2018 Focus: End Of Year Review

At the beginning of 2018 I wrote about my focus for the year. I’ve posted a few updates throughout the year (quarter year, half year & three quarters) and now is the time to do a final review.

2018 Theme: First Principles Lifestyle

Self Grade: 7/10

In terms of relevance with theme, this year provided plenty of opportunity. I ended up making two major job decisions and we made one where-to-live decision. Each of those provided an opportunity to evaluate our options based on first principles, what we wanted to achieve.

I think we did a good job drilling back into the heart of the matter and figuring out what we wanted and why we did. The difficulty is even knowing those things, the decisions aren’t easy as everything is a trade off.

2018 Challenge: Profile 12 Families (w/ Kids) Living Intentionally Different

Self Grade: 1/10

I failed to make any significant progress here. The only things I achieved were selecting two families, discussing the idea with them, and then conducting one interview. I failed to get anything on paper.

I believe this failure came down to two main issues.

One, this year had a lot more work than I anticipated. One move that took a solid 40-60 hours and a job search this Fall that took 150-200. That was time that was pulled off the table and meant there was less space to complete something like this.

Two, after spending my days working at a computer and in meetings, I just really didn’t feel like having more of that type of work. Though the topic is more enjoyable, the physical nature of the work is similar. I think this is one of the reasons my physical challenges were so great in the past, they were my excuse to exercise. Something to consider in the future.

2018 Habit: Daily Devotions

Self Grade: 8/10

In Q4 I ended up hitting my goal of 4 devotion times per week on 9 of the 13 weeks. This is tied with my highest yet and I was only 6 missed days away from having a perfect record.

In Q1 I was successful on 33 days, in Q4 it was 46, so over the course of the year I increased my frequency of practicing this habit by 40%, which is slightly less than the 50% I was hoping for a quarter ago. If you were to compare Q4 of this year to Q4 of last year though, which unfortunately I don’t have data on, the increase is likely closer to 100%.

I did make an audible mid-year to change my Q4 target from 6 days per week to 4 days per week based on how my successful weeks had been decreasing and my number of days total was staying about the same in Q1 to Q3. This turned out to be a great strategy – having an achievable weekly goal is a great way to make progress.

I had also specified that I wanted >75% of my Q4 devotion times to be in the morning. It ended up being 31 of 46 days, or 67%, so I was a bit short, but still did better than the 50% and 59% of previous quarters.

2018 Exemplar: John Muir

Self Grade: 7/10

Despite failing to read the most popular biography about Muir, I think I did a great job learning about him. I took in enough to produce this exemplar review, which I’m proud of. The only reason I won’t give myself a higher grade is that I failed to put any learnings into practice this year – mostly because I got started too late.

John Muir – Exemplar Review

This year I picked John Muir as my exemplar. I recently came up with a new review template to help me get the most out of the process of having an exemplar. Below is my entry for this John Muir.

What did John Muir achieve?

John Muir helped lead the efforts to preserve millions of acres of wilderness land in the United States so that future generations could enjoy them. His is the founder of the Sierra Club, a well published author, responsible for upending the geological theory of how the Yosemite valley formed and is credited as the spiritual father of both the US National Park service and modern conservation efforts. He also managed a very successful orchard and had a great beard.

Why did he care about that?

Some people pursue goals intentionally or rationally. Others seem to just follow their inner voice – perhaps in a more emotional way. John Muir seemed like someone that tried to do many other things in life, but whose heart simply drew him to the wilderness. First he spent time there and documented everything he was amazed by. Then he grew to share his interest in the topic by publishing articles about it that captivated the public. Eventually, when he saw the wilderness he loved being destroyed, he took action to help defend it.

How did he think about the world differently than his contemporaries?

Mainly, Muir viewed wilderness as something beautiful and worth pursuing, rather than a resource we should strip for profit. A kindred spirit and one time companion of Emerson, they stood in contrast to the prevailing spirit of the industrial revolution. He often demonstrated wild abandon, such as the time he quit his job, started walking south and spent all of his life savings as he covered 1,000 miles, eventually reaching the Gulf of Mexico.

Muir seemed to enjoy being a contrarian, perhaps a result of disagreeing with his father from an early age. He seemed to enjoy opposing others proving others wrong, as he did with the geological experts of his time, despite Muir having completed no study in the field. He also seemed delighted to hack the system and live a life based on his own first principles, whether that was by finding work that allowed him to live in the mountains, or establishing a marriage that allowed him the alone-space to escape back to them. Being untied to conventions, listening to his heart rather than society’s mind, let him be in tune with things that others wouldn’t see until much later as society shifted.

