Monday, January 7, 2013

What Am I Actually Doing Right Now?

"The Usual, What's Up With You?"

Last week I wrote about the goals I’ve made for 2013.  Long term goal setting helps you keep focus throughout the year on what you determined was important and its rewarding to look back on a year and feel satisfied in accomplishing your major projects.

However, the reality of the situation is that many tasks we deal with on a day-to-day basis are not part of our goals for the year and yet still are important.  These things must be accomplished, regardless if they are on our yearly goal list.

For me, this past week was a week dedicated towards them.  There are a few major projects in my life that demand attention.  The holidays were a wonderful break and it was productive to reflect on the year past and future, but now its time to get down to business.

So what is the business of a returned Peace Corps Volunteer?  Well one thing that is on the forefront of my mind is preparing for my trip to Southeast Asia (hey, I didn’t say these weren’t fun things!).  This coming February I’ll be traveling to Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand for a month.  I want warm beaches and I hear this is a great place to get them.

I’m looking forward to this long term travel because it will allow me to keep a pretty loose schedule and compare notes with other travelers I meet.  Even with that, I still need to set figure out flights, visas, and identify a few accommodations for those first nights in country.  And of course, I want to have some idea of places I’d like to check out to give a little bit of direction to the trip.

I’m also going to be applying for jobs this year (surprise!).  Though my proposed start date is in spring, that will come soon enough.  Updating my resume, networking, and doing industry research is a continual focus to ensure that I enter the job search strongly.  I’m fully confident of gaining employment in 2013; I’ll be even more confident once employed.

Connected to this is thoughts about moving.  Though nothing is off the table, its highly unlikely I’ll stay in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, and even less likely (read: impossible) that I would continue to live at my parents’ house.  The logistics surrounding a move to an unknown city is something I repeatedly tell myself to not worry about, but it still takes up brain space.

Finally, I’ve begun the long-delayed project of revamping my website, updating the design and changing hosts.  Still with great content (he humbly writes..) but a cleaner and more professional layout.  Its all still in draft mode, but my hope is that someday soon you will be greeted by a shiny new looking site.

These are the immediate projects currently on my plate.  Its surprising to me how busy I’ve actually been; I’ve been wondering how I’m going to fit a full time job into all of this.  But just like everything else, I’m sure it will work itself out when the time comes.  Happy New Years!

Monday, December 31, 2012

The Secret To Accomplishing Your Goals

In the New Year, think about some New Goals.
The New Year is upon us, so you know what means. Its time for a new set of goals.

“But Josh, don’t you mean new resolutions?”  No. I don’t make resolutions.  I set goals.  There’s a difference between the two, and it can be summed up like this: resolutions fail, goals are achieved.

Resolutions are usually course corrections, trying to alter the path of something (usually you).  This means that resolutions are inherently negative in their assumption; resolutions assume that something is wrong and needs to be fixed.

Goal setting is slightly different.  Its positive in its assumption, assuming proactive action and work towards a desired result.  Rather than correcting who you were in the past, goal setting believes in your capacity to be better in the future.

Resolution making and goal setting are two sides of the same coin-making effort towards specific results in the future. it just so happens that one side is negative in its origination and the other is positive.


I prefer to go with positive.  I prefer to go with goal setting.  And I think you should too.  This blog post shows your how.

Step 1: Brainstorm and Select

The first thing you must do is brainstorm some goals you might like to achieve in 2013.  A year is a long time, so feel free to brainstorm a lot of goals.  Remember, these are goals for 2013, not goals to begin on January 1st of 2013, you will have time.

Once you have a list of potential goals written down, select the ones you feel most passionate about.  I don’t limit myself to a certain number, rather, I choose any and all goals that get me excited.

Step 2: Make your goals SMART

Once I’ve chosen my list of goals for the year, I begin to make them SMART.  SMART is a mnemonic device used to help make your goals effective.  It stands for SPECIFIC, MEASURABLE, ATTAINABLE, RELEVANT, and TIME-BOUND

Making a goal SPECIFIC means making it clear and defined.  A specific goal has all the w-questions answered, such as ‘What do I want to accomplish’ and ‘Where will it take place’, so there will be nothing vague or ambiguous about it.

