2020: Year in Review

I haven’t written an annual review post since 2016. This review started out the same as that one, until I remembered to search my blog for a previous post. Just two in a decade.

Previous Reviews: 2016.

The turn of a calendar page isn’t enough to wash away the stain of a terrible year. We’re still in the middle of a global pandemic, and at least in the US we’re not anywhere near it being over. Yet there are reasons to be optimistic. There are vaccines being slowly administered. An end is in sight. The election is over. Now is our chance to rebuild and prepare for the people we want to be when this is all over.

I had a bunch of goals for 2020, and I only achieved one of them, which was to add design as a capability at Reaktiv, my WordPress agency. Yet, that’s more because of how things shifted as the year went on. Just because I didn’t achieve what I set out to do, doesn’t mean that I didn’t do a ton of things in 2020 that I’m proud of.

The year started off so well. We flew to Bali for 2 weeks to celebrate my good friend’s wedding. We had, the best time. It was our first visit since 2012, and we left the kids with family (thanks mom!). It was a really good break and the best wedding we’ve ever attended.

Things started off really slow business-wise. However, we ended up having one of our best quarters ever this year, booked some new flagship clients, didn’t have to lay anyone off, and are in great shape for 2021.

In February, Caroline and I celebrated our half-life anniversary. I have a thing for numbers (and geographical landmarks) and was looking forward to this for awhile. It’s hard to remember what life is like without her. I’m lucky and grateful to be married to my best friend.

I started mountain biking again this year, and biked over 900 miles. There’s a mountain bike park only 10 minutes from me, and I was there 2-3 times a week all year. Some days I’d have the whole place to myself at sunrise. This also led to one of the worst parts of the year, which I’ll mention below. All in all, a positive thing that will continue on past 2020.

Like many people, I started baking bread during the pandemic, as it was a long-time goal of mine. I like to think I’m different because I’m still doing it! I quickly got started with sourdough, and am still making it about once a month. It’s incredibly time consuming and tedious, and it’s much easier to just buy bread, but having to spend 10 hours preparing it to get to eat it, makes it taste a lot better.

In June, we went camping at Zion and then drove to Michigan to visit family. The kids did so well with 30+ hours of driving over 2 days. I’m glad we did this as it ended up being the only time this year that we were able to see them.

What Went Well?

Travel

Kind of a weird thing to say went well in 2020, but it did for us! We didn’t take any flights once COVID arrived, but drove all over. We started in Bali (pre-COVID) with just Care and I and then drove back to Michigan and Indiana in June. We drove up the central coast in August to Oceano Dunes and Moñtana de Oro State Park. In September, we took two weeks and drove from CA all the way up to Montana and back, visiting 6 national parks (Grand Canyon, Arches, Grand Teton, Glacier, Yellowstone, and Bryce Canyon). In October we visited my sister in Big Sur and Monterey. While we didn’t take any flights with the kids, we still got to see some amazing things and take advantage of the time while the kids didn’t have to be in school. We had plenty of moments where both L and I needed to be on a call and we were racing over a mountain pass in order to get cell service again.

Woodworking

A couple years ago I gave up completely on woodworking. I enjoy building digital things where you can just erase it and start over if you mess up. Perhaps because I don’t get to build many digital things these days, and instead am focused on building a company, woodworking has made its way back in my life as a way to scratch that itch to build something with my hands. It doesn’t hurt that Caroline never seems to run out of ideas for me to build.

Starting last December, I have built, a climbing wall in Henry’s room, an under-bed storage lego table, a breakfast nook/banquette, a guitar pedalboard, and a white oak kitchen table. The kitchen table was such a challenging project, but extremely rewarding. In the past I’d want to build these with step by step instructions, but this time I enjoyed planning them out myself (with some help from my dad) and designing how each would work.

Fitness

Also starting last fall, I had spent a full year exercising 3-4 times a week and eating healthy. I was in the best shape of my life this year. When everything shut down, I could still do the things that I wanted to do most, which was hike, bike, and run. Living in Southern California helps, as pretty much any day of the week I can expect to go outside and have nice weather. I had started going to the gym this year to do work on compound lifts that I can’t do at home, and then had to stop that once the gyms closed. However, I have so much fun on the bike and running that I don’t see myself going back.

What Didn’t Go Well?

