Best books, posts, lessons learned and more.
Photo:“Houndstooth,” TAYLOR WHITE
“Year in Review”
An end-of-year exercise in which a person (or company, couple, etc.) reviews the previous calendar year and summarizes key points.
Many people do this exercise using “what went well,” “what didn’t,” and/or goals (especially S.M.A.R.T. ones), and I guess I kinda do too. But, thing is:
“Year reviews” are often cringey
They usually give the impression that someone’s barely hanging on (“this was the year of me”) or living a life of lining up toy soldiers just to admire them along a wall (“I read 50 books, ran 2,000 miles, made 100K, etc.”), completely lost and frantically firing on all cylinders just to say they measured stuff.
But there’s a difference between “measuring” life and understanding it.
Some people assign arbitrary ratings (usually 1–10) to things like health, finances, etc. And sure, we can do this (I have before), but: this isn’t how life works.
You need benchmarks (what’s a “10?” Is it realistic?), weights (whether you care, why, values, etc.) and focus (bc if you look at everything, you’re focused on nothing.)
Setting and reviewing measurable metrics and “major milestones” alone.
Numbers make us feel in control. They’re clean, clear, malleable. However: numbers are never the full picture.
For example: there are tons of things to measure in blogging, but most of those “stats” are statistically uncorrelated to success.
Same goes for other measurables in life. Quantitative is not qualitative and say nothing about wellbeing. Without understanding correlation or meaning, measuring (and chasing) metrics is a waste of time.
To “optimize” is to chase an infinite, never-ending* long-tail. Which means running yourself into the ground over smaller and smaller returns on effort.
Eventually this is a neurosis, not a strength, and will eat away at — not serve — your happiness.
Self-aggrandizing — while also sniveling (?!)
A frequent combination which is kind of remarkable. They usually have a tone that’s just… awkward. I even cringe at my own.
What we SHOULD be asking
- What really matters most? (Prioritize. Honestly.)
- Am I making progress on that? (Honestly.)
- If yes: does it feel the way I want? (Revisit #1)
- If no: does it really matter most? (Ditto.)
How I do my reviews
I’ve been doing “year reviews” since 2011. Each December, I spend several hours over the span of a few days (or weeks) looking at: highs, lows, “bests,” what I learned, questions I still have, and associations.
My partner is amazing. I work for a great company. I’m earning the most I ever have, and have a creative outlet that gives me joy. I am healthy.
This is the happiest I’ve ever been. (Nobody tells you how baller your 30s are.)
OTHER HIGHS (is this “what went well”? idk)
Written goals I did:
Trying improv. Paying off my student loans. Losing weight. Not drinking for 3 months. Exercising more. Actually meditating. Learning a lot about emotional boundaries. All things Medium.
Doing two 5-day water fasts. Trying keto. Reading more female essayists. Paying my parents’ mortgage. Maxing out my 401K. Getting a pixie cut. Seeing wild horses on a beach. Experiencing a 4.4 earthquake in San Francisco. Eating amazing cheese and butter in France (even though I kinda hated it while I was there) — especially Bordier. (Let’s just say monsieur beurreand I spent some real QT alone in the hotel room with a baguette.) Trying massive pied de cheval oysters and hanging out on the coast. Joining my partner’s lease. Spending another year together. Every time I laughed, especially the times I laughed so hard I cried. Rocking an amazing off-the-shoulder dress at a wedding in the summer and a party in the winter. My college best friend getting married (different wedding.) Wedding dress shopping for my sister. Heidi Priebe mentioning my article on her podcast. The doggo illustration I commissioned from Jenna Woginrich. Jenna herself. Discovering: Netflix “Nailed it.” The @Wendys twitter account. Le Tigre, Tash Sultana, French pop. Almond flour.
LOWS (“what didn’t”?)
Written goals I missed:
I wanted to go a year without getting sick, but caught a cold in late Nov, which bummed me out. I fell 20% short of my (stupid lofty) income goal (though I didn’t pursue every avenue, even those right in my face.) Didn’t save/invest more. Didn’t maintain exercise or diet. Wasn’t much “more conscientious.” Didn’t go to Corsica.
