I started 2015 with no extra-special drive. I was taking it easy, cruising, with goals that were big, relatively attainable, but hardly courageous.
Fast forward 12 months later, and...
I was unemployed,
in the middle of launching my own business
that was a product of doing what I really really love (teaching, writing, community-building), and...
earning the very first six-figure paycheck in my life --
BY DOING WHAT I REALLY, REALLY LOVE, AND WHILE TRAVELING.
(Current location: Puerto Rico, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean)
Emphasis on: DOING WHAT I REALLY, REALLY LOVE, WHILE TRAVELING.
The Most Defining Moment of My 2015
The most defining moment of my 2015 was two-fold: first was when I finally admitted to myself that I had taken a long break from dreaming too big, the proverbial QUARTER LIFE CRISIS (QLC) -- and then second, and more importantly, I FINALLY decided that I no longer want to “wait ’til I’m ready” to start pursuing those too-big dreams again.
This happened a few days after my birthday, June 29, which coincidentally falls right smack in the middle of the year. Which means it's always an appropriate time for an annual mid-year life review ;)
There were 2 very distinct phases of 2015 for me: Pre-birthday, and Post-birthday.
Pre-birthday, January 2015.
There were only 3 “big” goals I had for myself when I started my year:
- Get my money issues together, so that...
- I can fund my learning trip to San Francisco in July, attend any business/innovation class, so that I can find inspiration that I can no longer find in my city -- and in the process...
- Meet new people who were doing crazy, brave, innovative things, and were unafraid to take risks, and see the entire world as their stage (not just the little bubble that is Manila).
They were pretty awesome goals, but to be completely honest?
I wasn’t like P U M P E D U P !!!!!!!! about them.
I was more like… Okay self, great plan, let’s go, yeah, wooo, woooo, let’s do this... *waves tiny baby flaglet unenthusiastically*
Few days post-birthday, July 2015:
I sat myself down, forced myself to do a whole-life analysis, and did a deep dive into what I really wanted to do.
After some grueling inner debates in my head, I then did what was the most logical thing to do when you’re stuck and you don’t know what’s next, but you want to move forward:
I ASKED FOR HELP.
It's not easy admitting to people that you're not doing well, so it took some courage to do this (actually it was more like type, press send, close laptop lid, and run away).
Here’s part of the e-mail I sent out to my friends and some of my loyal readers:
And it was all a hurricane of changes from there.
I turned my QLC (Quarter Life Crisis) into a QLP -- a Quarter Life Pivot:
I quit my job.
I started testing out business ideas while on my last 2 months in my job.
I moved to the Caribbean.
I learned how to do business WHILE doing business. (I was pressed for time; in retrospect, wouldn't do it any other way)
I reached my initial targets, which blew me away, and gave me the confidence to press on.
I made big changes in my life, and set the bravest goals I've ever set in a long while.
Not because an opportunity landed on my lap.
Not because it was what was expected of me.
Not because I felt pressured to catch up and do what everybody else is doing (on the contrary, I wanted to do something different).
But because I just decided to.
I've always wondered how people get out of a rut or a tight place, but I found out - the hard way - that you just have to decide to do it.
I found it really, really hard to write this Annual Review, more than any other year I’ve ever done it (since 2010!), because I feel like I was a whole different person from January to June, versus who I decided to become in July to December.
This 2015 evaluation will come in 3 parts: What didn’t go well, what went well, and what’s ahead for 2016.
What did not go well in 2015
1. "Going easy on myself” for way too long
It took me way too long to realize I was in a QLC.
For a year and a half, I actively avoided trying to figure out what’s next for me, because I really, really, really liked my job. I was really, really, really having fun.
But fun turned to comfort, and comfort turned to cowardice.
So while there was this little nagging feeling that there was something more for me out there in the world, I ignored it ’til kingdom come. ’Til kingdom finally came, whacked me on the head, and showed me that my fulfillment levels were running very low.
I couldn’t ignore that.
2. Taking on a client that I didn’t vibe with
Basically, to be able to save up money to join a class in Stanford in April, I took on a client that paid really well, hired me for the right skills, but didn’t share the same mindset as I did.
They were extremely traditional, and I struggled my way through the 3 months that I worked with them. It was stressful, and I dreaded every session I had with them.
