2017 End of Year Review

2017 End of Year Review

Being honest with myself, I think I missed the mark in 2017–and that’s OK! I had some pretty ambitious goals and I had a lot of goals. I stretched myself attempting to complete them, and learned a lot in the process. A lot of great things also happened as a result of the intention behind this set of goals, even though I didn’t even come close to hitting them all. There were some confounding factors like deciding to leave my job earlier than I thought I otherwise would (I had hoped to go to Paris through work, but those opportunities didn’t materialize, so I advanced my timeline), but even so I think I’m willing to admit that I bit off more than I could chew. I’ve learned that there are only so many things I can effectively focus on at once, that I should define my plans for goals in terms of sustainable habits rather than just one-off events, and that I could give myself a little more flexibility to adapt and improvise. All-in-all, I’d have to give myself a D+ this year. I’m not quite comfortable giving myself a passing grade, but quitting my job was a big deal and all the work I did conquering other fears definitely helped me get to that point. I’m taking my learnings into 2018 so I can keep improving the process as I go forward :)!


  • Conquer my fears and insecurities by cultivating courage.
    • Do at least 150 things total that scare me this year. (Does not have to be 150 unique things if appropriate level of fear is still present.)
      • Honestly, I did a terrible job of keeping track of this. I’d guesstimate that I did on the order of 75-100 of these, but didn’t keep a good record. Off the top of my head here are some memorable ones:
        • Quitting my job. I could probably argue that this counts as multiple since this has regularly exposed me to a lot of fear, which I’m still learning to process effectively.
        • Learning to lead climb. This is a form of rock climbing where the rope comes up behind you as you clip it into the wall to save your progress. When you fall, you can fall as far as 10-15 feet. It took me awhile to get over the fear of falling.
        • Scuba certification. Open water still scares me, and the idea of vulnerability while diving worried me. At this point, diving in a group doesn’t scare me at all, though I’d probably shit myself diving alone.
        • Completing an Alcatraz swim. There be sharks in these waters ._.
        • Rejection. There was a decent amount of rejection this year :). Those double count here, but I’ll leave a longer accounting of them for below.
    • Conquer my fear of failure.
      • Figure out what I would do if I weren’t working at Palantir.
        • I’m now doing it :)! It’s not entirely clear exactly how long I’ll continue to do what I’m doing now, or what I’ll do after this. Most likely I’ll continue for as long as what I’m doing now feels like the best way to grow, or until my priorities change.
      • Stretch: Take a leave of absence from work or quit and do my own thing for 3-6 months or leave my current job to work on something more risky.
        • I ultimately couldn’t get Palantir to send me to France on a timeline that made sense to me, so I went with the last option and left. What I’m doing now is much more risky, and much more self-directed, which is both amazing and terrifying. Can’t say I’ve totally beaten my fear of failure yet, but definitely on the right path.
    • Conquer my fear of rejection.
      • Get rejected at least 100 times trying 100 different things.
        • I didn’t do a great job of tracking this one either. I probably hit ~50 with scattered rejection challenges earlier in the year, and then 30 challenges in November.
      • Complete at least Foundation Level 2 improv at BATS.
        • I got this one done real early! And I’ve fallen in love with improv in the process. When I left the Bay Area, one of the first things I did was find a new place to go to continue improvising. I’m not sure how I’ll keep it up while I’m abroad, but someday I think it would be really fun (and frightening) to participate in an improv performance.
    • Conquer my fear of sharks.
      • Go swimming in a shark cage.
        • This didn’t happen. Logistically this was difficult as there weren’t many local opportunities for this in the Bay Area, and most of the services I found were prohibitively expensive. If I can find an opportunity for it, I may end up doing some version of swimming or diving with sharks while I’m abroad in South East Asia though!
      • Unfortunately, didn’t do much for this despite some risk mitigation steps outlined during my mid year review. The Alcatraz swim ended up being the closest thing I got to facing my fear of sharks.
