Reflection is an important process when you are trying to improve. You must look back at what you’ve done and decide what you like and don’t like, what you did well and could’ve done better. So what better way to end a year than to take a hard look at what went well and what didn’t?

Many online entrepreneurs and folks I follow post public annual reviews on their websites. I am fascinated by these posts and look forward to reading them every year. When you view someone from the outside, they can look almost infallible if their definition of success matches up with yours. But to see them critique what they did is a great reminder that they are people too and you can always get better. Beyond looking at the past year, an annual review provides an opportunity to look at the upcoming year. Looking at the previous year provides an opportunity to plan the next one. It provides a chance for improvement, whatever that means in your eyes.

So starting this year, I’ve decided to begin posting annual reviews. I will use the simple formula made popular by Chris Guillebeau.

  • What went well this year?
  • What didn’t go well this year?

I hope to use this annual review for many things. Of course it will be a great way for me to learn from the past year and set a path for the year ahead. But beyond that I look forward to having these posts in the years ahead so I can look back. It will be really cool to look back in a few years at what my priorities we’re, who I was, and what I was up to.

Before I get into the two questions above, I want to talk about my year specifically related to my 2015 introduction post I wrote about this time last year. I set some goals for the year and I want to mention how I did before I take a wider lens to 2015. Here are the goals I set at the beginning of last year, and how I did:

  1. Write a novel
    • Not accomplished. My writing was all over the place this year. My lack of writing a novel was due to not even having an idea. I felt like I was trying to force an idea out, and I wasn’t really dedicated. You can’t go willy nilly into writing a novel, it’s a big commitment. I think moving forward I want to focus on being a better writer and writing more instead of forcing myself into a goal like this. I still want to write a novel at some point, but I’m not sure when my writing will shift more to fiction. I’ve dabbled in short stories, but nothing consistent or serious yet.
  2. Start a podcast or video channel
    • ACCOMPLISHED. I waited until just about the end of the year, but The Plunge Podcast has launched and I’m in the process of publishing my 4th episode. I’m really excited about this project and I’m glad I finally made myself do it. You can follow the show on iTunes, SoundCloud, or this blog.
  3. Build something with my hands
    • Not accomplished. I wanted to build something using my dad’s workshop this year, and like the novel I never really decided on an idea. I want to make something useful and functional, but I also have zero experience. This is something I still want to pursue and plan on doing, I think I’ll start smaller and build up to a big project instead of throwing the hail mary on the first drive of the game.
  4. Read 20 books
    • Not accomplished. This is one of my biggest disappointments from the past year. I keep a Trello board tracking the books I read. I won’t go through them all here, but the total number of books I read in 2015 was 10. 50% of my goal. I went through long stretches of time without reading, and I’m very disappointed in that. I love reading and learning from books, but I struggled to specifically prioritize time for reading. My disappointment was only increased by the fact that I loved the books I read this year. Not to mention if I added up all the words from blog posts and newsletters I read this year I could’ve crushed my book goal.
  5. Bring IU lacrosse back to nationals
    • Not accomplished. This is a tough one, because it was out of my control. Our team had a solid season and we were set up to make a conference tournament run. But due to administrative reasons out of our control, we weren’t allowed compete for the conference title. It was a bummer, but I look back on my lacrosse career with nothing but fond memories. The IU lax guys are top notch fellas.
  6. Create a lifestyle to pay off my student loans in 3 years
    • ACCOMPLISHED. This is going to be really tough, but I think I’m on track. I’ve been blogging about my financial life on the Pete the Planner blog for work, so if you are interested you can follow my progress there. I post every two weeks. But in 2015 I paid off all outstanding interest before my grace period ended, which was huge. My expenses are increasing drastically when I move out, but I’ve planned for it and I feel good about where I’m at.

It’s very easy to think I had a rough year looking at this list. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. My priorities simply didn’t end up matching with the goals I set at the beginning of last year. I definitely failed in those respects and didn’t stay focused, but I did so much else with my year I’m not too bothered. I learned I wouldn’t think about this list for months at a time, which taught me a lot about the goal setting process and continued focus.

Now that I’ve covered the specific mentions from last year, let’s really get into this from a high level point of view.

What went well this year?

