Planning for Next Year

It is November, which means it is time for my wife and me to think about next year. In our annual planning process, we like to revisit what we wanted to accomplish this year, check in on our direction, and then think about what’s next for the coming year. Today, we drove home from Nashville, TN. The 6+ hour drive afforded us some much needed focus time, so we used it for our annual planning process, which I have described below.

Be, Do, Have

I mentioned this in The Business of Relationships, but to save you the extra clicks, I’ll revisit here. When we talk about our goals, we like to use the format of Be, Do, and Have – in that order. Like most people, when we started out in life as young adults, we approached things from the opposite direction: Have, Do, Be. We decided what we wanted to Have, which then dictated how much money we needed and therefore what we Do, which in turn informs who we will Be. Now that we’re older and a little wiser, we like to approach things in the order that works for us these days: Be, Do, Have. Like Stephen Covey, we want to start with the end in mind. How do we want to be remembered? That’s the Be. Who we are (Be) dictates what we will then Do; for a living or as we give our time and money to various causes, which then informs what we’ll Have – whether that means things we need to acquire in order to support our goals or postponing personal purchases in order to direct funds towards the big stuff.

Direction

Consistent with the Be, Do, Have approach, this year we gave some extra thought as to who we are. What are the things that we spend our time and money on? We affirmed our statuses as spouse, parent, family member, business professionals, and then dug into our hobbies and other items on which we spend time and money. Then we revisited our direction as a couple to make sure we’re still aligned. We agreed to continue our direction from last year:

  • Simplify our lives
  • Reduce our impact on the environment
  • Choose experiences over things
  • Participate in our community
  • Be life-long students
  • Reduce stress / improve the quality of our lives
  • Improve our financial future

Current Year Progress

Last year, under each of the directional bullets, we listed out sub-bullet goals. So we took the time to check in on our progress for each one. For instance, under the heading of Simplify our lives, we said that we wanted to declutter and organize several specific areas of the house to help keep from buying things that we didn’t need. We checked off the parts of the list that we accomplished and sustained, which provided a great sense of accomplishment as well as a little motivation to have another great year in 2019.

Planning for Next Year

As we came across goals that we didn’t accomplish for 2018, we reevaluated them. Do they still fit with who we want to Be? If so, we moved them forward to 2019. Then we thought about what else we want to accomplish under the directional bullets detailed above.

By now, I think it is clear that this is not a New Year’s Resolution process. We’re not looking to lose 20 lbs. or finally quit smoking. This is really more of a balanced scorecard approach to the business of our family. We sign up for a lot of goals, some of which stretch us beyond our comfort zone and we have no idea how to get them done. We don’t always get everything done. But if it is worth pursuing, then we carry it forward and try again.

This coming year, we’re excited for some big goals. Melanie is making great progress on her fitness goals this year and she’s looking to hit her target measures in 2019 while figuring out how to sustain them. She’s looking to do that while working full time, volunteering with her sorority, and pursuing a Master’s degree in the evenings. This year, I’m looking to step up my involvement in my hometown community as an Alumni with my college alma mater; I’m looking to run my first ultramarathon, and summit Mont Blanc to name a few. Like I said, we may not get it all done, but it should be one heck of a ride just trying!

What are your goals for next year?

Do you have a similar planning process?

The Business of Relationships

My wife and I are both on our second marriage. Neither of us intended to be divorcees. Everyone in our families’ prior generations stayed married, so neither of us knew what divorce looked like. Given that second marriages are even more likely to fail than a first marriage, my better half and I have spent a lot of time thinking and writing about what went wrong and how we can work together proactively to keep our marriage healthy and happy. While there are countless tomes written on the topic, I’m going to offer up a rather business-minded approach to the successful components of a long-term relationship. With this approach, I’m also going to skip over what I consider to be table stakes for any committed romantic relationship: mutual attraction, love, fidelity, honesty, and communication. Because let’s cut to the chase, if even one of these is missing, there’s no foundation upon which to build a long-term romantic relationship.

My wife and I have found that the for a long-term committed relationship to work for a long time, the relationship needs some things that are pretty important in business. Of course, we are both process engineers who have worked in a variety of industries, so there’s an inevitable business environment bias here. But, we’ve also gone through a good bit of couples therapy in our prior relationships, read several books on the topic and applied them, and – now because of our experience – helped counsel many friends and family members going through similar crises – small and large. Oh, and my wife is more than two-thirds through her Masters in Psychology from Harvard University. So… this isn’t a slap-dash-throw-some-stuff-on-the-wall idea. These ideas are tried and tested in many circles. So let’s get to it.

