Who are you reading?

I love books – words in general, really. I come from a family of readers. Every summer – in the days before Kindles – my aunts and uncles and grandparents hauled big bags of books to trade at family gatherings. “What are you reading these days?” is a common topic of conversation.

I stopped reading for pleasure at some point in college – it wasn’t exactly a leisurely respite from the thousands of pages of required reading each semester. But after I finished grad school and settled into something like a rhythm of adult life, I found that I missed reading and rededicated myself to it. (Around this time, I also discovered Goodreads and was roundly horrified to see that I had read all of 2 books in 2011.)

I started setting annual reading goals and have been able to increase my reading time steadily each year for the past five years:

screenshot-2017-01-12-15-34-59

Yesterday, I was catching up with my friend Andrew who recently started a new personal reading challenge. We started chatting about what we’ve been reading, how we source recommendations, how we balance fiction and nonfiction texts. Then, Andrew pondered aloud something that I have often wondered myself: whose words am I reading? What’s the breakdown of male and female authors? Am I reading books by mostly White people, or also by Black, Hispanic, and Asian authors? We both suspected there were a lot of white male authors in the mix – particularly because we both read a lot of business books, which are overwhelmingly written by white men.

While I hope that Goodreads will someday allow me to analyze the authorship of my books as easily as the stats on page count or genre (stats from 2015 and 2016 above), I decided to run this analysis myself. Woof.

2014-2016 Analysis of Authors by Gender and Ethnicity

Between 2014 and 2016 I read 92 books. Here’s how those authors (or, in the case of essay anthologies, editors) broke down by gender:

2014-author2015-author-gender2016-author-gender

As you can see, I’m pretty consistently achieving gender parity across authors. I suspect that if I broke this down further, the majority of my nonfiction/business books would be authored by men, so I think that’s the area for improvement here. I would love to find more business books written by women. Right now, I think that list is limited to Sheryl Sandberg and Arianna Huffington.

And here’s the not-so-surprising yet majorly disconcerting breakdown of authors by ethnicity:

2014-author-ethn2015-author-ethn2016-author-ethn

I expected that the majority of these authors would be white, but this was jarring to see. Across 93 authors and editors of books that I’ve read in the past three years, 79 of them were white – nearly 85%. Only five books had Black or Hispanic authors: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2 books), Junot Diaz, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Toni Morrison.

This is startling to me because I have long held the assumption that I have been reading broadly, from a wide range of authors, genres, and perspectives. In reality, I’ve just been reading 50 shades of white.

Why does this matter? I love books and words because I believe they have power. I believe books have the power to challenge and shape our worldview, mold opinions, inspire ideas, and change perspectives. If my worldview, opinions, ideas, and perspectives are being narrated by white authors 85% of the time, they won’t be an accurate reflection of the country or the world. One of the joys and aims of reading for me is to change my thinking or learn something new; reading primarily white authors is more likely to validate my existing worldview and perspective than to challenge me to consider new ones.

This has been an eye-opening exercise for me and something I’ll be paying much closer attention to as I select books from now on. If you have recommendations of favorite books by Black or Hispanic authors, please share in the comments!

Life Olympics 2016

I love a good reset. Birthdays. School years. Fiscal years. Calendar years. New quarters, months, weeks, days. We get a lot of opportunities to pause, reflect, and press the reset button. For all of my post-college adult life, the Life Olympics has helped me take full advantage of these temporal markers, but the annual round-up is still my favorite.

2016 Awards Ceremony:

Career – Bronze

What a weird year for Allovue. We started 2016 fresh off of a Series A raise with big plans and big expectations for the year ahead. 2016 would mark the first full year that our product was in the market. Our team grew from 8 people in November 2015 to 24 by the end of 2016. We moved into a beautiful new office. We expanded to new states, with districts large and small, urban and rural. We hosted our first Future of Education Finance Summit. We launched our blog. We redesigned our product and built a new budget module.