Moving forward, I never want to be in a financial situation where I’m backed in a corner and forced to take work that doesn’t sit right, just because I need the money.
Thankfully, I’ve already taken some steps to do that (more on this in the wins section).
3. wasting in-person mentorship opportunities
One of my biggest insecurities for the most part of last year was that I had no passion project to talk about — that used to be my introvert-superweapon at any in-person event, because I knew I had a topic that I can talk about with loads of enthusiasm and energy.
Since I didn’t have that, I felt ammo-less during events and so I slunk back into the walls.
Some in-person mentorship and learning opportunities I didn’t make the most out of:
- A 3-week writing workshop by one of my favorite local writers: My essay had no voice, I felt like she didn’t like me that much, instead of asking for guidance, I just didn't participate.
- My first trip to San Francisco: I relied too much on my friend to take me around, when I could have arranged meetings and attended classes on my own
- My scholarship to the 99U Conference in New York: I was so insecure about coming up to people because I had nothing to talk about, and they were working on the coolest things/apps/products/websites. I was in NYC, with founders and employees of some of the coolest startups in the world - and I blew it. I introverted like crazy.
The last one was one of my most nagging screw-ups from last year. I don’t know if there is such a thing as Introvert’s Post-Event Regret, but that feels like what I feel about that New York experience.
One of the things I'll be working on this year is improving my new Introvert Spiel for events -- knowing how best to describe what I'm working on in a way that feels clear, concise, impactful, and enthusiastic.
4. Not being “present in the moment” during offline activities
I initially wrote, “Spent too much time on my computer.” But to be honest, yes, I spent a lot of time on my computer, but I also made time for working out, made (a lot of) time for eating well, made time for hanging out with people who matter most.
In Manila, I’d be on my computer 14-16 hours a day, 7 days a week. I’m not even kidding.
But here in Puerto Rico, I live 5 minutes away from the beach, it’s pretty impossible not to go out during weekends, whether it’s just to hang out in a hammock, or play Frisbee, or climb mountains, slide down waterfalls, run around the lagoon.
BUT. I must confess that while doing all those things, most of the time, my mind was still thinking of new ideas, thinking of what I can write in my next newsletter, how I can better communicate my ideas, which student needs this kinda help, etcetera.
I know that this year, it’s going to be harder to press pause on those thoughts, especially since I’ll be focusing all of my energy on my own business.
Moving forward, I’m going to experiment with different ways to systematize (or gamify) unplugging.
(I couldn’t think of more things that did NOT go well in 2015, possibly because I spent the first half of the year dilly-dallying and not taking big enough risks, OR I had course-corrected immediately in the second half of the year.)
What went well in 2015
1. My Quarter-Life Pivot
Most of the time, we try to figure out big problems (like a Quarter Life Crisis) by ourselves. But I knew I needed fresh eyes.
And so, I made it a fun little project: I used my design research know-how to come up with very well-designed questions to help people help me figure out what’s next.
Then, I e-mailed my closest friends and the most loyal readers in my blog community -- AND more than 50 people offered insights into what I can do next! That was an incredibly insightful interaction with my community, and was also a great boost in self-trust.
2. GOT BETTER AT ADULTING: MONEY MATTERS
My kickoff goal in 2015 was to open a life insurance plan, as well as a mutual funds account.
I set up a meeting with a financial advisor within the first 2 weeks of January, and she ended up presenting to most people in our company. I now have both plans/accounts under my name. I really wish I started earlier, but better late than never!
But the most pivotal personal finance move I made in 2015 (well, EVER), was to download and install this budgeting software called You Need A Budget (YNAB).
It completely changed my mindset about money, made me more mindful of my budget without feeling like I’m on a torturous leash, and it has been THE #1 REASON why I was easily able to grow & manage my money for both my U.S. trips in 2015.
I used to struggle with saving money for big purchases, but in 2015, I was able to raise+save PHP 140,000 from January to April (for my learning trip to San Francisco and New York).
And then I got even better at it, and was able to raise+save PHP 173,500 in 3 months, from July to September, for my 3-month Sabbatical trip to the US.
3. Taking care of myself
This is the strongest my body has ever been: not skinny, not light, but strong.
