2019 – A Year of Challenges

Since 2018 didn’t work out so well for me in regards to accomplishing measurable goals, I am taking a net new approach in 2019. I will need to remain motivated to overcome the barriers we all experience when trying to improve ourselves – I have confidence this can be done.

Borrowing from my professional life as an Implementation Manager (think project manager meets sales meets operations management) of software, I need a shorter, time bound approach to my personal improvement. Over the course of a year, motivation to accomplish a long list of goals bleeds out like so much juice from a squeezed lemon. It is untenable and ultimately self-defeating to watch as one goal after another slips through my fingers resulting in failure (reference: 2018).

Another inspiration for this new approach has been the random social media challenges people take up in order to get followers, friends, and other digital accolades. Yes, even the tide pod challenge has some influence in my thought process. Now, the difference between the social media muck challenges and what I am doing is I plan on long-term personal change based on short-term, high-impact behavior modification. My Challenges are not temporary nor are they just to see if I can do something – they are meaningful and will result in real life gains.

The Modular Approach to Change

How have I decided to approach 2019? It’s simple enough, each month is a Challenge (or goal) to overcome. Each Challenge facilitates rapid behavioral change which leads to positive habit formation or results in accredited documentation (such as a certification or hard-skill). At the end of each Challenge I will devise a means of continuing the positive changes in a way that is less disruptive to my day-to-day life.

By breaking the year down into more bite-sized chunks of time (wherein a quarter is a Module and a month is a Challenge), I can accomplish several things:

  1. Regular achievement of goals which fuel future success
  2. Short-term gains that lend themselves to long-term, positive changes
  3. An easily read scoreboard or tracking system

This is what it looks like:

To measure success in any particular Module the following criteria will be used:

  1. Success in 3 Challenges equals full success in the Module
  2. Success in 2 Challenges equals average success in the Module
  3. Success in 1 or fewer Challenges equals failure in the Module

Each Challenge will consist of a 30-day block of time (with the exception of February which will only be 28-days) dedicated to overcoming the designated Challenge. In the final days of each Challenge, I will devise a plan for continued moderation of the bad habit or expansion of the good habit past the Challenge end date. This final step to each challenge is the key to actual self-improvement over the long-term.

For example, in April 2019 I have slated a “No Added Sugar Challenge” for the month. This means I will cut all sugar not naturally produced by a food item from my diet – no sugar in my coffee, no creamer, no bread, no cold cereal, no soda, no syrup, etc. Throughout the month I will update this blog with my progress as well as any physiological effects I observe. It is likely that at the end of the month I will want to reintroduce certain sugars back into my diet, however, I don’t want to return to the same level of sugar intake I was at when the challenge began. Therefore, a moderation plan will be executed to allow me to enjoy sweetened coffee without turning to a gallon of soda everyday.

This approach to change allows me to stack my successes over shorter periods of time while maintaining long-term gains. I’m sure I’m not the only one who is using this approach, but I can’t seem to find a name for it. Maybe something along the lines of “Stacked Success” or “Stacked Progress” – obviously I am stuck on the work “Stack”, but I digress.

January 2019 Challenge

For January 2019, I have challenged myself to close all three Activity Rings on my Apple Watch. I chose this challenge because it is something I have done many times in the past (though inconsistently) and is a good stepping stone into the much more difficult Challenges later in the year.

To ensure this isn’t a cake walk, I have increased my “Move Goal” to 750 calories per day. In order to achieve this elevated calorie count I will be required to purposefully do things everyday to increase my overall activity. Relying on standard daily activity at my desk job will not close these rings.

I anticipate this Challenge will require conscious effort to achieve but won’t disrupt my daily life too badly. Though people will attest to “loving change” all to often sudden or rapid change results in relapsing into bad habits or substituting new bad habits for the old ones. Human beings are resistant to change because we find comfort in complacency and routine. However, this comfort leads to sedentary lives which do not produce anything new. I am tired of buying into this approach to life.

Though this first Challenge should be accomplished easily enough, it won’t be so easy as the months pass. The Husband and I gave up sugar for 3-days last year and the effects were good and bad. Our moods shifted and our energy levels dropped initially (it was absolutely miserable) but by the end of the third day we were feeling and sleeping better. Unfortunately, 3-days wasn’t enough time to break the habit. I expect this year will be very difficult but have very positive results.

I plan to update this blog regularly with updates on my progress throughout the month – this will include my triumphs and shortcomings. Check back often for details on my progress!

What approach are you taking in 2019 to improving yourself? Status quo or are you getting organized and systematically attacking your goals? Let us all know in the comments below!

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2018 – A Year of Progress But Ultimately a Failure

Like many people, I have spent time reflecting on the year as it comes to a close. Many questions have been rattling around my head trying to gauge my success this year. As usual, my answers to these questions inevitably result in an evaluation rated as “average”. Those close to me will say I am being too hard on myself or that my analysis isn’t accurate, but I feel the results are as impartial as can be expected.