  • Graduation
    • I graduated from IU in May. I had a fantastic four years, but I think by the end I was ready for some change in my life. Bloomington is an incredible place. I changed a ton in college, in a positive way. I grew up a lot and started the process of figuring out who I want to be. I still have a long way to go, but it’s a start.
  •  Travel
    • My girlfriend and I went on the trip of a lifetime to Europe after graduation. 5 weeks, 6 countries, 14 different cities. It was one of the best experience of my life so far. Before this trip I had never left the country, and it was a wake up call in the best way possible. My favorite places we visited were Cinque Terre, Italy and Santorini, Greece. Travel will be a big priority of mine moving forward, and I feel very strongly that everyone should at least give intense travel a go.
  • Career
    • I worked very hard to position myself for the job search senior year of school. The hard work paid off and I ended up securing multiple offers during recruiting season. Everything came full circle when I got a call from Pete, who I worked for in my first internship ever, offering me a job. I’ve been working for close to 6 months now and it’s been quite a ride.
  • Content creation
    • The balance between creation and consumption has always been a tough battle for me. But I’m beginning to get better. The first 3/4 of the year was definitely not great, but I put this in the win column because I finished strong. I started my weekly email newsletter, and haven’t missed one yet. I’ve published 24 so far. I also launched my podcast at the very end of the year, and I’m excited about the momentum I’ve built. I didn’t write as much this year, with a total of 14 posts (not counting podcast posts). But my overall content creation went up. This doesn’t count the MoneySmarts U podcast I co-host and my blogs for work either.
  • Finances
    • I graduated with student loan debt, so you could say it was a rough year financially. But I knew it was coming and made great strides after graduation. I funded a trip abroad through savings, and had money leftover. I paid off all my student loan interest. I also recently bought my first car. Overall, I’m very pleased with the lifestyle I’ve created and goals I’ve set and accomplished this year. Next year will only be more intense in this regard.
  • Fitness
    • Lacrosse helped me stay in decent shape through the first part of the year, but I was worried about how I would do after graduation. I was terribly inconsistent about going to the gym all through college, and it’s very easy to fall back to old habits. I ended up signing up for the Indy Monumental Half Marathon with my girlfriend and successfully finishing with a time of 1:54. Our goal was under 2 hours, so I was happy about that. But I hit a big wall around mile 8 because I ate some of that energy goop they hand out. I never used it during training and it made me feel terrible. So dumb. But it was still a great accomplishment and I’m proud of it. I also got into a consistent weightlifting routine with my buddy. We workout 2-3 days a week at 5:30am before work, then I do cardio or other workouts interspersed throughout the week. Waking up early sucks, but it fits really well with my schedule. Moving out in February will make me find a new routine for this.

What didn’t go well this year?

  • Consistency
    • It becomes obvious from the above, consistency is a big issue for me. I’ve gotten a bit better at the end of the year, but I think creating structure for myself moving forward will be important. I went through a phase of negative thinking about routines. I wanted freedom and to not be tied down, but the more I’ve learned about how I function, the more I’ve realized structure and routine is great for me. I work better when I give myself clear actions to take, and next year will be all about doing just that. This applies to all areas of my life really. Career, fitness, finances, content creation, it all comes down to showing up.
  • Reading
    • I have to read more than I did last year. The books I read were so great, and there is so much to learn from reading. Especially since I want to become a better writer, reading is an obvious must. I want to hit that 20 number at very minimum this year. I’ve already read 1, so we’re off to a good start.
  • Focus
    • This year was full of change and transition. The switch from college to adult life is a big one, and I struggled with focus and motivation at times during the year. I’d get myself into little funks where I’d come home every night and waste time watching TV, video games, or YouTube the whole night. My creation vs. consumption battle was a losing one for the better part of the year. But I have been building some solid momentum and hope to improve on it. I think now that I’m getting better at getting content made, I want to better focus on the “why” of it to be sure everything I do is purposeful. I have created just to create before, but I need to create my own “why” for doing so. Learning is also included on this. I want to choose a few skills to really deep dive on, and create a plan to make it happen. I’m not happy with some of my skill acquisition in 2015.
  • Productivity
    • I’ve always been a procrastinator. I’ve always been pretty distractible when I’m working. This ebbs and flows depending on my mood, mindset, and motivation. If I’m in a bad place mentally and looking for an escape, it’s very hard for me to get work done. Social media has been a terrible distractor this year. I look back and know I’m wasting time. I know I’m not even getting a lot out of it, but the habit of checking Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube has been driven into my brain. It’s tough to drive it out, but I’m using site blockers and other productivity tools like RescueTime to try and help purge the habit.
  • Offline time
    • I need to take more quiet time and shut off the electronics. There is a tension that comes with constant information overload, and I find my relaxed state is very different when I’m still plugged in. I went camping during the fall and didn’t have any electronics beyond my phone with bad service. The level of relaxation I felt out in nature was tangible. It felt so different than I did at home, and I realized I need to take the time to find that place more often.

Looking ahead to 2016

Overall, I would call last year a huge success. I had a lot of big wins, and my negatives feel more about optimizing small percentages instead of a huge fix that is needed.

I’m not going to lie, it has been extremely gratifying to reflect on all the hard work I put in college to get myself to this point. It absolutely paid off and I am just starting to realize it now. From setting up my first gig, to saving for my Europe trip, to running a half marathon, this year has shown me that hard work and preparation pay dividends.

2016 Theme: Opportunity

There is so much opportunity in 2016, I have no doubt it will be the best year of my life. In every facet of my life there is a chance to do something great. I’m extremely grateful for this, and plan on taking advantage of it.

In terms of specific goals, I might be changing my strategy a bit. There wasn’t much of a process for deciding on my goals last year, so I’m taking time to really think about it and treat it as more of an action plan than goal list. You can expect another post about my 2016 action plan soon. There I’ll lay out some specific projects and accomplishments I want next year to include.

I hope you had a great 2015, let me know in the comments below what your biggest achievement and disappointment was this past year. Then, in the action plan to come, we will chat about what we want to do in 2016.