In December, I sat down with my journal and asked myself two questions: where am I now, and where do I want to be this same time next year?

2018 was an amazing year. I left the world of freelance work to edit Utah Business magazine. I had goals to start writing a novel and read my way through the classics, both of which proved fulfilling pursuits. My husband and I also made a couple personal decisions: to not have children (we got a vasectomy) and to pay off our house by the year 2020. We also planted seeds in new communities and made new friends. 

In this way, 2018 was a foundational year for my husband and I. We set the stage for what our lives will look like in the coming years and decades, and we are very happy with the path we’ve laid out for ourselves. But if it’s a path we’ve built, then 2019 is the year we set out on it. We’ve mapped the course, and now it’s time to pack our bags, put in the miles, and forge forward toward our destinies.

When I’m sitting at the end of 2019, writing this very same letter, I want to have said that I made progress along that path. That I’ve reached some milestone along it. For my book, that means writing 100,000 words of it. For graduate school, that means completing it. For my husband and I, that means saving our money and paying down our house. As well as putting some work in on it. 

Because we have much bigger four-year goals, and these are the steps we need to take to get there. I say four-year goals because we are now officially one year into our five-year goals. And we’re definitely on track to achieve them. Our dream is to pay off our house, then take off traveling, renting out the in-law unit in our backyard, and writing from wherever life takes us while supporting the causes and communities that are important to us. Here’s what we have to do this year to work towards that.

Here are my major goals

Pay off half our mortgage

My husband and I got really into the whole “Financial Independence” movement last year. The movement is all about “having enough wealth to live on without needing to work.” And in practice, that means finding a way to earn way more than you’re spending, without needing to spend your time at a day job. Unless you want one. The goal, in other words, is the freedom to do what you want.

Everyone achieves that differently. For example, some people decide they need to have millions of dollars a year to live the life they want to live, so asset accumulation becomes the way they achieve that. They spend ten years at high paying jobs, putting that money toward buildings they can rent out and investment portfolios they can earn dividends on, and then they quit their jobs and do whatever they want.

For others, like Brown Kids, they decided they only needed $16,000/year to live the life they want to live, so they didn’t need to spend time saving that up, they both quit their jobs immediately and now earn that money by hosting two workshops per year. Of course, they live in a 150 square-foot apartment. But they travel and live the life they love. That’s what it’s all about.

I’ll probably devote an entire article to this topic in the future, but for now, I’ll just say that we’re somewhere in the middle. We decided we only need $65,000/year to live the life we want to live, and we can make that actively through my writing career, but also passively by renting out a portion of our home.

For now, we are still a DINK (dual income, no kids) household, and so we are using most of our money to prepare for that phase by abolishing our biggest expense (our mortgage) and building up our biggest asset (a rental space).

To do that, we are living off 40 percent of our income, part of which goes to our bills and charities, and the other part goes to our spending money. Any of our spending money that we don’t spend at the end of the month goes into short-term savings accounts we can use for travel or home projects.

We then put the other 60 percent of our income toward our mortgage. We’ve been doing this for a year, and if we keep going for two more years our house will be paid off by 2020. But for this year, the goal, quite simply, is to stick to that budget and work toward paying off the house.

Complete 100,000 words of my book

Also in four years, I want to have written and published my novel. The trouble is, I started my novel this year, and haven’t gotten very far. This past year my goal—starting in May—was to work on my book for one hour every day. I did accomplish that goal, but I wasn’t always effective with my time. 

Sometimes I’d be researching. Sometimes I’d be procrastinating in the name of researching. But either way, a lot of the time words weren’t actually getting written. I told myself it was just part of my creative process. But then I realized my creative process just needed a push. That’s why, this year, I’m instituting deadlines. 

In December I ran a practice round. I put a word-count goal on myself, instead of a time goal. This meant writing 6,000 words in one month, instead of spending 30 hours in one month. And I did it. With no problem. I wrote way more of my book, in way less time. So I made the decision to focus on word-count in 2019, aiming to get about half of my book (100,000 words) done by the end of the year. 

That’s three chapters (or 6,000 words) each month. Which means I need to write one chapter per weekend with an off weekend for getting caught up. I tested this in December and it worked perfectly for me so my plan is to keep it going throughout the year. 

Commit to helping vulnerable children

The cause I am most passionate about is ending the orphan crisis. Throughout the past ten years, my husband and I have donated 10 percent of our discretionary income toward that cause, donating half to The Archibald Project and the other half to Every Mother Counts. But now it’s time to start taking some action.

