Reflections on 35

I turn 36 in just under an hour, at 6:52 pm Central time…and for the first time in my life, I’m not worried about the future. 35 was the last year in a trilogy of sorts: 33 was a year in which the life I’d been building since I arrived in Seattle came crumbling down around me, and I had to pick through the pieces and decide what I wanted to keep and what I wanted to let go of; I spent 34 sketching out a plan for existing in the world as my true self, without worrying about fitting neatly into all of life’s blanks; and I spent the last 12 months watching that plan come to life in ways that I never could have imagined, fueled almost entirely by the incredible people in my life.

That’s the quick summary of what the last year has meant to me—here are 35 highlights, in an annual tradition that I’ve borrowed from two of my friends because I like it so much:

  1. Friends & family. All of you really are the heart and soul of my world today. The last time I did a cross-country road trip was in early 2009, and it ended with my arriving in Seattle 7 years ago last night knowing maybe 5 people in the city but determined to make a home for myself. Last night I threw the biggest party I’ve ever thrown for all my different groups of friends (although because of the venue capacity I could only invite about half as many people as I would have liked to), and it was one of the most magical nights of my life. Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart; the last 7 years have been amazing, and I’m looking forward to the next 7 years, and the next 7, and the 7 after that, all the way out to the horizon.
  2. Real estate. 35 was the year that real estate really came into its own for me—it was exciting, close to overwhelming at times (I’ve never worked as hard as I did between March and August of last year, including my time as a Field Organizer on the Obama campaign in Ohio in 2008), and totally transformative in terms of the opportunities it’s given me and the way it’s allowed me to think about my life. None of it would have been possible without all of you, though; so again, thank you.
  3. The birth of my first niece. My younger sister and her husband had their first child in September; I was fortunate enough to be able to be there when she was born, and I saw her again as a 4-month-old when I drove through Texas on the road trip last month. I have lots of friends and cousins with kids, but the feeling of cradling my own niece in my arms is something else entirely.
  4. Dating. This was by far the best year I’ve had, dating-wise, in the last three years—I went on precisely three first dates while I was 35, but one of them in the beginning of the year turned into a great relationship that lasted most of 2015, and from which I learned an enormous amount. Hopefully 36 holds more of the same.
  5. The BMW. After wanting one for 13 years, I finally bought my dream car, a brand new BMW 328i. It’s difficult to express in a small number of words what this car means to me and just how deeply happy it makes me, but “a symbol…of the Hegelian synthesis of freedom and stability that is my life in Seattle right now” (as I put it in my long blog post on the subject at the end of my European Delivery trip in October) is a pretty good start.
  6. Seattle or Bust. When I was ordering the car last September at BMW of Seattle, the dealership told me that after I finished my European Delivery trip they could either ship it to Seattle, or to the BMW plant in South Carolina for no additional charge. I of course chose South Carolina, and after I got back from my week and a half driving the car around Europe with a friend, I set to work planning what would become the most epic road trip of my long and storied road trip career—16 states, 31 days, 48 friends visited and/or traveled with along the way, and 8,503 miles, starting on January 4th and ending yesterday afternoon. I tried 6 or 7 times in the last week to write a blog post about the trip itself, but the experience just couldn’t survive the transition into language from the feeling of omnipresent joy and peace and rightness vibrating through my cells. Suffice to say it was a life highlight.
  7. Therapy. 2015 was a very intense year—I started going to a therapist again in July for the first time in almost two years, and it’s been really good.
  8. Admitting that I had no idea what I actually want from my life. This was one of my most important realizations of 2015—it was sometime in the fall, real estate had slowed down to the point that I had plenty of time to sit back and reflect, and I had just broken up with the woman I’d been dating since late January. I suddenly found myself with a lot more time to think about the direction that my life is taking, and having reached a lot of the goals that I’d been striving towards for made me realize that I’d been so focused on my day-to-day life for so long that it had been awhile since I stopped to think about what I want the overarching focus of my life to be.
  9. Personal retreats. As a result of that realization, I took a lot of time for myself at the end of the year and at various points on the road trip to sit back and think about what I want the next 35 years of my life to look like, which was really useful. I’ve got a pretty good list of quiet places around the region and the country at this point that well-suited to this sort of thing—let me know if you want a recommendation.
  10. Being confronted head-on with my white privilege. There was a lot of discussion about institutional racism last year. It’s something that I understood from a philosophical perspective, but it was driven home for me very viscerally at, of all places, an environmental conference/retreat on Whidbey Island in November, where the Q&A session following a keynote speech by a woman of color to a mostly white audience went very quickly off-script in a really uncomfortable way that made me see my role in perpetuating the system in a whole new light. It was a revelation somewhat akin to #YesAllWomen a couple of years ago, in that it got me to see the world from a viewpoint other than my own in a very powerful way.
  11. You’ve got a friend in real estate. There was an overlap between #1 & 2 last year, too—one of my closest friends saw how much fun I was having (and, to be fair, also all of the downsides as well as the upsides) and decided to get into the business herself. It’s been great being able to go through this journey together.
  12. Time tracking. When I worked in the Mayor’s Office, I tracked the time I spent working—actually doing work, not just being physically present in the office—down to the minute. It was a great tool for seeing where all of my time was going, so I started doing the same thing back in October for real estate.
  13. Public speaking. I gave my second-best Ignite talk of all time last February, during which I pulled an audience volunteer up onstage and had her give a fully improvised, on-the-fly talk for three minutes with no advance warning. I also spoke about the City’s housing policies at the first City Inspired forum in Pioneer Square…which made me realize that I really like talking about local government in front of an audience.
  14. Seattle Public Theater. I’ve had more time to settle in as a board member, and I’m really enjoying it—the second show of our 2015-2016 season, a re-interpretation of Amadeus, is playing now, and we’ve got two more great ones on tap after that.
  15. Sleep No More. I took a whirlwind trip to New York to see Sleep No More after hearing about it from my playwriting group and a couple of different friends. It was my first experience with immersive theater, and I absolutely loved it.
  16. Drinking About Local Politics. One of the things that I missed from working at City Hall was being able to dive deep on all of the issues of the day with a bunch of wonky political insiders…so I started putting together a monthly happy hour with the local political reporters that I know, which has been a lot of fun.
  17. “Can you hear me now?” Talking on the phone is now a mission-critical part of my job, which means that my iPhone’s tendency to drop roughly 33% of the calls that I make or receive isn’t as cute as it used to be. In the ultimate Throwback Thursday, I ordered up a line of Vonage service, Amazon Primed myself a sleek new cordless phone, and regained the ability to call people like it’s 1999.
  18. Afternoon naps. Definitely one of the best benefits of working mostly from home. I was too busy to think about sleeping during the day from pretty much March to September, but when things slowed down a bit in October I started making the most of it.
  19. A new caretaker. I’m the President of the Board for my co-op apartment building (similar to a condo, except that instead of owning your unit outright you own shares in a corporation that owns the entire building), and last year I led the search for a new live-in caretaker after our old one bought a house and moved out. It was the first time I’d run a full hiring process from start to finish, and it was a great learning experience.
  20. Writing the New City. After living a few blocks away for 5 ½ years, I finally took my first Hugo House class after a friend forwarded me the listing. It was taught by The Stranger’s Charles Mudede, and the topic was writing about the changes happening to different neighborhoods in Seattle. I loved it, for a lot of reasons; it definitely won’t be my last class there.
  21. A singing telegram. One of my good friends had a Salon of Shame-style birthday party that involved everyone reading an embarrassing journal entry from their past. I was out of town, but unbeknownst to the birthday girl I hired a singing telegram actor to dress up as my future self and show up at the party to read one of my old journal entries for me. He was apparently a big hit; it still makes me smile just thinking about it.
  22. HUMP! After hearing about it for years, I finally went to Seattle’s premiere amateur porn festival for the first time with a bunch of friends. I had no idea what to expect going in, but it turned out to be more or less a series of mini-documentaries about the sex lives of ordinary Seattleites, which was fascinating.
  23. Trying Google Cardboard. Google Cardboard is pretty much the bottom of the barrel as far as VR technologies go—it’s just a little cardboard enclosure that you slide your phone into—but when I used it at a friend’s house with one of the NY Times VR stories, it blew me away. The revolution is coming.
  24. A playlist system for the ages. After a long dry spell of iTunes genius mixes and large, hastily-thrown-together mishmashes of different kinds of music, in preparation for the road trip I sat down and carefully organized my collection of more than 11,000 MP3s into 71 playlists spanning 5 different taxonomic systems. As with any first draft, it’s still a work in progress, but it’s far better than anything I’ve had before.
  25. Shopping. I finally started investing in my wardrobe in a meaningful way, including ordering some custom-fit shirts and pants from Trumaker and Trunk Club and discovering the joy of clothes shopping, something I used to do only when forced.
  26. A morning routine. One of the big lessons I learned this past year was that I need time for relaxation and reflection built into my daily life, otherwise it’s going to disappear whenever I’m really busy. In late October I came up with a morning routine and started going to bed early so that I could have two full hours every morning before I even turn on my phone…and it’s been one of the most transformative things that I’ve ever done for myself.
  27. A truly great habit-tracking app. I’ve dabbled with different apps over the years for building daily habits that don’t fit well onto a traditional to-do list, but it wasn’t until Productive that I truly found my muse. I can’t say enough good things about it—if there are habits that you’re trying to build, do yourself a favor and download it today.
  28. Sending cards. One of my resolutions last year was to be better about sending birthday cards and holiday cards—I did a great job with the former and a decent job with the latter, but there’s room for improvement on both fronts this year.
  29. Reaching for my phone less often. I bought an Apple Watch last year after my first-generation Basis B1 gave up the ghost, for two main reasons—the ability to get notifications from my phone without taking it out of my pocket, and the sheer amount of information that I can get on the front screen with just a quick glance at my wrist. I couldn’t have been happier with my choice; it’s amazing how much of a difference those two things make, and how much less time I spend looking at my phone as a result.
  30. Selling the Fit. The only downside to buying the BMW was having to give up my trusty little Fit. Luckily, though, I ended up selling it to a friend who I know will give it a good home and get good use out of it. It was my first time completing a private-party car sale to someone who wasn’t a family member, so it was also a good learning opportunity.
  31. The new Star Wars movie. I’ve seen The Force Awakens three times now in three of the best movie theaters in the world—the Pacific Science Center IMAX and the Cinerama in Seattle, and the holiest-of-holy Chinese Theater in Los Angeles—and I’ve liked it more each time. I re-watched Episodes I – VI between the first and second time, too, which really helped me appreciate it more fully…and, if I’m being honest, my high school self is really glad that a non-James Cameron movie finally beat Titanic’s domestic box office record from 1997 (and Avatar’s too, for good measure). Next stop: taking down Titanic’s #5 spot on the inflation-adjusted all-time box office list.
  32. An accountant of my own. After doing my own taxes for 19 years, I’ve finally enlisted the help of a professional ally—I’m a long way from the 1040 EZs of my youth, and it’s been great to have someone who can answer all of the questions that I have throughout the year.
  33. A sharing economy listserv. As an experiment, I set up a Google group for a group of my friends that’s kind of like a private version of the “Community” section of Craigslist; it’s been going well so far.
  34. Actually using my CRM. It sounds mundane, but as a real estate agent I live and die by my sales pipeline—I was using a jury-rigged setup that was held together by the electronic equivalent of duct tape and pipe cleaners for most of 2015, so once things slowed down a bit I spent a lot of time in the late fall and winter building out a much more robust system, and it’s made a huge difference in my daily workflow.
  35. Transitioning from a mindset of scarcity to a mindset of abundance. I never would have thought of myself as seeing the world through a lens of scarcity, but in hindsight that’s exactly how I’ve structured my life since college. I spent most of my twenties with one foot out the door of wherever I was, constantly oriented towards some distant, better version of the future, always chasing whatever new experiences were waiting for me around the next corner. Even after I settled in to Seattle around 30 and started putting down roots, I spent a long time worrying about what my life lacked instead of enjoying everything that it had—worrying that I would never find a career that felt right to me, that I would never really fit in, that I would die alone and unloved. I remember very clearly the moment when that changed. It was last November, my first full year as a real estate agent was wrapping up, and I was surrounded by a community of people the likes of which I could never have imagined even a few short years ago. I had just had the kind of conversation with a very close friend that shows you how deep the bond is that you share…and I was suddenly overcome by this incredible feeling of peace and invincibility and utter calmness, like it was OK for me to stop worrying about the future because I had finally arrived at that better place I’d been trying to get to for all these years. That was the spirit with which I entered into the road trip at the beginning of the year, and the spirit with which I’m now entering into my 36th year of life. It’s been a long time coming, but I’ve finally reached Peak Sol; I have no idea what the next 12 months have in store for me, but I can’t wait to find out.

