Sunday, December 11, 2011

Thoughts on Thanks During the Holidays and Putting a Wrapper on 2011

Photo: Gib Rock Photography
The Holidays and Thankfulness

We’re deep into the holiday season by now, the period of the year in which I feel most fortunate. When I’m easily reminded of how lucky I am to have what I have in my life: health, amazing relationships, and various opportunities to do and learn as I please. The list goes on.

This year, I appreciate more than ever my lovely and supportive wife, Emily. She’s carrying our first child, due next April. And for the fact that she has experienced no complications thus far.

I don’t have to worry about the basic necessities, like running water, that others do. Living hand-to-mouth… I've not come close to it. I’ve got a job that pays me well, with a company I respect and work among people I admire. I work hard, but enjoy a huge amount of freedom unfamiliar to many people in this world. I live in a cozy home, in a city rife with amenities. What more could a man ask for?

The holidays make me especially thankful for my situation in life. I wish the same to be true for you. I believe it’s important to make note of the things for which you’re most thankful every once in a while, the holiday season included.

My 2011 in Retrospect: Work, Travel, Triathlons and Books

In summary, 2011 was a big year for me. Frankly, the fact that Emily and I are expecting a child made my year. Family and faith are the foundation of all that is my little oyster, and I won’t prattle on about either now. What I will do, though, is reflect on four other key areas for good measure.

Work: So much time and energy revolves around it, so I’ll start there. The most important aspect to my work–and something on which I maintain a laser focus–is to continually seek it in ways that are consistent with my own value system and the things I naturally enjoy doing (e.g., relationships, travel and writing).

I strive to be hyper-efficient with my time, a daily quest... perhaps obsessively so. I aim to prioritize things that matter to me. I can say that I got closer to that pursuit this year. My company is flexible in this respect, and I’ve gained more confidence over the year in making my mark given any circumstance. I expect to keep progressing.

Travel: Any year that passes without my leaving the USA at least once is a considerable failure. Not a problem in 2011. By way of Columbia, Costa Rica and the UK (twice), I was able to travel internationally for equal parts business and pleasure, narrowly reaching Elite status with United (the airline formerly known as Continental for us Houstonians).

When I use the word "travel," I usually tag “adventure” onto it. My brand of travel is mission-oriented. I like to see, do, speak, learn, try–it all. Here’s to more of that in upcoming years, child in tow :-).

Triathlons: Before 2011, I had never entered one. But after making my way through the Houston Half Marathon to start the year, I figured, why not keep my hand in the game and dive into the triathlon circuit.

I completed four of them–three Sprint distance races and one Olympic race. The final result? First, variety is good. I prefer the combination of swimming, biking and running to just running. Second, the Sprint distance is better than the Olympic, especially in the Texas heat. Third, triathlons are growing like crazy and to anyone with interest, they’re a blast… give it a go.

Related posts this year: Beginner's Tri and Finisher's Tri

Books: Along with travel, reading is the most important educational tool we have. I shut off the TV and make time for it. My list of genres is not too broad, filled mostly of biographies and modern history. It is through those that I gain the increased perspective on life and am reminded of its most important lessons.

Plus one or two that I neglected to record, I read 12 in 2011. For more on what I read, particularly now that I'm using the Kindle, check my reading list on LinkedIn and my highlights on Amazon. The latter needs to be cleaned up, so probe gently.

The five best books that I read in 2011:

If you have any doubt about the sacrifices made by allied forces during WWII or are curious for detail about POWs, this a truly unbelievable story of an Olympic track athlete who fought in the Pacific theater. Make this the next book you read!

2. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

This is a two-part book, a quick read that will put your life and relationships into perspective like none other. The first part is a humble account of Frankl's time in multiple Nazi-held concentration camps during WWII. The second is an analysis of the meaning of life through the lens of his life experiences. That he was a psychologist by training makes his observations particularly meaningful.

From a professional standpoint, one of the coolest things that happened to me this year was meeting a professional "coach" at a party. We have since met a couple of times, and he has given me excellent advice. He recommended this book, from which I picked up a mountain of useful tips around effective leadership.

I had no idea the Comanches were as ruthless as they were. Wow, were they ever mean and tough. Parker, born to a white mother who had been kidnapped by a small group of Comanches at an early age, eventually became an influential chief in the tribe. When life on the reservation was unavoidable for his people, he accepted their fate and easily assimilated into the white man's world. Later in life, he was successful in business. Detailed descriptions of the Texas landscape fill this book.

Theodore Roosevelt is one of my heroes. How he accomplished as much as he did before dying at the age of 60 is hard to fathom. This story is about the trip he took to Latin America after his presidency. Less known than his more chronicled eleven-month hunting trip to Africa, this one was probably more dangerous.

Afterword/Housekeeping: Donations, Five Year Plan and Remaining Posts from 2011

Donations: If you didn't see my post about my plan to run the 2012 Houston Half Marathon on behalf of the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, please look now (Run for a Reason: Buffalo Bayou Partnership) and consider a donation. Thus far, friends and readers alike have donated $1,210. Thank you! 

Five Year Plan: The other morning I was reviewing a package I pulled together in 1998 that set a path forward for the years following my graduation from college. It was simply called, “Five Year Plan.” On review, it was surprising how closely the plan had actually unfolded. It was comprised of a vision, a couple of high-level goals and risks. Nothing tactical, mainly thoughts on a page for what I wanted over that time horizon.

Inspired, I'm working on something similar for the next five years, which I hope to nail down and share early next year. These plans are made in the face of one of my favorite quotes, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”

Remaining Posts from 2011:

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