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.

2014 Life Olympics

The 2014 Life Olympics is my pursuit of stubborn gladness.

Career – Silver Star

The beginning of this year feels like 10 years ago. This time last year, I was still the sole full-time employee of Allovue, which seems totally impossible. I feel like I’ve been working with my team my whole life. I can’t believe how much the company has grown and evolved during the past year. Hiring my team is the best thing I did this year, maybe in my life. They continue to delight and astound me. I can’t wait to see what we do together in 2015.

So why silver star this year? I think I’ve let my work overrun my life too much. I can hardly hold a conversation that isn’t about work, and if I do, it’s half-assed, because I’m still thinking about work (sincere apologies to everyone with whom I’ve tried to hold a conversation this year). I’ve abruptly ended relationships and slowly abandoned almost all other personal interests in the name of work. Mark Suster claims that he seeks out this sort of founder obsession, but I’m not at all convinced that it’s healthy. Intellectually, I know that I should not derive all of my joy, purpose, and energy from work, but it’s easier said than done. In the coming year, I need to learn how to “turn it off” at times. I’ll probably always be someone who is defined by her work, but I can’t be totally consumed by it.

Home – Gold Star

I will just say this: I finally swallowed my pride and hired a cleaning service and it was one of the best decisions of my life. Even my mother remarked how clean my house looks.

Lesson Learned: achieving wellness in your life doesn’t mean you have to do everything yourself. Ask for help. Pay for help. Don’t add unnecessary stress to your life.

Relationships – No Star Awarded

I feel like I have developed a nice bond with my cat this year – does that count? No? Well, then.

I sucked at relationships all around this year – with friends, romantic partners, family. I have selfishly and ruthlessly prioritized work. I made a half-hearted attempt at dating for a few months, but after dismissing one nice guy after another, I asked myself, “What exactly are you looking for here, Jess? And what are you willing to give?” The answers were, “I have no idea” and “Nothing that requires any sort of emotional commitment or vulnerability because I don’t have room for that right now.” So. I decided that is not really a fair attitude to bring to the table, and maybe it was time for a little break from the dating world – or, as my grandmother calls it, “a sabbatical.” And I have to say, I feel a lot better now that I have removed the (mostly) self-imposed stress of dating. I am clearly in no place to be in a serious relationship right now, and I have finally given myself permission to be single. Since I am a hopeless romantic at heart, I am sure that in time I will be ready to let the right person into my life in a real way. But for now, I’m on sabbatical.

Health – Bronze Star

I think I have been more consistently devoted to my Bikram practice this year than ever before. I feel stronger and more resilient as a result – physically and mentally. Bikram definitely overlaps with the spiritual wellness category for me, too. There is such a wonderful community of support at the BYB studio, and the solace I find in the hot room is unparalleled.

I have gotten off the bandwagon in terms of healthy eating. Again, here, I have prioritized work to taking the time to prepare and eat healthful meals. There were more than a few nights that I succumbed to the total cliche of just heating up some ramen. I have also had a few meals consisting solely of peppermint patties and wine. A sugar detox may be due in short order…

Wellness – Silver Star

This personal/spiritual wellness category is always my albatross. It seems a bit like cheating to count my Bikram practice in two categories, but it really does a lot for me beyond the physical effects. I have maintained my singing lesson every other week, which is a wonderful Monday evening delight. I’ve also rededicated myself to reading in a big way recently – especially works of fiction. Reading has been such an integral part of my life, and after months of feeling like a didn’t have time to read, I just decided to make some time.  I started getting off the computer earlier at night and working in a good chunk of reading time before bed. My surge in reading coincided with my “dating sabbatical,” so I guess you could say I traded men for books. Not mad at it.

Maybe some day, striving for personal wellness won’t feel like such a burden. Maybe it will finally achieve its rightful place in the equilibrium of my life.

And 2015?
My friend Stephanie has a great philosophy about New Year’s Resolutions that I’m adopting. Instead of making a specific resolution like quitting smoking or losing weight, she chooses a theme for the year to apply in all areas of life.

I want 2015 to be the antidote to my outrage fatigue of 2014. And how to combat fatigue?

Invigorate: Give strength or energy to.

Invigorate. It just sounds healthy. It’s fresh and tangy and zesty and clean. Just the thing for 2015.

2013 Life Olympics

2013. I don’t want to tempt (or limit) the fates by awarding this year any premature superlatives, but I have a suspicion that I will always look back on 2013 as a pivotal year in my life.

It’s a little surreal to think that so much of what brings me daily joy and fulfillment didn’t even exist a year ago.

For the past few years, I have come think of adulthood as the Life Olympics: the constant striving for balance between Career, Home, Relationships, Health, and Wellness.

The results are in for 2013:

Career – Gold Star
Founding and growing Allovue has been a thrilling and fulfilling journey, and I can’t wait to see what next year brings. Despite the popular myths about startup founders failing to sleep, eat, or do anything unrelated to business orders, I think I succeeded in striking a pretty fair balance with the other 4 realms of my life, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

I resigned from my job the first day back after the New Year holiday. I had come across this quote on Pinterest from We Bought a Zoo, and just kept repeating it to myself:

20 seconds of insane courage. Emphasis on insane. I had no plan, no funding, and no experience – just some gnawing intuition that I had to go bring this idea in my head to life, or feel the churning discontent of regret forever. So, into the abyss.
I woke up on Monday February 4 – my first day as an untethered, fun-employed entrepreneur – feeling an odd mix of liberation and terror. For the first time in my adult life, (maybe my entire life?) I felt solely responsible for myself. There was no one to tell me what to do or how to do, but then, there was no one to tell me what to do or how to do it. I was a bit paralyzed by the weight of my newfound freedom at first, and then at 9:49am, I remembered: “To begin, begin,” and so I began. I’m not sure what I did that first day, but I must have felt some vague sense of accomplishment, because I had this to say at the end of the day: 

I know it won’t always be this fun…But isn’t it ok to bask in the sheer exuberance of it – just for a little while? Just for today, I’ll relish in the joy that accompanies the audacity to live the very life I imagined. Just for a moment, I’ll play in that narrow intersection of pleasure and purpose, feeling infinite and electric.