The first year of the Civic Minute, by the numbers

In scanning this week’s news to get ready for the one-year anniversary edition of the Civic Minute, I was reminded of how omnipresent the year-end wrap-up article has become…and then it occurred to me that I could do one of my own! The Civic Minute, for those of you who aren’t familiar with it, is my weekly wrap-up email of local political news for Seattle—it’s technically also my real estate marketing newsletter, but its only job there is to remind everyone I know once a week that I sell real estate. It’s specifically designed to be useful and relevant to anyone who lives in Seattle, even if you don’t care at all about real estate.

As many of you know, I love tracking my Civic Minute metrics, and I know a lot of you like to follow along from home, too (thanks for all the help in ranking subject lines on Facebook each week). So without further ado, I present the first year of the Civic Minute, by the numbers:

Subscribers

I started the Civic Minute in late November of 2014 by sending it cold to a small group of about 50 beta testers. I made a lot of tweaks over the course of December of 2014 based on the input I got from that group, and once I saw how excited people were to get it every week, I decided to launch it wide the first Sunday in January. That first email went out to 1,587 people on January 4th of this year, each of whom was handpicked by me after carefully going through my database and choosing people I thought would like it.

Since then, a total of 175 people have unsubscribed (about 11%), 390 new subscribers have signed up, and I’ve added 73 more people directly. My current subscriber count is 1776…which is kind of a perfect number at which to end the first year :) One of my goals for 2016 is to get that over 2,000, though, so if you know someone you think would like the Minute, please recommend it to them!

