2020 Annual Review
It's been a year of pretty epic highs and somewhat depressive lows. Of course, any other year is a bit like that, but the amplitude and rate of change felt unusually high this year. I might have celebrated reaching a goal one day, only to fall into an existential crisis the next, not knowing what to do with my life.
I suspect it was like that for many people as they were largely stuck at home for weeks or months on end. Being a bit introverted, I was initially excited about not having to go anywhere and sitting quietly at home. But this pandemic has helped me realise, among many other things, just how much I actually value meaningful social connections (emphasis on meaningful — I'm more ready than ever to say no to people I don't find synergy with and double down on the good relationships).
All things and circumstances considered, I've gained more than I lost in 2020, and I'm ready to face whatever 2021 has in store with a mindset of growth and curiosity.
In July, my partner and I celebrated the fifth anniversary of our relationship. At the start of the year, I had decided that this was the perfect moment to make things official and ask her to marry me. I had no reason to believe she'd say no, but I still felt like a schoolboy trying to talk to his crush as I was fumbling the ring out of my pocket. But then she said yes, and it was all fine. That's definitely the highlight of the year in terms of personal life.
Professionally, it was a year of big changes as well. I had become stuck and unhappy at my corporate job and needed a change. In September, I handed in my resignation without a real plan as to what I would do next. It was terrifying, but also one of the best decisions of this year. I've heard people say that looking for a job is a full-time job in and of itself, and I totally agree with that. The whole process was so much easier as I could have interviews at any time of the day, prepare for them properly and go in much more confident as a result. Fortunately, it didn't take me more than a month to find a new gig as a contractor, so I didn't need to dip into my savings too much. However, having those savings in the first place was vital for me to have the confidence to just quit.
Highlights and Wins
As I was writing this list, I realised that my life is much better than I give it credit for on a typical day. That's one of the reasons I like doing these reviews as it helps me appreciate what I have more.
My most noteworthy moments and achievements, in no particular order:
- Made my first money outside of a "regular" job and investment income.
- Joined the Visualize Value community and found people who build amazing things.
- Got in better physical shape than I've ever been.
- Moved to a nicer apartment with cheaper rent.
- Got engaged.
- Launched my personal website and made the first attempts at publishing content.
- Earned two Microsoft Azure certifications.
- Quit full-time employment and became a contractor, niching down in the cloud DevOps space.
- Levelled up in web development and created ThreadRoll (still a work in progress at the time of writing).
- Learned how to bake rye sourdough bread — something I've been really missing since I moved to Australia.
- Had 4 short, but delightful domestic getaways.
Shortfalls and Lessons
Things (I thought) I wanted to do or achieve, but didn't:
- Private Pilot Licence. I didn't do any flying at all, initially due to lockdowns, later because other things "got in the way". I need to do some thinking about whether I want to continue my flying journey next year.
- Didn't write nearly as much as I had hoped I would. I really want to fix this in 2021 and create a better system.
- Didn't reach $2,500 of "Internet income" by the end of the year. That's an arbitrary number I came up with a few months ago. In hindsight, I was focused on the wrong thing, as I wasn't even sure what I would be selling.
- Didn't find any freelance web development work as I had planned. I didn't think this one through properly — I now believe that web development itself is too broad and commoditised, and I should instead focus on business problems I can solve.
I developed some new habits, both good and bad.
- 👍🏻 Consistently working out at least 6 days a week.
- 👍🏻 Intermittent fasting on most days by skipping breakfast.
- 👍🏻 Doing weekly reviews, planning weeks and days in advance.
- 👍🏻 Journaling and meditating every morning.
- 👍🏻 Drinking less alcohol at home and preferring red wine over beer.
- 👎🏻 Creating unrealistic to-do lists, leading to feelings of not being good enough.
- 👎🏻 Beating myself up about not having any good ideas or a true passion.
- 👎🏻 Buying every online course out there, thinking they will magically change my life for the better (procrastination in disguise).
- The One Thing. I picked it up after listening to Tim Ferriss interview the author Gary Keller. Although the message of the book could be quite succinctly summed up in a few pages, I really enjoyed reading the whole book on how to set priorities in life and in work.
- Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics Explained by Its Most Brilliant Teacher. I learned most of the lessons in this book in high school, but I it was good to revisit the first principles of how the physical world behaves.
- The Great Mental Models Volume 1: General Thinking Concepts. A must read for anyone looking to improve their thinking. I also published my notes on it earlier in the year.
- Anything You Want. A fascinating and entertaining story about how Derek Sivers launched a successful business by doing things his way.
- Psycho-Cybernetics. A self-help classic recommended by Jack Butcher. I wrote a summary and a Twitter thread that got a fair bit of engagement.
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I'm technically still reading this one, but it was definitely one of the best finds of 2020 and probably something I will re-read periodically.
The overarching topic here is getting better and achieving remarkable outcomes without sacrificing happiness.
- On Finding Your Passion.
- 30 Year Thinking
- How to Be Great? Just Be Good, Repeatably
- Growth Without Goals
I'm approaching 2021 a bit differently and have decided to focus entirely on habits and systems instead of achieving specific outcomes by an arbitrary date. There are a few reasons for this:
- Continuous, process-oriented goals are easier to action and track, while still contributing to some longer-term purpose (see this article on SMART vs PACT goals by Anne-Laure).
- Goals based around a bigger outcome are a slippery slope to self-judgment and living life on a "deferred happiness plan". I want to be able to enjoy the present moment instead of thinking I'll be happy when I get X. Khe Hy explains it very nicely.
- Yak Shaving can lead to novel ideas and serendipity.
With that in mind, I'll be assigning just one most important task to each day as part of my weekly review, in addition to the regular habits that I need to keep up. As long as I've ticked those off, I'm giving myself to liberty to do whatever I want. Ideally, every day will look something like this:
- Wake up.
- Journal and meditate.
- Hit the gym or go for a run.
- Do the most important thing.
- Other tasks and habits, day job, leisure, etc.
As for new skills, I'd like to explore the world of no-code tools. I've joined No Code MBA, a learning and community platform by fellow Visualize Value member Seth. I haven't really dabbled in this space at all, but I think it has great potential to change how we develop software. I can't see code going away any time soon, but I'm sure it will be used less and less for creating basic functionality and more for truly complex engineering problems.
I'm also hoping that Australia's state borders will open up soon, so we can go on some interstate adventures. I don't see us going overseas this year, but we want to have our wedding in Estonia in 2022, so the world had better be back to normal by then!
Thank you for reading if you got this far! I'd love to hear what other people are working on in 2021, so feel free to get in touch on Twitter.