2019 Recap (and 2020 Goals)

New Year’s Resolutions™ are overrated, but time-based goals are nice, and so are general life reflections. I find it’s valuable to put them in writing and in public, mostly for reference and reflection down the line. I’ve been doing these since 2017 and find them fun and useful.

2019 Was a Good Year (Recap)

I thought I’d travel and read less in 2019, but I did a lot of both. Turns out I like doing those things. In general, the year was awesome, especially for my health and professional development.

Travel

I traveled a ton again, despite saying last year I’d like to cool down on travel a bit. Let’s see…I went to Ukraine, Estonia (both of these for speaking gigs), France, Panama, Colombia, Germany, England, Israel, and Jordan. Lots more adventure travel this year – hiking, exploring, skiing, etc. – which I love. I also spent a few weeks with coworkers in Italy, an awesome experience.

I spent a lot of time in the Midwest (home) this year as well, completing multiple long trips to Chicago/Wisconsin to see friends and family

Again, I spent about half of my time in Austin and the other half in other places. This was both exhausting and exhilarating. Three big learnings:

  1. I still love travel, though much more into “adventure” travel (nature, sport, etc.)
  2. I really love spending time in Austin
  3. I really love spending time in the Midwest with friends and family,

Next year, I’m going to do a lot more of the latter two.

Hobbies and Personal Development

I’m still actively learning and practicing Spanish, and I’ve added German to my toolkit. I’ve only gotten to quite basic conversation levels, mostly due to the fact that German is really fucking difficult (read this Mark Twain essay on the language for elaboration). But it’s a fun mental puzzle to solve, and I quite enjoy the language. Haven’t tested it, but I’m likely around an A2 level in German (would like to get up to B2-ish).

I’m pausing Krav Maga training, but that’s mostly due to it being inconvenient compared to my other hobbies (the gym is a long way from my apartment, I don’t have a car, and I travel so often that I end up wasting a ton of money on my membership). I expect to get back into this or other martial arts in the future, but it’s not urgent, as other health and fitness stuff has superseded Krav Maga.

I skied in Lake Tahoe this year, and that was an epic adventure. I’ve got lots more skiing and surfing plans next year, and I hope to get outdoors as much as possible.

I do love learning and trying new things, but I’m beginning to narrow down on my favorite activities, the ones that make me happiest:

  • Health/Fitness/sport (especially outdoors like skiing and surfing, but really anything active)
  • Language learning
  • Music (playing guitar, going to concerts, etc.0

So I’m doubling down on the stuff I like.

Health

Last year I had mentioned starting regular yoga practice as Black Swan. I mentioned that it has “become an almost therapeutic part of my day [and the] perfect counterbalance to the weightlifting and martial arts I regularly do.”

This is still true. I’ll go further and say that in 2019, one of the biggest benefits to my life was embracing more of the “recovery” side of health.

In addition to continuing my yoga practice (I still go 2-3 times a week on average), I’ve started going to Generator Athlete Lab in Austin. They have an infrared sauna, a contrast bath set up (an ice bath and a hot tub), plus other athletic recovery equipment like Normatec compression therapy and a Bulletproof vibration plate. I go 4-5 times a week and it has done wonders for my body and my psyche.

They also offer HIIT classes, so I’ve been going to those 1-2 times a week. Partially because of that, I’ve lost 5-10 lbs and am looking a lot fitter than I used to.

Back to the note I’ve recovery: I’ve really started to place a hyper-focus on improving my sleep. I bought an Oura Ring to start tracking my sleep and other health marketers like HRV, and I’ve run tons of mini-experiments to improve my sleep metrics. Some things include supplements like melatonin and adaptogens like Reishi and Ashwagandha. Other things include having a wind down routine, reading before bed, decreasing my apartment temperature, etc. I’ll write a whole post about sleep optimization someday.

Anyway, this is my healthiest year yet. Even while traveling I’ve been eating quite well. I still drink too much wine at times, but even that is becoming rarer with age.

Health will continue to be a huge focus in 2020. It’s the one thing that makes everything else way better/easier.

Relationships

I’m mostly happy with this side of my life – I’ve spent a lot more time with family and gotten closer to my family as a result. Additionally, I continue to meet and bring in interesting people to my network.

However, as awesome as traveling so much is for many reasons, I’m also feeling the tradeoff with building deep relationships. Tough to do that when traveling so much. Also, working so much and constantly worrying about self-improvement can be a hindrance as well.

Next year’s focus: fewer, but deeper relationships.

Career

Career is great! I worked on some truly interesting stuff at HubSpot this year. I built a fully functional R application (hosted via Shiny) that we’re using to fuel a whole team’s data and activities. Right now, I’m buried deep in another technical project where we’ll pull data from several sources and tie it together to surface granular data to each team member and prioritize opportunities.

Never thought I’d be doing that type of work.

Also, finished a course on AI Programming with Python from Udacity where I got to build a neural network image classifier.

My technical skills have never been better.

However, I’m feeling the strain of seeking perfection in this area. I’ll never be the best programmer, so I’m questioning how much farther I want to dive down this rabbit hole.