I almost died

I may write more about this later, but I nearly died of heat exhaustion in August during a mountain bike race. It was dumb, too hot of a day to go riding further than I ever had in an unfamiliar area. I’m incredibly lucky that there was someone there with me to help and that I was able to get to the hospital and back home with no further issues. The whole ordeal really messed me up for a bit and wrecked all the progress I had made in fitness over the year prior. I learned I need to take it easy, when my nature is to continue to try and go further and faster every time I get on the bike.

Little professional growth

Most of my 2021 professional goals are the same they were in 2020, as 2020 felt like progress was put on hold, and instead I was just focused on survival. I spent the first few months of the pandemic in a dark cloud, like I’m sure many people did, and it took a long time to get through that. The rest of the year, even when things were going well, felt like I was catching up. It’s kind of a lost year in terms of growth. I’m looking forward to pushing things further forward this next year.

Looking Ahead to 2021

Having a year like we just did, it’s normal to be excited about the year ahead. I don’t know whether we’ll really get back to anything approaching “normal” in 2021, but also

Writing

I’ve always collected notebooks and pens, and then never done anything with them. I’m changing that this year, and writing in notebooks every day. Journaling, taking notes, and planning. I’m hopeful I can keep it up, because I never have in the past, but this time I’m seeing some real benefits from the daily practice. I’m starting a newsletter here and also planning on writing on the site more frequently.

Balancing Fitness

My goals are to run 250 miles and bike 1,000 miles this year. In 2020, I did 200 and 900, and that was really in about 9 months, so these should be achievable. Somehow, I need to fit some strength training in there as well. No more further and faster at all costs for me.

I’m cautiously looking forward to the year ahead. I’m excited about where I’m at, and where I can go in the next year.

2016: Year In Review

I’ve tried for 5 years now to write a “year in review” post and failed every year.

For some reason, this year is different. I began my annual review post in early November. I’ve always been envious of those who can link back to their annual reviews and have this great body of content to look back on. Hopefully this is the first in a long line of them.

The two primary takeaways from this year for me: the importance of health (mental and physical) and the importance of having hard conversations.

I had more hard conversations this year (personally and professionally) than I ever have. I am generally one to shy away from conflict, or to continue to politely trudge through a bad situation to avoid hurting someone else’s feelings. While I can’t say that I have completely conquered that, I finally was able to have these conversations and 2017 is looking brighter for me just due to that. A tough conversation may not kill you, but avoiding it will.

On the health front, I had an overall really good year. Around July, I just decided one day to start listening to my wife (a personal trainer, and all-around healthy person). I’m not sure why it took so long or why this year was different, but something clicked in my mindset about healthy eating and exercise that really worked. I went 60 days straight logging my calories in MyFitnessPal, exercising 2-4 times per week and lost 10 pounds. I’m still looking to lose 10 or so, but it’s not my primary goal.

Being active and feeling better when I eat healthier are the primary goals and benefits of living this way. It’s easiest when it’s warm out, as we’ll take a 3 mile walk with the kids almost every day after work. Since I can sometimes go days without going outside while working from home, I call it my “time in the yard”. It’s great for our relationship and mental health as we walk and talk for 45 minutes. Usually by the end of the walk we’ve destressed and are heading home happy. I did lose a bit of momentum over the holidays and have already started bringing it back here in the new year. I benefit greatly by having Care do our meal planning because pretty much everything we eat is healthy, I just have to keep portions in mind and have some activity and I’m good. This year is going to be focused on increased activity as that makes the food portion much easier to handle.

On the mental health front, I had a bit of breakthrough year. I’ve always been very susceptible to stress. I made some changes this year, including reducing stressors, starting meditation (with the Calm app) and just generally chilling out. I find that throughout the day conversations and notifications and tasks and emails will pile up and if I don’t take a break I end the day with my head spinning, grinding my teeth and tight all over. Working from home helps here as I can sit on the floor and meditate for 10 minutes and then go back to what I was doing with a clear head, or walk outside for 5 minutes and close my eyes just to get a grip. In the past I would continue to power through and end up losing productivity as my stress increased throughout the day, but these breaks, and practicing meditation have really helped.

I spent more time learning new things and reading this year than any year (from what I can tell, maybe even more than the 18 months I spent traveling the world without a job). Part of the reason I had success with this is because I let go of doing it perfectly. I let go of perfectionism, at least in this part of my life. I have to laugh about it now, but there are technical books I would read until it got to the examples and then I would put down the book and give up because I “wasn’t at my computer right now” so I couldn’t do it.

