This year had so much potential and after two tough years in a row, I was really looking forward to a better one. If I focus on myself, the year was okay: I switched jobs for the better and worked on improving my overall approach to productivity. But as soon as I widen the circle even slightly, it becomes clear it was a bad year. There are no two ways about it: The year’s end made it impossible to call it anything else.
An Awful End
The year took its most challenging turn when my partner lost her job in December. It was sudden and unexpected, but she handled it with incredible grace and professionalism. Despite our frustrations with the political climate affecting jobs, we need to learn to adapt and find new paths. We will be fine, but there’s a lingering sadness over losing the relative safety we felt through all these challenging years since the pandemic.
Additionally, towards the end of the year, my grandparents' health became more of a concern, reminding me to cherish every moment with them. I’m particularly proud of my grandpa’s bravery as he has started to undergo severe cancer treatment in December.
Despite our careful planning and genuine excitement, Christmas turned out to be less than ideal. A series of small mishaps unfolded: the toilet in our train compartment was broken, we initially got the wrong type of hotel room, endured a terrible experience at a shopping mall, narrowly avoided a traffic accident, struggled with Napu’s sound sensitivity that cost us a lot of sleep. I also fell ill on Christmas Eve, spending the day in the hotel room instead of with family. These issues, even though not that bad on their own, taken as one left us feeling quite upset. This was especially sad for me, because I had looked forward to the holiday in a way I hadn’t in many years.
However, I want to think there is a silver lining in this experience. We’ve learned some valuable lessons for future holidays, like the benefits of taking a car train instead of driving over 800 kilometers ourselves and choosing to stay in a hotel for space to decompress and rest.
Amidst these challenges, there were highlights in the first three quarters of the year. I’m thrilled about my new job, which I started in July. I have not only nice colleagues, but nice bosses, too. The work environment is open to my ideas and the tasks are challenging but well suited to my skills.
Our summer was wonderful, including a memorable trip to Finland’s Perämeri National Park, visiting Kilpisjärvi once more and finally hiking through Malla’s strict nature reserve. Perämeri is special, because it’s challenging to visit (it consists of a group of islands and you need to hire a water taxi to get there).
Beyond these trips, there were countless wonderful moments in our day-to-day life, too: solving jigsaw puzzles, watching TV, hiking day trails and collecting berries. Despite ups and downs, we had many opportunities to laugh and enjoy each other’s company - and we did.
While interacting with Napu this year, I learned the importance of understanding trigger stacking, letting her make choices and providing her with a safe and positive environment to learn and grow. She was a joy to have with and around us.
Even in a bad year there’s things to learn and take with me into what comes next. Here’s an incomplete list of some of the things I found valuable to have learned this year:
- I am pretty sure that I’d like to focus my efforts to grow professionally in the direction of code quality and software architecture. This is not the same as trying to become a tech lead or manager. And it’s good to know the difference.
- I have learned that it’s okay to watch VODs of the same Slay The Spire Streamers on Youtube while playing Dead Cells. This is my way to relax. I don’t need to impress anyone while relaxing. If this is what my brain wants to do after a hard day, that’s fine.
- Between 10 am and 1 pm is my crunch time. This is when my brain is the most capable and my environment permits the most undistracted work. It hasn’t always been that way. I was able to do some of my best work in the evenings before but this has changed. I feel like it’s immensely helpful to know when I can do my best work, because that means I know now which time slot needs to be protected the most.
- I learned that positive emotions make the biggest difference in habit formation. If I can bring myself to authentically feel good about doing a thing, chances are high(er) that I will do the same thing when I encounter the same trigger later. The old view is that habits form through repetition alone, but it’s actually the immediate positive feedback that I can induce myself by celebrating right after I did a thing that makes all the difference.
- Skipping breakfast as a form of intermittent fasting is actually not that hard.
- LLMs may be ethically and environmentally questionable but they are tools that are insanely helpful. They are here to stay. I have found great use cases and have had a chance to play around with more advanced features thanks to a GPTPlus subscription through my company.
