For many of us, if we took life as seriously as we took our businesses or careers, we would have a far richer life.
There is a lot more accountability at our jobs than in our lives, and because of this, we get a lot more done. Tim Urban hits this perfectly in his Ted Talk on procrastination. He tells the hilariously relatable story of the Instant Gratification Monkey and the Panic Monster. The Monkey always wants to put things off and waste time, and only when a deadline nears does the Panic Monster awaken and scare the Monkey away. We get shit done and make things happen at our jobs because there is accountability to deadlines, and if we put something off for too long, we would fail or get fired, hence the Panic Monster gets involved.
At the end of the talk, humor is replaced with seriousness. What happens in situations when there is no deadline? There are a ton of things outside your career that don’t involve deadlines, like seeing your family, or exercising, or taking care of your health, or getting out of a relationship. This long-term kind of procrastination is the less talked about, hardly visible, more dangerous kind. We all have something in our lives that we are procrastinating on.
If we added the same kind of deadlines and pressure to our lives, I’m sure a lot of those “somedays” would get written into our calendars and see action. We would book that flight to that place we've been wanting to visit. We would sign up for that marathon we've always wanted to run. We would pick up the phone and make that phone call to a friend we haven't heard from in a while.
I also think that there are a lot of other ways we can start approaching our lives more like how we approach our businesses or jobs, and benefit greatly from it. Over the past few years, I’ve experimented with this, and I’ve come up with 5 main ways that I’ve applied business ideas to my personal life that have had a huge positive impact on me.
- Creating a set of guiding principles, similar to the way a business has its vision and mission statement, and core values.
- Applying business level accounting and financial management to my personal financials.
- Having a goal-driven, systems approach to personal goals and personal productivity.
- Taking the reflection and reporting at a fiscal year-end, and applying that to a personal annual review.
- Building a life resume that’s more impressive than my professional resume.
What I am definitely not saying is to treat life so much like a job that you hate it, are stressed out by it, and it loses all the fun and spontaneity. What I am saying though, is that when it comes to our own personal growth, our life story, our goals, and what we stand for, maybe we can be a little bit more mindful and deliberate, and steal a few things from the business world to help us out.
1. Articulate a Set of Guiding Principles
The best businesses usually have a set of guiding principles that come in the form of vision, mission, and values.
A vision is a business’s ideal future state. It’s not a plan for the future, but more an inspired view of the future.
A great example of a vision statement is Microsoft’s from the late 80’s: A computer on every desktop in every home.
The benefit of a great vision is that it helps a business evaluate opportunities, encourages long term thinking and is inspiring for the team to work towards.
When I was in college running my first business, a local entrepreneur named Martin Grunberg defined success in a way that stuck with me. He said, “success is creating your ideal future.” First, you have to decide and define what your ideal future is, which is a very difficult task in of itself and requires a lot of reflection and self-understanding. And then there are the steps you need to take to make that ideal future a reality. This is essentially the same thing as a vision statement of a business.
A really good way to try to create the idea of your ideal future, is to try and design one perfect day 10 years in the future, and write a highly detailed essay on it. I first heard this exercise from an artist named Yuko, during a speech at a creative conference called 99U in 2016. I think she got it from someone who got it from Debbie Millman, a famous designer and teacher, who says she got it from Milton Glazer, the designer of the I Heart NY logo and many other recognizable designs. About a year after first doing the exercise with Yuko at 99u, I heard it again when Debbie Millman was on the Tim Ferriss podcast. This exercise obviously has been passed down in the design world, and the spirit of it is to apply a design way of thinking to designing your life. Here is how Debbie Millman explains the exercise:
So let say it is Winter 2027. What does your life look like? What are you doing? Where are you living? Who are you living with? Do you have pets? What kind of house are you in? Is it an apartment are you in the city are you in the country? What does your furniture look like? What is your bed like? What are your sheets like? What kind of clothes do you wear? What kind of hair do you have?