Open rates

I spend a lot of time thinking about which subject line will give me the best open rate. My average open rate for the entire year is currently 36.8%; here are my top 10 most-opened subject lines from 2015:

  1. 50.9%, 1/4/15: Welcome to Sol’s Civic Minute! What’s happening in Seattle, in 60 seconds per week.
  2. 44.7%, 8/16/15: Little girl + crows = lawsuit; the City calls for a voluntary 10% reduction in water use; and more…
  3. 43.6%, 5/31/15: [Civic Minute] Barefoot Ted answers the mystery of those little self-propelled wheels, the City cracks down on medical marijuana, and more…
  4. 43.2%, 6/21/15: [Civic Minute] Dive-bombing crows are back–and they remember what you did last summer; the Polar Pioneer leaves town; and more…
  5. 41.7%, 1/11/15: Fun with district elections, a stink-fog explainer, and more…
  6. 41.7%, 5/3/15: [Civic Minute] A new Councilmember is born, Taylor Shellfish decides neurotoxins & oysters don’t mix, and more…
  7. 41.5%, 6/28/15: The Ancient One returns to his people, rainbow crosswalks kick off Pride weekend #LoveWins-style, and more…
  8. 40.6%, 3/29/15: [Civic Minute] 20,000 new units of affordable housing, Comcast: The Reckoning, and more…
  9. 40.3%, 3/22/15: [Civic Minute] Bertha gets a facelift, Cupcake Royale pot cookies, and more…
  10. 40.0%, 4/26/15: [Civic Minute] Rent control takes center stage, William Shatner declares war on Seattle, and more…

Article clicks

Don’t worry, the Civic Minute is in no danger of becoming clickbait any time soon—I choose the content based on what I think is most relevant, but I do pay close attention to what my readers click on in each email. My goal each week is to maximize my open rate, and knowing which articles people want to read most helps with that goal—I usually consider it a win if the most-clicked article is the same as the one that I chose for the subject line opener. Here are the top 20 most-clicked articles from 2015, along with the number of clicks that each one got:

  1. This DYI hack for an air conditioner has nearly 3M views on YouTube (139 clicks, 7/5/15)
  2. Bertha reaches daylight (116 clicks, 2/22/15)
  3. Neighbors elevate themselves to #1 on the Crow Shitlist (83 clicks, 8/16/15)
  4. The Solowheel: transportation solution or Segway sequel? (79 clicks, 5/31/15)
  5. Stuck in Seattle: The Aggravating Adventures of a Gigantic Tunnel Drill (77 clicks, 4/12/15)
  6. Linking brains: Researchers at UW say they’ve done it (67 clicks, 9/27/15)
  7. 1,000-foot-long waterslide coming to Seattle (63 clicks, 1/25/15) [KOMO has taken the source page down, so the link doesn’t work anymore]
  8.  Amazon opens ‘Community Banana Stand’ at Seattle HQ to give away free fruit (63 clicks, 12/6/15)
  9. Inside the Smith  Tower apartment (59 clicks, 4/26/15)
  10. Goodspaceguy: The definitive interview with King County’s perennial candidate (59 clicks, 11/1/15)
  11. Marijuana vending machine to debut in Seattle (57 clicks, 2/1/15) [KOMO has taken this one down, too; apparently they don’t archive their stories]
  12. We made you a present. [Seattlish’s district map] (57 clicks, 5/3/15)
  13. Don’t Be Alarmed: We’re Researching Crows (56 clicks, 10/11/15)
  14. Seattle’s first cat café finally opens doors in Wallingford (55 clicks, 12/20/15)
  15. Nine Questions for Sandi Doughton, Author of Full-Rip 9.0: The Next Big Earthquake in the Pacific Northwest (54 clicks, 7/26/15)
  16. Capitol Hill’s ‘supernatural’ pop machine stays stocked, but how? Nobody knows (54 clicks, 8/30/15)
  17. Sweet Little Mysteries: Discovering Seattle’s Hidden Orchards (54 clicks, 10/4/15)
  18. Former Queen Anne fire station 26 is on the market as a residential property (53 clicks, 3/1/15)
  19. Seattle’s Shoreline Street Ends Map & Photos (53 clicks, 7/12/15)
  20. Seattle’s old brick buildings could see huge damage in big quake (53 clicks, 8/16/15)

And there you have it! Let me know if there’s any other data you’re interested in, or if you have any suggestions for the newsletter.

Thanks for all of your support in 2015, and have a happy New Year :)

On the road again

Until last week, I hadn’t left the country since March of 2011. That’s something that my immediate post-college self would have been blown away and saddened by—but he would have wholeheartedly approved of my reason for breaking that international travel fast last week.

You see, 13 years and just over a month ago, I fell in love with a BMW. It was a black, manual transmission, ’99 328i, and when it arrived one day on the used car lot of the little Ford dealership in Burien where I worked, it was like a visitor from another world. It was love at first sight; after I surreptitiously checked out the keys and took it for a lunch run the next day, it was a foregone conclusion that if I ever had the financial wherewithal to own a luxury car, this would be the one—it was so quick, so responsive, its transmission was so silky smooth, that it seemed like another class of thing entirely from my trusty little Civic hatchback, the economy of which suddenly no longer seemed like the highest virtue to which a car could aspire. The 328 struck a perfect balance between respectability and adventure: it could handle the best driving roads in America without compromise, but you could also fit four people and luggage in it comfortably.

I poked around BMW’s website, visited a couple of dealerships, and quickly decided that someday, if I ever made enough money, I was going to order a brand new one and pick it up via BMW’s European Delivery program, whereby you fly to Munich, drive your new car off the factory floor, and then go gallivanting around Europe for a week or two before dropping it off to be shipped back to you in the States. Nothing truly worth doing is ever worth doing less than flat-out, as far as I’m concerned.

It was definitely a dream deferred, though—at the time, my focus was on living as simply as possible to pay off all of my college debts and save up enough money to travel all the way around the world without flying. I saw the path that led to the BMW as antithetical to my chosen way of life, such a distant possibility that it quickly came to represent the temptation to abandon my values rather than something to which I actually aspired. I gave up on ever actually owning my dream car, but the dream never went away.

My younger self and I had a lot of adventures together in the years that followed, including, when I was 29, choosing stability over freedom and settling down in Seattle once and for all, with no intention to leave this time. That was how I thought about it—my life was a binary in which I could either have freedom or stability, but never fully both. I wasn’t going to compromise one value for the other by, for example, becoming a travel writer, which on its surface would have allowed me to keep pursuing my passions long-term but in my mind would have corrupted the travel impulse by tying it to work.

My solution to the problem was to plan on going to nursing school (I had other reasons, too, some of which were more important, but this was the aspect of that decision that’s most relevant here), which I reasoned would allow me to continue living out my binary work/travel cycle, building a life where I could have both, in full measure, indefinitely. I figured nurses were so highly in demand that I could just up and quit my job whenever I wanted to travel for months at a time and not have to worry about finding another job when I got back, plus there was always travel nursing for living abroad in one place at a time for extended periods. I signed up as a volunteer at a local hospital and discovered that I enjoyed the work, so I started taking my pre-requisite classes in preparation for applying to the UW’s 2-year BSN program.

Nursing school got put on hold, though, when I got wrapped up in the McGinn for Mayor campaign back in the summer of 2009. McGinn offered me a job in his administration after he won the election; I said yes, and I’m not sure that any single decision I’ve ever made has had a larger impact on my life. The job itself was great, but unbeknownst to me at the time, its greatest gift was the incredible network that it left me with after the administration ended and I found myself in need of a new mechanism through which to exchange my time for money.

The decision to become a real estate agent was something the undeniable rightness of which I recognized immediately as soon as the idea popped into my head. Working on commission was a deep part of my soul that hadn’t been fed in over a decade; I was ready to be my own boss; I liked the idea of being able to pay off the mortgage on my co-op apartment so that I’d be free to pursue the things I was most passionate about without being limited by money; and I figured that I knew enough people in Seattle that at least a couple of them would be willing to trust me enough to help them buy a house.

So I jumped in, not knowing what to expect and fully intending not to make my first sale for 12 months, which was one of the possibilities I’d been warned about. As far as I was concerned, if I could make my modest Mayor’s Office salary by the end of year two I’d be doing great, and if I really played my cards right I might reach a point in 5 years where referral traffic was keeping me in business without my having to go out and beat the pavement to find new clients.

