Welcome to the New Year

It is New Year’s Day 2017. I am not sure that I have ever really published something on the first of the year before, since I am not really one for making resolutions. This year, though, I feel like I need to.  I am not really sure why.  Maybe it is a mid-life crisis or something. A realization that life can be both short and long at the same time.  That we both need to live life for today, but need to plan for tomorrow at the same time.

My largest struggle in life is my inability to say “no” to people.  I constantly overcommit and spread myself too thin. There are all sorts of reasons for this, I am sure, but, no matter what the reason, it is still there. I have to learn to say “no” to people.

Interestingly, the majority of people around me recognize this. Most people agree that I need to say “no” to other people. Not to them. Which is the whole problem.  Who do you say “no” to? How do you prioritize what is important and what should you turn down?

This really leads to the core of the problem, which is that I don’t really have any life-long goals that I am working towards.  I don’t have an ambition to be a department chair or a dean or a NASA administrator or anything like that.  I don’t know if any of those things will actually make me happy or not. (Which is yet another issue – are you supposed to work towards things that will give you happiness and/or work towards things that will fulfill some larger purpose in life? This whole life thing is really freaking confusing at the moment.)

I tend to bumble along in life, taking whatever random turn life offers.  I seem to have no real purpose or direction. Which makes it very easy to overcommit and take on too much responsibility, since I have no overarching path to guide my decision making. I simply say “yes” to everything because I don’t want to disappoint people; and the thing sounds interesting, so I might as well do that too. What horrible reasons for taking on more responsibility.

What does this mean for the New Year? Well, I have a couple of concrete things and a nebulas thing.  First, the concrete things, since they are (much) easier. There are a few things that I know that I love to do, which I will do more of in 2017.

I have learned over the last couple of years that I really love to run. I have been trying hard to run every day.  I clears my head and gives me a lot of energy. It is easy to do and doesn’t take as much time as cycling or going to the gym. So, I resolve to run more this year. I would really like to average about 3 miles per day, which is really, really hard, since I am often so busy that I can’t run at all. (We also live on narrow dirt roads, so in the winter it is difficult to run, since it is dark and often icy. This means that I have to go somewhere to run, which takes a lot of time, or that I have to torture myself and run on the treadmill.) I will compromise and set my goal at 2 miles per day, or 730 miles for the year. In 2016, I ran about 500 miles according to my phone. If I do two half marathons this year, that should be an easy goal, right?

I have also learned over the last many years that I love photography. I am also incredibly frustrated by it.  This is because I am in a place where I can see that my pictures are pretty ok, but there are a lot of much better pictures out there. So, for the last couple of years, I have not taken nearly as many pictures as I should, since I have sort of given up. But, I have become more inspired lately.

There is a difference between just doing something over and over and over again and a thing called deliberate practice. When you just do something over and over again, without really trying to improve, you don’t get any better at it (surprise!).  With deliberate practice, you really try to improve, which means getting feedback, and studying, and really going outside of your comfort zone. For example, if you want to improve in running, you try to either run a little bit longer every day, or you try to run a bit faster everyday, or you talk to a coach about how you can improve.  Improvement comes with some pain. So, one of my goals for this year is to improve in photography.  My sister and I are going to take a picture a week and post it on a website.  I will try to use the idea of deliberate practice to improve some aspect of my photography every week.

Now, the nebulas goal.

Decisions would be much more straightforward if I knew what I actually want to do with my life.  There are a lot of choices out there, such as being a leading modeler and always pushing the boundaries of what computational physics can do; being someone that drives new innovations in measurements and how data and models can be fused together (a sub-discipline here is ground-based or space-based measurements – it is very hard to do both); being an administrator and pushing for improvements in academia at the University of Michigan, or on a broader scale; being a leading educator and pushing for new ways of teaching students (at the university, in K-12, and across all age ranges through podcasts, blogs, videos, books, etc.); or being whatever comes next.

What I would like to do this year is try to figure out what I would like to be when I grow up. I would like to consider each of these different options and figure out some sort of prioritization in my (work) life. If I can develop some sort of framework for making decisions, then perhaps I can learn to say “no” more often.  This will allow me to spend more time focusing on a few key things and not spreading myself so thin.

I guess that is my stretch goal – figure out how to be to not be so stretched.

P.S. Some very small additional goals for 2017: (1) try to enjoy travel more and (2) try to eat vegetables every day (and french fries don’t count).


Where does this path go?


About aaronridley

Professor at the University of Michigan, Department of Climate and Space Science and Engineering.
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