    • Conquer my fear of spiders.
      • Hold a tarantula in my hand without freaking out.
        • I got nowhere close to this.
      • Unfortunately, didn’t end up doing much for this despite some risk mitigation steps outlined during my mid year review. I still hate spiders :/.
    • Conquer my fear of falling.
      • Go bungee jumping.
      • Go rock climbing outdoors.
      • Stretch: Go lead climbing outdoors.
        • Lead climb certified! Never logistically got around to organizing a group to climb out doors, let alone lead climb outdoors, though.
      • I didn’t end up getting to all of the key results here, but I honestly don’t feel that irrationally afraid of falling anymore. The idea of going bungee jumping or sky diving doesn’t really bother me. I know there’s inherent risk in doing things like this, but I’ve learned not to overly worry about things like equipment failures, which are unlikely and relatively out of my control. (By contrast, the first time I went sky diving I mentally prepared for that day to be the last day of my life :P.)
    • Conquer my fear of open water.
      • Complete an Alcatraz swim.
      • Complete scuba certification.
      • Stretch: Go on 2 additional dives after certification.
      • Hilariously, I completed all of the key results for this one, but am definitely still irrationally afraid of swimming in open water. I think this is because the fear wasn’t properly defined here: it’s becoming more and more clear to me that I’m afraid of swimming alone in open water, but most other cases are fine.
  • Become confident around attractive women.
    • Ask out at least one woman I find attractive each week in person.
    • Go on at least one Tinder date.
      • This is a terrible key result. But I did go on a Tinder date this year, and I did go on a Coffee Meets Bagel date this year. In the bigger picture though, I’ve pretty much completely divested from dating apps at this point–would really prefer that I learn to get comfortable approaching and talking to women I find attractive. Plus, I honestly suck at texting strangers and kind of don’t see the point.
    • I noted in my mid year review that the key results for this goal weren’t planned well. I still believe that’s true. I did go on a record number of dates this year, but I think that was 5 or 6 dates total. All first dates–for either logistic or compatibility reasons I didn’t really ask for second dates.
    • I think I could have done a lot better on this. I did learn a lot this year, and my anxieties around going on a date have mostly disappeared now that I’ve experienced it a few different ways (ask me about the time I crashed a sailboat over a beer sometime :). I won’t argue that I’m amazing at dating, but I do think I’ve gotten a lot better at listening to how I’m feeling during an interaction with someone and acting authentically based on that (rather than feeling like I need to act like I’m having fun, feeling like I need to impress them if they’re not also making an effort to impress me, or feeling like I should do this or that at a particular point in the date). I still have a lot of approach anxiety, though, and the idea of making a special effort to put myself in situations where I have to approach and talk to a stranger I find attractive with the intent to get to know them and maybe ask them out still scares the crap out of me. I think I should have done more to force myself out of my comfort zone for approach anxiety. This is something I’ll need to continue to actively work on, perhaps by doing some dating-oriented version of my rejection challenges. Technically, this falls under the umbrella of “fear of uncertainty” for 2018, but I’m not sure how realistic it will be to pursue romantic interests while abroad.
  • Read more
    • Learn to speed read.
      • Read a book about speed reading.
      • Watch speed reading lectures I have saved.
      • I failed to make practicing speed reading a consistent habit, despite recognizing mid year that this was what was needed. I have some decent software which, if I used regularly, I’m fairly confident would get me to where I want to go. I just haven’t.
    • Read at least 40 books.
      • Looks like I actually only read 39 books this year -_-. I think I got complacent here–I expected that my normal reading habits would easily get me to 40 books, but apparently not. I did start and not finish a record number of books this year, which doesn’t help. I have also been doing less reading since being self-employed, in part because I accidentally broke my Kindle… now that I have a new one, I need to get back into the habit of reading at night!
