My goal for November was to complete some sort of personal finance course. Originally suggested by my friend Drew when I’d told him I was falling short coming up with new challenges. I wasn’t totally sold on the idea at first though.
I started investing around 10 years ago when I was 25, and got more serious and knowledgeable about it at 30. I’ve also been working with a Financial Advisor as well as a CPA for years, and in general have always lived well below my means. This is all to say, I didn’t really feel like a personal finance and investing course was something I desperately needed in my life. Regardless, I know that no one will ever care about your financial health more than you will or should yourself. So I guess I felt like it was my responsibility to give a course a shot and maybe learn something new.
I ended up taking and completing a course by Jeremy Schneider, also brought to my attention by my same friend who suggested the challenge. It was roughly 8 hours of videos, tests, case studies and charts that I broke up throughout the month to try to better absorb it. It covered everything from the absolute basics of investing, all the way into some of the weeds of tax law. It was a great course, and his spin on it takes a typically dry subject and pushes it a little closer to even being entertaining.
Although I enjoyed it, If I’m being completely honest, I probably already knew 90% or more of what was covered. Thing is, I found that fact to be overwhelmingly reassuring as opposed to frustrating. It’s so easy to second guess yourself when making decisions weighted in such heavy consequences. My November challenge reassured me I’ve been making the right decisions surrounding money, and that financial independence is not just a dream but a clear destination with an ETA. Here’s hoping we don’t hit too much traffic along the way.
Countless people take part in a drawing challenge every October called Inktober, and though I’ve participated many times before, it’d been a while since my last one. I decided to make sure it was one of my monthly challenges this year since I don’t always do it, but am always glad to have done so in the end. I traveled a bit in October and didn’t draw everyday, but I still ended up with 31 drawings for the month.
I have a true love-hate relationship with this challenge. The end result is always something I’m proud to have done, but getting there, at least for me, might be harder than the average onlooker might think. My drawing style isn’t very technical or time consuming, and the act of drawing itself brings me peace, but coming up with interesting ideas is always the hardest part. I pull a lot from the well of my everyday thoughts and feelings, but wells dry up fast when you’re drawing from them everyday. Guess if it wasn’t a challenge though, wouldn’t feel as rewarding.
I share my Inktober drawings on social media for the friends, family and even strangers who seem to genuinely enjoy watching them unfold, and in return I appreciate the appreciation. But I hadn’t been on Instagram in some time. I took a month long break from it that snowballed into almost 2 years. Logging in after that long was a weird thing. Like opening a time-capsule buried by people you almost forgot about entirely. Where I remembered newborn babies, I now saw toddlers with personalities and new siblings. New cities, new houses, new lives. Everyone sharing everything except for the not so fun parts.
I know what’s shared on social media is in most cases meticulously filtered and curated, but seeing it all, all the time, somehow still makes me feel low. The knowing doesn’t seem to be enough. Maybe it’s envy. Not in a keeping up with the Joneses kind of way, but maybe just wanting in on some of that never ending happiness everyone appears to be experiencing all the time. This is the feeling that drove me away from it in the first place. I feel better without it, and oddly enough, it was a drawing challenge that reaffirmed that belief in me. I deleted Instagram again about a week after the challenge ended, but I’ll surely be back for my next Inktober. What I can’t say is if I’ll ever do all 31 days again, because man, by the end of it that well was bone dry.
Been falling a little behind on reflecting back and writing about my monthly challenges, but they’ve still been happening. In September I tried fasting everyday from 9pm to 1pm. 16 hours of fasting followed by an 8 hour eating window. A good chunk of that 16 hours was spent sound asleep in bed, so really nothing too extreme. This was by design since I’d never tried anything like it before. I also had water whenever I wanted. The main curiosity that drove me to pursue this one in the first place, was wondering how it would make me feel. Particularly if I’d find more energy throughout my day. The results were pretty mixed.
For the most part, I stuck with it. Here and there, the day got busier than expected and I’d end up not getting dinner made until after 9pm. In this case, I just pushed when I broke fast to later in the next day. 2pm or 2:30pm sometimes. Also had a long weekend getaway with friends, which kinda threw things into disarray. I try not to let these challenges stand in the way of having a good time on vacation though. Defeats the whole idea of getting away to begin with.
As far as how fasting made me feel, I can’t say I captured that new source of energy I was looking for, but I did start to feel something unexpected though. I started to feel gratitude and even a little more joy everyday. The experience shifted my mindset of food being available absolutely whenever (especially true working from home), to making the food I eat seem somewhat more special. I quickly found myself looking forward to breaking my fast each day, and for that reason what I chose to eat became more deliberate and I guess more celebrated. Not just something to tide me over on a busy day, but rather something I wanted and looked forward to more than I normally would. It was the best part of the whole experience and a good lesson in perspective.
An eating window from 1pm to 9pm basically skips right over when I would’ve normally had breakfast. The idea was never to skip any meals, just to compress when I ate them. This was the hardest part of the challenge for sure, and where I ended up falling short. I just didn’t eat the same amount I normally would, and I ended up losing a little weight. While I’m not surprised this happened, since it’s just numbers in and numbers out, it wasn’t what I wanted to happen. I understand it’s a goal for a lot of people, but it is definitely not one of mine.