Why the bronze, then? I wish I could tell you I was fully prepared for the nuanced challenges that come with 300% growth in a year, but there’s just no preparing for that. At several points throughout the year, I thought to myself, “So this is why investors don’t like first-time founders, huh?” I reflected a lot on the difference between bad decisions and wrong decisions: with bad decisions, you choose an option that flies in the face of data, advice, and general signs of trouble; with wrong decisions, you choose an option that made a lot of sense at the time, with the information at hand, and it later turned out to be wrong. Wrong decisions tend to be clear in hindsight, and I made a few of those this year. I’m ending the year a little more sobered on the myriad challenges of building something big and transformative, yet just as steadfast on mission and vision. My plan for 2017 is much more concrete and specific. In nearly 4 years of this work, 2016 may have led me up the steepest learning curve yet. In 2017, I’ll need to put those those lessons to good use.

Health – Silver

You know what? Not horrible. This was probably my most consistently healthy year, despite being on the road at least half the year and traveling about 150K miles. I even finally conquered the Whole 30 Challenge and got back down to my college weight before my 30th birthday. Silver because I still get into ruts with exercise and eating well (do you KNOW how hard it is to eat healthy in an airport?), and still prioritize work over health when push comes to shove. I aspire to be the kind person who maintains their diet and exercise regimen no matter what, but I’m not there yet. I’ve done a better job this year of saying, “Hey girl, you can take a 2 hour break for yoga. The spreadsheets will be here when you get back I PROMISE,” but I’m still not very good at keeping health practices sacred. Customer wants me somewhere? Investor calls? Employee has an issue? All those things take precedence. I’m not at all convinced that they shouldn’t. Maybe someday I’ll have a normal job and feel like work can wait, but right now I still prioritize all things Allovue over my personal needs, and I’m kind of ok with that.

Home – Gold

My little house is looking good. I finally fixed a leak that has been plaguing me for years, refinanced my mortgage, installed window treatments throughout the house, and got rid of some nasty overgrown tree branches. I finished redecorating a few rooms, and had a gangbusters year with AirBNB. This year, my AirBNB earnings fully covered the costs of my mortgage, taxes, and internet service. This has afforded me the financial freedom to save, invest, and travel. And ya’ll thought this was a terrible idea. I also hit all my personal finance goals this year by getting myself fully out of “I-floated-the-company-and-my-non-salaried-life-on-my-credit-card-for-a-little-while-debt” and finally prioritized savings.

In college, I made a deal with myself: I could make risk-it-all/you-only-live-once financial choices until I turned 30, and then I had to get serious about saving because I had officially made it out of my twenties alive. I took advantage of this by traveling all over the world with every spare cent, buying a house I couldn’t really afford, and quitting my job and cashing out my pension to chase a dream/vision. I have no regrets about any of this, but I turned 30 in November, so it’s time to hold up my other end of the bargain.

Spirit – Silver

A pretty good year for this old soul. I took trips to Paris, Cancun, Vegas, and back to the Dominican Republic for some good old-fashioned unplugging. I kept up with my singing. I hit my Goodreads goal of 35 books. I went to the symphony a lot. I saw Mike Birbiglia’s live stand-up. I’ve also just started calling bullshit more candidly when I see it, and that’s gotta be good for my soul.

I didn’t write as much as I would have liked to, so that’s a goal for 2017. I also didn’t see as much theatre as I would have liked to. And at this point, I’m really rusty on performing. I miss it, and need to find a way to incorporate it into my life that doesn’t involve 4 hours of rehearsal every night for 3 months.

Relationships – Gold fucking star 

The best thing I did this year on the relationships front was to reconnect with Ali, my best friend from college. She lives in California and we’d mostly fallen out of touch during the past few years. I learned from the Book of Face that she had landed the lead role in a Neil Labute play in Long Beach. I secretly booked a ticket and a flight and surprised her at the stage door. The look on her face (and subsequent mauling) when she realized it was me, is probably one of my top 5 memories. This was in July, and we’ve rendezvoused to Las Vegas, dined in LA, and spent my birthday weekend in Baltimore (her surprise to me) since then.

