Pelican on the San Francisco Bay, November 2012 (see below for the photo-behind-the-photo).
This is my typical annual review, a process by which I review this blog, my life (although not all of it is shared here), the lessons I've learned, and some of the growth that's occurred through projects and processes I have (or more painfully, haven’t) achieved and accomplished. This review is tailored towards this blog and my work in psychology, philosophy and online community building; I’ll share each of the sections of the review in categories accordingly, and it’s likely to be a lot longer than most blog posts.
Why An Annual Review?
I’ve been blogging here at It Starts With since May 2011, or for about a year and a half. Previously I wrote another blog for about six months, although I quickly tired of the title and theme and was frustrated with the design; before that I wrote essays for the local Examiner, many of which were cross-posted to create the early archives of this blog. Technically speaking, this site that you're looking at didn't exist until May 2011.
In the past year and a half, I’ve gone from zero subscribers and traffic and very little understanding of WordPress to designing my own website, playing extensively with Google Analytics and MailChimp, learning about subscribers, and interacting with a continuously-growing audience of some of the smartest and most interesting people I’ve ever met.
Where We've Been, and Where We're Going.
More and more I’m convinced that very few of us truly understand the flattening and leveraging power of the internet: with consistent effort and publication of your ideas, you can find people and they can find you. No longer do we need to stay within the same location, job, city, or network, although the previous world constrains our thinking and perceptions of barriers more than we'd like to admit (or even understand). The best books I've read to this effect include Nick Bilton's and Clay Shirky's, among other of my favorite books from 2012.
In conjunction with this revelation that the internet allows us access and influence in ways not possible before, I'm also realizing how important understanding scale is for your objectives: and it's not necessarily that bigger is better. Believe it or not, you don't have to be the most important person on the internet (or in real life). The network size and community size you need is highly variable and doesn't need to be that big--a lot is possible with access to just a few people, provided you cultivate the right niche and community. If you build a community of 100 people interested in knitting across your city, you can create a movement. The first YouTube video just crossed the 1 Billion threshold mark. The world is changing, as it always does. It's exciting.
But back to this particular internet world, my blog:
Every year I sit down and look back at my piles of notes, writing, publication (on and off line) and the last year’s dreams. Dreams and goals are only as good as the number of times you revisit them to take steps or learn why you’re not doing what you want to be doing. Each annual review is typically a two to three-week process of reflection and discovery. Often I’m surprised, delighted, annoyed (and many other emotions) from discovering that in some ways, I’ve done more than I wanted, and in other areas, far less than I wanted.
Two years ago—sitting at this computer, at the turn of 2010 into 2011, I did my first guided writing with an online group, called Reverb and led by Gwen Bell. I wrote and wrote, taking a complete 10-day vacation from my job (just staying at home and reflecting; I didn't travel anywhere. I had just moved back to San Francisco in late 2010, after losing a rib the summer before (2009) and, because I was unable to use adequately much of the upper half of my body, learned what it meant to enroll in disability checks (I am much more acutely aware of government programs to help get you back on your feet) – and both got engaged and later un-engaged during the 2010 year. And at the end of 2010, as many of my close friends know, I made several promises to myself: that I would take my writing seriously, and that I would say Yes to as many adventures and opportunities as I possibly could, and that I would do so with chutzpah, fearlessness, and reckless (okay, not totally reckless) abandon.
Here, incredibly--and only--two years later, I couldn’t have imagined it all. I launched two websites (Landscape Urbanism and this one, It Starts With), wrote a series of essays on living in San Francisco, got accepted to write for Svbtle, and watched as traffic on both of my websites grew steadily month by month. In August, we won a national award for the Landscape Urbanism website, I spoke at six conference and events, I was invited as a Fellow at two design events, and I attended more than 20 conferences, hack-a-thons, symposiums and events throughout the past two years. With strategic planning at my firm and guided by the leadership of our Partners at SWA, I created my own job in Communications within a Landscape Architecture firm and have since taken the reigns on self-teaching and implementing multiple complicated marketing and communications initiatives.
At times balancing the three projects can be difficult--my challenging and evolving job, organizing and running a digital website for landscape urbanism, and this personal site with all of its own projects--but at the same time I find the three projects and all their wily sub-projects continue to intersect in fascinating and serendipitous ways; bloggers who find me later connect to my firm; people who meet me through SWA find that they can apply the psychological inquiries on my personal site to work and organizational strategy; my understanding of cities influences my understandings of systems theory, which in turn reveals clues to how people work. In each project I develop skill sets (writing, design, digital media, analytics), that turn into assets across all of my projects, effectively dialing up my level of expertise across the board. In short, it's worth it, and it's a challenge of its own to find efficient ways to keep myself and the projects (and growing teams) organized and managed. In all that I work on, I emphasize doing as the most effective form of self-discovery and learning.