To say that things went better than I could have possibly imagined would be an understatement. I got my license in August of last year and reached out to everyone I knew to let them know I was in the business in mid-September. People I knew started reaching out directly wanting to work with me; by October it was already a more than full-time job, and by December I had sold three houses already. Last Christmas I dared to dust off my old dream just enough to keep me motivated: the 328 was the only big-ticket item I’ve ever wanted that money can buy, so it became my goal. Things kept going amazingly well—at this point I’ve sold 20 houses in the last 12 months, and all of my clients have either been people from my existing network or direct referrals. My real estate career is already at the point I thought it would take me 5 years to reach, for which I feel incredibly fortunate.

This past Spring was the busiest period in my professional life to date. At some point in May, at the height of real estate’s silly season for the year, I decided that I was ready to place the order for the BMW. A few days later I was getting dinner with a good friend, and she told me about a bucket list item of her own in the Czech Republic that already had a date attached: October 15th. It was another decision that made itself—I suggested that we combine our trips, she thought it was a great idea…and just like that, taking European Delivery on a new BMW went from an abstract concept to something with a specific orientation in time and space.

On the road again

I went into BMW of Seattle, put the order together, and set a firm pickup date: October 12th, 2015. It still didn’t seem entirely real to me, though, right up until the moment this past Monday that I found myself in the BMW flagship showroom in Munich standing in front of the most beautiful car I’d ever seen, operating on four hours of sleep due to a combination of residual jet lag and childlike Christmas-day-style anticipation and separated by my hotel for the night by hundreds of miles of Autobahn and twisty driving roads leading up and over the Austrian Alps.

The car has become a symbol for me of the Hegelian synthesis of freedom and stability that is my life in Seattle right now. I used to write in my journals about my “travel impulse,” that gnawing hunger in my belly that cared less about the destination than it did about the constant meditative motion of the open road. I thought about it alternately as a subtle self-doubt, driving me on to prove that I was capable of existing totally on my own without reference to the support network that I’d had from birth to 22; an obsession with filling my life with as many new experiences as I could; and a desire to front-load my retirement while I was still young enough to fully enjoy it, a non-monetary form of compound experiential interest that’s still bearing fruit in my life to this day. As soon as that hunger went away, I thought, as soon as my appetite changed to things that were more easily accessible and that tied me to one place (a mortgage, a wife & kids), the next phase of my life would begin, with stability as the guiding principle instead of travel.

My life since the Mayor’s Office has shown me the middle path instead, a perfect balance between freedom and stability that’s driven by the essence of my travel impulse, curiosity and joyful exploration and play, but in the context of a loving, supportive community who enable me to be true to the deepest parts of myself in a way that the freedom of the open road never could. Being able to share this trip with a good friend has been wonderful, and I’m in the midst of organizing a month-long cross-country progressive road trip with different groups of friends to help me get the car to Seattle from BMW’s Performance Delivery Center in South Carolina, where I’ll be picking it up in early January (we just dropped the car off with the shipping company in Vienna earlier this afternoon, and I miss it already).

Real estate has really helped in making this lifestyle possible, not only monetarily but also by interweaving my personal life and my work life in a way that honestly doesn’t even feel like work most days. My friends have been just as important in more ways than I could list here, one of which has been helping me see that stability and stagnation are two very different things, and that it’s very possible to have the former without the latter. My life in Seattle right now feels perfectly balanced, with my need for freedom and my need for stability each helping to sustain and nurture the other.

And that’s ultimately what the BMW represents to me: the joining of what I’d previously thought of as two disparate life goals into one unified and seamless whole, just as uncompromisingly in its element on the best driving roads in California as it is on a quick trip to the store to get groceries with a couple of nieces or nephews in tow. It’s the perfect symbol for this time in my life—and I’m looking forward immensely to getting it back to Seattle in January with a little help from my friends.

Hey Seattle! Have you voted in the August 4th primary yet? No? Let me help you with that…

sticker_ivoted

1. Make sure you’re registered

If you’re not registered to vote at your current address in Seattle, stop what you’re doing right now, go to the Secretary of State’s website, and register to vote. It’ll take you about 2 minutes, and we’re extremely fortunate to be able to register to vote online here, so you should take advantage of it. It’s too late to register for the primary (unless you register in person downtown — and you should tell me if you do, because there are few things in this world that would make me happier), but at least you’ll be able to vote in the general election in November.

2. Be sure you have your ballot

If you are registered to vote at your current address, you should receive your ballot in the mail this week; they’ll be going out in the mail starting tomorrow (Wednesday, July 15th). If you haven’t received your ballot by next Wednesday, July 22nd, go to King County’s replacement ballot request form to ask for a new one, or call King County Elections at 206–296–0100.

3. Remind yourself why this is important

This November’s election — with district elections for the first time since the 70′s and all 9 Councilmembers running simultaneously — is basically the local electoral equivalent of combining the Super Bowl with the World Cup and the Breaking Bad series finale, except that it only happens once every 40 years, and instead of watching from the sidelines, we all have a part to play in how it turns out. I know you already vote in Presidential elections, like 85% of Seattleites. But if you care about affordable housing, mass transit, traffic during rush hour, public safety, police reform, or zoning changes in our neighborhoods, guess who makes the policies that effect all of those issues? That’s right — all these City Councilmembers we’re going to be electing. And turnout for local elections (which take place in odd-numbered years) is generally around 30% in primaries and 50% in general elections.

Who are the 30% of us who are going to vote in this primary, you ask? I took a look, using the most current data from the 2008–2012 American Communities Survey for population numbers (as parsed by Wolfram Alpha — click on the “more details” button underneath the graph) and data on the makeup of the 2013 primary electorate from Ben Anderstone. These were the results, by age range:

  • 18–24: 13.8% of the voting population, 2% voter turnout (14.5% representation)
  • 25–34: 24.9% of the voting population, 11% voter turnout (44.2% representation)
  • 35–49: 26.6% of the voting population, 24% voter turnout (90.2% representation)
  • 50–64: 18.3% of the voting population, 32% voter turnout (148.1% representation)
  • 65+: 11.1% of the voting population, 31% voter turnout (236.6% representation)

As you can see, we can learn a lot from our elders. It’s important for everyone to vote, but if you’re in that 18–34 age bracket it’s especially critical — you’re going to be most affected by all of the changes that are happening to our city, but right now you’re the least represented when it comes to choosing the elected officials who are making those decisions. If you’re not registered to vote at your current address, go register right now so you can vote in the general. If you are registered to vote, be sure you actually do it! The August 4th primary is the election in which we’ll be narrowing the Council field down from the 47 candidates who are currently running to just the top 18 who will be on the ballot in November; it’s an important one.

4. Keep in mind how mind-numbingly easy voting is in Washington

It’s so easy that someone (your postman or postwoman) literally brings a ballot to your home; all you have to do is take 5 minutes to fill it out over a cup of coffee in your pajamas, put a stamp on it, and send it back in. If you prefer not to mail your ballot, you can also drop it off in person at one of 6 locations in Seattle. There’s honestly no excuse not to vote — unless of course you hate America, Seattle, and/or freedom.

5. Find your Seattle City Council district

To find your district, go to the City’s Council Districts page for maps of each district, or look up your address on the County’s lookup tool (note that this will also give you your state legislative district, your County Council district, your precinct, and your Congressional District). Now you know which of the 47 candidates running for City Council this year you’ll see on your ballot!

6. Figure out who you’re going to vote for

If you’re not sure which of them to vote for, there are a number of places you can go for assistance:

  • King County Elections has customized Voter’s Guide tool on their website, if you want to read the official candidate statements for the races in which you’ll actually be voting but you don’t want to dig through the paper voter’s guide you get in the mail with your ballot to find them.
  • The Progressive Voters Guide lists candidates they consider to be true progressives and tells you who they’ve been endorsed by, but in races with multiple progressive candidates they don’t tell you who individually you should vote for.
  • The Municipal League rates candidates on a scale of “Not qualified” to “Outstanding”. Their user interface isn’t great, but if you sort by “Locality”, it’s easy to go down the list of Seattle candidates. They’re more interested in competence than they are in political leanings.
  • The Stranger can always be counted on for severely biased, profanity-laced, and generally entertaining picks by their young, urbanist, progressive editorial staff.
  • The Seattle Times, whose ed board is decidedly older and more conservative than The Stranger’s, makes a nice counterweight if that’s more your scene.
  • KUOW did a series of short interviews with every candidate, if you want to hear them in their own words.
  • And there have already been a bunch of candidate forums this year; search your neighborhood blog or do a quick Google search for candidate forums in your district to see what’s out there.

