Since achieving some of our major financial milestones, we are beginning to see some changes around our household. Some of these changes include allowing personal finance magazines subscriptions to lapse and re-focusing our attention away from a debt snowball app. For the past decade, our goals had been focused on financial independence and retiring early. One of our secrets to maintaining this focus was to create big goals and to document them on a whiteboard. This week marks another change for us: saying goodbye to our old buddy and bringing in a new little friend.
I like to think of our old whiteboard (technically, it was silver) as a magic genie that granted many of our deepest wishes. We simply had to take the time to dream up what we wanted, agree on mutual goals, and write them down. We hung the board in a conspicuous spot in my office where we would see it on a daily basis. This provided us daily reinforcement, keeping the dreams we were trying to accomplish fresh in our minds. This board ultimately fell apart on us from so much use and activity over ten years.
Last week, I spent $5 on a new whiteboard I found in the clearance bin at the local office supply store. I brought it home so the wife could say hello to our little friend! Just like Al Pacino, this little whiteboard wields a lot of power in a small package. I can only imagine the impact it will have on our lives moving forward.
Our Old Buddy served us well
I plan to throw the old buddy away after I finish crafting these final words.
It has been a challenge for us, recognizing the importance of having the board front and center but trying to maintain our privacy while showing our home to potential buyers and having friends and family visiting. The goals we shared with our old buddy were deeply personal. Now, two months after becoming fully debt free, our focus has moved from financial goals to health, friendships and family, and of course remodeling.
We’ve made a point of updating our short-term goals every three months with actionable and quantifiable objectives. This allowed us to break up bigger goals into manageable pieces. We categorized them into seven broad categories: health, marriage, emotional/spiritual, children/family, friendships, financial, and hobbies. Every three months we would come up with goals that we felt were important enough to accomplish in the short term. We went nearly half a year without updating our goals much since we were on such a roll with becoming debt free. We essentially became hyper-focused on becoming debt free… to the detriment of everything else.
A Glimpse at My Future Goals
Choosing a smaller whiteboard was intentional. The outside dimensions are only 11 x 17 inches, quite small when compared to our old buddy in the picture. I mentioned in a recent article that it is difficult to accomplish more than three things at a time. My intention with the smaller white board was to name fewer goals and bring our focus on only three big items at a time.
Of course that has not happened yet. Old habits are hard to break!
My top three goals in the next three months are my health, completing our remodeling, and a crash course in German. Let’s take a look at each goal.
Goal #1 for 2016: My Health
I mentioned about how the stresses with selling our home, becoming debt free and remodeling have become a major challenge in my life. When I took a look at a recent picture, I got an objective view of my weight and lack of focus on my health. This hit home two weeks ago.
I had hiked nine miles over the weekend on some beautiful Sedona trials. Monday afternoon I began to develop a cough. By Wednesday, after little sleep, it felt like I was coughing up a lung. Thursday morning after no sleep, I checked myself into the emergency room. The prognosis: bacterial infection and pneumonia. I was given antibiotic treatment, strong cough medicine, and ordered to get rest. Two weeks later, I still have not fully recovered.
Early last week I was finally able to get in to my doctor for a visit. I then got some more disturbing news. The X-rays found an 18 mm lump on one of my lungs and my blood work showed some elevated enzymes. Last week I had a CT scan and this week a more comprehensive blood test is scheduled.
The past two weeks have been a wakeup call as to how short life is and fragile our health can be. My eating habits have already changed and I am including gentle walks each day to keep my body moving and to recover.
Goal #2 for 2016: Finish the Remodeling
I believe the amount of activity and energy spent on our various remodeling projects has weakened my energy level and immune system. I am ready for it to be done! My wife is beginning to play a more active role in the projects so that I can focus more on goal #1: my health.
If things go well, we should have 99% of our remodeling work completed by the end of May.
Goal #3 for 2016: A Crash Course in German
One of the most rewarding things I have ever done was a certain birthday surprise for my mother. This happened about six years ago. I decided that I was going to make a huge commitment to speak conversational German.
My mother emigrated from Germany when she met my father, who was in the U.S. Air Force. I have visited Germany many times and have had the opportunity to see family on their trips to the U.S. My mother attempted to speak German in the house to get us acclimated prior to our overseas trips or when family came to visit. Unfortunately, we missed an excellent opportunity to become bilingual in our childhood.
I completed German courses in high school, one class in college, and have used various home study courses to brush up my skills. I decided to “go all in” six years ago with the goal of calling my mother on her birthday, speaking to her only in German. With that big goal in mind, I dedicated a significant amount of time and energy to accomplish it.
My plan including taking two local community college courses, hiring a private instructor, joining a monthly German meet-up, and beginning weekly calls with a lifelong friend of my mother, who has known me from birth. In my spare time, I was consumed with self-study home courses. I was motivated and spent nearly two years on this goal.
I remember that day well. We were still living in the Bay Area and I was walking with my wife along the Pier 39 area in San Francisco in April 2010. I called my mother and wished her a Happy Birthday in German. She responded in German and a couple sentences later, she was speaking English. I continued to respond and direct the conversation back to German. Nearly 20 minutes into this conversation I remember her saying something that still sticks with me today: “Ich bein sehr stolz!” (I am very proud!) That was a defining moment for me; those two years of work were worth it!
Now I have an opportunity to take a trip to Germany in September with my mother’s lifelong friend (the same one who helped me with German) and her daughter whom I have known since she was born. They are traveling to the same area where my relatives and family live. This is a golden opportunity for me to work on my German again and to keep the family connection strong.
We bring power to our goals when we can accomplish many other benefits
The Germany trip and language goals are big for me. I have found that when I combine many different goals together I can gain some momentum and help generate the motivation I need to stick to a big goal. Examples: listening to language courses when exercising or when engaged in slow travel.
Less than a year after her birthday call in 2010, my mother began developing signs of Parkinson’s disease. In July three years ago, she entered a skilled nursing home at only 71 years of age. This has been tough on my family and stepfather especially. One of the disease’s effects on my mother’s body is that her mind is slowly shutting down. This has affected her ability to communicate. When she has a difficult time speaking, she is now reverting to using German, her native language.
Who would have known a goal I had six years ago—to speak with my mother in German—would have turned out to be so important to me and to my mother? My mother receives calls from German relatives and friends periodically that my stepfather attempts to answer. Essentially, he holds the phone to my mother’s ear, attempting to give health updates. He speaks almost no German, even though his family is also from Germany. This has made communication with family difficult.
An additional note: Neither my brother and nor stepsisters speak German, and my stepsisters have never visited their relatives in Germany. I am the last link to our German heritage on both sides of our family. It is up to me to keep the communication alive. Talk about motivation!
Making some strides
I began this post by describing how our old buddy is being replaced with our new whiteboard. This monologue quickly morphed into a discussion about health, family, and German. It simply reaffirms why being clear on short-term goals can help shape and accomplish long-term objectives.
I plan on making my three goals a priority over the next three months. Our new whiteboard is now hanging on the back of my home office door, enabling us to read it on a daily basis. It is important for me to plan on hiking, while listening to my language studies, immersing myself in both health and German.
The benefits of these goals are that my visits with my mother will be more rewarding and helpful, enabling me to converse in a manner that is easiest for her.