When I sat down to write about my year at the end of 2013, there were two obvious things that stood out. Our son, Lucas, was born, and my Grandad died. Those two events shaped my year so much, that it was easy to know where to start.
This year is different. So much has changed, and we’ve come so far from the last time I sat down to review the year, that already I know it’s going to be hard to summarise it! In fact, I already had an inkling as to what was coming, it seems, as I wrote this in last year’s review:
“That said, I feel stronger now, because of these things, than I did at the start of 2013. More determined than ever to live my life on my terms. More sure of the path that I’ve started down. And ready to make 2014 the year of big change.”
Well, 2014 certainly lived up to its billing as the year of big change. I’m still sitting in the same place, writing on the same laptop, and probably drinking the same brand of tea while I write this, but life is now more on my terms than it’s ever been.
So, before I get into it, let me just explain that one of the reasons I started a blog is to have a bit of a record of my life. Yes, it’s to help people, share information, and write about topics that inspire me, but it’s also for me to look back and see what I was thinking about, and what stage of life I was at. As such, this blog is almost a public journal entry that could easily start with ‘Dear Diary’. I hope you enjoy it, and that it might inspire you to think about your own annual review.
In my 2013 review, I wrote down several targets, so I think that’s a good place to start.
Target 1 – Travel more. Well, we certainly managed that. In March we took a trip to Vienna and took Lucas on a plane for the first time. Vienna was a huge success! We stayed in a lovely hotel, enjoyed the simplicity of getting around the city, and planned our days around Lucas so that we were able, with such a central location, to see lots of what Vienna has to offer.
In the summer, we lived in Maine, at Camp Encore/Coda, and were able to travel a little around New Hampshire and Maine while we were there. It is just as beautiful as I remembered. I’ll write more about camp later. After camp we flew down to New York, which we actually found really tough. Lucas was at the stage where he just wanted to crawl and move, and New York didn’t seem to have that many opportunities for him to safely do that. We made the mistake of going up the Empire State Building (crowds + queues + baby that wants to crawl or scream = bad) and just focused on walking and relaxing after realising that the more touristy aspects were off limits.
That said, we did get to meet up with some great people in New York. Our friend, Hallie, took us around the Natural History Museum and then for coffee in Central Park. My pal, Charles, who is not only a fabulous saxophonist, but also a bloody brilliant guitarist and songwriter, happened to be playing a gig in Greenwich while we were there, so I scooted on down to see The People play (you can download their music for free, by the way – try ‘Vega’ first!). Continuing the friend theme, a guy that I knew from my old Bank in Singapore had relocated to New York to work there, so we met up with Chris and his family in Brooklyn Bridge Park (for pizza – don’t tell anyone!), as well as a former colleague, Chloe, from London who happened to be there as part of her travels home to Australia. Sitting under the bridge, looking back at Manhattan as the sun was setting, and hanging out with genuinely good people had a really special something about it.
From New York, we took the train to Washington. We absolutely loved it! We stayed in a great hotel in a brilliant location (Sofitel), and were made to feel really welcome. The wide sidewalks, the spacious (and free) museums, and the monuments were fascinating. Congress was still away, so the city was really peaceful, which made for a fantastic four days. We also took the opportunity to see some of the memorials with our friend, Daniel, who was one of Lucas’ best pals at Camp. They were excited to see each other again!
After Washington, we flew down to Florida (Total flight cost: $3. Travel hacking rocks!), where we spent two very relaxing weeks with my folks by the beach in St Petes. Lucas loved playing in the sand, and spending time with his Nanny and Grandad was really special. The sunshine did us all good, and swimming in the ocean was massively beneficial for Lucas’ skin, exactly the same as it was for mine when I was a boy.
Our last stop was Boston, where we stayed with the Kenagy’s for a night. I would have liked this to have been longer, and in hindsight, I should have allowed a few extra days, but Angie’s visa allowed a 90 day stay…and we left on day 89!
Our travels this year made me realise several things. First, that travel with a baby is totally possible. In fact, it was largely enjoyable (even changing a nappy on a coach at 60mph!). Second, that discovering new places, like Vienna, should be on our agenda more often. We had such a good time, and I think Lucas will really benefit from more European travel in the coming years. Cities, beaches, hikes…it would be great for him to experience as much as possible. The last thing I realised is that, more and more, the best times I have when I travel are when we meet up with people to share the experience. I know, I know. Travel should be about new cultures and new experiences, but some of the best times I’ve ever had are just hanging out with people I love to bits who happen to live in other parts of the world. Maybe I’ll think a bit more about that balance in the future, but at this stage in our lives, it feels right.