On the website front: during the last year alone we added almost 2000 people to the subscriber lists on this site and an additional 1000 to the subscriber lists on Landscape Urbanism; by Facebook’s accounting, it seems I met more than 500 people in the last calendar year (which by some simple math adds up to more than a person every single day; not to mention the people I exchanged cards with at every conference; this is probably part of the reason for my late Fall post about saying no to having coffee with everyone). I hosted my first meet-up in New York City and worked with more than a dozen people on starting and initiating their dreams, in effect creating a business through blogging. Had you told me I would be earning side income from my online writing a year ago, I probably would have laughed at you. And the, somehow in the last year, I did.
It's been an incredible year. And it's so much in thanks to you, and to the magical inventors of the internet, and the wheels of society and change that keep things ever-evolving, and with gratefulness towards myself to document, pursue new ideas, do things that scare me and prioritize doing things and making things happen.
Website and Blog Statistics
I am so grateful when other bloggers and people I admire are transparent with their process and publication, and I’d love to do the same for everyone who stops by to read this blog. In the past year (January 1, 2012—December 31, 2012) the following occurred:
- Posts overall: I wrote a total of 75 posts, averaging just over 6 posts per month (surprisingly more than one per week--I wouldn't have said it was that frequent; classic mis-perception in action!). The highest post month was July with 10 posts and the lowest post count (4) was in August, September and December--the latter half of the year got quite busy and I didn't write as much, and I felt it.
- Word Counts: The word count for each post ranged from as low as 39 (some were very short) to nearly 4000 words, with approximately one long essay per month. The long essays--philosophical in nature, recaps of major conferences, or deeper dives into readings and reviews--were among the most highly trafficked posts on the site.
- Site Views: The total site views for the year were 284,404 page views (140,670 uniques) that came from 201 countries around the world. WOW. Thank you for visiting and for reading my words!
- Subscribers: The blog went from 143 subscribers in January 2012 (I had just set up MailChimp the month before!) to 2137 subscribers in December 2012. The introductory email has a 75.3% open rate, and the blog posts have open rates varying between 45%-50%. I've been told that this is hight industry standards, and I'm so grateful--and also always looking for ways to make it better.
- Facebook: I started a Facebook page. Although dubious about whether or not I should, my initial feeling was that I wanted to create a page that was more topic-specific about my writing (and not assume that all of my friends and family wanted to read all of the information I was eager to share), and in the past year, 921 people have joined the conversation; through it, I’ve met and messaged dozens of individuals who share their personal successes with me.
- Twitter: I've loved using Twitter and having a platform for information curation, learning, and talking with people. From curated chats to "stopping by" to say hello, I really enjoy using twitter--although I try to limit my heavy social media time to only once per day or on particular days, and I like using apps like BufferApp to schedule some of my posting so I can maintain a healthy amount of creation and production time.
- Community Connections: I've talked to more than 400 different readers who message me on Facebook and via email to share what they love about the site and what my writing has done for them. Beyond writing just for me as I navigate this lonely-lovely-incredible-marvelous-strange world, I am still floored by the fact that my writing reaches out to so many of you. I treasure your messages.
What’s most remarkable about this list are a few things—first, I have mostly done a terrible job about asking people to sign up for my blog by email (I still only hide it on the sidebar; Derek Halpern and James Clear note how you should put it at the top and bottom of posts or in a header feature bar; these are blogger “must-dos” and I keep not doing them. Plus, I hate popups with a passion.) I'd love to connect with more people, so I'm working on building this out. But... I digress. I like writing so much I sometimes forget about the technicals.
Second, I still have a long ways to go in terms of understanding and learning about Google Analytics and figuring out where people are coming and going from (and how to change “bounce” rates and other key metrics); part of this puzzle is understanding what the goal is in the first place. By and large, my goal is to write and discover ideas, processing and sharing them with larger audiences through publication, and developing a community of people interested in personal psychology, philosophy, starting things and getting things done.
Reader Stories and this Community of Remarkable People.
What Google Analytics and Subscriber Posts don’t tell you is the depth and breadth of the phenomenal community of people I get to engage with online and offline. For the past year, I started to have a trickle of emails and then a steady count of emails come in, now daily, from the stories and musings of people who stumble across my blog. Some of you tell me that you’ve been long-time readers but are only just writing in for the first time; other people send me the most interesting articles and finds (which I LOVE), and several hundred of you have written in with some depth to share with me your stories, adventures, and life lessons to date. Through it, I’ve discovered how tenacious, passionate, and truly enchanting you all are.
I have a folder in my email inbox called, simply, “happy.” I drop a message in there that causes me to break into a grin or sparks a tear at my eye at the overwhelming gratitude I feel at being able to connect with so many people. I love your stories. I am so grateful to know you and work with you and write for you, and I hope everyone knows that.