Tell me about your pets, tell me about your significant other, do you have children? Do you have a car? Do you have a boat? Talk about your career. What do you want? What are you reading? What are you making? What excites you? What is your health like?
And write this day, this one day ten years from now. So one day in the winter of 2027, what does your whole day look like? Start from the minute you wake up, brush your teeth, have your coffee or tea, all the way through until minute you tuck yourself in at night. What is that day like for you?
Dream big, dreams without any fear. Write it all down. You don’t have to share it with anyone other than yourself. Put your whole heart into it. And write like there is no tomorrow; write like your life depends on it because it does.
And then read it, once a year, and see what happens. It’s magic.
By writing this essay, you have something to work towards, a painted picture in your head as well as something that is defined and on paper. Debbie says that it is amazing to hear so many of her students come back 10 years later and tell her how much of an impact this exercise has had on their lives.
If success is creating your ideal future, first you need a vision, and to design what that ideal future actually looks like.
If a vision statement focuses more on tomorrow, a mission statement of a company focuses more on today. What does the business do, why does it do it, and how does it do it? The mission supports the vision.
To show a good example of a company’s vision and mission statements side by side to illustrate the differences, here is Patagonia’s:
Vision: A love of wild and beautiful places demands participation in the fight to save them, and to help reverse the steep decline in the overall environmental health of our planet.
Mission: Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.
So to apply this to your own life, ask yourself these questions:
- What do you do?
- Why do you do it?
- How do you want to live life?
My old CEO, Matt Stewart. was the first person I ever knew that had a personal mission statement, and he would always share it at the beginning or end of his annual summer speech. His mission is; Live life fully, and help others do the same. He said that he often reflects on this statement and his life, and how much they match up. It helps him stay on the right path. And in my opinion, he definitely lives life fully, and has helped me and countless others I know do the same.
Here is another example of a mission statement, this one from Jesse Itzler. Jesse has an incredible "life resume," a concept I will talk more about later. He was a 90’s rapper, wrote the theme song for the NY Knicks, founded a private jet company, owned Ziko Coconut water which sold to Warren Buffet and Coca-cola, has run something like 18 NY marathons in a row, has even run a 100 mile ultra marathon, and to cap it all off, is married to Sarah Blakey, the founder of Spanx. Here is his mission statement: Live life full blast. Never be afraid to fail. And never, ever allow yourself to stagnate.
So in this spirit, I tried to create a mission statement of my own, answering the questions from above. By running ultramarathons I hope to become the strongest, healthiest, best version of myself, and by health coaching, I hope to help and inspire others do the same.
Most businesses have core values. For some companies, their values are hollow words that hang on the wall. For example, Enron's company values were: Respect. Integrity. Communication. Excellence.
But many other successful companies are built on a strong set of core values, and those values shape the company's culture and personality, and create a filter for decision making.
Here is what Patagonia says about it’s values: Our values reflect those of a business started by a band of climbers and surfers, and the minimalist style they promoted. The approach we take towards product design demonstrates a bias for simplicity and utility. I’ve always personally felt aligned with the Patagonia brand, not because they make nice high quality jackets, but because of what they stand for.
Values help a business create an aligned view of what's important. I really like Howard Shultz's view of Starbucks, “… at Starbucks, I’ve always said we’re not in the coffee business serving people, we’re in the people business servicing coffee.”
Beyond business, values can be, and should be, applied to us as individuals. Values are what's important to us, and what we believe. They tell us who we are, and what we stand for.
The CEO of Twilio, another company built on a strong set of core values, says that you don’t “create” values, you can only articulate them. And values should be articulated, written down, and used to stay true to the core. He's referring to business values, but this advice is just as important for personal values. They should be real, they should be written down, and they should be used to stay true to your core. I think a lot of how happy you are depends on how much your actions align with your values.
There are a lot of ways to get your values on paper. You can ask yourself a set of questions and think deeply on the answers: What's important to me? What do I value most? What do I stand for? What do I believe? What are the guiding principles I want to live my life by?
