Annual Review, 2014

An annual review is one of those things that takes weeks to think about and days to poke around at to get right. It’s recalibrating the engine; a time capsule of (sometimes very personal) information that allows us to reflect diligently. It is a document that becomes stamped in time as something to reference for months to come. It is accountability.

Doing something like this last year, albeit in a more abstract format, I found myself appreciative of Chris Guillebeau’s simple framework this time around. It’s an approach that uses a few simple questions to address the previous year, including:

  • What went well this year?
  • What did not go well this year?

Then, to expand upon what comes forth, you can/should write out:

  • Results from the previous year
  • Plans (with actions) for the new year

Finally, Chris suggests we give a theme to each year as they approach. For example, the year 2014 could have been themed the Year of Rebirth after a seismic change in my personal life and an exciting but challenging evolution in business.

The most important point about this review is to be painfully honest. We could all sugar coat awesome-this and cool-that, but we’re not really serving ourselves or our friends and family who are better off with a clearer, more focused and sincere you.

The themes that come up in your own review may reveal rough areas that need attention, as well as positive shifts that should be nurtured.

Let’s jump on in.

What went well this year?

Use this space for succinctly noting positive vibes as they relate to your life, even if there’s some hesitation to be “preachy” about things. That’s ok! We all have things we’re happy about. Happiness is a good thing, ne?

  • My health was excellent this year, and I feel fortunate to be able to compete with myself and peers in physical activity. I’m thankful for the ability to push myself, be competitive around good people at my gym, and go on fulfilling bike rides.
  • I started dating a woman that’s been changing my perspective on relationship, even as our friendship grew previous to this year. Someone who cares for and pushes me in the best of ways, who has welcomed transparent and constructive communication from the very beginning. She’s also pushed me towards ひらがな which has been a big (and fun) learning experience.
  • I’ve enjoyed a relatively stressless year, free of a grandiose event like the year prior. In a way it feels odd to have “leveled out” emotionally on that topic, but I’m learning to be thankful for life away from choppy seas, as silly as it may sound. My family has been a rock for me.
  • Our web design and technology studio hired our first employee, grew as a team, and executed on many successful projects. We’re living the ethos we promote, without rushing into company decisions, and it feels great to know it can work with the right people.
  • My business partner and I are excited about two speaking engagements in early 2015, something we’d been planning for and aiming to lock in by the end of this year. Despite small setbacks here and there, it’s felt like our arduous planning and strategy documents are beginning to pay off.
  • I had another fun year of travel, much of which was during the first half, that took me to places all around the country. I’ve also planned another lengthy visit to Japan during the spring of next year.

What did not go well this year?

A sometimes painful look at the tough spots of the previous year, however difficult to pull into words. Things “not going well” is a relative phrase to each of us, so your review may differ in tone.

  • My close group of peers and I lost two friends after a myriad of challenging and confusing events within our young, intense friendships. We tried to respect this couple’s opinions and expectations, but it never seemed to click, or align comfortably with, their way of being. Speaking for myself, I battled emotions surrounding the definition of partnership, as well as hypocrisy through words and actions, amongst (and after) the negative shift. A weather-worn sadness and disappointment remains with the disengagement.
  • I failed to pull together a consistent-enough men’s group this year. We had a handful of gatherings but it wasn’t enough, and I’m disappointed I didn’t push for a more casual yet purposeful approach to bringing men from different walks of life together. These gatherings force us on our edge and help us grow, and I didn’t do my part consistently enough.
  • I’ve been less present with how grateful I am for my circumstances—truly feeling the wellspring inside. Certainly this comes from the never ending work of self-awareness, with more time focusing on my own place of calmness (meditation, reflection, reading quietly), but it’s gotten away from me this busy fall season. I feel the tug to return to a few roots I know serve me well.
  • My mom’s private and sudden health concerns escalated in a full scale cancer scare just before the holidays this month. I was thrust into a deep awareness of mortality when having to face those uncertainties, and it’s been a challenge to understand that depth of unknown. Death will come for us all, and reminders are abound, but rarely does it hit so close to home.

Results from last year

My focus going into this year surrounded my own presence, my relationship with women and my new partner, as well as a variety of goals for business, travel, and friendships. I like setting a handful of goals, even creating vision boards on Pinterest that accompany those thoughts and visions: “moods” that set the tone for personal evolution. That said, I leave a fair amount of space for shifts in priorities and changing landscapes.

It’s definitely worth reflecting on the stroke of midnight last January 1st even if you didn’t have such thoughts recorded. So much can change in a year, so start with ground zero:

Who were you with?

Are those people still in your life? Why or why not?

What was your mindset waking up the next day with a new year ahead?

Will you ensure you’re in a better place this time around?

Plans (with actions) for the new year

Given results from this year, the positive and the negative, I have a few plans in mind for 2015. Try to be very descriptive and determined with your own review here. Write with purpose.