While I’ll probably never forgive the writers of How I Met Your Mother for their dream-crushing series finale, this Ted Mosby quote sticks with me:

“That’s how it goes kids. The friends, neighbors, drinking buddies, and partners in crime you love so much when you’re young, as the years go by, you just lose touch. You will be shocked, kids, when you discover how easy it is in life to part ways with people forever. That’s why, when you find someone you want to keep around, you do something about it.”

Truth be told, it hasn’t been that hard to meet up with her semi-regularly – it just requires some effort and planning. So, find the people in your life worth the effort, and just make the effort. It’s so worth it.

And my love life? My grandmother is banned from asking about it, and so are you.

In conclusion

So this is interesting: the categories in which I usually suck – not so bad this year! I think I’m doing a better job at being a whole person. I’d still rather be working than doing almost anything else all the time, but so what? My work gives my life meaning and purpose, so it makes sense that I would want to spend as much time as possible on it. I’ve come to accept this, rather than feel bad about it.

I often find myself driving alone across a stretch of America very late at night, on my way to some Residence Inn where I can heat up a frozen Amy’s lasagna from the lobby market before collapsing in a room that looks uncannily similar in every city in the country. I hum a little Taylor Swift, “Midniiiiight, long driiiiives,” headlights piercing the black night.

“There are students in those hills,” I think to myself; and this is my manifest destiny.

 

When you’re 30.

I was a terrible child. I don’t mean I behaved badly – I mean I was terrible at being a child. According to nearly everyone that had a hand in raising me, I have been X going on 30 since I could speak. I’ve got about 48 hours to go, so let’s recap the promises that were made and the glory that is about to rain down on my life on November 6, 2016.

yay30

30 has been a sort of magical age for me for as long as I can remember. Somehow, every adult in my life mutually agreed that this was the age when all my dreams would come true. “When you’re 30” everything you want to happen starts happening; everything you resent will go away. 30 was my happily-ever-after.

“When you’re 30, you can wear that.” This was a frequent promise that my mother made in fitting rooms at the Monmouth Mall. Halter tops, mini-skirts, anything with sequins or rhinestones, and definitely anything with cleavage: strictly off-limits. But man, was I going to be one hot 30-year-old in my mini-skirt and rhinestone halter top. (A brilliant strategy on her part, as my mother can now tell me I am too old for these garments.)

“When you’re 30, boys will like you.” As you can imagine, my restrictions on skin-bearing clothing and my old-soul mentality made me a really hot item in middle school. And high school. And college. And my 20s. But according to everyone I have ever complained to about my loveless life for the past 18 years, when I turn 30, some magic gates will open and hordes of handsome sophisticated men who love a sassy woman will be waiting for me.

“When you’re 30, you can date.” This former promise is so convenient, because just as men get hip to me being a total catch, I will officially be allowed to date! (Sorry Dad, I may have cheated on this one a little bit. But basically, fine, you told me so and I should have just listened and could have saved a lot of heartbreak and disappointment. Goddamn, my parents are prophetic.)

“When you’re 30, you’ll change your mind about not wanting kids.” Aw man, so sad to retire this one. I’m really going to miss the condescending tone of those who think they know my wants and needs and body better than I do.

“When you’re 30, it won’t matter.” Insert daily drama of middle/high school. It doesn’t.

“When you’re 30, you can tell me if you still think it’s cool to go to a concert with your Dad.” My father and I may have gone to see Celine Dion in concert at least 4 times. What? It was the 90s, and she was all the rage. I was about 9, so I my sarcasm-detection was not as finely honed as it is today, but I think my father may have been suggesting that by age 30 I would not think it was cool to hang out with him at a concert. And this may mark the only time in 30 years that my father has ever been so wrong, because to this day, there’s nothing I love better than listening to live music or catching a show with my Dad.

