In review: 2018

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.

Almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet, death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it, and that is how it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. -Steve Jobs

When I started 2018 I had one goal: to pay off our last remaining debt. To achieve that goal, we declared 2018 The Year of No, I took on a sidegig theming websites for members of the United States House of Representatives, and we tightened our spending. It was pretty insane for the first six months of the year, and on June 15, 2018, we paid off the last of our student loan debt becoming totally debt free.

Mission accomplished, sort of.

In July, my wife and I celebrated 15 years of marriage with a trip to Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri. We had a great time.

 

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We got hitched on this day 15 years ago. Happy anniversary, Amy!

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Our minivan started to have costly repair issues. We ended up replacing it a few months later, and went a little into debt to do so. I was bothered by that decision at first because of all the work that went into getting out of debt, but felt like we could hit it hard and be debt free again by the end of the year.

And then …

My mother starting having health issues after Labor Day (which is Sept. 2 in the United States). She spent some time in the hospital. She went home. We thought she was getting better, but then she died unexpectedly at the age of 64 on Oct. 13, 2018.

My world has pretty much stopped since then. The death of my mother, whom I loved greatly, has overshadowed anything else that happened in 2018.

 

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Love you, mom. I miss you so much.

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To top it all off, I wrecked my 14-year-old car on Nov. 27, 2018. My deductible was higher than the car was even worth, and given that we had planned to get me a different car next year anyway, I chose to go more into car debt to replace my old blue beast. I have zero regrets about doing it, I only wish we were in a better position to deal with the country song our lives had become since June.

So, in review: 2018 started off awesome, became a lull halfway through, and has been pretty terrible ever since.

I could stop there. I could just curl up and sulk through the rest of the year, but that’s not how I’m going to play this. As the Steve Jobs quote above states:

Almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.

Accomplishments

So what have I learned through all of this? That’s the good news; t’was not in vain. Gather around children, I have things to share.

Don’t overdo it when trying to achieve your goal. I was very motivated to get out of debt, and it came with a cost. My health suffered. I got sick toward the end of our (first) debt-free payoff stretch, and realized I wasn’t taking care of myself. Things are fine now, but there was about a six-week stretch where things were very much not fine. I am very, very happy we no longer have student loan debt. It’s a horrible thing and it will lead to our nation’s next financial crisis, so I’m happy to be rid of it. That said, I really should have taken better care of myself during that stretch. Eating poorly, no exercise, working too many hours, not getting enough sleep, etc., is a path that will lead to your body forcing you to stop.

In times of tragedy, you will find out who truly cares for you. I watched as many in the place where I grew up came to our aid after my mother’s death. It was truly heartwarming the love that was shown to us. Old friends and new, co-workers, church members, and people who knew mom through her professional life (she was a nurse practitioner who specialized in women’s health) showed us amazing compassion. I live three hours away from my hometown, but I also experienced an amazing amount of support. I have received gifts big and small, acts of service, and several chances to walk and talk (a personal favorite activity of mine), and hash through issues. For everyone who came to my and my family’s aid, I will be forever grateful.

In times of tragedy, you’ll also find out who isn’t worth your time anymore. I won’t go too much into this because it’s not worth my energy. I’ll only say there were people who I would have expected to show some level of compassion after mom died, but showed us nothing. No text, no phone call, no card or flowers, nothing. There was no condolences at all from a select few, and the silence was notable. They are dead to me now.

Goals

I have been writing my own personal end-of-year posts since 2011. Every year I talk about my plans for the next, and then review what actually got accomplished the next December. Who am I to let a little tragedy get in the way of planning a new year?

Take the family to Disney World – Yes, it’s cliché; an American middle-class family goes to Disney World. What a stretch of the imagination. Well, we are going in 2019, period. It’s going to be great. We are going to have a lot of fun.

Own a house (again) – We haven’t been homeowners since we left Lawrence in 2016, and we’re about ready to take another shot at it. I’m hoping for late 2019. We have specific things we want out of housing, which isn’t typically what I’ve found in real estate offerings (I’ve been looking since we got here). But we’re going to find it, and if the economy doesn’t totally implode, we’ll be in a house by the end of the year.

Be healthy – This is a tricky goal. Usually people say “I want to lose 100 lbs. by Oct. 1” or something like that. That’s a fine goal, but isn’t what I’m aiming for next year. The author James Clear, has this thought on healthy habits, which I like so much I have it stuck to our fridge:

Habits that have a high rate of return in life:

– sleep 8+ hours each day
– lift weights 3x week
– go for a walk each day
– save at least 10 percent of your income
– read every day
– drink more water and less of everything else
– leave your phone in another room while you work

Sounds good. I’ll work on making all of them part of my life. Let’s see what comes of it.

Be selfish – In some ways I feel like I’ve been living by the rules of others for awhile. It’s not going to be that way anymore. This year has taught me that I want to get more out of life. That could mean very different things to all of us. Maybe that means spending more time with family and friends. Maybe it’s about getting something you’ve always wanted to buy. Maybe it simply means going against the grain when it’s easier to go with it. Life is for the living, and I’ve reached the point where I want to enjoy it now rather than wait for some maybe mythical retirement age when you’re too old or too sick or too burdened to enjoy it. I feel like I can do this with balance: to not go off the deep end (the Camaro will have to wait), and still have fun. Hopefully, I can help others find a way to do that as well.

My parting thought: do yourself a favor and visit futureme.org. It’s an interesting little website where you can write a letter to your future self, and I found it to be very beneficial. I had written myself before the year started to take a downward turn, and it caused me to pause and reflect when it was delivered on Dec. 1 (a date I chose).

And please, if you made it this far, I implore you: Have a good year. Make your life yours. Our moments are precious and the time is waning.

God bless, and happy holidays.

2 thoughts on “In review: 2018

  1. Sue Haley

    Eric, I’ve watched 2018 go by with you and Amy and the kids and these are my perceptions of you.
    You love your wife in a fierce and relentless way
    You love your children deeply and fiercely and having them has made you a better man than you ever thought you might be
    You are one of the most honest, genuine and vulnerable people that I know. That’s an amazing set of personal character skills
    You keep a level head, even when surrounded by chaos and grief
    You’re teaching your children self reliance as well as how to grieve
    You’re not perfect. You know it and own up to it, which makes you humble

    I pray that 2019 will be an amazing year for your family; you deserve it. You’ve gone through extreme self sacrifice and paid the price with your own health and emotional exhaustion. You’re a good man, a great dad and an amazing husband. I bless you with all good things to come.

    Reply

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