My 2014 Annual Review: A Year of Extraordinary Growth, With Some Unexpected Challenges

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This post was inspired by my friend Chris Guillebeau. His annual review posts are extremely beneficial and discerning; I highly recommend them to anyone seeking to live more authentically. Chris was one of the first bloggers I ever read—I discovered The Art of Non-Conformity way back before I even knew what a blog was. His writings have had a significant impact on the trajectory of my life; more than he could ever understand. I am beyond grateful for his care, support and friendship.

In the spirit of Chris’s leadership, I present my review: what went well, what didn’t go so well, and key lessons learned.

What went well:

I experienced a radical paradigm shift with respect to my finances

In 2011, I was more than $60,000 in debt and had virtually no savings. Today most of that debt is gone and I have a healthy amount of savings. This came about as a result of living off only a fraction of my income during my last three years in corporate America. I am incredibly proud of this. 

After years of indecision, I quit my comfortable but unfulfilling corporate job

I spent nearly a decade working for one of the largest law firms in the world. I was paid well and respected by colleagues, but it was not my calling. After a devastating resurgence of my epilepsy threatened my sanity, I began methodically planning my exit in 2012. I left my job in July, just two days before venturing off to the World Domination Summit in Portland.

I reconnected with my spirituality in concrete terms

After several years of a muddled, scattered practice, I reconnected with a set of spiritual disciplines, which have greatly impacted my life. These practices are centered around a study (and occasional observance) of Benedictine monasticism. This has been very healthy for me.

I radically enhanced my confidence, decision-making ability, resilience, and fortitude

These virtues were intentional priorities this year, and they all now serve as cornerstones in my writing and research. 

I owned the fact that I am a writer, and a very good one

I developed a daily writing habit, and began to find my voice. This has lifted a veil from my soul; a veil that only writing could penetrate. In my writing, I can cry, ache, long, even rage, in safety and grace. I've attempted to do what my friend Srinivas Rao has implored writers to do: "bleed on the page and pour the truth of your heart into it." This is beautiful and has been incredibly healing in my life. 

I launched my blog and business, The Adversity Within

I began researching adversity and post-traumatic stress/growth in depth back in 2011. Yet out of fear I kept hiding my story and mission, even though I was quite confident I’d have a lot to offer. The blog and business launched in October and I have received an extraordinarily positive response. 

I spent three months training at Gym Jones, one of the world’s elite gyms 

This is perhaps what I am most proud of, because it was what I was most afraid of. The experience was among the most transformational of my life. With the gym's blessing, I'll be writing a short book about my experience there in 2015.

I forged relationships with many of the great thought leaders of our time

In the year leading up to my quit date I slowly began reaching out to many of the thought leaders who had shaped and influenced me. Not all of them responded, but many of them did, and today some of them are among my closest advisors. This happened because I took responsibility for the fact that failing to use my gifts was an act of selfishness. I am fortunate to have numerous mentors and friends in the entrepreneurial space that are so graciously and enthusiastically behind me. This itself might be the year’s greatest blessing.

I became a much more public person

Although I am naturally more of an introvert, much of the private, mysterious persona I had put forth most of my adult life was really just a carefully cultivated facade. It was so bad that I wouldn’t even post simple updates on Facebook because I didn’t want to be “revealed.” This year I’ve made radical changes in the way I interact with the world. This is most evidenced by the fact that I chose to stop hiding the fact that I live with cerebral palsy and epilepsy. I had gone to great lengths to hide these conditions all my life, out of shame and fear. I chose to put an end to that, and the act was, in effect, my coming out moment.

I became ruthless in the use of my time

Since high school, I had considered myself to be the worlds’s greatest procrastinator. I engaged in levels of self-sabotage so absurd it’s amazing I’m still here. The past few years saw me cultivate radical changes in my habits, my daily practices, and my beliefs about myself.

While I've been blessed with a lot of very high highs over the past couple of years, this transitional period has not been all rainbows and sunshine. Some areas of my life still need a lot of work, and reflecting on them is quite important. 

What didn’t go well:

I struggled with entrepreneurial loneliness, and did not adjust well at first

I was not prepared for the loneliness that comes with living the life of a solopreneur, and it affected me negatively. On my loneliest days, procrastination crept back in. I reached for unhealthy foods. I gravitated towards alienating habits. This is one of the most pernicious affects of loneliness: it compounds and feeds upon itself. Addressing this more comprehensively will be a major goal of 2015.

