2016 was a roller coaster year both personally and more generally, and in all honesty I am ready to put 2016 to bed and focus on starting the new year afresh. But once again I am consciously reflecting on what has happened in the past 12 months as I did in 2014
I originally wrote this from my balcony overlooking the magnificent Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, so forgive the optimism, but I feel that the negative geopolitical events of 2016 will one day be looked upon as a wake-up call rather than the beginning of the end, a crisis necessary to spur people into fighting for their beliefs and for progress, rather than swimming through life on the assumption that progress just happens naturally.
2016 has certainly been a wake-up call for me. I think the key theme to my year has been proving to myself that I can live by my values and with concerted effort over time I can achieve goals that seem impossible in the near term. This lays the foundation for 2017, when I plan to build upon the positives in my personal life and take them to a broader audience, either through new side projects, one-on-one dialogue with friends and family, and even (post-11/8/16) through engagement in political activities.
Rather than list “accomplishments” as I did last year, this year instead I am focusing on highlights with meaning to me.
Marathon – And to start with the big one, the 2016 TCS NYC Marathon is at the top of my list. Running the marathon itself was one of the hardest, most rewarding four hours and forty-four minutes in my life. The experience of running through the city I love, cheered on by upwards of 500,000 spectators as well as live gospel choirs, brass bands, DJs and bagpipes is indelibly imprinted in my memory forever; I’ll also never forget the unbelievable weight in my legs crossing the bridge between Manhattan and The Bronx at mile 19, distraught at the prospect of another 7 miles of running. Crossing the finish line, meeting up with KC in my Finisher’s poncho, and hobbling over to the Hudson River Parkway to watch the sunset concluded one of the best days of 2016 for me.
Running a marathon, though, is about more than just the day itself. Possibly the most rewarding part of the entire experience has been the exploration that naturally occurs as training runs grow longer and longer. The incredible satisfaction of seeing a 5.45am long run rewarded with a perfect sunrise as I cross the Manhattan bridge, and the joy of waking up on a Sunday morning in Bogota and running 13 miles through the city during Ciclovia, are experiences I would never witness were it not for the marathon training.
Over the past year I have run 10 runs of 10+ miles (including 5 weeks in a row of 13+ miles in the run up to the race), I have tracked 64 runs through Runkeeper, and I would hazard a guess that I completed 20-25 additional runs over the year without tracking them. As a result of all this running, I actually achieved and subsequently exceeded my goal from last year of dropping 10 pounds, weighing in at 174 pounds a couple of days after the marathon. Since then I’ve added back a couple of pounds as Christmas parties and a drop-off in exercise have taken their toll, but 2016 marks the first year that I have set a weight target and actually hit it.
Living values – in 2016, KC and I have made a concerted effort to “live our values”, primarily through living as sustainably as possible, consuming less but of a higher quality, donating to causes aligned with our values, and actively spending discretionary income on the things that make us happiest (food and travel). “Living our values” has helped us gain a deeper sense of meaning and personal fulfillment that our day-to-day jobs have not been able to provide. I have given up beef (separate post on that to come), begun composting, grown my own cayenne peppers, and I am actively looking to reduce my footprint through the re-use of metal water bottles and tumblers (for all the iced coffee I buy) and eating food pre-prepared at home from reusable containers. I am a big Citibike evangelist, and am offsetting the emissions generated through long-haul flights by buying carbon permits via carbonfund.org. Living my values is an ongoing challenge, and I am nowhere near where I hope to one day be (carbon negative), but I am deeply satisfied that I have lived a year of self-improvement in this regard.
