Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Year in Review

It's Wednesday, the middle of the week between Christmas and New Year, and not much urgent stuff to do. There's plenty of things that I could be doing that would be worthwhile, but it's kind of a lazy day, and I'm enjoying sitting in the living room with my feet up (instead of my office surrounded by clutter), looking at the Christmas tree lights and enjoying the quiet. Kit is watching something on Netflix, I think, the dog is curled up with her, and we have nothing scheduled for the rest of the day. It's a nice day to catch up on some retrospection. I'd like to do a little "Year in Review", Chris Guillebeau-style, by answering the following questions:

 What went well this year?
  • Moved out of the United States. Moving to Europe is something I've wanted to do for a long time, but the time was never right. So late last year, Kit and I just picked a departure date, and got ready. I flew out of the US on May 10th, and I don't miss a thing. 
  • Simplified my life. The biggest part of moving to Europe was having to sell all my stuff. Car, furniture, books (gasp!), kitchen appliances, and everything. I distilled my entire life to a couple pieces of luggage. The only thing that stayed behind was a cedar chest I inherited from my grandmother--I filled it with a few important things like scrapbooks, some paintings of my sister's, and a small box of books that have personal value, and left it at my uncle's house, near where I used to live. Even though I have also accumulated plenty of stuff in my new home, I have a new understanding of "stuff" and what's worth buying, accumulating, and keeping.
  • Put some distance between myself and the sources of my stress. My life in the the States was really starting to suffocate me. As a self-employed consultant, work began as soon as I woke up in the morning, and often didn't end until I went to bed and turned the sound off on my iPhone. I was always available, always plugged in, and always stressed out. I couldn't maintain any distance as long as I was in that life and in that place, so I enforced some physical distance (almost 6000 miles!) Now, when I get up in the morning, I know no one will be looking for me until late afternoon my time. Any phone calls go through Google Voice, so I can easily screen out the calls I don't want and mark them as spam. (I realize this is an avoidance technique; my overdue debts are part of the unfinished business I need to address this year.) I charge my cell phone (which I affectionately dubbed my "stupidPhone," since it can only call and text) about three times a month, since I use it so rarely.
  • Lower my living expenses. Kit and I used to spend about $4000/month on living expenses between the two of us. Now, we get by just fine on $2000/month, and that now includes paying rent, utilities, and groceries for her dad.
  • Regain some of what I'd lost spiritually over the past few years. I have actually come a long way, in spite of how far I feel I've yet to go. Until a few months ago, prayer was not a significant part of my life. I went from reading scriptures a few times a month on Sundays to several times a week. I kept a journal for a good part of the year. I now feel closer to God than I have in a long time.
What did not go well this year?
  • Made several huge errors in judgment in the business. Kit and I learned several lessons the hard way and literally ran out of money a few times. We never starved, and we always managed to pay our employees, but we certainly went through a lot of employees this year, considering the size of our business. At the moment, there are three of us working in our little company; we saw five others come and go this past year. Ouch. We signed up for a business consulting service that did not provide anything near the value they charged us for--we will be paying that debt off until next summer. We rented an expensive office suite in a corporate location, then ended up not really using it. (We did manage to get out of that arrangement in November.) We got behind in paying payroll taxes, paid an appalling amount in bank fees, and lost several clients through stupid negligence. 
  • Got into deeper debt. You'd think we would have made some progress, after getting rid of cars, decreasing our living expenses, etc., but that's not the case. We had to get a personal loan from a friend to pay off the cars, added things like the payroll taxes and the business coaching debts, etc. 
  • Made no progress on my physical health. I have two health issues I've been wanting to resolve: eczema and hypothyroidism. I believe both can be resolved by proper diet (ie, no dairy, less refined sugar, little or no gluten, etc), but I haven't been able to stick to any of the healthy habits I believe in.
  • Didn't do any significant writing. I want to be a writer. I love to write, and love the satisfaction of finding the perfect way to express an idea. This year, one of my main goals was to make writing a regular habit--this blog is the closest I've come since making that goal! 
In spite of the things that did not go well this past year, I can't feel very negative about them. While we made some really huge mistakes in the business, we also learned what worked and what we need to focus on in the future--like planning a business model that will be financially viable from the start, that will not depend on some minimum level of sales to sustain it; or to build productivity controls into our compensation plans for new employees. We also did learn some valuable things from our business coaches, like how to network effectively, and the value of package pricing and automatic payment agreements (A/R was never this easy).

Kit and I made a deal last night and shook on it. I'm going to find a way to pay off our debts, either through our existing business or through new streams of income, and she is going to lose 60 pounds. I can't wait.

We both feel strongly that 2012 is the year that things will change. I can't pinpoint a specific "Harajuku Moment," but I can feel the change in myself--I'm fed up with who I've been, and I find myself doing things about it without planning or forcing myself to. (This super-long blog, for example, wasn't scheduled; I just found myself writing it!) Who knew that I'd be looking forward this much to turning thirty?

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