Ryan Holiday has two tattoos on his arms, The Obstacle is the Way and Ego is the Enemy, and they are more than just tattoos of the titles of books he has written, they are guiding principles and daily reminders.
Ray Dalio turned his values into what he calls his Life Principles, which are a few pages filled with ideas on how to think and make decisions. He goes into great depth about this in his book, Principles, but here are a couple examples:
- Embrace reality and deal with it.
- Dreams + Reality + Determination = A Successful Life
- Be radically open-minded and radically transparent.
- Pain + Reflection = Progress.
Of course, we all want to be Ryan Holiday or Ray Dalio when it comes to articulating our values, but that just isn't in the cards for most of us. So what I have is just have a few quotes to live by, quotes I have found and kept, that deeply resonated with me.
Here are my 4 guiding principles:
1. The only guy I have to beat is the guy I was last week. - I vaguely remember reading this quote, I think I saw it in Men's Health magazine back around 2008, and I might be mistaken, but I think its from Ryan Reynolds of all people (Yes, Van Wilder himself LOL). Regardless of where it came from, it's stuck with me. It's been like a mantra for me. I've shared it with friends, and named my whole blog after it. It's my constant reminder to stay focused on improving myself, my own personal growth, and to not play the compare game to measure my success.
2. Experiences over material things. Unique experiences are like trophies in the soul. - The first half of this I think I got this from Tony Hseih in his book Delivering Happiness, which means it dates back to around 2010. And the second part is a Brad O'neal quote, from a random video I saw on Vimeo one time, called Follow Your Fears. I don't want to be BMW guy, or Gucci belt guy. It's hard sometimes, because we play the status game, we compare, there is peer pressure, and societal pressure, and these companies are great at marketing and tapping into our deep desires. I saw a quote this week, it went something like, "show me someone's bank account and calendar and I'll show you what they value." I constantly check myself, and make sure that I'm spending my money and time on the things that actually do matter to me - adventures, challenges, and unique experiences with people I care about.
3. Go at things full speed, lukewarm is no good. - This is a condensed Roald Dahl quote that I read a few months ago, and absolutely love. Here is the full quote: "I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. If you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it full speed. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good.” I feel like I do this naturally, when I get into something, I go all in and get really really into it. I like this quality about myself, and I hope to never lose it, hence why it's a core value.
4. Live in reality. - Ray Dalio nails this in his book Principles:
Think for yourself to decide 1) what you want 2) what is true and 3) what you should do to achieve #1 in light of #2.
This can be broken down into the following five ideas: 1) Don’t confuse what you wish were true with what is really true. 2) Don’t worry about looking good — worry instead about achieving your goals. 3) Don’t overweight first-order consequences relative to second and third-order ones. 4) Don’t let pain stand in the way of progress. 5) Don’t blame bad outcomes on anyone but yourself.
Dreams + Reality + Determination = A Successful Life
This highly resonates with me. On a similar note, David Goggins (someone I talk about all the time) talks about his Accountability Mirror. He says he looks in the mirror every morning and is to be brutally honest with himself. The purpose is to call yourself out. If you suck at something, you need to accept that you suck before you can get better. If you aren’t giving it your all, you need to address that with yourself. Most people in life need a boss to keep them accountable. We also live in a world where we give participation trophies and tell everyone they are special. We need to be able to look at ourselves in the mirror, hold ourselves accountable, and be 100% real with ourselves.
I like to call this living in reality.
There is obviously a lot of outside influence rooted in these principles, things that I have picked up along the way from people that have it a little bit more experience and wisdom than me. But like I mentioned earlier, you don't "create" your values, you just articulate them, and for me, the way that I have been able to articulate my own values is by saving quotes that deeply resonate.
Because I have my values defined and written down, I can reflect on them, and use them to guide me. There is a positive upward spiral that happened when once I wrote them down, I am constantly trying to and emulate my own values, and in doing so, they become stronger and even more ingrained in me. The point isn’t to be perfect, and I go against my own values often. The point it’s just to have something to look back upon, to help me make tough decisions or keep me on the right track towards that ideal future and the person I want to be.
