Back when I was in college, I knew what my life would be like. I would work in political consulting – I was, and remain, a complete political junkie – in Washington DC.
Things went off track almost immediately. My grades kind of sucked at Virginia, so right after graduation, I decided to move to Prague. I didn’t do this because I was adventurous or super cool, I did this because I wanted to appear adventurous and super cool. I wanted to distract attention from the fact that I couldn’t get a job.
It sounds kind of funny and also kind of dumb, I know. But let me tell you something: that decision changed the way I lived my life. You know why? Because it worked. I actually ended up doing something that made life interesting. I tried so hard to appear impressive to others that I ended up working my butt off and getting a great job at a public policy think tank. I stayed there for almost seven years.
That experience led me to come up with a kind of personal mantra. It was a two part mantra, really, but the two parts were similar. The mantra figured into my decision-making process with almost every big life decision I had.
You know, I think I’m using the word “mantra” wrong. Let me say instead that I came up with two questions that I asked myself, and that played into each big decision I made.
Question 1: Would I be proud or embarrassed to tell people what I did for a living?
Question 2: When I looked back when I was 50 (which seemed impossibly old for a 21 year old), would I be proud of the bold decision I’d made, or would I be saying “You know, when I was 21 I ALMOST did such-and-such.”
I think to answer those two questions the way I wanted to answer them, it took two things: courage and hard work. There have been times in my life when I was good those things.
Now that we’re coming to the end of another year, 2011, I’m sort of taking stock here. I’m wondering if I did everything I wanted to do this year, if I am proud of this year. I’m wondering if I was courageous, if I worked hard.
Sometimes I did, I think. Mostly, though, I’m not sure.
I think I worked hard at being a good public speaker. I think I got quite good at it, probably because I really love to do it and I did it so often that I got a lot of practice. I also think I worked hard to get Next Generation Nepal into a good position after going through some tough financial times for our organization.
On the other hand, I think – no, I know – that I could have worked a lot harder. (Publishing a book doesn’t count – I wrote that over the last two years.) I think, if I’m being honest with myself, that I struggled to find my way this past year. I can forgive myself for this to an extent – making a living as a writer is difficult and uncertain. But isn’t every job?
Don’t get me wrong – it was a phenomenal year. I spent a ton of time with my wife and my son. I’ve loved that, and it’s a luxury and an incredible privilege. And joy of joy of joys, our beautiful little Lucy was born, and I’ve been with her in these first 8 months.
Those are the things that I will remember about 2011. And I will be tremendously thankful for it.
So how will my 50 year old self will look back at the upcoming 2012? Will I be proud of how I worked, and how I made time to spend with my family? Will I say “That was the year I really got it together” or will I say “I wish I had that year back”?
I want to think about that every day of this coming year. I want to set goals and I want to meet them. I want to fail at things because that will mean I was trying hard things.
Most of all, I want to remember that life is long, and that this is just one year of many, that I don’t have to accomplish everything in this one year.
But Lord knows I’m going to try, and Lord knows I’m going to fail. And hopefully my 50 year old self will understand. Also, hopefully he won’t be bald.