Finally, Muir seemed to have an optimism that I’m not sure was common with his time. It certainly isn’t common in ours. He was almost naively optimistic that he could convince people of the beauty of nature and get them to help support him in preserving it. I’ve found that most successful people are wildly optimistic but not all wildly optimistic people end up being successful. Muir was, of course, successful in his case, which seems to justify his optimism. I can’t help but feel like he was a few bits of chance away from being a bubbling, bearded homeless man, going on about things no one would ever care about. Perhaps the distinction between that and his reality isn’t as stark or as important as it seems to me.

What are a few of Muir’s behaviors that helped him?

The behavior that seemed to most cause Muir’s success was his passionate and focused exploration of the things that interested him. He was not at all, as far as I can tell, strategic in his decisions. He did not sit and think, ‘I would like to make a name for myself and meet a President, this wave of conservation seems prime to take off, perhaps I should become a talking-head on this topic and make a name for myself.’ Instead, he just dove in and ran at a topic he cared about to the point where he became the de facto expert on it.

Another behavior that served him well was letter was developing relationships quickly. Despite being a bit of a hermit, Muir seemed to have the ability to strike up conversation with anyone, and quickly form enough trust that they wanted to help him. Many of the big achievements of his life came from people he met one time that propelled him forward and built a platform for him.

He had a lot of success making a certain segment of the public see his point of view by sharing his writing. Interestingly, all three of the exemplars I’ve profiled (the others being Ben Franklin & Eric Liddell) have been writers, concerned with influencing the public. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the people who prioritized having great influence on the masses are the people that the masses remember hundreds of years later.

Another of Muir’s behaviors, that resulted in success was forming a few key mentor relationships. Jeanne Carr was invaluable in his success, she was the one who sent a personal letter Muir had written to a magazine publisher, kicking off his professional writing career. She also worked behind the scenes in his life, introducing him to the woman that would become his wife and setting up meetings with people that would solidify him as a public figure, such as Emerson. Another mentor that I noticed less frequently mentioned was Robert Underwood Johnson, the editor of The Century Magazine. Johnson it seems helped set up Muir as a face of the conservation movement, while Johnson worked behind the scenes lobbying politics and building a publishing platform for Muir to utilize.

What are some of the decisions he made that contributed to his success?

Muir showed talent as an inventor early in life in an age where invention, industrialization and machine creation was the new hot thing. He was born nine years before both Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell. He abandoned all of that and headed away from city life towards the wilderness though – this would prove to be the decision that defined his success most. Following his passion rather than anyone (society, friends, family, etc.) or anything else (fame, money, security, etc.).

I wonder what the alternate-reality Muir, the one that stayed in industry, would have achieved. At worst it seems he could have gone on to have a profitable career in that industry, perhaps crossing paths with Edison, Bell, Tesla or similar. Perhaps he would have gone on to do really great things and we would know the name Muir anyhow. I suspect if his heart wasn’t in it though, he would have had a middling career and the founding of the National Park Service would have been delayed by years or generations.

I noticed that Muir tended to live in bursts of about 5-10 years before deciding to switch gears. For example his Yosemite period was 1868 to 1874, and later he would spend close to a decade focused on running the family orchard. I would, of course, notice that trend because I am currently undertaking the planning of my next six year burst. I’ve noticed this pattern leading to success from a few people and think there is something to it. I could write more about it later, but I believe it has something to do with continual personal growth, the synthesis of multiple different areas in ways no one has tried before, and being available to go through new doors that weren’t previously open, thanks to changing times, new technology, a changing zeitgeist, etc.

What was one thing about the John Muir’s life journey that is encouraging to me?

John Muir achieved most of his success later in life. In fact he didn’t even step foot in Yosemite valley until he was 30. So for the first 30 years of his life he knew nothing of the place that would largely define his life. He was 40 when he met the woman that would be his wife, 42 when they married, and 43 when his first child was born. He was 54 when he co-founded the Sierra Club.

All of this is to say that most of his impact came later in life and most of it spurred from things he had no awareness of until he was 30. As someone in my 30s, it is encouraging to know that you don’t need to be exposed to a topic early in life in order to eventually have a big impact in that space. I think this stands in nice contrast to the stories of the college-dropout tech company founders of our age that seem destined for greatness before they exit puberty.