The fact that you gain your water weight back after fasting or dropping keto. Anxious people, esp. colleagues. Being in France, while I was there.
Also: several dark, dirty, empty guilty pleasures… like the HOURS I spent Pinning wedding shit even though I’m not engaged and not even sure I want to get married or “researching” MBTI, enneagram, and chakras even though they’re not real.
Did these habits contribute to my happiness? No.
Will I still do some of them or similar shit next year? Yep.
To expect otherwise is to lie to ourselves and set us up for future frustration. Humans are complex, messy creatures. The sooner we can acknowledge our imperfection and work with it frankly, the happier we’ll be. Dealing with our “lows” gets easier if we own our “humanness,” and receive it with patience.
That I thought about, read about, wrote about — tried to tackle and share.
“How do I know what I want?”
“How do I GET what I want?”
“How do I take action?”
“Are relationships — and sex — always a power thing?”
Short answer: yes. Unless we’re conscientious about balance, but most aren’t.
“What are good emotional boundaries?”
Short answer: it’s hard.
“Should I get married?”
Short answer: maybe not.
“Should I have kids?”
Short answer: maybe, if your good reasons for doing so are strong enough.
“What the heck Myers Briggs type am I?”
OTHER THINGS I LEARNED
- We suck at self awareness and see ourselves inaccurately
- All of us live in some kind of fantasy (but usually don’t realize)
- We deeply identify with our neuroses, and usually fail to recognize them as negatives, instead defending and fueling them as part of our ego
- Some people truly prefer fantasy to reality — i.e., chase fantasy, know it, and don’t care. I didn’t realize this before this year
- People often get preoccupied with the wrong questions.
- Usually the more closely you look at a thing, the farther away it gets.
- We produce less collagen as we age (I got oddly messed up about this)
- Most of us brush our teeth too hard (incidentally: I may need a gum graft)
- What causes “saddlebags” (it’s fascinating)
MAIN TOPICS I WROTE ABOUT
- Emotional maturity is ~everything
- We aren’t entitled to other people, their feelings, or their perspective
- Non-attachment yields happiness
- Love is choice and action, not a feeling
- We only (and only we) control ourselves
- Withdrawing may feel good, but happiness is from external engagement
- Minimalism and grit have dark sides
- Process, plans, optimization and reading can all be procrastination (fear)
In 2018, I published over 300 Medium stories totaling over 4 million views.
My most “applauded” 2018 Medium articles
- 8 Things I Learned Reading 50 Books A Year For 7 Years (60K claps)
- How to *really* know you’re in love (55K claps)
- The Most Important Thing In A Relationship (49K claps)
- Read This If You’re Not Sure You Want Kids (47K claps)
- How To Make A Relationship Last (45K claps)
- You Deserve Someone Who’s Sure About You (34K claps)
- Does Marriage Even Make Sense Anymore? (22K claps)
- How To Get Over Someone You Never Dated (15K claps)
My own favorites
- The ones about my bar manager and “love avoidant love stories”
- The ones on marriage and kids
- The ones “about me” (here, here, here, here, here), places I’ve been (here, here, here, here), why I don’t love traveling, “my advice column”, things I don’t want, and find sexy, and my plan for aging gracefully (esp. the Botox and bush bits)
- The ones on “writing,” esp. process (people finally quit emailing about it!)
- My opinions on “planning,” feminism, the gym, Handmaids Tale, and people you meet while flying
- The one about INFJs
I read 60 books this year: essays, memoirs, novels, short stories, and non-fiction — emotional boundaries, philosophy, and astrophysics.
Some were better than others. Some I hated. Here were my favorites:
1. “So Sad Today” — Melissa Broder
Broder writes like nobody else, scratching at her “humanness” until it’s raw, and I adore her for it.
“What I have sought in love is a reprieve from the itch of consciousness — to transcend myself and my human imperfections — but this has yet to happen. What has happened, instead, is a lifetime of fictional love stories; fiction, in that I have perceived every new experience through the veil of my own insecurities.”
2. “Meaty” — Samantha Irby
“I like underwear that I can pull all the way up to my tits, and I like eating room temperature soup at four in the afternoon, and I guess what I’m trying to say is that I understand your mom.”