This year, I decided I need to participate in the lives of vulnerable children in some positive way and be part of the solution toward ending the orphan crisis. Since my husband and I moved to Utah, my life hasn’t been settled enough to be able to commit myself to a cause. Or a person. This year, however, my job and life are in place, and I have decided to become a CASA (court appointed special advocate) for foster children. You can learn more about that here.

Graduate from graduate school

I have one quarter of graduate school left which I will complete in July. Finishing this will free up my finances even more, as well as free up my vacation days even more. It will also allow me to focus all my energy entirely on my novel. 

Then there are the minor goals

Knowing these are the things I want out of my year, it’s easy to sideline the rest. To say, you know what, I have these mileposts to reach, and any detours just aren’t worth it. Perhaps some of them are, in which case I’m happy to course correct and take the scenic route. But for me, knowing where I’m going allows me to focus my energy on the things that are most important to me. And to let everything else pass me by.

That means if I haven’t completed my words yet, I’m spending a Sunday writing my novel. And if an enticing vacation comes up, I’m sidelining it to pay off my house. And doing so doesn’t feel restrictive in any way. I’ll still have plenty of time for friends, and I still have plenty of money allotted for having fun with them. But prioritizing these one-year goals will put me one step closer to the life I want to be living four years from now.

The one in which I have published my first novel and am working on my second one. The one in which my husband and I have paid off our home and are debt free by the time we are 35. The one in which, because of these factors my husband and I can do things like spend a winter in Hawaii, live in France for a while, or maybe even adopt a child (you never know).

But if those four things are my major goals, the ones that will take me where I want to go, then I have a few minor goals as well. These “lesser” goals are simply things I need to add into my life right now, though they may change throughout the year as the seasons do.

In a previous season, I emptied my life of everything else to make room for my writing. But I’ve since learned that there needs to be more in my life than just writing. Especially as I’ve found myself bored and lonely on occasions when my husband is out of town or out skiing. And I don’t want to sit around waiting for someone else to entertain me. 

To remedy this, I decided that I need to have more going on in my life. More that is just mine. That thought led me to create the following minor goals:

Focus on ballet

I’m not a big fan of working out for working out sake. Instead, I’d rather have one craft that I’m completely devoted to, and can thus get better at throughout the years. That’s ballet for me. I want to dance en pointe one day and that means practice, practice, practice.

This year, I have developed a ballet-focused workout regimen for myself. This involves taking two ballet classes per week, and spending my non-ballet class days focused on stretching and strength training so as to increase my turnout and turn up my ability to stay on my toes.

Participate in arts and culture

Every now and then I get sad that I’m not living in France. So it’s important to me that I continue to do the things I would enjoy in France here. That means going to the museums on a regular basis, especially when they have exciting exhibits; going to the cathedral and vespers; going to wine and chocolate tastings; attending the theater, opera, ballet, and symphony; and eventually, I would like to take a still life oil painting class. Perhaps later in the year.

Take mini getaways with the husband

My husband and I are very different people in terms of how we spend our time. He’s more of the “let’s go biking/skiing/running/racing all day long” type, and I’m more of the “let’s go for a meandering walk through the park/drink tea/find our favorite new restaurant/read a book/learn to dance/take up a new language” type.

So about half the time, we wind up doing our own thing, and one quarter of the time, we try to do each other’s thing (like when he takes me down a black diamond skiing or tries to coax me up a mountain, or when I take him to a Broadway musical and he gets really bored). The other quarter of the time, is time we meet in the middle. Trying to do things we both like, like hiking, stand-up paddle boarding, or going on mini getaways in our camper van.

We want to do that last thing more. For Thanksgiving we went to Mystic Hot Springs in Southern Utah, and for Christmas we skied into the Opus Hut outside Telluride. Both vacations were the trip of a lifetime. And just the most fun thing in the universe. So we’re committing to making more of those happen this year.

Our cabin at Mystic Hot Springs
All we did was read and play cards and drink wine and cook over the wood stove.
And we soaked in the tubs too.
For Christmas we skied into some of the most gorgeous terrain on the planet.
So beautiful.

I’m not one of those busy people. It just doesn’t feel good to me. That’s why I love this exercise. It allows me to look forward to the new year knowing I have a plan for it. That my energy will go where I most desire it to go. And that everything else can wait for another year. 

Cheers to this one. Happy New Year!