Work – Work clearly played a big role in my 2016, and I have much to be happy about, areas for personal improvement, and a couple of areas of complaint (although thankfully nothing too bad that I shouldn’t write about it). I completed my first full year of work in July following a very productive 7-month period in which I felt extremely proud about the work I had completed: work in which I felt I added tangible value to the credit approval process and also in which I was constantly learning, gaining new skills and growing as a professional. Partly as a result of being so productive and working on so many interesting deals, and partly as a result of there being no definitive end to the year which is followed by an extended break (as with the semester cycle which had been all I had previously known), I began to experience somewhat of a mental burnout. August was particularly challenging as I began to start redo-ing annual tasks I had completed the prior year, beginning what felt like a never-ending cycle. It turns out what I needed, however, was to take a break – and beginning in September I started a 2 month streak of trips to Nashville, Hudson, England and Colombia. Pretty simple really, but when focused on doing my best at work, a break was the last thing on my mind. Since then I have flipped the other way, and while I still try and produce the best work I can, the marginal hour that was previously spent at the office is now spent prioritizing a healthy lifestyle/spending more time with friends. 2017 will be spent trying to find a happy medium in my work-life balance.
Working in an investment bank has also allowed me the privelege of both saving a decent percentage of my income and donating to causes I care about (OneAcreFund, IRC, Acumen Fund, CarbonFund.org, Colibri and Medicins Sans Frontieres), and for that I am extremely grateful.
Challenges / Areas for Improvement
Family – Strains in personal life and differences in opinion can be exacerbated when one lives 3,000 miles away from ones parents, and 300 miles away from one’s brother. Definitely an area for improvement in 2017!
Side projects – I’m not too upset with myself about letting goals for side projects drift to the wayside, primarily because the marathon was the big side project for the year and that was a great success in my mind. My blogging took a hit, with my only real substantive posts about Brexit (before the fact) and the US election (after the fact). I did enjoy recording the bliss of a summer in Williamsburg, and sharing my financial model for a hypothetical coffeeshop, but I did not hit the heights of RossRambles in 2015. My other side project was dinner parties, and while we successfully hosted 2 dinners and a brunch at the Ramhole (which were all wonderful) and shared a lovely dinner at Jen’s, the concept never really gained traction. The evolution of this concept is Winter Wednesdays, which I hope to begin marketing for February following a very busy planned January.
Norway, Colombia, Guatemala, Chicago, Nashville, Hudson, England – Another wonderful year of travel. Colombia blew my mind, and I can’t wait to return in the near future; Oslo was a ridiculous long weekend trip with 3 guys from work; Chicago and Nashville gave KC and me a chance to visit the Brooklyn-esque neighborhoods of 2 new American cities, each with their own wondeful coffeeshops, brunch locales and microbreweries; Guatemala gave me a chance to end the year with KC’s family at 2 of the most beautiful places in the world (Earth Lodge and Casa del Mundo); Hudson was the perfect romantic getaway for KC and me to embrace New York Fall at its finest, as well as some of the most wonderful cuisine we’ve ever tasted; England was the first time I’d been home in almost 2 years, and it was great to see friends in person I hadn’t seen for years otherwise.
A new category this year to help solidify the notion that food is a truly integral part of my life:
The Crimson Sparrow in Hudson served KC and me the best meal of our lives, bar none. The 13 course tasting menu did not have a single mediocre dish, and the New American with Asian influences was most mouth-wateringly captured in the smoked mussel, octopus, sockeye salmon and braised pheasant dishes. It isn’t cheap, and unlike some tasting menus it lacked some of the artistic flairs often associated with fine dining, but the food and service were on a different level. We’ll be back.
El Cielo in Bogota also followed a tasting menu format, but where Crimson Sparrow was all about the food, El Cielo provides an epic adventure through Colombian cuisine via molecular gastronomy, food puzzles, and dry ice bombs. Possibly the most entertaining meal of my life, pushing the boundaries between dinner and spectacle.
Semilla in Williamsburg was our third tasting menu of the year, and no less dramatic. In our final weekend of 2016 spent in the City, KC and I relished dishes such as Honeynut Squash & Sea Urchin Soup with Foie Gras and Gnocchi, and Carolina Gold Rice with Wild Pine Nuts & Matsutake Mushrooms at the “vegetable-forward” hole in the wall just three blocks away from home. Semilla had just had its Michelin Star reaffirmed and I can attest that it is thoroughly, thoroughly deserved.
