Fare Thee Well, 2012 — You Were a Good Friend

As 2012 glides into a well-deserved slumber, I can’t help but reflect on how the year has progressed for me. Some highlights, in no real order:

  • We had a blast at Tony’s 35th birthday celebration in Las Vegas in June.
  • I enjoyed a phenomenal conference at this year’s Joint Statistical Meetings in San Diego. Good conference, great location.
  • I had lots of fun celebrating various birthdays this year with PPQ and the Good Doctor.
  • Treks to Windsor and Joliet proceeded smoothly and enjoyably.
  • I installed an air condition just before the summer started to sizzle.
  • I replaced the tired old Ranger with a healthier, newer Jimmy.
  • I weigh less at the end of 2012 than I did when the year started.
  • I passed the FCC license exam for a technician-class radio license.
  • I actually got out and did some creative photography. More than once, even.
  • Our cigar and cocktail evenings have really blossomed into something great, thanks to a fabulous group of guys and the hospitality of Grand River Cigar.
  • I got more private consulting clients and even earned some decent revenue for once — enough to ensure that I didn’t have to worry about the next paycheck.
  • I did better this year at NaNoWriMo and made a lot of good friends as part of my participation with that crazy crew of creative cats.
  • I went on a lovely day hike along the NCT in northern Newaygo County.
  • I realized an astonishingly high personal rate of return on my 403(b) investment account and despite my late start planning for retirement, I’m actually pretty close to where the experts say I should be at this age.

So, it was a good year. I’m looking forward to 2013 — I have some good goals and a good foundation to build on.

May your own new year be filled with much love, happiness and success.

2012 Federal/State/Local Endorsements for Grand Rapids, Michigan

November 6 is less than a month away, but already the battle lines are drawn. Herewith are my personal endorsements for candidates and my recommendations for sundry ballot proposals that we face on the state and municipal levels.

President of the United States

Only Mitt Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, have what it takes to correct the wild fiscal imprudence and geostrategic incompetence of Team Obama. Whether it’s “leading from behind” — as Iran ticks closer to the Bomb — or taking over one-sixth of the U.S. economy with a one-size-fits-all approach to socialized medicine, Barack Obama (D) has been a miserable failure whose ego is outmatched only by his ham-handed management of the federal treasury. America deserves leaders like Romney and Ryan, men who understand what it takes to get Americans working again and how to keep our public finances sane. We need Mitt and Paul. Vote Romney/Ryan!

United States Senator

As far as senators go, Debbie Stabenow (D) hasn’t been bad. But she hasn’t been a leader, either. With the Senate in a state of mortal combat, Stabenow could have shown courage to resist the worst of Harry Reid’s bumbling machinations. Instead, she blithely sings to the majority leader’s hyperpartisan tune. We need someone who’s not just average, but someone above average — someone like Republican Pete Hoekstra, whose bipartisan leadership of the House Intelligence Committee and keen grasp of the issues we face as a nation make him the right man at the right time. Vote Pete Hoekstra!

United States Representative, 3rd District

Steve Pestka is a good guy. He’s a Democrat, but no one’s perfect, and he’s more of a centrist than most. Republican Justin Amash is a socially awkward acolyte of Ron Paul — someone who opposed defunding Planned Parenthood because it was “a bill of attainder.” (Do you see that? It’s the sight of a blogger’s eyes rolling.) Inasmuch as I’d love to have a solid Republican to support, we’re stuck with a libertarian in sheep’s clothing who’s been written off even among the GOP Congressional leadership. Endorsement goes to Steve Pestka.

Michigan Representative, 75th District

No endorsement. Neither candidate has done anything whatsoever to inform voters about his positions.

State Board of Education; Regents of the University of Michigan; Trustees of Michigan State University; Governors of Wayne State University

No endorsements.  Radio silence from all the candidates.

Kent County Prosecuting Attorney

Republican William Forsyth is running unopposed, which makes sense because he’s been a stalwart who gets the job done. Vote for Forsyth.

Kent County Sheriff

The long-time sheriff, Lawrence Stelma, is up for re-election. I have no personal reason to oppose him, but there’s been a lot of talk among some locals about the need for a change. Democrat James Farris is endorsed instead; Farris was a deputy chief who was passed up for the top slot in the Grand Rapids Police Department. Some say it’s because he’s black. I don’t know about that, but I do know that people who are clued into local law enforcement say Farris has served with dignity and grace even when he was passed over. Time for a promotion to the sheriff’s office, methinks.