Your vision and mission and values should all align with each other, and inform each other. What I mean by that, is that you can’t really do Debbie Millman’s Design Your Life exercise unless you have a core understanding of your values and what’s really important to you. Who you are should inform what you do, and where you are going. Much of your happiness depends on how much your life choices align with your values and long term vision.
2. Business-level Accounting for Personal Finances
My early twenties were a ripper of a good time. So much so, that by the time I was 28 years old, I was in $60,000 of credit card debt. I made a lot of poor decisions, obviously. Getting that deep in the hole was a combo of naively thinking that money didn’t matter, optimistically thinking that I would make more money every year that I actually did, and purposefully keeping myself in the dark and not living in reality with how bad it really was.
Meanwhile, I was running a business and looking at my business financials completely the opposite of my personal financials. I quickly learned that money is the bloodline of a business, it fuels the impact you make, and even the most altruistic and mission-driven businesses understand that. I learned to budget business expenses based on realistic annual projections, not the goals we were aiming for. I also learned that even just a little time per month spent actually looking at and analyzing the monthly financial statements goes a long way. The reports showed spending and budgets, per category, and nice red and green colors to show how we were trending, and it was easy to make adjustments based on this.
Business financials are very simple, and you don’t need an economics degree to understand these key concepts:
- Profit = Revenue - Expenses
- To maximize profit, increase revenue or decrease expenses. Ideally both.
- Revenue is super important. Everything is a lot better when there is more money to go around, so a ton of energy should be invested here.
- The first step to managing expenses is to know exactly what your spending is, and what you are trending for based on budgets and comparison to the previous year. Only then you can make the appropriate adjustments.
Simple, right? Then why the hell wasn't I doing this for my personal financials!?!?
Towards the end of 2014, I finally decided it was time to get serious about my debt and try and get out of it. I moved home with my mom, and this freed up $2000 per month that I wasn't paying in rent that I could directly apply to my debt. I also created an excel file where I tracked what I was ACTUALLY spending per month in each category. I say "actually" because what I quickly realized is that what I was actually spending was always more than what I thought I was spending.
My excel file has these 14 lines:
- Monthly income at the top - money coming in, after taxes
- Fixed monthly expenses: These are expenses that are the same every month, like my health insurance, car insurance, phone bill, Spotify and Audible subscriptions
- Credit card interest
- Fees, bills, memberships - things like annual credit card fees, bank fees, Amazon Prime, AAA
- Travel - flights, hotels, basically anything associated with trips and vacations
- Auto and Transportation - gas, parking, Uber and Lyft, car maintinence
- Sports and Activities - lift tickets, marathon entry fees, golfing
- Entertainment - concerts, movies, gambling
- Shopping - basically anything else, books, shoes, clothes, etc
- Charity - supporting causes that are important to me
- Gifts - things I buy for other people
- Misc - anything that doesn't fit into a category, like taxes, one-time tuition to Nutrition school
- The difference, which is #1 minus #2-13. Hopefully it's a positive.
Mint and Expensify are two great tools to help collect the data if you are like me and have multiple bank accounts and credit accounts. I personally use Expensify because I was already using that for business expense reports. I export my monthly expenses to a CSV excel file, and spend 10-15 min making sure the categories are aligned with what I want (because the software never gets it right) before I sort the data by category. Then I spend another 10 min auditing, for example, if I paid for something on my credit card but got Venmo'ed for it.
It's important to note that I don't try to get everything to be exact, to the penny, like a real accounting department of a business needs to be. This would take too long, and I'm not an accountant for a reason! If I paid 50 cents for parking, I don't even include it. If I paid something small with an available Venmo balance, I don't worry about it. If I can't figure out the amount for something, I guesstimate. My goal is to be as accurate as possible without spending more than like 30 minutes tops pulling the spending data.
There are a few big things I quickly learned after really diving into the reality of the numbers:
- I always overestimated how much money I thought I was making, after taxes.
- I always underestimated how much I was spending, on everything in pretty much every category.
