An End-of-October Update

A few things of interest—

  1. Weight. My weight continues to drop at a steady clip. From my birthday in mid-September until this morning, I’m officially down 18 lbs. and unofficially down an even 20—I started recording on 9/15 but at the beginning of September, I had weighed myself at 2 lbs. higher than that starting baseline. I’m not doing anything dramatic. Two things, mostly: the Mediterranean diet and almost no alcohol. I enjoy what I’m making (steel-cut oats with blueberries for breakfast, chicken caesar salads with tons of spinach and kale for lunch, pan-seared fish and steamed veggies for dinner, the occasional cup of yogurt or packaged of mixed nuts or an apple as a snack) and never feel hungry. I continue to be surprised that my current rate-of-loss meets or exceeds what I experienced in 2005 despite that at present, I’m doing no cardio, compared to 60-minutes of recumbent cycling, seven days a week, back then. I think the real difference is diet. In 2005, the only thing I looked at was calorie counts. So, yes, I ate 1,200 to 1,500 calories per day, then as now. But then, I paid no attention to macronutrient ratios or the contribution of sugar and salt to that endless litany of Lean Cuisines I chowed down. Now that I’m cooking for myself and looking more holistically at the composition of my food, it’s a different story. And that’s despite the passage of almost 15 years! I’m now at the weight I was at, on 11/1/2014. I have tracked my weight in MyFitnessPal since late 2012, so I can see the graph. At this clip, I’ll be well below my 12/1/2012 starting weight (and low point) by the end of the year, which will put me at a level I haven’t enjoyed since 2011.
  2. Autumn Cold. Contributing to the weight loss, I think, was that last week, I was sick, so my appetite suppressed a bit. I caught a cold, which, in fairness, is still in its wrapping-up recovery phase. It started Monday afternoon with a vengeance. Then it calmed down by mid-day Tuesday. I said to myself, “Self, that’s weird.” Then Wednesday, the River of Snot™ returned. Then Thursday through today, it was there, but as mild as a cold can get. I’ve never had one like this before. And all that, without taking any OTC meds for it.
  3. Saturdays! Last Saturday, Tony came to town to record a four-show marathon for VLO. That was fun. And this past Saturday, I spent half the day at Grand River Cigar engaged in substantive business planning, working through my 2020 goals between conversations with Cigar Bob and Dr. John and the occasional stogie and beer, and lamenting the atrocious first-half performance of MSU vs. Penn State. This planning session was necessary to wrap up a bunch of other things. And next Saturday, with the start of National Novel Writing Month, I’ll be again hosting my Saturday Morning Write-In. On the plus side, I’ve been able to stagger my work so that I’ve got it all wrapped by Friday evening, rather than letting work bleed into weekends. Which means weekends are … weekends again, a phenomenon I haven’t really enjoyed in several years.
  4. Sundays! Yesterday was my fourth consecutive “Sabbath Sunday.” This practice, I think, is now going to be part of my permanent schedule. Here’s what I do: Wake up whenever nature or Murphy d’Cat decides the night is done. Make coffee. Recite Lauds then read. At 11a, I bathe and put on a suit, then hoof it to Sacred Heart for Mass under the Extraordinary Form. Stop somewhere for lunch afterward. Come home, and read until dinnertime. Read some more. Recite Compline, go to bed. In the interim, I do not touch my computer or my phone. No checking email or responding to text messages. When I started a month ago, I also began Vol. 1 of The Gulag Archipelago. (The unabridged version of Solzhenitsyn’s classic; the one with a foreword by Anne Applebaum.) As of last night, I’m at the 60-percent-done mark of Vol. 3, having just read of the Kengir rebellion. I also, in that time, wrapped up The Conservative Sensibility by George F. Will and The Madness of Crowds by Douglas Murray, both of which I had started in September.

So that’s mostly it. I’m spending my weekdays working (I’ve got a contract document-review job) and planning the delicate pax de deux of closing down a bunch of stuff that’s currently on my plate while starting up other new things for 2020.

Life is pretty good right now.

Sabbath

Yesterday was intertesting.

After many months of thinking about it, and now that my “de-cluttering of the calendar” has opened the door to it, I took my first official, honest-to-goodness, no-compromises Sabbath day yesterday in the first time in — well, more than a decade.

Here’s what I did:

  • Woke up around 8 a.m., made coffee, attended to the cats.
  • Recited Lauds I from the Breviarium Romanum, editio typica MCMLXI — the last fully Latin, traditional version of the Divine Office before the Vatican II liturgical reforms. I’ve got a lovely three-volume set of the 1963 printing, re-set by Barionius Press. I blame Patrick for this situation. 🙂
  • Read the second chapter from Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago (I’m on the first volume of a three-volume unabridged set).
  • Showered, put on a suit, and went to Sacred Heart for the 12:30 Mass — Fr. Sirico celebrated a High Mass for the 2nd cl. feast of Blessed Virgin Mary of the Rosary. (Sacred Heart, every Sunday at 12:30, offers Mass according to the Extraordinary Form, the version using the 1963 edition of the Missale Romanum, which again pre-dates the Vatican II liturgical reforms. Of significance, both the old-style Mass and the old-style Divine Office are still permitted; they’re just not the ordinary forms of those liturgies.)
  • Came home, changed into walking garb.
  • Grabbed quick bite to eat.
  • Went to the north trailhead for Kent Trails, near the old Coca-Cola bottling plant. Went on a 5.23-mile walk with a 16:32 pace (good for 1 hour, 29 minutes on the asphalt trail) and a good heart-rate distribution throughout. So, speed-walk but not a jog.
  • Came home, showered again.
  • Read chapters three through six of Gulag. Enjoyed a pear and a little bag of mixed nuts, and a ton of icy distilled water, as well as some lap time with Fiona d’Cat.
  • Recited Compline.
  • In bed by 10 p.m.

Here’s what I didn’t do:

  • Touch my computer.
  • Use my iPhone or Apple Watch for more than a grand total of five minutes of screen time, cumulatively, for the day. I checked the weather and set UA Record to track my walk and Spotify to play a symphony sampler. That’s it.
  • Worry even a little about what my task list looked like.
  • Chores or errands.

The great thing about yesterday was that it felt like a day. It didn’t fly by. It didn’t drag. It felt deliberate. And refreshing. And peaceful.

I recently watched the four 2018 debates between Jordan B. Peterson and Sam Harris about the utility of religion. I’ll have much more about that, later. For now, one thing that strikes me that Harris and the New Atheists overlook is that religious practices, honed over millennia, remain responsive to the rhythm-and-flow of human needs on a minute level.

Catholics have it on good authority that man wasn’t made for the sabbath, but sabbath for the man. Regardless of your own religious beliefs, there’s an essential kernel of truth there that the atheists and the not-very-observant lose at their peril. So this practice, I think, must now become my norm. Not that I’m complaining!

Oh, and as of this morning, I’m down nine pounds since my birthday. I’ve been tracking my weight since 2013 in MyFitnessPal. I’m now tied with the low point of 2017 — i.e., I’ve not been this “light” in two years, and I felt it in both the suit I wore yesterday as well as my jeans that I wore Saturday. Both cases, I needed to move in a notch on my belt. So, yay.

A Descent into Silence

Today marks the first day of October. Superficially, nothing’s significant about today. Climatologically, October ranks sixth in terms of overall warmth in West Michigan, barely edging its closest rival, April. The decline of high temperatures, which peak mid-July, accelerates. Already, signs of the color turn dot the trees. A few days ago, a cool spell—daily highs dipped into the mid-to-upper 50s—reminded us that we’re gearing up for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and the new year.

October in the Grand Rapids area starts nice, in typically in the upper 60s, and ends cool, typically in the 50s. Lows can reach into the 30s (and are projected to this week, in fact, according to the National Weather Service).

I love this time of year.

The hustle of the summer calms. The motif of harvest and the transition from life-to-death reminds us of the circle of life. Shorts and flip-flops give way to jeans and boots. Sweaters come out, windows close a bit, and days begin to shorten noticeably as we slide into the homestetch before the solstice. The urge to grab a book (I just bought the first volume of The Gulag Archipelago) grows larger while my recliner and a warm fire and a purring cat conspire to abduct me on the first genuinely cold night of the season. Things get quieter. Silence, a peaceful quietude, descends almost like a lamb.