It’s been a few months since this challenge, and I haven’t really kept up with it. Losing weight turned me off to continuing on as I had been. While I appreciated the positives from the experience, seemed like if I couldn’t find the appetite to maintain my weight while fasting, then it was probably best to move on. I can imagine coming back around to it with a little more effort put towards avoiding that pitfall someday, but I guess in the meantime, what am I having for breakfast?
I tried to make it a point to play guitar at least 15 minutes day for the month of August. A lot of these challenges I come up with are things I don’t really wanna do. Maybe because they’re hard, or maybe they’re uncomfortable. I guess that’s the whole idea though, because it’s the hard uncomfortable things that are usually the most conducive to change and growth. I knew this one wasn’t gonna be hard at all though, and I meant for that. It was just for fun. Bringing a little balance to a year full of challenges that are sometimes not very fun at all.
I was 16 or 17 when I spent the vast majority of my nearly one-thousand dollar life savings on an electric guitar and amplifier. I remember my Dad thinking it wasn’t the smartest move, without actually saying it. He never told us what to do with our money so long as it was earned. I remember thinking it was a good thing that it was expensive. Thinking that after spending that much money, I wouldn’t give up on learning it. I was right. I still play the same guitar to this day. Thought about getting a new one for a long while, something more in-line with my style of playing, but I just tell myself you can only play one at a time anyways, so one is all you need.
Weird to think I’ve been playing for nearly 20 years. Sure doesn’t sound like it. Though I’ve been playing all this time, I’d say I stopped learning in any structured way after three or so years. No more regimented practice or trying to memorize songs. Once I learned how to improvise, able to just make it all up as I go, I kinda lost interest in learning to play someone else’s songs. It’s probably kept from me from growing, but all I ever wanted from guitar was to have fun with it, and I gotta say, shredding a guitar solo on the fly is pretty damn fun.
I definitely don’t play as much as I once did, and it shows in my speed and accuracy on the frets these days. Really is like riding a bike though, you’re not gonna forget how to do it, but it may be a little wobbly at first if it’s been a while. In the end I had fun making it a priority to play every day though, and I even learned a new thing or two along the way. Honestly felt a little weird about sharing audio of me playing, since I just don’t play as well as I once did. But what the hell, be grateful for what you’ve got.
My curiosity over meditation has steadily built year by year. The more you learn about it, the harder it is to ignore. Even if I might’ve been in a meditative state before, by whatever means, I certainly never got there deliberately. So I finally set out to give practicing meditation an honest try everyday for a month. One thing for sure is, sitting still and quieting your mind is much easier said than done.
My first two weeks I tried a bunch of different guided videos on YouTube to get a sense of some of the different styles and practices out there. Some focused on what my body was feeling at any given moment. Others were more about shining a light on some positive affirmations that felt important to me, no matter how big or small. I liked those days. A universal common thread across anything I tried though, always was a focus on your breathing. The sound, the cadence, the physical rise and fall of your chest. It really does help to keep the mind from wandering. I did get a little carried away with it though. On two occasions, after 15 minutes straight of forceful breathing, my face went numb and my eyelids started twitching. Pretty sure I was just shy of passing out and was basically just hyperventilating. You live, you learn, and in this case you have a good laugh.
I also found myself visualizing a group of lines while I meditated. Similar to what I’ve illustrated. Maybe one representing work. Maybe another is desire. Maybe fear, maybe anxiety. Regardless of what’s what, they’re all fighting and competing for dominance at any given moment. If I could quiet my mind, the lines distilled down to a circle. But if my mind started to wander, it all broke loose and I’d just see a bunch of spaghetti. It started to become like a target I was aiming for. Probably breaks a few rules, but it was helpful for me and I suppose that’s all that matters.
By the end of the 31 days, I can say that practicing meditation makes me feel better than I did without it, but I’m not sure yet if that’s from the meditation itself, or just from knowing I’m deliberately trying to do something that’s good for me. In any case, I feel better than I did, and that shouldn’t be ignored. So while this challenge officially ended over 3 weeks ago, I’ve kept up with it nearly everyday since. After a little more time and effort I’m excited to see where this one takes me. Hopefully to higher ground.
I set out to run 100 miles for June and I ended up running 101 for good measure. I ran 29 days out of 30, which also means I’ve probably listened to The Power of Love by Huey Lewis & The News at least 58 times. It’s the most I’ve ever run in a month, and maybe a world record for The Power of Love listens. You just can’t not be fired up to be alive when you hear that song.
In all seriousness though, felt good to be setting new records instead of just looking back on old ones. Particularly because I also turned a year older in June. Nothing better fights the feeling of time trying to bring you to your knees, than that brief moment in your stride where both feet are off the ground and you’re openly defying gravity.
I’ve also been wearing a fitness tracker, and by the end of the month I noticed my resting heart rate had become considerably lower. About 10 beats per minute less. Mid 40’s while I slept and low 60’s otherwise. It was cool to see the body doing what the body does, and to know that the hard things can equate to something good.