- Just knowing the reality of how much I was spending was enough to change my behavior.
I don't create budgets for myself, but in general, my goal is to spend less than average in as many categories as possible, and less overall. Just seeing how ugly the numbers were, and knowing that a month later I would be running the numbers again, I spent a lot less money. It might be better for some people to actually create budgets, for me I just didn’t need to be that rigid.
It took me 2.5 years to get out of debt. To this day, I spend about an hour at the beginning of the month with Expensify and Excel, and I run the numbers to see what’s really going on and keep myself accountable.
3. A Systemized Approach to Goals and Time
In my business, we had goals for everything, sales goals, productivity goals, recruiting goals, production goals, profit goals, deadlines for implementing new initiatives, and so on. Having a goal means we can create a plan to get there, and once we have the plan, we can get to work. The goals are written down, and followed up on weekly, and even daily.
One of the best books I have ever read on how to set and execute on goals is the 4 Disciplines of Execution. One of the best articles I ever read is Systems Vs Goals by James Clear. Majorly based on these two sources, I created my own system to help our sales and recruiting teams set and achieve their goals.
- Set a SMART goal - the goal needs to be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely
- Break the goal down into smaller, more manageable goals, and use them to track progress towards the goal. The outcomes of these smaller goals are the "lag measures."
- Also track the "lead measures," or actions that influence and lead to the goal.
- The actions need to be part of a well-designed system.
- Focus more on the system and actions than the outcomes.
Here is what this looks like applied to one of our sales people:
- Set a SMART goal - The goal is to sell $100,000 in revenue by the end of the summer.
- Break the goal down into smaller chunks - There is 20 weeks of sales, so they really need to sell $5000 per week, which is a much more manageable goal. On Sunday nights, we look at the stats and see if they sold under or over $5000.
- Track the lead measures - in this case, it would be new leads generated and sales appointments done. It’s much easier to control the leads generated and appointments done, because they are effort based, versus the conversions and revenue which are more skill based.
- There is a well-designed system that we train our sales people on to be able to actually source leads, convert leads at 40%, and sell contracts at 25%. These systems have been perfected over the course of several years, and they get trained and coached on a week by week basis.
- Lastly, if a sales person is too focused on the outcomes, and on Sunday night they enter a big fat $0 into the stats, they might get discouraged. Developing a skillset, and getting good at the systems, takes time and practice. So if they are more focused on the effort, which is how many leads and appointments they got done, they are more likely to remain patient, and stick with it and eventually develop the skills and habits needed to succeed.
As you can see, this is a highly managed and systemized way to approach goals. To help us track these goals, and the lag measures and lead measures, we have a CRM, stats, and numerous excel files. Looking at the data is key. Making adjustments, having impactful coaching conversations, and focusing on the right things, is key.
In contrast, my personal goals are not set, tracked, or managed like this. I would guess that most people don't treat their personal goals like this. Most of the time, people don't even set any personal goals, or if they do, they don't even write them down. If they do get written down, they usually take the form of a half ass New Year’s Resolution that we will probably fail within a couple weeks. I rarely see that someone approaches their personal goals with the same methodology as a VP of Sales would.
But what if someone did apply this systemized approach to a New Year's Resolution of wanting to lose weight, for example. Let's take the goal, "Lose weight before summer."
- Let’s make it a SMART goal - "I want to lose 20 pounds by June 1st.
- Break it down - June 1st is 20 weeks away, so I need to lose 1 lb per week, which is super doable! Every Sunday, I’ll step on the scale and record my progress. My weight on Sunday's are the "lag measures."
- Track the lead measures - Diet and exercise are obviously the actions that lead to losing weight, so for 20 weeks I will commit to exercising 4 times/week, and stick to a diet.
- The actions need to be part of a well designed system, not any exercise or diet will do, it needs to be effective. So for exercising 4x/week, maybe I should hire a personal trainer. And for the diet, I’ll follow Tim Ferriss’s Slow Carb Diet which has been proven as one of the best diets for weight loss.
