Rob Has Goals

Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time who never loses any. It is wonderful how much may be done if we are always doing.
- Thomas Jefferson

Of course I'm ambitious.  What's wrong with that?  Otherwise you sleep all day.
- Ringo Starr

I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.
- Thomas Jefferson

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
- Thomas Edison

I have discovered the happiness and contentment which can be gained through the feeling of high self-worth which comes from holding one’s self up to a higher standard.  When I can look in the metaphoric mirror at the person that I am and feel satisfied that I truly am who I want to be, I am at peace.  Through the effective use of my time and energy I know that I can live up to my own expectations.

•    Have I achieved a perfect nirvana-like state of complete self-satisfaction?  No.
•    Will I ever get there?  No; I am a human (seriously, I really am).
•    Should I still try?  Hell, yes.
•    Is this a pursuit of perfection?  No!  For one thing, perfection is subjective.  My idea of what would define the perfect person or the perfect life is likely to be completely different than what a lot of other people would think.  For another, as I have already said, I’m a human.
•    Then what’s the point?  My deepest aspiration is to be in a constant state of taking correct actions, making correct decisions, and correctly determining what “correct” really means to me, which means allowing for frequent realignment.  I aspire to have daily successes and I accept that I will have frequent failures.  I aspire to bring myself as close as I can to being the person that I want to be and living the life that I want to live.

The question becomes:  from minute to minute, day to day, how do I decide what an effective use of my time is?  To answer this question I must consider what my core values are and what my expectations are of myself.  The first step I took was to make a conscious effort to limit the time that I waste on time-sinks like video games, novels, T.V., Facebook, internet browsing, etc.  Of course, a person must have fun in their life.  If you’re not really enjoying life then what’s the point?  It’s the classic case of immediate vs. delayed gratification.  I could enjoy some minor immediate gratification, for example, by playing a game of Civilization V, or I could spend those hours studying web design.  The video game is fun right now, but having the skills to do what I want to do with my career and to write web sites is a long term investment, the rewards of which will be reaped at an undetermined point in the future, but will be long-lasting and infinitely more fulfilling.

Luckily, it is possible to find productive tasks that are also fun.  I allow myself time for entertainment and relaxation, in moderation.  I love watching movies with Gabrielle and I wouldn’t give that up for anything.  It actually is productive, though, because it’s “together time” which is essential for our relationship, one of the most cherished aspects of my life.  I also love to ride my bike, which is great exercise.  It is highly fulfilling to cruise down country roads, past corn fields, under a big blue sky, or to shred the wooded trails through Lake Fannin Park with my bro’ Joe, for some “man time”.  Even studying programming, as in the previous example, can be intellectually stimulating and rewarding enough to be considered entertainment.  The problem-solving, the design, and the creation of an end product which has form, function, and elegance is nothing less than an art form.

To spend all of my time being “productive” is a good start, but ants are productive, and they never get much done beyond making a little hill and doing their jobs good enough to help the colony make new queens to go out and make new colonies, and that’s good enough…if you’re an ant.  I could work my knuckles to the bone without a moment of rest and have nothing to show for it but a pile of dirt, or I could direct my energies in ways to make a truly positive and enriching impact on my life and the lives of the people who are important to me.  Yes, that’s exactly what I will do!

Formula for Success:
Yearly Challenges + Daily Dedication = Correct Habits

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
- Aristotle

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.
    - Annie Dillard

As part of my quest to be who I want to be I have decided to take on a new life-changing challenge every year.  I will set long-term “finish line” goals which I will accomplish by the end of the year by spending a specified amount of time every day working towards that goal.  “Every single day?!”  Yes, every single day.  “Why not do it once a week, or just do it as you find the time?”  I am tapping into the awesome power of habits.  By obligating myself to focus on my goal on a daily basis I am forcefully eliminating bad habits and forming a solid foundation for new good ones.  If I truly want to change my life then that means changing the way that I live, day-to-day and minute-to-minute.