All this downshifting coincides nicely, I think, with an Advent-like spirit of renewal. Of all the liturgical seasons, Advent’s my favorite, in part becuase I’m always the most inspired to re-think and renew in that narrow window between my birthday and the final denuding of the trees.

In the last two weeks, I’m down seven pounds. Most of my inboxes are cleared out and my task-list recurated on a strategic scale. A new, slower rhythm already governs my weekly schedule. My stress levels—normally imperceptible to me—feel lower. Between an increase in hiking and hitting my exercise bike, and a day spent kayaking, and evenings focused on writing, I’m unwinding a bit, and planning for a calmer but more meaningful 2020 by thinking about foundational stuff and dialing back the aggressiveness of my goals list.

It’s a good day. A quiet day.

Mister Personality

Applied metrology, when directed at human behavior, offers an endless fount of insight. I recently took the Understanding Myself personality test — a well-validated, methodologically rigorous instrument that offers 10 clusters of 10 questions and then generates a report about how one ranks on the Big Five Aspects of personality.

I reviewed my report. Then I said to myself, “Self, this is interesting.” Not surprising but interesting. So I thought a public reflection is in order.

The Big Five Aspects

Well-established literature among psychologists suggests that all people exhibit deeply ingrained personality characteristics along five dimensions: agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism and openness.

The Understanding Myself assessment presents your high-to-low score for each trait in terms of a percentile rank, which is how I’ll relate it below. Quotes in this section all source from the personalized report I received as part of the scoring tool.

Agreeableness. I’m more agreeable than 43 of 100 randomly selected people, a result that’s considered typical. “People with typical levels of agreeableness are seen by others as somewhat cooperative, warm and considerate. They look for the best in others … and are reasonably interpersonally tolerant. [They] are somewhat forgiving, accepting, flexible, gentle and patient.” This trait breaks into two sub-traits — compassion (72nd percentile, moderately high), “interested in the problems of other people,” and politeness (16th percentile, low), “not deferential to authority” and “respectful but only to people who clearly deserve and demand it.” The mean score for men is 38.5.

Conscientiousness. I’m more conscientious than 45 of 100 randomly selected people, a result that’s considered typical. The mean for men is 49. “People of average conscientious levels generally do their duty, although they are not sloggers … [they] waste some of their time and have some proclivity to procrastinate. They are reasonably decisive, neat, organized, future-oriented and reliable. They can maintain focus, but have some trouble fighting off distraction.” This trait breaks into two sub-traits — industriousness (22nd percentile, low), “focus less on work than others” and orderliness (71st percentile, moderately high) “more disgust-sensitive than average, somewhat judgmental, and have a tendency toward more authoritarian political attitudes … [but] can be good at ensuring that complex, sensitive processes are managed properly and carefully.”

Extraversion. I’m more extroverted than 69 of 100 randomly selected people, a result that’s considered moderately high. “People with moderately high levels of extraversion are quite enthusiastic, talkative, assertive in social situations, and gregarious.” This trait breaks into two sub-traits — enthusiasm (36th percentile, moderately low), “rarely excitable, not particularly easy to get to know,” and assertiveness (88th percentile, high), “put their own opinions forward strongly and tend to … be influential and captivating.”

Neuroticism. I’m more neurotic than 20 of 100 randomly selected people, a result that’s considered low. “People with low levels of neuroticism rarely focus on the negative elements, anxieties and uncertainties of the past, present and future. It’s rare for them to face periods of time where they are unhappy, anxious and irritable, unless facing a serious, sustained problem. Even under the latter conditions, they cope well, don’t worry too much, and recover quickly when stressed. They’re good at keeping their head in a storm, and they seldom make mounts out of molehills.” This trait breaks into two sub-traits — withdrawal (15th percentile, low), “rarely suffer from or are impeded by anticipatory anxiety,” and volatility (29th percentile, moderately low), “tend to not to vary much in their mood … express their frustration, disappointment and irritability quite reasonably and not very often.”

Openness to Experience. I’m more open to experience than 97 of 100 randomly selected people, a result that’s considered exceptionally high. “People with exceptionally high levels of openness to experience are almost always characterized by others as extremely smart, creative, exploratory, intelligent and visionary. They are extremely interested in learning, and are constantly acquiring new abilities and skills. … They are exceptionally interested in abstract thinking, philosophy, and the meaning of belief systems and ideologies. They live for cultural events…. They are very likely to enjoy writing (or even to be driven to write). They enjoy complex, abstract ideas and deeply love to confront and solve complex, abstract and multi-dimensional problems.” This trait breaks into two sub-traits — intellect (97th percentile, exceptionally high), “obsessed by engaging with ideas and abstract concepts, require constant exposure to novel information” and openness (90th percentile, very high), “very open, creative people love beauty … they require an outlet for their creative ability or they cannot thrive.”

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator & Keirsey Temperament Sorter

Over the years, I’ve taken the MBTI a half-dozen times or so. The results have been surprisingly consistent insofar as I flip between INTJ and INFJ. The KTS breaks personalities into 16 categories based on a binary branch over four traits — concrete/abstract, cooperative/pragmatic, informative/directive, and expressive/attentive.

Bucketize the 16 basic personality types and you arrive at four cohorts: Analysts, Diplomats, Sentinels and Explorers.

An INTJ is an analyst. This role type is an architect or a mastermind — people who are “imaginative and strategic thinkers with a plan for everything.” INTJs “are introspective, logical, rational, pragmatic, clear-headed, directive, and attentive. As strategists, they are better than any other type at brainstorming approaches to situations. Masterminds are capable but not eager leaders, stepping forward only when it becomes obvious to them that they are the best for the job. Strong-willed and very self-assured, they may make this decision quickly, as they tend to make all decisions. But though they are decisive, they are open to new evidence and new ideas, flexible in their planning to accommodate changing situations. They tend to excel at judging the usefulness of ideas and will apply whatever seems most efficient to them in accomplishing their clearly envisioned goals. To Masterminds, what matters is getting it done — but also learning the principles of how to get it done efficiently and well; that is, at a professional level of quality. However, they may not give much thought to the social cost of getting there, ‘focusing so tightly on their own pursuits [that] they can ignore the points of view and wishes of others.'” (Wikipedia)

An INFJ is a diplomat. This role type is an advocate or counselor — people who are “quiet and mystical, yet very inspiring and tireless idealists.” An INTJ is “introspective, cooperative, directive, and attentive. They have a strong desire to contribute to the welfare of others. Counselors are gratified by helping others to develop and reach their potential. Counselors often communicate in a personalized manner. They tend to be positive and kind when dealing with others. Counselors are good listeners and can sometimes detect a person’s emotions or intentions even before the individual is aware of them. This ability to take in the emotional experiences of others, however, can lead Counselors to be hurt easily. Counselors usually have intricate personalities and rich inner lives. They tend to understand complex issues and individuals. They are generally private people who keep their innermost thoughts and emotional reactions to themselves. This quality can make them difficult to get to know. Counselors value harmony, which they work to maintain at home and at work. They may lose confidence, become unhappy, and even become physically ill if subjected to a hostile environment. Counselors may be crushed by too much criticism, though they may not express their feelings to others. Counselors desire harmony in their homes and find constant conflict to be extremely destructive to their psyches. Their circle of friends is likely to be small but deep and long lasting.” (Wikipedia)

I tend to flip on the T/F dimension (cooperative vs. pragmatic, idealistic diplomat vs. strategic rationalist) while the three other attributes have proven remarkably immutable over nearly 20 years of periodic assessment.

IQ Test

An IQ test doesn’t measure how “smart” you are. Rather, it measures short-term recall and computational ability. High IQ correlates to processing speed, verbal ability, working memory and a capacity for solving multi-step or abstract problems. It’s not a stand-in for having a large store of facts. Very high-IQ people can suck at trivia games, for example.