Kent County Clerk and Register of Deeds

This one’s easy; Republican Mary Hollinrake runs a clean and efficient operation and deserves re-election. Vote Hollinrake.

Kent County Treasurer

Like the clerk, Republican Kenneth Parrish is not flashy, but he is effective. Vote Parrish.

Kent County Drain Commissioner

Drain commissioner nod goes to Bill Byl, who’s been an able local public servant over the years.

Kent County Commissioner for the 17th District

No endorsements.  Radio silence from all the candidates.

Judicial Elections; Grand Rapids Public School Board

None of these are contested elections at the local level, except the six-year term for the Kent County Probate Court. In that race, I endorse the non-partisan incumbents Patricia Gardner and G. Patrick Hillary for re-election.

For the Michigan Supreme Court’s non-partisan ballot, I endorse the re-election of Justice Stephen Markman and the election of Judge Colleen O’Brien for full eight-year terms, and I endorse Justice Brian Zahra for re-election to a partial term.

Michigan Ballot Proposals

  • Vote YES on Proposal 1.  The wording on this is sneaky; if you favor the Emergency Manager law — and you should; it keeps Detroit from totally collapsing — then you need to vote YES on this proposal to keep the law in place. This is a referendum to keep PA 4, which established the emergency-manager role for Michigan.
  • Vote NO on Proposal 2.  How clearly can I say it? Vote HELL NO to enshrining a constitutional right to unionize into the Michigan Constitution.
  • Vote NO on Proposal 3.  Support Prop 3 if you’re in favor of rolling blackouts, since this initiative, if passed, would require Michigan to get 25 percent of all its energy from renewable resources while capping rate increases to 1 percent per year. Gee, who pays for this Green-energy bonanza? Let me guess … the CFL bulb fairy?
  • Vote NO on Proposal 4.  The state constitution isn’t the place to enshrine new bureaucracies. This proposal would seek to create a home-care council to serve as a quasi-public labor union for home-care workers. Vote this nonsense off the island, posthaste.
  • Vote NO on Proposal 5.  Beware Geeks bearing gifts: This proposal looks good at first glance, but it’s a poisoned pill. The proposal would require a 2/3 vote to modify tax law. It also requires a 2/3 vote to reduce taxes. Better to staff the legislature with solid fiscal conservatives than to screw around with supermajorities.
  • Vote NO on Proposal 6.  Just say no to sour grapes. This bill would stymie Gov. Snyder’s necessary drive to get another bridge to Canada. Prop 6 is pushed by the guy who owns (and thereby profits from) the current Ambassador Bridge. Tell this yahoo that the state ballot isn’t a place to solidify his rent-seeking.

Grand Rapids Municipal Proposals

  • Vote NO on Proposal I.  This proposal, if adopted, would make the City Comptroller a position appointed by the City Manager instead of an elected job. No point in reducing the public’s influence on City Hall — particularly when the man in charge, who isn’t elected, leads a city with a weak mayoral structure.
  • Vote NO on Proposal II.  This basically legalizes pot in a big way — making it (at most) a $100 fine and darned difficult to prosecute.

Remember — it’s your civic duty to vote; it’s your moral duty to vote as I prefer. 🙂

The Year That Was; The Year That Will Be

On balance, 2011 was kind to me. I spent the year in residence in a lovely South Hill apartment, and my rusty, ancient Ford Ranger really didn’t fare too poorly. I traveled a bit, including two trips to Las Vegas and a week in Miami Beach for a conference. My health stayed stable, and I have mostly re-provisioned after the Great Purge of 2009. I’ve made progress on many fronts, earning just over $7,500 from my side business and even making the first steps back to church via the Cathedral. And the monthly cigar-and-cocktail evenings have helped bring a different focus to my personal social networking. (Oh, and PPQ — 100 percent attendance rate in 2011. That’s all I’m sayin’.)

