Annual Review 2014

by Travis Hellstrom
Note: This is a long post (over 1,000 words).


Planning around the new year can be stressful.

It’s a time that can feel both exciting and make me anxious.

I’ve read a lot of books over the years ranging from being highly effective to goal-free and found that all of them have testimonials that they work great. It really depends on you.

Keeping It Simple

Personally I like a simplified version when I sit down each year. This is the 8th year I have done a formal Annual Review.

Each year I print out a simple guide that I made myself and fill it in with a pen. In the guide I answer three simple questions and then set a theme for the year. You can download the guide for free here.

Here are some of the highlights from my 2014 Annual Review in case they are helpful to you as you go through your own.

What Went Well in 2013

  • Personal - lots of great trips all over the country with my wife to see friends, had a relaxing three-month summer vacation with family, got a new computer, launched my new website, stopped biting my nails, started a cream soda adventure, started getting in better shape after grad school, and moved to a new town and a new townhouse we love.
  • Education - finished year of grad school on campus, good start to my second year, helped organize a successful 5K, and lots of incredible social entrepreneurship, management and leadership experience.
  • Humanitarian - supported New Media Group in Mongolia as new VP of Global Affairs, incorporated Advance Humanity as a benefit corporation in Vermont with great partners and fellows, launched a new website, laid groundwork for new programs, created several great business partnerships, became a Certified B Corps and launched our new online community.

What Didn’t Go Well in 2013

  • Personal - As I mentioned before, this was one of the hardest years of my life. My health suffered in graduate school and I didn’t exercise or live as healthy as I could have. I tried to make up for this over the summer and into the fall. I also lost focus on a lot of my personal goals, didn’t say “no” to enough things and let my writing slip a lot.
  • Education - My practicum was off to a slow start and I should have given it more attention, I’ve gotten great experience but haven’t kept up with monthly updates well. I took on too many projects during graduate school and spent less time than I should have with the right people.
  • Humanitarian - Lost my personal focus and was too scattered in the many projects I was taking on, I also trusted people too quickly and didn’t give them time to prove themselves, didn’t have healthy schedule and routines and spent too much time confused about my competing roles between Advance Humanity, myself and various projects.

What I’d Love to Do in 2014

  • Personal - I want to have a clear picture of who I want to be, support my wife’s personal and professional dreams, follow a healthy schedule everyday where I am productive and happy doing work that I love, plan out my priorities every week, simplify my personal brand and website, write 1000 words every day, and appreciate and spent time with the wonderful people in my life.
  • Education - I want to work hard of my thesis project and graduate this May, organize an online conference with experts in the social entrepreneurship and humanitarian leadership fields, begin teach university classes and create a guide that is helpful to everyday humanitarians around the world.
  • Humanitarian - I want to reach out to mentors regularly, interview exceptional people I admire, build a location independent lifestyle, build Advance Humanity into a strong organization, support great organizations and individuals that I believe in and ask myself every day, “Is this simplifying my life?”

Theme for the Year

I also have a theme for each year. I started doing this eight years ago, after reading Goal-Free Living by Stephen Shapiro.

Here are the themes I’ve chosen in the past:

Year of Discovery (2007) - I graduated from college, applied to Peace Corps and prepared for discovering new things about the world and myself. Mark Twain's quote really inspired me.

Year of Endeavor (2008) - I left for Peace Corps and began living and working in Mongolia as a Health Volunteer. I wanted to see the whole year and every day as an adventure.

Year of Advance Humanity (2009) - I began deciding what this idea was all about, how I wanted to share it with others and how they could join in the effort.

Year of Greatness (2010) - I wanted to define greatness for myself and my life. I wrote in the theme statement: This year I want to live my greatest life in the greatest service to others.

Year of Reflection (2011) - I wanted to focus on getting married, finishing my time with Peace Corps, writing Enough and spent more time meditating, slowing down and experiencing things more deeply.

Year of Awesomeness (2012) - I began focusing on launching Advance Humanity as a social movement, spent the year developing the website, working with New Media Group and starting graduate school.

Year of Unity (2013) - I spent last year trying to bring together all of the various projects, organizations and initiatives I was involved in, unifying them under Advance Humanity.

Theme for 2014

This year I want my theme to be Simplicity.

I’ve always loved the idea of living simply and this year I’m going to focus my energy on it. I will be paring things down, simplifying my involvement with various projects and getting back to the people and things that I love most. It will take time but I hope throughout the year my personal and professional life will become simpler. In fact, to start the year off, I'm hosting our first month in our new Advance Humanity Community on Living Simply. Come check it out!


Chances are, if you are reading this, you have been an important part of this past year for me. Even though it's been a hard year, it's also been a wonderful year and I feel very grateful to everyone who has been a part of it. Thank you.


I really hope this is the best year of your life no matter where you are.

And if I can ever be helpful, please let me know.