2016 in Review

Here's my third annual year-in-review post. It's an opportunity for me to reflect on my progress and compile a collection to look back on over time. If you're not me you probably won't find this too interesting. It's not meant to come off as bragging or self-deprecating - it's simply an analysis of my progress.

2016 was the year that I really started to take control of where I'm going, rather than clearing debts of previous years (read my college investment).

Education

Last year I spent a few thousand dollars on education products (courses). This year I didn't invest in any more courses (other than monthly subscriptions) - rather I took the ones I had and doubled down on really consuming the content. That's also something I'm doing in Q1 of 2017.

Beyond re-reading/watching the courses I already had I read/listened to 17-20 books. This was definitely the most I've ever read in a year and I feel like it's been paying off. Books are a low cost investment with an incredible return. For $15-$30 (on average) you can get access to the entirety of an individual's research and experiences. Even if you only pull one piece of information from a book it was worth the investment. I'm planning to read at least 20-25 books this year.

I've also listened to a monstrous number of podcasts (my preference when working out). The top ones being Freakonomics Radio, Planet Money, and The Tim Ferriss Show.

Lastly, though I didn't read any specific books/courses on it, I've learned a ton about the tools of my trade - React, React Native, and Meteor.

Finances

Though I didn't hit my financial goal (I made 77.96% of my goal) I'm perfectly happy with what I did make. This was an ~18% increase in my earnings compared to last year. The reason I'm not upset with failing to hit my goal is that, around June/July, I realized that the number I had chosen didn't have much meaning.

From 2013 to 2014 and again for 2014 to 2015 I (approximately) doubled my income. That's easier to do when your income is relatively low but gets more difficult as your income grows. So, when I realized that on my current path, I wouldn't hit my goal by end of year I started to think about why that was the case and I came to a few realizations.

  • The number had no meaning beyond continuing the trend of doubling
  • There are only so many hours in the day
  • I can only raise my hourly rate to a certain point given my skill level
  • It's not how much money I make but rather how I make money

I made 99% of my money through contracting - a direct time for cash trade. This can work for some/most people but for the lifestyle I'm designing this didn't scale well (thinking in 10 years) so I realized that what was important to me wasn't how much I made but rather how I made my money. At that point I changed my financial focus. This sets the premise for some big decisions I made at the end of the year and that I'm acting out now (more on this in the business section).

Finally, I need to mention that I paid off my student loans before my 22nd birthday. This was my BHAG (big hair audacious goal) that I set when I dropped out of college. At that point, having never made enough to really support myself, I had no idea how it was possible but I managed to do it. I'm mad proud of that... and as I write this I realize that I need to think back on that moment of making my final payment more often.

Sticking with the previous posts here is a comparison of my year-over-year income comparison. You can see that it's pretty much the same (or even) less at the end of the year but the reason I surpassed last year's income is that consistency I had at the beginning of the year.

Year over year income comparison

Business

Things went well this year in business. Last year I talked about slimming down my business offerings and focusing on one thing. This year I, somewhat, continued on that trend. I made the entirety of my income from one client, essentially acting as employee. This allowed me to really focus on what I was building and my craft. With this focus I began writing and building a name for myself in the React Native/Meteor space. This was an great for a number of reasons

  1. Explaining anything helps you really understand something
  2. I was able to help more people than I normally would be able to with contracting work
  3. I put myself out there and practiced writing
  4. I began to build an audience

Writing blog posts/recording videos on React Native/Meteor was great for the above reasons. However, about half way through I wanted to start to do things more seriously and create some premium content - a course or book. This is something I've wanted to do for a long time but I didn't know the subject yet. Now I was at a point where I knew what subject I wanted to teach, I had practiced doing so, had an audience, and had some momentum.