      • My top books of 2017:
        • The Book of Joy by Dalai Lama XIV, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Carlton Abrams
        • Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
        • The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss
        • Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday
        • Little Princes by Conor Grennan
        • The Girl with Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee
        • Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson
  • Become a polyglot
    • Become fluent in French.
      • Spend at least 1 hour each day learning French.
        • Definitely didn’t make this! I did have some regular French habits for awhile, but they fell off when work got busy, and I definitely didn’t re-establish them when I became self-employed.
      • Earn the DELF B2 French language qualification or higher.
        • Didn’t end up registering for a test or making a concerted effort here. This fell off the priorities list once I became self-employed, and I also realized that I’m trying to learn the language so that I can communicate with real people, no so that I can pass a test. As noted in my mid year review, I did pass a diagnostic claiming to be rated at a B2 level, however (by the skin of my teeth).
        • Stretch: Earn the DELF C1 French language qualification or higher.
      • Read Harry Potter in French.
        • I have the first book in both French audio and on Kindle! I don’t have a good excuse. I can’t quite read all of it without pausing to look up some words on a regular basis, but most of the gist makes sense. I just never got much further than the first chapter. I think my weakest areas in French are speaking and listening, however, which is maybe why I de-emphasized reading.
  • See the beauty and strength of which my body is capable.
    • Qualify for the Boston Marathon.
      • Injuries earlier in the year, and then after I became self-employed I decided to double-down on the gym since I don’t know if weight-lifting will be a real option while I’m abroad. Ultimately, I could probably have made progress toward this, though actually qualifying for the Boston is going to take at least a few attempts. I think after my injuries I mentally knew this wasn’t going to happen this year and let myself slack. I’ve recommitted for 2018, however!
    • Develop a 6-pack.
      • Not much progress here from mid year. Still 4 up top, and no sign of the other 2.
      • Get down to 9% body fat.
        • Closest I got was 13%, which is pretty laughable since I think I started at ~14% or 15%. Palantir fed me 3 meals a day and I had trouble getting myself to be disciplined about macros and calorie restriction. I tried meal planning after I left Palantir, but keep finding reasons to cheat which sink me. The meal plan did seem pretty effective however–I think if I really committed to a well-designed plan for 3-6 months, this would happen. I just like food a lot >_<.
      • Do an abdominal workout three times a week.
    • Stretch: Lift weights three times a week.
      • I lifted weights regularly when I got back to San Diego, but can’t say that I did this often enough to give myself credit. This wasn’t really the priority.
  • Improve my ability to regulate and compartmentalize thoughts and emotions, especially negative and anxious thoughts and emotions such as fear or insecurity.
    • Meditate for 20 minutes every day.
      • I definitely didn’t get every day, but I think I did this enough to feel that it made a difference, which is good.
    • Write in a journal at least once a week.
      • Once a week is pretty excessive–I don’t always have anything useful to journal about on that schedule. I do have a decent number of journal entries from 2017, but there isn’t a consistent pattern to when. Sometimes I’m very regular, other times I’ll go months without thinking to write.
  • Become more politically active.
    • Become more politically informed.
      • Read at least 2 books about healthcare issues.
      • Read at least 2 books about global warming and environmental issues.
      • Read at least 2 books about education issues.
      • Read at least 2 books about immigration and globalization.
      • Read at least 2 books about economics.
      • Read at least 2 books about political theory and political philosophy.
      • This is something I’d like to do, but I keep not actually taking the time to read books that get me closer to it. I think it’s not the highest priority right now–when trying to figure out how to feed oneself, one doesn’t worry as much about politics.