I wanted a lot from life at an early age. I wanted freedom (could I live in an apartment in the backyard?) and wild adventures and epic love (like Buffy and Angel). I wanted city life. I wanted to see the world. I wanted to swallow up every book I could get my hands on. I wanted good food – gourmet food. I wanted to make a difference. I wanted and wanted and wanted.

And now I’m 30. And I now have it: the life I always wanted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2014-2015 Goodreads Challenge

Towards the end of 2013, I rededicated myself to reading for fun. As a kid, I devoured books. We would go to the library bi-weekly and check-out stacks of books. I killed those Book-It Challenges (even though my mother rarely let us actually redeem those personal pizzas) In one summer alone, I read over 10,000 pages.

In high school, I had a lot more reading to do for school and stopped reading as much for fun. Same for college – especially as a liberal arts student. Each year, I read fewer books just for fun. After college, I wasn’t exactly swimming in free time as a full-time teacher and Master’s student. I read between 5-15 books per year – a far cry from my childhood records. I missed it, wistfully roaming the aisles of bookstores.

I’m not sure what course of events reignited my passion for reading, but I recommitted to it, and my reading has happily and steadily increased over the past few years:

Screenshot 2016-01-01 09.50.16

Since the past two years were great reading years for me, I thought I’d summarize my reading lists and highlight my favorites. For my full list, check out my bookshelf or follow me on Goodreads.

Top 5 books of 2015 (out of 31):

  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony DoerrScreenshot 2016-01-01 09.58.52
  • The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
  • The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

Top 5 books of 2014 (out of 25):

  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieScreenshot 2016-01-01 09.58.32
  • Zero to One by Peter Thiel
  • Dataclysm by Christian Rudder
  • The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
  • The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

 

 

 

2015 Life Olympics

December 31. Another year of the Life Olympics comes to a close. It’s been a yin-yang year: dark and light, grief and joy, exhaustion and renewal, despair and relief.

Let’s review:

Career – Gold Fucking Star.

Until July 18, I thought this was going to be a “Did Not Place” year for career (aka Allovue). The first half of 2015 was rather traumatic; fraught with doubt, fear, desperation, sleeplessness. Everything felt stalled: fundraising, product development, sales. Daily, I would turn the key in the company ignition and hear sputtering. Turn the key, turn the key, turn the key, with increasing desperation. Development wasn’t moving fast enough, sales weren’t closing fast enough, money was burning too fast. This is a recipe for founder madness.

Fundraise press releases are so glamorous: money! growth! progress! Fundraising is the farthest thing from glamorous, and I did a lot of it last year. I started raising a second seed round of a million dollars in September 2014. I closed the round in June 2015. 9 months. Friends of mine made entire humans in that time, and I? I kept my baby alive. Joy! Except. When it takes you 9 months to raise money, a good portion has already been spent by the time you are “done.” Despair.

The week we announced the raise, I went to a startup networking event and someone said, “You got your money, why aren’t you smiling?” I nearly screamed.

In February, I was fairly certain I was going to have to ask my executive team to go off salary to buy a few more months. In preparation, I sold my car to put some cash in my own bank account. To preserve cash, I charged every company expense possible to my personal credit cards (KIDS, DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME). By March, I was personally carrying nearly $20K of company expenses. We would figure it out, we would figure it out.

In March, I took inventory of what other personal assets I could sell off. I had already cashed out my teaching pension. I had already sold my car. I was already pimping out my house on AirBNB. I looked inward. Literally. I started exploring options for selling my eggs. Hey, Ivy-League educated and blue-eyed genes can go for upwards of $50K. I submitted an application and informed my investors and advisors that I was ready to start auctioning off body parts. My inbox flooded with new introductions.

