2013 in Review: Connecting the Dots

You can’t connect the dots looking forward you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something: your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well worn path. — Steve Jobs

I’ve been writing here for *almost* six years now; just over 300 posts.

Like many people, I like to use this time of year to look back and connect the dots. I try to dive into the things that inspired me and propelled me forward in times of growth, but also the things that beat me up and set me back.

Here’s an abbreviated look at this blog’s last 6 years:


During grad school I wrote 48 relatively naive, slightly cocky posts. I also launched the inaugural Top 10 Gen Y Blogger list. And interned for Seth Godin.


This was the year of new beginnings. I finished grad school, packed what I could fit into my truck and set off for North Carolina to begin my professional career at the intersection of sports and social media.


I was a hungry young professional anxious to ‘prove myself’ and I was lonely. It was that combination that resulted in 98 blog posts and far and away the best traffic I’ve had in any one year here.


Anxious to learn more, I offered free consulting sessions. I also hopped on the phone a ton in an effort to meet new people and build relationships like Micah Sims. My post on 6 ways to build better relationships with co-workers is far and away the most popular post from organic search.


I made 2010 the year of being proactive. (See: Don’t be reactive). Working remotely at the time, I could theoretically pick any destination, but I chose Houston (only 70 miles away from my hometown) because I wanted to be close to the people who inspire and energize me the most: my family and friends.


For a variety of reasons, I knew it was time for a career change and I put the wheels in motion to make that happen. First, I quit Sports Media Challenge, cold turkey, without anything lined up, in a down economy. Proactive or not, the first 8 months of 2010 were about enduring the constant “feel sorry for myself, fight like hell to get what I want” roller coaster. I spent a lot of time trying to find the silver lining. The patience and the perseverance paid off and I finally landed my dream job.

Read my 2010 year in review. Oh, and I managed another 58 posts.


I wanted 2011 to be about you, my readers. I wanted to ship some projects that had been brewing and have more 1-on-1 conversations with smart people who inspire me. I’m not sure that I shipped anything, aside from blog posts. Another 49 if you’re counting. I take that back, I did publish a multi-part series on something I’m very passionate about: Education Reform.

As I shared in my yearly recap, 2011 wasn’t about you at all. It was about me. And it was easily the best year of my life since the care free days of college.

I chalk most of that up to the following three things:

  • My job at MD Anderson
  • An awesome relationship with my (now) wife
  • Amazing work/life balance to pursue hobbies (and relationships) that made me happy


This year proved that I have trouble appreciating a good thing and maintaining the status quo. I started feeling restless and a bit stagnant. I asked for more work and even created more work for myself (and value for my organization, I hope) in the form of highlighting some of the best social marketing healthcare posts in a bi-weekly e-mail for my colleagues. The problem is, that didn’t make the old work any less demanding. I also added a community management/consulting side hustle to the mix in an effort to learn from smart entrepreneurs, enhance my skill set, and earn some guilt free spending money.

2012 was completely unsustainable. Hence a mere 32 posts. My perpetual desire for more… more money, more knowledge, more time and more freedom left me perpetually unsatisfied.  James Altucher helped me realize I was searching outside of myself for something I needed to find within.



And so I vowed that 2013 would be the year of balance. I’d re-discover what made 2011 so fantastic. I’d focus on strengthening my gratitude muscle and I’d spend more time in the present.

Despite my best efforts, 2013 offered few moments of clarity and not much in the way of balance.

I crammed apartment hunting and a (tiny) bit of wedding planning (see: “Whatever makes you happy, babe”) into the weekends leading up to my wedding, which, by the way, was easily the best day of my life.


Right after I returned from my honeymoon, I was offered the opportunity to lead marketing for a local start-up that combines real-life coaching and wearable technologies to help athletes train smarter, not harder.

I made the case for entrepreneurship, made one of the toughest decisions of my life and my already busy life got more chaotic and exhausting. I work even more than before, though I still find time to train and most importantly: spend time with Alaina. We’ve kept up our regular Wednesday night date nights as the ultimate way to break up the work week.

The last 5+ months have fluctuated from unbelievably inspired to completely beat down and back again. Some days I experience flow and others I can’t hear myself think. There are days I operate in my wheelhouse and others where the discomfort punches me the gut… repeatedly. And that’s okay. If entrepreneurship was easy, everyone would do it.

Before this starts to sound like a “woe is me” post, please know that leaving MD Anderson was bittersweet, but it was probably time. And since joining BSX Athletics, I’ve learned a shit ton, increased the breadth and depth of my marketing/business chops, and have enjoyed being surrounded by some very, very smart and hard working co-workers. I’m truly looking forward to seeing what 2014 has in store for our little start-up.

But I’m also *really* looking forward to seeing what 2014 has in store for me, personally.

This post is largely career focused and that’s probably because I’ve spent a lot of the last 5 years focused on my career. However, I’ve recently started to think about my life as a series of five pillars:

  • Personal Relationships
  • Physical Health
  • Mental and Emotional Wellness
  • Spirituality
  • Career


Part II of this year-end review focused on ways (a road map, if you will) in which I hope to improve all 5 pillars to truly live a rich life in 2014 — beyond just my career.


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Photo Credit: little black spot on the sun today

  • Congrats on the wedding Ryan.

    As an entrepreneur, I totally get the roller coaster, from punched in the gut to the top of the mountain, all while enjoying drinking knowledge from a fire hose.

    With only 160 posts since Aug 2009, I need to pick up the pace 🙂

    Happy New Year!


    Ryan Stephens Reply:

    Thanks for the kind words, Rick. And for taking the time to not only read, but leave a comment.

    As much as I’d read and prepared myself for the transition to entrepreneurship, it’s still completely overwhelming at times.

    Toby Thomas, the CEO of EnSite Solutions says being an entrepreneur is like being a man riding a lion.

    “People look at him and think, This guy’s really got it together! He’s brave!”

    “And the man riding the lion is thinking, How the hell did I get on a lion, and how do I keep from getting eaten?”

    Let’s just say I understand the sentiment, but I’m trying to slow down long enough to appreciate the journey and to learn as much as I can until I conquer the lion or he bucks me off.

    Hope you have a great New Year as well!


    toby thomas Reply:

    the ride is one of the things you look back and realize you enjoyed the most during the early years. It’s hard to realize it when you are going through especially the first year, but I can tell you from personal experience i’ve never felt more free and alive (even though you have less freedom) than I ever did before starting my first company – Toby Thomas