A MEASURABLE goal means the goal can be quantified and tracked.  A goal that is measurable is a goal you can determine whether or not you are making progress on it.  A measurable goal has specific answers for ‘how much’ and ‘how often’

It is also important your goal is ATTAINABLE.  Your goal should be possible and achievable, realistic for the world you live in.  You can achieve more than you think you can; this step encourages stretch goals to be made, not extreme goals.

A goal must also be RELEVANT to you.  The goal you make should speak to you and be something that you want to accomplish. Don’t make goals you think you should make, make goals you want to make.

Finally, all goals must be TIME-BOUND.  An appropriate amount of time must be allocated towards your goal and your goal must be achievable based on the actions that you undertake over time.

For each and every goal, I move through the SMART criteria to ensure that all my goals are well written.  A well written goal is an achievable goal.  Here are some examples of the goals I’ve made for 2013 that are SMART:
Meditate at least 10 minutes a day, everyday. 
Practice yoga at least 15 minutes day, 5 days a week. 
Meet or Skype with one new and interesting person ever two weeks for the purpose of learning and networking. 
Attend Dean's wedding in Tuscany.
Step 3: Time and Money

Creating goals is only half the battle.  For most goals the real effort made towards achievement is rarely the act of doing-rather the difficulty is marshaling the resources to invest in it.  Those resources fall into two categories-time and money.

Being financially upfront with your goals is critical to achieving them because quite often when we make a goal, we are actually making a goal to save money to achieve that goal.  A late realization of the amount of money a goal costs is extremely discouraging.

The best way to view this is to estimate the cost of your goal and then divide it by 12. That would be your monthly savings towards achieving that goal.  If you follow a monthly budget, roll the additional monthly goal cost into your budget.

If you do not follow a monthly budget there is still value in seeing what 1/12th of the cost of your goal is.  It makes the goal more immediate in the need to be actionable in saving for it and more reasonable in the amount of money needed.

Doing a quick analysis of time commitment is also necessary preparation for each of your goals.  I like year long goals because it a reasonable amount of time to mentally prepare and execute goals, but also allows the ability to shift our focus to and from and back to the goal, all while still staying within deadline.  But, how much time are you actually asking from yourself when you are setting a goal?

Some goals take no extra time at all because you already make time for it.  An example of this would be cooking one new recipe a week for the person who already cooks often at home.  Other goals, for the sake of initial planning, take no extra time because the goal itself involves taking time off.  An example of this would be going on a vacation to Thailand.

However, many goals are focused on forming new habits.  You are not in the habit of the routine so you are not in the habit of making time for the routine.  In general, if you are not in the habit of acting on the goal in question and it takes more than 20 minute, it makes sense to schedule it into your day.  For more information on successfully scheduling in all that you want to accomplish in your day, check out THIS POST.

Here is how I analyze the same goals as above for Time and Money.
Meditate at least 10 minutes a day, everyday.
-cost: nothing
-time: to be scheduled into day 
Practice yoga at least 15 minutes day, 5 days a week.
-cost: minimal. Already paying $18/month for yogaglo membership
-time: to be scheduled into day 
Meet or Skype with one new and interesting person ever two weeks for the purpose of learning and networking.
-cost: nothing
-time: 30-60 minutes, once every two weeks. 
Attend Dean's wedding in Tuscany.
-cost: estimate about $2200, including airfare (~$183/month)
-time: request time off, estimate about 5-7 days
Following these steps, brainstorming and selecting goals, making them SMART, and analyzing the time and money commitment they require, is the best way you can set yourself up for success as you prepare to execute your new goals in 2013.

How do you plan your goals?  What are your goals for 2013?

Monday, December 24, 2012

How To Wake Up Happy Everyday

Sometimes the arrow is more important that what its pointing to

Right now I’m at a really good point in my life-looking ahead, I see opportunity and success.  Its not so much that the world is my oyster, but rather I’ve begun to see that the world is a buffet of oysters and there’s enough for everyone.  And the reason I feel this way is I’ve become confident in the trajectory, or direction, my life is heading in.