Each yearly challenge will begin with the difficult decision of what challenge to take on.  I must ask myself why I think it is important and justify my decision by citing which of my personal values the challenge will support, and what positive effect it will have on my valued relationships.  What change in myself am I attempting to make?  What will the rewards be?  What habits do I intend to form or eliminate, and why?  Can I justify doing what needs to be done to achieve the goal or will I be sacrificing something more important?  In what positive or negative ways will my daily dedication impact my life and relationships?  Will I be able to sustain my new, positive habits for the rest of my life?

Once the decision is made, the specifics will need to be outlined.  I must decide the minimum amount of time or effort to require of myself on a daily basis.  Obviously I will expect more from myself than the minimum, but a baseline must be set so that I know when to consider myself either delinquent or upstanding.  I must decide what specific actions I will take and what usages of time will be considered as valid, constructive work towards my goal and therefore fulfill my daily obligatory time quota.  Optimally I will be able to set a final, measurable outcome, and I will be able to track my progress throughout the year towards reaching that pinnacle.  I will decide on a reward to give myself at the end of the year to celebrate my success and give me the motivation to keep going every day, though the goal itself may be a reward in its own right.

Physical Fitness
June 2010 - June2011

Everything you do in life, I don’t care, good or bad – don’t blame God, don’t blame the devil, don’t blame me, blame you. You control everything! The thoughts you think, the words you utter, the foods you eat, the exercise you do. Everything is controlled by you.
    - Jack Lalanne

What was my challenge?
I challenged myself to eat right and exercise daily.

Why did I want to do it?
 My weight has never slipped past “chubby” into “obese”, though I may have ventured dangerously close to that territory when Gabrielle was pregnant with Zoë; we were both eating for two.  Most people would say I was either “thin” or “average”.  They would have been wrong if they said “thin” because I did, in fact, have a wiggly-jiggly gut and squishy little man-boobs.  They may have been right, though, if they said I was “average”, since our national average is overweight.  The simple fact is that I was not content with my physical appearance.

I had never really been very athletic.  Sure, I could have jogged up a few flights of stairs without having a heart attack, but fitness, muscles, sports, weights, cardio, protein powder, and all that had never really been my thing.  Gabrielle and I did have a period of time when we would work out together in the morning, but we weren’t consistent enough and the habit didn’t stick.  I wanted to have the strength and endurance to take part in physically challenging recreation.  I wanted my body to look physically attractive.  I wanted abs!

What personal values, roles, and relationships did this support?
 At first glance, this goal may seem vain.  I could have probably kept with the status quo and still be fit enough to live an average lifespan without serious weight-related health issues.  It is given that we should accept ourselves for who we are and no matter what we look like on the outside, we are still the same person on the inside, which is all that truly matters.  I don’t disagree with that notion, but retort that your body is your mind’s vessel, and keeping it in optimal shape is of vital importance.  For some, that means keeping it in “good enough” shape, but for me, good enough wasn’t good enough.

I demand absolute honesty with myself, and I could not honestly say that I was happy with my appearance.  I had very lackadaisical diet and exercise habits, and I knew that I was capable of so much more.  My values of self-awareness and self-honesty were fulfilled by meeting my challenge.

I value Gabrielle’s happiness and affections, and I have pledged to her that I would remain physically attractive for her benefit, because she deserves no less.  I intend to stay as healthy as I can for my whole life in order to postpone turning her into a widow for as long as possible.

I value my involvement in my children’s lives, and I believe I have an obligation to set a good example for them.  I will be able to keep up with them and to participate with them once they get old enough to want to go skiing, hiking, biking, running, or any such recreational exercise.

Physical fitness has proven to bestow the mental benefits of energy and focus, which is an indirect benefit in countless areas of life such as my performance at work, so my value of having a good work ethic and being a productive employee is also promoted by this goal.