Years ago, I completed a proctored IQ test as part of a complex admissions process. Later, I took a university-administered IQ test online. Those two tests came in at 133 and 131, respectively. Split the difference and call it 132. The mean IQ is 100 and the standard deviation is 15, so I’m a bit better than two standard deviations above the mean. If I were in a room with 100 randomly selected people, I’d have a higher IQ than 98 of them and a lower IQ than one of them.

360 Review

In late 2016 I took a 360 Review assessment as administered by the Human Resources team at Spectrum Health. In it, I, my upline leaders, my direct reports, and a small selection of peers rated me on several business categories, then compared me against the 6,285 data points from other 360 Review assessments conducted by the organization over the years.

The results:

  • Roughly in line with the population average for business acumen, decision making, and inclusion & diversity
  • Significantly better than the population average for developmental leadership
  • Significantly worse than the population average for flexibility & results focus

I’m particularly pleased with this result because the peer group included five people selected by my vice president (whose scores also factored into my mean). At the time, she was looking for reasons to get rid of me and my boss. I survived that round; Bob didn’t. So the fact that I didn’t suck in every category was well-nigh amazing. A 360-degree review is a powerful weapon of workplace terror if it’s deployed with ruthless efficiency by a senior leader who knows how to influence the results.

Tying It All Together

I think that these assessments, provided that they’re validated instruments and not Buzzfeed-style quizzes, serve as an effective mirror for thinking about yourself in a holistic way. I don’t think that these assessments should “reveal” any new information. A person who’s surprised by his or her results on any of these tests should reflect carefully about their degree of self-understanding.

Yet each instrument, in its own manner, says certain useful things from a specific frame of reference. Considered at a 50,000-foot level, they can and should color your strategic thinking — how your actions should shape your goals and preferences.

When I tie everything together, I get a sense of myself as a mix of strengths and weaknesses. And each strength and each weakness, in turn, offers its own mitigation strategy.

For example, put me in a situation where I have to deal with complex de novo problems without regard for institutional hierarchy, and I’ll move the world. Put me in an environment where public measures of success subordinate to private webs of interpersonal networks, and I’ll consistently struggle to thrive. I know this. So were I ever to seek a “normal” 9-to-5 job again, my questions for a prospective employer must relate to culture and leadership styles.

Another example: Ye olde bucket list. What do you want to do, and why? Do your bucket-list items, and the reason they’re on the list in the first place, commensurate with your personality type? If you score low in openness, for example, is writing The Great American Novel really a helpful goal? Or will it just be an opportunity to feel bad later about your perceived inability to achieve your dreams?

A bit of self-knowledge goes a long way. But remember — tendencies in populations aren’t prison sentences for individuals. You are more than your results.

Birthday Reflection, Part XLIII

A week ago today, I inaugurated my 43rd spin ’round the sun as a tiny fleshy dot upon this big blue marble. Using a process I call “math,” I discovered that such a number is smack-dab between the ages of 18 and 68. Which means I’m at the midpoint between the transition into adulthood from childhood, and the transition from adulthood into that second childhood known as retirement.

Well, then.

Casual readers of this award-winning, fan-favorite blog have no doubt noticed a general decline in posting frequency over 2019. Such relative quiescence isn’t accidental. In fact, it’s coupled with something else I did — banishing Facebook.

(Okay, banish is too strong a word. I deleted the app off my phone and today marked the first time in roughly six weeks that I logged in through a browser. I’m not deleting the app — I administer some business accounts — but for all practical purposes, I’m off FB. This situation will likely endure. So if you’ve got great news to share, please email me.)

Anyway, I’m overdue for an update, given that the last one was five months ago. I’m writing in the late evening, with the windows open an an early autumn rain pounding the driveway and the feline overlords unusually sedate. A perfect environment for writing, so to quote Sophia Petrillo: “Buckle up, slut puppy.” Here we go.

A Birthday Reflection

I don’t welcome my 43rd year with any bold new insight or special resolution. Instead, I merely observe that the horizon upon which I think and act seems to have lengthened, which has affected how I assess the relative value of any specific course of action. Once upon a time, I thought in terms of days and weeks. Later, I thought in terms of months. Now, I tend to think in years and decades.

What I mean is this: When I was in my 20s, I tended to consider what I was going to do “this week.” Maybe if money was tight, I’d have to think about how I’d pay the rent “next month.” It never occurred to me to think about “next year.” In my mid-to-late 30s, however, I pondered more about the goals I had for “next year” whereas “next week” was largely off-radar. That change of frame proved useful. I had advanced my career to the point where I didn’t need to think about how I was going to pay the rent or my car loan. I could therefore strategize, in the autumn, about a Vegas trip the following spring, for example.

In my early 40s, I find my life-strategy time focused more and more on how I’m going to tee myself up for retirement. Being single with no dependents, I have a lot of flexibility. But I also lose a bit of security because I can’t count on a spouse and maybe a few crumb-crunchers to circle around me when I’m wrinkled and grey. Planning for a transition from prime adulthood into old age means laying plans now. And although I don’t envision ever retiring per se, I do foresee a transition in stages from the burning-the-candle-at-both-ends life I’m now living, to a gradual stepdown in frenzy over many careful years of preparation. I aim to be the 85-year-old man brandishing a cane and a rapier wit, speaking at yet another book-launch party. Not the guy sitting on a rocking chair outside a by-the-month motel, sucking on an oxygen tank and worried about whether I’ll get a new power scooter to help with The Diabeetus.

I’ve been watching several of the YouTube lectures of Jordan B. Peterson, a Canadian clinical psychologist and faculty at the University of Toronto. He’s recently famous for some of his political controversies as well as his two major books, Maps of Meaning and The 12 Rules for Life. I read the latter book when it came out, and I’ve been reflecting on Peterson’s specific advice. Some of his ideas resonate, like the notion that life’s basically a bunch of suffering — don’t expect to be happy, but at least try to be less avoidably miserable. And that a life worth living takes a lifetime to build, “so get on with it, man.”

One does not become a wise, respected, less-miserable elder by default. So “get on with it,” indeed. More about that subject after we conduct a whirlwhind tour of the last few months.

My Summer in a Nutshell

Life since the tail-end of April has been, as they say, a box of chocolates:

Travel. I’ve gone to Las Vegas twice (May and August) with a bunch of friends from the Vegas-focused podcasting community. Tony and I trekked to Louisville for a long weekend over the Independence Day holiday, for distillery tours and gambling. I spoke at a conference in D.C. in June. I flew to Denton, Texas in late July to reconnect with my DDB/DICKS friends. I made a day trip to Chicago to meet with friends in May. I’ve been out of Michigan for at least part of each month, May through September.

Outdoors. Progress! I started flying lessons, although I’m pausing that initiative temporarily given how often I’ve been bounced among flight instructors (they need to get their $@%^ together). I’ve done a few day hikes, including along the North Country Trail. I’ll be kayaking this coming Saturday on the Grand River with my friend Scott. Went scuba diving a few times in inland Michigan, and gave my updated gear a nice shakedown. Completed some great courses through Fortune Bay Expedition Team, including a hot-weather medicine class and a day-long river-rescue course on the Rogue River.

Reading. My reading slowed a bit over the summer because I’ve been preoccupied with writing — an acceptable tradeoff. But I’ve managed to devour George F. Will’s The Conservative Sensibility and Kevin D. Williamson’s The Smallest Minority. That said, I’ve also purchased a ton of books that sit on my to-be-read shelf. Twenty-four titles await review, ranging from books about moral theory and literary editing standards, to Jim Harrison’s Off to the Side. I look forward to colder weather and its invitation to build roaring wood fires in my office fireplace while enjoying soft Bach, a fuzzy blanket, a good book and a purring lap cat.

