Reflection on 2017

This year was terrible and disheartening in regards to politics. I spent a good chunk of 2017 disillusioned and unmoored from society. The US presidential election communicated to me that I am what the majority voted against (educated, liberal, wants to provide healthcare and education to people). That’s still there, though the depression from it has lessened.

I also spent the year doing a job I love, and making real progress in several areas of my life. So let’s talk about the good things, and what I can look forward to in 2018.

Jump to the tl;dr if you don’t have time to read all this, which is totally understandable.

Finances

Pie chart of our expenses in 2017 by merchant
Pie chart of our expenses in 2017 by merchant

Our largest expense this year was paying off my student loans. We’ll never have to do that again. That’s paid for and done. Over. Gone.

  • 23%: Student loan payoff
  • 21%: Tithe to the church
  • 20%: Home mortgage payment
  • 11%: Retirement investment
  • 3%: AT&T? Really? Well, they are our home internet, and we had our mobile phones through them until we switched to Project Fi, so I guess that’s believable… sheesh
  • 3%: Modern Springfield provides furniture delivery from IKEA. I had them delivering for both our home and Adaptavist’s downtown office, so that one isn’t surprising
  • 17%: Everything else

I’m mostly happy about the student loans being gone. I wonder what this chart will look like next year.

It didn’t feel like we had much money this year, despite having a higher income than we’ve ever had. That’s because we had debt I wanted to pay off, and I wanted to start saving for retirement. Every month, any extra cash we’ve had has been thrown at credit cards or medical debt. While we haven’t been able to save hardly anything in terms of cash in an account, our net worth is doing pretty alright.

Graph of net worth by month in 2017
Graph of net worth by month in 2017

Mint hasn’t updated yet, but I paid off our credit cards yesterday, so that little bit of red in December will be gone by January. I’m also going to cancel our Citibank / American Airlines credit card and replace it with an Amazon Prime credit card. No more annual fee, and we’ll get cash back towards all the stuff we get on Amazon.

So 2017 is quite the success story for us from the financial perspective. I started working full-time in January 2007, so almost 11 years ago, and have been very focused on paying off debt, investing in retirement, building up savings, and improving our net worth. This is a stark contrast from my last year working at the university; I joined Adaptavist in October 2014.

Graph of net worth by month in 2014
Graph of net worth by month in 2014

So yeah, less debt, more savings. Nice.

Next up in 2018, we’re replacing our dishwasher! But we’ve decided that, whenever we have large expenses like that, we’re going to save up more than we need. I’m not sure how much more… saving up two times more is unrealistic for large expenses. For instance, in 2019 or 2020 I’d like to replace our fence, and that’ll be $10,000, so saving up $20,000 before we do it is quite a stretch. But I don’t want to save up cash to do something, then spend 100% of our savings as soon as we hit the goal.

I don’t think we’ll reach the point of a proper emergency fund in 2018 (three months of expenses in a savings account), but we’re going to use the credit card a LOT less and try to only spend money that we have.

I’m also going to get a new gaming computer in 2018! Savings for that begins in January and continues through December. Since I’ll be building my own, I’ll likely start doing that before December, but it’ll take until near the end of the year to save up enough. I’m going to get a new desk at home as well; I have enjoyed my standing desk at the office so much that I want to get one at home.

We might also insulate some pipes and a wall in our home. That would be a big project, though probably not terribly expensive… just lots of effort and mess. One of our pipes has frozen two winters in a row, and I can feel condensation build-up on the wall where the pipe is at, which suggests it’s just a bare pipe running through a poorly insulated outer wall right now.

Church and Faith

I didn’t do much in 2017 related to the Church. That is to say, my amount of service went down. I was visiting prisoners for a while, but a new warden reduced the number of visitation days during the week and I couldn’t make it during the remaining days, so I stopped doing that. I’m not preaching at Vineyard anymore because I couldn’t do it frequently enough to practice and get good. It was frustrating to be criticized on my sermons but only get to preach 1-2 times a year, such that I couldn’t really improve. And I’ve been praying with people less too. Every Sunday morning, when people go up for prayer, I ask God if I should pray with them, and 99% of the time He says no. He has someone else to pray with them, or in some cases, He has told me to just worship and be in His presence.

