2012 in Review

In 2011 I failed at every *BIG* goal I set out to achieve and yet I had one of the best years of my life. (You can read about it here.)

I went into 2012 with no expectations.

My hours increased at my 9-5 as I took on more responsibilities. I worked hard to balance work with reading, my fitness goals, hanging out with friends and growing my relationship with the “incredible woman who somehow tolerated me near the end of last year.”

On August 1st, she became my fiancée.

The fiancée & I in Denver

I could not be more grateful for her love and support. This is especially true since I added a community management/consulting role to the list of things I try to cram into 24 hours. (See: It was a great opportunity to continue learning from intelligent and successful entrepreneurs while simultaneously increasing my breadth of skills and supplementing my income).

By now, I hope that you’ve forgiven me for neglecting this space.

So, what’s next!?

By most people’s accounts, I’m successful. I work for an organization I believe in that Glassdoor recently named the #5 place to work for in the US.  I like most aspects of my job on most days, I earn a solid amount on the side, I have zero debt and, thanks to my frugality, (I only spend on food, drink, travel) I’ve saved significantly more than most people my age.

And yet I always find myself unsatisfied and reaching for “what’s next.”

I tell myself I’m preparing for the future, but I worry that sometimes I’m not appreciating the present enough. From my vantage point, it seems like the people I know who stayed in small town America (or returned to it), work less stressful jobs, drink beer, watch TV, go hunting and hang out all the time are consistently happier than I am. I often joke that I want to a buy a cabin in the woods, get a nondescript gig, run everyday and read 2 books a night. Sometimes I’m not sure I’m joking.

2012 wasn’t sustainable. My insatiable desire for more money, knowledge, time and freedom leaves me perpetually unsatisfied.

A friend of mine, Charlie Hoehn, recently penned a post entitled, “The Perils of Personal Progress” the other day and it really stuck with me. I recommend you read it in its entirety.

Someday, you’ll have the right amount of money, you’ll have the right job, you’ll have the right possessions and the right body and the right thoughts and the right skills and the right accomplishments and the right spirituality and the right love and the right marriage and the right kids and the right life.

Someday, if you keep working hard and playing our games, you can win.

You can be better than everyone else.

This is the reality I subject myself to every morning when I wake up. It’s why I read 20-30 articles before most people are awake. It’s why lunch breaks are spent studying neuroscience, behavior psychology, influence and persuasion. It’s why evenings are spent working, writing, thinking. And it’s where I invest too much of my limited cognition.

In the comments of his post, Charlie writes:

I’d been plotting something to establish dominance and become Charlie 2.0, rather than doing things out of a genuine spontaneous desire to do so. It’s kind of tough to explain. But that constant push to be “better” than our old selves and other people can become isolating and unhealthy, no matter how much humility and poise we do it with.

Penelope Trunk argues that you can either be interesting or happy, but not both. “I think the things that make life happy have to do with complacency, and the things that make life interesting have to do with lack of complacency,” she writes.

I guess a big part of me hopes that isn’t true, because I spent a lot of 2012 exhausted and constantly asking myself, “How much is enough? When does it become okay to slow down and appreciate what you have and spend a Sunday afternoon watching Game of Thrones?”

That’s what I hope to find out in 2013.

In 2013, I want to focus on BALANCE. I want to focus on strengthening my gratitude muscle.  I want to stop “time traveling” to the future and spend more time living in the present. 

If that sounds interesting to you, then I hope you’ll join me on this journey. And selfishly, I hope you’ll chime in along the way. I do miss the discussions we had here when I was more active in 2010.

In the meantime, here’s what you might’ve missed in 2012:

5 Ways to De-Stress in the Office –  If you’re doing important work, work that matters, stress is inevitable. You can hyperventilate and complain all day or you can take a deep breath and leverage these 5 ways to de-stress in the office.

How to Find Your Passion in the Workplace – Like so many other things we try to categorize and nail-down, passion is fluid. Your passions are going to change so find something that makes you happy right now and do the best you can at that until you’re ready for the next logical progression.

10 Ways to Fool Your Boss into Thinking You’re Working Hard – We all know these co-workers; that’s why this post was so easy to write.  Take a gander and see if you know anyone in your office that employs these tactics.

The Only Interview I Ever Bombed – This is a true story in which I’d spent countless hours preparing and thought I was more prepared for the interview than I had ever been before. I was dead wrong. You’ll have to click the link to find out why.

Stop Running to the Front of the Pack – There’s a time and a place for being first, but many top performers don’t know how to turn that switch off. This is a quick video that explains why always running to the front of the pack can be detrimental to your career.

Playing the Game – We all have (or have experienced) co-workers that “play the game.” They do some things well that can be perceived by bad management (or perhaps busy management) as valuable. Rather than worry about co-workers intent on “playing the game” I encourage you to leverage the advice in this post instead.

7 Things You Should’ve Learned in School – I asked seven wicked-smart under 30 professionals what skills they wished they would’ve learned in school. This post details their answers.

Some Mistakes I’ve Made – Life isn’t made up of the things you’ve done wrong. It’s made up of the things you’ve done right. Check out my list; don’t make the same mistakes. Or do, but make sure you learn from them.

The Right Way to Gamble on Yourself  – We have to go beyond the “failing fast” mantra and leverage deliberate practice to take the right risks. You need to know where you’re headed and be ruthlessly selfish with your time on things that don’t take you there.

Female Leadership & Work/Life Balance Collide – Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article in The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” was one of the more balanced, nuanced and thoughtful articles I’ve read on female leadership and work/life balance ever, but it didn’t have any male commentary. I stepped outside my comfort zone and offered my insights on some of her most interesting passages.

What Baseball Taught Me About Business – This was a fun post that explored leveraged the game of baseball to explore decision-making. Most businesses need a combination of reliable data and the intuition of experienced professionals.

Life’s Treadmill – It was in this post that I first tried to really unpack the idea of “what constitutes enough?” It’s a raw post that reveals my internal dialogue surrounding some of my doubts, fears and insecurities.

Jason Fried’s “Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work” – An idea that’s resonated with me for nearly 3 years now, I extract some of my favorite takeaways from Jason’s TEDxMidwest talk (embedded in the post).

18 Things I Wish Someone Would’ve Told Me When I Was 18 – Regular readers here know how I feel about modern day education in the US and how a model that promotes fitting in, a fear of failing, and mediocre obedience as keys to success is painstakingly flawed. With ballooning debt and high unemployment rates saddling my generation, I shared some of my “what I wish I would’ve known moments” with the hope that it would help even one person.


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  • “I often joke that I want to a buy a cabin in the woods, get a nondescript gig, run everyday and read 2 books a night. Sometimes I’m not sure I’m joking.”

    I often feel like this myself.  Have for awhile, especially after reading books like “Into the Wild” and On The Road.  I’m not sure what the solution is but it’s a worthy thing to think about.


    ryanstephens Reply:

    I guess it feels unrealistic for me. If I was still single, fine, but now that I have a fiancée and we want a family it feels selfish and unrealistic.

    And then… it is brave because you’re doing something most people would never have the stones to do? Or is it cowardly because you’re running away from the rat race? The game(s) being played around you “win” if you run. There’s an invisible script to spend some time unpacking.


    Cameron Plommer Reply:

    Interesting questions to ponder for sure.


  • Good for you, Ryan! And congrats on the engagement!


    ryanstephens Reply:

    Thanks, Sam! I really appreciate it, hombre. Hope everything is going great for you and that 2013 is off to a good start.


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