Writing. I’ve been writing so much that my fingertips hurt. I’m closing in on the 100k-word mark for From Pencil to Print, my reference book for emerging writers. I recently closed the first draft of the infamous (to me) Chapter 4, which focuses on the most common structural and mechanical problems I’ve encountered over five years of vetting cold queries. That chapter, believe it or not, clocks in at 25,000 words. But they’re good words. (Please, Lord, make them be good words.) I’ve also plunged headfirst into Delivering MIRACLES, a book about the proper staffing and structuring of healthcare quality teams. I’ve really struggled with the organization of this latter book, but during prep for a presentation I’m delivering in October, inspiration struck and now I’m really excited for this book because I think I “cracked the code.” And on a personal front, I recently released one of my erotica novellas on Amazon — under pseudonym, of course. And I really enjoyed the three-night writers’ retreat I did in August as well as my semimonthly meetings of the Grand River Writing Tribe.

Working. Nearly a year and a half after I left Priority Health, I’ve long since found solid contract work that’s replaced my former W-2 income. My major client right now — a New York media corporation — brought me aboard to perform technical document review full-time, and as such, I get to be a temporary W-2 employee of a tiny Florida-based payroll firm instead of a pure 1099 contractor managing invoices. The upshot is that in addition to an easier long-run tax position, I now enjoy decent medical, dental and vision benefits at very nice rates through this payroll firm. It’s still contract work that I negotiate, but through an agency instead of through direct invoicing. In addition, I’ve joined groups like the Small Business Association of Michigan, the Grand Rapids Chamber and the Economic Club of Grand Rapids. In fact, I sponsored a session at SBAM’s annual conference this year and moderated a panel on work-life balance. Professionally, even though I’ve been quiet, I’ve been busy on these books and on earned business.

My Autumnal Re-Centering

So, a good summer. But the autumn? Horse of a different color.

Whilst recreating in the Lone Star State, I had a bit of a health scare in the form of a significant attack of heartburn. So far, so anodyne, right? Happens to everyone at some point — but not to me. Long story short, I’m at a pivot point where an immediate health detour is necessary while a delayed or avoided detour will prove not-okay. Much of what’s going now on re-creates the end of 2004, so it’s familiar territory. Back then, I needed an EGD because I had significant esophageal erosions and scarring arising from mostly asymptomatic GERD. Plus, obesity. Plus, exhaustion. Plus, pre-diabetes. Plus, plus, plus. So in January 2005, I was in a do-or-(eventually)-die moment. So I did — I left grad school, left the newspaper, lost 110 pounds in 2005 (and another 30 pounds in 2006), got a gym membership and used it five or six times per week, started karate, took up long-distance running, etc. And I maintained those gains until mid-2009, when the quadruple-whammy of a major auto accident, several rapid changes of domicile, a new high-drama boss at the hospital, and a significant Vitamin D deficiency brought back something like 60 pounds in six months. Since then, I’ve been on a fairly regular cycle of plateau, stress response, re-plateau.

So, yes. It’s 2004 all over again, but even more so. I now need to repeat 2005, or else.

The funny thing is that I really don’t consciously perceive overt stress. I don’t suffer from depression and anxiety. My stress is more biological than psychological — I do too much and am spread too thin, but I’ve always been loathe to say no to things and to stop doing things that ought to be stopped, so I end up burning the candle at both ends and then dropping a match in the middle. And because there’s so much to do in parallel, everything progresses glacially, frustrating some and creating a negative feedback loop for me, emotionally, that eventually manifests physically.

It takes a significant shock to upset that cycle. And now, for the first time since 2004, the shock has been delivered.

The practical upshot is that I’m clearing the plate of almost everything. Call it the Great Purge of 2019. On an immediate front, I canceled my travel to Phoenix and Rome (the former for practical reasons related to health management). And I’m unwinding practically everything else. I resigned last week from my role on the Write616 board of directors. I discontinued participation in a peer-networking group online. I’m not yet ready, in the context of this blog, to fully disclose everything that’s changing, given that some readers here will be affected by some things that haven’t yet been announced in their proper context. Let it suffice that a lot of stuff is moving from my must-do column to my stop-do column between now and New Years Eve, but details will emerge in the official channels where those details more properly belong, in the days and weeks to come.

In 2005, I hit the reset button and stopped everything but my day job. What filled the gap proved largely unplanned. Not bad, but not planned. In 2019, I’m hitting the reset button again — but at least this time, I’ve got a strategery.

The Road Ahead

So what’s next?

Well, mid-September through the end of January will be a period of hibernation. No out-of-state travel. A lot of big rocks in my jar will move to different gardens by the end of the calendar year. I’ll be spending my days working and my nights reading and writing. A lot of the stuff that’s clogged my calendar and my to-do list now glides toward the dustbin, with some things — being more significant — requiring several months of transition. My mornings will begin with reflection and exercise; my nights will end with journaling.

My diet’s changing. In fact, it’s already changed, and apart from a beer after an NCT hike last Saturday, I haven’t had alcohol or a cigar since I podcasted with Tony two weeks ago, a fact made glaringly obvious when I stepped on the scale this morning and saw a 5-lb. reduction in just one week. I’m getting back into aerobic exercise with a determination borne of necessity. I intend to take two days each week for myself, a pure sabbath on Sunday and a maintenance Monday for clean-up, errands and personal time.

You are unlikely to see me on social media, but you may come across me at church — I recently joined Sacred Heart. You may find me at a writers’ group or a one-off local cultural activity. You might find me on the trail. Otherwise, you’ll find me at home.

But yes. Autumn began yesterday. I’m taking the season to hunker down. To be quiet. To do and to be and to fix.

Because I’m really excited for what 2020 holds, and I aim to be maximally ready for it.

Six Fruitful Weeks

Where to begin?

Over the third week in March, I traveled to the Crescent City for the 2019 New Orleans Bourbon Festival. Had a great time — stayed with Tony at the Harrah’s N.O. hotel/casino then welcomed the opportunity to meet with a dozen friends from as far away as California and Manitoba. A wonderful time, with wonderful people, and wonderful brown spirits, and wonderful culinary delights.

But here’s the thing: In an attempt to be clever, I opted to save a few hundred bucks by flying out of Chicago O’Hare instead of Grand Rapids. So to maximize my time working, I figured I’d take the Amtrak from Grand Rapids to downtown Chicago, then the L straight into O’Hare. In theory, it was a plan of unparalleled brilliance, foiled only by the fact that the train engineer suffered a heart attack, prompting a three-hour pause in St. Joseph, Michigan, and a sad Jason rebooking his flights to (a) arrive later than planned, and (b) to cost more than just flying outta G.R.

On the way back, given that I had plenty of time both on the train and at the (lovely) Metropolitan Lounge at Chicago Union Station, I waxed internally philosophic about the Big Meaning of Life questions.

Some conclusions:

  • I’d rather experience now than plan to experience later.
  • Bootstrapping big things isn’t a wise idea. To paraphrase my late, beloved grandfather: Anything worth doing is worth appropriately resourcing before you start. Seat-of-your-pants business development is a recipe for mediocrity.
  • My arch-nemesis, the Jonah Complex, thrives in those little minutes when it’s easier to surrender to acedia than to hone one’s game. Yet — just as with training a cat to avoid the near occasion of sin — it’s better to create an environment where the defaults are configured to channel good behaviors rather than indulging in self-flagellation at the point of failure.

In light of those reflections, I’ve spent a large amount of the month of April taking new stock of my portfolio of assets and liabilities — financial, emotional, experiential — with an eye toward (as they say) defecating or abdicating from the throne.

