2019 S.M.A.R.T. GOALS

Earlier this year, a group of colleagues read a book called “The Power of Habit” by the New York Times writer Charles Duhigg for our office book club. The book essentially explores how individuals, organizations and societies as a whole develop both positive and negative habits. On the individual level, the author shares what behavioral scientists have apparently long called the “habit loop”. To boil it down (probably overly boil it down), essentially, our habits exist in a loop in which we are signaled to perform an action by an external cue, and wherein performing that action results in a predictable reward. Signal> action> reward. For instance, for some people, a lunch break signals it is time to smoke a cigarette, and smoking a cigarette gives a rush of nicotine. The reward.

Over the last several years, as I’ve focused on forming better, healthier, and more productive habits, I realized that on a strange meta-level, publishing this post is a reward for my overall system of goal setting. The habit that underlies all of my personal goals is the ongoing process of chronicling and capturing my progress. It requires daily diligence and effort, and because I am fundamentally thirsty for attention (I do improv, lest you forget), deep down, I love sharing my progress and synthesizing what I’ve learned.

So the loop is:

· Signal = the end of the year

· Action = writing this post

· Reward = publishing it

I have been overwhelmed each of the last two years by the encouragement and affirmation I have received after publishing these end-of-year posts, so thanks to all of you who make the ever-surprising decision to click and read. I appreciate it!

BACKGROUND ON S.M.A.R.T GOALS

For those reading this post for the first time, a note of background. At the end of 2016, frustrated, anxious and exhausted form 12 months spent wasted in the cesspool of Twitter, I wanted to significantly change how I organized and structured my time. Particularly, I was struggling then with the simultaneous feelings that time with either a) flying by busily but unproductively, or b) being wasted on things like angrily scrolling through social media or catatonically half-watching sports. I needed my days, weeks, months, and years to start to feel like they were amounting to something more.

So, I borrowed a concept from work — the “S.M.A.R.T. goal” — and decided to apply it to my personal life (*note: I’ve never actually successfully used S.M.A.R.T. goals at work). A “S.M.A.R.T. Goal” is a goal that is specific, measureable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. The way I think about developing them is:

· Ask yourself what outcomes you want in your life

· Separate those outcomes from the behaviors it will take to get there

· Ask yourself which things in life you have great latitude to control (i.e., you most likely can’t control getting a raise, but you have a lot of control over eating a hard-boiled egg for breakfast)

· Take a handful of those simple and countable behaviors and set a goal for how many times you want to perform them over the next year (i.e., I will eat a hard-boiled egg on 150 mornings)

The beauty of this system is not that setting a goal will make you achieve it, but that their existence will force you to perform that action more than you historically have or otherwise would. Hopefully this post reflects the notion that while few goals are ultimately clearly reached or exceeded, their mere existence is a positive structural motivator.

2019 LIFE STUFF (feel free to scroll past)

Before I get into my own results from 2019, I usually take a couple paragraphs to just recap some of the important items from the last year that won’t show up in these goals (consider this section my holiday card…).

2018 was a monumental year in my life — getting married and buying a house topping the list. In retrospect, I cannot believe we had the hubris to take on both of those activities at the same time.

2019 felt less monumental, and certainly less busy. Whereas 2018 felt like a rush of uncertainty and commitments — money in, money out particularly — this year felt like longer stretches of normalcy. Even the one major change in my life, adopting Jim Thome Babbe Goodman (our greyhound), resulted in my spending more time at home as we settled her in.

DOG

I know it will sound trite and idiotic if I spend a lot of time waxing poetic about the transformative effect that the love of a dog can have on its owner. So, I will just say, I love my dog. She’s been transformative. Here she is right now, as I am writing this.

my sweet hound

However, there have been several perks to dog adoption that I didn’t necessarily expect. One in particular strikes me as being worth sharing. That is, a dog is a great way to feel more connected to your city.

When I moved to Chicago in 2007, I chose it as a destination because it was a vibrant Midwestern city where I happened to have friends. For most of the 12 years that have passed, I’ve continued to view it in those same terms. A decade has gone by, but in my mind, it has mostly just remained a vibrant Midwestern city where I happen to have friends. I liked Chicago then and I like it now, but I’ve never thought of it as home. Adopting Thome has really changed that for me.