  1. Couples need a shared vision. This already sounds like business school, doesn’t it? Bear with me. Let’s say one of you wants to be a medical doctor – or already is a medical doctor. That’s going to mean long hours away from home and very likely being on call. How does that fit with the partner’s goal of being a school teacher with summers off to go hike the Appalachian Trail? Well it might work, as long as consistent togetherness isn’t your main objective. Let’s look at another scenario: One of you wants to have a daily driving automobile that reliably gets you from point A to point B and then to also have a flashy sports car in the garage to take out on sunny weekends. Your partner wants to be a social worker who primarily helps children. Again, it can work, but its going to take a lot of discussion and compromise. Generally speaking, social workers don’t make a lot of money for flashy sports cars. Carried forward, social workers who want to help children also probably aren’t prioritizing pricey non-essential vehicles. See the rub? In both of these short scenarios, the couples do not have a shared vision of where they’re going. I can speak from my own experience that in my first marriage, we did not have a shared vision of where we were going. One could argue that we got married too young before we had a chance to figure out what our shared vision was. But I know lots of couples who met at 16 or 17 years old and have had very successful relationships now 25 or 30 years on. In all of those cases, they had a shared vision of where they were going. To discuss this with your significant other, I like the Be, Do, Have model. For the sake of brevity, I’ll say it this way: Each individual needs to decide who he or she is going to BE (the kind of person with what values, etc.), and based on that, what he or she will DO (what profession), which will in turn dictate what each will HAVE (material possessions and the like). So many people do it the other way around: they start with what they want to HAVE, which then dictates the budget and determines what they need to DO, which then begins to inform who they’re going to BE.
  2. Couples should have a shared Culture. If there is a yang to the yin of the vision, it is the culture. It informs where you start and how you go about pursuing your shared vision. Culture – unless it is being actively developed like in the corporate world – usually comes from one’s family of origin. Family of origin sets the stage for how individuals will communicate, work together, problem-solve, raise a family, and so on. It isn’t an insurmountable problem to have very different families of origin, but as my wife and I have both learned from experience, when times get tough, we race back to what we learned growing up. I’ll contrast my first and current marriages again for illustration. In my first marriage, our respective families had very different ideas about budgeting and bill-paying, about child-rearing, about the balance of power, and about negotiation tactics used in the relationship. I thought these matters were surmountable, but they caused a great deal of stress and arguably the downfall of the marriage. When I contrast that with my current marriage, our respective families of origin are magnitudes closer to one another. While each of our Mothers and Fathers have very different personalities, their approaches to the relationship overlap a great deal. This has helped my wife and I work collaboratively to blend and raise a well-adjusted family with four kids, run a household budget that not only pays the bills but offers up self-actualizing activities to each of its members, and to support one another as we pursue our shared vision for our family. Differences in family of origin are able to be overcome, but it takes a lot of work. I personally start with educating myself. Here is a list of books that might help. But after education comes the tough work of problem-solving.
  3. Problem solving can save the day. In both of the cases of Vision and Culture, couples who are equipped with the skills and committed to the cause of solving problems can overcome almost all set-backs. Interestingly, problem-solving is not a universal skill in the professional world much less the ewy gooey world of romantic love. In fact, this was another point of contention in my first marriage. My ex-wife repeatedly rebuffed me for trying to analyze our issues for root cause and corrective action. She would say, “this is a relationship, not a business.” I can’t fault her. I’m sure many people feel the same way. But while my first wife was satisfied with an accuse-argue-apologize cycle of addressing matters, I was not. I like solving problems. I don’t like futile repeats of past conversations and I don’t care for stalemates. So again, even our tools and commitments to overcome our differences in our vision and our culture simply weren’t there. When contrasted with my wife now, again, it is a world of difference. My wife is an industrial engineer and a natural born problem solver. She can meet me at my nerdiest point. While we started out with strong overlaps in both our vision and culture, those things aren’t permanent. As we each grow and take on new challenges, our vision and the associated goals grow and change. In these cases, problem solving saves the day. We’re able to collaboratively work through these new ideas and grow together because we have the skills to do so. While I could start a whole new blog and completely geek out on problem solving in all types of settings, I’ll offer up the following primer.
    • Clearly state the problem, starting with what, when, where, and how often. Avoid “who,” any assumed intent, and “always” & “never” statements if you can. For example, instead of saying, “You don’t respect me because you always load the toilet paper roll backwards,” you might offer up, “I notice that the toilet paper roll gets loaded in different ways, sometimes over the top and sometimes unrolling from the bottom.” The second statement takes the “you” out, it takes the assumed intent of not respecting me out, and it takes out the language of “backwards,” even though we all know the right way to load the toilet paper is over the top. 
    • Confirm the measurement. It is important to confirm that everyone is measuring the matter the same way. Something like, “When the trash has been packed into the bag so tight that it takes a shot of compressed air to get the bag out of the bin without ripping it apart, I think it is over-full. What do you think?” You will be surprised at how often we simply don’t measure things the same way.
    • Agree on a standard. This is very much related to the measurement problem. If there isn’t agreement on what “good” looks like, it is nearly impossible to measure it. This can get tricky in domestic situations because we all have our quirks. Dirty dishes in the sink and untreated spots on the carpet drive me bananas. My family thinks I’m a control freak, and, well, they’re right. But in the balance of power, I can’t bully my way into it. We all have busy lives. So it might be that the only option for my daughter was to grab a quick bite after school and then head to work while leaving her dish in the sink to soak. So, it is a process.

In closing, I hope you’ve already achieved domestic bliss. If you’re in the process of a long term commitment, perhaps the lessons I’ve learned through my own failures can help you build a healthier and happier relationship. Best wishes!