What habits did I form or break?
I formed a good habit of controlling my diet.  I never starved myself, and I didn’t forbid myself from eating delicious food.  I stopped my old habit of overeating, stuffing myself to the brim, and going back for second and third helpings after I had already eaten enough.  I stopped eating desserts every night, which helped to make the times when I would eat dessert even more of a treat.  I adopted Gabrielle’s philosophy that eating sub-par high-calorie foods is a complete waste; if I’m going to eat something that’s not healthy, it better be worth it!

I formed a good habit of exercising regularly.  I had never been to a gym before and it took a while to get used to it.  I learned a lot from my friends and my online research about how to perform particular exercises and lift weights with the proper technique, how to pace myself during cardiovascular exercise, the concept of interval training, how to work particular muscle groups on alternating schedules in order to allow for muscle repair and growth, and what to eat to support muscle growth and fuel my body.  I rediscovered my love for biking, which I plan to continue enjoying for years to come.

Specific goals and requirements
1.    Daily Dedication
    a.    Follow good eating habits.  Pay attention to what I eat, and in what quantity.
    b.    Work out for a minimum of 15 minutes, but preferably for an hour.
2.    Measurable Results
    a.    Monthly weigh-in, measurements, and pictures.  Track progress in a spreadsheet.
    b.    Bench press 200 lbs.
    c.    Form a six-pack
3.    The Finish Line
    a.    Push hard for the last month, especially during the last week.
    b.    Have a muscle-man photo shoot
    c.    Celebrate with a binge:  pizza, Reese’s brownies, ice cream, alcohol, decadence!
4.    The Future
    a.    Continue maintaining a healthy body with regular exercise
    b.    Continue eating a healthy diet
    c.    Continue to measure my weight and size, to keep myself in check

June 2011 - June2012

Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death
    - Albert Einstein

What is my challenge?
I am challenging myself to learn new things every day.

Why do I want to do it?
The merits of expanding one’s knowledge are as self-evident as the merits of keeping one’s body in good shape, but if I’m going to do this thing then I might as well put it all down in black and white.  It has been a long journey.  I invite you to follow along as I recount the steps which I took to conceive my new challenge.
For a long time I looked back at my college experience with shame and regret.  My last two semesters at Emporia State were especially pathetic, with a full load of classes that resulted in nothing but withdrawals and failures.  I wasted my time and money because I was more interested in video games, Gabrielle, and sleep than I was in going to class or doing my assignments.  Since dropping out of Emporia twelve years ago I have never returned to college to try to get a degree, though I thought about it frequently and held a nagging shame in the back of my mind.

So, why haven’t I gone back to college to fill that hole in my conscience and on my résumé?  The main problems were time and money.  We have been popping babies out every couple of years, and dual incomes have never been an option due to our standard of having our children raised and homeschooled by their stay-at-home mom.  I have always held salaried positions which sometimes required extra hours, and when I was at home I was needed to help out around the house and with the kids, not to mention spending time with Gabrielle.  Furthermore, the benefits of earning a degree at this point are questionable, since I have ten years of experience in systems administration and programming, six years in a team lead/manager role, and twelve years of debt collections industry experience.  Most people who have worked closely with me would say that I am hard working and intelligent, so it is likely that my professional network could provide me with a new job if things fell through in my current position.  It’s a difficult case to make when weighing the cost verses the benefit, which explains why I have never done it.

There was still that nagging shame, though.  Even without a strong, justifiable reason to finish a degree I still dwelled on the past, wishing I had been more responsible, wishing that I could prove how much I have changed and grown since dropping out.  It ate at me until about a year ago on a long car ride from Texas to Kansas I expressed my feelings and dissected my motives, with Gabrielle as my supportive sounding board.  I decided that it was time to finally let go of the guilt from my past failures and to move on.  I decided that I didn’t need to go back to college and that I didn’t have to prove anything to anyone, most importantly myself.  I liberated myself from my chains of shame, a weight was lifted from my heart, and I was at peace with my past.