When people sign up to be a part of the community, I ask them to tell me a couple things—what they’re most proud of doing over the last year, and what the biggest goal that they are currently working towards is. I’ve heard from pHd’s, CEO’s, world-class athletes, students, parents, veterans, government workers, entrepreneurs, teenagers, college students, architects, introverts, extroverts, health advocates, coaches, friends, and even circus performers (I’m not kidding!)
The stories you share are remarkable, and I’m grateful to know you. Thank you for sharing your stories.
The Big Hits (The Best Blog Posts):
The top ten highest-trafficked posts of 2012, in order, were as follows:
- Thank You Letter To Bosses
- The World Domination (WDS) 2012 Recap
- How to Live
- How I Work: Discipline, Boundaries, Freedom and Why The 9-5 Doesn't Always Work
- The Job Problem: You Only Have to Do Two Things
- The Start Something Project: It's Time To Take Yourself (And Your Dreams) Seriously.
- You Have Permission
- Stop With The BullShit: Get Real With Careers and Life
The highest-trafficked posts (and pages) of all time:
- The One-Page Career Cheat Sheet
- Do Something
- 28-in 52 notes: A Year's Worth of Learning, Lessons
- 32 Things You Don't Know About Me
- The $29,000 Birthday Swim
- My Life Checklist
- The Big Design Problem? Designing Your Life
The photo-behind-the-photo (See above). There's always something behind the scenes. (Taken by a colleague at work at SWA).
2012: The Highs & What Went Well This Year
- Travel. I continued to roam the world on weekends, adventures and work trips, from Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, Austin, Portland, Boulder, New York, Philadelphia, Tucson, and Catalina Island.
- Conferences + Events: It was a record year for events, including my first-time at conferences SXSW, Charity Ball, The Feast, Burning Man with IDEATE, hosting my own Water Party, swimming from Alcatraz Naked; Reinvent Business Hackathon, and the Walk+Talk Group in San Francisco. Whew!
- Speaking + Teaching: I gave talks or moderated panels this year at KA Connect (San Francisco), Design Futures Council (Portland), Bold Academy (Boulder), University of Virginia, Berkeley, the PowderKeg’s inaugural conference in Indianapolis, and at University of Pennsylvania.
- Networks + Accomplishments: The beginning of the year kicked off by an epic post by Problogger; I joined Sandbox—an under-30 network of entrepreneurs, innovators and creative world-leaders; and I was named an emerging leader for the Design Futures Council; I shake my head, but I guess this is what it means to grow up and become an adult?;
- We raised $33K for Charity. Damn. We did it.
- Launched The Start Something Project: I worked with more than a dozen people through calls, month-long intensives, and soul-stirring honesty conversations to unpack what was holding them back, deal with fear constructs, and make concrete plans towards building the foundation for an incredible life. By and large, the people I worked with were already stunningly capable, but like so many of us, stuck in routines or hindered by our preconceptions. Sometimes, you need an outside perspective or a kick in the pants. Having worked with dozens of coaches myself (and currently working with coaches!), I cannot underscore how incredible it is to have an ally and an advocate in your corner. The world does not work in isolation--neither do you.
- Did my first Pay-What-You-Can Day and spent a full day collaborating with people in 30-minute sessions to do quick jam-sessions and brainstorming.
- Hosted my first Meet-Up and continued to be blown away by how many people are roaming the globe and making things happen;
- Designed and Launched a Book, "Stop With The BS," by Shane Mac.
The Lows & Other New Lessons
- Doing too much? I run my own metrics for what constitutes “too much,”--instead preferring to follow the rhythm of my own drum and creation than the metric of other's success--but this year, I learned that certain things (namely traveling and conferences) make me very, very tired. I’m a more-introverted-than-extroverted person, and I can usually spend about 2-4 hours a day with people; the rest of the time—give me a book, an idea, a computer, a bed, a project or a puzzle or a filtered way to communicate and I’m golden. I love being alone, and I love thinking. I like being a philosopher. The conferences wore down my stamina, and I need equal and ample amounts of alone time.
- The lows: My grandmother passed away; I was hospitalized in the middle of the summer for a cyst in my abdomen; I dropped the ball on more than a couple of projects; I tested my abilities and failed more than I wish I had; I had to learn hard lessons about saying no; and I failed several of my financial goals, including a reckless period with a credit card that I am biting my tongue over now. This past winter has been especially change-making for growth that's happening on the home front with my family and loved ones.
- Personal goals: On a personal level, I didn’t do the bigger writing that I want to do—namely, essays on a national or regional forum about my areas of expertise (architecture, design, urbanism, communications and storytelling, and psychology); namely, I didn’t spend as much time writing as I wanted to.
