Another year, another birthday.
A bit of a weird one, considering everything that’s going on around the world right now. This one is more contemplative, more inward-looking. It fits perfectly with my current mood and my current goals.
As I normally do, I take some time on my birthday to review my year. I think about all the changes that happened (internal and external), my accomplishments, my false-starts.
The biggest difference, I suppose, is that this year I’m writing it out publicly.
This last year for me was absolutely about a journey to essentialism. I spent the week of my birthday, exactly one year ago, attending the wake of a family member, and ending a long term relationship. Talk about a week of mourning.
But death, whether literal or figurative, is also a chance to begin anew. So I set out to spend the year with a very clear intention — my year was going to be about resetting. I set out to reflect, review, and clean up all areas of my life. It was my “Marie Kondo for the soul” year.
One year later, I can safely say that I’m happy with where I landed. It wasn’t a perfect process, and there’s a lot that still needs to be done, but I feel like I opened a lot of space to create, to breath, and to be still.
So what happened in the last year?
“What do I want?”
It’s amazing how much of our lives are lived on auto-pilot. We go through the days with “somewhat” of a compass, and we move thinking that we’re moving according to what we want.
The reality (at least for me) is that a lot of those behaviors, habits, and ‘wishes’ weren’t really mine (even though I thought they were). They were the result of years of conditioning, trying to ‘keep up with the Joneses’, and living through other people’s lenses.
When challenged, many of those habits and ‘wishes’ don’t have a leg to stand on. They fall apart very easily.
Soon after my last birthday, I took a month off to travel (which was an incredible privilege) and think about what I wanted. That trip started a serious process of reviewing everything, starting with work.
From James to Harbor and Coaching
For the past 5 years, I’ve been an independent consultant working in consumer research and brand strategy (under the brand ‘James’). It was a very natural progression from my former (and last) agency job — I was going to keep doing what I was doing, but independently.
However, this was very much a case of ‘going with the tide’. I have a great network, great referrals, and could do the work easily. It was too easy to stop asking ‘why’.
I had a fantastic time building James, but the reality is that I was just going with the flow, and I was getting tired of it.
I wanted to spend more time working with entrepreneurs. I missed dealing with people with more ‘skin in the game’. I wanted my work to really have an impact.
So I teamed up with my brother (in itself something I’ve wanted to do for the longest time) and started The Harbor. The new gig allowed me to bring design into the mix and be able to deliver actual brands, rather than PPTs. We’ve also switched our core focus to work with smaller businesses and independent entrepreneurs.
I also decided to start coaching and mentoring. I had received an invitation to mentor social purpose startups at an accelerator a few months back. That showed me how much I enjoyed the process of working with entrepreneurs to clarify goals, solve problems, and make things happen. It’s a business I’m building slowly and very mindfully. It’s a passion project that has been adding an incredible amount of value to my life.
Still, even with two new businesses instead of one, I am working less. Gaining clarity on what truly mattered to these businesses, allowed me to really capture what was essential and focus on that. It allowed me to do less, but better.
Capturing the essential, in itself, was a long process. It requires a lot of trial and error, and a lot of editing. And one of the greatest weapons I had at my disposal to accomplish that was journaling.
Journaling for Clarity
I’ve been journaling on and off ever since I was a kid. There’s something about expressing my daily experiences on paper that brings both clarity and acceptance.
As part of the process of changing things up, I decided to focus on making journaling a more consistent daily habit.
I started journaling first thing in the morning, to, as Tim Ferriss puts it, “cage the monkey mind”. Free writing, catching thoughts, moods, and plans on paper. It goes great with that first cup of coffee in the early morning, after a short walk with the dog.
I also started a second journal, more consistently. This is something I picked up from a former coach of mine that has made all the difference. Over the years I’ve adapted the prompts and format to suit my needs better, but the essence is still the same — a way to capture what I’m doing throughout the day, as well as to reflect on it.
Together, these journals give me clarity on what I’m doing and help me be more mindful of my day. They make it easier to figure out what I’m doing well and to catch the bullshit quicker.
