Looking back on 2018

The last post was what the kids these days call real. I shared with you my feelings and thoughts on not passing the FSO orals, my lessons learned, and the importance of persevering in this process.

The effect from writing that post is more important to me. I was reminded again that this community is amazing. The emails and comments submitted to me were all supportive, and I want to thank every single one of you for your encouragement.

I don’t know what 2019 will hold, but I do know that if at any point I question the Foreign Service as a career. I have you to reach out to for guidance.

In addition to all of your encouragement, the publishing of this last article did get me to look back on 2018, as one also tends to do at the end of the year, and to assess how these last 12 months have gone.

You know what, it’s been pretty awesome.

So awesome that I’ve decided to write this more upbeat article on just some of the experiences and things that I have either done or learned. I am doing this because I want to, but also because I have heard from several of you who have asked for writing that is more on the personal side.

So, what follows has 95% nothing to do with the Foreign Service.

You’ve been warned. 🙂

But first, two more disappointments…

Along with not passing the orals, there were two more disappointments with 2018.

First, there was absolutely no new episode of the Game of Thrones HBO show or the publishing of the sixth book “The Winds of Winter”. George R. R. Martin did publish a new historical piece, titled “Fire and Blood” which is 750 or so pages long, about Westeros during the age of dragons, or something along those lines. But, George, we want the sixth book! I’ve read them all and have watched all the episodes. The withdrawals for new material are real.

Thankfully, we are finally getting teasers for the last season of the show, which will air in April 2019.

…I still might get the “Fire and Blood” book though.

Second, the newest installment to the Harry Potter franchise, “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald”, was a disappointment. As a source of new material, ok it wasn’t too bad, though I think there are a lot of little things that will be discussed in future installments, and a lot of little things that just do not make sense. But as a movie… how do I add poop emojis to a blog? There are just way too many things for me to critique that I will not go into here (e.g., what was with all the crazy face zooming?).

Y’all are probably thinking about now that I am a nerd.

Yes I am.

Awesome things learned and experienced in 2018

This year had a lot of wonderful new adventures, experiences, and lessons learned – either new tools, new books, or other. I will not go into everything, and I know I don’t recall all of them, but here we go, in no particular order.


The One Thing, by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan: This book is awesome! It’s already on my to read again list, and most likely what I read to start 2019 off. Basically, it’s all about simplifying your career, life, to do list, to focus on that “one thing” that will help you progress to meeting your goals. Simplification and focus.

Immediately after reading I incorporated some of the practices into my day-to-day and saw improvement. In January, I’ll read it again to strengthen the foundation already learned. This book has applications for your life, and I definitely found it useful for prepping for the Foreign Service exam.

Stamped from the Beginning: the definitive history of racist ideas in America, by Ibram X. Kendi: The winner of the 2016 National Book Award for Nonficition. All I have to say is wow. As the title describes, Ibram does an excellent job of weaving the different historical narratives regarding racism to make an important and critical point: “racist ideas did not arise from ignorance or hatred. Instead, they were devised and honed by some of the most brilliant minds of each era”. To improve why the country acts and thinks the way it does, one of the most important tasks that must be done is to conduct introspection to understand how “racist ideas were developed, disseminated, and enshrined in American society”. This deeply researched book does just that, and I suggest it to you.

Furthermore, I actually had the privilege to get to know Ibram. In a previous role, I was the senior officer for a fellowship program that provides funding to rising education research leaders. Through the grant, we funded a part of Ibram’s research. I am excited to know that our funding played a role in this seminal work.

His Dark Materials, by Philip Pullman: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. This is more a throwback to my youth than anything else. I learned that BBC is transforming these books into a series for 2019 (thank goodness as the movie was not good). I got excited and decided to read them all again.

NPR and The Economist continue to be great sources of news in my book, and have definitely helped me in my knowledge to take the FSOT. Other notable publications are the New York Times and the Washington Post.