My final thought about travel is that it won’t be a goal in 2015. We’ve dramatically reduced our income while we start Live Simple, so we’ll think about some options for Summer 2016 while we establish ourselves.
Target 2 – Build a studio
Well, we did that! And it’s really quite amazing. It’s hard to believe that the back end of our garden, which used to just be overgrown and messy, is now a professional, private and relaxing Pilates studio – with an area for weights too! Our Power Rack is due to arrive in January which will complete the transformation and make it a fully functional Personal Training studio. In our garden. Mind. Blown.
Target 3 – Secure our finances
This has been a hot topic for me this year. Partly, this came about through the developments that I made in 2013 as a result of reading Ramit Sethi’s book, which certainly taught me a lot. But it also came from the need for a distraction to keep my mind occupied when we were struggling with Lucas. I saw it as a really positive hobby, actually.
Robbins’ book on money. Essentially, I’ve been able to remove all of the fear of investing and the stock market. When you remove all the marketing, clutter and drama, it’s actually pretty straightforward to gradually increase your wealth, and you don’t need expensive advice to be able to do it. My interest in this has also led to me developing deeper friendships with a couple of my pals, as we all seek to become financially secure, reduce the amount of ‘stuff’ that we have and purchase, and prioritise things in life more effectively. It’s been great chatting openly and honestly about this – it’s a topic that people normally avoid as it’s a bit ‘private’, but the only way to learn more is to talk it over with people that you trust. My Dad has been a big help here, actually, sharing everything he can about pensions, investments and the like. Who would have thought talking about equities versus gilts could bring people closer?!
The best way of explaining this apparent deviation from the Live Simple manifesto is that by focusing on our finances for a while, cutting back on needless things, understanding the process of investing more and setting goals, we gained the confidence to know that we were going to be okay when we made the leap to running our own business. Time well spent.
One last thing on finances, and that is this year I have been really diving into the difference between being rich and being wealthy. I remember going to a work conference where the top 300 execs got together to chat about stuff. It was probably more than just chatting about stuff, but you get the idea. Anyway, if you’d have been there that day, you would have seen about 85-90% of those attendees were overweight, exhausted, smoking, drinking, and….hugely wealthy. It made me realise that there is absolutely no point in being financially well off if the other aspects of your life aren’t in check. Living a rich life will mean something different to everyone, but this year I got closer to finding out what that means to me, and it certainly isn’t about how much is in my bank account.
Target 4 – Blog once a week. Well, almost. I decided to take a break from blogging this summer when we went to live at camp. It was just too intense a situation to be able to properly focus on writing. However, I did make it to 100 blog posts since I started, and the whole process has still been incredibly valuable to me. The last two years of my life are all in evidence on my blog, and I still love writing! It is tough to find the time and space to write now that I don’t commute, but it is so worthwhile to me that I’ll continue to find the 10 minutes I need here and there to be able to blog in 2015.
And so…onto the big stuff.
Life Changing Events
Well, what part of 2014 wasn’t life changing?! 2014 was the year that everything changed. I quit my full-time career as a Corporate Communicator. I took my little family to the US to go back to the summer camp where I worked in my early 20s. I returned to teaching after an eight year gap. We officially started our business, after building it little by little since 2012.
Is that enough?! The good thing is that none of it was scary. It’s all part of the same road that we begun walking on in 2011 – it just happened that 2014 was the year when everything came together, and the change came thick and fast. To be honest, at times it was a bit overwhelming. For example, I left the bank in late June, almost immediately flew to Cork, Ireland, to play in the wedding band for my pal Jim, flew back on the Saturday night, landed at midnight, flew to Boston with Angie and Lucas on Sunday morning, then started work at Camp on the Monday afternoon!
Whenever me and Angie talk about this year, we pretty much always end up at ‘I can’t believe we did all of this!’ Quitting to start a business is change enough, but relocating to another country for three months (and taking on a demanding job in the process) was pretty bonkers! But, guess what? We did it. It worked. We flew to camp six months ago, and yet leading up to it, it seemed like we were going to be away forever.
This has been the year where we’ve realised what we’re capable of. We’ve initiated all of this change while learning how to be parents, and pretty much operating on no sleep. Even better, it took away all of the fear of starting a new business. There’s no way it can be harder than what we’ve been through this year!
Things I’m thankful for
Just like last year, this is the perfect point to stop and be thankful for the things we all take for granted. Our son, Lucas, is happy, healthy and growing. He’s had some battles with eczema, he’s not a great sleeper, but we are so grateful that he is in our lives. And by thinking differently about his sleep in the summer, we were able to make a big difference to the sleep itself.
