At the beginning of every year I establish a list of goals (or New Year's resolutions) for the coming calendar year. I post this list on my blog and social media as a means of holding myself accountable.
I recommend this to everyone. I've been engaged in this process since 2010, and I am convinced that I have been more productive and more successful as a result, even though my average goal completion rate stands at about 55%.
I've learned that setting exceptionally high goals and dispassionately accepting failure are critical to achievement.
An unexpected side benefit has been the occasional assistance of readers in completing some of my goals, through advice, recommendations, and sometimes even direct intervention.
People are kind, and I never turn down help.
Equally unexpected is the interest in these blog posts on my yearly goals and monthly updates. I often feel like updating my progress each month is the least interesting thing I write, but apparently there are readers out there who disagree. They are some of my most-read posts.
Below is my list of 44 goals for 2019. I always reserve the right to add a goal to the list through the month of January.
1. Don’t die.
Recommended by a friend years ago. Still valid today and deserving of the first spot on the list.
2. Lose 20 pounds.
I tried to lose 20 pounds in 2016 but only lost 8.
I tried to lose 20 points in 2017 but only lost 8.
I tried to lose 20 pounds in 2018 but only lost 6.
Since my first weight goal back in 2010, I've lost a total of 66 pounds. Another 20 is ambitious, but it would get me down to my high school weight. I’m willing to try to make that happen.
3. Eat at least three servings of fruits and/or vegetables per day, six days a week.
Readers and friends proposed this goal to me last year more than any other. Though I increased my vegetable and fruit consumption considerably in 2018, there were many days when I did not eat three servings of fruits and vegetables.
I’m altering the goal this year to make it more achievable by allowing myself to fail once per week.
4. Do at least 100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups, and 3 one-minute planks for five days a week.
I’ve accomplished this goal for six years in a row, but it’s not exactly automatic (because it’s still hard and oftentimes a pain in the ass), so it remains on the list.
5. Do burpees three days a week.
I need to do a new exercise and vary my routine a bit, and this is apparently a good one. I have no idea how many burpees I’ll be able to do, so I’m keeping this one ambiguous. I just plan on doing them three days a week. We’ll see where that takes me.
6. . Complete my seventh novel before the end of 2019.
With novels #5 and #6 already done and slated to publish this year, it's time to complete the next one.
7. Write/complete at least five new picture books, including one with a female, non-white protagonist.
I wrote three picture books in 2015.
I wrote another three in 2016.
I started but did not finish four picture books in 2017.
Those four books, plus two more, remained unfinished in 2018.
I haven't sold any of them.
My goal for 2019 is to finish the year with five more completed picture books. This can include books that I began in 2017 but didn't finish and/or brand new ones.
At least one must feature a non-white, non-male protagonist.
8. Write a memoir.
Rather than writing a proposal for a memoir, my agent and I decided in 2018 that it would best if I simply wrote the book, so that process has begun. I plan to complete the memoir by the end of 2019.
9. Write a new screenplay.
I failed to write a screenplay in 2016 and 2017 after writing my first in 2015. I started a new one in 2018 but it’s not close to completion. I intend to finish it in 2019.
10. Write a musical.
In 2012 composer and lyricist Andy Mayo and I wrote and produced a rock opera called The Clowns at a local theater and have been trying to get it into festivals or other theaters ever since.
It’s very good.
For the last three years, we’ve written musicals for a local summer camp. One of those musicals was also produced by a children's theater company in 2016.
In 2018 I began writing our next show - our first adult musical since The Clowns. I plan on finishing it in 2019.
11. Submit at least five Op-Ed pieces to The New York Times for consideration.
A completed goal from 2017 and 2018 that I will repeat in 2019.
In 2018, I published two pieces in Parents magazine, in additional to my quarterly column in Seasons magazine and my advice column in Slate magazine. Not bad, but I'd still like to get my first piece in The New York Times in 2019.
My dream goal is to land another column in a magazine, newspaper, or online publication this year, but I’m keeping this goal more reasonable.
12. Submit one or more short stories to at least three publishing outlets.
A completed goal from 2017 and 2018 that I will repeat again this year.
None of the publishing outlets accepted my short stories (still waiting on three to respond), but I will try again in 2019.
13. Select three behaviors that I am opposed to and adopt them for one week, then write about my experiences on the blog.
In 2016, I wrote about backing into parking spots, daily affirmations, and bottle flipping.