3. “We Are Never Meeting In Real Life” — Samantha Irby
“What I really need to find is someone who doesn’t get on my nerves but is also minimally annoyed by all the irritating things about me.”
“I don’t really have any dreams beyond comfortable pants and unlimited sparkling water.”
4. “Call Me By Your Name” — André Aciman
Absolutely beautiful account of the rich and sorrowful ache of attraction.
“Maybe the ancients were right: it never hurt to be bled from time to time.”
“Even if this is all he is willing to give, I’ll take it — I’ll settle for less, even, if only to live with these threadbare scraps.”
5. “Tonight I’m Someone Else” — Chelsea Hodson
“Some men never loved me. I didn’t care. Their names sounded like answers, and I used them as such.”
“Strangers are the only perfect people — that’s why I keep collecting them, and that’s why I see myself as a stranger and I love her better.”
6. Honorable Mention: “Relentless” — Tim Grover
- Getting a pixie.
- Doing improv. I wanted to do improv forever and finally made it a goal. I took 18 classes, joined a troupe, did shows, competed… and learned about relationships, action, judgment, anxiety, and more.
- Paying my parents’ mortgage. I know this is a “bad” financial decision. But I also know money is inherently worthless — we have to use it for something we value. And this is something I do.
- The “health” experiments. Especially fasting.
BEST PURCHASES (in order)
- Adesso floor lamp ($200) — Our unit overlooks a courtyard and our lighting was “accent” (which is, uh, “cute” at best.) I wanted a light that was a.) bright, b.) directly overhead, and c.) aesthetically minimal. I (meaning my bf, bc he loves it) spent hours researching before I (meaning he, using my requirements) picked Adesso. And it’s perfect. I love lamp.
- Aller-Ease Allergy Pillow ($20) and Rx spray ($15) — After living my entire life with chronic sinus issues and a poor sense of smell, I saw an ENT, then an allergist, and learned I’m allergic to pretty much everything (incl. dogs and cats, despite growing up with both.) I bought these (plus a pillowcase and mattress case) and TOTAL GAME CHANGERS OMG.
- Various books ($5–15 each) — see above.
- Myofascia ball ($8) — see below.
- Two IKEA throw pillows + covers ($30 total) — We had a spare bed pillowon the couch, which is some college-level slum shit, but I don’t like stuff so deliberated months on buying these. But 10/10 would adult again.
- iVillage breakfast with Dad ($20?)
Worst purchases: several books, some skincare products, a pair of flats that never broke in, a lot of the food and drink.
Of what I discovered this year.
- “Jungle” by Tash Sultana.YASS. I’ve listened to “Jungle” so much that YouTube now autoplays it every 7 songs or so.
- “Deceptacon” by Le Tigre.I can’t believe I’ve gone my whole life not knowing about Kathleen Hanna.
- John Gorman’s recommendations. Sometimes when there’s not enough fire or color or sensuality in life, I remember Gorman’s music recs and everything feels alright. Gorman shared “10 Under-the-Radar Songs I Love.” I told him I liked “Cannonball” and “Tu Si Sabes Quererme.” He sent me a Spotify list. I listened. He later tweeted Leon Bridges. I wrote about it.
- French pop
Physical health is hard to really gauge…
I didn’t drink for 3 months, but still drink a lot. I worked out more, but not tons. I did keto, then stopped. I fasted, then “re-fed.” I lost water weight, then regained it. I can do like ½ push-up, ½ pull-up, and maybe run ½ mile. I maybe “should” improve these. It’s not a priority rn. I’m “skinny fat,” but have a low/healthy BMI (depending on the day.) No real health issues = grade on a curve?
- FASTING— I did two 5-day water fasts. (Recommend.)
- IF/OMAD — in short: “stop eating non-stop, you rabid animal.” (It works.)
- KETO —ditto.
- GLUTEUS MEDIUS/MINIMUS — do you know how to work these?? Because I definitely didn’t — and it is amazing.