2017 was another interesting year for my goals. I can’t quite call it an equivocal success, but it certainly wasn’t a total failure, either. In the first half of the year, I accomplished a decent amount of what I had set out to do, and was looking reasonably on track to hit the majority of my goals with a little bit of extra effort. In the second half of the year, however, I shook everything up by quitting my job and starting to actively work on my broader fear of failure. Doing so has, inevitably, led to a bit of a slow down on the rest of my goals.

Interestingly, this is the second year in a row where, in the second half of the year, I’ve decided to take a major leap toward a larger goal that I hadn’t otherwise been planning to tackle in the current year. (2016’s leap being making an attempt at an Ironman triathlon many months earlier than expected.) In both cases, I took action because I recognized that my largest growth opportunity lied in a direction that perhaps didn’t completely align with my yearly goals. While I’m proud of both of these steps, I think that this trend is symptomatic of my goals not being focused enough, my motivations not being clear enough, or not having enough flexibility allowed by the set of goals I’ve chosen.

I also wonder if I really would have been able to complete everything on my goals list had I been more committed to doing so. Last year I argued that I probably would have. This time I’m actually not so certain.

Most of my goals are not things that are immediately achievable, so they require longer-term, consistent effort. For these goals (e.g. learning a language, speed reading, running a marathon), it’s less about big pushes and spurts of effort, and more about the little habits that slowly but surely push me toward where I want to go. Ultimately, my ability to create sustainable habits is integral to accomplishing these goals.

If I’m being totally honest with myself, I think in 2017 I struggled to create and maintain new habits in support of many of my goals. I’ve had success with new habits in the past, so I definitely know how to do this under certain conditions. Training for my first marathon, and later for an Ironman, for example, required that I build the habit of exercising 5 or 6 days out of the week.

So why did I struggle this time? I think one of the major factors here was focus. I had a lot of goals this year, and there were times when I think I probably threw too much at myself at once. Creating new habits isn’t too hard if I have just one or two to focus on, but I overwhelmed myself a little with the sheer number of habits I wanted or needed to create all at once. I think I might have been more successful if I had chosen a smaller number of things to focus on or if I had organized my goals into “phases,” giving myself a couple of new habits to focus on at a time until each had set. Willpower is finite.

Another factor was my environment and a failure to either change it or adapt to it. When I was working a full-time job, there would sometimes be busier periods where I wouldn’t have the time or mental bandwidth to keep up a habit, so my progress would be lost. Adding in a frequent coast-to-coast travel schedule also made it challenging to establish habits and routines without more thought or effort. Again, here I think focusing on one or two things at a time could have helped. I trained for my first marathon despite traveling coast-to-coast every week by running on treadmills in NYC hotels after work. I was able to make this happen through the establishment and prioritization of a single, very important habit. When the shit hits the fan, it’s much harder to do the same with 5 or 6 different things.

There are two other major factors differentiating some of my past successes from the goals I’ve been struggling more with: 1) a sense of consistent, measurable progress and 2) a plan which, when followed, provides relative surety of making it to the goal. When training for an Ironman or a marathon, it’s hard not to notice myself getting stronger each week as the workouts get harder or longer and I still manage to complete them. This feeling is exciting and motivating in and of itself. I’m also usually following a workout plan put together by someone else whose had experience with the event, allowing me to reasonably safely assume that if I can complete the workout each day, then I’m on track to actually complete the goal. I’ve found it harder to establish both of these conditions when working on a goal like learning a language, for example. Sure, sometimes I have a sense that I’m a bit more fluent, or can understand a little more, but this is nowhere near as measurable or granular as having completed a 10-mile run last week and 12-mile run this week. I’m also finding that plans for many of my non-fitness goals are much less cut and dried–at the end of the day 3 miles is 3 miles no matter how fast or slow you run it, but what’s the equivalent metric for language training?

Despite the struggle to establish habits, I did learn a few useful things to carry into the future. I was having only sporadic success with rejection challenges before I decided to crowdsource challenges from friends and publicly commit to doing one challenge a day for 30 days. From that experience, I was reminded how helpful it can be to get friends involved in goals–they can serve as both an accountability check and a support network. I was also reminded of how powerful it is to have a “streak” doing something. After 10 days of doing rejection challenges, the momentum was enough to keep me from quitting even as the challenges got increasingly uncomfortable.

All-in-all, I think my big takeaways from 2017 goals were to focus more on a few things at a time, to re-frame my goals in terms of sustainable habits I can create that will ultimately get me where I want to go, and to leave myself the flexibility beyond that to pivot when necessary–committing to the spirit behind a plan is sometimes more important than following the exact letter of the plan. I’ve incorporated these learnings into my strategy for 2018, where I have notably fewer different goal threads, and have left things a little bit more vague. There are still some strong themes for growth areas, and while there are a few key results I intend to hold myself accountable to, I was overall a lot less specific this year, hopefully giving me a little more space to adapt and improvise.

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