Yet here I am, preparing to enroll in college.  Have I reshackled my chains?  I thought I had decided not to do this!  The strangest thing happened.  My unexpected paradigm shift was that I no longer viewed college as a way to prove myself, I saw it as an opportunity to improve myself.  When I stopped viewing my lack of a college degree as a personal shortcoming brought on by past mistakes which needed to be corrected and decided that I was good-enough-smart-enough-dog-gone-it-people-like-me, I was able to see how I might benefit from the actual college coursework rather than merely the degree that I would get upon the completion of a certain number of hours.  The degree isn’t the point anymore.  I also decided that college wasn’t enough.  I hunger for more programming knowledge.  I want to learn how to make web sites and to broaden my programming horizons more quickly than college alone can do.  Believe it or not, I want to learn!
I still must face the old problems of time and money, however.  Isn’t that always the case?  I certainly can’t afford to sacrifice what’s most important to me in order to pursue my own personal growth.

Regarding time, I am only going to take one or two courses at a time.  On top of that, I am only requiring myself to spend an hour a day on my college or programming study.  I understand that that won’t always be enough time to finish all my coursework so some days more time will be needed.  Where will I find the time between my job, wife, four kids, and an ongoing habit of working out daily?  I find that when I eliminate non-essential time wasters such as video games, television (what’s that?), jacking around on the internet, oversleeping, and such, I can squeeze a lot more productivity into my day.  I know that sounds like a drag, but I still enjoy lots of relaxing and recreational activities.  I try to make sure that my entertainment also serves a positive and constructive purpose.  Recreational exercise is a good example:  I treat myself to a bike ride at least every week these days.  I play video games for a few hours every two weeks, with the constructive benefit of preserving a close relationship with my brothers-from-another-mother, Joe and JP.  I still watch movies from time to time, always with Gabrielle at my side, which is a special private time that we get to share.  I find that there is a lot of “down time” on weekends, so right there is a prime opportunity for me to squeeze more productive hours into my week.  Yes, I will find the time.

Regarding money, I plan on having a very light college schedule and I’m going to the community college, so the cost will be within my means without requiring loans.  I’m allergic to debt, so that’s completely out of the question.  The cost of my self-guided programming study will be negligible; just a few books, maybe some new software, nothing major.  The main cost for that is time.  I may even make a few bucks on the side doing some freelance work, but I won’t count on it.  West offers a $1,500 yearly college tuition reimbursement, so I’ll take advantage of that.  I also plan to talk to the financial aid councilors at the college to see what grants, scholarships, or tax credits I might qualify for.  Eventually, after I obtain my associates degree, I may decide to move on to a university to complete my bachelor’s degree.  Those credit hours will cost significantly more than the community college, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.  I’m sure the financial aid councilors will have some ideas.  In conclusion, money won’t be a problem.

What personal values, roles, and relationships will this support?
I value and take pride in my skills, abilities, and knowledge of programming.  I consider myself an intelligent and well-informed person, but just like anyone, I always have more to learn, so taking on this challenge supports my value of being a well-rounded, well-educated person.

This supports my role of being the family “breadwinner”.  I am supporting this important role by improving my lifetime earning potential with a degree and with additional programming experience which I can put on my résumé.  This will improve my chances of finding a higher-paying job, and it will broaden my future career opportunities.  I know that today I am in a very good position and there is no threat of losing it, but there are no guarantees in life.  A degree is job insurance; you don’t necessarily need it until you really need it, and then you’re glad to have it.

My role at West as I.S. Manager to a group of programmers and my value of being a good manager and employee is strongly supported by this goal.  I will get relevant skills and reinforced knowledge of good programming practices, which directly benefits my job.  I will also serve as a good role model to my employees by inspiring them to pursue home study of their own.

