2016 A Year In Review

This is my favorite essay to write every year.  It is an opportunity to put things down on paper and process 365 days worth of information and put a nice bow on it for the year.  I use this review to see where I spent my time and money, and the priorities that those expenditures imply.  My general habit is out of sight out of mind in order to focus on the present, so shining some light on the past year allows me to process things better.  This is sometimes a double edged sword since writing 2015’s review walked me right into a series of anxiety attacks that spiraled into a rough start to 2016, but lets see how this goes.

As a committed workaholic the most important thing in my life was my job.  This was the first year since high school where I will only get a single W2.  My long and storied history of working multiple jobs and pursuing other income streams is at least on pause.  I left my side job at the hospital, couldn’t host AirBnB at my apartment, and didn’t actually follow through with my drunken inspiration to become an Uber driver.  Yet somehow this year I brought in more money than I have since my crazy overtime Walgreens days.  I worked a good amount of overtime, but through focusing on making my store run better I got a big bonus and a very solid raise.  This time last year I was depressed about work and unhappy about where I was going, I have come to terms that this may not be what I want to do for the rest of my life, but it is what I am doing now so I may as well squeeze the most out of it.  As with a lot of things in my life having a feeling of acceptance allows me to get the most out of it.  There are some big changes to my company coming in 2017, and the ones that have already been rolled out have have been very challenging, but I will just keep on doing my best and trying to hit my goals.

Financially this year was a big win.  I finally hit positive net worth (more in assets than in debts) this July and have felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders.  I don’t carry any credit card debt, my car is paid off, and I hit my target amount that I wanted to save for a house down payment.  The main thing hanging over my head is my student loans, but I was able to refinance to a lower interest rate and will keep chipping away until they are gone.  Luckily I have put in the type of advance work to build the type of systems into my life that allow me to live the way I want to without having to worry too much about money.  I have noticed an uptick in consumerism since hitting positive net worth, which I am trying to curb for the future.  The day that I hit positive net worth I vowed that I would no longer worry about the small things, overtime would not be a priority, and I wouldn’t waste time driving around to find free parking.  Non of those have fully come to fruition, but I have made some improvement on them.

I am a very obsession person and the things that I focus on go a long way toward defining my life.  This year I learned a lot about coffee, I went to specialty roasters and did cuppings, perfected brewing ratios with various equipment, and became a known regular at 5 or so coffee shops.  Being this awake allowed me to get a lot of other things done.  I dabbled in lots of things but the most rewarding one is starting to paint.  I always wanted to paint, but I have absolutely no natural talent.  Humans in general, and myself in particular, tend to move towards the things that we are good at and neglect our weaknesses because it feels good to bask in the glory of being good at something.  I never expect to become good at painting, but it is a pleasure to sit down at the end of the day, crack a beer and move some paint around.  Whatever I paint tends to wind up as a mountainous landscape, I guess you paint what you know.  The most fun aspect of painting is actually buying supplies.  The ladies who work at Michaels aren’t used to guys like me shopping there and have adopted me like the giant special needs child that they never had.  They all make sure that I get the right stuff at the best prices, maximize my rewards points, and baby me in a way that I sometimes need.  It is much cheaper than therapy.

I also really got into meditation this year.  I have dabbled for years, and made a push last December, but through the power of technology and the Calm app I was able to make a lot of progress.  I was patchy at first and then made it a few months of meditating every day before I fell off during vacation.  I kept trying throughout the summer and starting in August I kicked off over 100 days of meditating using Calm every day.  As someone who is a huge fan of quantification this provided me a lot of feedback and motivation to keep the streak going, but recently I have fell off.  Not with the meditation but with tracking it, I get the reward from sitting for a few minutes each day, not from the streak displayed on the phone.  I felt like I was keeping that streak alive to brag to others, which is the opposite of mindfulness and now my practice is more about benefits to me.  Calm is a great tool for exploring different types of meditation, I started with the normal vipassana style of following my breath, and progressed into simple body scans and basic walking meditation.  I now have a practice of taking a deep breath every time I stop at a stop light, it doesn’t have the same effect as 20 minutes of sitting on a cushion, but it does help ground me a bit.  I have been dabbling in other non strict meditation practices like Wim Hoff breathing and isolation tanks, but as of yet I haven’t done either frequently enough to experience huge benefits, but they are showing promise.  Shockingly the most rewarding type of meditation that I have tried is Metta (Loving kindness).  You follow the practice of sending positive feelings toward someone or a group of people who you really care about, then someone you feel neutral towards, then someone you have negative feelings toward, then the whole world.  It sounds way too gooey and woo woo for me, but a few minutes of this practice provides a reset for me like nothing else, and I often do it during my lunch break when I have had a challenging morning.  If you life gets better around 1:45 on a weekday then it is probably because because I am sending positive energy your way from the Rite Aid break room.