- I took steps to improve my productivity setup this year and a couple of things that I feel like I finally understood:
- Use one tool to keep a certain kind of data (Task? OmniFocus, Note? Obsidian, Event? Fantastical. Misc. Reminder I can’t miss? Due.), link tasks and notes, but don’t write notes into your task management app and reminders for tasks or notes into your calendar. Have bright, clear lines what tool you use for what and remove redundancies ruthlessly.
- Use only what you need, when you need it. Sometimes I only need a note. Sometimes I only need a reminder in Due, sometimes I need to do elaborate planning and tracking in OmniFocus, with a canvas and lots of notes in Obsidian, time blocking in my calendar, etc. The important point is that the ratio of work to “meta work” should be correct. If I work more to organize my work than actually doing my tasks I’m in trouble.
Despite 2023’s terrible end, there were moments of happiness and growth. However, I’m approaching 2024 with cautious optimism.
What makes a good year is a smaller gap between my expectations and reality, leading to fewer disappointments. The new year will be about managing expectations and rolling with the punches. I’m prepared to do both!
This last year was not a great year. I wouldn’t say it was as bad as 2021. But it was a challenging year. 2022 was a year of increasing uncertainty. There was (and is) war happening very close by (or at least that’s how it feels). There is the economic down turn, which touches everything and everyone around me.
I look back and see a year that was defined by trying to get a grip, finally (for the umpteenth time). I was successful for a while, but almost nothing I tried to do stuck throughout the year (and beyond): I did not become a microcaster, an early riser, a newsletter writer, for example. Notable exceptions: Duolingo (500+ days streak) and my DailyDogo series of posts here on the blog. I started a side project that I will claim is still ongoing, even though I have not invested any time into it since mid December.
Now, not all projects are meant to be continuous, or even meant to succeed. I know that and it’s fine. I do appreciate the insight gained from projects more than their outcomes. Nonetheless it is gnawing at me that I do not have a lot to show in terms of progress regarding my own ideas. I feel like I ought to be capable enough to make things (bring side projects to a “version 1” state, continuously publish side projects that are ongoing, like newsletters), change or add habits, transform my surroundings in a positive manner, etc. I feel like I should be able to succeed sometimes, at least.
Let me say it again: Despite what I just wrote, I do appreciate that I have not stood still and it would be wrong to claim that nothing good came out of me trying hard in whatever it may have been. I just feel like that I would like to be able to show something for the effort, something tangible.
Take my note taking system for example: For literal decades (only 2, but that still warrants the plural) I have honed and refined my skill to take notes, to think in notes and therefore am able to think many interesting thoughts beyond what a single “thought session” may come up with. I feel like this makes me good at my job. It actually makes me good at life I’ll claim, because my reflections are more mature and I do know myself better than without. The question is though: If I’m so great, where are the results of me being good? I’m a middling programmer - I do recognize that I started my career later than others and I know that I have not reached my ceiling and am far from it: I even made steps forward to becoming more proficient. But still. I’m an okay writer (or was) - not in English, mind you - but where are the publications? I’m a pretty good thinker - but where are my contributions to a field, any field, that I have had academic training in (history, sociology, anthropology of science and technology and computer science)?
It seems to me that I’m caught in a stage of continuously drafting grand visions of my future if I look back through the many years of yearly reviews I have done. I’m pretty sick of it. In 2022 I already made a change towards not changing my plans, but instead refining them. I count this as my biggest professional success. I made my peace with having a career in software development (now about 5 years in) and am trying to learn more about software architecture (only slightly successful, but nonetheless).
In my private life, our dog has been a great source of happiness. At the same time having a dog is challenging. My family lives about 2000 km away. My partner’s family lives about 800 km away. So visits to either part of the family became much, much harder to organize and carry out. The same is true for vacations. Daily life with a dog is great, but it’s not a neutral thing either: A dog warrants attention, love, decision making and so many different things. Your life will change and it will revolve around the dog a lot. This is maybe not surprising intellectually, but experientially it feels still much different than what it may have looked like beforehand. I do not regret having a dog, as hard as it was raising or quite simply dealing with her this year sometimes, but I won’t say that everything was fine and easy going all the time either. Still, I love her like a crazy dog dad loves his fur child.