Then, after starting and stopping multiple times, I realized that it wasn't working out. I wasn't making any progress on the course and kept changing direction. I was confused as I was able to publish blog posts with relative ease but this course just wasn't working out. There were a few reasons for this that I identified

  1. I was comfortable with my job - I was making a healthy income so I didn't feel the need to work on the premium course
  2. Blog posts can be accomplished within a week, a course cannot
  3. What I was writing a course on was the same thing I was writing blog posts on which was the same thing I was working with during the week (40+ hours). I was burnt out on it

After realizing those things and recognizing the success I have when I focus I realized that I had to make some changes. I could either give up on the writing/teaching side or give up on the contracting side. Teaching aligns with my core values/passions/interests - it's something I've always enjoyed doing. It can also be a business that can, if need be, be run independently from me, or I can at least bring on outside help.

With that, despite really enjoying the contract work I was doing and loving the team I worked with, I decided that if I wanted to making teaching successful I had to quite my "job" (technically I've always been a contractor). It wasn't an easy decision but I realized that it's the right thing to do (special thanks to Stephanie, my Dad, and leadership at Differential for giving me the extra push I needed). So, since January 1, 2017 I haven't been doing contracting work - I've been focusing solely on my own projects. I knew this day would come eventually so since paying off my student loans I've been putting away a large percentage of my income in a savings account - which I'll use to support myself until I become profitable.

I don't fully expect to hit my income from 2016 in 2017 but do plan to come relatively close. I just need to remember to focus on the things I'm working on, when I have a new project to take on I need to set up systems and teams around existing projects to ensure their future success while allowing myself to focus on one project at a time.

Last year I also mentioned that I had started a Forex trading business. I'm still working on that, though I'm still mostly learning. After paying off loans I allocated a fair amount of money towards building my trading account balance. It's at a healthy point right now, about 130% of where I had wanted it to be by the end of the year.

Good year on business! Expecting to carry and expand that momentum in 2017.

Oh! I also moved out of my bedroom office and now have a dedicated office in the new apartment. It's great.

Travel

One of my big moments for the year would fall into the travel category. After Steph graduated from OSU we moved to Nashville in July, just like we had planned. We don't often talk about what we're going to do but when we do talk you can expect us to deliver.

When we first scoped out apartments in Nashville in fall of 2015 we had a pretty small vision on what we would be able to do. When we came back in spring of 2016 we were more confident in what we could do. We knew what area we wanted to move to and, after searching half a dozen apartment complexes, we found the apartment (it was actually the one that made us fall in love with the area in the fall). After the trip we knew where we wanted to go but still couldn't fully believe we could live there.

Fast forward a few months and we pulled the trigger on the style of apartment we wanted facing the direction we were thinking. We were pretty sure which apartment we were going to live in but the view we saw the day we moved in was absolutely incredible. I'm immensely grateful everyday looking out these windows - and the sunsets are incredible.

View from apartment

Beyond the move, which took place of an international trip, I took a few trips this year. Some personal, some for work.

  • Chattanooga, TN
  • Indianapolis, IN
  • Cincinnati, OH
  • Nashville, TN (when we lived in Columbus, OH still)

Point Park Battlefield - Chattanooga, TN

A photo posted by Spencer Carli (@spencercarli) on

In summary, it wasn't the strongest travel year for Steph and I. We're planning to change that in 2017 with a weekend trip to Atlanta, a hiking trip to Gatlinburg, vacation to the Outer Banks with her family, and a trip to Vancouver.

Health/Fitness

I'm both proud of this one and disappointed. Starting with what makes me disappointed is my fitness. I've continued to maintain my weight (maybe put on a few pounds), I overall feel great, but I don't feel like I've progressed much at all. This stems from a lack of a goal. I ran a decent amount this year but I was never running to a certain time/distance goal, so my times/distances never improved. They pretty much just stayed the same throughout the entire year. Also, and I don't have any data to back this up, I feel like I've lost some muscle definition. I did a terrible job at any sort of strength training this year.