I didn’t travel much during the second half of the year, but the trips I took during the spring were extremely rewarding.  Greg and I drove to Gatlinburg via Asheville, we surprised Lou in Philly for his bachelor party, I took a quick trip to Hotlanta to spend time with the Greene family and hang out at Beth and Lazer’s camp, and was part of the most epic Team Zissou group costume at the Bill Murray themed BCTC, I drank way too much at all of these events.  I was honored to be in weddings on back to back weekends and celebrate the day with two couples who’s first dates I happened to be at.  The Lysogorski wedding was my first time performing a wedding, and it was a wonderful day in a beautiful vineyard.  The Sisto wedding the following week was also a blast, I cried a lot of joy tears and caught a duck while walking around Saratoga in a tuxedo.  I finally took the solo vacation to the Pacific Northwest that I have been talking about for years in June.  Bouncing between Seattle and Portland was a lot of fun, I had no concrete plans and chased beer, coffee, burritos, and adventure while spending a little quality time with one of my favorite people in each city.  It was the most relaxing and low impact trip that I have been on in years and is the only vacation that I have ever returned home from relaxed.  I am planning a lot more unstructured solo travel in the future, and this was a perfect gateway drug.

One of the huge benefits of travel is that I can bring things that I find out about myself home.  While in NYC this October I rationalized that I could walk 20,000 fitbit steps no problem when on vacation, but rarely topped 8,000 while at home.  Since that day I have made a concerted effort to walk more every day.  I set the goal of doing 10,000 steps a day every day for a month and then extended it to 2 months.  I then realized that I wanted to hit 5 miles (around 11,500 steps) a day and made that my goal.  For the past 3 months I have gone out of my way to get those steps every day by walking outside and exploring or doing laps in my living room.  It seems like a small thing, but it definitely makes me feel better and has lead to the discovery of a lot of cool new places.  This summer I started cutting a lot of carbs out of my diet except for a weekly cheat day and have seen some benefits.  I am not strictly low carb, I have convinced myself that dark chocolate doesn’t count, and I know that I can get better results if I cut down on my alcohol consumption, but I am pretty glad of my progress.  I haven’t been losing a ton of weight, just 15 or so pounds, but there seems to be a pretty steady decline from eating better and moving more and I certainly feel better most of the time, which it the measure that really means the most.  I still occasionally slip up, like last week when I “accidentally” ate an entire pizza on a Tuesday, but I haven’t let slip up and failures derail my whole system like I have in the past.

One of my biggest regrets of 2016 was that I kind of neglected my friends.  I know that it is natural to fade out of people’s lives after college but I was able to keep a firm grasp on that for many years.  I still spent a good amount of time with folks, but I kind of isolated myself more than past years.  I am a terrible communicator and have spent too long relying on the fact that when I am together with my close friends it is like no time has passed.  Now that people are getting more settled we have less opportunities to see each other and since I am out of touch we feel farther away.  I miss a lot of my far flung friends, and I will keep pledging to reach out more, but am realistic that it probably isn’t going to happen.  After spending years not making any Vermont friends I finally feel comfortable in the community up here, and while I am not super close with many comics I am at least able to make connections and escape from physical and mental isolation.  I also have a pretty close group of friends from college hat has grown since Dave and Jess have moved here, it is great to have a tight knit group that can go on adventures together, and it isn’t even that awkward that I am the 7th wheel with married or engaged couples.

