The purpose of this annual review is for me to reflect on the year by asking these four questions:
This Annual Review is for me. But I would like to share it with you. I want to grow into a more open and transparent person, so in this review, I will share the highs, the lows and all the growth and pain that comes with it.
Juvoni.com redesign: After postponing (procrastinating) my site relaunch last year, I put some serious work into it this year and over 130 hours later, over the span of three months it was launched in May. A major new feature of the site that has been on my mind for two years now is the books page.
Read more about the redesign here.
Travel: Just to get out of the country was a win for me. I haven’t been out of the country in over 8 years, but was able to make the spontaneous decision to travel to Iceland, with a bunch of amazing people earlier in the year. It was a very transformative period for me. I’m excited to travel a bit more in 2016!
Reduced News Consumption: Most news is irrelevant, time wasting, passive, misleading, toxic to the mind and can put a significant drain on your emotional wellbeing. By filtering out as much news as I can and whitelisting certain trusted sources, I feel much happier and productive.
Concert: I went to my first concert ever this year! (I’m very strict at delaying gratification to pursue goals.) I went to see The Weeknd at Madison Square Garden, real name Abel. I first started listening to him back in 2012, and was surprised, but very happy for him having a very successful year. If you listen to his older songs, they are very ‘grown’ in nature. I grew up on old school R&B and VH1, so it’s my thing.
AMEX: I got a position at American Express as a Software Engineer, tasked with developing User Interfaces for the Home Account page. Just two months in, I was asked to help rebuild their existing page. I rose to the challenge and spent my weekends learning new technologies and contributed significantly to the project and page, which attracts over 1+ million visitors per day. We successfully launched our rebuild to corporate card members early Q4 and the foundation is set for some useful new features for card members in 2016.
Productivity: I am becoming more mature in productivity techniques, and along with my systems and discipline I have made 2015 a very productive year, having more impact per hour than someone who isn't as mindful about their productivity. My productivity pulse increased from last year, which was a breakthrough year for me. I use rescuetime to track how I use my computer and phone.
Finances: I paid off all my student loans (started with 18k) and I'm completely debt free. I'm thankful to my mother for teaching me how to stretch the value of every dollar and make sacrifices. I look at money as a tool, each dollar as a potential investment and made the right decisions early on to get this big burden out of the way. Sophomore year of college while in business school, I taught myself how to code, increasing my employment opportunities, among other motivations. During college, I sacrificed all spring and summer break trips and other vacations to save money and invested heavily in skill set development, living in my second home, the library. Each summer was dedicated to learning a new skill. After graduation, I landed a job but chose to stay at home for another year and a half to save even more money. When the time was right, I made some big career decisions, using skills I had developed and landed multiple signing bonuses with the next few the jobs I took, to put big dents in my loan payments. I had an aggressive budgeting strategy to help me keep more of the money I earned and I fell in love with personal finance and investing.
Tribe: I have made some progress in connecting with some truly amazing people (Hi PD Nerds!), shout outs to the wonderful people I met this year.
No Coffee: Reduction habit, year-long experiment (1 month is child play). I have gone all year without a single cup of coffee.
Sleep: I had a serious sleep problem in college. Where I would often go through weeks on 3-5 hours of sleep, especially during exam periods. I would have memory problems, eating issues, basically lost 12 lbs from junior to senior year. When I started having breathing issues, I knew I needed a significant change.
I setup software on my computer to start blocking YouTube and Netflix after 10 pm. Took Udemy classes to learn more about the science of sleep and ways to optimize it. Enforced bedtimes (big hit on my social life) and invested in tools to track the temperature, light, sound, humidity and air quality of my room so I could improve the quality of my sleep. In 2014, I made big improvements and in 2015 the consistency and discipline paid off, with sleep hours coming out to 7 hours 29mins Avg Per Day over the course of the year.
