At the beginning of every year I establish a list of goals (or New Year’s resolutions) for the coming calendar year. I post this list on my blog and social media as a means of holding myself accountable.
I recommend this to everyone. I’ve been engaged in this process since 2010, and I am convinced that I have been more productive and more successful as a result, even though my average goal completion rate stands at about 53%.
I’ve learned that setting exceptionally high goals and accepting inevitable failure are critical to achievement.
An unexpected side benefit has been the occasional assistance of readers in completing some of my goals, through advice, recommendations, and sometimes even direct intervention. Two years ago the amazing Kathryn Gonnerman turned the blog that I had written to my children for the first six years of their existence into six enormous, beautiful tomes that my kids are reading constantly.
She knocked one of my goals right off my list.
People are exceptionally kind, and I never turn down an offer of assistance.
Just this week, a golf coach offered to analyze my swing via video and offer advice.
Equally unexpected is the interest in these blog posts on my yearly goals and monthly updates. I often feel like updating my progress each month is the least interesting thing I write, but apparently there are readers out there who disagree. They are some of my most-read posts.
Below is my list of 53 goals for 2021. I’ve never set as many goals before.
I always reserve the right to add to or edit a goal on the list through the month of January.
1. Don’t die.
Recommended by my friend, Charles years ago. Still valid today, especially in today’s world, and deserving of the first spot on the list.
2. Lose 20 pounds.
I tried to lose 20 pounds in 2016 but only lost 8.
I tried to lose 20 points in 2017 but only lost 6.
I tried to lose 20 pounds in 2018 but only lost 6.
I tried to lose 20 pounds in 2019 and only lost 7.
I tried to lose 20 pounds in 2020 and did! Then put 7 of those pounds back on.
Since my first weight goal back in 2010, I’ve lost a total of 74 pounds. Another 20 is ambitious, but it would get me down to my high school weight. I’m willing to try to make that happen.
3. Do at least 100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups, and 3 one-minute planks for five days a week.
I’ve accomplished this goal for eight years in a row, only missing time due to injury and Disney, but it’s not exactly automatic (because it’s still hard and oftentimes a pain in the ass), so it remains on the list.
4. Cycle for at least 5 days every week.
I fell back in love with my bike at the onset of the pandemic when going to the gym became impossible then inadvisable. I rode every day for months. In November, we purchased a Nordictrack stationary cycle, and until a part broke, I road that every day that the weather prevented me from riding outdoors. I plan to ride on my bike or the Nordictrack for at least five days of every week.
5. Set a new personal best in golf.
I set my new lowest score for nine holes in 2020 with a 45. My lowest score for 18 holes is 95. I’d like to improve on either score again in 2021.
6. Complete my seventh novel before the end of 2021.
This is a failed goal from 2020 that I am renewing in 2021. It’s coming along, but not as quickly as I’d hoped.
7. Complete “Someday is Today” before the end of 2021.
This book has actually been purchased already, so this goal is legally binding.
8. Complete “Storyworthy 2” before the end of 2021.
This book is nearly complete.
9. Write/complete at least three new picture books, including one with a female, non-white protagonist, and one protagonist who is not neurotypical.
I wrote three picture books in 2015.
I wrote another three in 2016.
I started but did not finish four picture books in 2017.
Those four books, plus two more, remained unfinished in 2018.
All six books remained unfinished in 2019 and 2020.
Worst of all, I haven’t sold any of them.
My goal for 2021 is to finish the year with three newly completed picture books. This can include books that I began in 2017 and 2018 but didn’t finish and/or brand new ones.
At least one must feature a non-white, non-male protagonist and one must feature a character who is not neurotypical.
10. Write 40,000 words of a memoir.
Rather than writing a proposal for a memoir, my agent and I decided in 2018 that it would best if I simply wrote the book, so that process has begun. I plan to complete enough of the memoir to sell by the end of 2021.
11. Write a new screenplay.
I failed to write a screenplay for the last four years after writing my first in 2015. I started a new one in 2019 but it’s not close to completion. I intend to finish it in 2021.
12. Write a solo show.
I’m in the process of writing a solo show based upon my arrest and trial for a crime I did not commit. I have assembled a team of brilliant people to workshop it, and I’m making solid progress. I want it done and ready to go by the end of the year if not sooner.
13. Write a musical.
My friend, Kaia, and I are writing a musical that we will also perform. She writes the music and lyrics. She and I write the story. I want it to be done and ready to go by the end of 2021.
14. Submit at least five Op-Ed pieces to The New York Times for consideration.
A completed goal from the last three years. I’m repeating it in 2021.