I didn’t date at all

This isn’t inherently a bad thing of course. Though after a couple of very isolated years in which I was ill, buried in debt and lost the love of my life, I would have liked to be bolder in my interactions with women. This is especially true given that in every other area of my life, I was incredibly bold this year. 

One of my greatest gifts is my ability to encourage vulnerability in others. People tend to feel incredibly safe with me, particularly regarding their darker natures. For reasons that I’ve never really understood, people often bare their souls to me very quickly, often within minutes. An unintended byproduct of this is that I move into the role of counselor or advisor almost immediately, including with some women I’d like to ask out. Whenever this happens, I feel as if I’d be violating a safe space by doing so, and do not proceed. I don’t end up in the friend zone so much as I intentionally put myself there. As a result, I’ve let more than a few opportunities with amazing women go. 

I continued to fall behind in my relationships

As of this writing I have a list of probably 100 friends and family I need to connect with. I lost touch with a lot of dear friends during my trials of 2011 and 2012. Although I’ve made significant headway in reconnecting with people, I’m still too slow in maintaining meaningful contact with those I care about. Despite losing more than a few friends in my life to various tragedies at a young age, I’ve not always been the best friend to those who care for me. 

I did not give as much of myself as I would have liked

Building on the previous point, I didn’t give of myselfboth of my time and moneyas I had planned to. I wasn’t there for everyone who needed me. In addition to my adversity strategy work, I serve as an informal advisor to many friends, some of whom are in great pain. I wasn’t as intentional as I would have liked to be in setting aside time for those people and causes that are dear to me.

I continued to spend too much money

Despite making massive progress with my finances, I still spent too much on trivialities. I am committed to a frugal lifestyle and I intend to scale back my spending even further in 2015. The minimalist movement has become something of a cottage industry in recent years, but in my experience simplicity does lead to far more happiness and overall well-being.

I didn’t promote myself enough

My blog and business’s launch went off incredibly well, but I did not not do enough initial outreach and struggled to sell myself. Although I’m very confident in my abilities and what I offer, I resisted putting myself out into the world as much as I would have liked. This has resulted in some missed opportunities.

A few key insights:

You really can accomplish things you believe are impossible

Yes, this isn’t a cliché if you actually do what you set out to do. In the past year I have completed a lengthy series of goals I was quite positive were not possible. 

It’s one thing to say you live by your own rules, it’s quite another to develop the understanding, resilience and self-awareness to know what they actually are

I spent several years battling my inner adversities before I even began to come to an understanding of what I really believed and wanted for myself. In my conversations with many of my mentorsmost of whom are far more well-known than II have found that this is quite common. Behind the success the public sees generally lies years of excruciating trial. All entrepreneurs and creatives would do well to keep this in mind. 

Carving out your own path is incredibly difficult

The creative and entrepreneurial paths are far too romanticized. I’m nothing but thrilled that I’ve embarked on this journey, but it requires serious fortitude, understanding, patience, and above all, support. The road less traveled is challenging, protean, lonely. This is true whether you’re just starting out or massively successful. No one can do this alone. No one.

Commitment and sacrifice are liberating, not stifling

In an age of endless choices and a dangerous obsession with instant gratification, it is remarkably easy to be enticed away from fostering qualities that lead to endurance. I have had to learn the hard way that your craft and soul must be ferociously cared for if you wish to engender impact. This is done, primarily, through commitment and sacrifice. This means that you labor for what you most desire, especially when no one is paying attention. It means you limit your options; more is not always better. And it means you take a stand via service and action, not via narcissism and inaction. 

So there you have it. In many ways, 2014 was the most consequential year of my adult life, and it’s been an amazing journey. I’ll begin the new year in Southeast Asia, where I’ll be exploring and beginning my book’s first draft. I have very ambitious plans for 2015, and I hope to be able to serve all of you greatly in the year to come. 

Please let me know how I can help, and share your thoughts. I’d like to know: what worked and didn’t work for you? Remember, this is a safe space and I want you to offer whatever you like. Vulnerability is powerful, so please share in confidence.

Onward,
Tim