. 

Prep the Medley in advance. I end up writing the Monday Medley on Monday afternoons most weeks, and I don’t like leaving it till the last minute since then it ends up rushed and sometimes an annoyance. If I could finish it on Friday or Sunday, it would make writing it more enjoyable. 

Find a hobby. I don’t have anything I do just for its own sake, besides maybe video games, but I don’t love that as a hobby. Finding a hobby that involves being outdoors and using my hands is something I’d love to start doing this year. 

Nightly reading. I used to read every night before bed but I’ve gotten bad about it, often preferring to be on social media or TikTok. Getting back in the habit of reading would be really nice as a way to unwind. Maybe I need to find some good fiction. 

Stop

Drinking and Smoking as Much. Self explanatory based on everything above. 

Ordering out as much. This one tends to follow from drinking, but it’s good to be conscious of it on its own too. 

Twitter fights. They’re just not worth it. Mute or block and move on. 

Excess TV. Also kinda related to my evening wind down routine, I suspect cleaning that up will also clean up my TV consumption. 

Continue

Cooking. We’re not perfect about it yet, but we got so much better about cooking good food this year. I wanna continue that. 

Being more social. COVID was so good for my social life, and I want to continue that. I just hope people don’t start traveling a bunch again once the world opens up more. 

Getting out of the house. Towards the end of the year I started getting out of the house a lot more, I want to continue that. I just don’t have as good of work habits when I’m home. 

Improving messiness. I’ve always had an issue with living kinda messily. I always prefer to work on “important stuff” instead of cleaning up, but I’ve been getting better about it. I wanna continue that. 

What Do I Want?

I found this to be the most helpful and insightful part of this exercise. Take these 10 core areas of your life, and put them in order of how important they are to you based on what they mean to you. 

Here’s my order: 

  1. Physical Health
  2. Mental Health
  3. Family 
  4. Relationships
  5. Work
  6. Fun
  7. Creativity
  8. Finances
  9. Travel

Spirituality is the 10th area, but it’s not something I typically think about with that word. A lot of what other people would put in spirituality I would put in mental health, so if it’s important to you as its own category, place it where you will. 

Why Those Top 3?

I put physical health first because my ability to do anything else in the list stems from being healthy and able. If I sacrifice physical health for work, fun, money, that’s going to cost me in the long run. By explicitly putting physical health at the top of the list, I’m telling myself that whenever there’s a conflict in my schedule between work and the gym, or friends and a good diet, I choose health.

Mental health comes second because the rest of life hinges on mental health as much as physical, but mental health also hinges on physical health. Depression, anxiety, stress, insomnia, these are all most often problems of the body. 

I can’t count how many people have shared stories about getting their diet, exercise, and lifestyle in order and those changes fixing their mental health issues. The mind is just part of the body. Take care of the body, and mental health will follow. Yes there are some exceptions, but most people aren’t them. 

But there is still additional work to do to support our minds after we’ve supported our bodies. Finding quiet time, getting in nature, removing negative stimuli, meditation, these are all essential for having the kind of calm, curious, creative mind that can foster a family, friendship, career, art, etc.

Then third is Family. Cosette and I are trying to have our first kid, and that’s more important than any other friendships, travel, money, work, whatever. What could be more important than building your family? And while you need to be healthy in your body and mind to properly care for family, you don’t need lots of money or awesome Instagram travel photos. 

Where Am I Out of Alignment?

Once I created my hierarchy, there were a few places I was clearly out of alignment. 

Despite putting physical health at #1, I regularly sacrifice it for Family, Relationships, Work, Fun, and Travel. And yet I know there are ways to enjoy all of those areas in ways that support my physical health. So why the sacrifice? Alcohol and bad food, mostly. So that’s one area I need to re-align. 

Relationships are often sacrificed for work, too, which I ought to improve on. 

Then there are some subtler ones. Travel, for example, I should only do if it’s supporting higher items on the list. But if going on a trip is going to be stressful (mental health) and bad for me (physical health) then I shouldn’t go on it.

What is Important?

For each of those areas I’ve prioritized, what’s important for me to remember and do in order to service them?