7. Vote by August 4th!

In order to be counted, your ballot has to be either dropped off at a drop boxby 8 pm on Tuesday, August 4th, or put in the mail and postmarked by, again, Tuesday, August 4th. Generally speaking most blue Post Office drop boxes have their last pickup at 1:30, and most post offices have their last pickup at 5:00, so keep that in mind.

8. Way to go, Seattleite :)

Once your ballot is safely on its way to King County Elections, hold your head up high and be proud of yourself — by voting in a local primary election, you just did something that 70% of your fellow Seattleites won’t do this year!

Welcome to the club.

Reflections on 34

After being inspired by a friend who writes a birthday blog post each year with x  things she’s enjoyed about being x years old, I wrote my first birthday reflection post last year recapping 33 in 33 paragraphs. It might have been able to pass for a listicle if it weren’t for the fact that it was 7,242 words long—I’ll try to keep the length down this year :)

34, for me, was the back nine of a two-year transition that started a few days after I turned 33. It picked up in media res a month into my post-McGinn freedom, most of the way through 15 days in Seattle with no electronic connections to the modern world, as I thought deeply, for perhaps the first time in my life, about not what I wanted to do for a living or what kind of an impact I wanted to have on the world but about what I wanted my life to look like, as an integrated whole. Now, a year later, I’m more deeply and sustainably connected to my place, my people, and my purpose than I have been at any other point in my life. Thank you to all of you for your role in that. Here are some of the highlights of my year.

  1. By a wide margin, the best thing about my 34th year of life was the strength of my relationships—I carved out plenty of time for the people I care most about, and that’s made all the difference. If I had one wish for 2015-2016, it would be for even more time to be able to spend with each of you. This entire list could easily be a catalogue of the best events, dinners, birthday parties, weddings, and conversations of the last year without even scratching the surface.
  2. Real estate has been pretty high up there, too. I’ve never done anything for a living that I’ve enjoyed this much, and after selling four houses in my first 5 months of doing this full-time, I’m doing much better than I thought I would be at this point when I started out. Professionally speaking, I’m exactly where I need to be, and it feels amazing.
  3. I’m LOVING Sol’s Civic Minute!I’d been looking for an excuse to send out a curated weekly email of local news for the last three years, and making it my real estate newsletter turned out to be the perfect reason to actually start doing it. It’s been really gratifying to hear that other people enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it, too.
  4. I turned over a new leaf towards the end of last year when it came to writing physical cards to friends on a regular basis, starting with birthday cards and thank-you cards and culminating in a small but completely handwritten batch of holiday cards at the end of the year. I plan on expanding my practice this year.
  5. Although I let it fade when I got busy with real estate, I re-launched Organizing for Seattle after the 2013 McGinn campaign with a friend from the campaign to give progressive activists from around the city a neutral space to mix & mingle in between election cycles.
  6. Before I made the jump to real estate, I took advantage of my post-Mayor’s-Office sabbatical to do a lot of traveling, with friends and to see friends—New York, Portland, the best Vegas trip of my life (and the only time that I’ve truly enjoyed the city), a truly epic road trip through the mountain west, and lots of good camping and backpacking in the area, to name but a few.
  7. I gave what I consider the best on-stage performance of my life last February with an Ignite Seattle talk called “All I Really Need to Know I Learned as a Car Salesman.” True to its name, it contains some good nuggets I learned on the car lot that have served me well every day of the 11 years since I moved on from the profession.
  8. I self-published my first book, a compilation of posts from this blog from 2013 and 2014 that, taken together, function as a sort of autobiography as seen through the lens of my reactions to the central event that kicked off this two-year cycle of rebirth and renewal in my life.
  9. A friend helped me take my relationship with running to a new level by pushing me outside my comfort zone and teaching me to draw strength from the pain instead of trying to suffer through it. Before I turned 34 I’d never run more than 4 miles at a stretch in my life; I ran two half-marathons last year between April and September, and I’m currently training for a trail marathon in May.  I’m not entirely sure that I’m going to be up for it by the time May 9th rolls around, honestly…but that’s the entire point.
  10. The same friend who got me into running also included me on an 8-day bike tour last summer from Vancouver BC back to Seattle via the Gulf Islands and the San Juans. I hadn’t been on my bike in several years when I accepted his invite, so I did an exploratory 23-mile ride around Seattle to assure myself that I wouldn’t be an undue burden on the group the day before we boarded the bus for Canada. It turned out to be an amazing experience, and something that I would never have done if left solely to my own devices.
  11. A friend and I started up semi-regular “chess and steak” breakfasts, which are exactly what they sound like; it feels great to be playing chess again with a fairly evenly-matched partner.
  12. Two hummingbirds started a nest directly outside my kitchen window, so as a result I had a front-row seat for the entire lifecycle of two baby hummingbirds, from eggs to hatchlings to the last time I ever saw them before they flew out of the nest for the first time, never to return.
  13. I served as a volunteer car-buying adviser for several of my friends who bought new (or at least new to them) cars, and I loved being able to lend my expertise in that way. If you or someone you know is thinking of buying a car—please, by all means, reach out.
  14. I started taking salsa classes at the Century again—I can’t say that I’m an amazing dancer, but I have a lot of fun out on the dance floor anyway. Perhaps there’s a metaphor in there somewhere about my life…
  15. I checked an item off my bucket list with a really firm checkmark by taking both a Ferrari and a Lamborghini for a spin, plus a really high-end Porsche just for good measure.
  16. A friend loaned me the whole Sandman series, and I fell in love with Neil Gaiman’s imagination.
  17. I went salmon fishing for the first time with a friend from New York, and when we got back to town I drove around and gave everything that we couldn’t eat to friends in town.
  18. I finished taking the full course of improv classes at Unexpected Productions by the market, something I’d highly recommend to anyone interested in improving their performance and storytelling skills.
  19. Speaking of storytelling skills, I took another playwriting class, finished and then started re-writing the play I wrote last January, and had professional actors do a reading of a 10-minute play that I wrote. Suffice to say I’m hooked.
  20. I’m also, as of last month, a board member at Seattle Public Theater. I got to know their Artistic Director first through the Mayor’s Office and then through the 2013 campaign, and she reached out to me to see if I’d be interested late last year. It’s been great so far.
  21. I did SIFF right this year with a full 20-pack that I put to good use—if you haven’t seen Happy Christmas or Boyhood, I recommend both of them highly.
  22. A friend and I started an internal Google group for our common group of friends to share events that we’re going to with each other. It’s been working beautifully, simply because everyone on the list knows each other really well already. If you’re not on the list, don’t feel bad—it just represents one specific group of friends out of the many overlapping circles of friends that I have in Seattle. I highly recommend the model, though; ping me if you want help setting up your own.
  23. I went to my first Moth Story Slam in Fremont, and gave a spontaneous version of the story of my tattoo that went over really well with the audience.
  24. As you may know, I began supplementing my diet with Soylent about the same time that real estate really picked up and got busy late last year. The biggest substantive changes in my life have been that I no longer skip breakfast in the mornings and that I spend a lot less money on fast food in general; it’s also had the great side effect of spurring a lot of very interesting conversations with friends, though.
  25. I greatly expanded my podcast repertoire, from the immortal This American Life and The Moth (and of course Serial, during its run) to include other greats like On Being, Snap Judgment, The One You Feed, and Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin.
  26. After reading Born to Run and Go Wild, I began starting my summertime mornings off with a barefoot walk to the grass of my local pocket park and back, literally as soon as I would wake up, so that a direct, physical connection with nature was the first experience of every day. It was a fantastic morning ritual, and I look forward to starting it back up again as soon as it warms up a bit.
  27. Out of respect for my free time and my constantly growing to-do list, I gave my Xbox to a friend for safekeeping, and so far I’ve resisted the urge to take it back.
  28. The Yes All Women hashtag/campaign was really eye-opening to me in a lot of ways. I redoubled my efforts to be a good male ally to the women in my life after reading some of the accounts of the way that women experience the world differently than I do.
  29. As someone who shaves his head roughly every day, I finally splurged on a fancy shaving kit with an old-fashioned lather soap and brush and a bunch of fancy shaving oils and creams and such, for those times when I want to treat myself to a head spa without leaving home.
  30. I was fortunate to be asked to be the emcee for the Hack to End Homelessness, a great event that was spearheaded by a friend of mine to bring together the local tech community with organizations from the human services community to help the latter address technological pain points in their organizations.
  31. Spurred on by a great Cornel West talk that a friend invited me to, I began to deeply re-examine my own spirituality for the first time in awhile, which felt (and feels) really good.
  32. My dating life was better, at 34, than it has been at any other point in my life during which I’ve been single. A lot of things really do improve with age, I suppose.
  33. After years of being frustrated by CenturyLink’s spotty DSL service, I finally upgraded to Comcast cable internet—a minor victory, but an important one that’s had a surprisingly large impact on my quality of life :)
  34. After a long absence, I bought another map to go on my wall. Instead of using it to plot out foreign border crossings for an epic overland trip like I did after college, though, this one is a record of all the places I’ve ever slept in my life—a catalogue of all the places I actually made it out to—and an ongoing reminder that no matter how much I think I’ve explored, whether of the world or myself, it’s only an infinitesimal fraction of what’s still waiting to be discovered.