My dream goal remains to land another column in a magazine, newspaper, or online publication this year, but I’m keeping this goal more reasonable. Write and submit and then hope for the best.
15. Submit one or more short stories to at least three publishing outlets.
A completed goal from 2017 and 2018 but one that I failed to complete in 2019 and 2020. I’m repeating it in 2021. This may or may not include me writing a new short story.
16. Select two behaviors that I am opposed to and adopt them for one week, then write about my experiences on the blog.
In 2016, I wrote about backing into parking spots, daily affirmations, and bottle flipping.
In 2017, I wrote about prayer, cold showers, and talking to strangers.
In 2018, I wrote about following pop culture and saying grace before a meal.
In 2019, I wrote about vision boards and biofeedback.
In 2020, I wrote about ASMR and 50 Shades of Gray.
I’ve actually adopted two of these behaviors (cold showers and biofeedback) and realized that I was already doing another (talking to strangers). Creating a vision board even proved to be slightly useful.
Though my opinion of most of these activities didn’t change, it was a useful experiment each time, so I’ll repeat this in 2021.
17. Increase my newsletter subscriber base to 6,000.
I currently have 4,497 subscribers to my newsletter.
Growth rates in my newsletter over the past four years have been:
If I grow the list by 33% in 2021. I will hit my goal of 6,000 subscribers. A very reasonable goal.
If you’d like to sign up for my newsletter, you can do so here:
18. Send a newsletter to readers at least 25 times (every other week).
Sending a weekly newsletter became a challenge, but bi-weekly feels very doable. I may be shifting this work over to a business partner, which will alter the goal, but until that happens, 25 newsletters in 2021 is a reasonable goal.
19. Write at least six letters to my father.
I completed this goal in 2020. I’ll be repeating it again this year.
My father and I have been writing sporadic letters to each other since 2013. Since we speak little, it’s been a great way to get to know a man who disappeared from much of my life at the age of eight. I intend to write to him every other month with the continued hope that he will write to me on my off months.
20. Write 100 letters in 2021.
I wrote 61 letters in 2018, 28 letters in 2019, and 53 letters in 2020, failing to hit my goal of 100 each time. But I’m setting 100 as the goal again. The plan is to write a letter (paper, envelope, and stamp) every three days or so, to students, colleagues, friends, family, and anyone else who is deserving of praise, gratitude, recognition, scathing retribution, or the like.
It’s a way of making a day a little brighter for another person that appeals to me a lot. The results in some cases have been extraordinary.
I can’t recommend this enough.
21. Convert 365 Days of Elysha into a book.
Back in 2019, friend and storyteller Kathryn Gonnerman transformed my blog, Greetings Little One, into six beautiful tomes that the kids adore.
I plan to do the same to “365 Days of Elysha.”
Back in 2015, I wrote down one lovely observation about Elysha every day for a year, and I presented her with this Word document on our anniversary.
A Word document is nice, but it wasn’t exactly romantic.
I’d like to have this project turned into a book as well. Though I suspect that converting a Word document into a book will be decidedly easier, I failed to complete this goal in 2020, so I am keeping it on the list for 2021.
22. Complete and release my limited episode podcast on “Twenty-One Truths About Love.”
The podcast is nearly complete. Episodes with my editor, the cover designer, and more are ready to go. I need to record the first episode with Elysha and finish editing the last one and it will be ready to launch. I plan the launch to coincide with the release of the paperback edition of the book in February.
23. Produce a total of 6 Speak Up storytelling events.
Since we launched Speak up back in 2013, we have produced a total of 99 shows.
We will likely produce more than 6 shows in 2021, but 6 seems like a reasonable number considering the impact on live events due to the pandemic.
24. Pitch myself to at least 3 upcoming TEDx events with the hopes of being accepted by one.
I’ve had some bad luck in terms of TED Talks.
I did a TED Talk at the AT&T Conference Center in 2013 that went extremely well, but technical difficulties made the audio on the recording almost indiscernible.
I did a TED Talk at Western Connecticut State University in 2013 that went flawlessly, but the college students who hosted the conference never posted the recording online.
I did a TED Talk in April of 2014 in Somerville, Massachusetts that also went well, but my 15 minute talk was accidentally put on a nine minute timer, which forced me to dump sections of my talk on the fly and speak faster than I would’ve liked. The talk was good, but it was not exactly what I had planned. There was a lot of room for improvement.
I did a TED Talk at Boston University in April of 2015. The recording started almost two minutes into my talk, and one of the cameras failed. The actual talk went very well but the recording is useless. Again, I’d like to repeat this talk at some point for TED.
