What’s important to You?
In 25 minutes, find out how to take 2 free vacations this year!
Why New Year’s resolutions never actually work and what you can do about it.
How can you tell if the work that you’re doing is truly your “thing”? If it’s something that you’re meant to be doing, as opposed to doing it for the paycheck or just because you’re going through the motions?
What stands behind the “more is better” mentality.
Why we start to deviate from the “norm”.
Is the journey more than just the means to an end?
Why too many choices can be a bad thing and what to do about it.
The Elusive Formula of Success
… and why it may be easier than you think.
Tips and strategies to starting your day early. Really early.
Does “asking for permission” get in the way of our progress in life?
How important is it for people that work together to sit together? More than you’d think…
Where do you see yourself in 10 years? You’ve probably heard this question come up in job interviews. Or perhaps you’ve been asked – what do you want to do for the rest of your life?
What’s wrong with short-term volunteering in the developing world.
Being unemployed can be challenging and demoralizing. So, what can you do to turn the situation around?
The consequences of putting off making a choice.
A brief story of how this blog came about and why.
- Citi AA Personal – 50,000 miles – $2,500 in 4 months, no fee first year (sign up)
- US Airways – 35,000 miles – on 1st purchase, no fee first year (sign up)
- Barclays Arrival – 40,000 points or $444 – $1,000 in 3 months, no fee first year (sign up)
- Chase Sapphire – 40,000 points or $500 – $3,000 in 3 months, no fee first year (sign up)
- *** Citi Gold Bank Account – 40,000 points or $533 – make 2 direct deposits + 2 bill pay (sign up)
TOTAL: 205K for meeting $6,500 in minimum spend
- Citi AA Business – 50,000 miles – $2,500 in 4 months, no fee first year (sign up)
- Chase Ink Plus Business – 50,000 points or $625 – $5,000 in 3 months, no fee first year (sign up)
- Chase Ink Bold Business – 50,000 points or $625 – $5,000 in 3 months, no fee first year (sign up)
TOTAL: 150K for meeting $12,500 in minimum spend
A few months ago, I totaled my car while driving in New York, taking a sharp turn that I’ve done a thousand times before, and then losing traction on the rear wheels on my trusty Ford pickup truck. Everything turned out to be fine – that car probably didn’t have much life in it left with 220,000 miles on it anyway, but for the first time since I was 16, I ended up without having a car in my possession.
My first instinct was to go out and buy another car pretty much right away – maybe this time something with a little less than 200,000 miles. However, for whatever reason, I decided to hold off for a bit. In the back of my mind, I figured that this presented an interesting opportunity to experience the lifestyle I always preached to others but don’t actually live myself – being car-free and just relying on other modes of transportation to get around.
I have to admit – it wasn’t easy to stick with this decision especially in the midst of Winter in Boston. And considering that most of my peers have vehicles, the “peer-pressure” is high to get it yourself. But there is one thing that kept me from going through with it – and that’s what I wanted to talk about next.
Experiences vs. things
I’ve always tried to put a higher priority and value on experiences over physical stuff. I don’t always succeed– especially with having an REI in my neighborhood – but I try to as a whole. Travel happens to be one of those types experiences that’s pretty high on the list of importance to me. We all travel for different reasons and in different styles, but for me, it’s a way to live a richer life and get exposed to things that you may not find in your hometown.
I was lucky enough to have had an opportunity to visit a little over 50 countries and that has only piqued my interest to do more. Not to assign a lot of importance to an arbitrary number, but I was thinking as to what it would take to actually visit 100 countries by the time I’m 30-35.
So, I did a bit of math and it came down to an interesting fact – the cost of visiting, say, 50 countries is actually equivalent to the price of a new, mid-range car. When put that way, it presented an interesting choice – if you have limited resources, as we all do, what do we consciously choose to spend them on?
How much does a car really cost?
So, let’s do a bit of math and use some actual examples. We did quite a bit of that during my time at RelayRides when we were trying to understand the true cost of owning a car.
A typical new mid-size, mid-range SUV, like a Toyota 4Runner or a sedan, such as Toyota Avalon, will set you bac somewhere between $30,000 to $40,000. That’s just the purchase price, without taking into consideration the insurance, repairs, maintenance and the like.
If you look at actual cost of ownership in a state like New York, the cost over 5 years – assuming that you finance the car, drive about 10,000 miles per year and then eventually sell it – is $45,000 (Avalon, 4Runner), Personally, if I’d factor in the number of parking and other tickets I’d get, it’d probably jump to $55,000 for me.
Of course, we are just referring to brand-new cars and granted, there are different cars – some are more expensive, some are cheaper. You can buy a new car for just $15,000 as well or you can buy a used Avalon for $7,000 – but then again, lot of us still end up getting new cars at one point or another.
To be fair, we should account that if you don’t buy the car, you are likely to have other transportation expenses that car ownership offsets, such as public transit ($100/mo) and occasional carsharing, car rental or taxi use (say, $100/mo)– which we can roughly estimate at $2,400/yr or $12,000 over a course of 5 years.
Nevertheless, if you subtract that from what it costs to pay for a new car, you’re still looking at an extra expense of ~$33,000 over the course of just 5 years
How much does travel really cost?
