Oh, 2017—At Least You Tried!

After the giant national dumpster fire of 2016, I had hoped that the world would be a calmer and saner place in 2017. Yet once again, experience kicked hope in the nuts. As Dark Helmet says: Evil will always triumph because good is dumb. 🙂
That said, 2017 wasn’t personally horrible. In fact, it was a year of great learnings. Let me review the year, then offer some reflection, in this annual installment of my “year in review” blog series.

2017: The Timeline


  • Started the Grand River Writing Tribe, which had five people for most of the year and two additional candidates by December.
  • Began a two-year term as a member of the Kent County Republican Executive Committee.
  • Assumed the duties of board treasurer of The Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters, a literary non-profit based in G.R.


  • Attended the MI GOP state convention in Lansing as a full voting delegate.
  • Attended Commission Week, a three-night stay in Chicago as part of my duties as a member of the board of directors of the National Association for Healthcare Quality.


  • First complicated programming push for the Writers Squared program—a GLCL authors’ series funded in part by the Michigan Humanities Council. I was the fiscal officer on MHC’s grant, which covered the 2017 program year.


  • Get Published! 2017 conference at Herrick District Library, sponsored by MiFiWriters. I was a panelist, panel organizer and session leader.
  • NAHQ board meeting in Chicago.
  • Spoke about small-press publishing at the inaugural UntitledTown Book and Author Festival in Green Bay, Wisconsin—a great event keynoted by Margaret Atwood and Sherman Alexie.
  • Lord of the Rings trilogy watch party at AmyJo’s.


  • Took an extended Memorial Day vacation to focus on Caffeinated Press work.
  • Duane visited Grand Rapids, driving from Corpus Christi—and we got to have coffee, the first time I’ve seen him in years.
  • Spoke about health data analytics at the educational conference of the Illinois Association for Healthcare Quality in Naperville, IL.


  • Welcomed Tabitha to the CafPress board of directors.


  • Moved CafPress office up one flight of stairs in the Ken-O-Sha Professional Building.
  • Swapped rooms at home between my office and bedroom.
  • NAHQ Commission Week in Chicago.
  • Flight over Grand Rapids with Other Jason.
  • Photo hiking tour
  • New bed! Broken toe!
  • Cigar night with Tony, Matt and Scott.


  • MiFiWriters weekend retreat in Kalamazoo.
  • Family party for my cousin Callista, visiting from Colorado.
  • Kayaking trip at the Double R Ranch with most of my core and extended team from Priority Health (Brad, Brittany, Jen, Megan, Satish, Liz, Dom).


  • 41st birthday.
  • NAHQ board meeting and NAHQ Next conference in Cincinnati.
  • Home shopping spree: new PC, new bedroom furniture.



  • Story accepted for Division by Zero anthology; review of proofs for Christ’s Body, Christ’s Wounds.
  • Participated in—and won!—National Novel Writing Month.
  • Sedate family Thanksgiving at mom’s house.
  • CafPress launch party and poetry reading at Books and Mortar in Grand Rapids.


  • CafPress reorganization; four of six members of board of directors resigned or went on sabbatical, all for good/happy reasons.
  • Annual maternal-family Christmas with St. Dorothy the Matriarch.
  • Three weeks’ (almost) vacation.
  • Read a book for fun—A War Like No Other by Victor Davis Hanson.
  • Completed development of my life-long reading list.


I took a peek at the 12 separate new years’ resolutions I listed just 12 months ago. I accomplished zero of them. But I’m not dismayed by this turn of events, because I’ve learned something very, very important this year: The things you want to do and the things you have to do aren’t naturally aligned—but happy and successful people discover how to turn the things they have to do into the things they want to do.
It’s not lost on me that a ton of what’s occupied my time over the last five or so years are the things I must do. Following the Kübler-Ross model, I’ve noticed (as I look back at posts from years past) that I spent a lot of time whining in the denial and anger stages of “being busy.” Then I migrated to bargaining with myself about what magical solution could optimize my personal timestream and slice through correspondence clutter. Then I got stressed and depressed at the mountain of stuff ready to collapse upon me. Then I got to acceptance—of doing what one can do and not stressing about what’s left undone, or left delayed.
That acceptance stage was really the story of my 2017. Now, however, I realize I probably accepted the wrong thing, and I came to that conclusion this month as I reflected for the first time about whether I want to move on beyond my 17 years at Spectrum Health System. If I did leave the company, where would I go? What would I do? What about consulting?
See, those 12 resolutions from a year ago had nothing—not one damn thing—to do about work. Nothing about Priority Health. Nothing about Caffeinated Press. Instead, they were all focused on personal enrichment, good health and solid relationships. I had accepted that I had to prioritize the things I had to do so that I might squeak a few minutes of what I wanted to do somewhere into the mix. Those precious few things earned pride of place on my resolution list precisely because they were stretch goals; one rarely sets a goal to do the things one already routinely does.
But perhaps re-consideration is in order. Now that I’ve really turned my mind toward my day-job career, a whole lot of secondary considerations start to filter in, mostly around what fills the gap. And I’m aware that some opportunities to close that gap remained unrealized, because I was so occupied with what I had to do that I didn’t invest in what I want to do.
What, I wonder, might life look like if I turned the priority pyramid upside down? What if, instead of spending hundreds of hours developing and publishing books no one buys, I spent the time writing my own? What if, instead of attending events and office hours, I went running or hiking or kayaking more often? What if, instead of staying up consistently past 1 a.m., I went to bed earlier so I could wake up earlier and do cardio before heading into the office?
The things I want to do and the things I’m obligated to do remain misaligned. But that’s a fixable problem—and my only real resolution for 2018.