So, my farewell to 2011 is largely without disdain, although the year did go out with something of a whimper: I went with Tony and Jen to the Laurel Manor NYE party in Livonia and didn’t acquit myself as professionally as I would have preferred. It was a somewhat fancy affair, with 500 or so attendees, many of whom were older folk in tuxedos and ball gowns but there were plenty of the younger crowd, too. Let it suffice that despite the good conversation and the salmon/filet dinner, I was insufficiently attentive to the nature and pace of the product flowing liberally from the premium open bar and ended up paying the price. I think part of it was that the bartenders were wildly inconsistent in how stiffly they poured the drinks — some were thin, some would shock a bear’s liver. Hard to pace yourself when you’re not acutely aware of what’s coming your way.

The last week of the year witnessed unheralded productivity. I’m not sure if it was the time off, or adding fish oil to my daily vitamin cocktail, or what, but my vacation saw me knock off more long-term goals from my to-do list than I’ve accomplished in the last two years combined. Among other things, I wrote a journal article, tweaked my various social-networking profiles, set my 2012 goals list, wrote a letter of inquiry to finish my master’s degree, pulled my annual credit reports, knocked off a bunch of around-the-house tasks, scheduled a long-delayed dental appointment, set up appropriate Mesh syncing for my files across my phone/netbook/PC, updated my freelancer profile with SPJ, reviewed my 403(b) investment allocations, blogged a fair amount and sketched out the drafts of four different books. Whew. And that was on top of holiday parties and a few other goals I accomplished too personal to mention in a public blog post.

So. I’m off to a good start. As part of my 2012 planning, which began in October (as usual), I’ve pulled forward my long-standing personal vision: “I aspire to be an elderly man who, upon his 70th birthday, can look himself in the mirror free of the sting of regret.” This vision will be realized in party through four major life goals and six core strategies:

Major Life Goals

  • Begin the Great Loop by the time I turn 40.
  • Complete a circumnavigation. Eat lunch in Antarctica.
  • Finish at least one major thru-hike (PCT, CDT, AT).
  • Write at least one fiction and one non-fiction book.

Core Strategies

  • Reduce consumption.
  • Cultivate serenity.
  • Nurture relationships.
  • Exhibit insatiable curiosity.
  • Do fewer things, but do them well.
  • Favor action over study.

In the master plan, I’ve got a series of almost 50 tasks between now and September 30 (and a handful extending until 2016). These tasks represent time-bound chunks of the various activities I need to do to make progress on my bucket-list goals. So, it’s good to have a plan of attack. Other major things I want to nail this year, at a lower grain than the bucket list, include (finally) running the Riverbank Run and G.R. Marathon, getting the prerequisites out of the way to begin divemaster training, return to the dojo in late winter, go skydiving this summer, and take a long weekend to backpack/hike in a national forest.

In other news … 2012 is looking interesting. I’ve planned out attendance a series of business-networking mixers to grow my company, and the prospect of playing in the new water park in Las Vegas in June provides great incentive to get back to my target weight (no one likes a shirtless muffin top). Tony and I are spending the weekend together in a few weeks to dedicate solely to joint business planning. I’ve already booked a client meeting for next week, and I’ve got a good handle on my tasks, calendar and bills for January. Yay.

I am looking forward to 2012, and I hope that my dear readers have a safe, happy, healthy and profitable year as well!

Answering Step Two: Or, How to Beat the Underpants Gnomes at Their Own Game

In the second season of South Park, the boys uncover a colony of underpants-stealing gnomes. The gnomes have a purpose for their nefarious deeds — profit. They even have a three-step business plan. Step One: Steal underpants. Step Two: ?  Step Three: Profit!

So far, so good. A nice little satire about the business world, yes?  How many enterprises start with some sort of asinine idea (say, build a mobile app that does something 37 other mobile apps already do, but differentiate by using “creatif misspellingz” in the app name), and then … profit! Somehow. Err … Umm. Yeah.

But funny thing about those underpants gnomes: Like all good satire, there’s a hidden truth behind the laugh track. In this case, I think the secret is that people are either really good at generating ideas, or at profiting off the ideas of others, but there aren’t that many people who are good at moving something from concept to execution.

Lately I’ve been on a “life as project management” kick (have to put that CPHQ certification to use at some point!). Having taken the week between the holidays as vacation, I’ve enjoyed the spare time to get caught up on a bunch of mundane things like laundry and cleaning — but I’ve also invested considerable effort into figuring out, relative to my goals list, how to get from idea to outcome with maximum efficiency.  Long-time blog readers know that I undertook the “idea” phase seriously in late 2007. Prior to that, I drifted in the wind. After that, I had a game plan, a series of goals and attitudes and bucket-list wishes that I intended to guide subsequent decision-making. And I even identified my personal version of the “profit” phase: Being content at what I saw, when I looked at myself and my life’s history on the morning of my 70th birthday.

