John Darnielle, who performs as The Mountain Goats, has a song that's become an anthem for me and Amy, titled This Year. It's a story of survival, of overcoming youthful foolishness and bad choices and unlucky breaks. We've moved on to middle-aged foolishness, but we still have our share of the rest, and since the song's release in 2005 we've often quoted the its determined refrain: I am going to make it through this year if it kills me.
The sentiment was particularly apt in 2016, which began with a serious health crisis for Amy--since resolved, but traumatic for both of us--and the excitement didn't stop there:
- I taught Interpersonal Dynamics (aka Touchy Feely) at Stanford for the first time. While it was rewarding to teach a course that I took as an MBA student in 1999 (and which ultimately led me to become a coach), it was also stressful. Students bring heightened expectations to this class--it's been taught at Stanford since 1968, and a great deal of lore (some accurate, some not) has accumulated around it over the years. In addition the life cycle of learning design mandates that the first time we teach anything we inevitably discover what's broken, and I surely did. I trust fully that my students had a meaningful learning experience--and I'm equally confident that their feedback will help me do an better job this coming year.
- I resigned from the role I'd held at Stanford for a decade in order to focus on my coaching practice and to make more time for writing. I wanted to continue teaching Touchy Feely and my own Art of Self-Coaching course, but I could only propose that arrangement to my dean and hope it was accepted. Happily it was, and I'm grateful for the opportunity I now have to craft such a meaningful professional life through a combination of coaching, teaching, and writing--and I'm aware that I feel some pressure to make the most of this opportunity, to do my best work on behalf of my clients, students, and readers. I've learned the hard way to set boundaries on the demands on my time in order to insure that my approach to work is sustainable--and I know that I still go right up to those limits and sometimes cross them.
- I finally shipped off a book manuscript to my editor, which was both a triumphant milestone and a source of regret. Both responses stem from the fact that I've been working on this project for nearly four years, and it's still not finished. I can point to some factors beyond my control, from a blown disc in my back that led to six months of pain to being rear-ended when I was stopped in traffic in San Francisco, an impact so jarring that it gave me a concussion. And even when I make allowances for these unexpected delays, I'm disappointed in my progress, and this past year has been a mixed bag where writing is concerned--one reason why I'm currently in the midst of a 30-day challenge to up my game.
- And I've been reflecting steadily on the recent U.S. election--as I wrote afterwards, I'm dismayed by the results, enraged by the subsequent surge in hate crimes, and concerned about the overall direction of the country. I'm not on the front lines of these struggles, and yet I feel involved in a number of ways, both because so many of my clients and students are on the front lines, in their leadership roles and in their personal lives, and because I believe that as an old, straight, white guy with an elite education I have an obligation to pay attention and contribute what I can, even if I'm just helping people keep it together so they can do the hard work that will be asked of them.
So I'm well aware--more than ever--of how much I have to be thankful for--starting with Amy's health and my own--and it's been a pretty tough year. Here's to 2017.