When you are forced to walk around your neighborhood 5–6x a day, you begin to feel more deeply connected. You’re more attuned to the neighborhood’s rhythms (the guy in the Bears hat who sells roses on Western Ave. sells his roses in his Bears hat from roughly 4–6PM… the foot traffic on Foster is bad around 3:30PM when Budlong and Chappell both let out of school… Jimmy’s Pizza Café is closed on Mondays, etc…). You’re perceptive to small changes (there’s a cookie shop pop up where the bar was at Kiko’s Market… Walgreens put a sunscreen on its RedBox… it looks like there are now aplliances in the new condos on Lincoln, etc…).

You also take stock of your neighbors. Dogs are amazing conversation starters. I say “hi” to people now, and they say “hi” to me too! Sometimes we even talk. Strangers ask me how old Thome is, if greyhounds are as lazy as people say, and if we live in the neighborhood. I say, she’s two, she’s very lazy, yes we live in the neighborhood, do you too? We talk about the cookie shop in Kiko’s Market, the traffic on Foster, and where to eat on Mondays when Jimmy’s is closed. If this sounds like a State Farm commercial, it kind of feels like one too! Honestly, it’s been really nice.

TRAVEL

I was fortunate to travel a good bit last year as well. Highlights of personal travel included a visit to New York in April for Meghan’s birthday (where we saw SNL performed live), two trips to Denver to visit Meghan while she performed there for Second City, and my now annual Florida golf trip in January.

Most significantly, Meghan and I went on our honeymoon in September, visiting Paris & Morocco (specifically Marrakech and Erg Chigaga in the Sahara). The trip was incredible, if at times challenging. I’ve now visited Paris for extended stretches at ages 16, 23, 32 and 35. As a city, it seems to have a unique capacity to reflect back at you an insight on wherever you happen to be in your life. Things I was enamored with at 23 barely registered at 35, and yet things I hardly noticed when I was younger have become points of obsession on more recent trips. Even if it makes me sounds like a sophomore English major, Paris is special, and I hope to return often. I learn about myself each time.

The more challenging (though wonderful) aspect of our trip, however, was our time in Morocco. For me, this was my first foreign trip outside of Europe, and the culture shock we experienced was very real. On the surface level, of course, travelling to an Arabic-speaking country without speaking or reading Arabic myseld was a challenge. This was especially true in Marrakech, which is a 1,000 year old labyrinth of crooked, circuitous alleyways. All the travel books said, “Embrace feeling lost in Marrakech.” I thought to myself, I’m a cool, adventurous, well-traveled guy. I know how to make the most out of feeling a little lost. DEAD WRONG. Feeling perpetually lost, struggling to read maps and street signs and avoiding asking for directions for fear of getting sucked into common street scams was a source of massive anxiety for me. I constantly feared we were on the verge of a neighborhood we shouldn’t enter or making a mistake that would prove catastrophic. This was a helpful lesson for me as it really clarified the depth of my natural “catastrophic mode of thinking”. I am not a cool, adventurous or easy going guy, and that’s never going to change. So these types of trips are great ways to push me outside of my comfort zone.

Beyond the surface-level language struggles, Meghan and I both struggled with the “haggle” culture of Marrkech, a city where few items have a listed price and nearly every purchase is thoroughly negotiated. As two demure tourists trying not to fall into the trap of seeming like “ugly Americans”, we really wrestled with how to be polite and respectful without becoming targets or getting taken advantage of. Also, a source of anxiety.

All that being said, it was an amazing trip and I am glad we pushed ourselves to expand our travel horizons. At 35, as we consider our own family planning, it’s hard to know how many future opportunities we will have to travel extensively on our own, at least in the near and medium term. On this trip, we shopped in a 1,000 year old marketplace, learned to cook in a Moroccan woman’s home kitchen, bought a rug in a tiny Berber village, and most memorably, rode camels and saw the sun rise and set in the Sahara Dessert. It was all very once-in-a-lifetime.

Here’s my favorite picture from the whole trip, Meghan climbing behind me to the top of a sand dune. It looks like a WWII movie poster, right?

IMPROV

I’ll talk more about progress towards creative goals later in the post, but I wanted to quickly offer my annual rundown of improv performances here.

This past decade will be dominated in my memory by improv, seeing as it has not only consumed an incredible percentage of my time and energy, but introduced me to my wife and provides the backbone of my regular social circle. I am so grateful for improv and proud of my choice to pursue and stick with it. It has built me up and crushed me, then built me back up again.