In 2017, I wrote about prayer, cold showers, and talking to strangers.
In 2018, I wrote about following pop culture and saying grace before a meal.
I've actually adopted one of these behaviors (cold showers) and realized that I was already doing another (talking to strangers).
Though my opinion of most of these activities didn't change, it was a useful experiment each time, so I'll repeat this in 2019.
14. Increase my author newsletter subscriber base to 3,000.
Growth rates in my newsletter over the past three years have been:
If I grow the list by another 25% in 2019. I will hit my goal of 3,000 subscribers. A very reasonable goal.
If you’d like to sign up for my newsletter, you can do so here:
15. Write at least six letters to my father.
A completed goal from 2017 and 2018 that I will repeat in 2019.
My father and I have been writing sporadic letters to each other since 2013. Since we speak little, it's been a great way to get to know a man who disappeared from much of my life at the age of eight. I intend to write to him every other month with the hope that he will write to me on my off months.
16. Write 100 letters in 2019.
I wrote 61 letters in 2018, failing to hit my goal of 100, but I’m setting 100 as the goal again. The plan is to write a letter (paper, envelope, and stamp) every three days or so, to students, colleagues, friends, family, and anyone else who is deserving of praise, gratitude, recognition, scathing retribution, or the like.
It's a way of making a day a little brighter for another person that appeals to me a lot.
17. Convert Greetings Little One into a book.
A failed goal from 2017 and 2018.
I wrote a blog during the first eight years of my children's lives. I stopped writing in December of 2015. Though I've considered resuming the writing, I would like to have the content already created preserved in a physical form. There are services that can do this work, but I want it done well. Edited. Photos positioned appropriately on the page. Videos removed. I'm willing to hire someone to produce this or find another way to have it done well.
18. Produce a total of 10 Speak Up storytelling events.
Since we launched Speak up back in 2013, we have produced more than 60 shows.
With Elysha returning to work, the push to produce shows has relaxed a bit, so 10 seems like a reasonable number for the year.
19. Begin selling Speak Up swag at our events and/or online.
Elysha and I are in the process of updating our Speak Up logo. Once finished, I plan on designing and selling Speak Up swag - tee shirts, hats, tote bags - at our storytelling events. Making a little money on the swag would be great, but the real goal is to simply allow our audience to express their support for us and the show on a more regular basis.
20. Pitch myself to at least 5 upcoming TEDx events with the hopes of being accepted by one.
I’ve had some bad luck in terms of TED Talks.
I did a TED Talk at the AT&T Conference Center in 2013 that went extremely well, but technical difficulties made the audio on the recording almost indiscernible.
I did a TED Talk at Western Connecticut State University in 2013 that went flawlessly, but the college students who hosted the conference never posted the recording online.
I did a TED Talk in April of 2014 in Somerville, Massachusetts that also went well, but my 15 minute talk was accidentally put on a nine minute timer, which forced me to dump sections of my talk on the fly and speak faster than I would’ve liked. The talk was good, but it was not exactly what I had planned. There was room for improvement.
I did a TED Talk at Boston University in April of 2015. The recording started almost two minutes into my talk, and one of the cameras failed. The actual talk went well but the recording is useless. Again, I'd like to repeat this talk at some point for TED.
I did a TED Talk in November of 2015 in the Berkshires that went very well. The recording is excellent. Huzzah!
I did a TED Talk in January of 2016 in Natick, MA, that also went very well. The recording is excellent. Huzzah!
I did a TED Talk in April of 2016 at The Country School in Madison, CT, repeating that first TED Talk that didn't get recorded well in 2013. I had to hold a microphone, which complicated things a bit, and there was no timer, so I had to rush in fear of going long. I'm still not entirely satisfied with the talk. I'd like to repeat it again under optimal circumstances.
I did a TED Talk in May of 2017 at the Pomfret School. Again, I had a handheld mic and no timer. Still, I thought it went well but could be better.
I have several talk ideas that I’ll be pitching in 2019.
21. Attend at least 15 Moth events with the intention of telling a story.
My Moth attendance over recent years have been:
As opportunities to speak and perform at other venues for a variety of organizations have increased, the time I’ve had to dedicate to Moth events has decreased, even though they remain my favorite shows in the world.
Give me a Moth StorySLAM any day.
Attending 15 Moth events in 2019 is a reasonable goal, I hope.
