Earlier this month I celebrated my birthday. For a while now I’ve treated my birthday like my own personal New Year’s Day. What I mean by that is I often reflect on what’s working, what’s not working and things I’d like to change going forward. Since going to work for myself, I’ve even expanded on this idea and made a point of taking my birthday off for a bit of introspection. Every year I find it’s a precious day and every year I take it a little bit more seriously.

Working with my pal Mike Schmitz over at the Focused podcast, inspired me to go even deeper this year with my “Birthday retreat”. In the past, I’ve gone to the beach or somewhere unfamiliar to get myself off the grid. This year I had some family plans in the late afternoon and didn’t want to spend the day driving so instead I went to my familiar Starbucks in the early morning along with a paper notebook, a fancy pen, and no technology. I unplugged myself from the Internet, turned my notebook to a clean page and just started writing.

I didn’t have a plan as I got started. Initially I intended to be there an hour or two, but in the end, the process (including a long walk and a nice lunch) was six hours.

The first thing I did was write down at the top of the page,”How am I doing?” I then wrote a small essay in answer to that question concerning each of the various areas of my life. In my case, that was MacSparky, the law practice, relationships, self-care, and overall. Like I said earlier, I didn’t have a plan.

I started with the intention of a sentence or two on each subject and, in my head at least, get all of those areas covered with one page of my notebook. However, when I started writing, things just began to pour out of me, and I quickly realized my arbitrary ideas out page count had to go out the window. Paper is cheap! I wrote for pages and pages. Apparently, I had a lot to get off my chest.

After that, I took a walk.

Then I turned to a new page in wrote a new question, “Where can I get better at this?”

By then I was wise to the fact that this process was going to take a while, so I settled into it. I then took on the same five categories discussed above and wrote at length about areas that I could to improve. I tried to take a growth mindset to the process. Again, I had a lot to say. Having just spent time reflecting on areas I can improve upon, I tried to figure out, constructively, how to turn thoughts into actions (and some new habits).

As I continued using up ink and pages, I noticed a word that kept showing up.


I didn’t start this little retreat with the idea of coming up with a theme for the next year, although I must admit I do like the idea. (Myke Hurley and CGP Grey’s yearly themes make a lot of sense to me.) Regardless, as I continued to write, I realized that I did have a recurring theme relating to things I can improve upon. I need to be more intentional.

Looking back over the last few years, the place I seem to fall down most often is when I dive into a project without thinking or ramble through days (and sometimes weeks) without clear intention. The things I want to fix quite often require me to bring more intention when both making and executing commitments.

I have always considered myself good at avoiding emotional whirlwinds. Partly as a result of lifelong meditation practice but also partly because I don’t get frazzled easily. What surprised me during this little retreat, however, was, upon reflection, the realization of how easily I can let life waylay my intentions.

There is a lot of personal thoughts in my notebook from that day, but here’s one paragraph I’m willing to share:

“Too often, I let the storm of life carry me away. The smallest client thing or smallest distraction will appear and needlessly lay waste to my plans, my focus, and my day.”

That sentence was the big take away for me from my small birthday retreat. Going into this next year, I intended to work on that. I’m not even sure at this point what that means, but I’ve already taken some small steps. I’m trying to give more respect to my carefully laid plans. If I care enough to make a plan, I need an excellent reason to upset it (or something needs to be truly on fire). Also, I’ve decided I am going to be much more intentional about that ever-so-dangerous word, “yes” and not use it going forward without some real reflection and a few night’s sleep.

I’m still figuring out what intentionality means to me. I’ve left some pages in my notebook and am continuing to reflect on this routinely.

Regardless, I find the birthday retreat one of the best things I do every year. Maybe with a little intentionality, I can spend even more time on these types of reflections and getting myself sorted out.