I think it has been restful and healing for me, in a sense. 2017 has been an opportunity to reflect and just… rest. It’s like when you’re feeling under the weather, not terrible just low energy, and you lie in bed all day. You don’t do anything drastic like go to a doctor and get a prescription, or sweat out a fever or some other strenuous sign of healing. You just rest for a while, and then you feel better.

2018 will likely be more of the same. During Advent, I was reflecting on joy and how much I have struggled with the concept of joy for years. Advent was one of those times I was regularly invited to preach, and preaching about something I hadn’t experienced much of was a challenge. My youth didn’t provide many opportunities for joy or hope. To be honest, my approach to hope was less a positive expectation and more a desperate bloody-mindedness. I didn’t wait for a better life to be given to me, I took it.

(As an aside, and because blogs are actually terrible ways to communicate nuance and a comprehensive message, I’m not saying that what I have in this life is by my own works and will. Everything I have, God gave to me. It is by His grace alone that I live. But I also believe that faith without works is dead, and that God wants us to partner with Him, which is to say that we have to be open to opportunities and we have to trust in God and pursue those opportunities if we’re going to succeed.)

2017 was hard in many respects. Politically, it feels like our country is going backwards. April and I experienced miscarriage, and the message during Advent I heard about waiting left me weeping; I’ve been waiting to have kids for 22 years now, and working towards that goal, and it’s hard. Ending every month with no cash in the bank is hard, even though I know it’s because we’re paying off debt and saving up for retirement.

But I also feel like I have come to understand joy and contentment better this year. I am truly hopeful, not just determined and motivated. I am content. I have trusted God in years past, but I feel like I moved to a new level of trust this year. The hard things aren’t as hard as they would have been a few years ago because I have confidence that God is in our corner. He hasn’t changed, I have. And the more I learn about that, the greater my joy because I can see how He has sheltered and provided for me, both materially and emotionally.

2018 will likely be continuing to grow in that area. I don’t think I’m “there” yet, but I think I’m getting there. I look forward to seeing where “there” is and what God calls me to next.

I will be starting one new service thing, which is doing some volunteer work at Campbell Elementary school as part of our church. I don’t know what that’ll look like quite yet, but I hope to start in January/February.

Work

Adaptavist continues to be awesome. I’m still Head of Learning and Development, but in December my group was moved out of Operations and over to Products. My business model better aligns with Products, which has more of an investment focus: you build the thing, then sell the thing, whereas in Operations/Services, you have to get the business then hire the people to deliver the work. Adaptavist Learn is a product, and we’re going to be better able to invest in it as a product now. So that’s pretty exciting.

From left to right: Krista Parker, Ryan Spilken, Matthew Stublefield, Neil Penny, Renee Brown
Adaptavist Learning & Development – December 2017

My current team is traveling to Springfield the second week of January so we can experiment with a new method of course development and try to write an entire course in one week. Then, two new people are joining my team later in January, which is huge. We haven’t hired anyone into L&D since March 2017. I’m hoping we’ll actually hire a couple more people sometime between February and March 2018.

In 2018, I’m looking forward to completing the foundational set of features for Learn, rounding out our course library so we have everything covered that I originally set out to cover, and making some huge improvements to our product documentation.

Health

I have already written extensively about my new dedication to the Keto diet. I surprised my dad recently when I told him that this isn’t just a temporary change to lose weight, but a lifestyle change. I’m in this for the long-haul.

A helpful quote I read recently: what matters isn’t what you eat between Christmas and New Years, but what you eat between New Years and Christmas. I definitely cheated some over Christmas… the first couple of days were OK and I was able to resist, but my mother-in-law’s biscuits and my father-in-law’s chocolate chip cookies were just too much. I couldn’t handle it. And then, when we came home, I had some french fries from Chik-Fil-A, followed by Chinese food for dinner.

  • Starting weight: 240
  • Goal weight: 190
  • Current weight: 220

Still the same weight I was pre-Christmas, and I’m down 3 pounds since my last blog post after London (18 days ago). Not bad.

I have some additional health goals for January, and the rest of 2018, but I don’t want to write about them. Instead, I’m just going to do them. I’ll tell you all about them later.