Physical Health

Longevity is the top priority here. I’m less interested in deadlifting 500 pounds or running an ultra marathon than I am in being able to chase my great grandchildren when I’m 100

I know not everyone has the genetics to make it to that point, but assuming I do, how do I get there? It’s most likely a process of removal: remove all the things that will shorten your lifespan

That means removing alcohol, inactivity, sugar, vegetable oils, stress, being indoors, body fat, anything inflammatory, anything toxic.

It also means removing anything interrupting essential processes. Making sure I’m getting great sleep, that my muscles and bones are being stressed, that I’m not sitting too much, that I’m not interfering with my sun exposure through sunglasses or sunscreen. 

It means eating real food I could (theoretically at least) harvest myself. Spending as little time in front of screens as possible. Avoiding pollutants whenever possible.

It also means getting out of cities as much as possible. Concrete, pollution, noise, cities are not good for our health. Living downtown in major cities has a very strong correlation with earlier death. 

Are these changes easy? No, but they’re getting easier every year. 

Mental Health

Beyond taking care of my body, how do I care for my mind? 

The stimuli I allow into it is the most important factor. If you’re exposed to negative, manic, stressful energy all day, that’s how your mind will feel. 

Removing exposure to the news is by far the healthiest thing anyone can do for their minds. It’s not that the news is malicious, only that the incentive structure requires them to lean towards stories that will keep you engaged. Fear and outrage are the best emotions for doing that. I never follow the news normally, but it tends to creep into my Twitter feed, so liberally muting words has helped keep that cleaner.

Draining people is another big one. No amount of money is worth working with people who stress you out or make you miserable. I’m in a fortunate position to be able to say that, but I also think everyone has more ability to say no than they think. 

Avoiding the comparison game is another huge aspect of mental health. I find it almost impossible to avoid, but I’ve come up with a few tricks. 

Whenever I find myself getting jealous of someone, I use Naval’s trick of asking whether I’d 100% trade my life for theirs. In every case the answer is no. Usually because even if they’re beyond me professionally or financially, there are so many things I love about my life that I wouldn’t give up for any amount of money. Once you flip it around and start to think what about your life other people might be jealous of, you can defeat the comparison game quite quickly. 

Exciting books are a no-brainer (hah) for mental health too. Finding books that engage my mind and get me excited to read more are essential for feeling like my mental health is on point. I haven’t found a super exciting non-fiction book in a while, so maybe I need to look harder. 

Another is having some kind of meditative practice. I don’t particularly like sitting meditation, nor do I think it’s necessary. Most zen buddhist meditation wasn’t silent: it was archery, tea ceremonies, walking, etc. Having some kind of meditative practice in my day is essential for mental calmness. 

The last one worth staying aware of is the laptop rabbit hole. It’s so easy to open your computer to do one thing, then discover an hour later that you did a whole host of things you never intended, or needed, to do. Finding ways to avoid that is important both for productivity and sanity. Apps that block certain sites help a ton. 

Family

The family priority to me means everything related to my marriage and building our family. We’re trying to have a kid this year, or at least get pregnant this year, so short of my own health I’m not sure what could be more important than that. 

I love having this so high up because it makes a lot of decision making simple. You shouldn’t sacrifice your life for your partner or children (figuratively, literally you probably should), but you should prioritize them above other friends, activities, and so on. 

That said, you can’t truly take care of your family if you haven’t taken care of your body and mind first. It’s important to keep that in mind. 

Relationships

Beyond my family, my relationships with my friends and community are the next most important thing. 

This means prioritizing hosting dinners, events, going to other peoples’ events, exercising or playing with friends, all of that above work and the lower priorities. Sometimes it’s tempting to stress out about getting in a full workday and say no to spending time with people in the interest of greater productivity, but in the long run, it’s not worth it. 

It doesn’t necessarily mean meeting lots of new people though. I’m not that interested in making tons of new friends, our community is already so strong here. And I’m especially uninterested in meeting anyone who doesn’t live in Austin. Remote friendships can be sustained if you have a history together, but starting a relationship remotely? That’s not a real relationship in my opinion, and we all need less screen time, not more. 