22. Win at least three Moth StorySLAMs.
Three wins feels ambitious for 2019 (especially after failing to win three in 2018), but since 2011, I've won 46% of the Moth StorySLAMs that I’ve competed in, and that percentage has remained fairly steady over the years.
If I compete in at least 10 StorySLAMs in 2019, I should be able to win at least three based upon previous percentages. This goal depends upon the decisions of others (which I try to avoid when setting goals), but competing in StorySLAMs just isn't enough to justify the goal.
I need to win.
23. Win a Moth GrandSLAM.
I won one GrandSLAM in 2014.
I won two GrandSLAMs in 2015.
I won one GrandSLAM in 2016.
I failed to win a GrandSLAM in 2017.
I won two GrandSLAMs in 2018.
This goal also depends upon the decisions of others, but competing in a Moth GrandSLAM is a forgone conclusion (I’m competing in one this month) and just isn't enough to justify the goal.
Once again, I need to win.
24. Produce at least 40 episodes of our new podcast Speak Up Storytelling.
Elysha and I produced 30 episodes in 2018, beginning in May, and we hope to do even better in 2019, particularly as our audience grows.
25. Perform stand up at least four times in 2019.
I performed stand up six times in 2018. I’d lie to get up at least four more times in 2019.
26. Develop and teach a Storytelling Master Class, in which participants have an opportunity to tell at least two stories over the course of the day or tell a story and then retell it based on feedback.
This is a request from several of my storytelling students. I’ve been hesitant to teach a class like this, simply because I’m not sure if they need me to tell their stories. My advanced storytelling workshops afford every person the opportunity to tell a story, but they also include instruction, modeling, lessons, and new content.
A workshop like the one proposed would have none of that. I would simply listen to and critique stories. And while I can almost always teach a concept or strategy to the whole group based upon a person’s story, I feel like storytellers can get these critiques and perhaps even lessons from each other without needing me.
But it’s been requested quite a few times, so I’ll give it a shot in 2019.
27. Pitch at least three stories to This American Life.
I had a story on This American Life in May of 2014. Since then, I’ve occasionally pitched stories to someone I know who works for the show. In 2019 I want to make a more concerted effort to pitch stories to this show that I adore.
28. Pitch myself to Marc Maron’s WTF podcast at least three times.
When I was listing possible publicity opportunities for Storyworthy with my publicist, Marc Maron’s WTF was top of the list. I’ve been listening since his first episode, and I would love to have a conversation with him. I’ve pitched myself to him before, and I’ll do it again, at least three times, in 2019.
29. Host a fundraiser for RIP Medical Debt, which would allow us to relieve the medical debt of struggling Americans for pennies on the dollar.
I was inspired by the New York Times story of Carolyn Kenyon and Judith Jones, both of Ithaca, NY, who raised $12,500 and sent it to the debt-forgiveness charity RIP Medical Debt, which then purchased a portfolio of $1.5 million of medical debts on their behalf. As a result, 1,284 New Yorkers were freed over their medical debt.
I love the idea of leveraging pennies on the dollar for an incredible cause, so I intend on doing the same in 2019. I’m not sure how I’ll raise the money yet, but I look forward to exploring options.
30. Complete my Eagle Scout project.
Back in 1988, I was 17 year-old Boy Scout preparing to complete my Eagle Scout service project so I could earn the rank that I had dreamed about for most of my childhood. In truth, I was qualified to earn my Eagle rank almost two years before, having earned the required merit badges and more, but my service project had been sitting on the back burner, waiting to be completed.
I needed a parent or two to light a fire under my butt and support me in this endeavor, but I wasn’t graced with that level of parental involvement at the time.
My plan was to plant trees in a cemetery in my hometown of Blackstone, MA. My troop had planted trees in that same cemetery about five year before, but those trees had died. I wanted to replace them and complete the work that we had originally promised.
Then, on December 23, 1988, I was in a car accident that nearly killed me. As a result of the accident, I was in a full-length leg cast for three months and required an enormous amount of healing and recovery. With just three months left until I turned 18 (the deadline to complete an Eagle service project), my parents requested an extension, and it was denied.
My childhood dream of becoming an Eagle Scout was over. It’s one of my life’s greatest regrets.
Maybe the greatest.
But I recently decided that it would be good to complete that Eagle Scout project even though it won’t come with my much desire Eagle Scout rank.
It feels right. Maybe I’ll feel a little better about the past.
I plan on doing this in 2019.