In April, an angel investor committed to $500K, keeping my company and progeny intact with a single check. I was standing alone in the ballroom of the Loews Hotel in DC when I got the call. I fell against the wall in a rush of vertigo. Relief.

I had lunch with my CTO a few weeks later and we made a pact to never again put ourselves in the position of being in such dire need for cash. On May the 4th, I wrote this:

I’ve somehow fallen into this trap of thinking that the goal is fundraising. That’s not who I am, that’s not the company I wanted to build, and that’s not the team I hired. I want to get back to where I started: the goal is to build a great company that serves districts, schools, and students. Fundraising is a means to an end, not an end goal in and of itself. I don’t know when I forgot that. I still want to build the biggest company we possibly can. I still want this to be the biggest opportunity in education. BUT I also don’t want to raise money because our bank account is running on empty. I want to raise when we’re really ready, on the best terms possible. That means we need to optimize for revenue right now and fight like hell to break even.

6 months later, almost to the day, we signed a term sheet for our Series A. We did not need the money.

I wish I could impart some grand lesson from this crazy rollercoaster of a year. I wouldn’t particularly recommend a lot of what I did this year. I only endured it because I knew in the depths of my being that, somehow, we would figure it out. But we survived – in fact, are thriving – and for that, I deserve a gold fucking star in the Career Life Olympics this year.

Health – Bronze Star

I think the very fact that I did not completely let myself go this year warrants a bronze star – especially considering all the traveling I did this year. I was on the road nearly 200 days this year, and somehow kept my yoga practice and weight fairly stable. ClassPass helped a lot – for a monthly fee, I can take fitness classes in nearly ever metropolitan area in the country. I’ve taken classes in dozens of studios across the country, and Bikram Yoga Baltimore is still my favorite.

There were weeks where I subsisted almost entirely on Chipotle, which is perhaps an area for improvement (is it, though??)

How do you measure – measure a year? In tacos, burritos, in salsa, in ques-a-dillas…

In one area that I definitely did let myself go was my self-image. Stress makes you feel old. And I was really fucking stressed out this year. I started to feel old. And then, because we are what we think, I started to act old. Recently, I realized that I hadn’t been to a bar on Saturday night since… I could not remember. And what the hell was I wearing? Flannel?? 19-year-old Jessica would have an aneurysm. I spent a lot of weekend nights in 2015 cuddled up with Darwin (my cat), a cup of tea, and my Kindle. And occasionally, that’s lovely. But not every night of every weekend. I’m in the Dominican Republic right now and I feel about 50 years younger than I have all year. And I should probably start acting my age.

Home – Silver Star

Even my poor house had a yin-yang year. In February, in the midst of that bitterly cold winter, my pipes burst. And since February is a big conference season, and I was already in a pit of despair, I really just did not have the time or energy to deal with it. So my house did not have water for a month. I was like a regular pioneer girl, flushing toilets with gallon jugs of bottled water. Thank goodness for my mother. She, like the rational person she is, believed this to be a serious problem and project-managed plumbers and contractors for a month.

Seven months later an AirBNB guest alerted me to the fact that my stove did not work. This reminded me that I had not attempted to use my stove since at least February.

In tacos, in sushi, in Thai food, in Indian takeout…

Then I needed I new roof. And my washing machine broke. And my bank account was very sad looking.

I realize this is sounding like a “Did Not Place” at this point, but I turned it around! For the past few months, I have put real effort into revitalizing my house and giving it some much needed TLC. I worked with a wonderful interior decorator at Su Casa to help me make better use of my living room space, which I had always felt was suboptimal. I sold my dark couches and replaced them with a light sectional that opened up the room. I added some color with upholstered chairs. I fell in love with a big painting by local artist Mateo Blu. I decorated in earnest for the holidays. I eeked out a silver star here at the very last minute.