In general, I focus my learning and career on two big areas. These are the guidelines by which I aim my career development:

  • Learn to build
  • Learn to sell

(From Naval’s Twitter thread)

The way I read that is have a specific technical skill and the ability to sell/persuade/get people to buy in. For me, to get more specific, that means becoming deeply technically capability in data and decision theory (mostly applying it to the domain of customer acquisition). My ability to sell thus far has mostly been developed via the written word, but next year I want to focus heavily on expanding on the “learn to sell” side. As such, I’m taking a few negotiation courses and hoping to increase my leadership and management scope in my role. Additionally, I’ll take more speaking gigs and work on oral presentation skills.

Also, this year I started a content marketing agency with David Khim. He’s the perfect business partner, our goals couldn’t be more aligned, and things are going well. We’ve got a handful of clients and I’ve learned more doing this than anything else I’ve done this year. It’s bringing back to me the joy that I’ve found in building startups.

Personal Brand & Professional Development

I spoke at 4 events this year, Growth Marketing Stage, sTARTUp Day, a local marketing event, and an online conference (AB Testing Summit). Found out I really love being on stage and public speaking. Gonna do more of it next year.

Also, I got much better at designing a presentation! I feel like I know how to architect a good story now, largely thanks to practice, feedback, and this book (h/t to Brian Massey for the recommendation).

I keep failing to hit my blog traffic goals (currently around 5k a month), so I’m going heavy on this next year. Would like to be at 20k.

What else?

We’ve got a bunch of projects in the works for the agency, from launching a pet project website called Cup of Kava, to signing more and more premium agency deals, to possibly launching a content product. Weekends and nights are going to be full course press on the agency next year.

Conclusion

Every year is better than the last.

2019 Will Be Even Better (Goals)

2019 was a narrowing of my interests, more “exploitation” than “exploration.” I’m learning what I like to do, where I want to go, and when. I’m also, quite frankly, busier than ever. Part of this is my fault due to poor time management (2020 will be a year of investing in automation and outsourcing for me), and part of it is just the good news that my time is filled up with interesting things. Because of that, I don’t have a ton of new “goals” this year. I’m just pressing the gas on projects already in motion.

Career

Two things:

  • Learn to build
  • Learn to sell

I’m continuing my study of statistics and data. I’d like to take another course in the field of machine learning or statistics. I want to be the best I can possibly be at making business decisions, and I’d like to have an informational advantage.

Second, learn to sell. This is only a heuristic for the softer side of things, but it’s also literal, in that I’m taking negotiation courses and fully diving into that role at the agency.

Additionally, to round out my career toolkit, I’d really like to get some more experience running paid acquisition or in product management. For better or for worse, I’ve got Nassim Taleb’s “get bored quickly” trait, and that leads me to want to keep growing in new avenues.

More quant goals:

  • I’ll do 4+ speaking gigs next year.
  • 20k per month traffic to my personal blog
  • 100k per month traffic to Cup of Kava.
  • $Xk per month agency (I’ve got my goal written down, not gonna publish it here).

This isn’t really a “career goal” per se, but I’m also planning to buy my first rental property this year. I’ve been slowly accumulating information on real estate for a few years, and I want to pull the trigger on a small investment this year. I’d also like to build a tool that uses machine learning, such as a user intent classifier for keyword research or a neural network that predicts conversion intent (there are many conversion pathways on HubSpot’s site, would be a treasure trove to learn which is optimal).

Personal Development & Hobbies

I’m just going to do things I like doing this year and not worry too much about it:

  • Spanish and German learning
  • Skiing and Surfing
  • Playing guitar
  • Anything active/healthy related.

One new thing here is that I’d like to get back into sailing, so I’m going to take some lessons and join a club in Austin.

Other than that, I’ve got no strong goals in the area of hobbies and that’s the way I like it.

Travel

I’m trying to travel primarily for two reasons:

  • Business/speaking
  • Adventure (skiing, yoga retreat, etc.)

Relationships

Fewer new relationships, but deeper existing relationships.

Health

I’d love to get to sub 10% body fat this year. How feasible that is, I’m not sure – but I like the goal. With that comes the usual – paleo-ish diet, lots of lifting and HIIT, yoga, recovery lab, potentially some martial arts, and as much skiing, hiking, kayaking, and surfing as I can do.

Conclusion

I’m excited for 2020. Every year has been better the last so far in life, and I expect as much moving forward.

Alex Birkett
Alex Birkett is a Growth Marketer and Content Strategist based in Austin, Texas. He's a proud UW-Madison graduate and enjoys craft beer, lifting weights, and sailing.

2 Responses to “2019 Recap (and 2020 Goals)

  • Anastasia
    6 months ago

    Hey Alex,

    Great year and awesome goals! I’m glad you visited Ukraine back in April to speak at the Growth Marketing stage and made a contribution to my professional development. Thank you for the great insights you shared during the Content Marketing workshop. It helped me in improving my skills and enriching my knowledge, which resulted in one of my biggest goals come true.

    Have a wonderful 2020 and will be happy to meet in the Netherlands if you’re here by any chance 🙂

    • Alex Birkett
      6 months ago

      Hey Anastasia – thanks for reading and commenting! Funny you mention the Netherlands, I’ll actually be there this February for a week. Will give you a shout then, it would be great to meet up!