Minding the Borderlands

Mark Koester (@markwkoester) on the art of travel and technology

2017 My Annual Review

As I look back on this past year and the past couple years before that, I can’t help but think to feel gratitude. Again and again good years pile up. Each year I tell me myself that was a best years ever.

I consider myself incredibly fortunate in my projects, life and pursuits. At the same time I also have taken risks and pursued passions that have allowed me to find ways to turn each year into something better, different and evolving than the last.

In all honesty, no year is perfect. There are plenty of up’s and down’s, moments of self-doubt, serious disappointment and plenty of uncertainty. You get sick. You miss out on something. You fail. That’s life.

In spite of these setbacks, I’m happy to report that 2017 was another great year for me. Several things didn’t pane out or went sideways, but I achieved nearly all of what I had hoped for this past year and many new positive surprises too. This includes good health and fitness, interesting travel and adventures, new things learned and tried, and lots building and writing too.

Using A Year in Numbers: My Data From 2017, here is my year in review.

(For reference here are my annual reviews from 2016 and 2015.)

QUICK SIDEBAR: What is an Annual Review? How to do a Year-in-Review?

Let’s do a quick pause to share how I do my annual review. For me it is a two-step process: first, I look back and, second, I look forward.

Based on an evolving template, here are the questions I ask:

  • What went well this past year?
  • What didn’t go so well this year?
  • What am I working towards?

The first two questions cover the year before and the last one for the year to come.

I strongly believe that having some locked-in yet evolving targets for each year (month or quarter) has helped me to accomplish my goals and make good choices towards them.

With that approach in mind, let’s get started.

What went well this year?

Train and Run a Marathon: Last year was a good year of running for me. I finished my first marathon in March. After completing the marathon, I’ll admit that I had a bit of a letdown. Fortunately a few months later I got re-inspired, and the rest of 2017 showed good improvements in my marathon training, races and mental “game” too. All told, I completed five races in 2017 with Personal Bests (PB’s) in every one of them. My best marathon time was 4:07 and best half marathon was 1:45. I also managed to hit my volume goal of 1000 miles in 2017 too.

Self-Track “Everything”: After setting 20 areas to track in 2017, I spent a good amount of time in 2017 documenting and reflecting on self-tracking and personal data in general. I managed to do some interesting experiments and write out many core ideas in how to track your health, work, productivity and many other areas. Along with tracking and data collection, I discovered how important it is to engage with your data. This lead me on studies into Data Science, Machine Learning and various tools involved in those.

I believe there are some dangerous and limits to mindless tracking and the quantified self life, but that’s a topic for another post.

Travel & Visit at least 6 countries: I traveled or stayed in 6 countries in 2017 (China, USA, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Cambodia, Bahamas), including two countries I visited for the first time. I particularly enjoyed my Temple Run at Ankor Wat, and I took my first “adult” trip to the Bahamas. I got to dive with dolphins and ton of sharks.

Free Diving: I spent a month in Koh Tao in Thailand. Along with getting some more scuba diving certifications, I tried free diving for the first time. My instructors at APEA Total where supportive and experienced. It was an amazing experience and empowering too. I managed to hold my breath for over 4 and half minutes and did a free dive to 25 meters (82 feet) on a single breath. Both Magical and awe-inspiring!

My Writing: I wrote a lot this past year. Both in time and in production, I managed to get a lot of good writing done. Even after all these years, I still find myself growing as a writer and thinker. This past year was dedicated to tracking and so most of my writing revolved around topics in that space as well as forays into a few other topics of interest. My biggest lesson this past year was ensuring I put two or three writing sessions in my schedule each week and focus on “showing up” rather than worrying about what I produce. Just keep writing.

Get Stronger: I’ve never really been much for weight lifting or strength training. So this goal was a bit of a challenge for me in 2017. I’m happy to report that I’m both stronger and more muscular. It took a bit of trial and error and various readings, but I think I have a clearer sense of how to lift, when to lift and what to lift. 2017 was a year of mostly figuring it out. Going forward, consistency is key, but so is ensuring you lift appropriately too. My favorite tool is FitBod, which is a lift app backed by machine learning, so I get tailored workouts for optimal improvements.

62 Books Read: Goal was 52 books, and I finished 62, so it was a good year of reading. Like a lot of things in life, reading more means doing it consistently. I try to read about one hour or more per day, and I tend to read more while traveling or in transit.

Coding Studies: I consider myself a life-long learner, and I studied lots of interesting things this past year. But in March 2017, I decided to start studying coding again. While I’ve become quite competent in several technical areas, I was overdue for updating my skills. This past year I took several courses on Javascript, React Native, R Programming, Data Science, Continuous Integration (DevOps), MongoDB, and Machine Learning. Adding this background knowledge propelled me to building more personal stuff and being capable of thinking through future technical challenges. Going forward I plan to try and put in at least a few hours per week for coding studies as well as time for personal building projects.

Launching a Personal App: I’ve had on my goals for the past couple years to launch my own mobile app. I’ve built plenty of client apps and even my side web projects, including PodcastTracker.com, which I launched in beta in early 2017. At the end of this year, I finally got around to building and launching my own app: PhotoStats.io. The app tracks the photos on your phone and provides various data visualizations. This project was a way to put my coding studies to use and create something for the quantified self space. It’s a project I look forward to using myself for tracking my photos going forward, and I plan to continue working and promoting it in the year to come.