Spirit – Silver Star

I did a better job acknowledging and prioritizing my emotional wellbeing this year, which is far more than I can say for the ghosts of Life Olympics past. I took vacations! Plural! I spent a lovely long spring weekend in Portugal, and I am spending the new year holiday sunning in the Caribbean. I also planned on spending a weekend in Paris in November, which very sadly coincided with the recent attacks, so I rescheduled my trip for the spring.

For the second year in a row, I met my Goodreads book challenge – and this time, several days ahead of schedule. I did not spend the week between Christmas and New Year’s frantically reading 7 books! I read a lot of fun books this year, finally freeing myself of the kaizen notion that every book I read must result in some improvement. Laughter and pleasure is plenty self-improvement.

I made some pretty major breakthroughs in my singing lessons this year. Here, too, I managed to let go a little. Perhaps I just reached my stress limit with work and couldn’t bother with stressing about my hobbies. It’s fine. It’s fun. Unclench.

Really and truly – I’m so grateful for yoga. It’s my church and my religion, and I got through some rough times in the cry corner this year. It keeps me focused and calm-ish. It’s almost entirely to credit for the fact that I didn’t have a stage 4 meltdown circa February. Nor March. Nor April. Breathe. Remember to breathe. It’s easy, and it’s fun.

My writing got the short shrift this year. Sorry. Something’s gotta give. I posted a lot on Facebook, and that will have to suffice for micro-blogging 2015. A respectable Silver.

Relationships – Did Not Place

I’ll be the first to admit that my so-called love life is rife with humorous anecdotes. But at some point this year, I started to think that perhaps the joke was on me. There is a barely perceptible difference between being able to laugh at yourself, and turning your (love) life into one running joke. As it turns out, there is some importance in being earnest.

The last two years, I have been a total Rose:

rose

Sorry, boo, this is a life raft for one. Because love and lust and romance have a tendency to throw a girl off balance, and I am on a damned LIFE RAFT just trying to SURVIVE, here. So would-be boos were welcome to just chill in my icy waters. You can hold my hand… maybe… from a safe distance.

But now, I’m feeling a little more… buoyant. I have upgraded to a small dinghy that is suitable for recreation.

And there might be room for two.

 

2016 Life Olympics: On your mark, get set…

Challenge: A Month of Gratitude

Last month, I was stumped on Spirit goals for June, so I crowdsourced some ideas. Justin Kownacki suggested the exercise of writing down three things I felt grateful for at the end of every day. This fit nicely with my goal to journal daily in DayOne, so I accepted the challenge.

gratitude

I had low expectations. I had heard that this type of ritual can help increase your general happiness and blah blah blah. I was mostly looking for a way to document small memories of this important time in my life… to remember “how it felt to me,” as Joan Didion perfectly describes the benefit of writing things down in one of my all time favorite essays, On Keeping a Notebook (emphasis mine):

So the point of my keeping a notebook has never been, nor is it now, to have an accurate factual record of what I have been doing or thinking. That would be a different impulse entirely, an instinct for reality which I sometimes envy but do not possess. At no point have I ever been able successfully to keep a diary; my approach to daily life ranges from the grossly negligent to the merely absent, and on those few occasions when I have tried dutifully to record a day’s events, boredom has so overcome me that the results are mysterious at best.

I accepted Justin’s challenge, and I must say, I am rather shocked by the results. As the month went on, I found that my habits of mind noticeably shifted: I became aware of my gratitude in the moment. I started thinking, “I’m feeling so grateful to have this right now – this will be one of my three things today!” This was a revelation. I am not a live-in-the-moment kind of person. I am a futurist to the core, and usually thinking, mulling, planning for the hours, days, months, years to come. Feeling grateful in the moment was new to me, and at the risk of being redundant, I’m grateful for it.

I also noticed that most of the things that immediately came to mind at the end of each day were rather, well, small: a bite of fresh food, a chat with a friend, a good laugh – hardly none of the seemingly epic milestones that constantly stress me out made the list. Another seismic mental shift: The small things are the big things. 