Trajectory is different from a goal or endpoint.  Honestly, its too difficult to pinpoint exactly where any of us will end up beyond a couple months.  I’m talking about the momentum behind me, pushing in a direction.  And this momentum builds as our life experiences, decisions, and values begin to accumulate and coalesce.

Throughout my years of teaching and training, I’ve realized that, though I love teaching, I dislike teaching in high school or college.  I’ve also gained enough experience to realize I’m really good at strategic planning and executing on those plans.  I’ve learned I like working with teams and with technology.  I’ve developed a love for traveling, yoga, and writing; all things I want to take with me in my life.

A few years ago, I focused on the endpoint result.  I focused on the specific company to work for or position I wanted.  I focused on planning for specific experiences I assumed I would enjoy.  All my energy was devoted towards getting to that endpoint.  Now, I focus on those things I love.  I’m confident that, though I don’t know where I’ll end up, if I stay true to what makes me happy I will get to places and positions where I can be extremely happy.

So how do you establish your own trajectory?  There are three focus areas when working to establish momentum in life: interests, values, and introspection.  The more you work on one, the clearer the others become, they are self-reinforcing.  Similar to the momentum you want to establish in life, the more you clarify each area the easier it is to identify the others.

As you work on establishing momentum in life, its important to figure out what actually interests you.  This requires commitment; commitment to experiment with lots of new things in hopes of finding one you like and a commitment to stick with some potential hobbies beyond the frustrating ‘I’m no good at this because I just started’ phase.

Its important to identify a variety of interests because often you enjoy what you’re good at and become good at what you enjoy.  Through developing interests you will more easily see common skill sets you possess.  And skills which we observe in our hobbies are easily transferred into marketable skills for jobs you would enjoy, even if you hadn’t previously thought the job was a viable career path.

Values is another area that is necessary to identify.  For interests you’re discovering ‘What do I enjoy doing?’; for values, you’re discovering ‘What makes me happy?’  This helps identify how your life can be structured so your default state is one that encourages happiness.  The ideal would be a life scheduled with activities and appointments that fit within your value system, instead of having the feeling that your values are at odds with your life.

Travel is a value I possess-I value being able to travel.  Thus, it made sense to begin thinking about a career change from a job which allowed minimal time to travel.  A healthy lifestyle is also something I value, so it makes sense for me to look at cities that encourage this type of living.

Identifying our interests and clarifying our values is important in establishing a life trajectory we can find satisfaction in.  Introspection allows us to be proactive in achieving this and ensuring we stay on track.  Moments of introspection and self-discovery are the times you reflect on whether or not you are actually moving in a direction that makes you happy.

Introspection also encourages openness.  The more in sync you become with yourself, the more in sync the world becomes with you and when that happens all sorts of weird coincidences and synchronicities begin to appear.  Introspection helps you remain open to these moments and further pushes you along.

Think of your trajectory as a fun slide at a water park.  In those first few moments you inch yourself forward; thats the effort you put into discovering those initial interests and values.  Soon you are moving along and having a great time, through no effort of your own; this is the time where your interests and values compliment and reinforce each other.  The raised edges on curves and heightened walls on the slide keeping you from flying off represent the introspection necessary for keeping you on the right path.

In my life, I’ve always been confident.  But this was a confidence in myself and my ability to ‘figure it out’.  Right now, I feel confident in my life’s trajectory, which is something I haven’t really felt before.  Its confidence in the direction I’m heading.  I may not know exactly where I’ll end up, but because I’m satisfied with how I’m getting there I know it will work out fine.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

As One Journey Begins, Another Ends


Recently I had dinner with an old friend.  I hadn't seen him in 5 years and it was great to catch up and reminisce over fantastic nights that probably should have ended hours earlier and other Boulder stories.  I felt he was in a somewhat similar mental space as I am right now, excited and filled with enthusiasm for moldable an unknown future can be.

We talked a lot about what we had been doing and where our lives might take us.  One phrase often repeated was 'Why wouldn't this work!?'.  I really liked the mentality this question presses into you; 'What could possibly stop us from doing exactly what we want to do?'.  Its a question that helps one stay positive and optimistic about what the future may become.