From a performance standpoint, 2019 was the happiest improv year of my life. I think this owes to a few things. First, I’d like to think that the hard early years of improv — performing on bad teams at odd hours with onerous rehearsal commitments — has finally paid off. I feel like I am reaping the benefits of those early years, as I now perform on three teams (Horsefly, Hot Seat, MacBeth) where I genuinely enjoy my teammates as both people and performers. On top of that, we rehearse infrequently and our schedule is predictable and mostly desirable. This must be what it feels like when your 401K starts to pay after years of saving.

I also feel better than ever about improv because I’ve ditched whatever shame I associated with it. Will improv make me famous? No. Does it pay me well? Literally the opposite. Is it sometimes bad? Oh yes. Unwatchably so, in fact. But also, who cares? Life goes by fast. I am happy to spend some of it laughing with friends, chasing a high on stage, and doing something that’s challenging where I happen to have a scrap of talent.

This year, in total, I performed 88 shows. That’s a slight reduction from 2018, but I effectively took a two month hiatus in August and September as I dealt with a nightmarish month (intense work project + Meghan touring in Denver + Thome having hook worms), followed by our honeymoon.

Specifically, I did:

· 31 Horsefly shows

· 28 Hot Seat shows

· 24 MacBeth shows (*including the July 3rd family camping car trip show with Paul Chimko, Claire Favret and Sarah Ashley, the best improv show I’ve ever been a part of)

· 5 other shows

Ok, with all that said, my goals. Since I set far more goals this year than I have in the past (too many, actually), I will condense my comments from years past.

FITNESS

Anyone who has read my previous years’ goals recaps knows my challenges with fitness. Basically, I weigh more than I should, eat too much, and hate working out. Fixing the former while accounting for the latter is vexing.

This year, I essentially segregated my two objectives, which I think are only semi-related: losing weight and being healthier. In both 2017 and 2018, I worked out more than I had in the entire 2010s combined, yet still lost barely 10 pounds over the course of that time. The sad fact is, I can only lose weight via exercise by exercising in a way I never will. 30 minutes on the elliptical has a shallow ceiling, regardless of frequency.

So, I needed to eat less. And I did! I lost 13 pounds! I really focused on avoiding needless, mindless eating. For instance:

· We have lots of catered lunches at work. In the past, the presence of free food has prompted me to eat like the executioner was waiting next door. I’d shovel two Corner Bakery sandwiches into my gullet, inhale a bag of chips, and eat a 700 calorie sugar cookie (and another half of one later). Now, if I don’t want the lunch, I either skip it, or I just don’t eat it. Simple…but also revolutionary?

· When I go to a work event that is serving hors d’oeuvres, my new rule is, if I fill a dinner plate with charcuterie, cheese, crab cakes and little bacon wrapped figs…I’ve had dinner. I can’t then go home and order pad thai. That’s double dinner, and double dinner don’t fly.

· If I’m not hungry, I don’t eat! I know regularly scheduled meals are important and everyone advises eating small amounts at frequent intervals. Maybe some day I’ll get there, but that day ain’t now. At this moment in my life, I do more harm to myself by arbitrarily eating to kill time at lunch or fill an hour in the evening than I do by eating larger amounts less frequently.

As for working out, I set an ambitious goals on going to the gym 150 times. While that’s only 3x a week, it would have been a 50% increase from 2018. I actually went a bit backwards in 2019, from 92 gym visits to 77. However, this really owed to golf and Thome. Over the summer, I made very few gym visits as the demands at work and Thome’s needs just meant long walks were a better investment of my physical energy. From May-September, I’d venture I averaged 15,000 steps per work days, and 20,000+ on weekends. So, while I wish I could find a way to incorporate more workouts into my routine, I am generally comfortable with how this netted out.

SUSTAINABILITY

One of my major successes in 2018 was reducing meat consumption in my diet in order to reduce my carbon footprint. My goal this year was to expand on that success, taking my reduction of meat consumption at breakfast and dinner and applying it to more full days. My goal was 230 days not consuming meat before 5pm, and 115 days consuming no meat at all.

Despite some fall off at the end, I fairly easily replicated last year’s success at avoiding meat at breakfast and lunch, netting 235 such days.

However, I did come up a bit short on the full day goal. I think this is because I am not consistently ideally equipped to make vegetarian meals at home, whereas the number of vegetarian lunch options downtown is abundant (I ate ROTI falafel approximately 1,000 times in 2019).