In the end, I’m glad I reached new heights but a part of me doesn’t feel entirely honest about the win. I know I could’ve gone further or run faster. No reason I couldn’t have, but I guess it’s just a fine line between enjoyment and punishment. Never the less, I still did what I said I would, and that’s a challenge enough on it’s own for most of us. The last and probably most important thing I learned is, no matter how tired you think you are, you’re still gonna be able to smash through a brick wall once you’ve hit the 4 minute mark of Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer.
Sixty. Second. Showers. That was my challenge for the month of May. I skipped a few days for a little staycation we had, but for the vast majority of the month, I stuck to it. Why would I even want to do this one? Well, guess I was just curious. Curious if it’d make my days more efficient. Curious if a short shower would be more invigorating than a long one. Curious if I could even do it. For as long as I’ve taken showers, I’ve taken them long. Always done a lot of thinking in there. Found a lot of ideas. Batman has his Bat Cave, Superman has his Fortress of Solitude, I have a phonebooth-sized shower stall that I can’t fully raise my arms in. Doesn’t stop me from standing in there until my back is as hot as the surface of the Sun though.
Unsurprisingly, on my first day I couldn’t believe it when my 60 seconds ran up and I had to cut the water. Also couldn’t help but laugh at how ridiculous it all was. It’s absolute mania. I’m talking a full-body cardiovascular workout for a sustained 60 seconds. It’s the only way to get the job done in that amount of time. Definitely a little tougher and a lot more comedic than I thought it’d be. Even after a week straight of it, still had doubts I’d be able to keep it up. Like most things though, you get used to it. Even had some days where it felt like I only had a second or two left on my timer, but in reality I had over a full 30 seconds left when I glanced at my watch. Lucky me. Things always get easier the more you do them, for better or for worse.
In the end, it was a unique and kind of fun experience, but not one I’m making a habit of. I did end up with a little more time on my hands than I’d usually have, so on that front I did feel more productive. Thing is, that benefit isn’t worth close to the cost of losing that decompression and introspection which typically goes on when I’m in a hot shower. Nice to know I can pull it off when I need to, but there’s honestly few things that beat turning the shower knob to the molten-lava angle and having a good think. Above all else, the challenge has been a reminder that many of the things I think I need, are really just luxuries. I’ve known this, but often forget it. One thing for certain is, if you’re ever looking for a good laugh, try taking a 60 second shower.
Aimed to walk at least 30 minutes everyday of April. A pretty straight forward one. I’ve been working from home for over a year now, and as a result not moving around as much as I was. Being at a studio everyday usually meant a bike commute and a mile or two walk on lunch. Getting out and getting moving felt like a good idea. I surrendered to a busy workday here and there, missing a few days, but for the most part it was a breeze.
I usually set out after work, getting back just as the sun set. Somedays walking more than 30 minutes, but never less. I’d listen to music, or catch up on podcasts. Death, Sex & Money is by leaps and bounds always a favorite. All the while getting to know my neighborhood a little better, and racking up some steps for the day.
I set this goal to benefit the body, but it did more for the mind I think. A body in motion is a mind in motion. Getting out and moving has always brought me some clarity in foggy times. It felt good to make it a priority for the month and capture those mental benefits. I’d be lying if said I didn’t need it.
I don’t typically have a problem with mindless phone scrolling at night. By day’s end I’m tired and ready for sleep. The morning can be another story though. I’m awake by 7am somedays, but sometimes not “up” for another hour or even more. Usually because I’m mindlessly scrolling through my phone. News, stocks, social media, wikipedia rabbit holes, whatever. Even though this doesn’t happen all the time, I don’t want it to happen at all. It’s not how I want to spend what time I have, so I decided for all for February to make a hard rule to not touch my phone in bed. Morning or night. Unsurprisingly, it was a great idea.
Alexis is usually still sound asleep when my watch silently buzzes on my wrist at 7:30am, and I open my eyes. It’s here where I would usually reach for my phone and scroll from anywhere between 5 minutes to an hour and a half. But now that I couldn’t do that, I really only had two options, go back to sleep, or get up and get going. I almost always got going. I don’t start work till 10am, and working remotely means no commute, so everyday I had a good chunk of time to do the things I wanted to do, just for me. Man, does that always feel good. Doing what you want to do, before the day has any opportunity to dictate what you have to do. I’ve known this, and that’s why I like waking up early nowadays. Sticking to this hard rule for the month helped me protect some of my most valuable time by making sure it wasn’t being siphoned off by my thumb and my phone.
There was a small downside. I really only read the news at night or the morning, and usually in bed. So cutting that out maybe meant being a little less informed at any given moment. Though, I find a lot of news is just the same story everyday with a few more details than the day before. In the end then, I have to guess I wasn’t missing too much by only catching up on the weekends.
All in all, I’m glad I took the time to do this, and I’m going to keep it up. It was a good reset. I know that old habits die hard though, so I took it a step further and have since permanently moved my phone and charger across the room. Can’t reach it from bed at all anymore. I’d go even further and set my phone to blast Eye of the Tiger across the room at 7AM, but I’m afraid that could land my wife in prison for attempted murder.