So I probably won’t take many intros to people who don’t live in Austin, and if I’m meeting someone new here, I’d rather invite them to a group activity. And if I have to choose between meeting someone new or spending time with the people I want to go deeper with, I’ll definitely pick the latter. 

Putting relationships below physical and mental health also means prioritizing relationships with people who have similar priorities, and not prioritizing relationships that hurt either of those priorities. The biggest example would be deprioritizing anyone I spend time with predominantly in a drinking, partying type environment, and spending more time with the more health-conscious family-focused people in my life. 

Work

After health, family, and relationships, comes work. Work is important to support these things, but I shouldn’t be sacrificing any of them to get more work done. 

I’m also deliberately putting it above finances, because where I am right now I care much more about what I spend my time working on than how much money I make. If I wanted to make as much money as possible I’d go work on Wall Street and be miserable. 

I’d rather have my net worth go down this year while working on stuff I’m excited about than increase my wealth spending time on work that doesn’t matter to me.

This also means prioritizing work over goofing off when I’m on my own, and putting it above creative projects. I care more about work than video games, reading, or doing creative stuff, and I don’t think anything’s wrong with that. Many of my proudest accomplishments are things I’ve worked on, and that’s where I find a lot of joy in my day. 

Going into this year, my initial work prioritization revolves around what to focus my energy on next. I have some ideas I’m super excited about that I can hopefully share here soon, but until then, I’m keeping them under wraps.

And also going into this year it means evaluating a lot of the things I’m doing to see which of them I want to continue. I’m trying to shed most of my responsibilities right now to free myself to go all in on what’s next, which might mean making some hard choices about what to cut.

The only two things I 100% know I’m not cutting are this blog, and the Medley. Everything else is on the table.

Fun

Then we get to fun, how might I best prioritize having fun? 

One theme that came up here was fun that requires being outside and getting exercise. That could be doing group fitness stuff, playing spikeball, hiking, swimming at Barton Springs, building stuff, things like that.

It could also mean finding other forms of fun around dinners and evenings that don’t involve alcohol. Board and card games are a great one. I just picked up Wingspan and it’s fantastic. 

While I don’t have any particular goals here, I want to remind myself to focus on putting fun into my calendar that involves getting outside and moving with people. That’s a much more satisfying kind of diversion than playing video games or watching TV. 

Creativity

Creativity is an odd one for me. I find entrepreneurship and writing extremely creative, but I don’t put them into this category. 

When I’m thinking about creativity in this context I’m trying to think of times when I create stuff for no other end than itself. Even writing this post, there’s some added value of people potentially reading it and responding to me. And entrepreneurial creativity obviously has a financial payoff.

So where do I create in a way that has no outcome attached to it? Nowhere. I have no creative hobbies. I don’t have any hobbies at all, honestly. 

Is this something I want to change? Kind of? I’m not sure if this is something I want or something I think I should want.

The one area I keep coming back to being interested in is some kind of carpentry, construction, handiwork, things like that. There are so many projects I could do on Walden that I don’t know how to do, and learning how to do it would be super rewarding. 

But do I want to do those things, or to have done them? I’m not sure. I suppose I should just try one and find out.

Finances

Putting finances this low on my list was surprising at first, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. 

What’s more important, health or money? Health. I spend a significant chunk of money each month on good coaching, good food, good sleep, anything that will make me healthier. If you’re making more than, say, 75k a year you should have a personal trainer and buy the highest quality food possible. Your body and mind are the only things you’ll have forever. Why would a bit of extra money be more important than that?

What about family and friends or money? I know how harmful it can be to prioritize money and work above family and community, and that’s not the life I want. I don’t think it’s the life anyone really wants, honestly, but fear and ambition can land you there if you aren’t careful. I’d rather make half as much money and get to spend as much time as humanly possible with my future children than work crazy hour weeks and miss time with them. 

Compared to finances, finding exciting work that pulls me into it is way more important than making as much money as possible. I’d rather work on something I’m passionate about this year and end the year less wealthy than spend a year grinding away on something I don’t care about just to hit a net worth goal.