I am encouraged that I replicated much of 2018’s success as it suggests that a fundamental shift has taken place on a behavioral level for me. However, I need to be sure that vegetarianism doesn’t become license to adopt a pizza & pasta diet, as I have learned the hard way that in trying to live like Greta Thunberg, it’s easy to eat like Tony Soprano.

Regardless, while I have strides to go in putting more plant into my “plant-based diet”, I consider this an area of fairly unqualified success.

READING

Returning to reading more fiction — something that had really suffered as my comedy commitments piled up and I devoted more time to reading the daily newspaper — has been a priority the past two years without much success. 2019 marked a breakthrough on this front. Thanks in large part to feeling more home-bound by Thome, and more than anything, to greater discipline in not watching so much second rate sports or mindless TV, I read more this year than I had any this decade. I set out to read 10 books, including two “big books”. I ultimately read 18 books, and 1.5 “big books” (depending on how you qualify the book “Middlesex”.

Of the books I read in 2019, I have to say, I walked away appreciative of the existence of literary critics and literary awards. My five favorite books of the year happen to all have been recipients of major awards (Pulitzer, National Book Awards, etc…). I was drawn to read them based on that praise, and found them to be thoroughly deserving of the hype. Those five, which I would recommend wholeheartedly to anyone, were:

· A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan — There is a chapter that takes place on a safari vacation that caused me to weep on a flight to Florida, and a scene between a niece and her uncle in Rome that was so emotionally overwhelming I had to put the book down at Collectivo Coffee in Andersonville and walk around the block to catch my breath. The most emotionally poignant book I’ve ever read, ever, period. Ever.

· The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt — The definition of a page turner. 800 pages that read likes half its length. A dark adult fairy tale. A world that feels both aspirational and terrifying. The best ode to the attachment we form to physical objects, especially beautiful things.

· The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera — Philosophically, the most powerful book I’ve ever read. I ended it by sob-scream-wailing, hugging the dog at 1:30 in the morning. It asks whether life is better lived with deep attachments to other people, or with the freedom of total independence. If you, like me, come from a large family that carries many obligations, and if you have a large network of old friends and have ever wondered if everything would be easier if you were free from it all, this book will slice your soul in half.

· The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery — Even though it’s nakedly allegorical and the characters possess traits that intentionally strain reality or plausibility, there is still a genuine, emotionally charged story that sticks to your ribs. You start by thinking you’re reading an author’s internal philosophical debate, but you end deeply invested in a story of friendship and rejuvenation.

· Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides — I don’t know why this is not reflexively considered The Great American Novel. It tells the 20th century American immigrant story, spanning three generations, in a way that feels so casually but perfectly observed, and amazingly comprehensive. There’s a class story, a culture story, an economic story, a familial story. While the book is set in Detroit and chronicles a Greek family’s assimilation, it could easily have been a Jewish family in Cleveland, or a Polish family in Chicago. I could hear and see my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents in every page, and it constantly explored a question that I think all Jews, Italians, Greeks, and Eastern Europeans ask ourselves: how much of ourselves do we want to give to the WASP American ideal?

Other books I really liked and would fully endorse:

· The Topeka School, by Ben Lerner

· Girl in Hyacinth Blue, by Susan Vreeland

· The Cost of these Dreams, by Wright Thompson

· The Sportswriter, by Richard Ford

· The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg

Books I wanted to like more than I did:

· Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng

· Fleischman is in Trouble, by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

· The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, by Michael Chabon

· The Good Soldiers, by David Finkel

· Mrs. Fletcher, by Tom Perotta

· Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan

· The Sheltering Sky, by Paul Bowles

· The Dakota Winters, by Tom Barbash

GOLF

Now, for the goal you are certainly most interested in…golf!

Golf is such a huge part of my life. During the height of the season, minutes will go by where I notice I’ve done nothing but either play back my last round or visualize my next. It’s truly unbelievable to me that I put golf aside for as many years as I did, which really is a testament to how much of myself I gave to improv in the early years.

While I maintained my goal this year of making 30 birdies…which is a way to prompt having fun and being aggressive even when rounds aren’t going well…I did institute a goal I’ve resisted the past two years. I committed to break 80. While I don’t have a strong desire to be a GREAT golfer, I do want to feel like I’m getting better by the season, and breaking 80 was a major hurdle I have struggled to cross (in 2018, I missed a 5 foot putt for par on the 18th hole at Ravisloe that would have broken 80).