Looking at this summary it feels like I am glossing over the bad parts, so here is some negativity.  I haven’t been doing well at comedy, I was slumping and not having fun, it is getting better but I can’t look back at this year and site more than a handful of bright spots.  I continue to wonder why I spend so much time and energy on something that beats me up.  This summer I went through a bout of crippling insomnia.  I was sleeping 3-4 hours a night for several months and trying out dozens of different remedies from essential oils to accupressure mats and white noise machines before I finally snapped out of it and am back up to my full 6 hours a night.  Donald Trump won the election and all of a sudden I woke up in a world where I am the enemy to a lot of people in my social media bubble.  It is bullshit for me to complain about being an upper middle class straight white man, and as a feminist, LGBTQ ally, and friend to religious and racial minorities I understand the frustrations and fears of these groups and that they are not directing their outrage at me, but it does still sometimes get under my skin.  I think that this contributed to the overwhelming sense of loneliness that resonated through the fall.  It wasn’t the standard “The leaves are dying and I want to see the world burn the color of the trees” fall that I am used to, but more of a disconnect from the people that I care about.  I spent a lot of time embracing the need to completely block people out, I got over it, mostly.  As usual dating was a challenge for most of the year, I got sick of seeing the same people on all the same sites and slowly started to withdraw from them.  I was frustrated, lonely, and kind of giving up, it sucks.  I did meet someone very nice a few weeks ago and we have been out on a few dates, I really like her but I don’t know if it has the possibility of going anywhere, and I realize that writing about it will probably get me in trouble so I am going to stop.

One of this biggest struggles in my life is falling into comparisons with my friends, and this year was tough on that.  Now that we are in our 30s a lot of my friends have responsibilities that I don’t.  They have houses, and partners, and kids, and dogs, and I got karaoke drunk on Thursday night.  I realize that there is no such thing as “normal” and the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, but I am starting to question taking a much more unconventional path than my peers.  I have built a life that runs on a different trajectory, one without a defined end game.  It is scary looking at the future and having no idea where I am going and what I am doing.  I love playing uncle to my friends’ kids and getting texted pictures of smiling babies but I feel conflicted as to weather I am going to pursue a future that has children in it.  I love the idea of owning a house and having a place to call home, but just 6 months ago I was contemplating moving south if my landlord sells my apartment, and having the ability to drop everything and move is extremely appealing.  I have always felt conflicted about growing up and settling down, and it will probably get harder and harder each year moving forward so there is no end in sight.  I did make a step and get a new peace lily, I named him Ficus II in remembrance of my last peace lily, he sometimes gets a little bit too rowdy and occasionally makes a mess on the carpet but he has mastered the commands sit and stay.

This year I feel like I have made a lot of changes that have leveled me out.  I am used to wild swings in my life and riding those highs and lows like a roller coaster, but this year things were just kind of status quo.  Maybe it is meditation, or listening to a lot of entrepreneurial podcasts that detail major successes and losses, or my habit of reading stoic philosophy, but things seem more neutral, which I suppose is a good thing.  I feel a bit more distanced from what is going on, like I am an observer rather than a participant, which is strange.  I haven’t been having as extreme emotional responses, which is good because I am a violently angry person, but also bad because I like enjoying things.  Maybe this is part of that whole growing up and settling down thing that everyone keeps talking about.

When people ask me how things are going my stock responses are “You know, working too much, sleeping too little” or “Just putting one foot in front of another” but this year I have been occasionally using a new one.  “Busy, but in a fulfilled way” is a better representation of my life.  I have multiple options of things to do every single night.  There is always something that I want to do or a place that I want to go, comedy shows, improv jams, storytelling events, friend’s band playing, burlesque show that I keep saying I will check out, gallery opening, hockey game, and a plethora of other events that are a lot of fun.  I have gotten better at not feeling obligated to doing everything and not feeling bad about missing something if I am not feeling up to it.  This is a fulfilling life, where I can get up on my day off, drink some coffee, read a book, and then go to a fun event.  At the same time I can also plan on going to something after work and then bail if I am not feeling up to anything more than collapsing into my recliner.  Busyness is often seen as productivity, if you are rushing around you are important, and finding that balance is key.  Having things going on in my life is important to me but I am not willing to let it stress me out and I think that I am finally at a time in my life where I can accomplish the things that give me the best rewards.

For a lot of people 2016 was a dumpster fire.  It wasn’t that bad for me, maybe a tire fire at worst.  But it happened, good and bad it is part of my story, and it is part of what makes these yearly reviews worthwhile.  I made a lot of moves and did some things that I am proud of, but there were always things that I didn’t get done.  If you have made it this far then you probably care about me enough to read 3,000 words worth of my bullshit, and I thank you for that.  I hope that your year went well, and that next year will be even better.  I promise to write more, create more, and be better next year, but for now I will just stay here locked inside my head, surrounded by my faults, and content with that.

Happy new year.

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