The Year Ahead

So. It seems 2018 will be the year of the pyramid flop. What might that look like?
For starters, I turn to my Roadmap. I’ve mentioned this document on this blog before. I started it on Dec. 2, 2009. I revise it every year, without fail, on Independence Day and Christmas Day. The contents shift over time, as you’d expect from a framework that now stands at revision No. 22. I learn a lot by looking at old versions of it!
The Roadmap begins with a section titled “The Fullness of Life,” which includes the following statement: “A man’s full measure reveals itself in the sincerity of his struggle to realize his natural potential—a capacity anchored in the development of wisdom, obtained through the bold and joyful pursuit of diverse experiences, meaningful relationships and new ideas. Steadfast nurturing of this potential leads to true optimism, the key that opens the door to a happy and virtuous life.”
It then offers my personal vision statement: “I will be a contented and healthy man who, on his 70th birthday, can look himself in the mirror without fearing the sting of regret.”
Then I offer 10 strategies for achieving this vision:

  • Cultivate serenity.
  • Nurture insatiable curiosity.
  • Remain excellent at the basics.
  • Favor action over study.
  • Foster relationships.
  • Reduce consumption.
  • Present an enticing façade.
  • Resist unhealthy entanglements.
  • Avoid comfort’s temptation.
  • Prepare for an uncertain tomorrow.

Then I look at my bucket list.

Which—let me interrupt this blog post with a special news bulletin!I knocked an item off my bucket list last week. Yes. I did it. After five years of screwing around with it, and probably between 200 and 250 hours of development over those years, I’ve finally compiled version 1.0 of my Life-Long Reading List. It’s a roster of more than 550 titles that I think a person should encounter before he or she swirls the drain. It will obviously be open to re-curation over the coming years, but it’s basically a consolidation of different canon lists with some of my own judgment sprinkled in for color. Interested in it? I’ve published it. Visit the Life-Long Reading List page. Add your additions and questions into the comments on that page. And yes, the bucket-list goal was in developing the list, not in plowing through it. 🙂

So my bucket list and my list of intermediate goals tell me what I think are valuable. They’re not necessarily where I spend my time. When I abstract my short-, medium- and long-term goals into a concise list fit for reprinting here, I arrive at the following list of goals for 2018:

  • Get back to roughly ~160 lbs. by autumn and start weightlifting after I fall below 200.
  • Aggressive summer schedule for scuba and hiking—potentially a return trip to Isle Royale—and therefore, first, return to excellent cardiopulmonary condition.
  • Do at least one of the 360 Vegas vacations.
  • Meaningfully advance the profession of healthcare quality by over-achieving on our present work for the NAHQ code of ethics.
  • Upgrade my diving certs and upgrade my radio license.
  • Get the “registered parliamentarian” endorsement.
  • Apply to the master’s program at the Jefferson School of Public Health.
  • Finish and transmit to at least one agent, my non-fiction proposal for From Pencil to Print.
  • Submit at least one short story or poem each month.
  • Complete Wilderness First Responder training.
  • Join, and do stuff with, the Fortune Bay Expedition Team, RACES and Skywarn.
  • Obtain a private pilot license.
  • Make Caffeinated Press financially sustainable through distribution-network growth and the release of paid seminars.
  • Buy golf clubs and go golfing with people.
  • Consolidate my several secondary PCs and laptops into one device and sell/retire the rest.
  • Go to Rome.
  • Go back to church more reliably.
  • Visit Denton, Texas.
  • Keep Vice Lounge Online going strong.
  • Do monthly photo shoots.
  • Re-start the monthly cigar-and-cocktail nights at Grand River Cigar.
  • Re-join a dojo.
  • Apply for an artist residency for at least one national park.
  • Read at least one book per month for fun; first priority is on the published volumes of the Oxford History of the United States.

Notice, I say goals. I probably won’t accomplish many of these items—if I can knock out just two or three, a year from now, I’ll claim a major victory—and I dare not call them resolutions. But they are, in a way, a reproach. They interrogate me: Where am I spending my time, and in what proportions, such that these goals remain elusive? What more can I do to make my “wants” into my “musts?”
The 17th year of the first century of the third millennium wasn’t a bad period for me. It was a year of stability on most fronts and progress on a few.
Let’s see how we can improve that score in the 364 days ahead.

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