Last December (2015), my fiancee and I decided to set OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) for 2016. I don't recall exactly how this came about but we had set a goal to attempt to buy a house in January of 2016, and I think we just decided to attempt to do something with our time now that we had stable living conditions (whoo not super impoverished! Take that neoliberalist regime?).
Okay, that's a little too simplified. Maybe that is how it was for my fiancee, but for me, it was a rough culmination of months of thinking. You see, 2014 was very hard. I had bounced from job to job, desperately trying to make money, climb out of poverty, and contribute to society. I could not afford to fuck up, I had no home to bounce back to after college, my parents were as poor or poorer than I was. I had student loans. When I was between jobs, I spent all my time alone at home, applying to as many jobs as I could. Here's a screenshot of my Applied Jobs folder from that time. Next time you shit on your friends or kids who are looking for entry level positions, maybe you'll remember this:
(That's not even close to all of them)
Those were the worst times, you'd put in a bunch of effort, calling, writing letters, applying through their automated systems. You'd do interviews, never get a call back, etc. The hours I spent just feeling like the absolute scum of the Earth were some of the worst I've ever had. I contemplated ending it. I am serious here. I thought about killing myself because I couldn't find a job, or the jobs I did get paid little and were shit. My self worth was tied up in what I did to make money. How fucking insane does that sound in the written word?
On a day just like any other at that time, I read something and I suddenly made the connection. I was more than money. Money is a social power construct. I wasn't just a job, just some fucking numbers on a check. Even if I never made another dollar, that didn't mean that I wasn't worthy of living, that didn't mean that I couldn't do other things. Just because I was poor didn't mean that I couldn't contribute to art, or go hiking, or learn to make really good food. How much money I made didn't make me a good or happy person. My boyfriend (now fiancee) had been telling me this for months, but it wasn't clicking. I had grown up to believe that money was everything because we never had enough.
I survived 2014 because I had a great support network of friends, family, and most importantly, aid from the government. I stress that last part. Without the food stamps, medical care, and low student loans that the great state of California and the USA at large had given to me, I would be in a hell hole today, or dead. In January of 2015, I managed to find a job that I liked and paid me well. I was able to pay off my student loans, and have, for the very first time in my entire life, more than $1000 in my bank account. I actually cried when I filled out the paperwork to enroll on my employer's health care plan. I was not on Medi-Cal for the first time in my entire life. I could afford to go to the dentist (I wrote a whole saga about that
). Despite me being more than money, money is power, and having even a little bit of that power makes all the goddamn difference. You are more than a paycheck, but a paycheck makes it easier to live.
The last couple of months leading up to December 2015 had been very strange for me. I had some income, I was debt free. I spent a few months adjusting to my new life, trying to figure out what I was doing or supposed to do. I realized that just going to work and coming home wasn't enough for me. I work in hospice care. While I am not a nurse, I read notes and speak with people who used our services (patients, family members, etc.). I am in the business of helping people handle the end of their lives. It very slowly occurred to me that the future is really just a bunch of todays and that if all I did was wait until the next day, or just put something into the vague category of "I want to do that someday" that I never would. I wanted to do a lot of things.
I spent the first 18 years of my life in the same typical American town, and we were too poor to go anywhere or do much. When I was a kid, it never occurred to me to actually try and go anywhere or do much of anything, because I knew we wouldn't have the money or the time, so why bother right then? Just file it away in someday, or brush it off.
Suddenly, I had some income. I had some time. I didn't have to spend every night lying awake thinking about whether or not I would have food, or if I could afford rent, or how much I hate I felt about myself, about market economics, about state sanctioned poverty. Pile that on top of my revelation that money wouldn't give me meaning, and that just having an income wouldn't make me a better person and I began to look for something more.
Thus in December, my fiancee was introduced to OKRs at his job. He told me about them, and we decided to set some for ourselves.
The goals were created on the fly and intended to take us through the year, and we separated them into joint goals and individual goals as seen below.
Buy a fucking house
Hike twice a month (24 times for the year)
Run eight miles a week
Bike instead of drive for one weekend of the month
Take a parkour/acroyoga class
Improve our art skills judged by a Jan-Dec comparison
Go camping 4 times
Fly somewhere round trip
Go ice skating once/month
Start storyboarding for a creative project
My personal goals:
Write a grant
Read two books a month
Finish the book I was working on
Work on this blog
Well it's December 31st, 2016 and our scorecard is:
Hiked 18 times
I read 25 books
Practiced Spanish every day this year, relearned math (all the way up through Algebra 1), started learning Japanese (152 day practicing streak whoo!)
