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.

By | 2018-01-19T21:04:27+00:00 December 28th, 2011|17 Comments


  1. Jefferson Jay December 28, 2011 at 1:03 pm - Reply

    Preach on, brother. I know what ya mean. It’s cool that people know you for your talents and abilities… all over the world. It takes a lifetime of work to create that reality. Everything happens for a reason. I have great confidence in your ability to accomplish anything you put your mind to. You’ve already done it.

    • Conor December 29, 2011 at 10:28 am - Reply

      Thanks buddy – it really requires putting a mind heavily into it, and sometimes that’s a daunting thing. But hopefully this year will be a year of trying to do that.

  2. Susan December 28, 2011 at 11:54 pm - Reply

    Ugh. Reading this was painful for me. I don’t regret reading it. On the contrary, I may keep rereading it until I figure out exactly where I am supposed to be and how to get there.

    • Conor December 29, 2011 at 10:29 am - Reply

      I know, right? We’re all struggling with this!

  3. charlie December 29, 2011 at 6:24 am - Reply

    Wow. I just has an almost dentical conversation with my wife about this. It was about New Year’s resolutions. After speaking at two funerals this past year, i made the comment that i want to make sure that whoever ends up speaking at mine has some meaty content to talk about. So, it’s up to me to make their job easy.

    • Conor December 29, 2011 at 10:29 am - Reply

      Dude. Totally. Hopefully well before your funeral, too. You’ve got more meaty stuff than you know.

  4. Amy December 30, 2011 at 10:21 am - Reply

    Well, I’m past the 50 year mark (and it sounds even older now!), and I’m still grappling with these decisions. I made a bunch of stupid and a bunch of terrific decisions back when I was in my twenties – and with the wisdom (aka hindsight) of age I see that many of my stupid decisions left me with some of my greatest achievements. And vice versa. So much is left to the whims of the universe. You do your best – or the best you can do – and count your blessings.

    One of the gifts of hardship is that (to survive) you learn to find the silver lining in even the worst of situations. I am the queen of silver linings!

    Don’t put so much pressure on yourself. Not every year has to be a bestseller-world tour-save the world kind of year. A simple good life is hard enough to achieve. When I my kids were little, my end of the day checklist went: Kids alive? Check. House still standing? Check. Job well done!!

    Blessing to you and yours for the coming year.

    • Conor December 30, 2011 at 8:54 pm - Reply

      Hey Amy,
      Absolutely – I want to be proud of each year. Looking back, raising my kids well is going to be central to that, no matter what else is going on. Thanks for that reminder!

  5. Marcy Prager January 1, 2012 at 5:40 am - Reply

    You are forgetting that for every speech you give, you are creating global citizens. Your speeches will certainly give you practice to become a polished spokesperson, but when you speak with your heart about a mission you deeply care about, you are creating change. You have been a teacher, creating empathy in others for others in the world. Not to mention how your first trip to Nepal affected change for so many children that continues today. And as far as devoting time to family, you don’t get that time back my friend. You are the model for your children how to parent, causing effective change for their future. I know this is YOUR self-evaluation, but one must also think about how YOU have effected change for OTHERS. Happy New Year, Conor and family!

    • Conor January 5, 2012 at 8:55 am - Reply

      Thanks Marcy, very kind of you- the thing that I’m proud of is watching the folks around me who have much less experience with Nepal and kids doing phenomenal things!

  6. Mer January 5, 2012 at 8:05 am - Reply

    I believe that at the end of this life, someone or something is going to meet up with me and ask two things:

    1. Who did you love?
    2. Who did you help?

    I also turned my volunteering into a career after having derailed it for a while. I now work for a non-profit youth development organization, and can’t think of a better way to spend the rest of my life. I wanted to help as many people as I could, and I worked so hard at it that it turned into not just a job, but a life that makes me feel happy and challenged. Thanks for doing your part to spread the “volunteer gospel.”

    • Conor January 5, 2012 at 8:56 am - Reply

      Yes, exactly – there’s no better metric for your self-worth than who you helped. Those lives changed, seeing what that looks like, is something everyone should experience!

  7. […] something I’ve been putting off. I’ve been motivated by a need to improve in those areas, as I talked about in my last blog. But I’m not fooling myself into thinking “Okay, since I’ve done this in the first few […]

  8. Kate July 9, 2012 at 11:24 pm - Reply

    Rock on. And don’t worry about going bald. Many women (I’m among them) think bald men are sexy.

  9. Fagrid February 12, 2013 at 12:17 am - Reply

    How are you my old friend?

    • Fagrid February 12, 2013 at 12:19 am - Reply

      How did that happen…my computer’s out of battery so ill contact you later.

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