The countdown to the New Year is begun! As we usher in 2020, this is a good time to reflect on the last ten years. How is life different today? What did I do with the last ten years? Am I where I want to be and if not, what could I have done differently? Just as I try to reflect on the day I have just finished, I think this is good opportunity to reflect on the past year, and the past decade.
This could be a very depressing exercise. Thinking about the failures and successes of the last ten years, I tend to get hung up on the failures. In 2010 I did not give a single thought to the idea of 2020. I definitely never thought I was capable of being a father. And I’m not convinced 2010 me thought I would live to see it! Thankfully, I did survive despite many mistakes along the way and it is those mistakes that I have learned from. Learning to learn from my mistakes gave me the opportunity to make corrections and reevaluate my direction. So maybe 2010 me was a complete tool, but I can look back at the last year and feel content knowing I did my best.
Let me share some of those mistakes from the past ten years and how I intend to improve over the next ten:
Be a good custodian of my financial health
At the beginning of 2010 the future never looked so bright. I saved a ton of money in my high yield ING Orange Savings account while I was in the Army and I had built up a decent portfolio investing through Sharebuilder. Both accounts were bought out by Capital One, who coincidentally also owned my high interest car loan on a 2004 Nissan Sentra that I would sometimes fall behind on. I did pay off that car loan six months early in 2012 after working a summer job painting houses.
I burned through the savings and investments within two years, mostly spending it at bars and on alcohol. I bought anything I wanted as long as I knew it wouldn’t overdraft my account (occasionally my knowledge was mistaken) and ended up living in a house that looked more like a storage unit. And I somehow left college with over $90k in student loans. WTF?
After I finished my internship 2017, the first decent pay I received since leaving the army, and still didn’t have any money I started to realize I couldn’t keep living that way.
I’ve jumped from job to job all my life but I found a decent job after college even though I didn’t complete my degree. I started to get serious about managing my money. I started to measure how I spent it with something kind of like a budget and I started to focus on the psychological reasons why I kept acquiring so much crap. Cleaning up our cluttered space (my wife had to live in that mess too!) was like an overweight person getting into shape. First I stopped getting more stuff and then I slowly started getting rid of stuff that I did not need.
I started to be more mindful about my spending habits because of an investing app I was using and I started to use that money I saved from not buying things I didn’t need to pay off debts. First thing was the credit card, and today I pay off my credit card in full every month. Over the last ten years I slowly built my credit back up. Now I have a credit card that pays me! I have only just begun to put a dent in my student loans, but the total owed is shrinking now rather than rising. And I have a small emergency savings and the beginnings of a retirement fund.
I started trying to be a better employee and co-worker which is a real effort for me. And for some reason they decided to give me a chance. I got a raise and a promotion this year!
If I can keep it up 2030 me will be grateful for 2020 me.
Be the best husband, father, and friend I can be
When I came home from the Army in 2010 I had no friends welcoming my return. If I wanted to hang out with people I went to the bar and made friends for the evening, assuming I didn’t run into people I used to know. I’ve had a drink thrown in my face before, and I wish I never lived a life that was so selfish and arrogant that someone would want to throw a drink in my face, but that’s who I was and I have to learn from it.
I always thought being a loner was an asset. I hated going out to eat or going to movies with friends because they could never decide where to go. Or when they did I didn’t care for their choices. It was easier just to go by myself because then I could do what I wanted to do. It seems obvious now, but it didn’t at the time. What I was saying to my friends was that being in their company was an inconvenience to my wants. I thought I was a good person if I did anything nice for anyone. Truthfully, If I did anything for anyone it is because I expected something in return.
I never realized how selfish I was until a couple of years ago when I had to sit down and rethink my life. I certainly could not blame other people. If people who had never met each other all had the same reaction to me then the only common denominator is me. It’s not like I set out to be a crappy person, I just didn’t know how I could be better. Somehow I needed to change the way I acted and I had to accept my mistakes.
This is where I learned to think of mistakes not as blemishes on an otherwise clean slate, but as indicators that I needed change direction. Think of life as a canvas. At birth there isn’t much there but as time goes on marks are made with paint brushes, pens and pencils. Maybe glue and scrapbook clippings are added and the occasional puncture. At some point in life we take a look at what is on the canvas make the decision to be more intentional about what we apply to that canvas. When we make mistakes we have to practice our brush strokes more to get the desired result. There is no tabula rasa waiting for me, I have to continue painting on the canvas I I was born with.
I’m not a perfect husband, but I actually put in the effort to learn from my mistakes. I won’t be a perfect father, but don’t use that as an excuse not to try. And I’m not the best friend anyone has ever had, but I try to be there for them and expect nothing in return. I will never give up trying to learn how with the help of others.
If I can continue to make progress everyone in 2030 will be happier with me!
Take better care of my body
When I got out of the army I was in the best shape of my life, except for maybe right after airborne school. But I got complacent. I put on the freshman fifteen followed by the sophomore fifteen and so on. I was rocking the Dad bod before it was cool and I wasn’t even a dad yet! 2010 me didn’t think about being in shape to keep up with his kid, or living long enough to see her graduate from college. I think about those things now!
My wife and I met smoking cigarettes which is the funny part about our relationship. I considered quitting in 2013 and talked her into quitting with me. I lasted two weeks and she hasn’t had a cigarette since. It’s been a little over a year since I smoked regularly but not without getting nicotine from alternative sources. I started vaping a year and a half ago and when our daughter was in the NICU all the news about people dying from vaping was everywhere in the news. I switched to nicotine gum for a little while, but went back to vaping using one stressful day as an excuse. I hope to be completely nicotine free by this time next year. I really don’t want any of this stuff to be in my house while my daughter is growing up!
And I haven’t had a drink in over two years now, which has been the biggest contributor to my betterment as a person. People just don’t make good decisions when they drink and they certainly don’t consider the future. I wish that ordering stuff from Amazon and eating a whole pizza were the worst decisions I ever made while drinking, but sadly that’s not the case.
How to change the past and make a better future
I hope that 2020 me is laying the groundwork for a successful future, because I know that 2010 me was not. I can get angry at myself and point out the monumental mistakes I made, or dream about what you have happen to my 2010 investments if they had stayed invested in things McDonalds, Microsoft and Target. Or better yet, I had made those investments in Netflix and bitcoin!
That just isn’t being fair to myself and it ignores the lessons life was trying to teach me. 2020 will be the past eventually and it is up to me to do the right things today so that I don’t look back in 2030 wishing I had done things differently. You got the rest of your life to get it right, don’t waste it on yesterday.
Use this New Year to make progress, and don’t worry if you don’t get it right the first time. Life takes practice just like learning to play the guitar you’ll hit the wrong note or playing football you’ll fumble the ball. If you stop practicing you cannot expect to get any better. Start with one thing and when you get good at it use that success as motivation to move on to the next thing.
Wishing you the best in 2020.
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