On joining the board at Seattle Public Theater

I’ve been a casual theater fan for as long as I can remember, from my acting debut in A Midsummer Night’s Dream in third grade to memorizing all of the words to Les Miserables over the course of my youth, making it to state in the UIL one-act play competition as the sound guy for A Lion in Winter my senior year of high school, and taking advantage of ACT’s $10 youth tickets when I lived in Seattle the first time in 2003 and then ponying up for an ACT Pass after I moved back in 2009.

I’ve had a lot of favorites over the years—No Exit at the Undergrounds in college, All My Sons at the Rep and The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? at ACT back in ’03, pretty much every 14/48 that’s ever been performed, Superior Donuts at Seattle Public Theater more recently—but it was just last year that I started thinking of theater in my adult life as something other than a spectator sport.

It started, as it always does, with a powerful idea. Back when I worked for the Mayor’s Office I went to an awards ceremony for ACT’s Youth Playwright Program, which involves teaching artists working with middle and high school students who each write a play over the course of a semester. They performed scenes from a few of them at the event, and I was blown away by how good some of them were. I thought to myself “maybe I should write a play someday,” and then filed it away in my long mental to-do list as soon as the event was over. Fast forward to January of last year, and I noticed an entry for “Adult Playwright Program” on the ACT calendar, decided that I couldn’t justify not doing it, and signed up. I had a great time writing a rough draft of my first play, and I went on to take a second class last October to firm it up a little bit (it’s still a work in progress). A 10-minute short play I wrote was read live by professional actors at our class showcase in December, and seeing something I’d written performed for an audience was addictive.

It was around this time that a friend of mine who works at Seattle Public Theater invited me to the opening night of Slip/Shot there. I’ve been a fan of SPT for awhile because of their willingness to do edgier theater that has something to say, and after the play she reached out to me about joining their board. I’d been planning on transitioning off the board at my co-op this year anyway, so I was looking for another board to join, and it seemed to me like a great way to give something back to an artistic community whose work I’ve really enjoyed the entire time I’ve been living in Seattle.

Over the course of the next few months I went to board meetings, met the staff, and generally got to know the organization and let them get to know me, and in early January the Board of Directors voted to make me an official member! It’s been fun diving in and getting started already.

Humble Boy

My first official act as a board member of the theater will be to co-host a Board and Friends reception before the opening-weekend performance of Humble Boy this Saturday night at 6:45, and as the friend of a board member I’d love for you to join me! I’ll be reprising my bartender role from my college days and serving free wine and appetizers, in case you need a reason to come other than watching great theater. Tickets for the play are $32, and you can buy yours here—it’s a heavily Hamlet-inspired comedy about “a socially awkward scientist who deftly links the cosmology of bees to black holes, but cannot fathom the mysteries of love and family,” and it all takes place in a Downton Abbey-style English garden estate.

RSVP on Facebook if you can make it, and hopefully I’ll see you there!

On Soylent

Soylent

As most of you know, I love to eat, and I also love to take my time when I do it. My ideal meal is reasonably good for me, takes 30 minutes or so to cook, and is enjoyed at my leisure over the course of an hour or more, depending on how much time I have. Because I don’t always have time to eat good food on my own timeframe and I don’t derive much satisfaction from eating while rushed, I’ve often looked for ways to maximize both my calorie-to-dollar ratio and my time-to-calorie ratio. During my extensive college road-tripping days I developed a system of trail mix, tuna snacks, and SlimFast (don’t worry, just for the extra calories—I would drink it instead of water) that I could eat quickly and easily while I was on the road. Protein shakes and quick & simple staple meals have long been part of my core diet, and my last year in the Mayor’s Office I started packing trail mix for lunch to save time and money. In the last 2 ½ months, though, real estate (which has been going incredibly well; I’ve already sold three houses, two of which have already closed and the third of which is on track to close in mid-January) has been keeping me even busier than I was when I was working at City Hall, which has really tested the limits of my ability to feed myself good food while also doing what I need to do.

As luck would have it, the first Kickstarter batches of an ambitious little “powdered food” product called Soylent started shipping towards the end of October, just as I started getting really busy with real estate. I wasn’t one of the first backers, but a friend of mine, who was, offered to gift me his first batch based on my having expressed interest in it last summer. Given my life philosophy of always saying “yes!” to new experiences that aren’t obviously going to be catastrophically detrimental to my health, I took him up on the offer without a moment’s hesitation. At the time I still viewed it more as a curiosity than anything else, though, and my assumption was that it would taste terrible and that would be the end of it.

The origin story of Soylent is pretty straightforward—and also, given life’s tendency to imitate art, probably inevitable. At some point in the recent past, a programmer in San Francisco named Rob Rhinehart decided that eating was taking up too much time that he could be spending coding instead, so he set out to come up with a solution—as expressed in the company’s motto, “maximum nutrition with minimum effort.” What he came up with is a food replacement powder that’s designed to provide 100% of an adult’s nutritional requirements in less than 5 minutes per day. He’s been living on a diet of 90% Soylent (he still enjoys some “recreational eating” with friends) for over a year now, and there’s a great Reddit AMA with him here that’ll give you a better idea of where he’s coming from with the whole thing. As the idea got publicity, gained traction, and generated some actual data as well as a lot of iterations on the original formula, he eventually decided to start selling it to other people. The Kickstarter was a huge success, and you can now buy Soylent directly through the website, with a 2-3 month waiting period for new customers or a shorter turnaround time for existing customers who sign up for monthly resupplies.

