As we approach the end of the year (12.5 hrs to go!), this is as good a time as any to reflect on the last 365 days of my life. First – and I know this is a totally cliche statement – how is it almost 2012?! The thing about having your life straddle two centuries is that every new year in the latter century feels like some insane number from ‘the future’. Remember when people thought the entire digital world would collapse in the year 2000? And here we are 12 years later. Whaaaaat?! It’s even crazier when I try running retirement calculators and throw around years like “2030″. It’s just crazy. Crazy I tell you!
Without further ado, here is my recap of life in 2011:
– I cut back on booze. I was never an alcoholic, but I did my fair share of Friday evening pubbing (not to mention visiting the wine bar with my work colleagues on other days of the week.. and starting the pub session on a Friday afternoon rather than evening…). While this year still has a handful of cocktail or wine induced foggy memories, I find myself going to the pub less and less, rarely buying a bottle of wine while out at dinner and not often picking up spirits or wine for weekend evenings at home with the hubby. My bank account, liver and waist are eternally grateful.
– I changed jobs..er… twice. I started the year continuing my career on an oil trading desk. Loving the people, but not so much the controversy or the location specificity, I was bored in my role and didn’t agree with management changes being made, so decided I wanted a change (and honestly, this move was probably a big help in cutting back on boozing). I thought my spreadsheet prowess and math aptitude would serve me well in pension consulting and pursuing a professional qualification (either actuarial or CFA). So, I took a massive pay cut and went back to the bottom of the career totem pole to work for a large pension consultancy firm. Almost immediately, I felt unhapy. I realised I prefer hanging out with my husband to studying complex maths and regulatory framework. More frustratingly, my job was actually no more challenging than the one I’d just left, the company didn’t promote efficiency (because getting things done faster = fewer billable hours) and the people weren’t nearly as fun to be around. I didn’t want to commit 3+ years to studying when I didn’t like my day job. So, I jumped ship before I was in too deep. I leveraged the studying I had done to gain my IMC and moved to an asset manager. What I’m doing now isn’t what I want to be doing forever. But, the hours and commute are alright, the people aren’t bad and I’ve got a bit more to do. I’ve also got a clearer picture of what I’d like to be doing down the road, and even have a 5 year plan of sorts.
– I spent quality time with my oldest brother and his family. With 14 years between us, Rob and I didn’t grow up together. By the time I was old enough to have a conversation, my oldest brother was off to join the Navy, get married and have a kid. We’d always gotten along fine, but never spent much time together without the rest of the family around and the associated craziness that ensues when you get that many related people together (I’m the youngest of 5 kids). This year, I paid big bro a visit during part of a Pacific Northwest holiday and loved talking about life and family and enjoying each other’s company. I have 4 very different siblings; it’s great to get to know all of them individually as adults (no matter how rubbish we can be at maintaining regular contact).
– I started cooking more. As kids, my sister and I loved to bake. As a grown up, I still like baking, but without my entire family around to share the sugary, fat laden treats, I’m less inclined to bake a big batch of cookies. I’ve instead embraced the joy of cooking. For the last 2 years, I’ve had the running resolution of cooking at least 1 new dish each month. I blew that goal out of the water this year, and probably averaged one a week. I love continually challenging myself and trying new things.
– Everyone I know is getting married and/or having babies! I’m at the age where people around me are growing up. We attended 4 weddings this year, had another close friend get married in a private ceremony, already have a wedding on the cards for June 2012 and anticipate 2 or 3 more couples will start planning nuptials in the not-too-distant future. I think my entire high school class either got knocked up or had a baby this year, too! One of my best friends, who was more excited to become a mum than anyone I’ve ever known, welcomed a beautiful, healthy daughter in September on the same day a colleague’s wife gave birth. In the space of 4 days, three couples announced they’d just had their 12 week scans and were expecting babies in the new year. My Facebook feed is full of ultrasounds, baby photos and requests for motherly advice. Mr O and I aren’t yet ready for parenthood, but at least if/when we decide we are, we will have a lot of good company!
– I realised (remembered?) I’ve got a pretty good life. The Euro Millions was up to some crazy high number in March, so Mark and I bought a couple of tickets. We didn’t win, BUT before the draw, we decided to create a ‘lottery list’. We wrote down everything we’d do/buy if we hit it big. To my surprise, the list was pretty short, and a lot of the items on the list are things we’ve since attained, will achieve in the next year or two, or are just crazy things you’d only do if you were super rich (like perpetually employing a makeup artist and personal trainer). Seeing how little I was missing in my life – materially and emotionally – reminded me just how happy I am and how lucky I am to be living my life.