Bought the goddamn house
Actually did improve in the art department, did a 30 day art challenge even
Finished my book
Did not drive for a weekend for 5 months
Stopped running once we started buying the house, about April
Found two camping locations, but have yet to get the required gear
Stopped going ice skating once we started buying the house
Didn't write a grant, but did create multiple pieces of design collateral
I wrote more of this blog than I ever have before. I made 11 entire blog posts! (this is where you clap goddamn it)
Realized that parkour/acroyoga classes cost a lot of money when you're trying to buy a house
Jesus fucking flying costs so much money in America
We knew we probably wouldn't make all of these goals. The point of OKRs is to set really ambitious goals and make an attempt to meet them, then reassess after the set time period has elapsed.
Setting these goals has changed my life. I feel satisfied. I always feel like I'm doing something. Even if I have a fucking awful day, I am able to say something like "At least I did some Spanish today" or "At least I read some of my book today." I have more faith in myself that I can do something if I try. Most importantly, I have a better idea of what I actually do want to do. I discovered that I hardcore love languages. I also really enjoy drawing architecture.
That being said, this shit is challenging as fuck. There were days when I want to straight up fucking die. Fall down and not get up.
Judging things on a yearly basis is too large of a time scale for our brains to handle. This time we have big overarching goals for the year, but were breaking them down to a quarterly basis.
Go in with a plan. A clear, concrete plan. Without one, you will make every excuse to get around what you're doing, because you're tired or you had a hard day, or you want to binge watch Ghost in the Shell. Take the time to put in those details. Plan in advance where you are hiking and for how long. I had my fiancee write a program to determine how many pages I had to read a day in order to read 24 books in a year.
Put things on a calendar and set reminders. For the love of god, why did I only find out that Asana has Google Calendar integration in December?! Keep your goals on something that you can access from anywhere at any time. Checking them often is really helpful to staying on track.
We underestimated the difficulty of many of the goals. We didn't realize that buying a house and working on it would eat most of our time (jesus fuck, fuck painting). Camping requires finding places and reserving spots. It also requires certain equipment. Hiking also requires planning, but you don't have to reserve a spot for it, and you don't necessarily need equipment.
Exercising is really important, but it is the first thing you let go. It's especially hard to manage when you don't know what you are doing. You really
need to have a plan here. You have to take the long view and figure out exactly what you're doing. No excuses whatsoever here. A class is great because then all you have to do is go to the class, you don't have to plan out every single exercise and the exact weight amounts, and time it exactly. The instructor does that for you.
As much fun as it was to read 25 books this year, it was too much. For 2017, I am going to cut it down to 12. I need time after work to do other things like crying and cleaning.
Break the big goals into little ones. That "Rome wasn't built in a day" shit is actually accurate.
Setting goals has been amazing for my financial planning. This is probably tangental, but it has been really useful to have a budgeting program and figure out my plan for retirement and only stay up half the night thinking about it, instead of the whole night. This is something everyone needs to learn how to do. Financial education is more important than knowing who the President is (not to say they aren't related).
Things that I didn't like:
Sometimes things just felt too regimented. Wake up, go to work, come home, cook, read, Spanish/math/Japanese, repeat. I think this can be better dealt with by having a better understanding of your time and energy levels.
People look at you like you're a crazy person when you show them your book list, or talk to them about the goals you've set. This one isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it is something I noticed.
Planning everything is a job in-and-of itself. Try to pick one day a month and just push through those 6 hours. Spreading it out is a good way to fail.
It was hard to fit additional things into your schedule. For example, I realized that I find knitting to be fun, and I wanted to make a beanie, but didn't because I could never fit it in around all the other stuff I was doing on a daily basis.
Taking a break was almost impossible. The house really killed my motivation, and there were weeks when I would come home from work and only have time to do my goals and then pass out. I had very little time to unwind or watch a TV show, or even just stare blankly at a wall.
Things I liked:
Learning something new every day, 'nuff said.
Taking the long view is actually quite calming. It takes practice, but it takes a load off your shoulders. I recently wrote up my first ever five year plan. It's ambitious, and I don't know how much I'll actually accomplish, but just trying will get me farther than filing it into the "someday" folder.
I felt like I had some semblance of control over my life. Even though we have Trump now, I could still wake up in the morning and be like "Alright, how do I say "I have a basement you can hide in." in Spanish? (Tengo un sotano eso puede te ocultar.)
Feeling like every day presents some new challenge, even if the action is similar made life a little less monotonous. I feel healthy and happy mentally. I always have a purpose. Something to strive for. I feel like I'm getting somewhere, even though that somewhere is just a better version of myself.
Would I do this again?
Yes. I plan to set OKRs for the rest of my life. I feel on track. I feel like I am improving as a person every day. I learn something new every day. I can look back at the end of the year and say "holy shit what happened?" but in a good way (though 2016 has made that really hard). That's something I've never felt before.
So here's to 2017. I know on many fronts (social, economic, environmental) it'll be shit, but that doesn't mean I have to stop doing what I'm doing to be better for myself.