- MEDITATION — I finally got there
- COLD SHOWERS — okay, no. I took some. I tried. But it’s a no for me dawg. Maybe someday, maybe in the future. Not right now.
- FASCIA — knots, chronic pain, cellulite, saddle bags, etc. There’s a lot of “marketing” out there, so I’m not going to mention any branded products, benefits others claim, or science. I’ll just say: I see results. I started using a 4″ fascia ball and I put that sh*t on everything: glutes, hammies, knots in my back, neck, arms, calves etc. I even use it as a foam roller. It is amazing.
- EPSOM SALT — baths. (Does nothing, as far as I saw.)
- WEIGHT — all said and done, no change.
Bro… If you’re not doing skincare, I feel for bad for you, son. Because we’ve got 99 problems and our skin is one.
I don’t care about makeup, but skincare always matters. This year I learned:
- SUGAR — I’ve spent hundreds on skincare but the best thing I’ve ever done (besides use SPF) was cut out sugar (all simple carbs.) Dat complexion.
- RETIN-A — I started Rx Retin-A this year and like it. (Cons: it destroys your skin’s moisture at first. That’s just what it does. It’ll be okay.)
- CLEANSER — literally soap. (I know everyone’s all “omg soap dries you out!” but tbh I see worse problems with cleansers, even “gentle” ones.) Ash of The Middle Finger Project also swears by antibacterial bodywash. So.
- SPF — most important thing (maybe even above sugar.) I use Biore 50+
- VITAMIN C — I guess it’s a thing? I use it sometimes but whatevs.
- COLLAGEN — eating it does nothing. (Sorry, bone broth weirdos.)
- OTHER — AHAs, BHAs, stuffs under my eyes, etc.
Also, moisturizer. I didn’t discover any new ones, but: use it.
Uh, yes, I do a werk. It’s good.
Work is play. Just like life can be play. Find a game you enjoy, play alright, and you’ll do okay.
See “highs” and “lows,” above.
We good. See “highs” and “lows,” above.
See “friends,” above.
Sometimes people say the weirdest stuff for “spirituality.”
I know I’m not helping my own spiritual journey, but it’s high-key remarkable when people define their “spirituality” as “5–10 books on business” or “personal development” or “waking up early” or “tech industry news” or “productivity” or whatever. (Like… what. Not to be a dick, but come on.)
Anyway. See: meditation. Also see: non-attachment.
I’m obviously still working on the “compassion” bit.
See: this entire post.
Tasted like: Red wine. And white wine. Craft beer. Cheap beer. Bitter beer. Sweet beer. Raw nuts. Biscoffs. Big salads. And cheese (SO MUCH CHEESE OMG.) Great cheese, bad cheese, string cheese, grilled cheese.
It smelled like: commercial pastries baking in the early morning air, heavy humidity, fresh laundry, mildew spray, racing tires, and hair product.
It looked like: laminate hardwood Swiffered clean, dim light, bright light, sunlight, all shades of green.
Sounded like: the music above, plus a few shows.
Felt like: another season on a good bike, with a good partner, in a good place. Improv, drinking, walking, lifting, eating. It felt like fun.
The world is a playground.
QUESTIONS I STILL HAVE
I always have a few questions tumbling around.
I ended previous years wondering about: emotional boundaries, “a thing vs. the idea of a thing,” decision-making, accurate vs. false logic, being a woman, personal agency, and a lot about love.
Right now I have questions on self-preservation vs. sexual energy vs. society. Also, others.
I make a weak attempt at asserting an intent for each new year, but I never really have a great answer.
I’ve written things like “more work,” “more love,” “more meaning,” which sounds about as awesome as those “live love laugh” signs. I once wrote “more travel and books” and when I reached one year on Medium, I wrote “more personal essays. Ideally. :)” Which is at least a bit more specific.
What do I want for next year? Not sure. Still working on it. But I have ideas.
How will I know once I’ve achieved it? TBD.
Two of my areas for growth are still the same as last year:
In addition, there are a few other things:
- Working on my own aversion to “process” and “others’ anxiety”
- Have the minor shoulder surgery I’ve been putting off for like five years
- Lose those same ~5–10 pounds again
- And write more.
Because it’s always the writing.