– I committed to relocating. We always discussed going back to the US “in a few years”. However, there was always uncertainty about when that ‘few years’ started and if it was really going to happen or if it was just an idea. After all, London is the ‘cool’ place to be with ‘lots of stuff to do’. When you catch up with old friends and say “I live in London” they say “wow” and other city lovers seem to think you’re crazy to go anywhere else unless you’re boring and/or reproducing. Maybe that’s true – maybe I am boring now – but I’m starting to want something more, if not at least something different. I love our 2 bedroom flat, but I’d also love to have a dining room in which to host a dinner party (because there’s something slightly awkward about approaching 30 and inviting other married couples over for a nice meal … served to them sitting on a sofa…). I’d also like to be able to add that dining room without having to add £75k to the value of my home, add 30 minutes to my commute or move to a shady neighbourhood. I do love the variety of restaurants and bars available in London, but do we make use of them often? Not as often as we would having an added dining room or slightly larger guest room. I also have a love/hate relationship with public transport, but would prefer if we didn’t have a 40 minute commute, despite both living and working in ‘central London’. Mark and I are avid music lovers, but to be honest, most of the bands we love and follow aren’t hip, up-and-coming, skinny jean wearing trendsters you can only see in Camden or Shoreditch. They’re multi-national acts, whom we could enjoy in most major cities around the world. The biggest draw back is the idea of leaving much loved friends, but with lots of close friends that have moved to Australia and the US, we’ve learned email, Skype and passports make that not such an issue. Some mates are actually excited about having somewhere else to visit, too. At the end of the day, it’s a lifestyle choice, and one we think we’re ready to make. We don’t have an exact date for a relocation, because everything is dependent on visa processing. We have, however, decided it is a ‘definitely’ not a ‘maybe’ and are putting wheels in motion. Watch this space.
– Steve Jobs died. My feelings about his passing are already pretty clear (here), but it definitely deserves a spot on the recap for being a black hole in my year. I enjoyed reading his biography, too (even if it did reiterate what a jerk he could be). It helped motivate me to do what I want, not what I ought to do. I have a lot of confidence in Tim Cook and am pleased and excited about the changes he’s made since taking the reigns. I know Apple isn’t without its faults, and hope critics don’t judge any future failings solely on Tim. Hopefully the pundits can differentiate between the struggles a company faces as it grows verses those attributed solely to a change in leadership.
– My marriage got even better. I know this is a little gushy, but I’m even more excited about being married and my husband than I was 12 months ago. Our relationship is in a great place. Eighteen months spent on different continents early on in our relationship meant we learned to communicate well early on, but we’ve gotten more in sync over the last several months. Honestly, I think the biggest contributor to this improvement is my beloved hubby. Through a combination of factors, he’s become stronger and more confident over the past several months, and the added balance of ‘power’ has been fantastic and rewarding. It also makes him that much more fun to be around, and I love and respect him even more for it. Improved marital strength has also given us more confidence individually and allows us to be more honest with ourselves about likes, dislikes, hopes and dreams. I’m so lucky to be married to my soulmate, and can’t help smiling every time I think how lucky I am to share my life with someone who adores me as much as I do him.