So here’s what’s happened this month:

  • I’ve paid off my car, heavily invested in my business enterprises and wiped away all my credit-card debt. (In fact, I’m writing this post from the Starbucks on Alpine Ave., while said car undergoes a much-needed interior and exterior detailing.)
  • I booked a week-long vacation to Italy for late summer. Never been to Europe, and don’t want to wait until I’m 70 to go. Itinerary includes Rome (my home-base hotel is a stone’s throw from the Vatican), Naples, Assisi and Capri. May take a brief side trip to either Florence or Venice, if time permits. Been doing some Duolinguo lessons to prepare.
  • I wrapped up my notes and paperwork for a paid speaking gig I’m doing in June in D.C.
  • I started flying lessons, out of West Michgian Regional in Holland. Went on my first flight last week and have two more flights scheduled this week, plus I attended a “how to pass your checkride” seminar with an FAA examiner. Cool stuff. On track to earn my private pilot license by the end of the summer, and I’m grateful to the support from my friends Patrick and Jason (both pilots) for their encouragement and advice. I’ve got a great, engaged instructor, which really makes a difference.
  • I replaced the BCD (the air vest) for my scuba gear and registered for enough specialty courses this summer to potentially earn Master Diver certification by the end of the season. I’m already booked for Feburary 2020 to visit Bonaire, a little Dutch island off the coast of Venezuela, for a dive trip with two diving friends.
  • I fleshed out and resourced Lakeshore Literary Logistics, a company that compliments Caffeinated Press. L3’s purpose is book-and-lit-journal distribution, not publishing. Although I still am active with Caffeinated Press, I’ve gotten almost completely out of editorial project management and am instead focused on L3 and distribution planning. On the CafPress front, John is focusing on the lit journal and Brittany is now handling editorial project management in addition to her work as CFO.
  • I’ve developed one of the books I’m working on, From Pencil to Print: Practical Advice for Emerging Authors, to roughly 50 percent complete. The manuscript presently stands at about 65,000 words, and I’ve already enlisted the support of one of my interns as well as a few writing colleagues to examine sample chapters. I might even have a guest author for a special-topics chapter lined up. A complete first draft will likely be ready to go by the end of the summer. Still haven’t decided whether I want to shop a proposal or self-publish, but I have time to figure it out.
  • The other book I’m developing, Introduction to Health Data Analytics, is now fully fleshed and I’ve got a kitchen cabinet of healthcare industry colleagues on board to review sample chapters. I’m expecting to be first-draft ready sometime over the upcoming winter.
  • My work with Gillikin & Associates is going well, albeit quietly. I’ve got a part-time client in New York that’s prompting me to be a bit less aggressive with marketing right now. I recently joined the Grand Rapids Chamber, the Small Business Association of Michigan and the Economic Club of Grand Rapids. Look forward to lots of professional networking over the next few months.
  • Although my travel schedule is fillling — right now, I’m booked for Chicago, Washington DC, Dallas, Las Vegas (twice), Rome, Phoenix and Louisville — I’m slotting in time this spring to do a kayak trip and, I think, an overnight backpacking loop.
  • A confluence of events conspires to draw me back into more regular church attendance. Part of it relates to just shifting priorities, and part of it relates to a dive into the minutiae of the Extraordinary Form (for both the Mass and the Divine Office) that migrated from curiosity to intrigue.
  • The podcast is going well. Vice Lounge released a 4-inch-by-six-inch flyer with basic strategy guides on one side and tasting trees on the other. A nice touch for long-time friends of the show.

So, yeah. I’ve been busy. And although I did pull a back muscle a few weeks ago that laid me up for a while, all is well. The feline overlords are content, and no immediate crises seem to be brewing.

It feels like things are coming together nicely, and that 2019 will be the year that several of my bucket-list items cross off the list.

A Bit About a Bite

While catching up with some news websites yesterday, I stumbled across an article that linked to a two-year-old study about sugar. The TL;DR is that added sugar seems to be bad for one’s health — obesity, diabetes, etc. In fact, there seems to be a growing consensus among researchers (and not the sky-is-falling conspiracy-theorist variety) that high levels of sugar are outright toxic and should be treated like cigarettes: “Sure, one cigarette isn’t going to kill you, but enough of them will, so don’t have the ‘one’ to begin with.”

Fair enough.

Second verse, same as the first, regarding too much alcohol.

References abound, too, to stories about a person’s microbiome, and how the macronutrient profile of what we eat directly affects the flora inside our intestinal tract, which directly affects our overall heath.

Oh, and don’t forget, adequate sleep matters, too. And getting enough exercise, especially cardio.

So the message that some health experts now share is relatively simple: Get enough sleep, eat a balanced diet, avoid unnecessary sugar intake, don’t smoke, don’t drink to excess, and get at least a little exercise each week.
Got it? Good. Now gather ’round kiddies, cuz grandpa’s got a story.

Picture it: Grand Rapids, 2018. Since last autumn, as I’ve spent more time at home, I’ve been cooking more. (By more I mean, “I’ve started cooking.”) I’ve also gotten a bit more exercise, smoked fewer cigars, enjoyed comparatively fewer cocktails, and have been paying more attention to my sleep. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Diet matters. In 2005-2006, I lost 110 lbs. through a combination of diet and exercise. But funny thing: My diet in those days focused almost exclusively on calorie restriction, not on macronutrient balance. So I’d eat salads, and lean cuisines, and sometimes a pudding cup or something. I kept it below 1200 calories daily for a long time — but I didn’t change, e.g., my sugar intake. And even though I did, on average, more than 90 minutes of vigorous cardio a day at the time, my weight dropped at a rate of 2.5 lbs./week. Which on one hand is great, but on the other hand, not what it could have been. “I must have a slow metabolism,” I thought. Oh, and at that time, I never drank and never enjoyed a cigar.
Now, however, my diet is much more controlled. I tend to eat the same things, consistently:

  • Breakfast: Steel-cut oats with a light dash of cinnamon and a handful of freshly washed blueberries, plus coffee.
  • Lunch: Spinach salad with a few pinches of an Italian shredded-cheese blend and some shredded, plain chicken breast (the Meijer shredded rotisserie breast boxes, available in the deli, are awesome). Add a tablespoon of light balsamic vinagrette and a glass of low-sodium spicy V8 juice. Plus a Vitamin D3 pill.
  • Dinner: Pan-fried fish (usually salmon, tuna, swordfish or mahi-mahi — stuff that tolerates a cast-iron skillet) and a steamed vegetable, usually broccoli, brussels sprouts or asparagus. Rarely, just once or twice a month, I’ll swap in something like a rare filet. Serve with a tall glass of frosty distilled water.
  • Snacks: Sometimes a 30-gram pack of mixed nuts, sometimes a few tablespoons of 1 percent cottage cheese.

I don’t follow this diet perfectly. And that’s the point: I might go four or five days eating like this, then (as with last Friday) go to a social event where we all eat pizza for dinner and wash it down with chocolate desserts. Increasingly, I feel awful for a day or two after these “splurge” days, because my gut bacteria are adjusting to a better diet.
Remember how I lost 10 pounds a month exercising like a rabid monkey and starving myself? I lost 10 pounds last December by doing almost no exercise and enjoying holiday food, but cutting sugar and alcohol (most of December was dry) and eating well when I ate in. Never felt deprived, not even a little.

Healthy eating isn’t just about one or two lines on the Nutrition Facts label. I am not a nutritionist, so don’t take my word for it, but all of the reading and research I’ve seen in the peer-reviewed literature suggests that a variation on the Mediterranean Diet seems to be optimal. You need a good mix of protein, fats and carbs to thrive; looking just a calories, or just at sodium, or just at carbs, isn’t the right approach. It’s generically recommended that your daily intake include 50 percent carbs, 30 percent fats and 20 percent proteins. Mine is a bit different; I’m at roughly 25 to 30 percent carbs, 35 percent fats and 35 to 40 percent proteins, at between 1,500 and 1,700 calories per day. The point is, I’m looking broadly at all three categories instead of just obsessing about the calorie count. After all, if you’re on a 2,000-calorie diet, eating 2,000 calories of donuts every day probably isn’t the best solution. And while it’s true that the only way to lose weight is by burning more calories than you consume — calorie restriction really does matter! — your gut microbiome flourishes when it’s got a good, healthy balance. And with a flourishing microbiome, your risks of cancer, heart disease, obesity, irritable bowel syndrome, and a whole host of other problems seems to reduce significantly.

Cut the sugar. Last week, I brought snacks to our writers’ group meeting. Pączki happened to be on sale, so I bought a four-pack of blueberry ones. And I ate one in the office. And I felt awful. I guess I’m recalibrating to a more low-sugar lifestyle; six months ago, I could have put all four away and wished for a fifth. That I can see such an immediate causal relationship between my feeling of well-being based on something as silly as a Polish pastry says a lot, now that I’m less desensitized to it.