What didn’t go so well this year?

While on the whole 2017 was another great year and another “best” year, there were a couple of decent fuck-up’s this past year too.

Bad Jobs: For the past year I’ve been looking for my next “gig.” My company and consulting work are both strong, but I’m keen to join a bigger venture. Unfortunately, I had a few job situations that appeared fine on paper and got quite advanced in talks and interviews but didn’t pane out as I had hoped. Lots of lessons learned there particularly about ensuring I work with honest people I respect and trust. Patience is important as is not getting overly committed to something before the deal is done.

Write and Publish a Book: I made a couple of attempts at writing a book this year. I managed to produce lot of content but I haven’t quite managed to compile it into a full book yet. I keep kicking this goal forward year after year. I think this is more about my self-doubt rather than a lack of ability or organizational skills. I’m not doing it because I don’t want the possible failure.

A Bit Anti-Social: Unlike the last few years, I didn’t go out as much or attend as many meetups. This was largely a good thing since I had more time for my projects and personal pursuits. I consider myself a bit of a hermit these past couple year, especially when I’m in my China Mountain House. That said, I think I was a bit too anti-social this past year, and I should try to go out and build out my relationships better.

Leaving Money on the Table: With so many personal goals and side projects, it’s not always easy to work on client and paid work as much as I should. Most months I do a good job of getting enough paid work done, but sometimes I have opportunities I should do but don’t. I’m leaving money on the table, and because of this, I didn’t quite bank as much money as I was capable of this past year. Hopefully I can find a job that both compensates me correctly and inspires me too. But in the meantime I need to push myself to banking more money.

What am I working toward?

Like past years, I have a dangerously ambitious list of objectives for 2018. While I will continue my personal development, my primary focus now is on my career and technical skills.

In short, I want to be building and building up in the coming year.

A year or two ago, I settled on five “personas.” These are core areas that drive who I am and my personal meaning. These are Traveler, Learner, Self-Improver, Helper and Creative. Having these five core personas has made it easier to view my life mission and objectives through those optics. This enables me to focus on things that contribute (and ignore those that don’t) towards my mission.

Obviously not everything I do can fulfill those 5 areas but working on things that come close to these seems to work well. They provide a framework as well as a filter on saying yes or no to certain things.

Here are my main objectives I’m striving for in 2018:

  1. A Career Change: I feel like I’m at a fork in the road, and my next step will take me either towards finding a new career or job, repositioning and relaunching my current tech business (Int3c), or launching a new business venture of my own. 2018 is the year to make it happen, and I’m prioritizing the start of this year to get there.

  2. Run a Sub-4H Marathon: I improved my marathon time by 47 minutes in 2017, and based on my training and past half marathon times, I should be able to go under 4 hours. Some key aspects I need to work on are great strength and mobility as well as improved mental fitness and grit during competition.

  3. Create a Platform for the Data-Driven You: Last year I said I’d write a book. This year I’d like to keep my options open, but with the end goal being to create a platform for knowledge and engagement around self-tracking and data. Whether it’s web writing project, an online course or a book, I want to build and launch something that takes my experiments in tracking and data visualization for and expands it into a more complete narrative.

  4. Get Stronger: 20% Improvement on My Key Lifts: Running remains my passion hobby and big physical challenge, but I realize how important strength training is for wellness and performance. Going to the gym more often feels vague, and vague goals tend to fail. So, with researching backing me up about specific goals, this year I want to improve my strength lifts by 20%.

  5. Learn to Build Something in Python: I’ve had a basic understanding of Python for years, but never really deepened my knowledge. While Tableau and R are my primary tools and language for data science, Python is more significant player for data science. Python and several of its libraries have become the defacto standard in data science and machine learning. So I want to take a couple courses, read some articles and books, and of course build something that puts all that knowledge to use.

  6. Build and Launch Something: Whether it’s an app, web service, online course or something else, I want to keep creating. So 2018 is the year to build more stuff. Most likely I’ll continue to stay focused on the health analytics space. There are a lot of interesting opportunities here that combine the things we are tracking with data analysis to help us make better decisions about our health. I’m particularly interesting in blood biomarkers, HRV, and VO2 Max

  7. Release an Open Source Project or Code: I believe stronger in open source code movement. So like past years, I plan to share out at least some small bit of code for others to use for free.

  8. Read More Philosophy Books: While I work in tech and startups, I completed both my undergraduate and graduate studies in Philosophy. I don’t believe philosophy provides some universal truth serum or even a perfect method to get there. But I do enjoy the history of philosophy and tension of thinking across times and ideas. This past year I picked up a few books of Philosophy that I really enjoyed, so I plan to read four or five philosophy books in 2018.

Beyond these 7 high level targets, I want to run at least 1000 miles, read at least 52 books, write and walk over 4 millions steps again in 2018

Conclusion:

“And now we welcome the new year. Full of things that have never been.” - Rainer Maria Rilke

To summarize:

What went well this past year? Completed my first marathon and first free diving adventure to under 25 meters on one breathe. More coding, coding studies and launched my first personal app in a few years.

What didn’t go so well this year? Bad ventures in job hunting and on-boarding. Not enough cash earning when I should.

What am I working towards? Find my next career or business evolution. Run faster. Keep building, coding and launching.

That’s it for my year in review. Can’t wait to start executing on these things and continue to learn and evolve.

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