Despite not being very happy with my fitness progression I am happy that I stayed very healthy. I'm still able to run more than I though I would ever be able to 3 years ago and just feel better every single day (except around the holidays). The biggest factor in this one is that, since January 6, 2016 I've been 100% plant based (aka vegetarian). It's something Stephanie started in the fall of 2015 and after watching her for a few months I wanted to give it a shot. I decided that I would do it for at least one year so that I could give it plenty of time and really experience.

One of the best choices I've made, when it comes to fuel for my body, since giving up soda years and years ago. We love to cook and this has completely rethought how we structure and think about our meals - no more meat + sides thinking. I didn't really start this because of any ethical or environmental reasons, just as a personal challenge, but over the year I've definitely learned more about the environmental benefits of a plant based diet.

No one should tell others how to live their life but I would definitely advocate for everyone to, for some amount of time (such as a month), try out a plant-based diet. You don't have to stick with it forever but it's been an incredible learning experience. Completely rethinking the way you design your meals, trying out new ingredients, and getting out of your comfort zone is just amazing.

So, with the 1 year plant-based experiment over, where do I stand now? I'm definitely sticking with a plant-based diet. The benefits are just amazing. A few things came to mind when reflecting on my year of being vegetarian:

  1. Do I want to go vegan for a year (eliminate all animal products?)
  2. What about travel (especially out of country)?
  3. Hunting?

These are my thoughts.

  1. Not really. Vegan/vegetarian/etc are too broad/constricting diets (I feel the same for paleo, atkins, etc). I like the idea where I live life in a certain way but if I "cheat" or don't fully adhere to a specific criteria so be it, I'm not going to feel bad about it. With that being said, Steph and I are vegan about 80%-90% of the time. We just don't use animal products that often. But if we want cheese on our pizza I'm cool with it.
  2. Traveling with a non-standard diet (though plant-based is getting more popular) can be tricky, but you can find something on just about any menu. My travel "concern" comes from international travel - I want to touch every part of this planet that I can and I feel a great way to learn about a culture is through their food. Obviously, most of that isn't going to be plant based. I want to allow myself the opportunity to fully experience different cultures.
  3. I used to be into hunting - I've butchered/helped butcher different animals but I still never really felt like I really understood the process of what went into it. Too often I see, and I'm absolutely guilty of this myself, people who don't understand the process from animal to meat on the table. I think if I ever go back to eating meat on a regular basis/in my home it may only be animals that I've hunted and process myself. I feel it's the best way to understand the process and understand what you're actually eating, you're also able to respect the animal properly.

Anyways, went off on a bit of a soap box there. For 2017 I want to progress my fitness and continue to live a healthy life style. I've felt absolutely incredible this last year.

Relationships

Next to fitness, this was my weakest area. Last year I recognized that it's not the breadth of relationships that matter to me but rather the depth. I've created a few new friendships over the year but they're all work related (which I'm fine with) - they're also mostly in other states/countries (which I'm also okay with). The relationship Stephanie and I have grows and strengthens everyday which I'm immensely grateful for - but we also put in a lot of work to make it seem/feel so effortless.

The part I'm not super happy about is the seeming regression I've had with some relationships in my life. Everyone has external factors that play into their mindset, and I'm not saying I'm void of fault, but I don't do well with certain mindsets. I'm not a fan of complaining so I don't do well when people complain around me - I don't know how to respond and tend to just leave the conversation... or I respond and they don't like my response (it's typically not a sympathetic response, I'm a solutions guy). Obviously, these tendencies don't often lead to the strengthening of a relationship.

Beyond continuing to strengthen the relationship I have with Steph I'm not planning to put too much effort into growing relationships. I'll just let it be. However, I do plan to attend more meetups and volunteer more this year. My reasons are mostly/fully selfish though - I want to learn more stuff (meetups) and the feeling you have after volunteering to improve someone/something's life is unsurpassed.

Giving

New category for me this year and I don't have too much to say. In order to attract/create more abundance in our lives it's critical to give. I never felt like I had enough extra to give before this year (though that wasn't true). I wanted to change that this year and I did, though I didn't fully reach my goals.