Exercise doesn’t matter how you think it does. I used to exercise to aid weight loss. Now, I exercise less than I should (but more than I used to), but I do it for cardiovascular health. You’re not going to lose weight exercising unless you’re doing insane cardio every day and are strictly cutting calories (which, by the way, isn’t a good combination, he says from experience). Hopping on the bike for a few minutes every other day or so isn’t going to shred a pound, but when I go on a hike, I won’t struggle to keep up with the group, either. In fact, I went on a New Years Day hike with the Fortune Bay Expedition Team this year. When the hike, which proceeded over horse trails near Yankee Springs State Recreational Area, concluded roughly six miles later, I was a the head of the class, not the back. And there were two dozen of us out there that day! So I might still look a bit doughy, but I’m in better shape than I look for my age and weight.

Don’t skimp on sleepFor several months now, I’ve been sleeping with my Apple Watch. I use an app that tracks my sleep. It calculates a “sleep deficit” on a rolling seven-day average. And you know what? When I can keep the deficit to 5 percent or less, I feel great. When it gets above 10 percent, I can absolutely tell. I feel awful, I get crabby, I can’t focus as well. When I only get five or six hours of sleep for three or four days in a row, my performance declines markedly. Now that I have data, I better understand the phenomenon.

Moderate your vices. I’ve smoked fewer cigars in the last few months than I have in many years. Not deliberately, per se; with the more intense cold, and me keeping the back porch wide-open for Ziggy d’Cat, it’s just been too unpleasant. So I’ve not enjoyed cocktails while puffing on a stogie. And I’ve been consuming fewer cocktails in general, as well. I like to sip on things when I write and read, but it turns out that ice water works just as well as a 700-calorie martini. I don’t mind having a couple of cigars per week; CDC estimates suggest a negligible overall risk from puffing (not inhaling) at that volume. But moderation.

I’m more aware than I used to be about the signals my body sends me. I guess I’d rather not get to the point where the only signals it sends are of the “Danger, Will Robinson!” variety.

From Inbox Zero to Inbox Infinity? Or, Why I Learned to Stop Stressing About My Unread Message Count

The last three days have been focused, to remarkable degree, on communicating. Mostly catch-up stuff. Monday and Tuesday were spent, 10 hours each day, just responding to accumulated messages. Whilst munching dinner yesterday, I came across an interesting article in The Atlantic by Taylor Lorenz titled “Don’t Reply to Your Emails: The Case for Inbox Infinity” that triggered some introspection about all of this effort.
Lorenz’s argument, in essence, is that one ought not waste the time trying to keep abreast on communication because it’s a never-ending fight that offers relatively little return on investment. In fact, responsiveness invites additional unnecessary correspondence that adds to the load, in a never-ending spiral of slavery to inboxes and social dashboards. The more responsive you are, the more people send to you, thus the more you have to deal with. Thus, choosing to not read and respond to messages is a healthy life choice and a savvy business strategy: Embrace Inbox Infinity.
I get it. But the Midwestern Nice guy in me thinks that a one-sided screw-you policy borders on the sociopathic.
So I crunched some numbers:

  • On any given day, I receive anywhere from 300 to 500 emails. Of those, about one-third are personalized-yet-unsolicited messages that don’t get caught by spam filters, one-third are notifications of some sort that I inspect and then (usually) delete, and one-third incur some sort of response — a reply, a forward, a follow-up task. So I must engage in some way with anywhere between 100 and 150 emails daily. And that’s across four actively trafficked email accounts and an additional five lightly trafficked ones. I’ve occasionally kept an Inbox Zero-like state for a week or two. Consistently, I need to spend 90 minutes per day in Outlook to make that happen, and just for email.
  • On average, I receive roughly 100 social notifications each day, across Facebook (personal), Facebook Messenger, six Facebook Pages I administer, two Facebook Groups I administer, eight Twitter accounts I singly or jointly own, my personal LinkedIn account, two LinkedIn company accounts I administer, my Instagram account, two Instagram company accounts, and one mostly dormant Tumblr account.
  • I receive between zero and 50 text messages per day.
  • For Caffeinated Press, Write616, and Vice Lounge Online, we’ve deployed a ticketing system, so those websites incur additional messages (between zero and a dozen, each day) that almost always require non-trivial follow-up. Some of the CafPress tickets are editorial queries, which on average take 15 minutes each to resolve for the easy ones and 30 minutes for the hard ones. In addition, both CafPress and Write616 provide community forums that include segments with more-or-less active communication. For the CafPress forums alone, over 2018, I lodged more than 300 new messages. And probably 12 of the last 20 hours I’ve spent cleaning up comms has occurred in the CafPress ticketing system, where I’ve personally touched or closed roughly 120 tickets over the last three solar cycles.
  • For Caffeinated Press, Write616 and Gillikin & Associates, all of which use the Zoho One platform, we use Zoho Projects, and most project-related correspondence happens in the context of per-project forums or discussion threads.
  • Some of the editorial consulting work I do relies on a private Slack channel — not high traffic, though, which is good.
  • Telephony? I can be reached (“reached,” he jokes) over 10 different possible phone numbers associated with three physical telephones and five voicemail boxes.

In other words, I get a ton of correspondence stretching over nine email accounts, five social platforms, five voicemail boxes, three ticketing systems, three project-management platforms, two community forums, a slack channel and iMessages. And a partridge in a pear tree.
I understand that I’m an unusual use case. I lead two small businesses, run a freelance editorial gig off the side of my desk, co-host a long-running podcast with a vibrant listener base, volunteer on a non-profit working board and have my own hobbies and personal writing endeavors. And believe me, I’m not complaining. I’ve made my choices and even though I’m scheduled (really) from 7a to 11:30p Sunday through Saturday, I’m doing what I want to do, and I own the trade-offs I’ve incurred to split my time in so many diverse ways. “Living your best life,” or whatever the kids these days hashtag.
So, even though I’m inundated with communication, it’s not like I’m a victim of it. Yet to keep abreast of everything and to be highly responsive in the short term, across all communications channels, I’d have to dedicate 2.5 to 3.5 hours, 7 days a week, to do nothing but communicate. Not to work. Just to communicate. Assuming that the prompt engagment wouldn’t generate additional engagement that opens that window even wider.
So in most cases, I elect to not spend that much time managing communications, and instead pursue work that can lead to better financial outcomes for me and for the initiatives I support. There’s always a balance, of course, and I don’t always get that balance perfect, but if given the chance to do something of value, or to talk about doing something of value, I’ll prefer the former to the latter.
And that’s the rub.
I think people who have invested their time differently — e.g., folks who work one day job and reserve evenings and weekends for friends, family and a hobby or two — mosey up to the communications table with a very different set of expectations. When they send emails, they expect responses within a day or two. When they leave a voicemail, they expect a call back. When they reach out on social media, they expect acknowledgement. For them, timely reciprocal engagement is a default framework for viewing interpersonal communications.
Which, you know, ain’t exactly unreasonable.
Yet it’s not terribly unusual for me to incur read-and-respond lags of 90 days or more. Some of my pending tickets are nine months old. None of this delay is a function of me hating the sender or deciding that my needs are more important or not caring a whit about others’ good-faith reach-outs. It’s a function of being swamped. Having decided that 2.5 to 3.5 hours every day managing inboxes and dashboards isn’t in the cards, then every day I fail to keep up accumulates a debt that swells and swells and swells, interest compounding relentlessly until eventually — and I do this two or three times per year — I take a day or two off, decamp to coffee shops, and do nothing but play communication catch-up, triaging what I can, deleting what I can’t, and moving forward as best as I can.
So what’s the solution? How does one bridge the gap deep cultural gap between timely reciprocal engagement and inbox infinity?
Some attentive blog readers may have picked up, over the last year or so, on this theme of me writing about the tyranny of the inbox. I went astray, I think, in originally trying to be omnicompetent. So I set expectations that, as they slipped, didn’t help. I recognize that others have legitimate needs to which I should respond, so I’ve been working hard over the last year to erect a bridge that crosses that gap while minimizing (never, alas, eliminating) the attendant friction for both sides. In some ways, it’s like learning a different language or navigating a foreign culture.
I think — I hope! — I’m making some progress, though:

  1. I’m focusing more and more on getting people out of my email inbox. The use of ticketing systems and project-management tools means that others can swoop in as needed. (I’m still working on getting the “others” to actually swoop in, which is a conversation for a different day.) It’s easier for me to schedule time to view a project’s notification history or a ticket queue than to pick apart disparate emails amidst a sea of email noise and then magically plot the projects in my head.
  2. I’ve been much more aggressive lately in telling new-to-me people that (a) I don’t do status reports, and (b) expect long delays in routine correspondence. Most people understand and offer the attendant grace. A few people don’t seem to believe me when I tell them as much, so I’m continuing to refine the message so that expectations are set up-front.
  3. I’m going to start being more aggressive in redirecting communication to the right channel. For example, I cannot conduct business conversations on my personal social-media channels. Not because I’m trying to be a dick about it, but because Facebook and Twitter aren’t part of a task-based, discoverable workflow.
  4. I’m committing in 2019 to hold more frequent and available open office hours. If something is so important that it requires immediate attention, the door is open to an in-person conversation. If it’s not important enough for a direct chat, then the priority clarifies itself.
  5. I’ll continue to ignore the bullies who hector, cajole, demean and dismiss in their escalating attempts to get attention. This phenomenon happens more often than it ought with authors, who (despite early level-setting) nevertheless have persuaded themselves that I’m at their beck-and-call then become angry when their beck isn’t called. I will never justify myself or give in to digital bullies. Ever.
  6. I accept that some things that might warrant a response, in the abstract, don’t rise to a return-on-investment level in the real world. Therefore, I won’t beat myself up if I can’t attend to everything.

I used to get stressed about falling behind on communications. (I don’t talk about my mental health on my blog, but if people understood what havoc Caffeinated Press hath wrought, emotionally —.) I don’t stress anymore. I suppose I’ve embraced the Serenity Prayer. Part of the “doing many things” lifestyle is that I accept that not everything that should be done, can be done. At least, not by one person. And scaling back — to only do those things where you can guarantee you can get 100 percent done on a highly predictable schedule — presents its own set of risks, mostly financial; the more tongs you pull out of the fire, the more dependent you are on just a few investments, and if any of those dwindling investments dry up, the result is catastrophic.
I’ll admit, though. For a while, I really did toy with saying, “Damn the torpedoes! Full Inbox Infinity ahead!” But I just couldn’t. I might not be perfect, but I do try to not be an asshole.
Yet as I continue to stumble on, doing the best I can, I’ll at least take some solace in not feeling as bad about myself as I used to.

An Auspicious Start

The new year is a mere 2 percent complete but so far, so good:

  • Kicked the new year off right with a 6-mile hike along parts of the North Country Trail and some horse trails, near Yankee Springs Recreational Area. Went well. My brother came, too, which was nice. The hike was sponsored by FBET; I’ve recently registered for a series of FBET trainings to occur over the next few months.
  • We held a board of directors meeting for Caffeinated Press. John is back from sabbatical. Woohoo!
  • Met the new landlord.
  • Already prepared federal taxes for Gillikin & Associates and VLO Media.
  • Lots of odds-and-ends wrapped up.
  • Welcomed two new members to the Grand River Writing Tribe.

January’s going to be a flurry — lots of stuff that I must wrap up before the end of the month, because starting in February, my daily life is going to take a major change for reasons I can’t share yet.
But as I said: So far, so good.

2018: A Most Extraordinary Year

As we prepare to kiss A.D. MMXVIII goodbye, I am astonished at where I am today versus the last time I wrote my annual end-of-year reflection. Without a doubt, three major life lessons loomed large.

  1. Resiliency illuminates the upside of any major change. Much of what transpired in 2018 could be perceived as being risky or harmful or scary — indeed, on more than one occasion, friends and family in-the-know about 2018’s myriad “opportunities” would ask me if I’m okay. Yet every time I experienced a significant disruptor, I sought the potential benefit. Not in a grief-management way, but rather by (newfound!) innate disposition. I’m in a much better place because of it; if the events of 2018 had unfolded in, say, 2012, I would not have adapted — I probably would have melted down in a cascade of self-defeating behaviors and thereby set myself back a decade. I touched on this truth in this year’s birthday retrospective. I think a big part of the puzzle rests simply in getting older. As Gillikinism No. 39 teaches, “Experience puts meat on the bones of theory.” Early in one’s life, every drama represents something new and potentially terrifying that must be learned and accommodated. Later, every drama rings familiar and therefore proves surmountable. And lest you think that the foregoing paragraph reeks of self-congratulation, let me reiterate: This resiliency triggered by default, not by dint of heroic will. When you arrive at a point in life where you’ve grown comfortable with risk, where every crisis feels familiar and therefore resolvable, you’re freed to act in a more upbeat and strategic way. I’ve naturally hit that point, I think. Not because I consciously worked at it, but because I’ve incurred enough rotations on the Big Blue Marble to reset my expectations and to augment my emotional toolkit.
  2. People thrive within their networks. I’ve been horribly, horribly slow at recognizing the power of networks. Part of my resistance follows from my mild introvert tendencies, and part of it hails from a solution-oriented approach to problem solving. An old boss of mine, Tracey, once told me that co-workers sometimes grew frustrated with me because I’d go to a meeting and in the first five minutes, announce a solution to whatever problem the meeting was intended to address. Even though my solutions were often “right,” they engendered a hostile reaction because I didn’t allow everyone else to arrive at the same position at their own speed and as part of a consensus decision. My last year or so at Priority Health emphasized the degree to which people make decisions not based on facts or logic but on emotional responses to colleagues. Especially as a full-time independent consultant, I’ve re-learned that people are your biggest advocates and your biggest barriers but the trick to success is to ceaselessly work the network. Grow it. Tend to it. My friend Tony used to encourage me along the lines of Mr. Kool-Aid Man, Ivan Meissner, founder of BNI. I wish I had paid more attention to Tony’s counsel in previous years. Let it suffice that in 2018, I finally learned the lesson that it’s better to build relationships with people and only then help them solve their problems, than to solve their problems then assume that you’ve therefore built a relationship.
  3. Infrastructure matters. You cannot do complicated things well without an infrastructure that supports appropriate planning and execution. This year, I learned the hard way that no matter how effective I was at managing tasks, without a clear hook into my calendar, I wasn’t as good at executing on those tasks. With Caffeinated Press, for example, I spent a huge chunk of the middle part of the year fixing and tweaking the electronic infrastructure that we had built with duct tape and twine — well north of 70 percent of my dedicated CafPress time, for several months — to do nothing but maintain status quo. What a waste! So we migrated to Zoho One, and now my maintenance consists in ensuring the bill gets paid. On a personal front, I migrated away from my beloved Todoist to Microsoft To-Do, because of its deep hooks into Outlook and OneNote. So now instead of just listing the things I need to get done, I schedule them on my calendar. And I ensure that my calendar is prudent: Time for work, some reserved time for enrichment, etc. Every Sunday night, I plan the week ahead, re-curating my task list and then harmonizing my calendar to make the tasks work. I’m still doing more than I should — I’ve incurred significantly more obligations than time available — but I’m making good progress on whittling down the task list. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when, instead of looking at your to-do list and saying, “Wow, I’ve got 168 items on it” (which is today’s count) “so what should I do next?” you block time to prioritize and schedule those items and then slot them into your schedule.