We got engaged this year. We are now seven years together. I take this as a great sign that we are truly there for each other - through thick and thin. It was not an easy year. Lots of emotional support was needed. I’m happy to say that I was able to give it, when I could. As an introvert - yep, that’s true even when it comes to my partner - it wasn’t always an easy thing to do, but I can look at myself in the mirror and honestly say that I tried hard in this regard. And I won’t only complain, either: The vast vast VAST majority of our time together has been fun and something to look forward to. I love sharing my life with my favorite person and love having lots of memorable moments together.
I have become a little rounder last year. Maybe two or three kilos - or is it five? A little grayer, too. I’m 36 now. I feel like I’m fine with my age and my looks. “Not having anything to show for the effort”-itis (see above) is surely a sign of getting older, I think and I do recognize that I’m not super young anymore, but getting older is not worrying me. That’s good. I think.
So what will I remember from 2022? Our engagement for sure. How I got sick of grand plans maybe? That 2022 was economically a terrible year and I’m happy that we were not too hard hit? Maybe that I tried hard on many occasions, despite any track record or tangible results?
Maybe I will remember this year as a kind of beacon, like from a light house: On the one hand I had some insights that will surely inform my decision making next year. On the other hand, I came close at times to run aground in the shoals of actual lived adulthood. I have to be careful, but I also want to take heart: I’m looking as ever hopeful into the future. Maybe I’m able to not only claim a realistic approach next year but actually live one also.
A difficult year. In better moments it was a so-so year. In other moments in which I take the bigger lines and shapes of my life into account it has been a bad year.
There is a dog now in the family and that makes me happy. We had a great summer vacation in northern Finnland. But this year was not without strain to keep moving in a positive direction or at least not lose ground. Like making it through fast flowing rapids. There was lots of stress: self-made and unavoidable at once. I broke my arm in the end of 2020 and needed to heal the first few months of 2021. Things at the job were hard and at times disappointing. Looking back, this year showed me the strength of my now six year long relationship; That we managed to get through this year together, trying to understand each other even more, giving each other space, when we knew there were lots of things going on. I am proud of us being able to talk, to forgive and to move on. Around midnight, when the neighbors were lighting fireworks, we acknowledged the year for what it was, especially for us two (the dogo was sleeping through the explosions…). Me being the more optimistic person even went as far as being hopeful for the new year. It carries the opportunity of a fresh start. We smiled and kissed.
The pandemic didn’t help. Being here in Finnland’s north meant that we both experienced increasing cabin fever: a new topic was discovered. Do we need to move? How do we manage giving space and time to each other in a loving, non-condescending way? One fascinating aspect of being in a long-term relationship is how the relationship and with it oneself and the other changes over time. I wonder what captures this dynamic better: The continued reveal of yet another onion skin or a more evolutionary abstract image of ever-changing symbiotic organisms. It is the question between an essentialist and non-essentialist viewpoint. Whatever it is: Not knowing (or rather: deciding) makes this dynamic no less interesting to me.
This year was hard and in many ways one I’d like to forget. But I won’t reduce the year to that. There were beautiful, funny, heartwarming, delightful moments. And these I won’t forget.
I am grateful for the past year’s me trying to keep the ship afloat even when I wasn’t feeling like it.
I am grateful that I continued to be interested in cooking dinner for us. I feel like I have improved a little.
I am grateful for the dog coming into our lives, our little chaos agent, that brought us so much happiness in a year of strain.
I am grateful for my relationship and my partner being there and giving me the reality check that I sometimes needed. Or the back rub. Or the space and time. Or the normality of everyday life. I love you for your honesty, humor, your smile and you holding me accountable. You, like no other can make me reconsider a strongly held belief. You, like no other can make me belief I could be a decent man if I tried. Thank you for being here with me, E.
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