I’m so pleased with this challenge that I’ve decided to continue it, logging at least one moment of gratitude each day. And, I had so much fun with it, that I welcome NEW Life Olympics challenges for July!

My 90 moments of gratitude from June:

I’m grateful for…

  1. Lunch with Ted
  2. My new standing desk
  3. My new bag
  4. Small problems
  5. The Sangria Series
  6. Nerd lunch with Robbie
  7. Jen
  8. Knowing so many insanely talented and creative people
  9. Under-promising and over-delivering
  10. Girlfriends
  11. Cream puffs
  12. My health
  13. Friends who take me to the theatre
  14. Aguachile
  15. Celia
  16. New office chairs
  17. Summer naps
  18. Having Mom back home
  19. The farmers market
  20. Ripe blackberries
  21. A new lamp
  22. My grill
  23. My amazing team
  24. Form D filing done!
  25. People who get it
  26. Katie
  27. Paige
  28. Great press headlines
  29. Investors who believe in me
  30. Privacy options on Facebook
  31. Bossy ladies
  32. New friends who skip the small talk
  33. Ignite talks
  34. Strategic partners
  35. Inbound sales
  36. Custom Slack icons
  37. Being able to afford a new roof
  38. Friends who inspire me to get in better shape
  39. Bikram Yoga Baltimore
  40. In season cherries
  41. Mango sticky rice
  42. Sore muscles
  43. Bourbon
  44. Honesty
  45. Good neighbors
  46. Bursts of creativity that feel like magic
  47. Moments of silliness
  48. Froyo on a hot humid day
  49. Kelly
  50. True professionals
  51. Cadbury caramellos
  52. Visits from faraway friends
  53. Women who support other women
  54. Productive meetings
  55. Dinner with Dad
  56. Memories of Pop
  57. Long drives with good views
  58. Picnics
  59. Crystal
  60. Family traditions
  61. My relationship with my father
  62. Poolside yoga
  63. Small favors
  64. Perspective
  65. Welcome home cuddles
  66. Fast friends
  67. A fresh notebook
  68. Erlinda
  69. The sleepy feeling after a full day
  70. Dunkin Donuts iced coffee
  71. A successful first webinar
  72. Laughs that make me cry
  73. A team that always raises the bar
  74. Working with people I love
  75. Scott’s questions
  76. Whiteboard sessions
  77. Team happy hours
  78. Friday night sleeps
  79. Finding new music I love
  80. Lazy Saturdays
  81. Food Delivery
  82. Berry season
  83. Fresh tomatoes
  84. Shopping trips with Mom
  85. Opportunities to help friends
  86. Partners who fill in the blanks
  87. Serendipity
  88. Work session with Steve
  89. Rendezvous and hugs at the train station
  90. A sense of humor

How to Rock the Life Olympics

In the year after I graduated college, I was completely overwhelmed by all of the new challenges of adulthood that were rapidly hurled at me without so much as a syllabus to guide the way. I felt like every time I gained control of one area of my life (paid the bills! bought groceries!) other areas of my life lapsed into disarray and neglect (what? I have to go to the gym every month now?) It seemed like a very high stakes game with lots of rules and no playbook. I identified five different areas that I considered critical to a happy and healthy adulthood and started calling it the Life Olympics – partly inspired by the five Olympic rings, partly inspired by the seemingly Herculean effort involved in mastering any one of these areas day-in and day-out, let alone all five of them.

responsibility10

From one of my all time favorite blogs: Hyperbole and a Half: This is Why I’ll Never Be An Adult. http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/06/this-is-why-ill-never-be-adult.html

The Life Olympics started out as a way for me to get my head around the different parts of who I am, but it has evolved during the past six years into a system for reflection and a framework for goal-setting and self-improvement. Below, I outline my Life Olympics categories and what they mean to me, but I encourage you to modify the categories based on who you are and what’s important to you.