But I’ve had some good luck as well.
I did a TED Talk in November of 2015 in the Berkshires that went very well and has been viewed more than 35,000 times. Huzzah!
I did a TED Talk in January of 2016 in Natick, MA that also went very well and has been viewed more than 20,000 times. Huzzah!
I did a TED Talk in April of 2016 at The Country School in Madison, CT, repeating that first TED Talk that didn’t get recorded well in 2013. I had to hold a microphone, which complicated things a bit, and there was no timer, so I had to rush in fear of going long. It’s been viewed about 30,000 times, but I’m still not entirely satisfied with the talk. I’d like to repeat it again under optimal circumstances.
I did a TED Talk in May of 2017 at the Pomfret School. Again, I had a handheld mic and no timer. Still, I thought it went well, but the actual camera work is not great, and it’s only been viewed about 500 times.
I was scheduled to speak at a TEDx conference in April of 2020. It’s been postponed to an undecided date in 2021.
I plan on pitching new talks to at least three conferences in 2021.
25. Pitch myself to Master Class at least three times in 2021.
My curriculum is perfectly designed for a Master Class, and I would be great. I’ve watched some of the other writing and storytelling Master Classes, and many are not nearly as good as mine. Hubris, I know. Forgive me, but I think it’s true. They are extraordinary writers and performers who have not been teaching and consulting for 22 years and therefore don’t possess the strategies and techniques required to teach.
My Master Class will kick ass.
The problem is that Master Class is nearly unreachable. Essentially, they recruit speakers and don’t accept pitches. In 2021, I will continue to fight through that wall, tweeting at the founders, calling customer service, and trying anything I can to convince them to hire me.
26. Attend at least 5 Moth events with the intention of telling a story.
My Moth attendance ever since attending my first Moth StorySLAM in 2011 has been:
Note that this represents the number of times I attended a Moth event, including StorySLAMs, GrandSLAMs, Main Stage performances, The Moth Ball, and more. It does not represent the number of times I’ve actually performed.
Sadly, my name does not always get drawn from the hat.
As opportunities to speak and perform at other venues for a variety of organizations have increased, the time I’ve had to dedicate to Moth events has decreased, even though they remain my favorite shows in the world.
Give me a Moth StorySLAM any day.
Attending 5 Moth events in 2021 is a low number, but given the uncertainty ahead in terms of the pandemic, I can’t be sure if Moth StorySLAMs will even be available to me in 2021, so even 5 might be an unreasonable number.
27. Win at least one Moth StorySLAM.
For the past five years, I have made three three wins the goal. That has always felt ambitious, but since 2011, I’ve won 52% of the Moth StorySLAMs that I’ve competed in, and that percentage has remained fairly steady over the years.
But given the uncertainty of 2021 in terms of public events and Moth StorySLAMs, three seems too ambitious for this year, so I’ll shoot for one victory and consider any other wins icing on the cake.
This goal depends upon the decisions of others (which I try to avoid when setting goals), but competing in StorySLAMs just isn’t enough to justify the goal.
I need to win.
28. Win a Moth GrandSLAM.
I won one GrandSLAM in 2014.
I won two GrandSLAMs in 2015.
I won one GrandSLAM in 2016.
I failed to win a GrandSLAM in 2017.
I won two GrandSLAMs in 2018.
I failed to win a GrandSLAM in 2019.
I failed to win a GrandSLAM in 2020.
Overall, I’ve won 6 GrandSLAMs in 28 attempts for a 21% win rate.
Much harder to win a GrandSLAM with all of those annoyingly excellent storytellers, not to mention the three times I was defeated by stories that I helped find and craft.
Arming my competition. A terrible strategy.
This goal also depends upon the decisions of others (including how quickly The Moth can get their GrandSLAMs up and running), but competing in a Moth GrandSLAM just isn’t enough to justify the goal.
Once again, I need to win.
29. Produce at least 25 episodes of our podcast Speak Up Storytelling.
Elysha and I produced 30 episodes in 2018, 44 episodes in 2019, and 30 episodes in 2020. We are moving to an every other week model, at least until the pandemic comes to an end, so 25 episodes in 2021 seems doable.
30. Perform stand-up at least 3 times in 2021.
I performed stand-up six times in 2018 and four times in 2019. Thanks to the pandemic, I did not get onstage in 2020 for stand-up. I don’t know when a stand-up stage will be available to me again, but I’d like to shoot for three times in 2021, likely in the fourth quarter when the world is closer to normal.