To start, I only achieved 2 of the 10 goals I set for myself at the beginning of the year. Marching in the 2018 Bataan Memorial Death March and writing on this blog were my measurable accomplishments (i.e. documented goals at the start of the year). I failed to lose the weight, pay off as much debt as I projected, or quit smoking. Losses across the board.

However, I did manage to accomplish a lot this year that wasn’t contained within the limits of those goals which is why I don’t feel like a total failure. This is not a silver-lining moment to minimize my shortcomings of 2018, it is simply the truth. So, what did come out of 2018?

  • I was on the road for work or personal reasons 15% of the year
    • According to the airlines I spent nearly 60 hours on planes
    • I visited 8 states and 2 dozen cities (many were new to me)
    • I flew 25,000 miles on one airline (enough to circumnavigate the earth one time)
  • I was promoted at work
  • I purposefully made time for other people
  • I learned new skills
  • I took time off from work (a shocker even to me)
  • I paid off some debt
  • I read a dozen books that weren’t related to work
  • I celebrated 10 years of being out of the Army
  • I celebrated 7 years with the man I love most in this world
  • I planted a garden with my husband

Today, I am a better person than I was a year ago, this is a fact beyond dispute. Personally, professionally, financially – I made gains in all these categories throughout the year. My one regret is that these gains are not measurable, at best they are anecdotal. Fortunately, since I have identified these shortcomings I can take strides to improve next year.

I am ending this year with a smile on my face and plenty of hope for the future. Of course, to support that hope, I have already established a solid plan for the coming year and am laying the foundation for continued success beyond 2019.

How did your year end? Were you successful in your pursuits or happily enlightened to new priorities? Do you have 2019 planned out or are you flying by the seat of your pants?

Startup Life – Not What You Think

This is a longer post about working for a startup. For those with the mettle for the job, I highly recommend it; however, if you’re looking for a 9-5, Monday to Friday with ping-pong and bean bag chairs, stick to the cubicle.

Startups are not for everyone.


An example of a typical conversation when I meet someone new:

“What do you do for a living?” asks the person I just met.

“Oh, I work for a startup that focuses on patient engagement in the healthcare field. How about you, what work are you in?” I respond, cordially.

“A startup, wow! That must be exciting! I just work in HR a large company XYZ. But, you, you work for a startup, you must have fun all the time, right?” the new person I don’t really know responds while smiling and digging for their phone so we can swap contact information and they can later ask me to recommend them for a job with a startup.

Inside my being, I die just a little bit each time this scenario plays out. It boils down to the old saying, “Be careful what you wish for”.


Okay, let’s get down to brass tax:

Startups are HARD!

Big surprise, right? Amazingly, due to the romanticism of the Silicon Valley startup scene, people somehow believe that working at a fledgling company is all late night parties, ping-pong, and bean bag chairs. A joyous celebration of collaborative work punctuated only by the exultation of success day after day. Bright sunlight bringing nothing but glory and success to the underdog.

Reality check, television and movies very rarely give you the whole picture – watch them with a grain of salt.

Working for a startup is hard. It takes a certain amount of grit, determination, and masochism to work for a startup. Oddly enough, once you do it once, it gets easier to do it again and again.

When interviewing for my current company (which I love and will continue to full heartedly dedicate myself to until after we achieve “full success”), the CTO (Chief Technology Officer for those unfamiliar with the acronym) asked me, “You’ve worked for one startup, why the hell would you want to go through that again?” My answer was simple, “I enjoy the challenge and don’t mind the workload – every day makes me better even if it comes with a bit of pain” (this is paraphrased, but you get the point).

To work for a startup, you have to be able to endure the pain. Now, pain can come in many different forms, such as:

  • Sleep Deprivation – Weeks, if not months, of 12-18 hour days to deliver work normally performed by 3-4 people before getting a respite of some kind (usually sleeping in for an hour or two).
  • Time away from friends and family – This one has never been too difficult for me (I love you Husband! You know I do!) but can ruin marriages and relationships in short order.
  • Unrealistic expectations – Near impossible deadlines, unrelenting operation’s tempo, and never enough resources to accomplish half of it all.
  • Minimal benefits – Depending on when you start with a start-up, the upstart may not have medical, dental, or vision insurance; definitely no 401k; sometimes a salary is dependent more on the risk you are willing to take than your actual skillset.
  • Never enough time – Speaks for itself.

I think I’ll write a series of separate posts about the myth of work-life balance and what it takes for an average person to be successful at a startup (not merely survive).


ME - ABQ Airport - Oct 2018
Ready to fly out for the 4th week out of the past 5 weeks.