Looking forward to 2018

Three years ago, in October 2014, I joined Adaptavist.

Two years ago, in December of 2015, I finished my master’s degree. I still can’t believe I did a master’s. I literally marvel at that on a weekly basis.

Last year, in 2016, I concluded one of my most successful projects at Adaptavist, and then was named Head of Learning and Development.

And in 2017, I paid off debt, began saving for retirement, rested and healed spiritually and emotionally, and finally began losing weight and getting physically healthier.

2018 looks to be better still. We’ll save up some money, make some improvements to our home, get healthier, and be joyful. I expect great things from 2018. Have a happy New Year, everyone.

Paying off student loans is as exciting as getting student loans

I was helping teach an orchestra class, pacing back and forth along the back row of high school students to listen closely to their performance and give correction, when my high school counselor, Mrs. Lindsey, came into the room and excitedly beckoned me over. She had the results of my college placement exam, the ACT, and had come up to the Annex to tell me that I had gotten a 30.

My legs gave out and I fell to my knees. Tears filled my eyes and I cried out in excitement. I didn’t have money for college, and that score meant that I had just earned a full-ride scholarship to the university where I had already been accepted. I don’t think I knew how stressed I really was about that, and like a dam breaking, the stress flooded away from me.

Then I went to college, with no idea what I was doing, and lost my scholarship after the first year. To maintain it, you need a GPA above 3.0 (or was it 3.25? I don’t recall), and you had to take 15 hours per semester. Also, it turned out that my scholarship didn’t include room and board, and the university required that I live in the residence hall my freshman year. So I was working 30 hours a week, and spending 21 hours a week in classes (including the symphony), plus homework and practice. That combined with a few bad professors and a couple of disastrous relationships contributed to me ending the year with around a 2.3 GPA.

But I was relieved. I dropped my hours down to 12 a semester, and having a job meant I could move out of the dorms and into an apartment where my expenses were cut in half. I dropped out of the symphony too, so my schedule became much more reasonable all the way around. But it meant that I needed student loans, and a lot of them.

I didn’t have to get as much as some, but over the 3.5 years I needed loans, it came to around $20,000. That burden wasn’t as heavy for me as others I know because I had an income, lived within my means, and had a plan to pay them back. Others aren’t so lucky, and I know people with loans in the six-figures such that their monthly payments are $800+ per month. That’s back-breaking. Most of my interest rates were locked in at 1.6% originally (oh the early 2000s!), so it wasn’t too bad.

But it was a debt, and having grown up with my parents filing bankruptcy and having to deal with the threat of losing our house, and not having enough food to eat, and all the problems that come with poverty, I was keen to discharge it.

You don’t have to pay on most student loan debts while you’re in school, and it took me 8.5 years to get my bachelor’s degree. I took a year and a half off school after graduation to decide what I wanted to do next, during which I made a couple of small payments, then I enrolled in a master’s program. 2.5 years later, I graduated and started making payments for real.

And 6 years later:

studentloans.png

One of the benefits of student loans is that I learned you don’t need a scholarship to go to college. It’s more expensive than it was a generation or two ago, and already it is more expensive than when I started; while tuition hasn’t gone up tremendously in the last 15 years, interest rates have gone way up. But once I got into my freshman year, I learned that I needn’t have been so stressed. If I hadn’t won the scholarship, the total impact would have been around another $6-7,000 in loans. Not the end of the world.

At any rate, they’re paid off now. Like on a birthday, which is supposed to mark a milestone in our lives, I feel no different than I did yesterday. My next goal is to pay off credit cards again (they should be back to $0 by the middle of next month), max out our Roth IRA for the year, and start building up our savings again. The last couple of years of new house + repairs have drained it. But we’re on-track, and reducing debt is nice.

If I feel anything emotionally, it’s a mix of bitterness and pride. I wasn’t worried about paying them off, or stressed about it, so there’s no real relief. There’s just residual frustration that I needed them to begin with, and pride that I did all this on my own.

My first loan was disbursed on August 13th, 2003. The last on September 27th, 2006. Then I started working full-time at the university in January 2007 and my benefits paid for my classes (though I had to drop further down to 6 hours per semester to make that work).