31. Pitch at least three stories to This American Life.
I had a story on This American Life in May of 2014. Since then, I’ve occasionally pitched stories to someone I know who works for the show. In 2021 I want to make a more concerted effort to pitch stories to this show that I adore.
32. Pitch myself to Marc Maron’s WTF podcast at least three times.
When I list possible publicity opportunities for my publicist, Marc Maron’s WTF was top of the list. I’ve been listening since his first episode, and I would love to have a conversation with him. I’ve pitched myself to him before, including four times last year, and I’ll do it again, at least three times, in 2021.
33. Produce at least one new video for my YouTube channel each month.
In an effort to reach and expand my YouTube audience, I plan to provide new content at least once every month. This can be in the form of a new story, some new instructional material, or an interview with a storyteller.
34. Explore a means of producing my storytelling instruction asynchronously for an online platform.
It’s time. With my book published and the podcast gaining steam, it’s time for me to create an online platform for instruction. I have people from China and Canada and San Diego and Chicago coming to Hartford to take my workshops, and while this is flattering, there are many more who can’t make the trip but want the opportunity to learn from me. Not only would this accommodate these people, but it would allow me to scale my instruction beyond my workshops.
35. Print, hang, and/or display at least 25 prints, photos, or portraits in our home.
We have a pile of photos, prints, art, and creations of our children just waiting to be hung on our walls and displayed on our shelves. I had hoped to make this happen in 2020, but we failed.
By the end of the year, I intend on having at least 25 of these photos, prints, and art displayed in our home.
36. Assemble an emergency preparedness kit.
Over the years, I have prepared for all kinds of disasters, and if one struck, we would be in a fairly decent position in terms of preparedness. But rather than cobbling my supplies and planning in a hodgepodge fashion, I’d like to have a fully realized emergency preparedness plan in place. I will spent 2021 making that happen.
37. Clear the basement.
Last year I successfully cleaned and cleared the basement. In 2021 I will continue to eliminate items that we no longer need, making even more space available for nothing.
38. Call brother or sister once per week.
My brother and sister and I don’t talk enough. I’m going to speak to either one at least once per week via text or phone call.
39. Take at least one photo of my children every day.
As I scanned through my photos on a recent plane ride to Indiana in 2019, I noticed a decline in photos taken of the kids over the years. This is only natural. When a child is born, photos are taken every nine seconds, but as time passes, this burst of photography subsides a bit. But lately, photos have only been taken when an event is taking place, and I want to be sure that I’m capturing the days between the parties and vacations and trips to the beach.
One photo per day, every day when I see the kids, in 2021 is the goal.
40. Take at least one photo with Elysha and myself each week.
Even worse than the decline in photos of the kids are the rarity of photos of just Elysha and me. We need to rectify this as well, so at least once per week, I will take a photograph of just the two of us.
41. Plan a reunion of the Heavy Metal Playhouse.
My friend, Bengi, and I lived in a home that became known as the Heavy Metal Playhouse from 1989-1993. It was four of the best years of my life. Enormous parties, the closest of friendships, and the wildness of youth left an indelible mark on me. While I stay in touch with many of my friends from those days, I have not seen many of them in a long time. We have attempted to plan a reunion in the past without success.
Starting in 2016, I’ve tried to make a reunion happen but failed. 2021 convinced me that a virtual reunion via Zoom might be the best option given some of our friends are spread out around the country.
I’m going to make this happen in 2021.
42. I will not comment, positively or negatively, about physical appearance of any person save my wife and children, in 2017 in an effort to reduce the focus on physical appearance in our culture overall.
In 2016, I decided to avoid all negative comments related to a person’s physical appearance.
In 2017 I decided to add positive comments as well (save my wife, children, and in-laws) in an effort to reduce the focus on physical appearance in our culture overall.
I’ve achieved this goal for the past four years, and by writing about it, I’ve convinced at least a 14 other people to adopt the policy as well.
For this reason, I will repeat this goal in 2021, even though it’s now simply become something I do.
43. Surprise Elysha at least six times in 2021.
A completed goal from the last four years that I will repeat in 2021.
44. Play poker at least six times in 2021.
I love poker. I paid for our honeymoon with profits from poker. I made a mortgage payment in 2012 with poker profits when it was still legal online. I am a very good poker player who stopped playing regularly in 2015 as I shifted my time to writing and storytelling.
But over the past few years, I’ve been making a more concerted effort to play, including last year when we shifted to a virtual game because of the pandemic.
Six games in 2021 is a reasonable goal.