I've developed the habit of working out 5-6x a week (yoga, pilates, HIIT, TRX), and go for regular walks around my neighborhood. Surprise!: I also sleep more, and sleep better.
What changed was that I started thinking of it this way:
Your body and brain are your most important creativity and productivity tools.
If you’re not taking care of both, it doesn’t matter what program or app you’re using, you’re still not going to be performing at your best.
In 2016, my goal is to eat better — like, actually consult a nutritionist about a meal plan. If you know anyone who can help me, do let me know!
4. Meaningful relationships
This year, I learned how to surf, and I did it with my Wanderrgirls — if you don’t know what that is, no, it’s not a K-Pop girl group, but it’s what we call our team that we've formed over the years. Our team consists of me, and about 15 girls who have worked with me in the internship + leadership program that was borne out of my old blog (Wanderrgirl).
This was the first time I ever initiated an out-of-town trip, but it was loads of fun, laughter, brainstorming, and sea water down my throat.
I also developed deeper and stronger relationships with three very important people in my life. This is also a HUGE defining moment of my 2015: finding people I can truly share my growth with.
4. Learning (while traveling)
This was the year I. FREAKING. LEARNED. I believe I learned more in the last 6 months, than my 4 years of college combined. I’m not even kidding.
Originally, my biggest goal for the year was to travel to San Francisco in July, to attend 1 or 2 business/innovation classes, and meet new people.
Classes/conferences I ended up attending or being invited to:
- A design thinking/innovation class in Stanford (BUCKET LIST!!!) in Palo Alto, California
- The 99U Conference in New York — they awarded me a full scholarship!
- 4 other classes in business, design, and innovation from General Assembly in San Francisco
- A women-in-tech startup event in Puerto Rico
Fail early & fail often. HELLO from #Stanford d.school! We just finished a whole day design thinking class and I am REELING from disbelief (and also hunger). #TheWIPTour Look. I am not going to be pa-cool and downplay this... it is SUCH a freaking dream of mine to go to d.school!!!! Gaaaaaaah. So grateful and so pumped and happy! I have Snapchat videos of what the class looked like! Follow me (ID: arrianeserafico) ✌
Moving forward: I want to set aside money each month for a learning fund, to enroll in classes (online or offline).
Note to me and you: Investing in yourself so that you can be constantly acquiring new skills is SO ridiculously crucial in this new economy.
5. Speaking up
My self-imposed imperative on this 3-month Sabbatical was this: In work-related activities, I needed to tame my introversion, step out, and speak up.
And so, after every class I attended in San Francisco, I would walk up to the teacher and invite him/her for coffee or a quick chat. It was SO uncharacteristic of me, but I was so proud of myself for doing this!
CRAZIEST SHOT AT THE MOON EVER: I also ended up landing a one-on-one meeting with one of my favorite education innovators IN THE WORLD, Tina Seelig, the Executive Director of Stanford’s Technology Ventures Program — just because I took an improbable chance, wrote her a sincere e-mail, and dared to speak up.
6. Community (re)building through teaching
The original goal in my 2015 goals spreadsheet was to organize a second run of the Design Her Story creative women’s conference. Here's a video of the first one we organized in 2014:
I had been kinda quiet in the online world the past year, and I had this HUGE, deep desire to re-build stronger connections with my community, as well as build new connections with more young creative women.
Curveball of 2015: I pursued the re-building of my community, but in a totally different way.
I grew it through finally, whole-heartedly claiming that what I loved doing most, and what I’m really, really good at —is teaching.
My teaching milestones this year:
- Organized 5 in-person workshops in Manila: 4 on goal-setting, and 1 in Instagram marketing for small businesses
- Released 2 free online courses for creative women: on productivity, and being smarter about money
- Launched my very very first official online course, Braver Goals: The Goal-Getting Guide for Creatives
I worked my butt off all those classes, from designing the modules, making sure the information was presented in a story-like flow, writing content for the lessons (I wrote 60,000++++ words in 2 months! That’s like writing a book!!!), and just constantly interacting with my students.
I now have 1,600+ students signed up for my past and present classes.
I’ve written and exchanged over 400 e-mails in the last 3 months, giving advice and answering questions to over 300 students.
