Reflections on 2009

Well, I hemmed and hawed, and I wasn't planning on doing one of these this year, but I've finally decided to do it. A lot of things happened in my life in 2009, and a lot of it was actually good. So I feel like sharing.

My career had basically stalled at the company I was working for, but out of comfort I didn't want to leave. Amazingly, I spend the majority of last year getting paid to sit on my hands. My company actively ensured that I (like most of my coworkers) did no real work since fall of 2008. Would I like to have been more productive career-wise? Yes. But overall, I think I used that dead time effectively.

For starters, I did manage to do some work-related work, and with a wealth of free time to do it in, I made the choice to learn more advanced languages, tools, and architectures. Using those more advanced development strategies was almost certainly overkill for the tasks I performed, but the knowledge I gained was valuable for my career. And frankly, when a company isn't interested in using my talents effectively, I'm going to use their resources to improve my marketability toward finding a better company to work for.

Next, I managed to use a lot of my free time, both at work and at home, to study Russian. I began 2009 knowing perhaps 10 useful phrases in the Russian language. A year later, I am beyond conversational and close to fluent. I understand 70-80% of what I hear, and have a vocabulary of approximately 3500 words. I can read, write, speak, listen, search the web, order dinner, and withdraw money from my bank in Russian.

But I didn't stop there... I've also begun learning Italian, Ukrainian, and Polish. Admittedly, Italian is easiest for me, being a fluent Spanish-speaker... but I can successfully read and understand Ukrainian and Polish, and I have even followed a few simple recipes written in Polish on food packages.

On finances, I dropped more than $10,000 in debt last year and paid off all but one of my credit cards. I might have done even better -- maybe even completely paid it all off -- but supporting two additional people, paying for repairs from a house fire, covering high medicine expenses for a Medicare donut-hole, and a handful of other large purchases prevented me from complete success. I will complete this, however within the first couple of months this year.

That financial progress was boosted toward the end of the year as I changed jobs not once, but twice in November -- in spite of all the horror stories about our economy. I've upgraded my career to one that is thoroughly enjoyable and far more fulfilling, and I manage to bring home more money too. All of this leaves me with good prospects for what's to come in 2010.

And with regard to my photographic passions and goals, I was contacted last year by an editor compiling a book of photography, and I will have my work published. While it won't actually be published until this year, I count this as recognition given last year for the amazing progress my artwork saw in 2009.

And 2009 was also a year filled with new experiences. I had many firsts, including seeing a symphony, going to the ballet, attending a master piano recital, riding a train across country, seeing showgirls dance in Las Vegas, and learning to make crepes.

So what's on tap for 2010? There's no knowing for sure, but here are my thoughts at present:

I had intended to do international travel last year and I failed that. Partially due to poor planning, but mostly due to a new economic situation for the world, and for myself. This year, those excuses won't work. My finances are completely under control, and my plans are more specific: For my two (minimum) international trips, I want to drive to Canada to see Niagara Falls, and I want to fly to Russia and ride the Trans-Siberian express cross-country.

While continuing to study and improve in Russian, I intend to achieve at least conversational level in Polish and fluency in Italian. This is an aggressive goal, but one which I feel I can achieve. I will measure my success in Polish by shopping in the many Polish stores here in Chicago while not using English. And I will measure my success in Italian by finding Italians with whom to converse... perhaps by Skype, or perhaps by finding a local group... or perhaps by traveling to Italy.

I also intend to experience some more "firsts", including (but not limited to): riding in a hot air balloon, skydiving, and snowboarding. This is also a good year for me to cross of more states which I haven't visited yet. I wonder if I could use Alaska as a jump-off point to Russia...
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