When it comes to travel, I think that one misconception that a lot of people have is that it’s very expensive to do. It doesn’t have to be. And you certainly don’t have to bum around, sleep in airports and bring your own food everywhere you go to “value” travel.
The $33,000 spread out over 50 countries is about $660/country visited.
Naturally, everyone is different and people have different criterias for what they want to get out of a vacation. Furthermore, certain regions like Europe may be more expensive, while others such as Asia, South America and Africa can be done on a smaller budget.
But based on the cost of travel that I’m experienced in Asia, Africa, South America and Europe, I’ll base my following calculations. If your typical vacation is 10 days and you’re able to visit two neighboring countries on the same trip and use miles for the airfare, you’re looking at around $1,300 allocated per trip.
If you travel as a couple and double the budget, it becomes even easier. Especially, as many of the things like accommodations and certain local transportation can be shared.
In order to make this work, there are a few other things you need to take into account:
- You have to understand the Frequent Flyer mile programs and how they work. You don’t need to learn anything advanced, but the reality is that the air tickets remain one of the largest expenses when paid in cash and can be reduced dramatically through miles. On average, your out of pocket cash cost on any roundtrip ticket with miles will be $100-200. That would leave you with $1,100-1,200 to spend on the actual vacation.
- Combine two countries during a visit if the time allows. Again, while flying from the U.S. to Europe, Asia or South America is expensive, once you’re already in the region, visiting a neighboring country can be as simple as a bus/train ride away. If you’re able to combine visiting 2 countries during your vacations, it’ll play a huge rule, while the experience at bordering countries can be quite different.
- Stay in Airbnb and apartments rather than hotels when in big cities. You don’t have to sacrifice comfort and privacy. You can find terrific places to stay in that add to your local experience, while at a fraction of the cost that you’d pay for a hotel.
50 countries is an example I picked for me based on my own preferences. For some people, $33,000 will only cover 30 countries. For others, it may be 75. For a couple, it may be half of that – 25.
But the idea remains the same – it’s pretty amazing that you can visit a quarter of the world for the cost of something that we sometimes buy almost for granted, because we everyone else has it or because we think we should.
When presented with a choice of having a new car or having the opportunity to explore more corners of the world (or pursuing any other passion that costs up to $33,000), personally, I think that I would take the latter.
What about you?
Over the last few months, I found that whenever I bring up the idea of “flying for free”, the idea is met both with curiosity and a bit of skepticism that this is actually possible. Well, I’m happy to say that yes – it is indeed possible and in the next 25 minutes, you will actually find out how to do it yourself.
In fact, I’ll take it even a bit further and will promise that in the next 25 minutes, I will show you how you can get 2 free (excluding about $100 in taxes) roundtrip tickets anywhere in the world within the next 3-12 months – without having to sell your firstborn or your kidneys.
Airfare oftentimes is one of the largest expenses when it comes to traveling – especially if you’re looking to go further abroad or to popular destinations in Europe. My hope is that with learning these strategies, you’ll find travel to be more affordable and use this opportunity to explore further corners of the world more often.
Without further ado, let’s dive in!
I’ll tell you the secret to free travel right off the bat – the path to free airfare lies through frequent flyer programs.
I bet you were hoping for something more exciting, like sleeping with the flight attendants, but no … alas, it’s actually a lot more simple.
It’s likely that when you’ve purchased airfare at some point in the past, you were asked to create an account with the airline’s frequent flyer program of that airline. If you did and checked it afterwards, you have likely noticed that they deposited a small amount of miles in there after your flight was completed.
Frequent flyer program have been originally created to reward primarily loyal frequent business travelers. However, today, we all benefit greatly from them. In principle, you earn miles by flying – where you get roughly 1 mile per every mile you fly (although not always).
As an example, a trip to Barcelona from New York might net you around 7,600 miles total after you complete it – equivalent to the total roundtrip distance of 7,640 miles.
Another way that you earn miles is by having a credit card associated with an airline, like Chase United or Citi American Airlines or AMEX Delta. I’m sure you’ve seen those advertised online or in the airline’s in-flight magazines.
When you have an airline-associated credit card, you also earn roughly 1 or more miles per every dollar you spend on anything. I say that it can “more” because in some cases, it can be up to 5-10 miles per $1 depending on the card and what you buy. But as this is an introduction, for our purposes, let’s keep it simple and keep it 1 mile per $1.
Now, here’s the tricky part.
Want to guess how many miles you need to actually get a free ticket?
Well, a free roundtrip award flight from New York to Spain will cost you about 60,000 miles on most airlines. You can see the problem right away.
It will take a long time and a lot of flying or “spending” on your credit cards in order to accumulate 60,000 miles – either $60,000 in spend or about 8 roundtrip flights similar to the one I described above to earn the 60,000 miles. So while you should still use airline credit cards for accruing miles and make sure that you get credited for every flight you’ve taken in the past 12 months and will take in the future, these methods don’t do the trick for us.
Is there a Free Lunch? Apparently, yes!
Now we get to the fun part!
Fortunately, we live at a time when credit card companies are competing head over heels for customers and, provided that we’re smart about this, we can take advantage of it.
Many credit cards will run promotions a few times a year where they will offer you bonuses as much as 50,000 miles with a specific airline for opening up a credit card with them and meeting the minimum spending limit, which can range from $1,000 to $5,000 in 3 months.