A Review of 2018

Looking at things thematically:
Career. In January, it became obvious that I had no real future in the Advanced Analytics department at Priority Health. I have lots of opinions about what happened, and why, but I’m obligated at present to keep those insights to myself. Let it suffice that by May, I had departed Priority Health. Instead of seeking employment elsewhere, I opted to launch Gillikin & Associates, a healthcare quality and analytics consulting agency. (And, yes, I’ve booked business in 2018, woohoo.) So far, so good. I’ve done some speaking gigs (I presented two sessions at the NAHQ conference in Minneapolis in November, for example) and have been intermittently bidding on state and federal contract opportunities. All of my infrastructure work is done; I opted to “freeze” active client acquisition until I could complete the bolus of publishing work that has been on my plate. Looks like the freeze will lift in January, and I’ll be ready to go at 110 percent. I’m actually rather excited by this development.
Domicile. I’ve lived at The Fortress on Prospect Avenue for a full eight years now. I rent. My landlord finally sold the house; it closed on Dec. 21. The new landlord — who so far cannot even be bothered to text me his name — seems to want to keep business as usual, although “business as usual” entails a substantial increase in the rent I’ve been paying if he declines to maintain certain concessions that the previous landlord had extended. So I’m not sure where I’ll end up, or when. This place isn’t worth the alleged full market price, a point the new landlord will eventually learn to his everlasting grief.
Writing. Early in the year, a few short pieces of mine saw print. I continue to write, although my focus in the second half of the year was trained on two long-form non-fiction projects: From Pencil to Print, a guide for emerging writers, and Introduction to Health Quality Analytics, a textbook for people new to healthcare, quality or analytics. The Grand River Writing Tribe remains strong; we lost Marie to an out-of-state move but have, by the end of 2018, tentatively welcomed two additional people, thus reaching our cap of eight participants. Oh, and I released a few more of my pseudonymous erotica novellas to market, and they’ve generated some reasonable sales. That’s cool.
Publishing. Woof, what a year. For all practical purposes, Caffeinated Press in 2018 was the Jason and Brittany show. The upside is that the two of us have done a tremendous amount to “unclog the drains” and to streamline infrastructure and plan strategically. The downside is that with just the two of us, editorial work was slow. We enjoyed a pair of delightful interns this summer, who helped us immensely, and I learned a lot about the daily life of other small presses through our membership in the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses. As usual, the challenge is editorial production. It’s literally just me, and I literally am so time-constrained that progress grinds slowly. And every time I get help, the help vanishes after training and orientation. I persist, but ….
Podcasting. Tony and I are about to cross the 400-episode mark with Vice Lounge Online. In February, we’re going to spend an entire weekend together to plan a six-month series of content so that we can spend more time doing value-add things for our Patreon supporters. With thousands of downloads per episode, an active Facebook group with more than 200 people, and well north of 1,000 Twitter followers, the podcast is doing well.
NAHQ. This year proved interesting. In April, the board of directors adopted a new Code of Ethics for the profession of healthcare quality. I was privileged to co-chair that work, in partnership with my colleague Andrew and our staff partner Karen, and to serve as lead author for the new Code. However, given my transition from Priority Health to Gillikin & Associates, I resigned my position on the NAHQ board of directors in September. I look forward to working with NAHQ and my colleagues in the profession in new ways in the future.
Write616. Although we had a good year, and I was gratified at the response to the Get Pressed program that I facilitated, we’ve come to recognize that helping people one writer at a time is fundamentally unsustainable. As such, we’re pivoting in 2019 toward developing a major multi-day literary festival. Lots of time has been spent over the last two months preparing for it, including our board hiring its first executive director. We’re planning a major fundraiser in late January. It’s a critical time for this tiny non-profit, and a significant amount of my time lately has been spent on ensuring the success of this transition and this fundraiser.
Travel and Events. Eleven out-of-state trips in nine different months. December proved to be the only month without me going to an event somewhere.

  • January: NAHQ working trip to Chicago, IL
  • February: Casino trip with friends to Windsor, ON
  • March: Visit to Denton, TX to see the DDB crue
  • April: NAHQ board meeting in Chicago, IL
  • May: Training in Wakefield, QC; 360Vegas Vacation and Zorkfest in Las Vegas, NV
  • June: NAHQ commission week in Chicago, IL
  • July: Casino trip with friends to Windsor, ON (again)
  • August: MiFiWriters Retreat in Dowling, MI
  • September: 360Vegas Vacation in Las Vegas, NV; NAHQ board meeting Denver, CO
  • October: MAHQ conference in Traverse City, MI
  • November: NAHQ conference in Minneapolis, MN

Politics. I didn’t get too engaged this cycle, although I did in December win another two-year appointment to the Kent County Republican Executive Committee, this time as an elected member instead of a statutory one. Most of my political volunteering went to the campaign of Matt Hall, a friend of mine from college who successfully challenged incumbent Rep. Jim Maturen (Calhoun and parts of Kalamazoo counties). Matt won election by more than 11 points in November and takes office later this week. I’m excited for him.
Health. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” — early in the year I hit a high point of weight and poor cardiopulmonary fitness. Both have gotten back under control. My diet is the best it’s been in a decade: My home-dining habit mostly consists of large salads for lunch and steamed veggies and fish for dinner. The biggest obstacle fell into the “adult beverages” category, but I’ve discovered that simply not buying them means I have nothing but distilled water to sip in the evening as I read and write. As if by magic, weight goes down. Who’d a thunk it?
Hobbies. I knocked a bucket-list item off my list by earning Wilderness First Responder certification. I joined the Fortune Bay Expedition Team guild and have taken several trainings with them, including a land-nav practicum a few months ago. I’ve gone on several hikes along the North Country Trail, mostly in the Manistee National Forest in Newaygo County. I’ve purchased the “ground school” self-study equivalent for a private pilot’s license and have plowed through the material, with another go-around planned soon. About the only thing I didn’t do was dive this year, but that’s okay — I need a new wetsuit anyway, and I really should get my gear torn down, cleaned and inspected.
Relationships. One thing about 2018: I’ve definitely made more of a goal of keeping relationships kindled. Lots of lunches, dinners and after-work beers.
Reading. I made a point to read more in 2018. I’m working on a blog post that outlines the year’s reading program, but it’s not yet ready for prime time.
Saw-Sharpening. After I saw the writing on the wall at Priority Health, I endeavored to treat 2018 as a year of growth and skills improvement. I’ve done quite a bit of reading, and studying, and online course completion — all with an eye toward making me a better person. These investments proved pricey, but valuable.

Goals for 2019

So what does the new year bring?
A commitment to diversification. I really don’t aspire to go back to a middle-tier job in a 9-to-5 organization. Yet I’m aware that consulting has its pitfalls and its periods of more-or-less consistent revenue streams — and I don’t have a Significant Other to lighten the load. So I’m really trying to settle into a few things. First, to advance Gillikin & Associates as a primary source of income. Second, to get Caffeinated Press to be wholly self-funding. Third, to keep Vice Lounge Online fully self-funding (it crossed the threshold this year, with Patreon). Fourth, to keep my contract editing work with DotDash viable as a funding backstop. Fifth, to establish and then promote a media company to harness my publishing expertise to bring in personal revenue. The two major book projects I’m working on are unlikely to be significant revenue generators, but they’re significant credibility enhancers, so the slow walk to having four to six sustainable sticks in the fire continues apace.
Next, a commitment to good health. I end the year with better cardiovascular fitness than I’ve had in many years and a slimming waistline. The journey continues. Cutting extraneous carbs (lookin’ at you, 800-calorie martinis) will help. So will more time on the trail.
Also, a commitment to long-term stability. My most pressing need is to figure out a long-term residency plan. I’m not sure whether I’ll remain at The Fortress for another month, another quarter, another year or another decade. I’ve got a few ideas, each with a relative mix of trade-offs. Similarly, I still need to develop a strategy for dealing with changes in priorities. Too much of my week is inherently unpredictable because new opportunities, problems and the like creep in. Unlike most people, I don’t enjoy the structural stability of a family and a 9-to-5 job and plenty of free time on nights and weekends. I’m literally scheduled from 7a to 11:30p, Sunday through Saturday. The unpredictability of my priority list has adversely affected folks like authors who demand status reports and whatnot, reports that I refuse to provide because I don’t have a freakin’ clue what the answer is. There are weeks that my schedule derails by Tuesday. So either I refuse to accept new opportunities — a ridiculous solution — or I start to trim stuff that really doesn’t evince a satisfactory ROI, like certain editorial projects. I don’t really want to do either.
Finally, a commitment to continuing growth. The more time I spend “adventuring,” the more I like it. The more time I spend traveling, the more I like it. The more I study new techniques and ideas, the more I like it. I’ve started carving off time in my week dedicated solely to sharpening the saw. This trend will continue.
So. That’s 2018, and my hopes for 2019. I wish you all the best for a happy new year.

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