Then for creativity and fun, I’m putting them above finances because I think having fun and creativity in my life should be more important than saving as much money as possible. You can’t take your money with you when you die, so if you don’t enjoy it along the way, what are you making it for? I honestly don’t understand the idolization of people who make a lot of money and live super frugally. What was the point?

So for now, finances are towards the bottom of the list. I hope that by pursuing my passions and living healthily my net worth continues to rise, but if it doesn’t, I don’t particularly care. I was perfectly happy three years ago living in a tiny studio making 80% less than I made last year. It’s helpful to keep that in perspective.

Travel

I don’t want to travel anymore unless it’s an insanely great trip like Africa or Antarctica, or if I’m going hunting. Everything I want is right here at home. If I want a little getaway, there are so many great staycations we can do right here in Austin. Or I can go out to Smithville. 

Final Review Questions

Before doing the goal setting, these were a few other questions Anthony provided that I found helpful.

What does Financial Freedom Look Like?

This question is part of what led me to put finances at the bottom of my list. 

To me, financial freedom doesn’t mean having $10M in the bank that I can draw down 4% per year on while I live on the beach. I think I’d get bored of that in about a week. 

Financial freedom to me means not stressing about money on a day-to-day basis, being able to live comfortably where I want to live, eat what I want to eat, and take care of my body and mind. 

But most importantly it means having the freedom work on whatever I want to work on. Either because what I want to work on is lucrative, or because I have other means of income generation that pay for it. 

So if that’s financial freedom I’m already there. It could go away, true. But if it does, I can solve that problem when it arrives. And to be honest I’ve had the most success getting really interested in something and figuring out how to monetize that interest later, so I’m perhaps overconfident that this won’t turn into a huge issue. 

We’ll see though! 

Where can I Spend Money to Make Life Easier?

I do a good job of this in most of my life, but one area that keeps coming up is cleaning and organizing.

I don’t know why, but I am incapable of keeping the house more than ~80% clean. To be fair, I tend to perform around 70-80% in any area I don’t deeply care about, so perhaps this makes sense.

I really want to find someone to help with basic life management work this year. Cleaning, laundry, groceries, mail, etc. I feel a little spoiled talking about this, but if it creates a good job for someone and makes my life better it’s a nice win-win. I hate having mess lying around, but not enough to prioritize fixing it vs. working on stuff like this article, which I’m writing as a pile of unanswered mail is strewn across the corner of my desk. Heh. 

What Do I Want Out of Work?

One of the big things I want out of work is the ability to work very intensely on something for a period, then create a product that can either continue to sell itself (Roam course) or that someone else can take to the next step (Growth Machine). 

I’m not sure I see myself committing wholly to one product for 5, 10, 20 years. I have a ton of respect for people who can do that, but I’m not sure it’s for me. At least I haven’t found that product yet, anyway. 

I want a lot of freedom to explore. I want some passive income and passive wealth generation. I want to work on something that can be started with a small team and limited capital. 

But as I’m reflecting more, there are some new things I want. I want to be out in the real world more, spending less time behind a screen. I want to help other people get out from behind the screen too. I want to create, or be involved in, great experiences. I want to build real, physical things. 

I’m not sure how that is going to manifest yet, but it’s on my mind. 

What New Habits or Skills do I Want to Develop?

  • Not drinking
  • Cooking more, and more varied dishes
  • Morning exercise or at least time in the sun
  • Handiwork
  • More hunting, butchering, etc. 

What Do I Want to Learn More About?

  • City building
  • History
  • Construction
  • Finance 
  • Philosophy
  • Design

What Can I Say No To?

Now we get to the most interesting question. What can, and should, I say no to in pursuit of my other goals?

I have some ideas written down, but I’m going to wait to share them publicly until I have it more ironed out. Suffice it to say though I’m going to wean off a number of other projects and areas as well.

What Will Keep Me Up at Night with Excitement?

More on this soon too. 

Next Steps and Goal Setting

I was originally going to include my 2021 goals in here, but transferring my scribbled thoughts into this article turned into an additional, powerful reflective process that I want to percolate on a bit more before I decide what goals specifically to focus on. 

So I’ll publish that next week. In the meantime, I’m going to take some psychedelics, spend time in nature, and finalize the list.

Happy 2021!

Footnotes

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