Again, this is not perfect. I’ve skipped it at times and fell short on multiple occasions. But that’s fine. I’m also trying to get rid of this constant anxiety in trying to make everything perfect. I’m happy with doing it 70% of the time, and happy to laugh about it when I fall short.
More strict work routine
Letting go of this constant search for perfection also made me a lot stricter with my workday. It sounds counterintuitive, but the idea is that I know I only want to dedicate 40hrs a week to my work. No more (but sometimes less).
Knowing exactly when I need to wrap up has been a huge incentive both to let go of perfectionism and to figure out what’s essential.
I need to accomplish all I want in a set number of hours — this is non-negotiable. They won’t stretch to fit in more demands, or the N th edit in search for the perfect output. I need to be clear about what I want and what’s necessary to get there. I also have to be a lot more understanding of the end result. That doesn’t mean setting for sloppy, though. It means understanding that beyond a certain point, you stop working to make something better, and start working to protect yourself from the anxiety of “what other people will think”.
In the end, perfectionism is not about making something better. It’s about trying to protect your ego and your self-esteem. Better to just ship it — sometimes you’ll be really proud, and sometimes you’ll cringe. But you’ll always keep your promise to finish what you set out to do.
Realizing that is helping me run two businesses in the same amount of time it took me to run one. And it has been going great so far.
My boy Seneca knew what was up when he said “It’s not that we have little time, but more that we waste a good deal of it.”
Getting a dog
This is something I didn’t plan for, had zero clarity on, and yet, it’s probably the one thing that is helping me the most with making everything else work.
I took Ziggy in 2 months ago. He popped into my life in one of the most beautiful ways possible (long story) and I just knew I had to have him.
For someone who’s always been somewhat of an introspective loner, taking care of a dog was a massive shock to the system. I now had to plan things around him. Feeding, walking, training…
It took me a good 2 weeks in a total panic to start calming down and really start enjoying the company.
Now, he’s the single biggest teacher, mentor, coach I have.
Through him, I’m learning to structure my days better.
I’m learning patience.
I’m learning to deal with frustration with a smile.
I’m learning about conditioning good behavior, which in turn means paying more attention to what’s good than to what’s bad.
And most of all, I’m learning what an amazing feeling it is to wake up in the morning with a puppy who seems to always be thinking that “today is going to be the best day ever!!”
Doing what scares me
A year ago, writing this would have been unthinkable to me. I always told myself
– I don’t write
– I don’t like exposure — Who the hell would be interested in anything I have to say?!
Turns out I do write. I do like to share with others. And there are people who are actually interested in what I have to say. Who knew.
None of that happened in the last year. It was always there. I just started to take a chance and challenge those assumptions.
Sometimes, being “rational” plays against you. There’s a time to think, and a time to feel.
When my last relationship ended, I found myself living in a flat on the other side of town. São Paulo is a big city, so I moved closer to where my ex-girlfriend lived (nothing I hate more than traffic).
When it ended, I had no reason to be there. The neighborhood was nice and all, but it wasn’t where I really felt at home (big lesson here). I had to move.
Problem was that I had only been living there for 6 months. To move out meant having to spend more time looking for a new place (which is a pain in the ass in itself), packing, unpacking… Not to mention paying for movers, paying the fine for breaking the contract. Paying for a new deposit.
I put my head down for a few weeks and thought to myself “it would be irrational to move out now”. And it was. Completely irrational. But it was what I wanted.
So after a couple of weeks, I came to my “fuck it!” moment and set out to look for a new flat. Yes, a lot of time was spent looking for a new place. Yes, a lot of money was spent in the process. But the feeling of being somewhere I wanted to be was beyond all those other costs.
Sometimes, being “irrational” (whatever that means) and going with your gut pays off. In fact, it pays off most times.
So what now?
Well, the short answer is that I don’t have that all figured out yet.
No big changes are on the horizon, though. Right now, I want to build on top of what I’ve been building for the past year. Make it better, more efficient, and more “me”.
Right now though, I’m only thinking about clocking out at 5, going out for a walk with my dog, and coming back home to open a bottle of wine and celebrate what a crazy, amazing year this has been.