These promotions typically just last for a few months, but due to the sheer number of credit card offers out there, at any given time, you can find a few really good deals available.
Consider this – 50,000 points can get you:
- 2 free roundtrip tickets in the continental U.S. (20-25,000 miles each),
- 1 free roundtrip flight to Hawaii with miles left over (35-40,000 miles each), or
- It can cover 83% off a ticket pretty much anywhere in the world (using 60,000 miles as an example).
In short, you can get over $500 to $1,000 in value – just for spending 15 minutes and opening up a credit card. That surely beats the offers we had when I was in college – of getting a free t-shirt!
Do me a favor – if you made it this far, promise me that from now on, you will never open up a credit card unless it gives you at least $500 in value.
This sounds fishy! There’s got to be the catch?
Unlike the promises of becoming a millionaire in 5 easy steps or watching a late night infomercial about a set of knives that can cut through shoes and tin cans, frequent flyer programs and free flights are actually a reality. There is a cost that you pay to this – which is time that you spend on this and a certain amount of discipline that you need to have to come out ahead. However, that’s minimal – considering the benefits at stake.
That said, before I go further, I want to dispel a few myths:
Myth #1: Opening new cards will ruin my credit score and history.
Not exactly. Yes, whenever you open up a new credit card, you do get a hard inquiry on your credit history that will temporarily reduce your score by 2-5 points. You should be aware of that.
However, credit inquiries only account for about 10% of the overall factors that go into your calculating your score. The upside is that once the card is opened, your overall credit limit will be increased by whatever amount you get on the card and that will cause your credit score to go back up within a few months.
Bottom line – you can open up 2-3 or more new cards every 3-4 months and provided that you pay everything on time, you’ll find that your credit score will either remain at the same level or even go up over time.
Myth #2: I will be on the hook for annual fees that the credit card charges.
While annual fees certainly exist, many of the credit cards offer promotions where they will waive the annual fee for the first year. After that, it does become about $90-100/year.
However, what you can do is call before your credit card is up for renewal or even within 30 days after you were charged the annual fee and either a) downgrade it to a free version of the card, or b) cancel the card altogether and have the fee canceled/refunded.
There are a lot of benefits to downgrading the card and keeping it, as it boosts your overall credit limits. But regardless of what you choose to do, the principle is the same – as long as you are disciplined and remember to handle this before (or within 30 days) after the annual fee is charged, you can easily avoid it.
Myth #3: Having too many credit cards is bad for my credit score.
Actually, having a large number of cards doesn’t really affect your credit score that much. In fact having a large overall credit limit is a good thing and increases your score. Personally, I typically suggest that you keep as many cards as you can, provided that you don’t pay the annual fee on them, as that keeps your credit line high and helps create more credit history to the lenders.
Myth #4: There must be a catch!
a) You need to have a decent credit score – preferably over 700 – in order to get approved for most cards. In some cards, even 670+ is OK – but it’ll be slightly more difficult;
b) You need to sign up for the right promotions – don’t waste your time and energy on cards that offer 10-25,000 mile bonuses;
c) You need to pay off your cards on time and in full. This is incredibly important – most of the people who “play” the mile game will never carry a balance on any of their cards, as the enormous APR fees eliminate all of the benefits you gain from this.;
d) You need to track your cards to avoid annual fees. Use Mint.com to do this easily.
Other than that, this really works as described. However, before we go on, I do want to include 2 more disclaimers:
Disclaimer #1: You should only do this if you are disciplined enough to pay off whatever balance you charge to the card – every month. I want to reiterate – carrying a balance and paying the outrageous interest rates defeats the whole purpose.
Disclaimer #2: If you are planning a purchase of a new house and planning to get a mortgage in the next 1.5-2 years, you should be careful not to go overboard with this. Even though your credit score does go up over time, you don’t want to have too many hard inquiries from the credit card applications when you get considered for a mortgage.
Other than that, go wild!
Show Me the Money (watch this before continuing)
All right – we covered the “theory”, let’s now get to action and see how we can implement this.
Below, I’m going to show you a few good credit card promotions that are valid now (January 2013). I will try to update this every few months, but keep in mind that these promotions come and go, so if you like something, you should sign up for it now.
- Get 50,000 miles when you spend $2,500 within 4 months
- $85 annual fee is waived for the first year. You can cancel the card before it comes up for renewal.
- Note that on the actual sign up page, there is no mention of the 50,000 promotion. That’s OK – it still works.
- If you have a business, you can also sign up for the Business AA Visa card and also get 50,000 points after $3,000 spend in 4 months.
- Sign up for free AA frequent flyer program,
- Sign up for the personal CITI AA card here. If you have a business, then also sign up for the business CITI AA card here.
Final Result: 52,500 miles after meeting $2,500 minimum spend. Or double that with a business card.
Chase United – 55,000 miles + $50
- Chase United offers a fantastic promotion right now where you can get 55,000 points AND $50 statement credit for spending just $1,000 in 3 months!
- This promotion is not “publicly-posted”, but it is still very easy to sign up for it.
- You get 50,000 miles when you sign up and an extra 5,000 miles when you add an additional user.