- Lastly, I will not get discouraged with what the scale says on Sunday night. Instead, I will stay committed and focused on the actions for 20 weeks. As long as I hit my 4 exercise sessions per week, and stick to my diet, I’ll look at that as success!
If someone was to actually follow this system, they would most likely see some kind of success after the 20 weeks. But most people set vague, non specific goals, not SMART goals. Most people don’t track their progress the right way, or don’t follow an effective system. And most people get discouraged after the first few weeks because they are too focused on the outcomes and don’t have the patience to let success happen.
Back in 2012, I took a lot of the things I learned about goal setting from the business world, and created an iPhone app, called the Smart Goals app, to help people set and achieve personal goals. The tagline was "All your dreams, goals, and habits on your iPhone." The app helped people set, manage, and track their bucket list goals, their SMART goals, and their daily/weekly habits. Thinking of your goals in 3 different categories is helpful -
- Bucket list goals are dreams, or "someday" goals. These goals are important because they require imagination, they are inspiring, and encourage long term thinking. A person doesn’t need to attempt their whole bucket list at once, and that would actually be very unfocused and ineffective. Going after a few bucket list goals per year is much more realistic.
- SMART goals are dreams with a plan. Once you create a plan, decide on the measurable progress, and create a timeline of deadlines, our "someday" goals are "today" goals. Action happens on these goals.
- Habits are the daily behavior changes that we want to make. Sometimes our daily habits need to align with our SMART goals, and sometimes the habit itself is the goal.
I think writing and tracking your goals is super important. Here are my current bucket list goals, SMART goals, and habits that I am tracking.
- Run the Boston Marathon
- Do a full Ironman
- Run 100 miles
- Learn to spearfish
- Vagabond for more than 1 month
- Start a successful passion-based business or side hustle
- Write a book
- Give a keynote speech (like a TEDx)
- Do the Ironman 70.3 Whistler - Deadline: July 29, 2018 - Weekly action: Swim, bike run
- Run the Kodiak 50 Miler in Big Bear - Deadline: August 18, 2018 - Weekly action: Run
- Start a health coaching business - Deadline; November 15, 2018 - Weekly action: complete weekly lectures at nutrition school, create blog posts and Instagram content
- Daily - glutamine and collagen supplements
- Daily - smoothie a day
- Daily - track sleep on the Pillow app, ideally achieve +7 hours and/or +75% quality
- Weekly - yoga sessions
- Weekly - core training sessions
For me, tracking my goals and habits has been my key to success. For the past few years, I have been using apps like Coach.me or Way of Life to actually track my daily habits. I have a very specific vision for what I want my lifestyle to look like. I could tell you exactly how many days I surfed, how many exercise sessions I had, how many nights I got 8 hours of sleep, how many times I drank alcohol, and how many days I didn’t stick to my diet. I would review it month by month to get a feel for how good I was doing. If I had a bad month with a habit, it was no big deal, I would motivate myself to have a better one next month.
I would also review my habit stats year-over-year, but more on this in a second.
Stacking the Calendar
I'd assume that most people are pretty on top of their work calendars, with daily meetings and to-dos. For me, I would usually have my whole work week completely slotted off by Sunday night, and would routinely be planning multiple weeks in advance. For any big trainings or events, I would plan them at least a quarter ahead. To do this, I would have periodic planning sessions, ie. plan time to plan. The better things were planned, the less stress there is.
It’s easy to see the value for such planning as it relates to work. We are usually planning things with other people’s busy schedules, and can’t waste other people’s time. We feel the direct consequences of not planning effectively. With deadlines and goals, we absolutely have to get things done, and often push into the nights and weekends to make that happen.
Most of us probably don’t have the same diligence with our personal calendars as our work calendars. We don’t plan hang out time with our friends, dates with our significant others, time for our hobbies and goals, or relax time. Why is that? Is it because our personal lives lack the same sense of urgency as work does? Is it because of the lack of consequences? Is it because at work, the value of our time is quantified with our weekly paycheck, but our time away from work doesn’t have the same calculated value?
