2016 in review - the Lessons Learned

Dec 30, 2016 13 minute read

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I'm not one for yearly reviews. Well, not usually. But considering how unusual, unexpected and thought-shattering 2016 was for me (and yes, I'm aware, for the rest of the world too) I somehow feel the need to give this a go as a way of collecting some thoughts. It's mostly written for myself, but I'm of course sharing as a way of putting my money where my mouth is.

And I’ll be starting with the big, dark ghost of my year:

The not-so-balanced work life balance

In late 2015 I moved from London to Berlin, while still working remotely for GatherContent. This hasn’t changed in 2016; at the moment, I am still working for GatherContent remotely and mostly from Berlin, and I’m still an advocate of remote working just as I was before.

but…

But. 2016 was also the year when remote-working has bitten me in the good ol’ arse, and I fell victim to my own complete disregard of social self-care. Working remotely provides a certain kind of freedom that it’s incredibly hard to let go of, but when there’s not much of a social life around you because you’ve just started fresh and you don’t treat this as a symptom, it becomes an undeniable source of deep frustration and dissatisfaction. Add to the mixture a sense of guilt every time you cut pieces of time from your work time to address something that’s missing in this aspect of the personal (and emotional life), and there’s a recipe for disaster.

Note to self: relax. Remember that you are human. Invite random people from the co-working space for lunch. Meet more strangers, take part in more events. A happy human is a happy developer is a happy human.

Personal life highlights 🎉

As far as achievements go, there were a few that I was proud of, both from a work and a personal life perspective.

In May, I ran my first half-marathon in Berlin, which had always been a goal of mine but postponed for years since I’m not a fan of long-distance running. I also managed to beat the time I set myself out to do, which would be anything under 1h40m. Turns out, I’ve finished the half-marathon in 1:39:48. Talk about a close call!

Continuing with running numbers, I effortlessly achieved my goal of running 1000km in a year; though the number itself doesn’t tell the stories. I’ve managed to run around 1120km in 2016 which is not an impressive number, but some of its circumstances are worth mentioning: apart from injuries and sickness, I don’t think I ever spent more than a week without some running, and this includes travel. Packing my running shoes is now a mandatory act in the way I travel.

I also got to practice rock-climbing on a very sustainable and disciplined matter; apart from traveling and injury recoveries, I either climbed or bouldered every single week. I was able to finally tackle a few V6 problems and later in the year, I got my lead-climbing certification taken in Germany. While I’m still not comfortable with high-ascent lead climbs, I’m proud of this achievement and I’m making a goal to do more of it in 2017.

Note to self: Don’t stop raising the bar when it comes to sport and physical well-being. Run more half-marathons next year, push harder on the rock climbing, and set out to come with some well-defined fitness goals to achieve.

Projects 💼

2016 was a slow year for personal projects, and I launched nothing apart from small experiments and silly projects like NottDagr and Yes, Another Typing Game. I’ve also maintained First Aid Git, despite not having had the time to re-write it as I had planned.

I started a newsletter, Coffee Table Typography, that combines my deep passion for typography and coffee (yes, I found a way!), which is still ongoing and to which I happily dedicate a big chunk of my time on any given week. 20 editions and about 600 subscribers later, I won’t give it up just yet as I still feel like I’m writing and composing it mostly for myself; this is enabling me to learn so much more about type, and best of all, guilt-free!

Domain names bought: 6
Domain names actually used: 1

Writing ✏️

It was a slower year for writing, especially since Hi.co closed down and that was where I did most of my life writing. Still, I got to be picked yet again for the Editors Picks, with my Everlasting Constants article.

As for travel writing, two photo reports did particularly well this year: One about my 2 week backpacking trip around Vietnam and another about my hike into the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan. I wish I had had more time for silly writings, as they’re the ones which usually give me the greatest peace of mind and soul. The one I wrote about running shoes did particularly well and it was so much fun to write.

The same goes for a moment I was fortunate enough to write about this year, after my parents came to visit me in Berlin.

Note to self: writing is the most therapeutic thing in the world. Finding pockets of stillness to purposefully slow down and write is the biggest challenge of all, but the reward is immense. More of this, please?

Photography 📷

This was also a much slower year for photography. I’ve still been updating my Flickr every now and then, but this was a year where I haven’t been featured, published or even entered any photography contest. Given that the art of walking around with a camera is one of the activities that makes me feel most at peace, this is a shame.

Just for fun, I’ve had a look at my top 9 posts on Instagram:

Instagram

I have been, however, shooting more 35 film ever since I got my Voigtlander camera, and I’ll do my best to shot at least 6 rolls of film next year with it.

The Developer’s life 🤓

For better or for worse, this was a year of consumption, above anything else. I didn’t have as much output as I would have liked, and in hindsight I realise that I’ve overused learning (mostly work related) as a distraction for the issues in life I was trying to avoid having to deal with.

Despite that, I’m fairly happy with the skills I got to develop: I became very comfortable with React Native , consolidated my knowledge of Node.js and have leveled up my database skills by a couple of points. All of which happened outside my day job, which again, is both a good and a bad thing… I wish I would have learned 25% of these skills on the job.

Note to self: find a way to make more of that happen in 2017.

I’ve also dug very deep and very early into ES2015, which has opened so many doors in terms of functional-programming learning. As of now, I’m halfway through a big course on learning Elm precisely because I got so convinced that FP and composition is the way to go.

Obligatory Github commit count: 1041 commits.

Note to self: I became too addicted to online courses and felt too much guilt when not taking them. They can also be a form of procrastination, and this is something to be more mindful of.