- $95 annual fee is waived for the first year. You keep the points even when you cancel the card.
- Register for MileagePlus – United Airline’s frequent flyer program. Once you login, you’ll see a promotion offering you 30,000 points for opening up the card. Ignore that promotion – I will show you how to get a better one in a second.
- Register for this site: bckstgr.com
- Link your social networking accounts to bckstgr.com and it will post 600 miles on MileagePlus account.
- Wait a little and login again and you should see a promotion for 50,000 miles card. Go for it! To elaborate why you need to do all of this is because United only offers this promotion to folks who have some activity in their frequent flyer account. Since you’re a brand new user, going through bckstgr (what a horrible name!) is the easiest way to do it. Contact me if you have trouble seeing this promotion and I’ll help you set it up.
Final Result: 56,000 miles after meeting $1,000 minimum spend and adding a 2nd authorized user.
US Airways Mastercard – 40,000 miles
- US Airways Mastercard, powered by Barclays bank, offers a 40,000 bonus on the first purchase (no minimum spend required!).
- $89 annual fee is waived for the first year. While you can cancel the card at any time and keep the points, you actually get 10,000 points bonus every year, so even if you end up paying the $89 fee, you get a good amount back in points.
- US Airways is a bit unique in that if offers 5,000 mile discount on all bookings. So, if a typical U.S. flight is 25,000 on most airlines, it will only cost you 20,000 with US Airways. This way, this promotion is also good for 2 flights anywhere in the U.S.
- Ignore what it says on the information page about “Offer available to Dividend Miles members currently with Chairman’s Preferred Status only”. Most people report that they still get the points regardless of their status.
- Sign up for the US Airways frequent flyer program here.
- Then sign up for the US Airways Mastercard here.
Final Result: 40,000 miles after 1st purchase
Chase Sapphire – 40,000 points
- Chase offers 40,000 points when you spend $3,000 within 3 months.
- These points which can be redeemed on any airline through their “Orbitz-like” airfare booking portal. Chase offers a 20% discount off any airfare that you book through them, so 40,000 points is equivalent to $500.
- $95 annual fee is waived for the first year. Make sure to use the points before you cancel the card, as when you cancel it, the points can disappear.
- There is another promotion available for business owners that will give you 50,000 points for $5,000 spend in 3 months.
- Sign up for Chase Sapphire card here.
- If you have a business, also sign up for Chase Ink Plus here and get an additional 50,000 points.
Final Result: 43,000 points after meeting $3,000 minimum spend.
How to Redeem the Miles & Airline Alliances
Let’s say that you’ve followed the ideas in this post and opened up a couple of credit cards for yourself. The next step comes with redeeming the miles for award flights.
One important thing that I want to point out is Airline Alliances.
Every major airline will typically belong to one of 3 alliances: OneWorld, Star Alliance or SkyTeam. When you get miles with, let’s say, American Airlines, you have the opportunity to redeem your miles not just on AA, but on any of the 12 airlines in the OneWorld alliance to which it belongs. With United or US Airways, you get access to 27 airlines in the Star Alliance. And so on. Here’s a good summary if you want to see who belongs to what alliance.
This is something that can confuse people at first, as airlines don’t make it particularly easy to redeem them on partner airlines But overall, after you do it once, you’ll get the hang of it and it will be almost as easy as booking a regular flight.
As an example, I wanted to show a couple of sample itineraries and show how much they would cost with different airlines:
New York -> Paris, France
- AA: 60,000 miles + $82
- United: 60,000 miles + $90
- US Airways: 55,000 points and $148 (poor availability during peak season)
- Chase UR Points: 77,000 points for $962 ticket
New York -> Bangkok, Thailand
- United: 65,000 miles and $74 in taxes
- AA: 70,000 miles and taxes
- US Airways: 80,000 miles and taxes
- Chase UR Points: 102,000 points for $1,282 ticket
New York -> Buenos Aires, Brazil
- United: 60,000 miles and taxes
- AA: 40,000 miles and taxes
- US Airways: 60,000 miles and taxes
- Chase UR Points: 97,000 points for $1,200
New York -> San Francisco, California
- AA: 25,000 miles + $10 in taxes
- United: 25,000 miles + $7.50 in taxes
- US Airways: 20,000 miles + $35 in taxes
- Chase UR Points: 25,000 points for $315 ticket
New York -> Honolulu, Hawaii
- AA: 35,000 points + $10 in taxes
- United: 40,000 miles + $7.50 in taxes
- US Airways: 60,000 miles + $60 in taxes
- Chase UR Points: 51,000 points for $648 ticket
Where are you going to go?
So, now let’s get to the promise I’ve made you in the beginning of the post – your 2 vacations this year.
Let’s say that this year, you’d like to do a vacation in Hawaii or Brazil and a week-long adventure trip in Asia or a cultural trip in Europe. Let’s see how this plays out.
Scenario #1 – Hawaii and Bangkok:
- 35,000 – 40,000 miles for Hawaii
- 65,000 – 80,000 miles for Asia
You need a total of 100,000 – 120,000 miles for the itinerary above. You can get most of these miles through AA and United cards.
Scenario #2 – Buenos Aires and Paris:
- 40,000 – 60,000 for South America
- 55,000 – 60,000 miles for Europe
You need a total of 95,000 – 120,000 miles for the itinerary above. You can get most of these miles through AA and United/US Airways cards.