31. Print, hang, and/or display at least 25 prints, photos, or portraits in our home.
We have a pile of photos, prints, art, and creations of our children just waiting to be hung on our walls and displayed on our shelves. Part of our delay has been the plan to paint our walls, but waiting is dumb. By the end of the year, I intend on having at least 25 of these photos, prints, and art displayed in our home.
32. Renovate our first floor bathroom.
The floor in our first floor bathroom is falling apart. The walls are ugly, Elysha despises the sink. Renovation is required. It must happen soon.
33. Organize our second floor bathroom.
Our second floor bathroom, used primarily by our kids, is filled with bins of clothing, extra furniture, and more. I need to tackle it aggressively so it’s a well organized, tidy room for the kids. It’s hard to ask children to keep their room clean when they use a room every day that is cluttered.
34. Cook at least 12 good meals (averaging one per month) in 2016.
A failed goal from 2017 and 2018 that I will attempt in 2019. I told Elysha that I would make at least one meal a week now that she’s working again, so a dozen dinners shouldn’t be difficult.
35. Plan a reunion of the Heavy Metal Playhouse.
My friend, Bengi, and I lived in a home that became known as the Heavy Metal Playhouse from 1989-1993. It was four of the best years of my life. Enormous parties, the closest of friendships, and the wildness of youth left an indelible mark on me. While I stay in touch with many of my friends from those days, I have not seen many of them in a long time. We have attempted to plan a reunion in the past without success.
In 2016, I tried to plan a reunion but was unable to secure a venue.
In 2017, I tried to plan a reunion but was unable to secure a venue.
In 2018, I didn’t even try to secure a venue.
I'd really like to make this happen in 2019.
36. Ride my bike with my kids at least 25 times in 2019.
I haven't put my kids on their bikes often enough. Part of this has to do with Charlie's age, but after watching my brother get hit by a car while riding his bike as a kid (and being partially responsible for the accident), I've always been nervous about riding with other people. I don't worry about my own safety, but I worry constantly about the safety of others.
In 2018, I changed this by getting my kids on their bikes with me 27 times. They started to get very comfortable and excited about riding. I plan to repeat this in 2019.
37. I will not comment, positively or negatively, about physical appearance of any person save my wife and children, in 2017 in an effort to reduce the focus on physical appearance in our culture overall.
In 2016, I avoided all negative comments related to a person's physical appearance.
In 2017 I avoided all comments, both positive and negative, about the physical appearance of any person save my wife, children, and in-laws in an effort to reduce the focus on physical appearance in our culture overall.
I achieved this goal, and by writing about it, I convinced at least eight other people to adopt the policy as well.
For this reason, I will repeat this goal in 2019, even though it's now simply become something I do.
38. Surprise Elysha at least six times in 2016.
A completed goal from 2017 and 2018 that I will repeat in 2019.
39. Replace the 12 ancient, energy-inefficient windows in our home with new windows that will keep the cold out and actually open in the warmer months.
A failed goal from 2012, 2016, and 2017 and 2018 that I am continuing to pursue because these windows are making me crazy.
40. Clean the basement.
This was a completed goal from 2014 that needed to be repeated again in 2018 because it has filled up again. I did not finish the job last year, so it remains on the list for 2019.
41. Set a new personal best in golf.
A failed goal from 2017 and 2018.
My lowest score for nine holes is a 45, and my lowest score for 18 holes is 95. I’d like to improve on either score in 2019.
42. Play poker at least six times in 2019.
A completed goal in 2017 that I failed to complete in 2018.
I love poker. I paid for our honeymoon with profits from poker. I made a mortgage payment in 2012 with poker profits. I am a very good poker player who stopped playing regularly in 2015 because of the time shifted to writing and storytelling.
I missed poker a great deal and brought it last year. Six games in 2019 is not an unreasonable goal even though I failed to achieve it in 2018.
43. Spend at least six days with my best friend of more than 25 years.
A completed goal in 2017 that I failed to repeat in 2018.
Bengi and I met in a Milford, MA McDonald's back in 1987, and we have been friends ever since. We once lived together (in the aforementioned Heavy Metal Playhouse) and started our DJ business together back in 1996. We have been through a great deal together, but in the last few years, we have seen less of each other even though we live 15 minutes apart. Our interests have shifted away from the things each likes to do, and our families are demanding more of our time, but that's no excuse for not getting together more often.
Six days is more than reasonable.
44. Post my progress in terms of these resolutions on this blog on the first day of every month.