This post is a retrospective on my happiness and resolve in recent years, followed by sharing my 2019 New Year’s resolutions.
what is happiness?
I’ve long struggled to define what happiness means to me. At the very beginning of 2018, after reading Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F, I think I have a better idea now. For me, happiness is defined in terms of being able to choose how I spend my physical, mental, and emotional energy to solve problems I want to solve.
By trying to have this framework in mind, 2018 was the happiest I’ve been in many years. But first, let’s talk prior years…
reflecting on 2016
In 2016, I was completely obsessed with work and building wealth. I was employee #18 at a startup that was experiencing tremendous growth. We were building some innovative things, and I was drunk on the company Kool-Aid. I truly believed that we would become a multi-billion dollar enterprise, and that my shares in the company would be worth tens of millions. I probably averaged 60+ work hours per week, working late into evenings and/or in weekends.
In March, I was presented with a management consultant opportunity with a multinational company. It would give me a chance to learn new things about business strategy and put my Mandarin to use. I turned down the offer, but it was so compelling that I agreed to do part time work on the side. Not only was this new workload in addition to my full time job, I also had to balance having a girlfriend and personal hobbies.
So what did I do? I placed the overwhelming majority of my physical, mental, and emotional energy into both companies and compartmentalized everything else. I barely took days off; my PTO had maxed and was no longer accruing. After getting home from my day job, I’d spend hours working Hong Kong Time (HKT).
As a consultant, one of the craziest things I did was to use my PTO to take a Friday off. On a Thursday night, I took a red-eye flight to China, landing on Saturday morning HKT. I worked Saturday-Sunday HKT, with a flight back on Sunday evening HKT. I’d land on Sunday night California time, tried to sleep, and go back to my full time job on Monday morning. Sound crazy? I did that twice. I ended up flying 77,900 miles over 45 flights for both companies that year.
What about everything else? I neglected my extremely loving and supportive girlfriend. I ignored my health and only exercised about once a week. Social life? Hahahahahaha…
2016 was the most money I made in a single year, close to $200,000. But my focus was entirely on work, and I was pretty depressed.
reflecting on 2017
In 2017, things didn’t change that much. All of my energy was still focused on work. I latched onto the concept of having multiple streams of income.
In addition to both my full time and part time work, I began ghostwriting and editing books through the freelance website Upwork. Publishing a book has always been one of my goals, and I was somehow convinced that writing/editing other peoples’ works would help me figure out how to author my own book. I earned a good amount of supplementary income from writing a few hours here and there, but found little joy in doing so.
The consulting contract ended in the middle of the year. I was pretty relieved because my body felt pretty messed up. I ceased freelance writing about the same time. However, rather than use the time I gained back on leisure, I committed deeper to my primary job.
On Friday, June 30, I requested PTO for Monday, July 3. That would have been my first PTO of the year, giving me a four-day Independence Day weekend to decompress.
At 10:00 P.M. on Saturday, July 1, I received a call from my boss. “Andy, can you go to China tomorrow and stay up to a month?” I said yes and flew the next day. Like Thanksgiving 2016, my July 4 holiday was spent working all day in China. The trip lasted 3.5 weeks, and I worked 8:30 A.M. to 8:30-10:30 P.M. from Monday-Saturday. I forced myself to explore the city of Chongqing on Sunday to stay sane.
One week after returning to California, I relocated to San Diego for the company. The decision was made months beforehand, but I did so selfishly without talking it over with my girlfriend, who had remained incredibly supportive and patient all this time. We ended up breaking up 3 months later.
I spent the 2017 Christmas/New Years season at home in Orange County. I recall feeling pretty miserable, and a dear friend (JD Cousens) recommended I read the The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F to gain a different perspective. Another friend (Henry Chang) recommended reading The Zurich Axioms. I read both during the holidays. This led to…
Reflecting on 2018
I made two simple resolutions:
- To diversify my physical, mental, and emotional energy as a means to be happier. In plain English, to find joy in multiple things besides my full time job.
- To be more kind. I’d been very selfish in 2016 and 2017. I recall being a kinder, albeit more idealistic, person in college, and felt that I had lost that touch in recent years. I also felt much guilt for the way I had treated my girlfriend and was determined not to treat others poorly again.