2015 Sleep Data by SleepAsAndroid
Nutrition: The years prior, I invested in my strength and conditioning. However, I wasn’t growing and recovering as quickly as I could and would have cravings for unhealthy foods. In 2014, it was about reducing bad foods and 2015 was about increasing the number of healthy foods I ate on a consistent basis. By eating well, I was able to lose more body fat while still putting on more mass. I had much more energy for other activities and I felt alive and more alert.
I started incorporating prep meals and avoided eating out unless it was for special occasions.
Fitness: In 2015, after training 3 times a week, every week for the past 3 years without fail, I made it into the 1,000 lb club.
I was curious. What if I didn't listen to my thoughts? What if the body and mind melded together and the limits self-imposed started to vanish away?
What if I put in the work and feel in love with the process? What if I delayed gratification and cultivated discipline? What if I took pride in having a bedtime and getting good sleep? What if I ate healthily and treated my body like it was the only one I would have? What if pain is temporary and you saw some forms of it as a sign of growth?
What if fear forgot to give you a reminder? What if you didn't doubt yourself?
Perhaps I am stronger than I think.
Reading: I exceeded my goal of 55 books, with 61 books, one more than my total from last year. I read at least 1 hr per day, and multiple books at different times of the day and week. I use trello to manage the books I read and often know far in advance which books I will be reading for upcoming months. I try to only read books I feel are worthwhile and heavily defend myself against bad book recommendations that could potentially slow my pace down. I will be publishing a Reading Tips Series of blog posts in 2016.
Built a Christmas Book Tree with my roommate Conrad this year.
Writing: A big habit win this year. I have been able to write at least 750 words for over 266 consecutive days. I had heard about 750 words but I hadn't tested it out until this year. I had journaled on and off in the 2 prior years, but I realized the importance of distilling my thoughts into writing and writing more consistently; not waiting on when I felt like it. Writing has given me an outlet to analyze my thoughts, emotions and my behaviors around others. My empathy also improves through writing, by writing more about other people and trying to understand their perspective. I've also been documenting and planning on opportunities for improvement (some people refer to them as weaknesses) over the year.
I have come close to failing on multiple occasions. Every day I wake up, writing has to be top of mind, and if I don't write in the morning I need to map out my day to identify potential risks that could impact my streak. Here are some moments I got my writing in on the brink of failure:
Here is a snapshot of the analysis 750words.com gives you after you complete your writing.
Stress: Accomplishments don't come cheap, the level of stress I felt this year was maddening. Psychological pain is one of the worst kinds of pain, there are no pills to numb it, there were times all I could do was ball up in a corner of my room and wait till I calmed down. If I drank, I would be an alcoholic without a doubt, I push myself too hard. I'm prisoner to my ambition, but I know I asked for it. In order to become the strongest version of myself, a certain level of stress is needed.
"Pressure Makes Diamonds."
Weight Goal: At the start of the year, I had set out a goal to gain 10 lbs, from 180lbs. I put together a meal plan, and pre-cooked on Wednesdays and Sundays. To gain weight, you need to be in a caloric surplus. For most of the year, with my increased training, I had been at break-even or in a caloric deficit. Eating a lot has been difficult for me. I don't get much pleasure from eating and grew up in an environment where I focused more on nutritional value. I ended up losing 5 lbs, instead of gaining 10. I used the Withings Scale a couple months into the year, to start tracking my weight daily, as the scale uploads your data to the cloud.
Meditation: A very inconsistent year of meditation, with a 55% daily completion rate.
Social Life: I need to work on reaching out to people. When I speak in group conversations, I tend to focus too much on a single person and not the group. I’ve let friendships slip away and need to work on rebuilding next year.
Blog Post Consistency: I have not been consistent with my blog posts this year and I apologize for that. Part of it has been due to fear of posting something I would perceive as low quality. Following certain bloggers, I’ve seen them take the approach of posting very frequently, aiming for quantity at the loss of quality. I still try to write every day, although most of that content has been journal oriented. I’m working on a system to dedicate more of my writing time towards future blog posts.