It is encouraging for me to think that there are still topics out there that I could, in theory, learn about, become passionate about, and have a huge impact in. My story is not yet written.

What is one thing about Muir’s life that makes me feel like I should do more with mine?

Muir found something he cared about so much he was willing to devote his life to it. His passion would lead him to a fame that became nearly self-perpetuating. It brought him into the company of heroes of his, like Emerson, and a US President – arguably one of the most powerful people in the world at the time. Yet, unlike many fame builders that use a topic to come to prevalence, his passion was genuine enough that he was willing to sacrifice his standing and those relationships when he disagreed. That strength of passion is rare.

As I look at my own life, there is no longer a thing I am so passionate about. Perhaps there should be.

What did Muir believe about the world that I have already or should soon reconsider?

In many ways I am a kindred spirit of Muir’s. I do best outside and often find myself in contrast with the majority. I’ve also been writing a lot the last few years, though not with the focus or impact Muir had.

The area I can probably most learn from his is his optimism. He was willing to believe in the positive impact people, and particularly the US government, could have.

Which of his motivations have I reflected most on?

With Muir it isn’t his particular motivations as much as the reason behind them that I’ve reflected on. I certainly care about natural beauty, and could probably do more to help preserve it, but that hasn’t been my key take away. Instead I’m struck by how passionate he was, how narrow that kept his path, but how far it brought him on it. If having impact is important to me, I would be best served to do that in a single area, rather than 10.

What is one of his behaviors that I tried out this year? How did it go?

I didn’t actively pursue any Muir inspired behavior’s this year outside of my normal ones. I got started on learning about him a bit late in the year. I did visit eight US National Parks and a few other National Forests & state parks this year though, getting some time in the wilderness.

Which other behaviors will I consider putting into practice in the future?

Unlike Benjamin Franklin, who’s life seemed to be chock-full of life hacks and behaviors worthy of emulating, Muir doesn’t have many that stand out.

The behavior I think helped Muir the most, that I am not strong at myself, is the formation of a few key mentor and partner relationships. Having another set of eyes and a different skillset goes a long way and seemed to help Muir again and again. I could do better to set myself for those, identify places I have them today and make the most of them.

What decision making heuristics can I adopt from Muir’s experience?

As I read about Muir I couldn’t help but think that I am living the life he abandoned. He had a talent for inventing machines in a time where machine invention was profitable. Times have changed and software is now the profitable space. He abandoned that profitable field at 30 to follow his passion, but at 32 I recently turned down a job in the space I’m passionate about and took a job working for one of the most profitable software companies. He followed his heart and I followed my brain.

Our circumstances at this age are different of course, he was single until he was 42 and at 32 I have five other mouths to feed. When he was married and had children, he settled down and ran an orchard for a decade. Perhaps I am just getting to that earlier.

I think I can learn from how following his passion allowed him to work harder, focus more and draw in others to help him though. I might benefit the most from applying this heuristic in a similar way to Muir, using it to help decide my next burst of 5-10 years of focus. Looking at Muir’s life, it seems hard to imagine that leaving Yosemite to manage an orchard in Oakland is the thing that would be best for the preservation of the valley, but in fact, it likely was. Perhaps my own journey will have decisions that seem counter intuitive but produce results I couldn’t have predicted. Maybe some of my future strategic decisions will allow me more opportunity to be passionate later as well.

What are some of his failures I can avoid repeating?

I think it is important to weight the trades offs one makes in achieving any goal. Sometimes failures are miscalculations and blind spots, but other times they are long running prioritization decisions that become regrets.

From what I can tell, Muir was fairly absent at home. None of what I read went so far as to call him a bad father, it seemed he was very caring just often deep in study or off walking in the mountains alone. It does sound like he sometimes brought his daughters wit him on trips to the mountains, which is encouraging, but it still seems a stretch from being a little league coach or scout troop leader. This is also a trend I’ve noticed in the three exemplars I’ve studied to date, it seems rare that someone is known by the world and known by the children – time is a limited resource.