To support my marital relationship I hope to continually hone my software development and management skills in order to give myself a broad range of flexible employment opportunities.  This is a benefit to my marriage because if I am able to sustain an income through self-employment and contract-based work at some point in the future, probably after the kids have all moved out, I will be able to spend less hours working and more hours with Gabrielle.

As a father, I hope to continue increasing my income so that I can afford to pay my daughters’ way through college.  I also hope to set an example for them that they should follow.  If I can earn a degree while juggling a job and family, there’s no reason why they wouldn’t be able to do it while they’re at a point in their lives when there is nothing more important for them to spend their time on.

What habits do I hope to form or break?
I plan to form a life-long habit of self-education and broadening my horizons.  I want to always be open to new perspectives and new information which give me greater insight into the world around me.  I plan to break the habit of settling for what I already know how do to, and considering my current skills and knowledge adequate.  I don’t plan to make college into a lifetime habit, however.  I will go to college and earn my degree, but college is just one method of education.  Once I feel that I have learned what I need and earned what degree(s) I want from college I will stop going, but my education will never end.

I plan to form the habit of using programming for entertainment; of making it my hobby.  If I can break away from using video games for fun and use programming instead then my free time will be productive.  I could be creating a marketable product, exploring new ways to solve a problem, or just farting around.  Simply spending time doing something turns it into second nature, and being a natural programmer, comfortable in a variety of environments, able to create numerous sorts of solutions like a fish in water, is exactly what I hope to be.

Specific goals and requirements
1.    Daily Dedication
    a.    Complete all college coursework on time or early
    b.    Study, write code, or learn new things daily, for at least an hour
2.    Measurable results
    a.    Learn web design and build a personal web site, as a development sandbox but also to serve some sort of purpose, such as blogging or advertising programming services.
    b.    Begin earning credit hours towards my degree
3.    The Finish Line
    a.    Put final touches on web site; add some pizazz.
    b.    Video game marathon and/or take a vacation.
4.    The Future
    a.    Associates degree
    b.    Bachelor’s degree
    c.    Side jobs, consulting, self-employment
    d.    Ongoing self-education and expanding horizons

Ideas for the Future

Arriving at one goal is the starting point to another.
- John Dewey

I have some ideas about what to do for some future yearly goals.  I realize that I have taken on two really big ones for my first two years, so I’m going to have to be pretty creative in order to come up with future goals which have a significant positive impact on my life and which have some sort of daily activity that helps to form some lifelong habit.

Here are some general brainstorming ideas:
1.    Becoming a better husband and father
2.    Becoming a better manager and employee
3.    Becoming more charitable or involved in the community
4.    Sharing myself with the world, writing a book
5.    Expanding my horizons, exploring other cultures, trying new things, gaining new perspectives
6.    Earning more money or managing money better
7.    Home improvement and repairs, building something, starting a garden, fixing up my property

Life Goals

Map out your future, but do it in pencil.
- Jon Bon Jovi

Look at life through the windshield, not the rear-view mirror
    - Byrd Baggett

It is better to travel well than to arrive
    - Buddha

1.    Live a Virtuous Life
    a.    Set new “Yearly Goals for Daily Life” every June
    b.    Maintain good habits and don’t slip into bad ones
    c.    Remain true to my marital vows and pledges
2.    Obtain financial freedom (thank you, Dave Ramsey)
    a.    Pay off the mortgage early
    b.    Save lots of money for retirement
    c.    Pay for the kids’ college
3.    Enjoy financial freedom
    a.    Consider self-employment and/or venture into new career goals
    b.    Retire early or work reduced hours
    c.    Travel the country in an R.V.
4.    Live, love, learn, leave a legacy (thank you, Stephen Covey)
    a.    Enjoy every moment of life
    b.    Bring love and joy to everyone around me
    c.    Be a teacher and an inspiration for my children, grandchildren, and future generations

Rob Grafrath