We have all the food we could want. We have a great little house that we’ve now happily lived in for five years. We have warmth, water, and clothes. We have all of our family close by, and some of the best friends we could possibly ask for. We’ve needed these people a lot this year, and they’ve always been there for us.
I’m particularly thankful of the support we’ve had from various people who have helped us make the transition to this next stage. When I chatted to Bob and Kate about finding some supply teaching, or perhaps working one day a week to help us pay the bills, Kate had me meeting the Headteacher of her school the following week. A demonstration lesson and an interview later, and I was offered a one day a week job at a fantastic school in Billericay, where the team couldn’t have been more welcoming.
Jane is another link to my teaching past. We used to share lifts together to Eversley back in 2005, and became firm friends. When I sent a text to my pals to say I was starting Outdoor Fitness, Jane was the only one who responded (how’s that for a marketing plan?!). Since then, Jane has been an Outdoor Fitness regular, and was waiting specifically for Angie to start Pilates so she could start that too! Jane trusts us, as she knows that we fully understand the issues that she’s had in the past with her back. But in return, Jane has given us the confidence and momentum to push on this year. Without her initial support, we may have thought that no one would be interested in working with us. She helped spread the word, encouraged friends, and did everything she could to help fill our new Pilates classes. We couldn’t have done it without her.
Finally, there are my friends at the bank. I work for the bank’s sustainability team when I’m writing, but the head of the team had to clear it with the big bosses in the department before she was allowed to retain me for a few days a month. Later, she told me it was the easiest thing she’d ever done at the bank! No approval process, no protracted negotiations, no justifying it….just ‘Keith? Definitely!’ The guys there fully supported me when I told them about my career plans, and were keen to help in any way they could. By offering me a two day a month contract, they’ve essentially allowed me and Angie the space to build Live Simple slowly and deliberately. I couldn’t be more thankful for that opportunity.
Achievements/What went well
Almost everything we set out to do, we did! It didn’t happen by accident – it was really hard at times – but despite the occasional period of negative self-talk, the occasional friend or well-wisher that thought I was crazy to give up a well-paid corporate job, and the occasional Sunday where tiredness, weather and other commitments meant that Outdoor Fitness was just me and one other person, we made the huge transition that we set out to make.
Despite all of this change, the thing that has dominated our lives the most in 2014 is Lucas. (Pretty sure he likes being called ‘the thing’). I don’t actually want to go into too much detail here about that, because I poured my heart into my reflections of the first year of fatherhood. What I will say is that we survived! Me and Angie are still married! And this little boy of ours sneaks into our hearts a little more each day.
Since September, despite having three jobs (how is that simpler?!), I have worked less, spent more time with my family, and have spent a lot more time in the present (even when it hasn’t been fun). One of my old tricks was to constantly live in the future, thinking of the next thing, but I’m much more in the ‘now’ than I’ve ever been.
I’m proud of a lot of what I’ve been able to help other people with this year. I got my first real Personal Training client in the first few months of this year. She’d read my article in the Chelmsford City Times, devoured our website, and then got in touch because she felt as though we’d been through what she was going through at work. What I loved about our training was that it was just as much about life as it was about exercise. She was already an experienced trainer, so we were able to talk about her job, her feelings, her shoe collection (which has since significantly reduced!) and strategies to make positive changes in parts of her life where she was struggling. Before I left for the summer, she had quit her job, lost a ton of weight, regained her confidence and was setting out on a new path. When we returned from the US, she started training with me again immediately (which was a big confidence boost for me) and now has a funky new job in a start up, spent the summer relaxed and training well at various boot camps and spas, and is a different person from the one I met.
There have been other success stories too. A colleague at Camp was going to be joining the armed forces in the US once he finished in Maine, so I helped him get fit for basic training. He sent me a note once it was done to say he was top of the class. Big score! Another client who started with me in September was inspired to get fitter by a new girlfriend who is a regular runner. In December, she joined us for a session, and when my client beat her on the third hill sprint, she exclaimed ‘he couldn’t even f***ing run six weeks ago! What have you done?!’ In 2015, they’ll both be training with me. Ace!
Also, I began some online coaching. An old friend from Camp got in touch after reading our website, and thought that I might be able to help. I figured it was a good opportunity to see what we could achieve just through email and messenger, and it has been, quite simply, amazing. My friend has made huge progress – a whole new wardrobe, a newfound confidence, and we’ve really dived into all sorts of different topics on our quest to help her meet her goals. It has been inspiring for both of us, and she has really taken a new level of control over her life. It’s so exciting to think that I was part of that.
