Earl Lee in Paris

Note: I recently created a personal website/blog where I will start posting these annual reflection and goal-setting posts as well as thoughts on tech. Check it out at EarlVLee.com!

2018 was an incredible year. Certainly not the easiest but when has incredible ever been easy? This year, I went from not programming since 2015 to coding 40 hours a week on top of a full-time job, vaguely considering business school to cramming for the GRE and applying, and leading a team of 5 on the FiscalNote mobile app to a team of almost 20 across web & mobile engineering, design, and QA. I got to visit Peru—my first South American trip—stopped by Beijing for business, visited Paris to see my girlfriend, and spent a weekend in Chicago for the first time. I placed 3rd at a weightlifting competition and even learned to kayak and snowboard.

It wasn’t all snowflakes and rainbows, however. There were many bittersweet moments when friends in D.C. moved on to their next great adventures—likely a factor in why I was so productive—and sad moments when friends and family fell ill or moved on to the ultimate destination.

Through all of these experiences, I remember that the only constant is change but that change is ultimately a positive force. (For a good read/video on these topics, I’d recommend Steve Job’s commencement speech at Stanford back in 2005.)

2018 Reflection

Getting straight to the point, here’s how I did on my 2018 goals.

  • Launch 1 new idea
    • I learned React.js and brushed up on server-side programming to launch Retaino!
  • Read 18 books
    • I fell sorely behind on this goal, completing only five books. Luckily, all five were excellent: Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller Sr., The Halo Effect, The Hard Thing About Hard Things, The War on Normal People, and Factfulness. I think the main reason I didn’t spend much time reading was that I spent a lot of time working on Retaino and applying to business school. In 2019, I’ll leverage reading as a form of entertainment instead of social media and fill idle time with audiobooks.
  • PR all lifts by 10% or more and be 155 lbs / 10% BF
    • I missed this goal but remain undeterred. On the bright side, I found a coach and started training with an amazingly diverse team. One of the obstacles that limited progress here was losing a lot of strength while I intermittent fasted for a month and went on a couple of trips abroad.
  • Meet 50 new, interesting people
    • Not sure if I completed this goal, but I admire the late David Rockefeller’s studiousness on this point. According to WSJ, he accumulated around 200,000 note cards on the people he met.
  • Complete 5 side projects
    • I migrated Toastable to my own hosting after nearly 10 years of hosting it on one of my dad’s servers, started working with a nonprofit called Firoz that’s focused on educating kids in Afghanistan, and launched an MVP for Retaino. Regretfully, I didn’t sell any photos which was another side project goal of mine.
  • Try 5 new productive habits
    • I started adding more vegetables to my diet and regulating my protein consumption to more moderate levels, woke up 2-3 hours earlier to work on side projects before going into the office, single tasked more, and spent less time on social media.

In 2018, I learned how important it is to communicate and to make others feel heard, not to invest in things you don’t really know about or trying to time markets, and being careful to avoid diminishing returns on time—blog posts for another time.

2019 Goals

  • Deeply learn one new topic—computer vision, statistics, machine learning, etc—by taking an online course or reading a textbook. I generally view deep understanding of a subject area as a pre-requisite to creating something unique and valuable.
  • Improve Retaino by knocking out 10 substantial features, launching a mobile app, and starting to publicize on places such as Product Hunt.
  • Publish 12 tech/product blog posts by writing once a month, including one—or few—on lessons learned throughout my journey at FiscalNote. Writing helps clarify and reason through thought.
  • Total 200kg in weightlifting (e.g. 87.5kg snatch + 112.5kg clean & jerk) by training 5-6 days/week and tracking macronutrients.
  • Consume 18 books by reading one book a month and listening to audiobooks when doing low-mental capacity work such as eating or commuting. The secondary goal here is to limit social media and mindless content consumption—which is necessary to have time for books. Reading is like GPS for the mind: you get the distilled learnings of what others had to earn through painstaking experience—which is not to discount the fact that some things are learned only through experience.
  • Travel to 2 new countries, ideally one trip with current friends and one trip with new friends, because I believe experience different cultures is one of the best ways to generate new ideas and increase adaptability to the unknown.
  • Meet 100 new people to learn about what they do and are interested in (another way to come across new ideas and arguably one of the best ways to learn).

To elaborate on some of these goals, I generally view the deep understanding of a subject area as a pre-requisite to building something unique and valuable. Writing helps clarify and reason through thought.


This fall, I’ll start my MBA & MS Engineering at Harvard Business School and the School of Engineering & Applied Science. I’m excited to fill gaps in my business sense and explore new industries & technologies. Ultimately, I aim to figure out what I want to build next and set myself up to do so.

In the meantime, I plan to work on some new and ongoing projects such as Retaino until the fall. 2018 set the bar high, but with a ton of work and a bit of luck, I’m planning for 2019 to be as rewarding or more rewarding than 2018!

Thanks for reading. Send me a note via email, text, Messenger, or Instagram—I’d love to hear from you!

About Earl

Hi, my name is Earl. I am a student who loves to analyze food and eat healthy. My careful eye for food has caused me to become interested in the science behind food and cooking, and I write about my explorations into food on my website Toastable.com. While I believe in sticking to whole, natural foods, I'm not afraid to work with avant-garde ingredients and equipment such as constant temperature water baths and sodium alginate. I also love photography, technology, and journalism.

10. February 2019 von Earl
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