I’d be remiss to not mention The Farm on Kent, my favorite location in the world, where KC and I enjoyed another 2 delicious communal dinners courtesy of Joint Ventures and the Head Chef from The Finch, itself a Michelin starred restaurant in Fort Greene. Ryan, Henry, Emma, Kenny and crew, you inspire KC and me and we can’t wait to see you back in 2017.
Honorable mentions in the food category go to: The Glasserie in Greenpoint, Bistro Petit (please don’t move!!), Llama Inn, and (top of the list for the past few years) Public.
Last year I referenced some of my favorite books and also linked to my favorite articles of the year via Pocket. Given that some of my favorite media this year has been in the form of Podcasts or live theater performances, I am broadening the category to simply “content”. Here it is:
- Books – by far the most important book I read this year was Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. If you haven’t read it, change that. Other books I read this year include the wonderful sci-fi classic Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, best-seller (for good reason) The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, fun read The Girl on the Train, and non-fiction books Work Hard. Be Nice. about the rise of KIPP Charter Schools, and The Farm on The Roof about the Brooklyn Grange. I also re-read Ben Franklin’s autobiography, and started but was unable to finish The Fountainhead (nothing against the book, but I didn’t find myself captivated and it’s a long book!).
- Newsletters – a good Newsletter is one of the most engaging and enjoyable ways to consume information I can imagine, allowing as they do an author to link to relevant pieces of information while adding their own commentary. The regularity of the emails also allows the author to build establish their own personality, and great newsletter feel like a conversation with a super smart friend. By far my 2 favorite newsletters to receive are the Stratechery Daily Update/Weekly Article by Ben Thompson, and Social Capital’s Snippets by Alex Danco. Both are Tech/VC-related, but offer insight and analysis above and beyond anything else I read. I actively look forward to the updates each weekday morning (Stratechery) and Sunday afternoon (Snippets). Honorable mentions to Erin Griffith’s Term Sheet for Fortune, the Quartz Daily Brief and the Gothamist Daily.
- Podcasts – While 2015’s Serial by Sarah Koenig was the first Podcast to really capture my attention, Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast series finally pushed me over the edge into becoming a podcast convert. An amazing set of stories and opinions, it redefined what I thought a podcast could be, and I cannot recommend it enough.
- Theater – Hamilton has been a huge part of my 2016 (apparently I was in the top 1% of listeners to the album on Spotify), and a couple of weeks after the marathon I was lucky enough to see it in person with Mum, Dad, KC, Ahmet and Linda, and it more than lived up to expectations.
- Articles – once again I direct you to my Pocket profile to see some of the best articles I read this year, via the “My Favourite Articles” link on the RossRambles homepage.
- Movies – favourite movies of the year were Zootopia and Arrival.
- TV Shows – KC and I only began watching Narcos Season 1 in the Spring of 2016, so both Narcos Season 1 and 2 are on my list of best shows in 2016; however, the best show I saw all year was Atlanta, Donald Glover’s insanely good show on FX. Stranger Things gets a shout out, and perennial favourite Game of Thrones is also there or there abouts.
Goals for 2017
- Complete a tangible goal related to reducing CO2 emissions for a number of people larger than just myself or KC.
- Grow 5 different vegetables in our backyard successfully.
- Run a minimum of 10 different 5K and 10K races, and run a 5K faster than 21 minutes, and a 10K faster than 50 minutes. Continue my now 3 year streak of running at least one half marathon per year.
- Give a talk that I am proud of (ie. well prepared and well executed) to a minimum of 30 people (current ideas are on carbon taxes / life lessons from Ben Franklin).
- Vocally evangelize the need to reduce waste, ride more bicycles, get politically involved with promoting carbon taxes, and the virtues of growing one’s own food.
- Save more (and measure what percentage of savings comes from actually putting money from a paycheck into a savings account, and what percent comes from the ROI on those savings).
- Complete 2 significant side projects (hopefully involving communal dining, electric bikes or coffee).
- Continue to live my values of sustainability, community and value creation.
Here’s to a great 2017.