Maybe a better question is, why not plan out our time for hobbies and goals? Why not stack my calendar full of fun shit?
I started doing periodic planning sessions, but for personal goals and fun shit. I call these sessions “stacking my calendar.” My calendar has 3 colors. Green is work stuff or non-fun personal tasks. Red is travel. Blue is called “fun shit.” My calendar always fills up with green first. I stack all my meetings and important work to-dos. But staring at an all green calendar is flat out depressing, so then I start stacking it with red and blue. I’ll plan some long trail runs in. Better yet, I'll plan a weekend getaway with my girlfriend, to a place that I can get some good trail runs in. I’ll look up the concert calendar for my favorite bands and get a show on the calendar. I’ll look at the surf report and if there is swell next week, If the surf is good, I’ll block off my morning, sometimes even moving some of my morning meetings to later in the day. Then all of a sudden I have a calendar that I’m excited about! I have things to look forward to. A huge key to accomplishing your personal goals and living a lifestyle you enjoy is to have all of that planned in.
4. The Annual Review
In our jobs, most of us probably have an annual review, a meeting where our performance is rated, our boss gives us feedback, and any potential raises are discussed. For companies, they have their fiscal year, which doesn't always match up to the calendar year, but is important for financial reporting and taxes. There is a ton of pressure, especially on publicly traded companies, to report good quarterly earnings and growth numbers. If they do, stock goes up, and if they don’t, stock plummets and sometimes heads will roll. All the intense pressure is probably counterproductive in a lot of ways, but the cadence of reflection is very beneficial.
In my old business, we would have a Vision Meeting at year-end. All of the executives would get together for a weekend. If it was a good year, we’d meet somewhere cool like Vegas or Hollywood. If it was a down year, we would meet at our VP’s condo in Redwood City. Either way, we would reflect on the year. We would look back on all the stats and numbers from the year, and compare them year over year to the last few years. Where did we do better, and where did we do worse, and why? And from that, we would talk about our strategy and execution, where we hit and where we missed. And most importantly, we would discuss ideas for the upcoming year, and ultimately try and figure out how to fix some of our biggest issues, and how we could make the upcoming year our best year ever. Then, we present our vision for the next year to all of our managers at the start of the new year.
Some of our best ideas ever have come out of this meeting. In addition to the ideas, the meeting kind of serves as closure for the previous year, and gives a renewed focus and vigor for the year ahead.
In our personal lives, at the end of the calendar year, we usually get really drunk. And at the start of the new year, we have all these New Year’s Resolutions that we want to make, but by February 15th we have already forgotten about them, and we feel like we need to wait all the way until the next new year to get excited about making changes again. This is a pretty messed up system.
I don’t like New Year’s Resolutions for this exact reason. Why do you have to wait for the new year to make changes? If people really wanted to make a change in their life, they would do it today, not wait for the calendar to say January 1st.
When I decided to stop eating meat for the first time, I did it on a random day in November. I watched a documentary and decided at the film’s end that I was starting now. Was it less special that I didn’t wait till the beginning of the new year, or a new month? No. Was it inconvenient that I started this right before Thanksgiving and Christmas, 2 of the biggest meat-eating holidays of the year? Definitely. But I wanted to make the change, so I did it immediately.
Although I don’t believe in the calendar year as the best time to set new goals or resolutions, I do think of it as the best time for reflection. That’s why at the beginning of every new year, I write an annual review. An annual review is a look back on how the year went, what I accomplished and what I didn’t, what went well and what didn’t, and look for any patterns and themes and learning lessons. I got this idea from Chris Guillabeau, but after doing it, I realized it's exactly what we did for our business.
The first thing I do, before any writing, is review. I review my calendar and get a feel for where my time went, any cool stuff I did, and all the traveling. I review my pictures, which is a great way to jog my memory on everything I did. I review my Audible account to remember what books I read. Then I review my habit app, and see how my habits compared to the previous years. As I review, I’m reflecting, and trying to figure out how I feel about the year. In what ways was it a better year? What am I proud of? What were the top moments? Any missed opportunities? Any big learning lessons? And then I write it all down.
