Annual Review: Looking Back at 2011

Exactly one year ago today I published my very first blog post here on Pocket Changed. 147 blog posts later and a lot has changed. I've learned so much in the past year. About myself, about working online, and about blogging. Next week I'll be publishing a post specifically reflecting back in a "what I've learned" way.

For now though, I'm going to take a look back at my 2011 as a whole (online and offline).

If you are looking to do your own annual review here are the two best blog posts to check out.

  1. First read this post by Chris Guillebeau about how to do an annual review and how it is different from just making New Year's Resolutions.
  2. Next, head over to Benny Hsu's blog Get Busy Living and print out the annual review worksheet he put together.

I'm not going to go as in-depth in this review as Benny's worksheet does, but I'm going to focus on the biggest things that happened to me in 2011.

Let's start out with a simple graphic I put together highlighting the major events in my life for 2011.

Theme of 2011: Change

Ironically similar to the title of this site, the theme for my life in 2011 was change. I spent the end of 2010 thinking a lot about what I wanted the next few years of my life to be like. Going into 2011 I had recently graduated with my MBA, proposed to my now wife, and started blogging. I was also getting to the breaking point in my corporate job (I was ready for something new, different, and challenging).

I remember talking with my wife, as we drove down to Portland from Seattle to spend Christmas 2010 with my brother's family, about what 2011 would be like. We wrote down a few very important areas of our lives we wanted to have figured out in the next year.

  1. Wedding: We were getting married in July and we wanted it to be perfect.
  2. Careers: We were both in job situations that weren't fulfilling to us (at the time my wife was also applying to graduate school).
  3. Location: As much as we both loved the culture of living in the Northwest, the rain and grey that is Seattle was getting to us.
  4. Travel: Seeing new places is a huge thing for both of us and we wanted to continue to explore.

We both agreed that by 2012 we would be in a place we wanted to live (San Diego), have our careers figured out (her: photography, me: using the web to help people build better lives), travel more (more on that in a bit), and have our wedding go smoothly (it was exactly what we wanted).

What Went Well

Quit My Job: I did one of the riskiest things I've done in a long time (possibly ever) when I quit my comfortable cubicle job. The very next day we packed up all of our stuff in a U-Haul truck and drove it to San Diego. The whole experience was one of the most exhilarating, exciting, and uncertain times of my life, but I wouldn't change it for the world. I didn't end up getting any sort of leave of absence from my job as I expected, but in a way that has made me work that much harder towards making my other plans work instead of "falling back" on having a desk job again.

Working on the Road: While we were driving 10,000 miles all over the U.S. I was still able to get a lot of work done. I managed to work just as many hours while traveling full-time I as did working at my day job. The freedom of being able to work from anywhere was both a blessing and a curse. I began to understand how limits need to be put in place when you work independently of a structured environment like a 9-to-5 office environment. Otherwise, you could work seven days a week simply because you enjoy what you are doing so much that you forget to relax from time to time. Luckily, this is the case for me. I love what I am doing right now and can always find the motivation to work.

Grew Closer to Friends & Family: Between the weekend of our wedding and all the places we went on our road trip, Jen and I spent a ton of quality time with friends and family this year. We made memories that we will have forever and are now closer to everyone because of the changes we made in our life.

Met Amazing People & Developed a Network: In business school and books I've read, I always scoffed a bit at the whole "networking" philosophy. I always viewed it in a speed dating, slapping your business cards into people's hands, and moving on to the next group of people kind of thing. At my old job I didn't ever feel like "networking", partially because I never saw a job there that I wanted to have. After attending WDS in July and really making the most of the conference I came away with an amazing network of like-minded people that I can call friends. (Many of which I was able to visit with on the road trip.)

Traveled (a lot): While I may not have made it around the world much this year like I have in the past with my trips to Asia and Central America, I spent almost four of the twelve months in 2011 traveling. My wife and I took a two week honeymoon, we spent three months driving around the United States, and we took a 5 day trip to Glacier National Park in Montana with friends. We traveled so much that we even got a little burned-out (more on that in a minute).

What Did Not Go Well

No Published Manifesto: When you are trying to "make a name for yourself" it helps if you have something to point people to that explains what you are all about, what your philosophies are, and something you can continually refer people to. After listing some of the best manifestos on the web recently, I've realized I really need to put out one or two of my own. I am now to the point where I know what I want to say.

Business Plan Competition: I competed in a business plan competition in April and failed to place in the top three (to receive cash prizes). I was confident in how I would do at the event, and with how much time I put into it I was disappointed that I didn't place. Despite the fact that I didn't place, I learned a lot from the process and still followed a big portion of the plan I put together, except for...

Creating a Product: In my plan I laid out a product that I was going to launch in 2011 and I hesitated in creating it after the competition because I started to think it wasn't going to sell. Since then I have toyed around with the ideas of many "products" to offer on Pocket Changed. On each of them I have continually delayed putting together any major product or guide past an outline form. 2012 will be different.

Delivering a Service: I did some coaching this year, but I didn't charge any of my clients. I also did a bit of web design, but the work was for either previous clients or people that were referred to me. I'm planning to develop this side of my business more in 2012. (If you have any web design or financial/career/life coaching needs feel free to email me.)

Missed Having a Home-Base on the Road: Part of the reason why my wife and I are getting a place to live in San Diego in January is due to the fact that we both miss having a home. If we wanted to keep traveling for weeks or months at time we have the flexibility to do that right now financially, but we are ready to have a home again and re-coup a bit. It has been over three months since we left Seattle and it will have been four months of being "homeless" once we move into our new apartment in North County SD, but we are ready to have a home again.

Didn't Stick With a Fitness Routine: At times throughout the year I was doing really well with going to the gym three or four times a week and really pushing myself. During other times (see: the road trip) my health took backseat to other priorities. This is an area I would really like to focus on in 2012.

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On Thursday I'll be posting an annual review looking forward into 2012, but before we start looking forward, how did your 2011 go? I'd love to hear in the comments below.

(And a special thank you to Sean Ogle for the idea to do a graphic for my year in review.)