Career

This is a big one for me, and usually dominates my time and energy. This category is pretty self-explanatory: this is your professional/work-life. What are my professional goals? How do I perform as a member of my team or company? Am I fulfilled by the work I do? If not, what am I doing about it? Also: has work been consuming my life in an unhealthy way?

Health

In this category, I include everything related to my physical health: exercise, nutrition, weight control, sleep patterns, and general health maintenance like going to the doctor and dentist for annual check-ups. This is a weird one for me. I’m a generally healthy person. I don’t smoke. I’m active. I eat pretty healthful food. I regularly go to yoga. I’m also lucky enough to have good genes that help me maintain a decent weight and good teeth. I could be healthier, but I’m also learning to come to peace with the fact that I’m never going to be super skinny, because I love pizza too much. And ice cream. And butter. And pasta. And wine. And just generally rich, delicious, food-as-entertainment dining experiences. Sometimes, the Life Olympics is about accepting yourself as you actually are, rather than constantly striving for some idealized version.

Relationships

Family, friends, and romantic partners. Am I making time for loved ones in my life? Do I call my parents regularly and keep in touch with friends from college? Am I making a genuine effort to not die alone? Do I generally make time to spend with people so that I don’t fall into an all-consuming abyss of work?

House & Home

Bills paid? Fresh sheets? Clean underwear? Taxes filed? Basics. This one used to really be a bare minimum for me (will Mom have a stroke if she visits?) but I’m starting to take this category to the next level now. I hired a cleaning lady this year with extra rental income from my house, so now I have more time to focus on decorating my house and making it a warm and inviting place to live and visit, surrounding myself with pieces of furniture and art that I love. Next year, I might try to keep a plant alive. Baby steps. As you reach an income threshold somewhere above hand-to-mouth, this can also be an area where you start thinking about savings, investment, and general financial planning.

Spirit

This is my most-neglected category, so this year I’m being especially thoughtful about this area of my life. This category is different for everyone, but it’s basically anything that makes you smile on the inside – things that feed your soul and help you find peace in the most chaotic corners of your mind. For me, this category is about indulging my creativity and insatiable wanderlust, as well as making time for quiet and meditation. My love of theatre, music, reading, writing, travel, and yoga fall into this category: all the things that make me the fullest version of myself, yet the same things that I ruthlessly abandon as soon as (work) life gets hectic. This year, I’m working to observe the impact that nurturing this part of me has on other areas of my life, to prove its importance to myself.

Reflection and Goal-Setting

For the past few years, I’ve reflected on these categories and assigned a medal award for each: gold, silver, bronze, or “did not place” if it was a super rough year in that area of my life. Consistently, Career has trumped everything else in my life, which did not make me happy. I love running Allovue, and I love my team, and I’m obsessed with our product, mission, and customers. But it can’t be my whole life. It can’t be all of me. This year, I decided to try something different to fix this.

This year, I started treating the goal-setting process in the other four categories of my life with as much time and thoughtfulness as I do for work. At the beginning of the year, I created five annual goals for each category – 25 goals in all. Some of them are things I could do in one weekend, and some of them are more long-term builds. Every quarter, I revisit my annual goals and set quarterly goals, and each month, I revisit my quarterly goals to set monthly goals.

This may sound like a lot of goal-setting, but it can be done over a quiet cup of coffee or tea on a weekend, and it helps keep me mindful of what I’m working towards. I also find that chunking things out by quarters and months make bigger goals much more manageable. For example, one of my Spirit goals this year is to read 30 books. That’s about 2.5 books each month, which is totally manageable, but if I don’t keep track, all of a sudden it’s December and I have 12 more books to read (which is what happened last year, and I did nothing but devour eight books over Christmas vacation). This year, I’m exactly on track, and I can think about which books I want to enjoy each month.

And that is pretty much how to rock the Life Olympics.

There are no winners and losers in the Life Olympics – it’s all about how you play the game. Of course, I’m going for gold.