I continue to look up regularly, up and to the right from the sofa in my office, to gaze at the two diplomas hanging on the wall there. I am happy every day that I am not in college. Every day when I can think, “I never have to do that again,” fills me with joy. With the loans paid, that book is truly closed.

Some thoughts on Netflix’s Iron First and how it’s actually kind of good

No spoilers (provided you’ve seen the trailer or have even a cursory knowledge of who/what Iron Fist is).

A lot of people I know on Facebook appear to dislike Iron First. I see a lot of comments about people getting bored after 1-2 episodes, hating how dumb Danny (Iron First) Rand is, disliking the cultural appropriation, finding it odd that they have a Singaporean-Chinese-Zambian-English actress playing a Japanese woman, and being frustrated by simple solutions not being tried first (e.g. hey Danny, why not have a shower, get some shoes, and generally look a bit less absurd before you go into the headquarters of Rand Enterprises? And then you could, I don’t know, tell them something that only you and they would know in episode 1 instead of episode 3 or 4.)

But I think there’s something to be said about Iron Fist, and it’s that the character of Danny Rand is internally consistent. That’s one of the things that keeps me watching the show.

Danny was 10 when his plane crashed and he was adopted by the monks of Kun Lun. From what we can tell about him based on what little backstory we are given throughout the series, he was spoiled and bribed to do what his parents wanted. He was allowed to ride his skateboard through corporate headquarters, was always roaming around the building and finding ways in and out of it, at least sometimes refused to do what his parents wanted unless they bribed him (like with a trip to the circus), and just generally fits the stereotype of the spoiled rich kid.

This led to him being arrogant, and then he went to a monastery and was trained that “doubt leads to death.” So you take his arrogance and you turn the self-confidence dial up to 11.

As near as we can tell, his only education at the monastery was in fighting and farming. He has a 5th grade education in reading, mathematics, and science, and possibly not even that because he was home schooled. Considering the implications regarding being spoiled, it’s not hard to guess that his schooling wasn’t rigorous. Danny’s father certainly didn’t appear to drive him as hard as Ward and Joy’s father drove them. If their plane hadn’t crashed, I imagine that Danny Rand would have turned out a lot like Oliver Queen prior to the Queen’s Gambit going down.

So when Danny returns to New York and walks into the headquarters to find the people he thinks of as his long-lost family, I can kind of understand that. He expected to be welcomed back with joy (no pun intended) and celebration. He doesn’t know any better.

Another facet of Danny’s personality, that we get mostly from the comics but a bit from the show, is that he is generally naive and innocent, and he thinks the best of people. He learned honor from the monks and assumes everyone is as honorable as him (which later gets him in trouble with the board of Rand Enterprises). His parents seemed to love him and shelter him, and except for Ward being a bully to him as a kid, he lived in a safe bubble. While the plane crash was traumatic, he was then taken in by these fantastic people and literally lived in heaven for 15 years. He isn’t used to people lying to him. We know from the comics that not everyone in Kun Lun was kind to him–he was, after all, being trained to be a living weapon–but people were generally straight-forward.

So you’ve got this guy with no education, no street-smarts, who is absolutely arrogant and self-confident, and who thinks the best of everyone… but there’s a darker set of traits influencing Danny Rand too. He likely has PTSD from the plane crash. As part of the Iron Fist’s training and duties, he was to “kill” Danny Rand and become wholly the Iron Fist, but he clearly chose to go back to New York and try to resume some of his life as Danny Rand. He is internally conflicted, and this conflict has a negative impact on him.

I don’t really enjoy the Iron Fist comics, but I do think they’re internally consistent, and I do find the character kind of interesting. What we have here isn’t Tony Stark, who is a narcissist. Nor do we have Oliver Queen, who is driven by guilt. Nor do we have Batman, who is just super complicated and there’s no way to talk about Batman without limiting the discussion to a particular iteration of Batman… What I’m getting at is that Danny is another rich white superhero who thinks he can save the world, but he is different from the other rich white superheroes we’ve seen.