Personal development 🌱

The natural gravitation towards a better comprehension of the mind and philosophy in general was more pronounced this year, certainly coming from my cravings to mitigate my own suffering.

I’ve gained a whole new respect for Stoicism and its philosophies and practices, now trying to incorporate them into my daily life. I also upped my meditation practices, though still too much on and off to call it a consistent practice. On the plus side, I now feel like I have a better sense of awareness when it comes to feeling when I should and should not meditate. Listening to my true self became somewhat clearer, though not necessarily easier yet.

The Guide To the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy was one of the most enlightening reads of my year, if not my whole life, and I highly recommend it to anyone willing to break some of more comfortable mental models we tend to hold on to about life.

Through a lot of mindful and deliberate exercises, I was able to write down what goes on in my mind, the good, the bad and the ugly. A huge effort was made into finding out what my true values are and how I was/wasn’t living up to them; facing some cold, harsh truths about that was probably the hardest realisation of the year.

I found it immensely helpful to really dig deep into understanding love as a whole, and not just romantic love, but love for the self as well. I thought I had understood Buddhism’s loving-kindness principles before, and having spent a lot of time revising them and learning more about them, I came to the conclusion I actually didn’t have a practical clue. I’m not sure I still do, but I certainly feel armed with a better grasp of them and how I can (and must!) use them for my own good and the well being of others. Books like The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm and How to Love by the wise Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hahn were invaluable sources of help.

The year of tracking

Don’t ask me why, but I decided to track silly food-related metrics since January: number of cups of coffee drank, avocados eaten, and eggs. Because why not? As of now, I’m trying to come up with more (useful, hopefully) things to track.

October topped the coffee ranking at a whopping 89 cups.

Total cups of coffee: 896 ☕️
Average per month: 74 ☕️
Average per day: 2.5 ☕️

I honestly love coffee. The Hario V60 and getting digital scales to measure the weight of the ground coffee and water have changed the way I thought about preparing a good cup.

Travel ✈️

As much as travel means to me, this year wasn’t as great as I had planned. I didn’t live a mini-life for a few weeks anywhere else, like I had done last year in Thailand, for example, and failed to do more weekend getaways in Europe.

Still, out of the top of my head, I’ve been to Israel, Jordan, Czech Republic, Portugal (2x), England (4x), Wales, Vietnam, Poland.

The plan to explore more of Germany went completely down the drain…

Note to self: 2017 is going to be financially much tighter due to unforeseen circumstances. How can I make the most of this and explore more of what’s around me, instead of traveling far away? Perhaps more couch-surfing and crashing at friends, instead of looking at expensive Airbnbs at first thought.

Movies 📽

2016 was not the year where I’ve let my guilt levels about watching movies go lower… in fact, watching any movie pretty much had to involve either going out or drinking enough cups of wine so I could get into the “fuck it, I deserve a movie! * hic *“ mode. I’ve watched half the number of movies as the year before. Here’s the list:

  • Seven Psycopaths
  • In Bruges
  • The Hateful Eight
  • Nightcrawler
  • Cartas da Guerra
  • The Men Who Stare at Goats
  • Burn After Reading
  • Urbanized
  • Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi
  • Whatever Works
  • Inside Out
  • The Big Short
  • Kari-gurashi no Arietti
  • Deadpool
  • The Nice Guys
  • The Fundamentals of Caring
  • Paprika
  • The Jungle Book
  • Captain Fantastic
  • Paterson

I’m leaving documentaries out of this list, by the way. The award for best documentary I’ve seen this year has to go to Valley Uprising. What a film! 😍

And for the next year?

My sweet friend Amna has introduced me to the idea of coming up with a single word to define an upcoming year. This is harder than it sounds: a year is, well, a long time, and a word is… so little. For 2017 I would probably go with presence, not as a goal, but as a continuous practice in everything I do.

I haven’t been much present in my own life in 2016. I showed up for others but not for myself, and this way of thinking comes back to bite you in every single one of your thoughts and actions. It sabotages everything that circles one’s life and it’s no fun way to live a life.

  • Instead of working all the time for the sake of productivity, work whenever a state of deep work is possible.

And if deep work isn’t possible, I’ll do my best not to give myself a hard time about it and stop blaming myself for not being enough. While I’m at it…

  • You are enough. You can improve, but you’re already enough.

Leo Babauta knows it best. I lost count of all the moments when I didn’t pursue an idea, thought or action because I felt I wasn’t enough or didn’t deserve it. I’ve done this so much, especially during 2016, that it became a defining part of my being, one that’s set in stone… and feeling 100% of the time that you aren’t good enough at anything you do is probably the biggest source of depression I’ve ever came across.

There’s one quote that I kept coming back to:

No life worthy of the name deserves anything more than the continual series of struggles to develop one’s character through the medium of whatever one has chosen as a career. Now you frame your career from a whole new perspective: it’s a vehicle to a better you and a more meaningful life.

After feeling completely energy depleted and exhausted from spending so much time pursuing as much as I could learn about the work that I’m supposed to do as a Web Developer, I realise this is no longer a sustainable pursuit. Learning things you’re curious about, as you need them, and having fun and meaning while doing so, is a much better way of avoiding burnout.

While I still firmly believe and preach the “just show up for work every day” motto, sometimes showing up means knowing when to give yourself a break.

How I’ll do so, I don’t have a clue yet. But I’ll be curious about it.

Thanks for reading this.

Any thoughts, give me a shout on Twitter.