My Best Self in 2016: A Totally Achievable List of Goals

My desk. But you already knew that.

My Best Self Earns More in 2016 While Working Reasonable Hours

I earned roughly $20,000 more in 2015 than I did in 2014. (2015 end-of-year pre-tax earnings estimated at $63,000, although I’ll have to get you the exact number after December 31.)

I also worked many more hours.

Say what you will about the content farms, but the thing about getting paid $15 for writing 600 words on “how to French-braid hair” is that I could weave that piece together in 10 minutes, strap a rubber band on the end, and call it done.

Now I research, interview, draft, edit, publish, promote, and respond to comments. If I write a really good piece, one that invites a lot of discussion and response, the engagement part takes up most of the day.

So I’ve gotten back into the habit of working from 9 a.m to 9 p.m., minus an hour every day to rack up steps on my Fitbit, plus a few extra hours on the weekends. This has been good for me in the short-term, but it isn’t something I want to keep doing indefinitely.

The best way to shorten my work hours is to earn the same amount of money but write fewer pieces. Of course, I want to earn more money in 2016 than I did in 2015 (I don’t expect another $20,000 jump, but $5,000 would be nice) which means I need to figure out how to earn more money while writing fewer pieces.

I’ve put myself on this path by re-negotiating many of my rates for 2016. But this is a really big goal, and I can’t achieve it just by writing it down and saying it’ll happen. Still, I’ve accomplished a lot this year by telling The Billfold I’m going to do something (live on half my income, move into a one-bedroom apartment) and then figuring out how to make it work. Maybe I can do that with this list of goals too!

My Best Self Figures Out the Social Media Promotion Thing

This is what my Twitter looks like, most days.

I love Twitter and Tumblr. (I’m reluctantly comfortable with Facebook.) But as my career has grown, my social media streams have gone from “here’s me, being a person, chatting about person stuff,” to “Today on The Billfold, I wrote a thing! Today on The Write Life, I wrote another thing! Today on PopSci, I wrote even more things!”

If nobody clicked those links, I wouldn’t bother. But I know they work, and I also know people specifically follow my social media feeds just so they can read my articles.

It makes me feel weird, to look at my tweetstream and see a dozen “I wrote a thing!” tweets in a row. Twitter and Tumblr used to be spaces where I hung out with my friends, and now they’re shifting into something else.

So my goal for 2016 is to find a social media balance I’m comfortable with. This is a terrible goal, because it is not defined and I don’t know what success looks like: am I supposed to write three “I’m a human” tweets for every “I’m a human who writes articles, please read them” tweet? Plus, social media interfaces change constantly, which means the way we use social media is always getting shaken off balance.

Still: the formula is “tell Billfold about goal, figure out how to achieve goal.” Right?

My Best Self Stops Speculating and Starts Asking

The biggest mistakes I made this year all came from speculation and assumption. I do my worst work—and my worst friendship—when I make guesses about people instead of just talking to them.

I always forget, by the way, that I work in media now and I can reach out to just about anyone. “Hi, I write for The Billfold and I wanted to check something with you,” etc.

I’m still partially entrenched in that blogger culture of “well, here’s what I think is going on,” and that’s interesting up to a point, but I’m ready to move beyond it. My Best Self in 2016 stops making assumptions and starts talking to people. (Or, more realistically, sending emails.)

My Best Self Is Out of Debt (Probably)

2016 should be the year in which I get out of debt, if all goes well. I paid down $10,603.45 worth of debt in 2015, not counting the payments I’m going to make at the end of the month. (Some of that $10K represents actual long-term debt, and some of it represents “me paying back a recent purchase I made on a credit card,” but you get the idea.)

Right now I have $10,566.80 in outstanding debt, and when I make my payments at the end of December I should have $8,449.08 in outstanding debt, and by the end of 2016 I hope to have $0.00 in outstanding debt.

But I’ve never felt badly about being in debt, and if something happens to either my income or expenses in 2016 to make that $0.00 balance impossible, I’m not going to feel badly either. I don’t think my Best Self requires a $0.00 credit card balance. It’s a nice thing to have, and it’s a smart financial move, but if I need to take care of myself before I take care of my debt, I will choose myself.

My Best Self Has a Three-Month Emergency Fund and $5,500 in a Roth IRA

It is funny how I’m more cavalier about my debt than my savings, but there are plenty of psychological studies that show people care more about what they have than what they don’t have, so there you go.