I knew most of this by the time I opened up the shipping box I picked up from my friend’s porch in late October and followed the instructions for the first time, but I was still skeptical. Using the 2-liter polypropylene iced tea pitcher that’s included with one’s first order and represents a 1-day, 2000-calorie supply, I mixed together a big packet of what looked and smelled a lot like cake mix, a pitcherful of water, and a little plastic bottle of fish oil, and then put it in the fridge to cool off. The instructions clearly state not to drink warm Soylent because it tastes terrible; it was somewhat heartening, though, to read that it only lasts about 48 hours in the fridge. It might have been constructed in a lab from molecular raw materials hailing from all corners of the globe, but at least the Frankensteinian smoothie that they combined to create had a shelf life that somewhat resembled that of an avocado.

A few hours later, after posting the requisite picture of the box on Facebook (see above) and promising in the comment thread to eventually write a blog post about my experience, I poured my first rich, frothy glass of the future, contemplated it briefly…and then took a sip. The future, it turns out, tastes kind of like watered down pancake batter. It’s certainly not bad, but it’s just barely good enough that drinking it is neither a chore nor something to look forward to in and of itself. The instructions recommend starting off slow and then building from there, so that’s what I did.

Breakfast is the meal that I skip most often, so that seemed like the best place to start if I was going to start slow. A 21 oz serving of Soylent contains 670 calories, 38 grams of protein, and 33% of pretty much everything the USDA says that a healthy American is supposed to consume in a day, so nutritionally speaking it’s kind of like a protein shake on steroids, and I’ve used protein shakes off and on as dietary supplements at various times in my life, so it was a pretty easy transition. I started drinking my breakfast every day and loved it; as a result I went from actually sitting down and eating breakfast maybe once or twice a week to never missing it, regardless of how busy my day was. It took me about a month to get through my initial two-week supply, and by the time I did I was chugging a serving in the morning every day, taking along a 20-oz refrigerated tumbler for my travels on the busy days, and getting my full 2000 calories per day out of a plastic iced tea pitcher on the days when I was too busy to cook (there was a full week in November during which I made precisely one actual meal for myself). I transferred my friend’s “early backer” account over into my name and re-upped at the $3/serving, 84-meals-per-month plan, totally sold. I’m not planning on going back anytime soon.

I drink Soylent because of the convenience, first and foremost—it’s a good price point, it’s nutritionally complete and environmentally sustainable (they even switched to an algae-generated oil blend in the most recent version, so it’s now entirely vegetarian), and it’s super quick. After living with it for a couple of months now, though, I’ve also come to enjoy the less tangible aspects of my new relationship with food.

I’ve always enjoyed fasting as an occasional exercise because it eliminates the considerable amount of time and mindshare that I spend each day thinking about, procuring/preparing, and eating food. Soylent is like fasting in food form: it keeps me focused, it frees up a surprisingly large amount of productive time in my day, and it changes my relationship to my diet in a way that, for me at least, has been largely positive. Not only do I virtually never skip meals now or just eat junk food regardless of how busy I am; using a lab-generated food powder to meet most of my nutritional needs, it turns out, has also increased the sacredness of food in my daily life and made me appreciate it that much more. There’s nothing more relaxing at the end of a long day than walking to the co-op grocery store at the end of my block, buying some local organic vegetables & meat, and cooking myself a nice steak or a good stir-fry and then sitting down and taking as much time as I want to enjoy my food.

My days now are usually too busy to allow me that luxury for more than one meal per day, though, and I’ve had days in the last two months that have kept me running around for 15 straight hours without a break. Soylent is by far the most elegant solution (except for the terrible gas in the beginning) that I’ve found to the problem of how to feed myself well regardless of what my schedule is like; it’s already become a sustainable part of both my budget and my diet. If you want to give it a try yourself, just let me know and I’ll send you a packet.

Some thoughts about the moment

The Moment figures prominently in a lot of the stories we tell ourselves and each other about how to live a good life—we always seem to be at our best when we’re seizing the moment, living in the moment, appreciating the moment, or some other variation on the theme. “Be more present in the moment” has been permanently etched on my mental to-do list since at least college some time, but it’s only very recently that I’ve begun to fully come to terms with what that means.

I was first introduced to the concept of “choice points” at a statewide organizer training on the Obama campaign in 2008, when I wrote my Story of Self for the first time. I went on to design and teach a workshop on Marshall Ganz’s public narrative framework to members of the general public when I worked for the Mayor’s Office, but until last week sometime I’d never really moved beyond a fairly traditional way of thinking about them. Where I used to see choice points as the major decisions I’ve made in my live that have gotten me to where I am today, I’ve very recently come to realize that when I made them, many of the most significant choices of my life were indistinguishable from all of the little choices I make every day. That realization reminded me of a great blog post by a friend earlier this year about the importance of “staying in choice,” recognizing the omnipresence of choice in our lives and owning the heightened sense of personal agency that comes with that.

The realization came to me in a very specific moment, as epiphanes often do. The specifics don’t really matter; the important part is that I was faced with a clear but seemingly minor choice, I thought about it and—logically, I thought—decided on a course of action in the moment that I immediately regretted as soon as the moment was over. In going back and thinking about it afterwards and discussing the matter with a couple of good friends, it became clear to me that I’d fallen victim to fear masquerading as logic.

I’m generally pretty good about moving towards my fears whenever I can see them—my mental image is of me walking up with a big smile on my face and introducing myself to someone I don’t know at a party—but this was a new line of thought for me. In this particular case I realized after the fact that my underlying fear was of the social consequences of my actions, but it made me stop and think about all of the other subconscious decisions I make every day without even recognizing that they’re choices, and all of the conscious decisions I make without realizing that I’m making them out of fear.

And it’s not always fear of doing something. If I had to guess, I would say that there have been more things in my life in the last five years that I’ve done because I’m afraid of not doing them than there have been that I haven’t done because I’m afraid of doing them. There are still plenty of both, don’t get me wrong, but it’s just starting to dawn on me that fear of missing out (FOMO) is more prevalent in my life than I’d thought.

I’ve always thought of FOMO as being specifically tied to events and activities, and in that area I think I’ve actually reached a pretty good equilibrium. Where I have a long way to go is in reacting to the moment in front of me as it actually exists, rather than to the path that I think might exist at some point in the future based on my reaction to whatever I’m faced with. I’m often so afraid of missing out on the different imaginary versions of the future I paint for myself in my head that I allow that fear to impact the way I live my life in the present.

I’ve gotten really good at moment-washing—telling myself I’m doing all those things with The Moment that we all know we’re supposed to do when in reality I’m reacting to what might end up happening at some point in the future rather than what’s right in front of me. To put it in improv terms (and it’s amazing how directly life correlates to improv), I still spend a lot of time trying to steer the scene where I think it should go instead of truly “yes—and!” ing my scene partners…which any improviser will tell you just doesn’t work.

When I’m not doing that, though—when I’m truly present and fully engaged and not worried about anything beyond what’s immediately in front of me—those always have been and always will be the best moments of my life. In my mid-twenties I associated them with the freedom of the open road; now they’re associated with work (real estate’s been amazing so far, but that’s a topic for another post) and writing and performing and all sorts of other things, but above all with spending time with the people in my life who are most important to me. Having that feeling more often is about as close to the meaning of life as I can imagine—it’s what’s at the heart of falling in love and being in flow and so many of the other experiences that we spend our lives chasing.