But darned if I didn’t have a big red question mark in the middle.

Oh, sure. I had an idea that certain goals required certain things to occur in a defined sequence. One of my goals, for example, is to earn my divemaster certification. I am currently open-water certified. To get to divemaster, I’d need to get certified for advanced open water and rescue diving. Then log  a minimum of 40 dives to meet eligibility requirements for the divemaster program. But did I ever put those things on a calendar or in my budget?  The total cost of getting eligible to earn that divemaster c-card will probably run between $2,500 and $3,000, factoring in the cost of the two major large courses, the cost of air for dives, and all the equipment I’d need. (And don’t get me started on the professional training costs … I think it’s running more than $1,000 these days.)

Again: For a long time, there was just a big red question mark between “I want to be a divemaster” and “Yay, I’m a divemaster.”

And the story repeats for so many other parts of my bucket list. And the thing is, the items on my lifelong goal list aren’t even that unreasonable. The things I want to do in the short term are eminently doable. I’ve just spent so much time defining the concept and clarifying “what done looks like” that I never really said, “Hey, idiot. Are you actually going to make progress on any of these things, or just tweak your goal list year after year?”

So the last few days, I’ve been plotting the execution. I’ve looked at all of the things I want to accomplish in 2012, what the material costs are, what the reasonable timing may be, and then slotting everything on a monthly calendar. Much of it has been guided by a consistent project-management methodology: Identifying scopes and exclusions, setting key dates, budgeting, linking dependencies, noting potential constraints.

The great thing about this exercise is that it provides a sense of purpose, a feeling that one’s actions are leading to a significant conclusion even if any given tasks seem boring in the moment. It also helps to level-set expectations. If I want to get everything in the “Jason 2012” project accomplished as planned, I’m looking at a total cash requirement of between $25,000 and $27,500 and a wrap-up date of September 30. I’ve separated everything into blocks, so that routine living expenses (food, utilities, rent, etc.) are wholly covered by my hospital income, so the costs of my goals require a totally separate source of funding. Like, you know, my business.

Having thus identified the financial resources, I can then back into what I’d need in terms of client development, projects, etc. Suddenly, that $25k doesn’t look so daunting. It’s just roughly $3k per month between now and September. Just $100 per day. I can do that.

And scheduling. Instead of saying, “I’d like to do X in 2012, or Y by 2020” I’ve moved into breaking down complex goals into logical milestones and then scheduling those milestones for a specific month. So, with the divemaster goal — pick up essential diver gear (BCD, regulator, octo, gauge) in February; pick up wetsuit and remaining accessories in March; sign up for advanced training in April; schedule rescue diving training in June; log 40 total dives by Labor Day. At which point, I can enroll in the divemaster program and work through it in September.

And so on, and so on, for a dozen different goals. Heck, I’ve got one item on my task list with a due date in late 2016.

This planning carries within the seeds of implication, though. It means that every day, I need to be focused on the future. It means I need a defined set of tasks that I perform each day, and a mechanism for tracking detailed tasks on an ongoing basis. It means that coming home and thinking, “Hmm. I guess I’ll just veg out on the couch or play Star Wars: The Old Republic for hours” must become a thing of the past. Thanks to a subscription to Office365, I can use the power of Exchange and SharePoint and OneNote to keep all my devices in sync using the right tools for the job.

This story has a moral beyond public peacocking, though. To wit:

The first stage of self-actualization is thinking seriously about who you are and who you aspire to be, removing the pernicious influence of others and understanding the you that most of us keep hidden even from ourselves; done right, it takes months or years — not just an afternoon spent with a pot of coffee and a notebook. The second stage consists in identifying clear life goals — with a solid expectation of what it takes to say you’ve achieved them. Come back to them every few months for a year or so until you know in your heart as well as your head that you really want to make it happen. The third stage is moving from planning to execution, to put away excuses and endless tinkering and simply begin. The fourth stage is, having been successful, you mentor others in the art of success.

In short … we need to beat the underpants gnomes at their own game. A little project management for your life can help.