Dan Ymas

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Hitting Refresh: Goals for 2021

2021-1-12

El Capitan in Yosemite National Park on a sunny afternoon
Photo by Adam Kool.

I've been thinking about my goals for this year since the last couple of weeks of 2020.

But it is now January 11th––3% of 2021 is already past and gone––and I've yet to write anything down.

Tomorrow, later, tonight after a martini, in the afternoon after a cup of coffee, I've been telling myself.

But tomorrow passed, later too; after the martini, I was sleepy, after the coffee too wired.

So I'm setting a timer for 30 minutes and jotting this down now because otherwise I probably never will.

I've never officially written any sort of New Year's resolution type goals, so we'll see at the end of the year how it went.


It's been almost four years since I've graduated from college and three and a half since I moved out to Seattle to start my 'adult' life.

I'm now 26 and by the middle of the year, I'll be 27.

I'm engaged as of September of last year and will be married by early next year.

In these three and a half years, I've gotten promoted, I've saved almost half a million dollars, and I've written a book.

I've lived in a tiny one-room apartment with a communal kitchen and have moved in with my fiancé to a slightly larger one-bedroom apartment across the street (with a kitchen, but still no washer/dryer. Small wins.)

Yet the defining mark of these past few years has been an extended and engulfing existential crisis I've been unable to escape.

This existential crisis, I know, is not unique. It's a natural human condition that has been experienced by tons and written about by many.

It's what Tolstoy was writing about in A Confession and what David Graeber wrote about more recently in his essay, On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs.

It's what led Chris McCandless (Jon Krakauer's 1993 article on McCandless is worth a read) out into the wild and it's the reason why Buddhist monks exist.

It's a disillusionment with the world, but also with myself.

It's the feeling that days are passing me by and I'm not doing anything with them; the feeling that every morning is a Monday and I have to wake up and spend 8 hours at a meaningless job; the feeling that I'm living a life that is artificial and full of trivial dissipations.

It's knowing that this year Brad Pitt will make $50 million getting filmed while playing pretend, that Lebron James will make $100 million for throwing a ball into a hoop, and that Taylor Swift will make $200 million writing about her breakups.

And that the rest of us will pick up the scraps.

It's knowing that Ellen DeGeneres has bought a home for $49 million, Trevor Noah one for $28 million, and that yet people will tune in to their shows and adore them because they pretend to be 'one of us'.

It's knowing that all Obama has done since leaving the White House has been to fill his pockets and that the only Change of his years in office has been in his own net worth.

It's the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as I listen to people talk about the latest movie/song/sport's game and realize that all I can think about is how the actor/singer/athlete made more money during those couple of hours than these people will in their lifetime.

It's realizing that maybe I'm just jealous and bitter, that maybe if I was the one making all this money, I'd also be saying "Let them eat cake," while I farted dollar bills.

And really, I'm lucky. I have it good. I have comfortable shelter, plenty of food, and family who loves me and who I love too.

[The timer, if you're wondering, went off an hour ago and I've yet to reach the part where I write down my goals for 2021.]

Anyway, this is how these years have felt. One second I'm doing something and the next I'm knee-deep in an existential shit creek.

I could go on, but for the sake of finishing this post, I'll just get to the point:

Goals for 2021

  • Publish my first book

    • I spent most of 2020 writing what has become my first book. I'm currently editing it for the tenth or so time. Truth be told, I'm scared that it's a hunk of crap, and every day I talk myself out of dumping it in the trash and forgetting about it. But if I don't publish it, I'll never get over the fear. I'll consider this goal "achieved" if by year's end the book is up for sale on Amazon.
  • Be a better partner

    • Come March, I will have been with my girlfriend for five years. She's a ray of sunshine and one of the main reasons I haven't gone off the deep end. We've both grown and matured much over these past five years and this year there are two specific areas I want to mature in:
      1. Body image issues/need for control: Both my girlfriend and I have body image issues and I've often made her feel bad about her looks or about eating or exercising. Many times I find myself trying to control what she eats or doing things that make her dislike her own body. This wrong and damaging and manipulative and not a reflection of love. I think it's a combination of my own body issues along with ego (i.e., the remnants of too much porn and the testosterone-driven wish to be admired, to be dating the hottest girl) and a desire to 'control' my girlfriend that leads to these manifestations. I need to address these things within myself.
      2. Combative nature: I often pit myself against my girlfriend and turn her into the enemy. I'll get some idea in my head and convince myself that she'd never be open to it and so get angry at her without ever having given her a chance. Yet after this anger bubbles over and I've spoken badly to her, it turns out that she's willing to listen to me and compromise. This year I want to train myself to see my girlfriend as my partner and not as a roadblock.
    • I'll consider this goal "achieved" if by year's end my girlfriend and I both agree I've made progress in these areas.
  • Move and buy a house

    • My girlfriend and I are both tired of our tiny apartment. We want a backyard to hang out and grow vegetables in. It's tough because the city we're in––and where our jobs are––is not where we want to be long-term, so buying a house will involve moving to a new city and figuring out the job situation. But when there's a will, there's a way, and we both really want this to happen. I'll consider this goal "achieved" if by year's end my girlfriend and I have figured out our job situation, are settled in our target city, and have started to shop for houses.
  • Learn Italian

    • I practiced Italian for about ten weeks in 2019, so I'd know some words when we visited my girlfriend's family in Italy. I enjoyed it, but I lost motivation after the trip and dropped it. This year I'll take it back up and write about my progress. I'll consider this goal "achieved" if by year's end I can watch a Disney movie in Italian and understand 80%+ of what's being said.
  • Reduce distractions

    • Right after college, I deleted all social media accounts and over these past few years, I've done other small things, like removing the web browser from my phone and reorganizing the apps and limiting my TV time to a movie a week. These moves have all been great for my mental health, but I still find myself diddling away countless of hours on random Internet rabbit holes (e.g., at 2:02 pm I look up some company's stock price and at 9:37 pm I realize I spent 7 hours on some hare-brained scheme to make money that I'll never follow through on.) This year I want to continue to reduce distractions, especially when it comes to the Internet, by spending less time online and being deliberate rather than mindlessly following hyperlinks. I'll track this in my journal and will consider this goal "achieved" if by year's end I've cut down on my Internet rabbit-holing.
  • Worry less

    • As you can probably tell, much of my existential crisis revolves around money and self-worth and the insane way in which humans have evolved from monkeys into the fucked society of today. Is it immoral to buy a $49 million house when people are struggling to get by? Would I do things differently? It's a vicious cycle of worry and stress, punctuated by frenzied sprints in which I decide to also chase money and power, only to realize that I don't care about those things. I want peace. I want to not have to work a meaningless job. But this requires money. And so the cycle starts again. This is––obviously––unhealthy. This year I want to focus my free time on personal projects that matter to me––like learning Italian––and not on worrying or on chasing money or on hating this fucked-up world. The next goal, I think, will help with this.
  • Come up with a life philosophy

    • To me, a life philosophy is a set of values through which you live your life. We all have these life values. The problem is that most of us didn't deliberately choose them and so they were chosen for or imposed on us. Fame, fortune, power are common values––look at who society exalts. Money is a symbol of worthiness, as is one's follower count and job title. But we all have the power to decide for ourselves what we value and to live a life that is true to those values. Stoicism interests me as a possible base on which to build my own life philosophy. I'll consider this goal "achieved" if by year's end I have a concrete set of values on which to base all my decisions and that will allow me to look back at my life 30 years from now and consider it well-lived.

    So that's that. My goals for 2021.

    I'll see on December 31st how these all turned out.

    Best of luck with your own goals.