On midnight of January 1, while (I shit you not) fireworks were going off, I submitted paperwork to found my own company (LLC). One of my takeaways from Mark Manson was that true happiness occurs only when you choose the problems you want to solve. You’ll always have problems in life, but happiness means wanting the problems you have and wanting to solve them. Coupled with that, The Zurich Axioms gave me courage to really commit to the project by forming a company out of it.
My full time job still consumed the day, but I began leaving earlier compared to historical trends, i.e. 6:00 or 6:30 P.M. I allocated some of my energy to my company on evenings and weekends. I ended up reinvesting all the money I made from the management consultant work into this company. I ran into (and still to this day) a plethora of problems, but felt incredible fulfillment learning how to solve these problems that I brought unto myself.
During the same time period, I began to take better care of my physical health.
Since 2013, my right foot had been injured with (I was told) tendinitis. Early 2018, I finally began physical therapy and seemed to make good progress. When my foot felt strong enough, I began to actually make use of my Muay Thai and tennis club memberships. I began losing some weight. My foot injury kept re-surfacing, but I was still able to exercise moderately 2-3 times a week.
On a separate health issue, I had been diagnosed with glaucoma since 2011. While living in San Diego, I found a world-renowned glaucoma specialist to do a routine checkup. Conducting tests over the next several weeks, he miraculously concluded that there was no trace of me having the disease. My eyes were healthy, he asserted. For the first time in 7 years, I no longer had the burden of taking prescription eye drops every morning and evening; I had done so religiously for SEVEN fucking years. Fuck yeah.
For my second resolution, I tried to consciously be more kind. In March, I took my dad to see his first-ever live tennis match at Indian Wells. I selected favorable seats that cost about $650.
In June, I took my family on a East Coast vacation. In November, I took a new girlfriend on a Costa Rica vacation. I also donated to Berkeley, Wikipedia (as always!), and a few charities. I began to host get-togethers at my house for UFC fight nights, hot pot nights, or just simple potlucks. In contrast with my previous years tunnel visioning on work, I spent much more time with others in a non-work capacity and enjoyed it very much.
In October, I went to see a podiatrist (a foot specialist) for my so-called tendinitis. An X-ray and an MRI revealed that my issue was a bone spur. On Dec. 14, I had surgery to remove the bone spur.
I spent the remaining two weeks of 2018 immobile, but excited and optimistic that the root cause of this problem was finally solved.
While 2018 was the happiest I’ve been in years, I’m not sure if I’m objectively “happy.” Which finally brings me to…
2019: resolutions and accountability
While building upon the resolutions from last year, I have two resolutions for 2019:
- To get into good physical condition.
- To make a positive impact past the self.
That’s vague. I want to be held accountable, so what do I mean?
Regarding the first resolution, I used to derive much happiness (and pride) from my physical condition during college years. I lost my fitness and gained nearly 30 pounds (reaching 190 pounds) from living in Taiwan in 2014-2015. Now that my foot’s fixed, I don’t think there’s a valid reason why I can’t reach athletic condition again. I just need to Reddit or watch TV one less hour a day, a few times a week.
On the day of my surgery (Dec. 14), I weighed 174 pounds. My first post-op yesterday (Jan. 4) went well; I should be able to begin exercising my legs in a few weeks. My milestone is to cut 10 pounds primarily through exercise. One of the means is through playing tennis. Another means is to begin jumping rope again, with a secondary goal of reaching my prior peak.
Here’s the plan:
|Week 1 (1/06)||175 pounds|
|Week 2 (1/13)||174.25 pounds|
|Week 3 (1/20)||173.50 pounds|
|Week 4 (1/27)||172.75 pounds|
|Week 5 (2/03)||172 pounds|
|Week 6 (2/10)||171.25 pounds|
|Week 7 (2/17)||170.50 pounds|
|Week 8 (2/24)||169.75 pounds|
|Week 9 (3/03)||169 pounds|
|Week 10 (3/10)||168.25 pounds|
|Week 11 (3/17)||167.50 pounds|
|Week 12 (3/24)||166.75 pounds|
|Week 13 (3/31)||166 pounds|
|Week 14 (4/07)||165.25 pounds|
|Week 15 (4/14)||164.50 pounds|
Regarding the second resolution, I am committing to a problem I want to solve, with the goal of producing a positive impact on something or someone that surpasses my own personal gains.
Not sure if I’ll fail or succeed, but at least the effort will be there. Feeling optimistic about 2019.