Side note: The benefit of writing down my goals, using a habit tracking app to track all my daily and weekly habits, and being diligent with my personal calendar, it makes the review process much more detailed and colorful.
After the review, I start to think about the upcoming year. What are my new goals? What will make this new year even better than the last? What am I most excited about, or nervous about?
Just like my business vision meeting, it’s a great way to bring closure on the past year, and get excited about the endless possibility for this year.
And because I write these down and publish them, it’s cool to be able to look back on them, year after year, and reminisce.
5. The Resume
Most of us have our professional resumes. We list our skills, experience, and education to sell ourselves to potential employers. A resume won’t get you a job, but it’ll hopefully get your foot in the door for an interview. The more accomplishments and achievements you have on there, the better. Employers want top performers. The more your experience is relevant to a specific field or career, the better. Employers usually want people they need to train less, and those that have a track record.
Especially in college and early in your career, you make decisions based on what will help build your resume the most. I think some of the best advice I ever received is to prioritize learning and experience over salary early in my career. Making more money usually feels good in the short term, but investing in yourself and learning new skills or gaining valuable experience usually pays off in the long run.
A resume is always evolving. The past quickly becomes irrelevant. Now that it’s been 10 years since I graduated college, no one really cares about my old college jobs or internships I did, or even my first job out of college. The best resumes are fresh, with lots of promotions and progression, where you can actually see that a person is pushing themselves and not getting too comfortable.
Brag Sheet and Life Resume
But in my current job search, I interviewed with a company called HealthIQ, and they weren’t interested in my resume at all, nor did they even ask for one. What they wanted instead was a Brag Sheet, which was a list of all my brag-worthy accomplishments over the course of my whole life. They said, “if you won the spelling bee in 2nd grade, we want to know about it.” Their belief was that a resume is a lot of success by association, just because you worked at Google doesn’t mean you were an exceptional employee there, and a brag sheet was more telling of the caliber of person you really are. Real top performers usually perform highly in everything they do. For me, a lot of my accomplishments are work related, but it was really fun to go back and think of my high school baseball accomplishments and awards, the crazy growth that happened early in my career, and the recent marathon I had just completed.
Similar to a brag sheet is a life resume. Jesse Itzler always talks about his life resume, and how much more important that is than your business resume. A life resume is your life’s work. Of course, your professional career is part of it, but only part. Jesse is always looking for the next challenge, the next opportunity to grow. He always has something in his calendar that he is building up to. On his website, he asks, "What's one thing that you’ve been wanting to do, but haven’t found the right time to do it yet. Take piano lessons? Run a marathon? Learn how to water ski? Choose an experience that is out of your comfort zone and perhaps a bit scary to you."
Jesse also talks about how he is a “check the box” person. “Ok Jesse, you ran this marathon, check the box and move on.” It’s not about doing that one thing you’ve always wanted to do, it’s about building the life resume. Once you do something, check the box, add it to your resume, and move onto to the next thing. This works just like a real resume, no one cares what you did 5-10 years ago, they want to know what you are doing now! There are no glory days to dwell on, only the next challenge. It’s not about crossing the finish line, because there is no finish line.
I've always liked the quote, "the way you do anything is how you do everything." So although it wasn't immediately obvious to apply some of the same business strategies to my personal life, it didn't take long to see the parallels and apply them.
My goal is to get as much out of life as possible. I fear being old and thinking that I didn't try my hardest to live a full life. This post is a little insight to my thinking around living a life based on my terms, my values, and my well-thought out ideas and goals.
I don't write these posts thinking that anyone reads them. But the other day, my brother heard that a friend of a friend read one of my annual reviews a few years ago and was inspired to start writing his own. I thought that was so cool, and inspired me to spend a lot of time on this post. I'd be surprised if anyone actually makes it to the bottom of this one haha, but if you are actually reading this, I hope you enjoyed this one! If so, let me know!