Even though public opinion is pretty divisive about 2016, in my own life, between a lot of personal and professional growth, it was one of the best years. Above all, I became much more certain about where I'm going, why, and how I might try to get there.
So to make 2017 an even better year, I'm setting myself ten pretty lofty goals. These are challenges, not necessarily for the purpose of achieving all of them in the next 365 days, but to dare myself to shoot for the stars, to push myself and see where I could go.
I'm making these public for two reasons.
First, I want to hold myself accountable for the things I want to do this year. I'm taking a gap year in my formal education in 2017, and while some people have been really encouraging about the kinds of experiences and opportunities I might find (thanks guys!) others have been more skeptical. So this is a way for us to see what I can do with it, and if it turns out to be worth the cost.
Second, I want to challenge you to adopt some of these, if any catch your eye. I've learned a lot from pushing myself to believe I can do more in 2016, and I hope you can do the same in the next year.
So without further ado, I want to:
Read a book every two weeks. I was pretty slack on reading for the first half of 2016, and it wasn't until the latter six months that I really devoted myself to reading a little bit when I could. But what few books I've read so far have challenged me to think more critically about my actions and the world, and I have no intention of letting that slow down. I want to expand the kinds of books I read, from work-related nonfiction to a variety of fiction and new kinds of nonfiction. After every book I read, I'll write a short review / quip on my Medium blog to hold myself to the schedule.
Write a book and publish it. This is more of a long shot, but the vast majority of the writing I've done in 2016 has been the same nonfiction essays in blog-post format, two hundred words at the shortest and a thousand at the longest. Blogging and writing online is very fulfilling, but the degree to which books can connect readers to the message is so much deeper that I want to push myself to take my writing in a different direction and publish something longer.
Do a handful of things to learn something meaningful every day:
First, another language and culture. Learning an entirely new language and culture is a long shot in a single year, so I'll stick to getting my feet wet. A new language and culture does more than just allow you to survive in a different country. It expands who you meet and how think in ways that are otherwise impossible, and I want to expand my horizons further this year in this way.
Second, a little bit of computer science each day. Even as I'm taking a break from school, I want to keep myself from being a lazy learner. So I've made a list of online courses and video lectures to keep myself moving forward during the break. (Why CS? Because 1) it's my preferred major, 2) it's my current job, and 3) technology moves so fast today that keeping up with it requires more than just keeping up with the news.
Third, a new word each day, because learning new words is fun, and it'll help me become both a better messenger for my ideas and a better consumer of information. I'll tweet these out each morning, so you can follow me there if you want to follow along.
Teach by mentoring and volunteering at local events, hackathons, and schools, and (probably) giving lessons where I feel confident. Not only do I just like talking to people about my interests (who doesn't though), I want to expand my experience in education and learning as much as possible this year, because there's so much I want to do in the future in the area. So this is one way I'm meeting new people and helping them find what they want to do with their lives, while hopefully gaining some new experiences that'll be useful as I move forward in my career.
Draw and film more. I like the visual arts and filmmaking, but because I've been so focused on writing and product design and code this year, I've had few opportunities to take time drawing or painting or putting a good amount of effort into making films I like. I also think the more creative outlets and interests we have, and the more we exercise and expand them, we become better at thinking critically about life and living each day better than the day before. I want to give myself more chances to explore these avenues of creativity in 2017.
Code more, especially outside of work. Not that I've been lazy this past year about it – I've actually been pretty productive, but keeping that pace up, I want to learn more and create more, especially in the kinds of things that can be more experimental and creative, if less permanent. You'll see quite a few of these on this very website, I think.
Travel to new places and meet new people. At meeting new people and experiencing new things, there's very very few things more effective than traveling, and it's also great that I can time my travel plans to coincide with some work-related conferences and events. I've got four planned this year so far: two to Boston, one to San Francisco, and one to LA, and if all goes right, I may get some chances to go overseas.
Speak at an event with more than five hundred people in attendance (though not necessarily to more than five hundred people in the room). This is sort of a meta-goal. To get a speaking gig, a lot of things have to be in place, from a few items on the resumé to some demonstrable experience to good speaking skills and an idea to share. This goal is less a direct challenge for myself to get a speaking position at an event, and more a way to keep myself thinking about these sub-goals that would make something like this a possibility. But if I get to talk about an interesting idea to a big audience, I'd be pretty happy about that, too.
Speaking has a second meaning, though. I want to become more vocal in the things I care about, specifically in education and educational technology, in the importance of preserving creativity and curiosity in students, and in the importance of self-initiated learning. These are causes I'm passionate about now and hope to work for in the future, and I want to be more active in these areas today.
Create more blogs and get back to making video blogs. While I've been pretty lazy about writing diligently every week here, I also firmly believe that's contributed to an overall quality bump in the fewer words I do put on this site. I want to keep pushing myself to write often and write well when I have something to share, and I want to start experimenting with vlogs to do the same. We're in an increasingly photo- and video-centric world, and I want to grow with the world.
Give at least 3% of my income before taxes as donations to causes in education, civil rights, global relief, and health, and act on that commitment to give my time to them. This year, from every 25 dollars I made, a dollar went to charity in some form. I didn't make that much, so that's a pretty small sum, but with a better job this year and a fuller commitment to keep myself to that minimum, I want to do more for the causes I constantly talk about to make sure I'm making a difference in all the ways possible, and motivate people around me to do the same.
So that's quite a few goals. I'm probably not going to hit 10/10 this time next year, but that's fine. In the process of pushing myself to rise to the challenge, I think I'll learn even more than I did this year doing the same.
For me, goal-setting is less about marks I should hit and more about short-term dreams that give me the audacity to try things that seem impractical and the confidence to fail in the process without giving up. And I think you could benefit from looking at it the same way.
Above all, among the many things that made my 2016 great were three core elements: my belief that I can make some positive impact in the world, my commitment to do them while having fun and being happy with each day, and the people around me who supported me in the process. And regardless of how I do on the ten bullet points above, I'll be keeping those the same this year.
Here's to a breathtaking, technicolor 2017.
If you enjoyed this piece, you might also enjoy my next post, Finding passion.
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