2019 was a great year. Here’s my personal retrospect in annual fashion.
But first, why do I do this? What’s the purpose of self-reflection?
I find writing/blogging to be immensely valuable in shaping perspective. In other words, it helps me see my world as it is. It also helps me recall moments and experiences of significance.
A “year in review” is popular for businesses for use of learning. For example, what did we learn, succeed at, fail at, etc. This concept is equally useful for our personal lives. For example, what were my wins, failures, joys, agonies, etc.
Reflection is also a great way to give your mind clarity on progress – i.e. “What did I get done this year?”
Without further ado, here was my year!
Family became more important than ever this past year. My ability to lead and devote time to my family was the #1 priority.
Lets start with the kiddos. My children, Everest and Sepia, have grown so much this year! They’ve kept Gabrielle and I on our toes with new challenges and rewards. Everything from dinner table bribery to intense sibling rivalries. This was certainly the year of Everest and Sepia learning to co-exist as siblings.
Everest just turned 4 and he’s an energetic blast of love meets wild thing. He’s extremely interested in super heros and building things. He’s also very keen on context – i.e. he’s started asking us meaningful questions around what, why and when.
Some of his 2019 highlights:
- Learned to ride a bike (with training wheels)
- Continues to wake up before 6am every day
- Creates detailed stories of the past when “he was a kid” with his cousin Chase (who’s 18 years older than him)
Sepia is about to turn 2 and quickly owning the title of “Sassy princess.” She’s become very vocal this year and has taken a passionate interest in shoes. She’s also the alpha in the sibling relationship, meaning she can scare or intimidate her brother when she chooses to do so.
Some of her 2019 highlights:
- Speaks full sentences with growing vocabulary
- Learned to run and jump
- Loves to sing, but doesn’t love when others sing (Her exact words = “You don’t sing that!”)
As I mentioned, these two are at each other all day long! They’re playing cohesively one minute, and then screaming profusely the next. They love and despise each other. It’s quite funny when we have to pull them apart. We’ll isolate them to separate rooms or areas of the house… yet they always find their way back to each other within 5 minutes or so. There is some true “sibling magnetism” at work here 🙂
Christmas + Holidays
Christmas was also a notable highlight this year. Both kids enjoyed the festive nature of the holidays, including:
- Time with grandparents
- Several evening car trips to see Christmas lights
- Daily rehearsal of our favorite Christmas songs
- Books and movies around Santa Claus
- A special trip to the ICE sculptures at Gaylord Rockies
Watching Everest tear into presents and treats gives me joyful nostalgia. It was such a majestic experience at Christmas time.
I remember waking up early with Amir (my brother). We would snoop downstairs to shake boxes and detect the presents Santa left us. Then we’d barge into my parent’s bedroom and drag them out of bed. Everest already has a similar process in many ways.
All in all, it was a fantastic year as parents. Watching these kids grow is truly amazing. I love spending time with them and plan to continue maximizing this time until they’re too cool for me (hopefully years away!).
My relationship with Gabrielle is stronger and healthier than ever. We’ve been married for 5 years now and together for over 14. There’s a lot of evolution and change that happens in a relationship over this amount of time. With this change, comes new challenges and rewards. Like many other things in life, you have to consistently work at your relationship if you want it to thrive.
That was one of the biggest changes for us in 2019. We fully realized this and took time to work on our relationship. I think most couples [and parents] miss this or simply neglect it. They get so caught up in the daily grind + parenthood, which can certainly consume most of your time. Next thing you know, they become “room-mates” who simply co-exist to keep a roof over their heads and raise children.
Not us. We’re partners in life and we take time to make sure we’re aligned and connected.
Here are a few things we did differently in 2019:
- We took a 9-day trip without the kids (Ireland/Scotland).
- We started scheduling regular date nights on the calendar.
- We had several brutally honest/open conversations around big topics.
- We read The 5 Love Languages together.
- We started scheduling a standing “lunch meeting” every other week.
- We embraced a “story” dialog policy which revolves around truly understanding the others’ frame of thought on something. I’ll draft up a future blog post on this specific topic to due it proper justice.
Overall, there was a common theme in most of the things above.
Spending intentional time and energy on our relationship.
It’s amazing how such a simple thing can drive such major impact. I highly encourage you to do the same if you have any doubts about your marriage. Start an open dialog. And start it today.
The last major family initiative in 2019 was a new home garden! Yep, we started growing produce in our backyard.
We are still very much students of home gardening… but you’ve gotta start somewhere, right?!? So far, we’ve grown zucchini, tomatoes, kale and peppers. The zucchini grew like wildfire.
This is an area we plan to put more time and energy into next spring and summer.
Travel is a big part of our lifestyle in the Jafarian clan. We’ve always put a high value on experiences and will continue to do so.