Another old saying goes something like this, “Tomorrow is a better day”.

Guess what? Tomorrow, at a startup, will only be harder than today was and half as hard as the day after tomorrow. It doesn’t get easier until the big VC (Venture Capital) investment or, more likely, acquisition occurs – either can mean the quick end to your tenure with that particular company.

Rare is the day that you walk into the office (open floorpan, of course) or shared workspace or garage and say, “Awesome! I get to take it easy today!” If this is what you’re looking for, seek life elsewhere. Taking an easy day at work is the same as saying, “I feel like putting myself two days behind! Let’s do it!” There is no payoff in taking it easy.


One of the best (and scariest) things about working for a startup is the difficulty of hiding your weaknesses.

In a large corporation, a person can work for 20 years not having done many things. Living as a number in a system; collecting a paycheck every two weeks; always in the right place at the right time to avoid displaying a weakness to his/her coworkers.

Maybe a middle-manager pawns off their presentations on their employees so the employee can take the blame when it is fouled up. Maybe it’s a paperwork shuffle that pins mistakes on an unwitting scapegoat in order to preserve some pension that isn’t likely to survive 10 years. Maybe it’s gross incompetence wrapped up in a sycophant who avoids responsibility through sheer kiss-assery.

In a startup, there aren’t any walls to hide behind. Your coworkers and leadership will see every mistake and every weakness. You can’t hide behind someone else, you have to take responsibility. And in a startup, there is no lengthy HR process to save you – the end is typically abrupt and comes with a handshake.

Now, there is a huge positive in this: you have the opportunity to identify, create a corrective plan, and overcome your weaknesses.

How do you do this? It’s pretty simple: be vulnerable and talk it out with your peers and leadership to develop yourself for the betterment of the company. Of Course, the learning curve is steep and expectations are real so don’t take this opportunity to improve lightly. Dive in and commit to change and you just might make it out the other side.


Would you like to see more posts about startup life in the real-world? Drop a comment below and let me know. Also, feel free to share your startup stories with me on Facebook or Twitter (the links are on the right!).

September 11th – Our Day of Infamy

At this point, you’re social media feeds have been packed with #NeverForget, #NeverAgain, #AlwaysRemember, and American flags all day long. Good! Events like September 11, 2001 should not be forgotten for fear of history repeating itself. Anyone who thinks the evil of this world is suddenly going to throw their hands up and quit preying on the innocent is a bit naive.

I am writing this post while flying from Portland to Los Angeles then to Albuquerque on an American Airline’s plane. I’ve seen a number of threads on social media asking “Where were you when…” or “What were you doing when…” and it felt appropriate to share in a post written while flying.

At the time of the attacks, I lived in Midland Texas and was a stereotypical rebellious “goth” teenager. I made a point to play devil’s advocate whenever possible and bucked against the establishment simply to test boundaries. I balked at the military and shared my far-left anti-establishment politics with anyone around me (whether they wanted to listen or not). I was a senior in high school and felt more than ready to take on the world.

On the morning of September 11, 2001 I found myself in bowling class (yes, bowling class, the alternative to traditional P.E. – because, goth). We had just arrived at the bowling alley when the second plane hit the South Tower. The class took notice and paused all conversation, trying to figure out what movie the alley was playing. It only took a few seconds to realize it was all too real.

No one rolled a ball that day; no cheers for a strike; no smiles could be found on the two dozen kids in that class nor the three adults who worked at the lanes. Any talking was hushed whispers as all eyes were glued to the television screens which normally showed repeats of past bowling tournaments and advertisements for bad nachos and over-sweet sodas. Life felt like it had stopped.

It was fairly obvious to me that the world changed that morning. America wouldn’t be the same, the world wouldn’t be the same, , my generation wouldn’t be the same, I wouldn’t be the same. Having grown up in relative peace (all American conflicts had been low-grade combat operations that hadn’t lasted all that long – the Gulf War being the exception), I knew it wasn’t impossible for a full-scale war to occur in my lifetime, but it did seem unlikely until that morning.

At the appointed time (after all civilian air traffic was grounded, the Pentagon had been hit, and Flight 93 had crashed in Pennsylvania), we all loaded the bus and returned to school. I remember going to my parked truck instead of my next class and another student walking by and asking “Why you pissed off?” I couldn’t believe it, I wanted to ask him “Why aren’t you pissed off?” I couldn’t really reply other than to tell him to watch the news.

I left school shortly thereafter.

The attacks of September 11th weren’t a primary influence in my decision to join the Army nor did I suddenly hate all Muslims or form a negative opinion of an entire region because of the actions of a few, but, I can say it helped push me to be an Infantryman. Male pride and ego played into this decision as well, but knowing that we were attacked as a nation that day sure didn’t hurt my motivations.