Danny doesn’t particularly like himself. We get this more in the comics, and while I’m only in episode 9 of the Netflix series, I think we’ll see more of it as the show goes on. The conflict between Danny Rand and Iron Fist is hard, and he doesn’t know his place in the world. What’s more, the world doesn’t work the way he expects it to, and no matter how hard he tries, it refuses to work the way he wants. I have always felt like, for many of the other superheroes, they face an ever-escalating series of conflicts and they overcome and we get catharsis. Iron Fist fails over and over again, not because he doesn’t defeat the bad guys, but because his goals are so monumental that they’re impossible to achieve. And unlike Tony Stark, the futurist who can invent what’s needed to change the world, Danny Rand has no idea how to make a real, lasting difference. He’s not smart enough to wield his corporate empire, and he’s not strong enough to stop all the bad guys.

Iron Fist is a B-list hero; he was deliberately written to be on the B-list. Iron Fist gives us an opportunity to see, “What would happen if a regular guy got super powers?” Yes, this regular guy is a multi-billionaire, but the money is largely irrelevant to the story or Danny’s character, except insofar as it shaped the first 10 years of his life.

OK, so that’s why I think the show has some worth. It’s internally consistent and I can see where it’s coming from. That said, I mostly watch it for:

  • The Joy-Ward story arc. I want to like Joy but am not sure I should. I want to hate Ward but am not sure I can. And despite them both being of questionable moral fiber, their sibling love is something I admire. They’re great characters.
  • Claire. I mean, come on. I laughed long and hard at her saying, “Sweet Christmas” right before she knocked a guy out. She’s a straight-shooter and I love that she ties all the Marvel TV shows together. My only regret is that she hasn’t facilitated a meet-up yet.
  • A lot of people like Colleen, but I think she’s just OK. She’s a bit too much of a supporting foil for me, and I wish she was more independent and stronger on her own.
  • Tie-ins. I love all the ways the various Marvel TV shows tie together. I have a deep longing for tie-ins to the movies too. They’re going to do a Defenders movie, I think, and I am hopeful that Doctor Strange will at least have a cameo in it.

 

Adaptavist Live: The Adaptavist Atlassian Ecosystem Podcast

As part of Learning and Development at Adaptavist, we launched a podcast this week. It’ll be published every Monday sometime during the day (depending on which country’s “day” you’re in) and you can listen to it!

We’ve already recorded the second one, and will be doing the third one this Friday. If you have any ideas or want to hear us talk about something in particular, send an email to learn@adaptavist.com.

Focusing my energy on Adaptavist

I started this blog because I had some ideas for articles that I thought would be helpful for people, but keeping a regular schedule for it has been difficult. Between work as a Consultant at Adaptavist, work at the church, some volunteer activities, and spending time with friends, I didn’t have much time or energy for writing. I would fit in some blogging in an evening or on a Saturday when I would try and write many articles at once to schedule out into the future. If I had a busy month or two, I would fall behind.

In December, I was promoted to Head of Learning and Development at Adaptavist. One of the things I’m excited about with this new position is that I can take all of my goals for Meta-Manage and implement them at Adaptavist, but instead of trying to cram them into a spare Saturday or an occasional evening, I can develop these ideas during the week. What’s more, I’ll have a team of people to help me, so we’ll be able to do all the things that I’ve been dreaming of.

This means that I won’t be posting here much anymore, if at all. I might let the domain lapse once the year is up. But keep an eye on http://www.adaptavist.com/ and http://www.adaptavist.com/w/about/adaptavist-blog/ where new articles will be showing up with greater frequency. I’ll post here on occasion (while the domain is still registered anyways) when we have something new, like the podcast we’re planning to kick-off, or a webinar, but all of my energy and attention will be going into Adaptavist rather than Meta-Manage for the foreseeable future.

My 1% Pledge

pledgeIn 2014, Atlassian co-founded the Pledge 1% organization, which is a commitment by a company to donate 1% of its time, equity, and product to charity. This was announced broadly by Atlassian at Summit 2015, along with Adaptavist’s commitment to join Pledge 1%.

As part of our 1% pledge, staff at Adaptavist can work with a charity of their choice, and I have been working with Prisoner Visitation and Support (PVS) this year. I visit a few prisoners a month and spend an hour with each, just talking and getting to know them. One of the things that I like about PVS is that there’s no real agenda or ulterior motive; I’m not there to proselytize or try to get the prisoners to join up or do anything in particular. I’m just there to spend time with them.

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