I am a headcase on a golf course, and this summer, though I got into a nice groove around July, I found ways to torpedo myself time and again. I shot 81 at Mt. Prospect on August 17, and then 81 again at Wilmette the next day. Over Labor Day weekend, I shot 81 at Harborside, including an abysmal triple bogey on 13.

Finally, when I was home for Grandma’s 90th birthday party in mid September, I was able to sneak out with my friend Sam at The Country Club in Pepper Pike, OH, a course I played semi-frequently as a kid but haven’t set eyes on in more than a decade. A few loose irons on the front 9 aside, I got into a great groove. While I wasn’t hitting the ball markedly better than I had for much of the summer, for once, I managed to avoid mistakes.

Exhale…

As for the birdies, I made only 21 this summer, which was barely an improvement on 2018 and well short of my goal of 30. However, I felt like I was the victim of some bad luck (I feel like very few long putts fell for me this summer), and my handicap dropped from 12 to 9, so it’s hard for me to view the golf season as anything besides a success. I can’t wait for it to be here again.

2019 Birdies:

1. Patriot Point Golf Links (Charleston, SC) — Hole 4, Par 5, 495 yards, driver>hybrid>sand wedge>10 foot putt [3/3/19]

2. Harborside Starboard — Hole 11, Par 4, 310 yards, driver>gap wedge>3 foot putt [3/23/19]

3. Robert Black Golf Course — Hole 8, Par 3, 100 yards, gap wedge, 10 foot putt [3/28/19]

4. Canal Shores — Hole 15, Par 4, 250 yards, 4 iron>9 iron (chip)>5 foot putt [4/20/19]

5. Harborside Port — Hole 10, Par 4, 380 yards, driver> 9 iron>30 foot putt [4/24/19]

6. Winnetka Golf Course — Hole 13, par 3, 195 yards, 4 iron>30 foot putt [5/14/19]

7. Calumet Country Club — Hole 12, par 4, 435 yards, driver>7 iron>6 inch putt [5/24/19]

8. Ravisloe — Hole 2, par 5, 500 yards, par 5, driver>hybrid>gap wedge>3 foot putt [6/16/19]

9. Mt. Prospect GC — Hole 1, par 5, 495 yards, driver>6 iron>9 iron>5 foot putt [6/22/19]

10. Arboretum GC — Hole 15, par 4, 345 yard, 3 iron>gap wedge>5 foot putt [7/6/19]

11. Arboretum GC — Hole 17, par 3, 145 yards, 9 iron>15 foot putt [7/6/19]

12. Ravisloe — Hole 3, par 5, 490 yards, driver>3 iron>gap wedge (chip)>10 foot putt [7/14/19]

13. Ravisloe — Hole 8, par 4, 400 yards, driver>8 iron>gap wedge (chip in) [7/27/19]

14. Canal Shores — Hole 9, par 3, 140 yards, 9 iron> 15 foot putt [8/4/19]

15. Canal Shores — Hole 17, par 4, 300 yards, 3 iron>pitching wedge>3 foot putt [8/4/19]

16. Calumet CC — Hole 14, par 3, 160 yards, 8 iron>2 foot putt [8/5/19]

17. CommonGround GC (Denver, CO) — Hole 5, par 5, 515 yards, driver>4 iron>sand wedge>3 foot putt [8/24/19]

18. Harborside Starboard — Hole 12, par 5, 550 yards, Driver>hybrid>sand wedge>5 foot putt [8/31/19]

19. The Country Club (Cleveland, OH) — Hole 14, Par 3, 170 yards, 7 iron>20 foot putt [9/15/19]

20. Harborside Port — Hole 9, par 5, 560 yards, driver>hybrid>8iron> 15 foot putt [10/4/19]

21. Calumet CC — Hole 7, par 4, 350 yards, driver>sand wedge>2 foot putt (10/19/19)

COMMUNITY

Up to this point in my goals, my grades have been fairly positive! I lost weight, reduced my carbon footprint, read heartily, and played better golf. Fantastic!

Now is when things take a turn…

For several years, I have tried to set goals regarding greater participation and giveback in my community. While initially, in 2017, I had some success, the last two years have been consecutive steps backwards.