Have any other destination in mind? There is a really great, free tool that will show you how many miles you’ll need with each program to get there. You can check it out here. As you can see above and you’ll discover through your own searches, different airlines have different strengths in different regions. Some offer the best deals for Europe, others with U.S.-based travel and so on.
Timing also plays a role – many airlines offer discounted award redemption rates for off-peak season, as well as having more availability in the first place.
You may have noticed that many of the international rewards require 60,000 – 80,000 points, but you only get 50,000 – 55,000 when you open a single card. How do you close the ga?:
- Partner Up – if you have a spouse or a significant other, open the cards together to get additional points.
- Once you have the card, put your expenses it, as you’ll typically earn 1-2 miles per person. How about paying your school loans with a card? Other bills?
- Pay your roommate for rent or transfer money to friends with no fees via Amazon Payments up to $1,000/mo and earn extra miles on your cards there.
- Take a look at any flights you’ve flown in the last 12 months to see if you have any miles that you can retroactively get for them;
- Keep your eyes open for better promotions. A few times a year, you can get as much as 75,000 to 100,000 miles by opening up a single credit card when there is a right promotion going on.
- If you have a business, open up a business credit card to double your rewards.
- Or worse comes to worst, you can actually purchase miles. It usually only makes sense if you just need 1,000 – 3,000 miles to meet the award requirement, as the airlines will typically charge $30 per 1,000 miles.
The goal is to be pro-active about this and plan ahead. You’ll find that after a year or so, you’ll have miles spread out over different programs and it will become easier to meet the award requirements.
Before you go.
After doing this for a while myself and accumulating probably around a million miles over the last few years, I really do think that this opens up a lot of fantastic opportunities to travel affordably.
To be fair, it does take time and it does take some level of flexibility. But if it allows you to go almost anywhere in the world several times per year, I believe that it’s very much worth it.
This article is meant to be just an introduction, as there is much more to discover – both in terms of earning miles and redeeming them in the most effective ways. If you have any questions, I’m always happy to help – don’t hesitate to reach out.
Oh, and one more thing – if you found this article helpful, do me a favor and post a comment if you plan on making any trips happen with miles this year and what cards you decided to pursue.
Around the holidays, one of the most common questions you hear thrown around is: “what’s your New Year’s resolution?”
For some reason, whenever I hear the responses, I oftentimes have a hard time believing that they will come true. Not because I don’t admire the fact that people resolve to improve themselves, but rather because the resolutions tend to be very vague (what does “become healthier” even mean) and typically lack an actual plan for making them happen.
Recently, I have stumbled across a concept of an Annual Review. Essentially, it’s a document that you put together over the course of a few days and the purpose of it is to deliberately plan for what you want your next year to look like. It starts off by looking at what went well this year, where you failed, what lessons you learned and what you are grateful for. This serves as a foundation to creating a plan for the next year of what you want to accomplish and improve.
Instead of just creating 1-3 “generic” resolutions for the year ahead, you approach this methodically by looking at all areas of life that are important to you. There can be as many or as few as you want – as long as they are things that you want to improve in some way. For me, they are (in no particular order):
Business & Work
Adventure & Travel
Family & Friends
Once you have the categories defined, the second step is to come up with several goals to go within each “bucket”. It’s important to be specific, so that you know exactly what you expect of yourself and whether you actually reach the goal. “Becoming healthier” is too vague to be useful; while “exercise 5 times per week by March” is something that you can actually hold yourself accountable against.
For each goal, you then create a plan of action and a deadline. Figure out what are the steps that you need to take in order to make it happen and when. They don’t have to go into extreme detail, but you should at least outline the first few steps right away. I also found it really helpful to create a timeline of the year and map out all of the actions and goals against it.
As somebody once said: “you can generally do everything that you want to do, just not at the same time.” – this makes it easier to see how the goals fit against each other and anticipate whether you’ll have time for it. When I did it for 2011, I actually had to remove a few goals due to scheduling issues or because I realized that it would be simply to overwhelming.
Finally, once you’re done setting up the goals and objectives, you want to look at each category and figure out what the theme is or, as I call it, “What’s the Point?” What is it that you will accomplish by fulfilling these goals and why is it important? This exercise helps to figure out the big picture and ensure that your goals are aligned with it. For many people, the “What’s the Point?” step will come first and the goals will follow after, but for me, it works the other way around.
The Next Step
When you complete the document, you’ll have a roadmap for the year ahead. Most importantly, if you do it right, it will contain 30-50 goals that are truly important and meaningful to you. It’s incredibly useful to have that laid out in front of you throughout the year.
However, it’s only the beginning. The next step is to actually track yourself against these goals. That consists of two components:
The first one is a monthly plan that you should put together in the beginning of each month. For me, as January rolled around, I realized that there are 20+ different things I need to do this month to move forward with the goals and unless I plan to incorporate them into my routine, I can easily drop the ball. So, I recommend going through your goals in the beginning of each month and looking at what needs to be done that month and moving that into a separate To-Do list.
The second component is the Quarterly Review. Your chances of actually completing most of your set objectives by the end of the year is much higher if you evaluate yourself against your goals on a regular basis. As the year goes by, it’s helpful to setup a time every 3 months to go over your progress and see how you’re doing.
