It’s that time of the year when we reflect on the past and plan for the future. An arbitrary time, which has always bothered me. We should really be doing this in a continual fashion. I try, with daily, monthly, and quarterly reflection, but I’ll admit that the end of the year is still a special time.
As is customary for us, my wife and I head off to a remote beach house for a couple weeks, which also lets us reconnect a bit. By the way, I’ve found that two solid weeks is really what’s required to appropriately decompress, relax, and reflect at the end of a year. Anything less and your mind is distracted by the logistics of travel, meal planning, and so forth. I need two weeks in a chair with a view, preferably with no people around. Ok, except my wife.
Overall it’s been a good year. I’ve gotten into the best shape I’ve been in in the past thirty years, we bought a house that we’re doing an extensive remodel on to turn into a “lean home,” I finally finished and published The Simple Leader, and I’ve been able to reinforce a more robust daily reflection practice.
I’ve also been successful at significantly reducing my travel, and for the first time in decades I will have no (zero!) status on any airline going into next year! Scary, but strangely liberating. The perks of United 1K and American Executive Platinum are simply not worth the intangible costs. Hello row 35, middle seat!
Perhaps the goal I’m most satisfied with is reading – a lot more. Decades ago I used to devour a book every couple days, but as the pressures of life and business took hold, the habit slipped. I still read a lot of blogs, online newspapers, The Wall Street Journal each morning, and so forth, but books are different. The length of books creates context and complexity, which leads to contemplation and personal growth. I believe it’s important to avoid becoming superficial in thought.
Last January I told you how my annual “do something different” goal for this year was to read a work of literature from a different culture each month. I’m happy to say I’ve been successful and it’s been a very rewarding experience. Here’s how it turned out:
- January: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Latin America)
- February: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (Afghanistan)
- March: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (Africa)
- April: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn (Russia)
- May: Men in the Sun by Ghassan Kanafani (Palestine)
- June: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (India)
- July: Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out by Mo Yan (China)
- August: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (Japan)
- September: Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko (Native American)
- October: Breath, Eyes, Memory by Eldridge Dantikat (Haiti)
- November: Hunger by Knut Hamson (Scandinavia)
- December: Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap (Thai)
The Kite Runner was easily my favorite, followed by Ivan Denisovich. Ceremony started out rather slow, but became an intriguing look at Native American society as well as the experiences of returning war veterans. Life and Death and Wind-Up Bird were interesting immersions into Chinese and Japanese life, although keeping track of the multiple reincarnations in Life and Death (some not as humans!) became a bit difficult.
I also read a variety of business-related books, most of which could be compressed to about 20% of their lengths. While staring at the ocean the past couple weeks I also cranked through several more books, but from a wider variety of genres.
I started off with a couple that my wife challenged me to read as they are definitely outside my normal spectrum: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls and Wonder by R.J. Palacio. Whew! Got that over with! I then dug into The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis, then When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, which lead to The Language of God by Francis Collins. That kicked me onto a more spiritual reading path with The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, which referenced Brother David Steindl-Rast so I devoured his The Way of Silence. I ended on a more superficial level with Tim Ferriss’ latest, Tools of Titans.
As usual, Tim is a bit over the top in many areas, but there were also some really interesting nuggets of wisdom. The Language of God, The Book of Joy, and The Way of Silence are phenomenal books and highly recommended, regardless of your spiritual persuasion.
Several concepts from those books were great reflection points, such as the eight pillars of joy as described by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu: perspective, humility, humor, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity. The first four are from the brain, the last four from the heart.
Based on that I’ve come up with a plan for the upcoming year, continuing to reinforce daily practice but also focusing on those eight pillars of joy. And I’ve also determined my new “do something different” goal. But this time I’m keeping it private, at least for now. A hint: it could involve extreme endurance. And I spent a lot of time on my “stop doing” list.
Best wishes for a happy, healthy, and productive new year. Take the time to slow down and reflect. What will you improve next year? What will you stop doing?