45. Spend at least six days with my best friend of more than 30 years.
Bengi and I met in a Milford, MA McDonald’s back in 1987, and we have been friends ever since. We once lived together (in the aforementioned Heavy Metal Playhouse) and started our DJ business together back in 1996. We have been through a great deal together, but in the last few years, we have seen less of each other even though we live 15 minutes apart. Our interests have shifted away from the things each likes to do, and our families are demanding more of our time, but that’s no excuse for not getting together more often.
Six days is more than reasonable.
46. Play music in class.
I should be playing more music in my classroom for my students, giving them opportunities to listen to musicians like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Temptations, Bruce Springsteen, Prince, and more. My goal is to play music for my students at least three days a week.
47. Learn to play the piano by practicing at least three times a week.
I’m not hoping to become a great or even capable pianist, but learning something new is important, and we have a keyboard, so why not? I will take classes via Master Class and practice at least 3 times a week for at least 20 minutes at a time.
48. Convert our wedding video to a transferable format.
Our wedding video only exists on the ancient Mac that I originally made it, but I have yet to be able to remove the file from the laptop. It plays on the laptop, but I can’t move it onto another machine or to the cloud. I plan to find a way to make this happen in 2021.
49. Memorize 5 new poems.
Back in college, I was required to memorize and recite one poem every week for a poetry class, and many of those poems are still locked in my brain today.
I also have several French poems still memorized from French class in high school.
I like having these poems memorized. It’s fun to be able to recite them whenever I please. About ten years ago, on a rainy day at Camp Jewell, we conducted Theater Olympics for our 100 or so fifth graders. One of the events was “Unknown Talent Show” where the teachers had to perform a talent that no one knew they possessed.
I recited French poetry to my principal, who stood on a chair with a mop over his head.
Memorization is also an excellent way to preserve longterm brain health.
My goal this year is to memorize five new poems.
50. Write to at least 3 colleges about why they should hire me.
I should be teaching teachers in college. Specifically, I would like to teach four classes:
- Engaging and motivating students through fun
- Effective classroom management
- Establishing and maintaining positive relationships with parents
- Teaching writing in the way that actual writers write
As far as I can tell, none of these classes exist in a teacher’s preparatory program today, despite the fact that discipline, motivation, and a strong parent-teacher partnership are three of the most things a teacher can do to guarantee a successful learning environment. Philosophy, pedagogy, and curriculum are truly irrelevant without them.
In 2021, I am going to write to the administrators of local colleges with teacher prep programs offering my services. More hubris, I know. But I would also be damn good at this, and it’s not happening enough in colleges these days.
51. Understand Instagram better.
I can post photos to Instagram, but that is the extent of my understanding of Instagram.
Instagram stories? I have no idea what they are nor what I might do with them.
Video on Instagram? Is that a thing I should think of doing?
Followers? I have about 1,500 thousand followers but have made absolutely no effort to attract any, nor do I know how to attract them.
Even the messages and mentions on Instagram confuse me.
As this platform begins to dominate social media, I need to understand it better. Use it more effectively. I failed to complete this goal in 2020, so I plan on devoting time to this in 2021.
52. Complete my Eagle Scout project.
Back in 1988, I was 17 year-old Boy Scout preparing to complete my Eagle Scout service project so I could earn the rank that I had dreamed about for most of my childhood. In truth, I was qualified to earn my Eagle rank almost two years before, having earned the required merit badges and more, but my service project had been sitting on the back burner, waiting to be completed.
I needed a parent or two to light a fire under my butt and support me in this endeavor, but I wasn’t graced with that level of parental involvement at the time.
My plan was to plant trees in a cemetery in my hometown of Blackstone, MA. My troop had planted trees in that same cemetery about five years before, but those trees had died. I wanted to replace them and complete the work that we had originally promised.
Then, on December 23, 1988, I was in a car accident that nearly killed me. As a result of the accident, I was in a full-length leg cast for three months and required an enormous amount of healing and recovery. With just three months left until I turned 18 (the deadline to complete an Eagle service project), my parents requested an extension, and it was denied.
My childhood dream of becoming an Eagle Scout was over. It’s one of my life’s greatest regrets.
Maybe the greatest.
But I recently decided that it would be good to complete that Eagle Scout project even though it won’t come with my much desire Eagle Scout rank.
It feels right. Maybe I’ll feel a little better about the past.
I planned on doing this in 2020 but the pandemic put a hold on those intentions. It will be a goal again in 2021.
53. Post my progress in terms of these resolutions on this blog and social media on the first day of every month.