It’s important to note that completing all of the goals is not necessarily realistic because they can become outdated or irrelevant. Plus, if you do complete them all, it’s possible that they were simply set too low. In my opinion, if you’re able to do about 75-80% of them, then you’re doing quite well.
I turned 25 recently and, on that birthday, there was a flashback to celebrating the 21st birthday a few years ago. It was fascinating to realize that 4 years have gone by so quickly and a reminder that the next 4 will go by as well.
I firmly believe that we need to live our lives deliberately or the years will get away from us and we’ll just be left with things that we’ve wanted to accomplish, but “just never had enough time” for. I also believe that we tend to overestimate the amount of things we can do in a day, yet underestimate what we can accomplish in a year. When you think about what you want to do over the year and put down concrete objectives and steps, it has a way of gaining a form and becoming a reality.
I hope that you will go ahead and try the exercise for yourself.
In the meantime, if you want to see my 2011 Annual Review & Plan, you can view it here.
Credit: I’ve gotten the idea and guidance for the Annual Review from the blog, Art of Non-Conformity. I’ve made some changes to it and customized to fit my own needs, but the credit for the idea certainly goes to the original author, Chris Guillebaeu.
When you start running regularly, people sometimes ask you why you do it. I ask that question too – I have a colleague who is an ultra-marathon runner (runs of 50 miles at a time). I couldn’t help but ask her the same question – after all, what can possibly make a person go through such exhaustive event, not to mention the months of training preceding that.
I still don’t know exactly what makes her do it, but for me, it comes down to several reasons:
It’s a Rock of Stability – when everything else in the life is unstable or unclear, a running routine becomes one of the few things you can rely on in your day to day routine – as stable as a rock. It’s one of the things that’s entirely under your control and you know that you’re the one that decides whether you’re going to go or not, whether you’ll run fast or slow, far or close. It genuinely creates a certain comfort during a crazy day when you have a run to to look forward to.
It’s Slightly Painful - not in a bad way, but it definitely pushes your body slightly outside of your comfort zone. As a result, there is a bit of pain associated with it which makes you more acutely aware of yourself and your body. Sometimes, it can be a good thing, as it makes you appreciate your body more.
It Makes You Feel Strong - while I’ve never been a particularly athletic person in my childhood years, there is a certain pride that comes your way when you know that you’re capable of running 5 miles, 10, 26. During a typical run, I find that that you go through the initial phase when you start off fresh and energetic, a phase in the middle when you start to get slightly tired or out of breath, and then a final phase when you catch the second wind. That last phase brings a new outburst of energy because you realize that you’ve already gone a long way, but can still have it in you to keep going. You’ve pushed yourself and you’ve accomplished something and made your body stronger.
It’s Peaceful - going running in the mornings, around 6am, especially when it’s colder and there are fewer people outside is really serene. You get to see the city wake up, you get to see the sunset, and you get to be on your own with your thoughts or music. It’s simply a good start to a new day.
At the end of the day, do I enjoy waking up extra early and going for a run? Generally, the answer is no. I have a difficult time getting out of bed at 6am and would certainly prefer to sleep for an extra hour or so, especially during the cold winter months. And, to tell the truth, running itself isn’t too pleasurable in its own right.
However, inevitably, after I complete each run and return home, I am really glad I’ve done it. After a while, it becomes drug-like – you need to do it or you end up feeling grumpy, cranky or unsatisfied with yourself. But maybe that’s just me.
How can you tell if the work that you’re doing is truly your “thing”? If it’s something that you’re meant to be doing, as opposed to doing it for the paycheck or just because you’re going through the motions?
Sometimes, we can tell quite easily when it’s not “our” thing. We simply don’t enjoy the work, don’t look forward to it, or see it as a dead-end path. Or, there is the opposite, there is no doubt in your mind that this is what you’re meant to be doing.
But oftentimes, the answer can be hidden in the shades of gray. This can happen in a job that you do enjoy to a large degree and things aren’t all good or all bad, yet there is a nagging feeling that it’s not really what you want.
It can come down to one characteristic that helps reveal whether the work is the right fit. Caring about the little details.
When you’re doing work that you feel you are meant to be doing, your motivation comes from the internal satisfaction of the work itself. Doing the job well is rewarding enough. And that clearly shows when you care about the little details that create the distinction between the work that’s “good enough” and work that’s “great”. Sometimes those details are not noticed by anybody else, except yourself. Caring about the little things is ultimately what ends up separating the true passionate individuals and professionals from everybody else.
On the other hand, if your motivation comes from external factors – whether it’s money, stability, or fear – it becomes easier to let the details slip. That’s not to say that you won’t try to do your best, but simply that these details won’t seem as important. After all, as long as you get the job done, it’s good enough. You don’t necessarily see the point in spending more time on a task, if the end result is roughly the same.
There are, of course, other factors that come into play that can affect this. Burnout and stress can cause passionate and committed people to start slipping, even if they don’t intend to. Poor management can stifle creativity and attention to detail, if it constantly shifts priorities and focus of work. But, ultimately, the external factors only put emphasis on what is already there – they are not responsible nor will completely change whether you love your work or not.