Here’s a recap of where we visited in 2019.
Ireland + Scotland
Gabrielle and I escaped for our first major trip (alone) since becoming parents. The destination was a 9-day trip to Ireland and Scotland in April. It was amazing.
Some of the highlights included:
- Numerous castle tours + history lessons
- Beautiful escape to the Scottish countryside
- Irish pubs and Scottish distillery tours
- Irish fairy-tale dinner
- Visit to the Titanic museum
- And some good ole rest and relaxation
If you’ve never been to this part of the world I would highly recommend it. The Irish people are so friendly and welcoming with a sense of old fashioned values ever present. The culture makes you feel right at home. The scenery by the coasts is also tough to beat.
We spent a few days in the main cities as well, including Dublin, Belfast and Edinburgh. All three are beautiful cities with unique offerings.
Dublin is filled with historic landmarks, shops and pubs to give you a “past meets modern” Irish experience. It also looks like they’re doing lots of new commercial development to grow the city’s economic influence.
Belfast was an elegant port town just small enough to walk in a day, but large enough to command global recognition. We enjoyed learning about the deep Titanic history and how Belfast still plays a major role in aquatic research.
Edinburgh was a charming experience. This city is so well designed in terms of historic preservation. The main castle sits at the top of a hill in the city centre with roads and alleyways surrounding like a neural network. We enjoyed a particular hike (Arthur’s Seat) to the top of an adjacent hill where we grabbed amazing 360 views.
In retrospect, Gabrielle and I both agreed that we’d love to go back and spend more time in this part of the world.
St. Louis / Branson
We made our annual trip back to St. Louis in July. This included our usual round of seeing old friends and family. However, we did something unique this year by throwing a 3-day Branson trip into the mix!
Branson, Missouri is a family-oriented “entertainment” town with lots to do, eat and experience. I was shocked at how many mini golf locations existed AND were being used in the evenings. There is literally a mini golf spot on every corner!
There were two main highlights for us:
Silver Dollar City
This place is just a mini Disney Land with the midwest vibe. Lots of good rides and activities for the kids. Everyone (but Grammy) was worn out by the end of the day. Beware of the humidity affect if you go in July though!!
Day on the Lake
We took a boat out on Table-rock Lake. This was a lot of fun and my childrens’ first time out on a boat. We did some swimming, water skiing, and mild cliff jumping! I really enjoyed this part of the trip and plan to spend more time on water with the kids as they grow.
In August we headed down to Durango, CO with our good friends, Tim and Sasha, to scope the southwest part of Colorado. This is about 5 hours from where we live (Denver). Durango is an awesome town with its own “red rock” Colorado feel. The drive down is quite scenic with various stops through other Colorado towns.
Some of the trip highlights included:
- A quick tour of the charming downtown Durango.
- A day on Lake Vallecito.
- A couple short hikes with the dogs / kiddos.
- A visit to the Durango train museum.
- Some much needed time away from the city (Denver), where life is much slower and more quiet.
It was a great break from daily life with a slight change of environment. I find this kind of trip to be a great and economical way to “reset” when life starts to get aggressive.
Cabo San Lucas / Florida
The last major trip of the year was a quick business conference for me to Cabo San Lucas while Gabrielle and the kids headed to Florida with my in-laws.
Cabo San Lucas is beautiful. There’s not much else to say! 🙂. This was my 2nd time to Cabo and 5th time to Meh-hee-co, so it was not a new geographical experience for me. Instead, this trip was dedicated to a new business experience in the form of a small conference with some awesome entrepreneurs. I wrote an entire post about my experience at Cabo Press.
The kids had a blast in Florida with their family. There was some great beach time, a trip to the dinosaur museum, and various other family moments in between. I’m pretty sure they indulged in a few more sweets and treats than what is normally allowed at home, but for my sake we’ll just say, “What happened in Florida, stays in Florida.”
Health & Fitness
Health and fitness has always been a huge part of my lifestyle. As I raise young children it continues to remain an area I put lots of time and energy into.
The two things we’re hyper focused on are diet and exercise.
At this point I’m almost 100% vegetarian. I eat fish once or twice per month, and on rare occasion, partake in some meat when prepared by friends (as a courtesy). But outside of that, I’m eating mostly plants.
This has been game-changing. I feel better and notice the increase in energy/performance. I owe most of it to my wonderful wife, Gabrielle, who has been vegan for almost two years now.
End of CrossFit
2019 was also the year I officially moved away from CrossFit and into endurance. I have been a loyal Crossfitter for almost 5 years, and it’s still one of the most effective forms of fitness from my perspective. But at age 34 I’m finding the heavy/intense weight lifting to be a bit too taxing on my body. I do still occasionally throw some heavy weights around in the home gym but my PR days are over.