MY INBOX IS SO FULL, AND SO, SO HAPPY.
Now this milestone is 5 years in the making.
See, I’ve been trying to create a sustainable business model from my online brand for almost 5 years now. I’ve launched so many entrepreneurial experiments (SO! MANY!), some of them moderately successful, some failing completely.
One thing I learned about myself was that I knew, with 200% certainty, that “getting sponsors” and “becoming a brand ambassador for brands x, y, z” was not a business model that I considered successful, sustainable, or fulfilling.
I wanted to be able to do what I was really good at, do what I loved doing, provide real, tangible value to people — value that people will be willing to pay for, because it’s something that truly, genuinely helps improve their lives.
My most successful business experiment has always been teaching classes, but they weren’t wildly profitable that I would quit my job to pursue them.
Here's a snapshot of my teaching+entrepreneurship journey over the years:
From August to October in 2015, I set up a few business prototypes, and for the first time ever, I was able to start teaching workshops that earned me an average of PHP 30,000 per class. And so I moved on to my next goal: To make my business model more scalable by teaching my classes online.
I’m planning to write more about my learnings after the enrollment for Braver Goals ends on Monday, and I get to debrief after 2 weeks or so, but...
After nervously launching my very first online class (context: online classes are not really a thing in the Philippines, so I wasn't sure how people would receive it)...
I was able to earn PHP 100,000+ within the first 72 hours.
JUST. BY. DOING. WHAT. I. LOVE.
It kinda blew me out of the water.
Moving forward, I want to be able to grow my business in the same way: through teaching generously, connecting with my students genuinely, empowering creative, driven women, and nurturing long-term relationships with my most loyal community.
What’s Next for 2016
help more creative women succeed in tangible ways
My #1 Goal is to improve and innovate as a teacher, and I plan to measure this goal through success stories and concrete results from my students.
My goal is to help more creative women take their first brave steps into designing a life and career that fulfills and inspires them.
Right now, I’m working with and helping:
- 3 students organize workshops teaching their passions (2 are in crafts, 1 is in writing)
- 1 student improve her portfolio, and start freelancing
- 1 student organize an event that can be a side hustle + extra source of income for her
I have more mentorship calls coming up, so I can’t wait to hear the rest of their goals that we're going to be sharing for the next few months.
I want to help at least 200 students launch passion projects this year, whether it’s a blog, business, portfolio, side-hustle, or freelance career.
(If that’s something you want to be part of, sign up here!)
generosity as my business strategy
My next big goal is to grow my business, and I plan to measure it through # of students helped, and then amount of recurring revenue.
My growth strategy: Generosity.
And lastly, my encompassing goal for 2016 is to become a better communicator, especially verbally. Writing is my happy place, and I’m extremely comfortable with public speaking, but there’s still so much room for improvement.
I want to be able to communicate ideas and thoughts more concretely, more whole-heartedly.
Especially as a teacher, I want to be able to give examples through stories that are crystal clear, concise, yet very impactful. I want to be able to easily access and communicate metaphors that are visual, tangible, and relatable.
I’ve got my work cut out for me here, as I will be holding about 10 mentorship calls a month, so the hope is that that will be great practice, and I'll improve over time.
But I may also be designing a new project to accelerate my growth in this category. ;) Something for the 2nd quarter of 2016!
The bottom line + my theme for 2016
No matter how crappy the start of your year is, no matter if you begin the year on a plateau that is so boring and so uninspiring, you always have to remember: YOU HAVE ALL OF 12 MONTHS TO TURN THAT AROUND.
The difference between the beginning and ending of my 2015 were as different as night and day. Don't think that if you didn't start the year right, you can't finish strong. You can. You just have to decide to.
My theme for 2016 is a little different than my previous ones: LEARN GENEROUSLY & NURTURE DIALOGUE.
I wanted to originally use "Teach generously", but the best teachers are the ones who are always learning -- about their craft, about their students, about themselves.
Generosity will definitely be a BIG word for me this year. It will be my business and personal growth strategy. After a year and a half of being so afraid to share myself with others, that's what I'm going to focus on this year.
It's amazing to feel alive again, and I can't wait to spend 2016 sharing my learning (and teaching) journey with you.