I can only hope that we, as a country, never have to experience an event like this again; however, history is bound to repeat itself when we forget the lessons we have learned in the past.

Where were you? What were you doing? How did you respond to these attacks?

6 Tips for Getting Through Airport Security – FAST

This morning I flew from Albuquerque New Mexico to Portland Oregon via a very brief layover in Phoenix Arizona. I was astonished when, in Albuquerque, two people in front of me in the security checkpoint (it’s not the largest airport) held up my progress for longer than when I stand in line for an hour tryng to get my boarding pass checked.

It is 2018 and commercial aviation has been in full swing for nearly a century, yet when you are in an airport, people don’t seem to have any clue what they are doing. Confusion abounds at the security checkpoint, milling individuals and groups block pathways, and loading a plane sometimes comes across as a disorganized disaster. How can this be?

The security checkpoints, run by the TSA (love them or hate them), have a purpose – attempt to prevent any lethal or damaging objects accessible to a passenger into the airport or the airplane. Granted, some of the restrictions on allowable items are a head scratcher (finger nail clippers and tweezers come to mind as past examples), but learning which objects are banned is pretty easy.

Let’s start with some resources. When you book your flight online (as a majority of people now do) there is a screen that lists out all the banned items you shouldn’t bring to the airport, let alone try to take on the plane in your carry-on luggage. This page has pictures and words and requires you to acknowledge their existence. Okay, so most people breeze through this page without reading it. Fair enough.

Confused about what you need to do at the security checkpoint? Confused as to what your children need to do at the security checkpoint? Here’s a lovely 2-minute video for adults and a separate 2-minute animated video for kids – if you are confused, scared, or just don’t know then take the 2-minutes to save yourself some time and hassle while reducing the frustrations of everyone behind you. Slowing down the process because of your own ignorance is one of the most irritating experiences for the people around you.

I typically travel with two laptops, an iPad, cell phone, Apple Watch, Bose Bluetooth Earbuds Charger (lithium battery requiring removal from my bag), and all the standard items that go in one’s pockets. Left to my own devices (and barring an issue caused by a passenger in front of me), I can go from having my boarding pass and passport checked to all my items in the bins and through the full-body scanner in about 45 seconds. That’s less than a minute. Less time than it takes to order a pizza or smoke a cigarette.

How do I accomplish this amazing feat? It’s simple, I do the following:

  1. I remove my belt and everything from my pockets BEFORE I get to the security checkpoint. Since I travel with a single carry-on (most of the time), I put my belt, wallet, keys, change, cell phone, Apple Watch, and wedding ring in my bag. This means I don’t have to fuss with it while being pressured by a long line of fellow travelers waiting for me to push my bins down the pass.
  2. I have my boarding pass and passport ready for inspection BEFORE I get to the person who needs to check it. This is a simple one, you need both these items in order to get into the checkpoint, don’t bury them in your purse or bag.
  3. I don’t chit-chat with the TSA agents beyond a friendly “hello”. Some of you out there are genuinely nice people, got it…stow it until you’re on the far-side of the checkpoint. Travelers are trying to get to their aircraft and the TSA agents have a job to do so be polite but keep the process moving along.
  4. I know how many bins I need to accommodate all my belongings. This one is a bit more difficult for first-time or infrequent flyers so it is probably the most forgiveable delay in security. Here’s a hint: ONE bin for your electronics (assuming they all fit without any overlap), ONE bin for shoes and everything else you may be wearing + toiletries (again, assuming it all fits in a bin without overlapping). Bags (briefcases, purses, backpacks, rollers, etc.) don’t need to go in a bin!
  5. I follow the directions provided by the TSA Agents. This is a no-brainer for most people, but some travelers want to argue a point (as if that is going to help anyone) or give an attitude to the Agents that is typically unnecessary. I worked security for many years, sometimes in environments similar to( but much lower volume) an airport security checkpoint. It’s a thankless job but vitally important to safety – deal with it and get to your plane.
  6. I make sure I don’t have any food or drinks in my bags! I get very irritated when people hold up the line to ask a TSA Agent, “Is this liter of water okay to take through, I mean, it’s only water?” No, no, NO! It may be water or it may be something else that looks like water, toss it and let’s move forward. “Wait, do 12 bars of Toblerone count as food?” Yes, yes, YES! It is food, toss it or don’t get pissed off when you have to stand around for 20 minutes while an agent wastes their time wanding every bar.

In closing, remember that you are not the only person in the airport, you are not the only person stressed out about catching a flight, you are not special when going through the airport security checkpoint. We are all trying to get somewhere, try not to be “that guy” – it’s not funny and no one is laughing when you muck up the system.

Here’s a picture of a pretty fountain at my hotel, I hope you enjoy and safe travels!

Portland_Radisson_hotel
A pretty fountain outside the Portland Airport Radisson Hotel.