Why is it even important to understand this? If you realize that your work isn’t your calling, what’s the purpose of even knowing that?
Underlying Reasons – at the end of the day, we should understand the reasons that make us do the things that we do. Not everyone is always in a position to completely change their situation, but if we aren’t consciously aware of what we’d want to change, we don’t even have a chance to try.
Going With the Flow - as it happens for many of us, we end up getting caught in a certain flow of college, work, career. Many of the paths that we end up taking happen by accident or unintentionally. While that is perfectly normal – as we’re usually not able to predict all of the opportunities that will be available to us in advance anyway – we should still pause every once in a while and re-evaluate if we’re still heading in the right direction.
To Sleep Well At Night - a writer once said that the reason he made the plunge into writing was so that he could sleep well at night. He would often wake up with ideas and thoughts that would keep nagging him and he’d be unable to go back to sleep until he started putting them down on paper. It’s not just about writing – this applies to any sort of work: to sleep great at night, you need to feel that you’re doing something that calls out to you.
“The soul of the world is nourished by people’s happiness. And also by unhappiness, envy, and jealousy. To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only obligation. All things are one.” The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
In our culture, we often equate the concept of bigger with being better. Getting a large ice cream cone will yield us more satisfaction than a smaller one, making $200,000 per year will make us happier than $100,000, and having a larger… well, you know.
It’s natural that the same idea applies to when you’re launching a new business. Oftentimes, before you even start, you’re already thinking about how you’re going to expand.
I found myself doing just that last year. When I was working with a partner on launching a hostel in New York, our plan from Day 1 was to go to about 5 locations within 5 years. We wanted to get the first one right within a year and a half and then begin to aggressively expand in other cities.
Thinking back to that moment now, I was struggling to figure out why was this the goal. Did running one location somehow feel inferior or was going to be less satisfying than 5? Was making more money worth having 5 times the headache? Was it worth spreading ourselves thin and potentially sacrificing quality in the never-ending pursuit of growth?
I’ve had a few answers for this. I suppose that it would’ve been more of a status symbol to be able to say that I own a national chain of hostels, instead of a single location in New York. And perhaps it would be interesting to be able to operate in different cities, as a learning experience. Finally, it’s also likely that having a larger chain would make it a more attractive business to be acquired down the line, so it would yield a bigger pay off. But, the most subtle yet powerful reason would probably be boredom. Within a year or two, if you build your business right, it ends up running yourself and you begin to seek out other challenges,
But would it make work and life more satisfying and happier? I ultimately don’t think so. More was not necessarily going to lead to a more fulfilling life.
Working in the current startup, we’re in a similar mode. The plan is to expand and become bigger and service more people as soon as we possibly can. Yet I can’t help but feel that we’re doing this on an autopilot, where we automatically equate bigger with being better and more successful. What if we only remained in one city, but did it really well? What if we never grew beyond a small staff of people and a base of loyal customers? What if it was a lifestyle business where you’d be able to keep a normal balance between life and work? Is that inherently bad because it doesn’t go with the “grow, grow, grow” mantra?
Ultimately, if becoming larger is something that you think will make your life and the business better, than by all means – go for it. However, before expanding for expansion’s sake, think about the true motivations behind this. There is a lot at stake.
Up until the age of 19-20, I’ve felt that I followed a fairly conventional path in life. I did what I was expected to do and did not have any plans to deviate from it. Then when I turned 21, I’ve gone on my first major overseas trip. It was 3 weeks in South America. The trip itself was very enjoyable, but more than that – when I came back, something changed within me.
There were two discoveries that I’ve made during that trip that influenced many of my choices that followed:
The first discovery was that the world is a much smaller place than we make it out to be. Through lack of knowledge, incorrect facts that come from our friends and families, and general fear of the unknown, we divide the world in two zones – safe and off-limit. The safe one is Europe, vacation resorts, places we hear a lot about. Unsafe is everything that sounds exotic and far – Africa, South America, Asia. It’s a silly preconception and going to one of the “off-limit” countries for the first time quickly proved that the world and the people, no matter how far away, are not as different as we make them out to be.
The next discovery – even bigger in magnitude and impact – was the fact that it was actually possible for me to go and spend 3 weeks in South America. Me – the person that has never really traveled far and on my own; the person that typically stayed within the boundaries of reasonable and what was expected. It was mind-boggling to start thinking about the possibilities. Possibilities in terms of travel and all the countries that previously only captured the imagination, but suddenly started to seem attainable. But it could even been taken beyond travel – possibilities in terms of life options and things that I could do. What if all those things that we often talk about, but never actually act upon, were possible and attainable.
Since then, there started growing a drive to push the boundaries of life in as many directions as possible. Whether learning how to operate a new mode of transportation, starting a business that you know nothing about, or picking up and moving to volunteer in a different country for a while – all of this was driven in part by the inherent value of the activity, but also to simply prove to yourself that you can actually do it. That there is nothing impossible about it and nothing that you can’t handle.
If our reality is part the circumstances of the world around us; and part of what we create it out to be, why not create a reality where everything is attainable – that is if you really want it and work to get it.