Muir’s greatest failure is interesting because it appears one where he lost the battle but won the war. The debate over preserving the Hetch Hetchy Valley was divisive. Even some who were conservationists were in support of the dam and the water it would provide to San Francisco. Muir remained an idealist on this topic, refusing to compromise, and eventually lost. Then he watched as the dam was built and the valley he loved was flooded. There is perhaps a lesson in being extreme and finding compromises here, especially with the context of the time and the recent earthquake and resulting fire in San Francisco. Interestingly though, the debate was so fierce, that it has made it harder for future damns to be built and we have not since built another dam in a National Park.

What other cool facts did I learn about John Muir?

I didn’t know where else to put this so I put it here. By the age of 37, Muir hadn’t accomplished much, but was an expert in Yosemite. Around that time, Americans developed a national fascination with the west. Consider that it was 1968 when Muir first stepped foot in Yosemite, one year before the Transcontinental Railroad was complete. Yosemite was certainly one of the most visually striking parts of the west and Muir was the expert on Yosemite.

You can view this as a lucky break in zeitgeist evolutionary selection that we still remember Muir or you can apply the lesson another way to see that being on the top of a rising tide will lift your ship.

I didn’t know Muir was an inventor, he made some cool things that seem a bit silly now but 150 years ago were probably pretty cutting edge. Check out some pictures here including the alarm-clock-bed that dumped him from his sleep come morning.

2018 Focus: Three Quarters Year Update

With the start of a new year, I take the time to set my focus for the coming year. I believe that by being selective about where I direct my energy, I can achieve results that are exponentially greater than if I split that energy across many different goals.

I detailed my 2018 focus here (read that first if you want more context). Here is how I’m progressing.

2018 Theme: First Principles Lifestyle

Another quarter of big decisions. After deciding where we wanted to live long-term earlier this year, I spent Q3 searching for my next job and evaluating a lot of very different options. In the end, a very tough decision came down to a number of first principles about what was most important to me. I will detail that decision more sometime soon.

2018 Challenge: Profile 12 Families (w/ Kids) Living Intentionally Different

I kicked off my first two interviews in the 3rd quarter of the year. At this point I would need to average one per week to complete this challenge by the end of the year. While that could happen, I probably wouldn’t be happy with the quality of it. What is more likely is that I will get started and depending on how much I enjoy it, either take a low score or carry this challenge into next year a bit.

One thing I’ve been thinking about is the format. An e-book was my first idea, but now I’m leaning more towards using this content to build an online community of sorts. I think there are a lot of people that would be interested in this content, but also interested in connecting with other people and getting advice about how to execute on the ideas they are reading about.

Having built online content hubs and communities before, I know there is a lot of value in them once you can get them spinning the right way, but that initial work is really hard.

2018 Habit: Daily Devotions

For Q3 my bar raised from 4 days a week to 5. Meanwhile I only completed this habit 36 times as compared to 37 the prior quarter. I plateaued in the face of a rising goal, meaning my results are overall worse. I only completed the target number in 3 of the 13 weeks as opposed to 7 last quarter and 9 the previous.

Another change I noticed last quarter is that I only practiced this habit in the morning 50% of the time, as opposed to 70% during the previous quarter. I’ve noted previously that I find the morning to be a more impactful time and so the fact that I haven’t been good about making time in the morning, before my progeny wake up, is having a major impact on quality and quantity.

As a result of that analysis, I am going to call an audible and change my target number this quarter in order to encourage the originally-intended long term behavior, in light of new data from the past 9 months. Instead of increasing the target number to 6 a week, I am going to drop it back to 4. I intend to be able to complete that more than the 9/13 I did in Q1, which would put me at around 50 completed days for the quarter, which is a 50% increase over where I started in Q1. I am also going to look to have >75% of those be in the morning – this is a new qualitative measure I’m adding for effectiveness sake.

2018 Exemplar: John Muir

After maxing out the renewal limit of the local library twice and only getting to page 27 in John Muir’s biography, I’ve realized I’m probably not going to finish it this year. As a result, I’ve changed course. I’m instead going to learn about him through a few documentaries.

I’ve been concerned that my exemplar item was devolving into ‘read a biography about this person’ and that I wasn’t doing well at that anyways, so I’ve decided to put some more structure around the practice. I’ve come up with a set of questions to help me understand what motivated that person and what practices they put in place to help them be successful at what they achieved. The template also includes an actionable item where I put one of their practices in motion and evaluate how it went.

I am already hard at work on completing this year’s Exemplar Review for John Muir based on information from some videos put together by PBS & the U.S. National Park Service. I hope this new format will prove more effective and also allow me to broaden the range of who I can chose as an exemplar.