I also enjoyed the challenge of returning to Camp Encore/Coda as a Head Counselor. The role had changed a lot in the years that had passed since I was last there, and it threw up a peculiar type of challenge that I hadn’t faced before. In short, ten years ago, I had an outstanding reputation at camp. I was creative, a positive force, and was a solid young leader. But no one who was at camp ten years ago, was there this year (except Neubert!), which meant I had to start all over again – in a place that feels like my second home. Weird! The role had professionalised a lot over the years, and with such an experienced Head Staff, I wondered what I could actually bring to camp. It took me most of the first session to work it out and feel like I was making a difference, but in the end I felt like I’d actually made a positive impact on the summer – even if I’m now more of an analytical type than the creative crazy dude I was in my early 20s!
Teaching was the same – I questioned whether I would be able to return to the profession and manage a classroom, but in the end the challenge has been good for me. I’ve made some brilliant mistakes along the way (getting just near the end of demonstrating how to answer a sum before realising I’d made it impossible!), and the children have (hopefully) learnt that it’s okay to make mistakes – as long as we learn from them.
This year, I feel like we’ve had real momentum as we transitioned. Whether it was reaching 100 blogs, taking more time out to go on walks, or experimenting with lots of different training regimes, we’ve always kept up the pace of change. We’re not exactly where we want to be, but I’ve learnt enough in the past few years to know that the journey is more important than the destination.
What didn’t go so well
It’s always a challenge to write this section, as I’m so focused on the positive that I’ll turn most negatives around! However, one thing that hasn’t gone so well is that the Personal Training side of Live Simple isn’t where I wanted it to be by this stage.
But, it’s for a variety of good reasons. When we returned from the US in September, we faced various pressures and had to prioritise. We had to legally set up our company. Oversee the construction of the studio. I had to remember how to be a teacher. And we had bills to pay. So, I took on extra supply teaching, spent a lot of time doing all of the paperwork necessary to work as a consultant, and then took on more days at the bank. We also decided to stagger the launch of our products, which is why you saw so much Pilates stuff in October and November.
The good news is, those decisions paid off. Financially, we’re more on an even keel. The reality was that we had bills to pay and equipment to buy, so in the short term, earning money was important. Attendance in Angie’s Pilates classes exceeded our expectations, and now I can use January and February to kick-start my side of the business – getting Outdoor Fitness to the level I want it to be at, and hopefully taking on some more Personal Training clients who are looking for a big shift in their lives.
Thoughts and plans for 2015
If 2014 was the year of huge change, 2015 will be the year of embedding those changes. I have big ideas, longer term, for Live Simple, but really, 2015 is about making it work at a very local level. Teaching people Pilates. Helping people change their lives through Personal Training.
It’s also a year where I want to appreciate just what I have. Taking walks with the family, playing with Lucas, and spending time with friends. We’ve made all of these changes for a reason, and if we just end up working constantly, we’ll be making a difference in people’s lives but missing out on our own. It’s a delicate balance, and it’s one that I’m very aware of. So, rather than a huge list, here’s a few things I’d like to achieve in 2015:
Enjoy the journey. I’ve kicked myself a few times for not making enough progress with the PT work while I focused on the other stuff. But, the truth is, I’m really enjoying the variation that I have in my life right now. I coach, I train, I write, I teach. It’s pretty cool to have a lifestyle where I can do all of those things and get paid, and while it may not be ‘simpler’, it is completely on my terms, which I think is a step in the right direction towards freedom, independence, and simplicity. I’m definitely working and commuting a whole lot less than before, which is giving me the time to be the husband and father I was desperate to be. That in itself makes it worth it, and I’m determined to enjoy this stage while I’m in it.
Train more people, and keep the quality of my training high. The feedback that I’ve had so far from clients has been great. I didn’t become a PT just to take people through an hour’s workout – I want to help people change their lives by helping them realise what they’re capable of. Getting fitter and healthier is conducive to that kind of thinking – if you can sprint up a hill that you never thought possible, what else could you achieve that you don’t currently think is possible? Now it’s time to up the ante, cut back on the supply teaching, and prove my worth to even more people. Cue January and February marketing plan…
Reconnect with the hobbies I love. I love lifting weights. I love singing and performing. I love going for long walks with Angie and Lucas. I love cooking real food. I love reading. All of these things, while still present, took a back seat in 2014, and I need to make sure I make the most of the space and freedom that this new lifestyle gives me to bring them back.
That’s it. This post is just as much for me as it is for you, but hopefully you might consider your own Annual Review now that the year is done. Writing it all down makes you realise just what you can achieve in 12 months, and gives you an opportunity to pause and reflect. It’s time consuming (this has taken me about a week!), but it’s worth it.
Here’s to 2015…