2017 Life Olympics: We lived to tell about it

Another year of the Life Olympics in the books. A few solid milestones of progress. A few respectable efforts. And a few “How are we here again?” disappointments. The mile-markers are fun, but the disappointments are more to the point; the Life Olympics is asymptotic. I’m resisting the urge to put a value judgment on 2017. In turns, I felt depleted and rejuvenated.

asymptote.png

My main takeaway for the year is that I have decidedly outgrown some personal narratives and it’s time to rewrite them. How would you describe yourself in 140 characters? What is your personal elevator pitch? These “I’m a [_______] person” stories that we tell ourselves (and others) shape our sense of identity, our behavior, our ambitions – even our fashion choices. Ultimately, these narratives shape our lives, so what stories are you telling yourself? Are they serving you well?

What do your narratives say about your body? About your capacity to love and be loved? About your ability to do your job well? About your style? About your values? About your worth? Which ones are holding you back?

Some of my narratives, I’ve simply outgrown; what was true five years ago is no longer totally accurate or relevant today. Some of my narratives are just toxic vestiges of adolescence that have never served me well but are deeply ingrained in my sense of self and hard to slough off.

My plan for 2018 is to surround myself with people, ideas, and experiences that will help me construct positive and accurate new narratives.

I still have a few hours to marinate in the triumphs and failures of 2017, so here we go:

Career – Silver

This was a big year for Allovue. We placed a big bet on a new product, reworked our internal processes, and made some big transitions on the team. As we approach the five-year mark of our existence, I’ve been reflecting on how this journey started and where we are today. Last week, I flipped through my 2013-Q1 journal, where I found sketches for what became the product roadmap for the next five years. Every component of our product today is in there (cementing my deep belief in writing things down). As I reflect on Allovue’s narratives, I have perhaps allowed people to focus too much on the improbability of Allovue’s founding. In 2018, Allovue is going to shed its adolescent insecurities, too.

Health Bronze

This damn category. Constant travel continues to destroy my physical health efforts. My sense of well-being is inversely proportional to conference season. Gretchen Rubin’s writing on habits and goals made me rethink my approach to health goals. “Lose 10 pounds” shows up in nearly every quarterly goals page forever. I realized that this goal is kind of meaningless to me because I’m more motivated by action plans than end-states. Sure, it would be nice to lose 10 pounds, but that goal has nothing to do with what I actually care about: feeling healthy and looking fit. The most rational part of my brain knows that losing 10 pounds doesn’t actually have much to do with feeling or looking healthy – I could lose 10 pounds if I were to get a parasite (note: has happened; do not recommend), but that wouldn’t actually mean that I’ve accomplished the spirit of that goal. I started rewriting these goals to be specifically oriented around why I care about this and what I need to do to make it happen. Next, I need to do a better job planning around the constraints in my life, like building workout habits around mobile routines that I can do anywhere.

Home – Gold

I am supremely pleased with this category this year. I bought a new house just a block and a half from our office and I will be turning in my leased car in a couple of weeks. (This should probably also go into Health because it will do wonders for my safety to stop driving.) There are so many mental health consequences to this area of my life, too. While I enjoyed an amazing run with AirBNB for five years, it has been nice to enjoy some privacy at home. I’ve been cooking (mostly in the Instant Pot) and entertaining more, which has made the house feel like home quickly.

Moving inspired a big purge of stuff. Most notably, I decided to give away most of the books I had been hoarding and moving around since college. I had accumulated over 600 books at my previous house and I was determined to part with most of them (I probably didn’t need to hold onto those AP study guides). I used the Kon-Mari method, flipped through each one and whittled down my collection to about 50 books that held a certain joy for me, as well as about 25 that I hadn’t read yet but promised to do so within a year. Marie Kondo is a little wacky, but that method works. I now have my very own real-life Ideal Bookshelf that does, in fact, bring me great joy.

Soul – Bronze

This is borderline Did Not Place. My poor soul. My annual Goodreads Challenge performance was an embarrassment that ruined a six-year streak of reading growth. Woe! The only saving grace is that I did make good on my intention to read books from more diverse authors. This year, 40 percent of authors I read were people of color (compared to 15 percent last year) and 55 percent were women (compared to 48 percent last year). It wasn’t difficult to be mindful of author diversity, but it was necessary.

It was a fun year of (leisure) travel. My friend Ali and I spent a week adventuring in Croatia and Montenegro where we jumped off cliffs into the Adriatic Sea and drove up and down narrow mountain switch-backs at “bee speed,” as we named the speed at which a buzzing bee passes you on the road. Hey, we lived to tell about it. I’m currently sitting on the balcony of a house in beautiful Negril, Jamaica, which isn’t a bad place to ring in the new year. I had great travel experiences with friends this year, but for the first time in a while, I didn’t take any solo sojourns. If you haven’t traveled alone, it may seem lonely, but it’s actually incredibly rejuvenating. I missed the experience this year and need to make time for an independent adventure next year.

Lastly, the state of country hurt my soul this year – daily. America needs to get its act together. On the subject of narratives, this country needs to reclaim its own this year.

Relationships Silver

I want to be able to celebrate the rich relationships I have in my life – with my parents, friends, colleagues – but there’s a preoccupation with my romantic life that seems to overshadow this category of my life. On that, all I will say is this: I refuse to settle until I find what I’m looking for and I’ll let you know when I find it because I’ll know it when I see it.

All in all, a good year of growth and plenty of room for improvement.

Adios 2017!

Bienvenue 2018!

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:

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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!

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