There’s a million excuses I can make. Thome’s arrival made it hard to dedicate large stretches of week nights or weekend days to commuting to volunteer sites. Meghan’s touring schedule over the past two years has reduced my flexibility from where it was in 2017. So forth, so on. But ultimately, I find ways to make it work for golf. I’m obviously just not giving it the same level of priority. In 2017, I volunteered 10 times. This year, I volunteered three. Gulp.

I really do want to unlock whatever is holding me back here. In part, I need to find some volunteering outlet where I can be more opportunistic about scheduling support. For reasons that make good sense, large outlets like the Greater Chicago Food Depository often require 2+ months of advanced scheduling to join their volunteer efforts. Inevitably, week of, something then comes up and I need to cancel. I would like to find more opportunities that require less notice, even if they’re self-directed (anyone can go clean up a park). All of this is to say, there’s no good excuse. To play 40+ rounds of golf and volunteer three times is evidence of where I placed my priorities, and that’s something I can change.

The other aspect of my community goals was to be more intentional in making financial donations to non-profits. I set a goal, but for a variety of reasons, it was a more onerous financial year than I expected here on the home front (new roof, new water heater, two appliance malfunctions resulting in water damage, was I dumb or unlucky or both because owning a house is way more expensive than I thought). Anywho, I donated 70% of my target, which is not what I wanted to do, but is more than I donated in 2018. If you’re interested, here is a list of organizations I think are worth support:

· Chicago Reader

· Everytown for Gun Safety

· Planned Parenthood

· 4 Greyhound Racers

· Invisibile Institute

· The Gold Standard

· Greater Chicago Food Depository

CREATIVE

This was another major gap this year, and for the third year in a row, I failed spectacularly to achieve my creative goals this year.

While I feel really happy and content with the improv I’m doing (see above), I have been stuck in a now years-long writing rut. I do intensely miss the satisfaction of seeing a piece of written comedy — whatever it might be — come to fruition. I don’t exactly know how I went from so productive in this department to say paralyzed, but here we are.

In past years, I blamed some of my stasis on the diminishing returns of writing new shows. So much work for so few performances. I wanted something that had a more permanent record and thought writing and recording a podcast series would be a way to scratch that itch. But, clearly, what’s holding me back is deeper than just lacking the right medium.

I have had a million ideas for potential podcast series (some of which could be good!), but in each instance, there’s a voice I can’t shake in my head that says that if what I produce isn’t utterly original and utterly worthy of an audience, it will be another joke in the punchline about useless podcasts. Even though I have myself made a million snarky comments about the over-abundance of mediocre podcasts, I can’t shake those voices when it comes time to put pen to paper.

I am determined to pedal out of this somehow. I have friends who have managed, despite other jobs, relationships and improve commitments, to write entire novels. It’s possible. If I can exorcise the need to assess how something will be judged before it even exists, I believe I can get back to consistent creative production, even if what I produce sees no audience but me. The process of doing it is extraordinarily healthy for me, and I feel its absence all the time.

That being said, I gave myself a D+ here because while I didn’t produce the podcast series I set out to, I did write and perform several pieces, especially for the “Yes and No” debate show Kevin Knickerbocker hosted at iO. All of them, but especially my self-debate on whether I should quit my gym, felt fun and successful and were reminders of the important role these outlets play for me.

FOOD

I set too many goals in 2019, and quickly realized I’d have to deprioritize my focus in some categories to make room for others (golf is important!). These food goals were ones that I dropped fairly early in the year.

In 2017, when I had zero cooking experience, I set an ambitious cooking goal as a means to learn. It was a huge theme of that year, and I pursued it aggressively. The base I got from cooking so frequently over those 12 months really have quickly turned me into a proficient cook (though I am still highly dependent on recipes and have little creative flair).

As I think about my goals going forward, I realize I’m about as good of a cook as I want or need to be. I am not great by any means and there are many skills and techniques that are beyond my reach, but I have to ability now to cook at a level where I enjoy the food I make (80% of the time?).

When I got married, my colleagues very kindly all donated recipes from their own families to me. I set out in 2019 to cook all those recipes, but made little headway. It was a situation where the recipe I needed in the moment rarely aligned with what was available, but I still want to pursue this project (just in a non S.M.A.R.T. goal manner). I will get there!

I also set a goal this year to visit 12 of the Eater 38 Essential Chicago Restaurants” I had never visited before. While I realized quickly that structuring any meaningful percentage of my life around visiting new restaurants was not worthwhile (better to be playing golf and not volunteering!), I was glad that the presence of this goal prompted me to visit some new places. It’s silly to give myself a poor grade for only visiting seven new restaurants when I intended to visit 12, so no evaluation really applies here. Nonetheless, here are the seven I visited, in order of how much I would want to go back.