By the end of 2016, I want three months of expenses in an emergency fund (which I’m calculating as $1,800*3, or $5,400) and $5,500 in a Roth IRA, probably invested in VFIFX.

Right now, I have $3,263.30 in my savings account, and by the end of the month I hope to have $3,517.70 in there, so I’m almost 2/3 of the way to my emergency fund goal.

Of course, that $3,517.70 represents everything I was able to save over the course of the year—10 percent of my pre-tax income, minus the times I had to take money out of savings to move into a new apartment and cover other financial gaps.

So I’m essentially telling my 2016 self that she needs to save twice as much money next year, somehow. Maybe I’ll earn more! Maybe I’ll get out of debt early and I’ll be able to put all of that money towards savings! Who knows? The best way to start the new year is to set a mathematically improbable goal and then publicly commit to achieving it.

My Best Self Spends More Hours of the Day Not Staring at Screens???

I don’t know, I just think it’s strange that I work all day on my laptop and my phone and then relax by chatting with friends, watching television, and reading books on my laptop and my phone.

Sometimes I tell my Best Self that she should not be doing this. Then my Best Self replies “it is 10 p.m., what else are you going to do?”

My Best Self Spends More Time With Her People (and Figures Out if Her People Are in Seattle)

One of the reasons why I spend so much time staring at screens is that most of my best friends live on the internet. We see each other as often as we can, which usually means four or five times a year, but it also means sitting in my apartment in Seattle and asking myself why I haven’t gotten myself involved in the creative community in this city.

Part of it has to do with the time factor; when you work 12 hours a day and it takes an hour to get out of Ballard, the amount of time you can spend going to readings or events where you stand quietly with a drink in your hand and then try to start a conversation with someone and then go home is limited.

I’m still not sure if Seattle is the best place for me to live. I stuck with it this year, in part because of the tax break and in part because moving to a new apartment sounded like as much change as I could handle, but I don’t feel like I belong in Seattle, not yet. Sometimes I think that the reason I’m here is so I can spend hours by myself in my apartment drafting my novel, as if I created my own long-term writing residency simply by moving to a city known for its introversion.

My Best Self Creates Something Brilliant

I don’t know if this is going to happen in 2016. I don’t know if it’s going to be this novel I’m working on or something else. I don’t even know what “something brilliant” means, except for the idea that it probably involves a lot of people saying “Nicole’s writing made me feel something and/or understand something better.”

The truth is that a lot of people have already said that. Which means that there is another hidden desire underneath, something that has to do with public recognition and money and career security and all of those things people dream will happen to them after they create something truly good.

If I were to clarify this hidden desire in plain human language, it would be like getting an email that reads “Everybody likes you, so we’re going to give you a bunch of money and invite you to be a panelist at this convention. The other panelists are a bunch of people whose work you have admired for years, and you’ll all get to hang out in a green room together and talk about art for a while, and by the end of the weekend one of them will invite you to collaborate on a project, and it’ll be the best work you’ve ever done, even better than the work you did that inspired us to give you all this money.”

And the thing is that every part of that fictitious email has already happened to me, except the money—and then I remember that I earned $20,000 more this year than I did last year, so maybe the money has happened too.

So maybe I already have everything I want, except for the part where I also need to make sure I earn enough money next year to pay my $1,800 in basic living expenses per month, plus $8,449.08 in debt repayments, plus $1,882.30 in savings to get that three-month emergency fund, plus $5,500 for the Roth IRA, plus $1,000 every month in discretionary income, plus 20 percent on top of that for taxes—essentially, I want everything I have now plus $59,317.66 in 2016 income.

My Best Self Earns at Least $59,317.66 in 2016, While Working Reasonable Hours

Now this is a totally achievable goal. This is something I can tape up against my wall and work towards. This is something that, if it happens, will help a lot of other goals fall into place: I’ll be able to go to more events in Seattle, I’ll have more discretionary money to visit friends and family, I’ll be out of debt and emergency funded and Roth IRA’d. I’ll probably even create better work simply because I won’t be writing like I’m running out of time.

And now that I’ve told you what I need to be my Best Self in 2016, I can figure out the best way to get there.

This article is part of The Billfold’s 2015 end-of-year series, “Our Best Selves in the Coming Year.”

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