I'd like to thank all of you for reading my emails and posts these past 2+ years.  To know that there were people back home interested in, and proud of, what I was doing was a continually comforting thought.

Now that I'm back from Peace Corps I've decided to conclude these semi-weekly emails.  However, I will continue to document my life adventures on a regular basis on my blog, joshehr.com.  If you would like, you can also sign up to receive email updates from that site (or email me back and I'll do it for you).  I hope it will be worth checking out, this will be a big year-traveling through SE Asia, releasing new products, and more.  I tell you what i tell myself: it will be good!

Additionally, if we're not already connected on LinkedIn please send me an invitation.  And if you feel so moved to endorse me I would greatly appreciate it as I begin my job search.  Connect with me on LinkedIn HERE.

Finally, I'm really excited to announce my second iPhone app, Tap Timer; a simple to use Timer that completely one-ups what comes standard on your magical glowing iOS device.  Tap to start it, tap to stop it, hold to edit it; run multiple timers at once, name them and choose from your iTunes for an alarm.  Check it out HERE.  (And if you missed it, check out Top 3 HERE)

Thanks for all the support over the years and thanks so much for reading what I've put out there and I hope I can continue to catch up with you on the blog.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

What Next?

A lot of you have been asking me what my next steps in life will be.  That's a pretty substantial question and I don't know if I really have a very substantial answer, at least not yet.

I'm looking forward to a bit of rest and relaxation in the coming months.  I arrive home the evening of Friday, November 16th and I'll be staying with my family throughout the holidays.  In early December I'll be visiting Denver and in January I will (most likely) be visiting other family and friends.  Come February(ish), I'll travel to South East Asia for a little beach recovery after Peace Corps.

One of the most common questions asked to me in these ending weeks by Azerbaijanis is what work I'll do in America.  Here's the answer: I don't know.  I will start networking and putting feelers out pretty quickly upon getting back.  I'm excited to begin working again (for money) and I'd like to get back into tech or training and further develop my app business.  A main goal of 2013 will be to get my Yoga Teacher Training and I would eventually like to be earning income from teaching yoga.

At this point, its hard to say exactly where I'll be living once I actually put my name on a lease.  Obviously, work will have a more-than-slight impact on this decision, but currently my eyes are directed towards Portland.  Just to make sure that previous sentence isn't misinterpreted, I'm not saying I am moving to Portland, but I'm certainly looking into it.

One of my very first projects in the US will be to get a phone and I'll make sure to send out all my updated contact information.  Thanks so much for all your thoughts and support.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Azerbaijan, You Will Be Missed

Bye Ilhem and Heydar, I'll miss seeing you all over the place.
Today is my last day in Khachmaz, and tomorrow I will heading to Baku for the last time.  On November 16th, only 5 days away, I'll be flying from Baku to Dallas, after successfully completing two years of Peace Corps service.  There are a lot of emotions going on right now, a bit of fear, a bit of sadness, some giddiness, and some relief.  But mostly there is an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction; the kind that only comes upon the successful accomplishment of a large and long project.

I'd like to share some things that I will especially miss in Azerbaijan.  Writing this now feels a little strange, I'm too close to Azerbaijan at this moment to truly know what it is I will recall in the coming years.  I know I'll be happy about it, but those aspects I take away from the Azerbaijani culture and the many Azerbaijanis who I've shared my 2 years with will probably change as the weeks and months go by.  But as I ready myself to depart and reflect on what has been, this is what comes to my mind now.

I will miss is the guesting experience.  Guesting is a strong tradition in Azerbaijan and the best way to experience its culture.  More than a dinner party, guesting is like a feast held in your honor.   There are multiple courses brought out and the table is overwhelmed with food.  It is rarely possible for a group of people to finish the food set before them; indeed if that was the case it would indicate that the host didn't prepare enough.  I really enjoyed going to my friends' houses knowing that I would be feasted, as if a new thanksgiving was only a phone call away.