Reading Fiction: Ok, I shocked myself with this one. Although, I read 61 books this year, I somehow managed to read ZERO fiction books. This is a problem. I will need to tweak the way I go about selecting books to read, to make sure that there is some more fiction. I tend to read fiction on my kindle, but this year, I seemed to prefer reading more physical books. I’m very picky when it comes to books, but if you think there is a fiction book that even I would love, send the recommendation over!
Side Projects: A couple years back (5yrs+), I noticed I was consuming too much and not producing enough. Research has also become a fun activity of mine and I’ve developed a wide range of skills, but I’m too focused on learning instead of building. I need to find a middle ground and side projects are a way to both learn and contribute. I need to slightly move away from personal development and start building more things.
Google: At the start of the year I got a call from my dream company to interview. I asked for and received an extra 3 months to prepare. During these 3 months, I had limited interaction with people, I refer to it as ‘no-life mode’.
The stakes were high, and I started with a lot of doubt, but quickly came to my senses and started putting together a battle plan of what I needed to learn.
I would review algorithms and practice coding with just pen and paper. I tracked my progress in trello.
I researched what schools like MIT and Harvard taught and went through hours of lectures.
I ordered a whiteboard for my room as that’s what Google would use for the interviews and I needed to get used to it.
I went on to the onsite round where I would be interviewed by 5 Google Software Engineers, over the span of 4 hours. I felt very confident with all my preparations. My thoughts were very clear, but as I got halfway through the day, I had a bad experience with an Engineer who was conducting their first interview and I got out of flow for that interview and the next. I ended up not getting the offer, and it felt like I got drop kicked in the chest by a sumo wrestler.
Days after, I did some reflection and wrote long thank you letters to those involved. I was very grateful for the opportunity and I became a much better developer thanks to the experience and the grueling three months of practice I put myself through. I also realized how much luck is involved, you can only prepare for so much.
Online Courses (MOOCS): I have not been able to complete my Coursera Data Science Specialization. On a positive note, that was the first time I've finished a full Coursera class, and I even completed 3, but there were 8 total courses to take and the workload was too much with all I had going on. I paid close to $300 for the Specialization.
I was not able to complete my Android Nanodegree on Udacity. This Nanodegree was $200 per month and I ended up burning 3 months for this course, but was not able to manage the projects with the little time I had available.
Relationships: I had to grow up from a young age, a young boy with the soul of a man. My friends joke that I'm like a super human learning how to be more machine like. But I grew up a closed person, it was the side effects of what I had to do to prepare for this hyper-competitive world. This has impacted relationships. There was this girl, she was very important to me, but I let years slip by before I told her all this and it was too late. I've known her for 10 years. It took me 5 years to realize I loved her. It took another 5 years for me to tell her that. And it all went downhill in less than 5 minutes. This all unfolded the end of last year, but the pain had a delayed effect and bore its full weight on me early this year.
“The marks humans leave are too often scars.” - John Green
Before this unraveled, I had a hard time fully investing in other relationships. I've learned to get over that experience, and I am more accepting of being vulnerable. The pain was like a vaccine to me. It's actually made me more open, honest and compassionate.
Family: Time won't help. I see a man who is prisoner to his ambition, in order to save his family...
I noticed I haven't heard from my mother in a couple weeks. I check in to find out she had been injured on the job, a patient attacked her at the nursing home she works at and she strained her back. Out of work for almost two months, she relied on insurance checks that didn't come. I had spent years training my emotions, I didn't feel anger. Emotional instability would wreck my focus. I didn't know what to feel, that's why she didn't tell me at the time, she knew.
I found out my youngest brother went missing for a day, cops called and all. I found out about this weeks later. He was found safe at a classmate's house.
My heart dropped. I could feel the Stoic in me immediately at work trying to balance my inner being. I will make it a priority to take my little brother to at least one big new experience a month.
Over the years, my mother has sacrificed and shielded me from many things so that I may have the opportunity to do great things one day. She never wanted me to worry, always to remain focused, disciplined and moving forward.
