Monday, January 22, 2018

2018: No Longer Coasting

via Pinterest

Working hard to accomplish challenging goals isn't something that comes naturally to me. As a child, I was a "smart slacker" - which is definitely not "smart". Many things came easily, particularly standardized test scores. Plenty of things I valued did not, however, come so easily, including my overall academic performance, which often lagged behind my abilities. I was, at least, capable of learning, to see the writing on the wall when I was letting complacency get the best of me, and to sit down and work hard to reverse that. Except that I didn't learn that much, because I repeated this pattern in both college and high school. (I didn't repeat it in law school because first-year grades are of pivotal importance, for biglaw especially. One hopes to be recruited for a post-graduation job the summer before 2L year. Failure could be catastrophic.) All of which is a long way of saying, I have a history of "coasting", trying to take it easy or goof off, when I think I can get away with it. 

Until recently, I didn't think about this much in context of my personal goals, outside of school. I was great with my 2016 New Years' resolutions, for instance, though I picked them specifically because they were manageable. My concrete plans for my money were things I knew, from K's recent experience, to be realistic. My workout scheduling plans were less ambitious than I'd accomplished at other stages in my life, albeit less busy ones than when I was in biglaw. I saw them as "baby steps" to help me adapt to working life. 

For 2017 though, the less said about my resolutions, the better. I'd gone around commenting on other people's 2018 New Years' goals entries, earnestly explaining that although I did a good job, I still felt dissatisfied, and so I needed to overhaul my approach. Only the latter part of that was true. I didn't actually remember any of my broader, more thematic ideas for 2017, and I absolutely didn't remember the suggested applications for those broader goals. If I didn't even remember the goals, I obviously wasn't accomplishing them!

Regardless, throughout 2017, I often felt that I was "coasting", taking it easier than I wanted, or was capable of, like I wasn't challenging myself, and wasn't growing. I was satisfied with what I accomplished at the office, always dealing with new projects, but outside of that, I felt a bit stagnant. The most concrete example was in the physical fitness area. I generally worked out three to four times a week, often with fairly long cardio workouts, but that is often not the most efficient approach. And so, as my body changed (perhaps due to my age, I'll be 30 this year), and as I struggled with my "supercommute" (which required moving my natural sleep schedule up by about two hours), things... weren't great. I sized myself out of some clothes, among other things. I often felt sluggish, like I wasn't taking the best care of myself. 

All of that was a really, really long way of saying that I'm changing my approach to long-term goals this year. I need a longer list of very concrete goals, with more frequent check-ins, and some amount of flexibility, if an initial idea isn't working as well as I thought. So they're not just "2018 goals" or resolutions anymore, as I'll be working through different goals by the week, or by the month. I don't, therefore, currently have a full list of the things that I want to accomplish this year, and the list is subject to change at any time, but here are some of the things I'm working towards in 2018:
  • Starting now, rededicate myself to more conscious budgeting, likely using the "You Need a Budget" or "YNAB" method. Despite tracking every transaction for years now, I still felt like I wasn't being very conscious about my budgeting. I'd lose track of transactions, and had discrepancies of up to $100 in some accounts, due to my own accounting errors. I also wasn't following the "rules" of YNAB, as I entered my income at the start of every month and budgeted right away, rather than waiting for my paychecks. This violates Rule One, "give every dollar (that you actually have) a job" and Rule Four, "live on last month's income," a built in one month emergency fund or "buffer". Despite my efforts, I didn't feel in control of my budget. I've started following the YNAB rules, and will reevaluate if that isn't enough. 
  • By the end of January, refinance my student loans. This is a very obvious way to save money, for anyone with a substantial student loan balance.  When pooled together, my law school loans had an interest rate of approximately 7%. Refinancing tends to result in a fixed interest rate of 2.5% to 4.0%, depending on the company and the repayment term, or slightly lower variable rates. I couldn't refinance when I first graduated, as I needed federal income-based repayment while I was clerking. I've submitted my paperwork, so I'm all set. 
  • By February or March, start a workout routine that pushes me constantly. I've started by doing shorter cardio workouts, followed by a pilates session, currently one of Blogilates's/Cassey Ho's earlier beginner videos. (At this stage, because it's been so long since I've done pilates, getting through that is a challenge!) I'll likely mix in other things soon, follow some of the tips you've been kind enough to give me over the years, including by trying Fitness Blender videos. I might eventually hire a personal trainer for a few sessions. (I've proven time and time again that I'm terrible about attending classes, even expensive ones I prepaid for, so that method of adding to my workout routine is likely not on my agenda.) 
  • Identify and take steps towards being low-waste. This is something I move very slowly on, but I started late last year by stopping my use of disposable paper and plastic cups at the office. Planned next steps include using (a) wax food wraps instead of saran wrap and (b) washable, reusable cotton rounds for face cleansing. I'll be on the lookout for other things I can do. 
  • Keep on keeping on at work. I've always worked very hard to ensure that the bad habit of trying to coast doesn't sneak into my professional life. I put a lot into being a good junior attorney, and I'll continue to do so. 

What are your goals for 2018? Anyone else relate to the "smart slacker" thing? It was a common lament among my high school and college peers. We went to good, somewhat competitive public high schools, but weren't really challenged by the coursework, so we got used to relatively low effort for good results. College then proved to be a different animal, where putting in diligent hard work was a necessary component of the success we wanted. Learning how to focus wasn't always easy! There was much trial and error. 

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