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.

Post-Thanksgiving, Post-London, but Pre-Vacation

I have four more work days this year, including today, and then I’m on holiday until January. That’s pretty exciting.

Staying on my diet through Thanksgiving was pretty easy. I just ate turkey, ham, and green beans, and saw my siblings and some extended family at my mom’s house. It had been almost 10 years since I had seen my brothers. One of my nieces was there and I hadn’t seen her in 24 years.

Then, the Monday after Thanksgiving, I went to London. I was able to stay on keto through the first week without too much trouble. Salads with chicken, a McDonald’s salad with a couple of hamburger patties on top, roast chicken and squash and other veggies. Not too bad.

The second week was a loss, though. It’s hard to avoid rice when you’re having Thai food every other meal. I didn’t drink a single beer, but I did drink two bottles of wine one night. There was a pot pie for dinner one day, and pizza another, and I lacked for choices. So not ideal, but I tried to manage my portion size at least, and I think avoiding beer helped.

I was back on keto as soon as I got home last Friday, and the re-adjustment has been a bit tough. I’m hungrier than I was, so I made a fat bomb yesterday comprised of almond butter, cocoa, cream cheese, and heavy whipping cream. Then I made hot chocolate last night with almond milk, cocoa, some vanilla powder, cinnamon, a bit of xanthan gum, some swerve, and a bit of heavy whipping cream. I didn’t have much sugar while in London, but it was enough to have me craving sweets again.

All’s well that end’s well:

  • Starting weight: 240
  • Goal weight: 190
  • Current weight: 223

It’s neat to see these numbers, because I forget between blog posts what I weighed. I’m weighing myself every 1-3 days and logging it into MyFitnessPal so it’s pretty incremental, then I blog and see I’ve dropped 5 pounds since my last weigh-in.

This week, I’m finally adding in the exercise that I was supposed to do in week 2. I have a new battery for my heart rate monitor, so I got that working this morning, then rowed for 20 minutes and stayed in the target range for 7, per Mark Sisson’s book. He recommends 2 hours of exercise every week, so I figure if I do this 20 minute routine every morning, 6 days a week, that should set me right. We’ll see if I can keep that up, though. It was nice to listen to NPR while rowing this morning.

I have an 8 a.m. meeting, so I better get going. Heading into the office this week since I haven’t been there in almost 3 weeks.

No output without input

I was supposed to meet some local church leaders for breakfast this morning, only to discover about 5 minutes after our scheduled start time that they had rescheduled via Facebook last night. And since I had been dreaming of Gailey’s French Toast for several days, I decided to stay and catch up on reading blogs and enjoy the morning before diving into work.

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Preparing for Winter Break 2013

Since I haven’t blogged much this year, it seemed appropriate to me to write a bit of a catch-up post. I’ve also been planning on writing Christmas Letters to send to people, but here we are on the last day of work before Winter Break, and just five days from Christmas, and it seems increasingly unlikely that I will do so.

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Going back to school

Almost a year and a half ago, I graduated from college with a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies and a minor in Creative Writing. It took me eight and a half years, and it was sometimes hard to find the motivation to finish. My job at the time only required an Associates or equivalent number of college hours. I had learned everything I needed to learn. There wasn’t any reason to finish other than to get the credentials.

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Cut and run, or commit to change?

I have now had my current job for two years. The first year was pretty rough: all of my new employees had previously been co-workers, and several had interviewed for the position that I got; a lot of change was needed, and change is generally an upsetting thing to people; we were starting a new and much more intensive professional development regimen, which caused a lot of stress; and there were some other personnel matters that caused difficulties.

Despite that, it was a very successful year. Most everyone got certified on Windows 7. We fixed a lot of things and drastically improved training of both part-time and full-time staff. We made some huge leaps in our technology and setup. Overall, I was tired but happy. It had taken a lot of long hours and hard work, but we were pulling out of a slump.

And despite that, my end-of-year evaluation was pretty negative.

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