  • I will establish a men’s group that meets 6 times in the year, roughly every other month. We’ll rotate locations to each of our abodes and share in life: relationships, work, expectations, wins and disappointments. These men will be chosen after much thought and approached individually about the idea and commitment of these gatherings. The group will be a purposeful and honest outlet for each man who decides to show up.
  • In addition to my next trip to Japan, travel will resurface with an important role in my life. After re-securing a Southwest Companion Pass for the next two years, I’ll sprinkle 2015 with a series of short trips around the country to work, learn, exercise, and inspire.
  • Leaning into my partner is very important, and I promise to push to my edge even when it gets uncomfortable. I will meet her where she stands and encourage us to continuously have a standard of open and constructive communication. I will harvest growth and individuality as well as an even deeper unity.
  • Meaningful friendships, those with a balance of intense purpose and playful ease of being, are elusive. I will nurture those I have this year, while being open to new opportunities with those that come into my life for a reason. I won’t allow past hurts to color new acquaintances.
  • I will build up the legs and lungs to attempt one or more bucket list cycling adventures next year. Perhaps that’s Mt. Evans from Golden, or another challenging and rewarding ride rooted in a different crevasse of the country.

I’m choosing to make 2015 the Year of Leaning In.

For me this means both sticking to my words through actions, but also committing to various things with a full heart. Be it relationship, business, friends, physical challenges, or any number of smaller things, I want to avoid simply dipping the toes in. I want to be all in. If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no.

Granted this is somewhat abbreviated, sparring others from a novella of information about backstories, deeper thoughts on these topics, or my own ramblings as I work through them in my head. This isn’t really the place for that, nor does it alter the format too much in order to get the gist down.

Walking the talk

The notion of creating a framework, scribbling down lists, and proclaiming that life adjustments are-a-coming is simply the tip of the iceberg.

None of this does me—or anyone else—any good unless action is taken, and taken whole-heartedly into the next calendar year. Personal journals, online soapboxes, or scratch pads littered with notes and ideas only get us to the intersection of idea and living them out with purpose.

I want to free myself from latent anxieties and stresses from this year, live with purpose, and love those that show me love. Happiness starts with us, with you, and nowhere else.

We are the makers of our journey and we have a decision at hand. Will things stay the same? Or will I adjust where adjustments need to be made and become a better version of myself?

Love with full intent. Find solace in the religion or spirituality that gives you peace. Lean into the awkward and uncomfortable moments; don’t walk away. Live your days with purpose. See each challenge as a way to grow, remaining upbeat.

Above all, do so with an undeniable characteristic of positivity even on the blackest of days. Do this because we’re all in it together. Do this because you’re worth it.

Do this because I know you’re already getting started.


Photo: Ribbons on Lookout Mountain, Golden, Colorado

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This article has 4 comments

  1. Happy New Year Arnold! What a beautiful post. Thankyou for sharing your effervescent wisdom and thoughtful insights =) I love your Theme. I may just pinch it. Welcome to 2015!

  2. Inspired by the thoroughness and detail in your goals for the new year. Friendships are tough, no doubt about it. I’ve personally found three things are key to male friendships. Time, Location, and Location. I feel like I’m regurgitating something I read from a business book about opening a brick n’ mortar shop but it’s accurate all the same. I feel extremely blessed to say I have a number of great male friends. Maybe it goes without saying but your male friendships will live and die based on honesty. Clear, direct, and gracious honesty. The key to building that kind of trust though is location. If you don’t live close to the dude, you’ll never have a shot at honesty. If you don’t live close to the dude, you’ll never just hang out. I think location is such a vital component to male relationships because sometimes I just don’t want to talk about my feelings, or vocalize my emotions. Sometimes I just want to shoot some hoops, see a movie with gratuitous nudity and violence, or just grab some lunch. I think you get the picture. My male relationships have been crucial to me during life’s many up’s and downs providing me with validation, affirmation, and encouragement. I can appreciate your desire for living an intentional and disciplined life, but I would say don’t put so much pressure on making them happen. Every dude I’ve developed a close friendship with lived within 5 minutes of me. Friendships shouldn’t be difficult for either party. They should be a relief and a pleasure. I’m not saying over time they don’t become more complex, because they do. Like you every person is unique and complex, so are our relationships, even the male ones. When the person is within walking distance; it’s easy to talk, to have drinks with, to catch up with, and to vent to. I love the new communication possibilities technology has opened for us, but I have to remember not to fool myself into believing they can ever replace a real person, really sitting or standing 2 feet away. (I need my personal space, yo)

    • Chris Arnold
      Jan 5, 2015 Reply

      I think you hit it spot on when you say “Friendships shouldn’t be difficult for either party. They should be a relief and a pleasure.” This is absolutely the intent with a men’s night in that it creates a safe space for men to mark their calendar knowing they can vent a little, sip on a beverage and chomp some food, and take in a few things they (myself included) will inevitably learn from one another.

      I definitely have plenty of time with buddies shooting the breeze or hanging out amongst other friends, but there’s something a little different with a group. You come to the table with a little more awareness and intent; maybe even emotion. That being said it should be a pleasure, as you noted—no doubt.

      Thanks so much for your thoughts and for taking a read through here. Your suggestion to lesson that internal pressure is absolutely top of my mind this year, and I’ll be looking through a different lens on that topic!

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