Fortunately, that feeling lasted more than a day. The chaos of “startup life” feels oddly natural to me in a way that the routine of other jobs never had before. I think I worked on 8 different jobs this year to make it work, but I did it on my own terms, so I can finally read this speech without the nagging feeling of being slightly off center:

The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.

Steve Jobs

Relationships – Gold Star
Speaking of matters of the heart, two weeks before I started Allovue, I decided I was tired of eating dinner alone and revamped my online dating profile for what I promised would be the last damn time. I agreed to exactly one date the day after I activated my profile. On the way there, I reminded myself (aloud) that I was officially done compromising on my non-negotiables in relationships. Maybe the universe just wanted to hear me say it out loud, because I went into Brewer’s Art that night to meet the actual man of my dreams in real life. I don’t know if there’s ever a good time to start a new relationship, but I’m pretty sure it is not two weeks before you leave your job to start a company. I’ve heard it said that you find love when you find yourself – I just wasn’t expecting it all to happen, like, immediately, all at once, very fast.

Home – Silver
In the Home category, I include basic home maintenance, cleaning, and keeping personal finances in order. My home was probably cleaner than usual this year, because I was constantly hosting new AirBNB guests. Talk about an incentive to keep the house in order when people are literally rating your house on its cleanliness! Of course, part of my strategy was to just relegate the mess to my room, but even that’s had to change with the addition of our new kitty, Darwin, who likes to scratch, sniff, claw, and eat anything in reach. I’m running out of room to stash junk and mess, so it looks like I will finally have to be a grown-up and either purge excess or keep things tidy! #likeanadult
Health – Bronze

As it turned out, it was a good year to start dating a doctor/lawyer. At the end of January, I found myself engaged in a class-action lawsuit after it was discovered that my doctor had been allegedly secretly photographing patients with a camera pen and subsequently committed suicide. Feeling anxious about the care I had been receiving for the past 4 years, I quickly sought a new doctor and was diagnosed with endocervical adenocarcinoma in situ – stage 0 of a fairly rare form of glandular cervical cancer. My doctor said it was usually difficult to catch this type of cancer so early, but since we did, I was able to have a minor surgery to remove the cancerous cells. I just had my 6 month check-up, and my tests came back normal!

So this whole litigation/investigation process turned out to be a bizarre, potentially life-saving blessing. Unchecked, the cancer would have very likely progressed and I would have been facing far more invasive treatment options. This made me think about all of the men and women who put off visiting a doctor for routine check-ups because they lack basic insurance. If my father hadn’t harangued me about securing private insurance before I left my job-with-benefits, a health crisis would have been a financial catastrophe, too. Even my small surgery would have cost over $10,000 without insurance. This whole ordeal gave me a deeply personal lens with which to view the Affordable Care Act debate this year. I’m thankful our country is finally making an attempt to fix what I can attest to be a very broken system.

Despite attending more Bikram yoga classes this year than either of the past 2 years I’ve been practicing, I still didn’t get to as many as I had aimed for. This is an area of my life that I really to need to work on making it a permanent habit. It’s (sadly) looking like the best way to do that is to just get up at 5:30am to make the 6am class. I’ve gotten better at it, but it’s still going to take some practice to make it less of a struggle-fest in the morning.

Wellness – Honorable Mention
No surprises here. Personal wellness falls to the bottom of my priority list, year after year. I define personal wellness to include the things that feed my brain, creativity, and soul – probably not where I should be slacking off. This realm looks different for everyone, but for me it includes reading, writing, singing, cooking, taking pictures, and going to yoga. I fell woefully short of my book-a-week reading goal this year and abandoned my photo-a-week project in February. I did maintain my singing lessons every other week, which is a small victory, and I’ve started to carve out time for cooking delicious things on Sunday afternoons. This area definitely needs more work in 2014, and I think it needs to start with a shift in value judgment. In my gut, I know most of the inspiration for my “real” work comes from this personal creative time, but it’s so indirect and quiet that it’s easy to write-off these activities as less essential. No more! Wellness is essential.

You’ll Figure It Out.
In 2012 I wrote a lot about gender politics in the tech world. One day, I stopped and took a hard look at my own life. Technology, specifically as it related to solutions for education, was clearly a big passion of mine. Why wasn’t I doing work in that field? Why wasn’t I taking a leadership role in the very area that I was lamenting a lack of female leadership? The answers were all rooted in blinding fear. I was afraid I wasn’t appropriately “certified” to do what I wanted to do. I was afraid I didn’t know how to do what I wanted to do. I was afraid of what people would think, or say. Then, I realized that none of these were particularly good reasons to not do a thing that I wanted to do. So, I decided to just muster up that 20 seconds of courage, and force myself to figure it out. I surrounded myself with smart, helpful people, and asked a LOT of questions along the way. “Leap and the net will appear,” says an old Zen proverb. Sometimes, you just have to build your own net.