1. Birrieria Zaragoza — goat quesadillas and goat tacos. Several of these restaurants were fantastic, but this one is by far the cheapest, so it wins (even if it’s a haul to get to and keeps odds hours)

2. Proxi — Tempura elotes, mussels, Vietnamese crepe, smoked pumpkin, black pepper pork lettuce wrap, braised duck (went twice so the list is extensive). The mussels are truly unbelievable. If you like mussels, go here.

3. Fat Rice — Vegetable curry samosas, bacon fried rice. It’s so good, I don’t know why it’s not number 1 on this other than that I really loved the first two places too. Consider it a tie.

4. Pacific Standard Time — Pancetta pizza, plum salad, branzino. Everything is so good, but the plum salad blew my mind. And I don’t particularly like plum.

5. Imperial Lamian — Soup dumplings, hot and sour la mein. I’m not sure there’s anything “special” about it relative to any number of good Chinese places in Chicago, but it’s downtown and it’s very excellent, which is a great combo.

6. Monteverde — Avocado salad, Cacio pepe, fusilli and meatballs, prawn arribiata. It’s good, but given the hype, is it illegal to say I was a little disappointed?

7. Band of Bohemia — Red pepper bok, peanut crusted cod, pozole pork shank. I went for drinks early in the summer and loved it. It’s beautiful and the vibe for drinks is honestly as good as any place in the city. As a cocktail bar, it’d be tied for first on this list with Proxi. For dinner, I was not into it. The portions were comically small (like when they make fun of a pretentious restaurant in the movies) and the prices were laughable (I think there was a $14 carrot appetizer).

MISCELLANEOUS

I’m speeding towards 6,000 words (self-indulgence run amok), so I’ll wrap up the year quickly with a couple miscellaneous goals I set that were important to me for various reasons but didn’t have a home in any other categories.

· Get 5 haircuts. I hate getting my haircut. I don’t like being touched and I don’t like small talk, and haircuts are the center of that Venn diagram. However, I need to do it more often. I set a goal to do it 5x this year and met the goal, in part because I finally found a barber shop I like (Esquire in Andersonville). I also realized I need to be getting my haircut every 8 weeks, because it was getting too loose by the time I got in on each occasion.

· Go to the dentist once. I hate going to the dentist for many of the same reasons I hate getting my haircut (there’s more touching and less small talk, but still lots of both). I went and it sucked. Check.

· Write 18 thank you notes. Because thank you notes are a fairly routine part of my work commitments, it was hard to calculate what should count towards this goal. I wish I had written more that were clearly personal, but I wrote 10. I’m not sure I’ll keep this as an explicit goal, but I hope I build on the practice.

· No Conservative Twitter. I am certain that since 2016, Conservative Twitter has taken years off my life. Scrolling through Charlie Kirk’s tweets to the point of heart palpitations and then falling asleep in a state of rage-panic simply can’t be good for my health. This year, I pledged to elevate above the trolls, and I actually made good headway. Once in a while, I still find myself clicking on some idiot Hugh Hewitt hot take, but I dramatically reduced my consumption of Angry White Man internet noise. I am one Lib they can’t own. (Sort of.)

· Quit gchat. I didn’t come close to quitting gchat. Very much the opposite, actually. I am now at a point where I’m curious if I even can or ever will? No point to belabor this.

CONCLUSION

So, finally a few words of conclusion. 2019 was a year marked by both failures and success. It was a very “me-first” year, where I put a lot of focus on things like my mental and physical health and made significant strides in improving my diet, getting more consistent exercise, reading for pleasure, and enjoying my passions of improv and golf. Save for the lack of creative discipline and production, from a “me” perspective, it was a very good and healthy year.

Where I came up short seemed to be in my engagement with and contributions to the outer world. So, while I am still setting my 2020 goals, I hope to build on some of my personal strides in better living habits while improving as a husband, son, brother, uncle, friend, and community member.

Thank you to all who even peruse this massive missive each year! It heartens me that so many take even a passing interest in my life and I hope I can give back to all of you what you give me. If you are interested in setting your own S.M.A.R.T. goals for 2020, please reach out. I love helping others think through how they want to invest their time and energy.

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