I enjoyed the sense of community in Azerbaijan.  This cut both ways, and to an American who is used to anonymity, this can be maddening.  But more frequently Azerbaijan shows itself closer to the ideal neighborhood that families hope for in America.  Your community is involved in your life, and ensures you are never simply a face in the crowd.  You are their brother's friend, or daughter's teacher, or the friend of a friend of their brother-in-law.  No matter the degrees of separation between two people meeting each other, a chain of connections is found to form a relationship.

I will miss the sense of time here.  Already I can foresee the days in my life when I wish I could be back in Azerbaijan and have the ability to enjoy space in my day, rather than meeting planned upon meeting.  I like the fact that time is given to complete a task, rather than finishing a task based upon an arbitrary deadline.  Oftentimes this means far more socializing and relationship building, and sometimes it even results in never finishing the task, but it strengthen bonds and passes the time enjoyably.

Khachmaz has been very welcoming to me, and I will miss that.  Once I go back to the US I will simply be another American, but here in Khachmaz-I'm a big deal.  I will miss making the assumption that everyone recognizes me and probably wants to know me.  I will miss the fact that I can more easily initiate conversation here because, most likely, they have been wanting to talk with me for a long time.  I will miss the fact that me entering into a teahouse, or a wedding, or a shop can be quite the event and people are excited to learn my name and want me to come back.  This is a bit self-absorbed, but its nice to feel a little famous and special in a community, its nice to be the coolest kid in school.

Two years is a long time and I've documented it on a weekly basis.  Contained in these archives are posts that brim with excitement, struggle with anxiety, and, at times, grapple with frustration.  This is life.  But overwhelmingly I am pleased with what I accomplished in the last two years and grateful to those Azerbaijanis who have been a part of my life.  I will not forget those friends I've made nor my time here.

(Many of you have been asking about what is next-a huge, but reasonable, question.  I appreciate your interest and plan on sending an update later this week.)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

2 Years Of Posts Part 5: Keeping Perspective On What Was Accopmlished

This is the 5th and final part in a series looking back on two years of blog posts in Azerbaijan.  Check out the entire set of posts; Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.
Who's having a good time?
Thoughts On A Second Year, Posted July 15th, 2012
And as dramatically as enthusiasm may fall in the first year, confidence builds in the second year.  Almost everything I do or think about now, is accompanied by the though 'I'm so glad I'm in my second year'.  Second year volunteers have a level of confidence and competence that simply are not possible first year.  I've put in my time, paid my dues, and finally the azerbaijani cultural monkey is off my back.  I can sit at ease at dinner knowing how to toast, how to eat my rice, how to eat bosbosh.  I'm no longer looking for visual cues in this culture but I can move relatively effortlessly within it.
This post refers to a mantra that was oft repeated in the second year; 'I'm so glad I'm in my second year'. I didn't repeat this for comfort or stability, it wasn't a consciously called up thought-it simply came to the forefront of my mind during various daily activities.  They could be as mundane as heading to school or brushing my teeth, or it might arise during something more significant like traveling to another region for a training or meeting with the ExCom.  But it was always there, ready to reassure me.

I don't really think that as much at this point.  I'm too close to leaving to be comparing my current year to my first year.  For the past month, most of my thoughts have been focused on how glad I am to get out of this country and culture.  Right now, November 15th doesn't just mark a date of achievement, it also marks a jailbreak, an escape from a culture that has been a great source of frustration and exacerbation.

In these last few weeks I've actually become resentful towards Azerbaijan for standing in between me and getting home.  Its not really fair and its also to be expected-its been a long two years, and though they've been two really good and productive years, they have also been two difficult and unfamiliar years.  This was a great post for me to reread as I do those final preparations that only occur when you are mere days away from making a big move.

It was nice to be reminded that what I'm feeling now isn't the theme of my service, and probably won't be the feelings that will be called up as I look back upon my service once back in America.  Just because I'm mentally ready to leave now doesn't mean that I've been ready to leave for the entire duration of my service.  Rather, I'll recall the confidence I felt when navigating this culture, and the hard won ease I felt living in Azerbaijan.

And that will be incredibly satisfying.