It’s mid-October, my cell rings Monday morning. I see my younger (21) brother’s name. Confused, I look at the clock to see it was 4:30 a.m. I answer, trying to compose myself. I hear this older man, who sounds like an Italian mobster, I began to think, 'cop'. They ask if this is his brother, I respond yes. As a swarm of worrying thoughts invades my mind, I immediately remind myself, "Observe, Do not Evaluate."
We have your brother, he tells me. Oh Shit, I wondered if this was an abduction. The phone was cutting off and he told me he would call me on another number. They explained, my brother's body was found... passed out drunk in some Queens nightclub. They would need me to get there as soon as possible, I was 7 - 10 miles away from them or they would call the ambulance to take him.
So began the longest Uber ride of my life. I thought back on my childhood. My brother and I went through the same struggles, growing up on welfare and food stamps, raised by a single mother in the Bronx. Drugs, crime and violence were prevalent. The two most common buildings I remember seeing were liquor stores and churches. You can't drink and pray away your problems, sometimes we have to save ourselves, I remember thinking as I gazed at these ghetto landmarks.
I was able to create my own inner world, to shield myself from the environment. My brother couldn't, he needed guidance. As I look back, I realize my ambition may have led me too far from my brother's side.
I arrived to pick him up covered in blood and vomit, I saw a young man at his lowest point. My first thoughts were, "I am my brother's keeper". I approached him the way a caring mother moves towards a sick child. I did not judge, I did not blame. I embraced him and his pain. I let him know everything would be ok, and that I would work to disarm my mother's wrath, when she eventually finds out about this. As we got to my place, he was still in and out of consciousness. There was a point, where he began to violently start shaking in his sleep, and I was afraid, he may be suffering from alcohol poisoning, so I called the ambulance that morning.
What if I lost my brother that morning? We were always together when we were younger, mommy's little soldiers. We were surviving the world and one of us was a prisoner of war, in this thing called life. He got better. I became his brother again. He's still learning to accept help, but I'm not sure if I'm the right person and that pains me.
Over the past 10 years, I have been able to eliminate and or reduce the following:
In 2016, I hope to reduce or eliminate the following:
Consistent Blog Posts: I have put in place a more solid writing system using Evernote, Scrivener, Trello and 750words.com which will empower me to get more of my writing out in 2016 and beyond.
Being More Timely: I am chronically late to things. At times, I'm too immersed in what I'm currently doing and I have a hard time doing time estimates when I've just come out of a state of flow. I tend to load my calendar, and I'm unfair when it comes to prioritizing my habits over social obligations. I need to work on not being late as often.
Morning person: Being someone who rises early is important to me because I wouldn't have to keep making as many sacrifices to my social life. When I finish my full-time job, I go straight to work on my other habits and projects and I'm not afraid to say NO, in defense of this evening time. In the morning, I would have an opportunity to get these things out of the way, so I can be more flexible later in the day.
Posture: Working as a Software Engineer, you sit a lot. The industry isn't that old where the negative effects are widespread with back problems, but I can see it coming. I want to be proactive and consciously work towards preventing back issues and improving my posture.
Swimming: I have never learned to swim growing up, I guess I should work on this as well, for safety reasons... so I don't drown or anything.
Driving: Being a city kid has spoiled me, I don't even have a driver's permit. For a long time, I saw cars as "Roadtrip-mobiles." When I worked in consulting, my colleagues had to chauffeur me around. 2016 is the year I learn how to drive!
Spanish: In my question for learning how to learn, I knew learning a language would be on the agenda sooner or later. I grew up in the south Bronx within a strong Hispanic community, a number of my friends are from South America, DR or PR and I've always felt a desire to understand that part of their culture. In 2016, I will invest more time in learning Spanish.
Reading More Fiction: I need to read more fiction, no more excuses.
Studying books I've previously read: I need to reflect more on books I've previously read. I will try not to be too overly aggressive in reading new books and opt to take more notes of older books. These notes will eventually be published to my books page.
Building More Things: I want to focus more on creation in 2016.
#2015 #annual review
“The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It's the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.” - Lois Lowry