– I had one of the best holidays I have EVER had. We did a bit of travel this year – Seattle/Vancouver/Portland in March. Edinburgh in April. Brussels in August. But nothing compared to the brilliance of New Zealand in December! Honestly, I was not excited about this holiday. Travelling to the other side of the world during its peak travel time made for pricey plane tickets, and stretching our trip to cover a mate’s Melbourne wedding in early Dec and Christmas with my parents meant it would be a long trip. We did a few calcs (on a spreadsheet, natch) and it was obviously going to be our most expensive trip to date. My passion for personal finance kept me from being overly ecstatic about dropping a not-so-small fortune, and I didn’t do any planning between booking plane tickets in early May and late October when I realised I could not procrastinate any longer. Reluctance aside, it was amazing! We learned airlines will sell off excess business class seats as cheap upgrades last minute, and were able to upgrade our flight without too much added expense just by asking at the airport. Suddenly the 22 hour journey from London to Hong Kong to Melbourne was more bearable. The luxury of enjoying the airline lounges, eating great food and sleeping for 6 hours on each of our flights (in the Qantas provided pyjamas, no less!) definitely started the trip on the right foot and helped us avoid suffering with much jetlag on the outward journey. The wedding was a fantastic opportunity to catch up with Mark’s best friend (who lives in Perth) and his fiancée before they themselves got hitched in a private beach ceremony the following week. After a couple days catching up with some of our best friends and having a few too many glasses of wine, the ‘real’ holiday started in Auckland. “Amazing” doesn’t even begin to describe the great time we had – the natural beauty of the country, the friendly people, enjoying the sunshine in the middle of what should be winter back home (although it did rain for a few days early on), having a week – including Christmas – of quality time with my parents… I loved it all. We had a lot of the best food we’ve ever had, too, including a massive steak from a restaurant called “The Garlic Press” – enough said, the freshest fish and chips ever and an amazing roast lamb from friends whose family have been in the sheep and beef farming business for 100+ yrs. It’s the first time we’ve not been itching to return to home comforts by the end of two weeks. It was probably helped by having wifi everywhere and preparing quite a lot of food ourselves rather than going out for lots of pricey, overly filling food. Staying with family and friends for part of the trip and doing some of our own cooking also meant we came in well under initial budget estimates, making the trip that much sweeter. We’ve got several travel lined up for 2012 (you know, just in case we *do* start to get broody soon), and if those trips are half as good as our most recent holiday, we are in for a treat!
– I became more thoughtful about my purchases. Maybe I’ve finally hit that illusive point of having ‘enough’. Maybe it’s maturity. Maybe it’s reading too much MMM (is there such a thing?). Maybe I’m just getting pickier. Whatever the reason, I was more considerate about what I bought before I bought it this year. Yes, there’s still a pair of trainers I wore once before donating them to charity 6 months later and a handful of tops I bought with sale goggles and haven’t worn more than a few times. Bar those few exceptions, everything I’ve purchased this year, I thought long and hard about and ensured it would be something that really enhanced my life and/or had a purpose.
– I started reading more. I’ve never been a big reader. As a kid, I didn’t have the attention span. As a teen and early 20-something, I had lots to read for school/uni. As a mid 20-something, it just wasn’t part of my routine. I didn’t go to a bookshop or want to carry around books. My reading was limited to blogs (which, to be fair, I read quite a few of) and picking up a novel to read on long flights. That all changed this year when I bought a Kindle. I have easily read more in the last 6 months than the last 6 years and enjoy my new lunchtime habit of sitting in Starbucks for an hour drinking a coffee and reading. Thanks, Amazon.
After such a great year, and having become happier and more mature, I am excited for what 2012 brings. My goals for the next year:
– Continue cooking new foods (I might even work up the courage to cook things that require a candy thermometer!)
– Travel (Colorado and Las Vegas is already booked and ready to go in less than 7 weeks. We’re also aiming to visit Mexico, rent a villa in the south of France and do an Eastern European road trip later this year)
– Commit to causes I believe in (I’ve got plans to see about volunteering with the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation; I’d like to put more time and effort toward things I believe in than just ‘stuff’)
– Cut back spending by at least £500/month. We started this in November, and are working to reduce frivolous spending by an additional £100 each month (ie £100 in November, £200 in December, etc). We do save and invest a gigantic portion of our income, but we still lead a pretty luxurious lifestyle and know there’s always room to improve.
– Get rid of unused items. I’m fairly minimalistic, but I know there are clothes, CDs and other bits we don’t use or need. With a trans-Atlantic move on the horizon, I’d like to only move essential, loved items.
– Run at least 2 or 3 10K races, and get my time under 52 minutes (because 55 seems too easy, and I don’t think I’m motivated to train enough to get it under 50). I’m getting back into weight training more than running, so 2-3 races is as much as I want to commit to this year.
– Lose 7 lbs (I’m happy with my current weight, but a few lbs less should alleviate the few gripes I’ve got about my body).
– Continue to keep people in my life who add to it, and not let in people who cause me stress and/or unhappiness or who I don’t trust. I’ve cultivated a great group of friends over the last few years, but do need to regularly remind myself to not put too much effort into people who make me feel badly about myself or who create trouble.