I had a 4-hour bus trip planned this weekend from Boston to New York. The trip is a fairly regular one that I take every 2-3 weeks. But as I was booking the ticket and planning what I’ll be able to do on the bus, I realized that I’m looking forward to the journey as much – if not more – than the actual destination itself. There’s a special feeling when you pack your backpack, close the door to your house and set off – whether for just a day or a month.
It’s been true in many instances before. When I had a chance to live in 3 countries and visit 12 over the course of 8 months, I found immense satisfaction in planning the journey and the actual travel between destinations. Getting to the location was the goal at the end and gave meaning to the journey, but it was always bittersweet when I actually got there, as it meant that the journey itself was over. Before long, I was already planning the next leg of the trip.
I think I’m not the only one who feels this way. Chris Guillebeau, man who decided to travel to every country in the world within 5 years and the author of Art of Non-Conformity blog, reports that for him, he enjoys travel just for traveling sake. The audacious plan to visit every country justifies it, but he finds the actual process as enjoyable as the destinations. There is certainly a feeling of freedom and adventure that you feel right before and during the journey.
So, for the next trip or vacation, perhaps the journey should be viewed as an integral part of the trip – rather than an obstacle than stands between you and the destination?
About 6 months ago, I’ve written a post called “Making a Choice, Any Choice” which covered some some of the problems associated with indecisiveness. Getting stuck in a “limbo” between multiple options, unable to commit to any specific one, can end up being even more damaging that making a wrong choice.
A few weeks ago, I’ve read a book called “Predictably Irrational”, by Dan Ariely, which goes into some of the irrational, yet expected and predictable behaviors that people seem to repeat again and again. One of the behaviors covered was the the difficulties we face when minimizing or removing choices.
In general, we all feel that having no choice is a bad thing. Especially in the Western world, we grow up feeling that the more we have to choose from, the better our odds are at selecting the right choice. However, as counterintuitive as it may be, it turns out that having too many choices ends up being bad for us just as well. Not only it makes it more difficult to make a commitment, but it also ends up wasting our time as we contemplate each of the possibilities.
The Effect of Too Many Doors
A great example of this was shown in an experiment conducted by Dan Ariely. In the experiment, he selected 3 groups of MIT students and asked them to play a simple computer game.
In the game, they saw 3 doors on the screen. The first click on any of the doors would open it, and any subsequent click on the open door would earn them a random amount of money. At any point, they could “spend a click” on opening another door, which would also close the previous one (these clicks would not earn them cash).
The objective was to earn as much money as possible with a limit of 50 clicks. Since the amounts were random, the best strategy was to waste as little clicks as possible on opening doors and instead use them within a single door as “money-generating” clicks. Most people figured it out relatively quickly. Simple enough, yes?
The second group of people had a similar task. The difference was that with every click they would make within 1 door, the other doors would begin to diminish by 1/8th. In other words, if a door wouldn’t get any “attention” within 8 clicks, it would disappear completely off the screen. However, clicking on a disappearing door during that time would bring it back to full size and allow you to generate money within it.
This twist doesn’t change the strategy people should pursue. It’s still more profitable to use up your clicks within a single door rather than try to resurrect disappearing ones. Did the students get that? The results are shocking – most people had such an aversion to “losing” the doors, that they would jump from one to the other throughout the entire game. End result? Much poorer performance than the first group.
Final group had a similar experience, except that they were told that even if a door disappears completely off the screen, they can always bring it back by clicking once in its space. In other words, it was only an illusion of disappearing and the students knew it. How did they perform? As poorly as group #2. Even though they knew that the door can be brought back at any moment, they simply could not bear to see even the illusion of losing the door.
The Downside of Choice
As the experiment shows, there are a few issues that are surprising and worrying.
First, having more choices does not always yield us better results. Having 5 vacation destinations to choose from instead of a single 1 may actually diminish our enjoyment of any of them because we are always concerned about what we “could” be missing out on. It’s also been said that it’s more difficult to find and form relationships in a busy urban area than a smaller, more compact town precisely because of a dizzying array of choice. Having more options keeps us from committing to any single one and giving it our all.
Second issue is our aversion to loss. Even if we rationally understand that we don’t need to have a dozen options to choose from when it comes down to selecting a vacation destination or a brand of batteries, it is very difficult to willingly remove a choice. We see this behavior reoccur in many other scenarios – for example, finding $100 on the street will make us a bit happy. However, losing your wallet with $100 will make us feel worse by an order of magnitude. There is certainly a reason why people say that we often don’t know exactly what we have until we lose it.
If we have unlimited energy and unlimited time, perhaps we could keep as many “doors” as we want open. However, given our limitations, there is a cost associated with spreading yourself thin, trying to do it all, and not giving your full commitment to any one thing. As the doors experiment clearly showed, we can often come out at a loss when we try to do it all at once.
As Dan Ariely highlights, perhaps that once we become better aware of our emotions when it comes down to options and aversion to loss, we end up in a position to make better judgments.
I think so.
- Earn 355,000 Frequent Flyer Miles
- Travel to 50 countries vs. buying a new SUV
- Fly For Free 101: How to go anywhere in the world this year on free airfare!
- The Alternative to New Year’s Resolutions: Personal Annual Review and Plan
- Why I Run
- April 2013
- February 2013
- January 2013
- January 2011
- November 2010
- October 2010
- September 2010
- August 2010
- March 2010
- February 2010