I also would painstakingly read things that I was interested in to ensure that I fully understood them. But that’s not how I learn best. I’m not guaranteed to remember everything perfectly the first time I read it. Nor is there really that much benefit in copying in examples and running them. Sure I may get some muscle memory, but without me thinking about what I’m doing, I’m not really learning the concept behind it.

That doesn’t come until I try to use it for real in a project. My goals are not to know everything about a topic, but to know where to look when I need to dive in. A cursory introduction and outline is better than me wasting time trying to understand minute details of things I may not need to know yet. I was never going to get through everything or learn what I wanted this way, so something had to give. I started speed reading and skimming. Most of the stuff I wasted so much time on was fluff that wasn’t important. What was important was scanning and getting an overview of things. I have always been so scared of not getting everything the first time and having to go back and reread things. I still don’t understand why, but I have hopefully gotten over that now.

Instead, I am reading quickly, and scanning and picking out the major concepts. Most of the time, I’m finding that I’m not missing anything, and that I can quickly get the gist, but also I’m doing this so I can know where to find something. I don’t need to understand it all the first time. And that has made all the difference. I am devouring learning material and it’s been helping me build my skills at a much faster rate. I have a very unrealistic, very large reading list. And try as I might, I have a very hard time removing things. I just want to read it all, so any way to make that go faster helps.

This year, when I found out Pinterest had bought Instapaper I figured I should look at clearing everything out of that service. I wanted to know how many articles I really had to read because I knew I had many more than the 500 limit that the app and API had. The search has always been terrible for organizing, so I threw together a tiny Laravel app that would let me quickly see the URL and title of my bookmarks and archive/delete/sort them into folders. I wrote some scripts that would organize the articles into folders in bulk so that I could get a full count. 3,000 articles to read. This is on top of a massive “to read” bookmarks folder in Chrome, a shelf full of unread dead tree books, a backlog of unread magazines from 2013, a kindle account full of unread books and a Dropbox folder with over 100 unread ebooks.

(I have a book problem)

On top of all that I would love to start reading fiction again! Let’s just laugh and move on.

Family-wise, our Henry boy was born this year. He scared us with a short NICU stay, but is now in the clear and he is champion baby #2 all the way! It was really hard for us to imagine what a second kid would be like, since Lottie was such a (world) champion baby ?. Henry has just surprised us constantly and having one of each has been really fun. What I have realized though, is that my goals and ambitions don’t stand a chance against the fatigue of the parent of a newborn. It felt like a down year on producing things and just having my shit together. I could barely get myself outside to mow the lawn and pull weeds (and it showed). Both of us are just exhausted, even 8 months in, as he’s not consistently sleeping through the night. Something I should consider if we do have more kids is to plan ahead for a light year when they’re born.

It’s always hard to find time together when you have young kids and we are no exception, until recently we hadn’t yet gone out on a date just the two of us since Henry was born. So in the last two weeks we’ve gone out on two dates, overnight without the kids, and it has been so great to reconnect and have a little bit of time away. We’ve worked this into our goals for this year to ensure we get some time together away from the kids.

I used to work weekends and would work late into the night. Even when we had our first baby I was still doing this. I have been making an effort to walk out of my office at 5pm and never work on weekends or holidays. This lets me give Care a break and also spend some quality time with the kids before I put them to bed. I can always go back to work later, but I can’t see the kids after they’re asleep.

At Reaktiv, we had a bit of a slow start to the year, which resulted in us losing some great engineering candidates but we rallied the rest of the year to land some fun new clients and hire some great engineers. I spoke at WordCamp Boston about our work on the HBS Open Knowledge platform. I’m excited that we’re growing the team and looking forward to what 2017 brings for us. We’re about to release an open source project we’ve been working on for awhile, and also, we’re hiring.

I have a book/course idea I’ve been toying with for WordPress developers and while I began work on it last year, I ended up shelving it for a bit to focus on agency work but this is something I really want to work on this year and have set a goal to launch it by July.

World events aside, 2016 was an exhausting but transformative year. I feel a bit like it chewed me up and spit me out but I’m now better prepared to face the future. I’m looking forward to new opportunities and experiences, personally and professionally in 2017.