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Saturday January 07, 2006, 00:42 MST

I have decided that I would like this year, 2006, to be a year of significance for me, though the way that this will manifest itself is as of yet unclear to me. Karen and I discussed something similar last night as we sat in the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport sharing an overcooked hamburger when the conversation turned to the impact that I wanted to make on the world. What kind of impact did I want to make? The bigger questions of what I wanted to get out of life. The kinds of things you can only really discuss while sitting in an airport watching fellow travelers passing by outside a window flanked with birch trees.

The big questions I can not even begin to answer to anything resembling a satisfactory answer for myself. I said that I wanted to be known, but didn't need to be famous. I said that an impact in a community would be fine, but it would depend on the scope of the community. And I think I probably said a lot of other things that, because I can't remember them right now, probably weren't really anything that I had very strong convictions about.

So I think that it's probably wise for me to start off small. I often have trouble tackling very large problems, but really enjoy solving discrete projects that eventually add up to larger systems (or have the potential to at least). 2006 seems like a reasonably discrete project in the grand scheme of my life to be able to attack with a certain amount of vigor and dedication. But the real question is what I actually mean by a year of significance. I suspect that the thinking on this will become more clear as I give this more thought, but I really wanted to get started right away. It's just so quiet here. We are in Montana, in a cabin on a mountain with a fire burning in the stove and not a sound all around. Earlier this evening, after a day of skiing (my first time out, ever, on a pair of skis, mind you), we enjoyed a soak in the hot tub that is on the front porch of the cabin. The woman who is supposed to be sharing the accommodations with us has been detained at work in California, so we are here alone. Night time is thinking time, so let's have at it.

Time

The first thing I would like to do is to take control of my time. Interestingly, every time I tried to write that sentence just now, the word "time" came flying out of my fingers as "life." To most people, and to New Yorkers especially, your time is your life. Your life is often defined by the things that you do, and the things that you do are limited by the time that you have to do them. I would like to just focus on time, and trust that life and everything else that is possibly related might flow out from there. So what exactly does taking control of time mean?

First, on a very practical level, it means going out less. I was not a very social person growing up, which suited me well. When I got to college, I had two major activities - theatre and computers, and the majority of my time outside of classes was spend either in a theatre or in a computer lab. Since this was college, my time spent in these spaces with these activities was also social time. These worlds were my world and I did not need much else to fulfill my need (the fairly human need, I believe, as a social creature) to spend time with other people. Now, with my work life wrapped up in home-based self-employment with very little contact with other human beings, and with a fairly large network of extremely social friends, I find my calendar (a topic of discussion for a later date, complete with musings on my inability to make decisions and function with technology) filled with evening activities most nights of the work week, and doubly so on weekends. It is rare to have a weekend day that does not include a brunch, nor a week night that does not include a dinner, gallery opening, birthday party, leaving drinks event, or other social engagement.

This scheduling excess hurts me in two ways. As a natural introvert, it takes me a long time to recover from time spent with other people. I enjoy interacting with people, I have fun with other people, I am generally not a killjoy sitting in the corner muttering about wanting to go home for the entire evening, but it does wear me out, and I do find that I need an extremely long period of time to recover. That's one. Two is simply that going out as much as I have been lately (which may or may not seem excessive to my friends) prevents me from doing other things that I really would like to be doing with my time. If I can cut back on my socializing, I think that I will feel better about the time that I do spend with my friends, and I will be able to create more personal time that I will then be able to split between all of the things that I really want to be doing with my time, but find that I just "can't."

Personality

There are a lot of things about myself that I don't like. I have been (rightfully) criticized as being overly hard on myself, and I can probably acknowledge that this stems both from incredibly high standards that I hold myself and others to, and from a very basic need for validation. This is absolutely ridiculous and should stop. These personality traits are hard to just turn off consciously, often having roots pretty deep into our inner being, but I am fairly confident that if I can start to air my own dirty laundry and start being more and more aware of it that eventually I can minimize it to the point of being nothing more than a quirk, and not a full on defect. In the same vein, I would like to stop being so mean to people. I am fairly quick to talk about people behind their backs, perhaps for a laugh, perhaps as just a conversation started with others I am talking to, but it's certainly not a behavior that I am proud of and I have been trying recently to curb this trash talk when I notice it happening. I will be the first to note that I have not been all together successful in this, having engaged in some this evening, but again, by making myself conscious of these things that I would like to change, I am confident that I will be able to change myself.

Work, Projects

Closely tied to the notion of time, above, is the idea that I must learn to start saying "no" to things that I can, but shouldn't, do. This generally manifests itself in the form of client work that I take on because I know that I can do it, or I can facilitate it, but that in the end, does not get me much more than money, or additional business which in turn will give me money. While, as a freelancer (though I have recently taken on a new project that moves me a bit further away from freelance and more towards entrepreneur), my life has been defined by the projects I take and the relationships I have with my clients ("take this project now because you never know where the next one will come from," my father always tells me), I find myself in the position now of having work that I enjoy, but that is taking my focus away from the things that I feel I should be doing with my time right now, which is developing some of my own ideas that have been on the back burner for as long as I can remember having a stove. The projects of mine can be considered projects, or businesses, or just things that I've wanted to do, but haven't been able to because there is always, always something that keeps me from them - my work.

I have been told that I work too much, and while I take issue with that simply because I don't think that I do, and when I do, it's because I love what I am doing, I will admit to not working as smart as I should be. I believe it was one of my high school teachers who always urged us to work smarter, not harder, and I have been terrible at taking this advice to heart in recent years. From a purely financial perspective, I find myself doing a lot of work for too little to justify the opportunity cost of not doing the things I would like to be doing. I currently have one new business venture, one ongoing business venture, one client with a lot of project work, one client with a little project work, and any number of other clients with one-off projects that come along from month to month. I am certainly not happy working this way and I think that I would be much happier with my work balance if I could focus my attentions more on the projects I really care about. I think that this means taking on fewer clients in 2006 that I have in the past, which seems to be akin to writing a suicide note in the freelance industry, and certainly counter to everything that I've been working on to this point with regards to my personal consulting practice, but I think that this is the year to rethink exactly what it is that I'm doing with my time and with my energies. I think that if I can apply them smarter that I will be much happier when it comes time to reevaluate come 2007.

These are not resolutions. I don't really like resolutions. In fact, looking back to the beginning of 2005, it looks like I had made a promise to myself to live the year "decisively, and with a lot less clutter." Did I do that? On the clutter front, the apartment certainly has more stuff in it than it ever has before, and I still find myself asking "Where does this go? Why doesn't it have a place?" more often than I would like. That said, I did make strides to start selling extra crap on eBay, and I have been a lot more ruthless in throwing things out that have questionable sentimental value. I have not written off sentimentality, and will never consider as clutter items such as ticket stubs or letters from friends. And decisive living? Well that's another topic for another day. That, it seems, has not been going as well as I would have liked, and I if nothing else, 2005 has taught me that a promise made one year need not be kept the next.

At least, not as long as you've given it a try.

Practically speaking, other things I'd like to change this year: wake up earlier, write more, focus more, read more. Will these lead to a year of significance? Probably not, but I believe that they will be indicators of a significant year. If future reflection shows me doing these things, then it will mean that I'm doing something right. Otherwise, I'll just have to adjust some more.

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