So what’s the solution? For starters, accepting that I don’t know what the solution is, and that that’s OK. Two things I’m going to start with, though, are greater awareness of all the different choices I make in my daily life and more frequent gut checks to ensure that I’m reacting to the world as it actually is, rather than as I want it to be.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Seattle to Jackson the Long Way

Seattle to Jackson the Long Way 3

This time yesterday morning found me on a densely forested trail in southeastern Wyoming, locking eyes with a mother moose out foraging with her baby about 50 yards away from me and armed only with a good pair of running shoes and a healthy sense of wonder. It was the beginning of the last day of a 7-day road trip over the course of which a good friend from Seattle moved to Jackson for a new job via New Mexico with me and another good friend for company. This was to be our last run together for a long time, and it was off to a great start. We’d caught a glimpse of the two moose through the trees towards the beginning of our run, and over the course of 15 minutes or so we’d tracked them here, to the other side of a clearing, ready to cut and run for cover at a moment’s notice if things went south. But things didn’t go south. We sat there with them for what was probably only a minute or two (although it felt much longer), relatively small animals silently observing and being observed by a much larger one, and then they went their way and we went ours, out to Turtle Rock and the best scrambling I’ve ever done before completing the loop trail back to our campsite at Vedauwoo, packing up the car, and heading for the tiny Jackson Hole Airport so I could catch my flight back here to Seattle.

I’ve done a lot of road trips in my life—the solo west-coast-bound road trip was an art form that I perfected in college, and all told I’ve logged well over 300,000 miles on the Interstates and highways of the lower 48, including 15,000 miles steering an S2000 around all the best driving roads in America—but the one that just ended, Seattle to Jackson the Long Way as I’ve taken to calling it, is tied with 2005’s seminal The Outer Loop for the best road trip I’ve ever taken. First and foremost it served as the liminal space between my friend’s time in Seattle and his time in Jackson, built around a tour of some of the most important wild places of his youth; but the trip also represented a merging of the road trip tradition of my early adulthood with the backpacking and trail running traditions that have become increasingly important parts of the way that I experience the world more recently, thanks largely to the same friend who just moved to Jackson. It was an honor to be able to share that whole experience with my two traveling companions, and to get to spend so much quality time with both of them.

And it was a fantastic trip. We covered more than 2500 miles over the course of 7 days; we car camped every night except one; we ran high-altitude trails in the mornings and climbed the tallest peak in New Mexico; we had long, multi-state discussions about religion and politics and love and money and all of the other important things in life; in addition to moose we saw or heard elk and deer and owls and hawks and eagles and marmots and coyotes and perhaps even a mountain lion; and it all happened in the American West, rolling hills and huge forests and wide open plains and long, winding rivers and epic mountain ranges that were alternately our backdrops and our playgrounds. It felt like joining my experience of Seattle to my experience of the rest of the country, connecting them physically in a way that they hadn’t been connected before, and mixing in my friends’ experiences of the same places to create a richer, deeper understanding not only of the two of them but also of the physical geography of our shared country.

The experience of seeing different places through the eyes of these specific friends, both of whom are not only seekers in the true sense of the word and important people in my life but also at different life stages from me, was very powerful. The fact that I’m much more attuned to the natural world and my relationship to it now than I have been at any other point in my life also meant that this trip was much more about communion than escape, which if I’m being honest was probably the most common theme of the travels of my college years.

Communion means different things in different contexts, but I use it here to incorporate elements of community, personal growth, meaning, and adventure and exploration, the sum of which is the same kind of interface with the divine that a lot of people find in a formal place of worship. That definition was perfectly expressed in the entirety of the run yesterday, which was a microcosm of the trip as a whole. When I finally said good-bye at the tiny little Jackson Hole Airport at the end of the day, in the shadow of the Teton Range at the end of a particularly scenic day, it served not only as the official end to my summer of 2014 but also as a send-off to a friend I’m really going to miss. I can’t imagine any better way to have said good-bye.

What’s next for me

I’ve spent the last seven months doing a lot—traveling a ton, finishing the full catalog of improv classes at Unexpected Productions, writing my first play, hiking and backpacking, going on my first-ever bike tour, falling in love with running and completing my first half-marathon, doing SIFF right for the first time in four years, co-founding Organizing for Seattle, reading books again, having more fun dating than I ever have before in my life, giving my third Ignite talk, pitching an idea at Crosscut’s inaugural Community Idea Lab, telling a live story at The Moth’s Story Slam in Fremont, taking a 15-day break from modern technology, finding my voice as a private citizen in local politics, playing chess again for the first time in years, facilitating and helping put together the Hack to End Homelessness, learning to salsa, driving Ferrarris and Lamborghinis, watching a pair of baby hummingbirds gestate, hatch, and then grow up and eventually fly away right outside my kitchen window, helping friends buy cars, serving on the board of the co-op I live in, watching live theater and dance again in earnest, learning AdWords and the basics of SEM over the course of self-publishing my first book, spending a huge amount of quality time with friends…and, for the last couple of months, taking the online courses that are required to become a real estate agent in Washington State. I passed the state exam two days ago, and about an hour ago I became an officially licensed agent with Windermere Eastlake!

Windermere logo

I did a lot of soul-searching immediately after the Mayor’s Office, and I explored a lot of different options for my next career move. I looked into everything from advocacy work to getting a master’s degree to starting my own business, but none of them felt quite right. After sitting with it long enough, I realized that the one thing I’ve been missing in my life since the day I stopped selling cars at Millennium Ford over 10 years ago is the feeling of “eating what I kill,” as my used car manager put it. It’s a phrase that encompasses both being paid precisely what I’m worth and being forced to stay hungry and lean in order to succeed, not being allowed to get complacent and soft. In other words, I realized that I’ve really been missing working on commission.

When I thought about commission-based jobs that I would actually want to do right now, real estate was the first thing that came to mind—I had a great experience buying my apartment 4 ½ years ago, and the idea of helping other people have a similarly great experience navigating one of the biggest, most complex, and most stressful transactions of their lives really appealed to me. So did the prospects of essentially running my own business, having to master a wide variety of marketing techniques, being able to spend more time in strangers’ homes in a socially acceptable way (since I’m being honest—one of my favorite things about selling Cutco back in college was getting to sit down in peoples’ living rooms while I was selling them knives)…and, of course, being able to pay off my own mortgage much sooner than I would otherwise be able to. I do my best work when I’m strongly motivated, and aside from elections, becoming debt-free has historically been my best source of motivation where work is concerned. It’s why I was willing to put so many hours in as a car salesman immediately after college, and also why I was debt-free at 23 and able to travel for nearly a year and a half on the money I saved up 10 years ago.

The more I thought about becoming a real estate agent, the more I realized it was what I needed to do. All real estate agents in Washington are required to take a 90-hour course (I did mine online), pass the state exam, and operate under the umbrella of an established brokerage. While I was getting the coursework out of the way I did some research, set up several interviews, and ultimately decided to hang my license with Windermere’s Eastlake office. Windermere has by far the biggest share of the real estate market in Seattle at around 42% (John L Scott is next in line with around 16%), and they also have a strong culture around new agent training and support ; I’m really glad to have ended up with them.

As I’ve talked to people informally over the course of the last couple of months, one of the most common questions I’ve gotten has been what my focus or specialty will be. The answer is twofold: I’m most passionate about helping first-time homebuyers find homes, especially now in a red-hot seller’s market where there’s significant competition for every available property (I’ve always liked going to bat for the underdog); but in the early stages, realistically my real estate practice is going to depend on how many of you either choose me as your agent when it comes time for you to buy or sell your home or recommend me to your friends and acquaintances when they’re going through that process themselves.

So if you don’t already have someone in the “my real estate agent” slot in your mind, please consider me your agent on call and let your friends know that they can do the same. Whether you want to email me with questions, get coffee and discuss the market and your options, dip your toe in the water by going out and looking at homes, or go all in and either look for a new home in earnest or sell your current one, I’d love to talk to you.

Thanks for helping to make the last 7 months so much fun, and please don’t hesitate to let me know if I can be of service, in real estate or otherwise!