I’ve always found personal finance and investing to be interesting and important. For this combined reason, I keep an eye out for new products that help with these necessary life activities. When it comes to apps, I really believe we are in a golden age of financial investing, and here are a few that I support or I am interested to see what happens in 2019:

M1 Finance: No-fee investing in the companies or ETFs of your choice, allows for fractional buying, and most importantly no-fee automatic recurring deposits and rebalancing. This is really one of the best platforms I have seen come up.

Robinhood: No-fee stock purchases. Where M1 Finance is geared towards the longterm investor, Robinhood is more focused on the beginner and amateur. But just like M1 Finance, the no-fee purchase of stocks is awesome.

SoFi: Currently the highest online checking account rate I have found at 2.00%.

Bumped: Now this one I am very excited to see come to fruition. They are currently in beta, but the gist is this: companies should award you for your loyalty in purchasing their product. Bumped allows companies to provide this loyalty via stocks in the company. Every time you pay for their product, a percentage of your payment is used to buy partial stock in that company (e.g. you spend $100 at target, which might have a rate of 5%. You now have $5 worth of Target stock). There is no cost to the user. This could revolutionize company loyalty programs.

Personal Capital: The best personal wealth online tracker tool out there, and free. No complaints with this product, and helps you manage all your accounts. I 100% recommend.


Alaska and Delta airlines continue to impress me as U.S. airline companies. When I have to fly United or American, I am usually left disappointed. SouthWest I am still on the fence about.

Cold weather means getting warm gear. I finally bought a puffy jacket, on sale, that fits right in with the Pacific Northwest, and wow does it do a great job of insulation, being a wind breaker, and keeping the rain out. Likewise, for the bed, flannel sheets… life changer during the winter. Both are great upgrades.


Engaged: Not going to go into the details, but let’s just say that Crater Lake National Park makes a great backdrop to a proposal on a beautiful day.

Bought a house: this has got to be one of the most revealing experiences you can go through, financially. You are literally showing a few people, or groups, all of your financial history. Before this moment, I did this with one other person, and I am marrying her. But in the end, we got a house! Nothing fancy, just a two bed one bath, but we are happy homeowners. It’s winter time now, so we are both looking forward to spring and summer to really enjoy the yard.

Learned (let’s use this term flexibly) to ski at White Pass and Crystal Mountain early this year, both around Mt. Rainier. I got to use some of my muscles I didn’t know existed. I am very much looking forward to the upcoming season. Can we all agree that little kids skiing are the worst? They know no concept of death, are low to the ground, and can pick up crazy speed with control… and are super nice. After I fell, gracefully of course (by that I mean skis flying everywhere and someone yelling “yard sale!”), I had a bunch of kids wiz by me, super calm. Well, the saying holds true, best to start young. I’ll keep at it though.

London! I was best man to my mate from high school who lives in London. My partner and I flew out there a week in advance to go and see the sites. As it was not our first time there, we took the opportunity to go and visit the not so touristy areas, which was great. We also watched Les Miserables, which was fantastic and a bucket list item, and go see the Harry Potter studios, which was awesome if you are into the movies, which we are. The wedding was amazing, and it was a privilege to serve as best man to my friend from Kenya.

National and state parks. This has been by far the best aspect of living up here in WA. The outdoors. The water, mountains, forests, rivers, everything. It will be hard to move away, whenever that happens. By far my favorites area has got to be the Olympic Mountains. The mountain range alone is gorgeous, but what makes them all the more spectacular are the old growth forests. While we lived in D.C. it was a non-stop activity to go to the next “thing”. Here, it is a non-stop activity to go on the next hike. I am enjoying the latter so much more.

Wrapping it up

Well, those are just a few of the experience and some of the cool things I have been getting into and learning about.

This was a different type of post to what I normally write, because I shared with you a little bit more about me and what I enjoy outside of the Foreign Service. I hope you found it enjoyable. I look forward to what 2019 has in store, and I hope you do as well!

So let’s hear it from you! What is a cool experience and/or a cool thing you learned in 2018?

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