I will miss the WODs!
A new and awesome experience in 2019 was my first Spartan Race. One of my best friends, Hemad, flew in from Milwaukee to run the Spartan Race with me down in Colorado Springs. This was a 3-hour race with over 8 miles of running and 25 obstacles. It was a grind in the hot/dry Colorado climate… but the challenge was well worth the reward. I felt amazing after completing the race. I cannot say the same for Hemad though 😉
Overall, 2019 was a really good year for business. It served as a rebound year coming off a stressful and rough 2018.
MemberDev is still my flagship business. I have a small [and amazing] team that continues to put out quality software in the membership space. We’re also pushing more on the content side to pursue true thought leadership.
The 2019 strategy for MemberDev was two-fold:
- Stabilize sales and operations for the [current] agency model
- While testing a beta of the [new] platform model
We did exactly that. The platform beta tested well and will be the focus in 2020. As a result, Kyle is getting more involved in 2020 to help lead sales and drive towards significant growth. Joanne will continue to pump out quality content as we ramp up that side of the business in parallel. We’ve also opened a new Insider membership of our own to help build community around some of our growth strategies.
For CM Fusion the intent in 2019 was to simply maintain. We did a lot of building in 2018 so this was a good year to pump the breaks and let things run.
Brian and I did not put much technical time or energy into the business outside of a few new features and steady support of existing customers. This was simply a bi-product of our other priorities. We had a bit of churn as a result… but things are looking good for 2020. We have plans to revive sales/marketing while refining existing areas of the product.
In hindsight, it was actually nice to “step out” and let the business coast for 12 months. This certainly doesn’t lend well to growth goals, but it was refreshing from a personal standpoint. Now I’m excited to jump back in and make 2020 a year of progress.
Credo (New Venture)
And finally, Credo – the “new kid” in the business family.
I joined my good friend, John Doherty, to work on his existing business and get involved as a partner / fractional CTO. I serve as the technical leader in this role helping him reposition the business for growth and expansion.
We’re essentially taking his previous online business and throwing technology + new processes in to make it a marketplace. From a technical perspective, it was a startup. We built a MVP platform around new business modeling and strategy. We’ve learned a ton in the last 12 months, which I shared in my other post – Building a Marketplace from Scratch – Part 1: Early Learnings.
No more startups for Ali!
Most importantly, this experience reminded me how resource intensive startups are. From the physical time/capital to the emotional mastery, they are quite exhausting. They require a lot of energy and commitment no matter how you spin it.
So for me, this is the last true startup I’m going to embrace for a while. I said these exact words to John early on in the year as we started to build the MVP. Guarding my time and watching my children grow is the priority for the foreseeable future. Building and growing businesses is secondary. So the startups will have to wait for a while.
The major reflection on business for me in 2019 was coming to terms with variety. In other words, I’ve battled the conscious decision for years on whether or not I should be involved [and operate] multiple businesses. Depending on who you ask, some would argue strongly for single focus (one business) while others would advise the opposite (multiple businesses).
At this point in my career I have realized that I want and thrive off variety. I’ve written a post to explain my thoughts around this – One Business or Many – When and Why You Should Diversify. 2019 was a pivotal year in accepting this.
Front Row Dads
Last but not least is Front Row Dads (FRD). This was a HUGE part of my 2019, so I wouldn’t be doing the year justice without talking a bit about FRD.
Front Row Dads is a mens group, which we call a “brotherhood,” that I joined back in May. It’s for family men with businesses, not businessmen with families. And quite frankly, it’s completely changed my life.
I say those words with meaning and conviction. It’s truly changed my life.
FRD has given me so much insight and personal growth as a father, husband and overall human being. From the podcast to the in-person retreat I attended in October, it’s provided new tools and inspiration to become the best version of myself – which directly translates into being a better family man.
I cannot emphasize how game-changing this has been. It’s one thing to say you’re going to be a better father, and an entirely other thing to become one. It also takes work to live up to this! Society and daily distractions make it so easy to neglect family and focus on other things. So for me, this group keeps me grounded and focused on what’s truly important in life.
If you’re a father who runs a business, or has an intense career for that matter, I highly recommend Front Row Dads. I promise you will learn something and become re-humbled into a better human being.
Overall, 2019 was fantastic. As Jon from FRD would say, “We’re in a good season of life right now.” I am blessed to have wonderful people and things happening around me. There will certainly be future down seasons and challenges, but 2019 has taught me how to be more present, mindful and intentional. I plan to carry these learnings into 2020 and future years to come.
Until the next reflection!
Ali is a father, husband and serial entrepreneur with a deep drive to create. He writes, records, codes and builds things to inspire the artist in all of us.