- Lags: My efforts blogging dropped off significantly in the latter half of the year behind-the-scenes, which made me (personally) very unhappy; I like to have most of my posts written in advance (about 3-4 weeks’ lead time), and while I had content ready to publish, I still spent a couple of months not writing, despite the visibility of posts on the website; it taught me that it's not about whether or not I write for others, but whether I dedicate myself to a writing practice that really satisfies my soul. Writing and movement are keys to my own soul-stirring work, and without them I become much unhappier. The silver lining? I spent this past holiday break doing an incredible amount of writing, and I am beyond tickled that my writing bug is back. It reminds me that writing, thinking, and solo-time for creation is incredibly precious and important to me.
- Response Rate: For the first time, I wasn’t able to respond to all of my reader emails. I still read every single one, but I think there are a few that I never responded to. I love being able to write back to people, but I’m starting to run out of time to be able to respond to them as they come in higher and higher frequency—I’m not sure how I feel about this. It makes me wonder: what’s the ideal community size? How many people will read this blog? How can I curate an intimate space and create opportunities for connection and learning, even if I can’t get back to every inquiry?
- Confusion. For a while, I’ve been confused about what I’m writing about. Am I Sarah Peck, the SWA Communications lead? Am I Sarah Peck, Editor of Landscape Urbanism? Or am I this writer on this blog? Who am I writing for, and what am I writing, and if my personal site gets more traffic than my editorial website, what does that mean? Do people look to me for advice, knowledge, skills, reviews, practical tips, or my strange-thoughtful philosophical voice? Do people even care what I eat? Does it matter if people care what I eat? As voices started listening and chiming in, I realized that in trying to write for everyone, I wrote for no one, and my writing slowed way down. Sometimes the writing just needs to happen, not because of the product or outcome, but because of the process itself. And in many ways, the answer is yes: right now I am all three of these roles, and here, my blog, is a website about the psychology and strategy of getting things done, about writing, and about my endless curiosity and affinity for life and it's myriad puzzles and conundrums.
Through it all I've learned so many lessons--time and time again--that you don’t always need an end goal to enjoy the process. Despite having a massive Life Checklist, plans for domination by age 30, and multiple audacious goals--some of my projects are unfinished and unspecified. This website is a classic example: I write, simply, because I enjoy it. Moreover, I write because it's the best mode of self-teaching I've ever found. Suffice it to say that this blogger, as always, is still just figuring it out.
As always, I have big dreams for the coming year--some of which I'll hold close to my heart, and many of which I'll share publicly as I go. I've been writing lately around several key themes: movement and consciousness, creating stories, talking about yourself and who you are; narrative storytelling, and the art of asking for what you want. As I push myself through my daily practice of writing and weekly practice of publishing, I'm looking to explore deeper themes, larger lessons, and string together essays that are insightful, useful, and long-standing pieces that you can return to again and again. My goal with this site is to build a resource of tools, ideas, and essays that explore what it means to be human and to live well, and to challenge you to grow yourself, your ideas, and your influence along the way.
I'm turning two of my favorite--and highest-trafficked--blog posts into full-color books due out in early February. The first, "Do Something," was viewed over 100,000 times and has generated more emails and thank-you notes than I know what to do with. Naturally, I want to make it better. The second, "28 in 52 notes," was my year-end recap at the end of my 28th year of life, and I'm turning it into a book called "52 notes," a flip-book (also color) of reminders, inspiration and new essays to encourage you during the year. If you want to be a part of my pre-launch, I'd love to have you on my email list, where I'll be sharing it before I post it on the blogs. If you're a long time reader, you know I'm a big fan of giveaways, too. So sign up, I'll tell you about it first, and let's get ready for a Sarah Peck book or two! Because in the words of one of my favorite emails of all time:
"Dear Sarah, Have you written a book yet? Because I'm ready to read it."
Yes, I'm learning that. And I'm writing.
If I've learned anything, it's that you, too, are incredible. I'm so lucky to have met so many of you. What went well for you last year? What didn't go so well? What surprised you?
I'm curious to know what your plans are for 2013, and what steps you're going to take to make them happen. Every dream requires thousands of little steps, and each step starts somewhere. Perhaps you've been dying to start blogging, but you don't know how or simply haven't started yet. (If you want some advice on how to Kick Ass in 2013, and my personal tips for getting started, check out this interview series by Todd Schnick--I'm in the first minute-long clip). What will it take you to get started, even just the smallest step? What could you do today to make your dream an inch closer to being real? Maybe it's singing louder in the shower, maybe it's emailing someone to ask for advice, maybe it's asking that person out that you've been curious about for a while.
The internet is an entirely new planet for us to discover, and the rules about how the world works is constantly changing. While the inputs aren't fair for everyone, and your life so far is simply a fact, you can still make as much out of it as you want to. The world is moving: let's get moving, too. Let's make things happen in 2013.
Thanks for being here, and for sharing this journey with me.