I donated 45% of my financial giving goal this year. Though I had the money I found it hard to give it a way - I didn't want to invest the time into finding a cause to give it away to each month. After a while I started a recurring donation to sponsor a cat in a shelter - it's a small amount of money to me but if it can change that cat's life I'm game. It's also recurring so I don't need to do anything extra to set it up. I also want to keep some of the money on hand so I can give it to people/causes on a case by case basis. In 2017 I want to continue this trend and grow my recurring contributions and give more of giving money away, rather than leave it in a designated account. However, since I just cut my income by about 60% I'm giving myself some time to catch my footing. I've got a percentage allocated for giving right now but I want to make sure that I can properly support myself on my new income. I'll figure it out, I just need at least a month to figure it out.

Where I feel I did well in giving was with my time. Steph and I spent a bit of time donating our time but where I really gave time was in the form of support emails. Since starting my teaching/writing I've answered hundreds of emails answering different questions. I'm proud of that.

Lessons Learned

  • If you're not happy with something figure out how to fix it and then fix it
  • Proper planning prevents piss poor performance
  • Questioning the status quo leads to unique and incredible results

Three things stood out to me upon reflection.

  1. If you're not happy with something or don't like where something is going. Recognize it, don't feel bad about it, but figure out a way to fix it. You're in charge of your response to a situation and your future.
  2. Proper planning prevents piss poor performance. Not only is it a catchy phrase, it's a phrase I live by. If you plan something out it makes things so much easier. Planning meals makes it easier to eat healthy. Planning a trip and making sure you've got the cash for it makes it easier to enjoy it.
  3. Don't accept things at face value. If it's "just the way things are" then you're likely to find some benefit in questioning it. The video below is a good example.

What Went Well

  • Education: Get smarter everyday.
  • Finances: I'm happy with where I stand financially.
  • Business: Happy with all that I built in my business last year and the momentum I'm carrying into 2017.
  • Travel: Moving to Nashville has been an incredible experience. If you want to do something, figure out how to do it.
  • Health: Plant-based was an awesome experiment I'm excited to continue it.
  • Relationships: I'm ever grateful for the constantly strengthening relationship I have with Stephanie.
  • Giving: Though I didn't hit my financial goals I surpassed my time goals and I started giving. You've got to start somewhere.

What Didn't Go Well

  • Travel: I want to travel more.
  • Fitness: Need a plan, need progress.
  • Relationships: Quality deteriorated.

List of Accomplishments

  • Moved to Nashville
  • Plant-based/vegetarian diet
  • 18% income increase
  • Paid off my student loans
  • Built a community online
  • Read between 17 and 20 books
  • Gave a remote conference presentation
  • Learned about used car maintenance/purchasing (had to put a new exhaust on my car)
  • Donated 45% of my goal
  • Turned 22
  • Appeared as a guest on a podcast
  • Concerts
  • Multiple pizza parties
  • Got my own office
  • Got my wisdom teeth removed
  • Volunteered in person and online
  • Became an "expert" in my field, mentored others
  • Drove a Tesla Model X
  • Saved enough to quit my job and invest in myself
  • Started investing
  • Vlogged for a while
  • Road a seqway
  • Visited Chattanooga, TN
  • Visited a farm animal sanctuary
  • Flew to Indianapolis for work
  • Attempted to create a product and learned a lot in the process
  • Sponsored a cat through STAF
  • Assembled furniture with Steph
  • Sunrise drives
  • Visited Opryland
  • Nashville Christmas parade
  • Clay sculpting
  • Stayed fitness
  • Learned an awesome chana masala recipe
  • Got into my first fender bender (no damage to my car, I was the one who got hit)
  • Started meditating
  • Had an overnight guest
  • Multiple trips to Nashville, Cincy, and Columbus
  • Built 2 full/production apps
  • Road trip to Coshocton

Conclusion

Picture of Bitsy

Ever grateful for the life I've been granted and the opportunities that come my way. Here's to an incredible 2017!

P.S. I didn't read/edit this. Completely raw stream of thought