2019 – A personal retrospective

Jason’s personal retrospective inspired me to look back at 2019 in order to gauge where I have been and where I want to be at the end of 2020. It seems useful and mildly interesting to have a record of the high-level stuff you have been occupied with, and establish some goals. It’s also an opportunity to be open about ambitions and reflect on some of the struggles that comes with being human.

# Where was I at the end of 2018?

Since I didn't write a retrospective last year, I'll have to construct one. At the end of 2018, I was looking back at a year where I moved from the western to the eastern part of the country, close to Oslo, Norway’s capital city. I had also changed jobs, ending my three-year tenure as a technology/UX consultant at Netlife, and starting as Head of Developer Relations at Sanity.io. It was the year where I finally sought professional help for my recurring depressions, and got a new Whippet puppy.

# How did I do in 2019?

I didn’t blog any goals in 2019, but there were some that emerged during the year. It became increasingly clear to me that I needed to improve my work-life balance, invest more in my personal relationships, and be more structured and focused on how I approach my work.

# Work-life balance

I think of this a lot. And frankly, it’s complicated. I think we shouldn’t expect people to put in more than 40 hours a week, while I often do work more myself because I enjoy it (not because it’s expected of me). Setting boundaries is important though. During 2019 I have managed to develop the habit where I mostly manage to take weekends and holidays completely off in terms of typing on keyboards. Since a lot of my work involves staying on top of social media accounts, and developer community, it’s hard to stay completely out of the loop, so I’ll still be checking in more or less frequently, but not participate. Deleting Slack from my phone and keeping my laptop closed and out of the way has been effective measures keeping me from “accidentally working” during my vacations. During longer periodes of free time I keep catching up to a minimum, once in a day or few.

On the other side: It’s fun and exciting to work at a startup like Sanity.io, especially because I thrive on learning new things and putting out stuff. There’s also always something to do. And even though I’m regularly reminded to take time off and not work too much, it’s hard not to when you’re motivated. There’s no lack of advice against burn-out out there, and having previously experienced it in my past-life as a Ph.D. student, I’m well aware of the mechanics. At the same time, I’m super privileged working with something I enjoy every day, and in a welfare state that gives me a lot of existential security.

# More focus, more structure

A big change for me in 2019 is how I approach creative work. Previously, the process for me has usually been coming up with something based on some inspiration or idea that hit me, acting on it immediately, and getting it out. I was afraid that if I waited to act on an impulse and not get it out relatively fast, it would wither away. Although this approach has in many cases worked very well for me, it doesn’t scale well. Especially if you’re trying to do stuff more strategically with other people.

So the two things I have practiced a lot and got better on during 2019 are planning and prioritization. An important note is that I don't do this to be more productive in terms of more output, that was never the problem, but because I wanted to spend my time on the right things (or the things we wanted to check were the right things). In a way, more focus and more structure will enable me to work less and get same amount of things done.

I really got to put my goals to the test when we planned a pretty hefty release schedule for November and December. If I hadn't been diligent with planning and prioritization, I wouldn't be able to get stuff done. The proof is in the eating (and also making) of the pudding, as they say.

# Mental health and personal relationships

I also spent 2019 trying to take better care of my own mental health and paying more attention to my personal relationships. It hasn’t been just smooth sailing. I have lived with recurring depressions pretty much my whole adult life and it took a long time before I recognized what was going on. After I sought help I have been able to more quickly identify when depression hits, and I have been able to curb a lot of the behavior that comes with it. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has worked for me, but it’s only one way to go about it. I started going to a therapist again. I’m generally doing fine, but I don’t want to get blindsided by depression again.

I have started dedicating more time and attention to the people around me: family, and friends. I realized how I avoided contact because of my own insecurities, and how I haven’t really been present when I have been around them. In 2019, I actively sought out contact and practiced being more present, open, and forthcoming. Although this has been generally a positive turn, I have also had to work with some difficult stuff in my close family that is still unresolved. I guess that will spill over as a goal for 2020.

# What’s up for 2020?

I don’t think I’ll set some big life-changing goals for 2020, but rather, continue working with the goals that emerged in 2019.

  • Work-life balance. Take care of our horses once a week (my partner does it for the rest of the week). Plan more hiking trips during summer. Uphold a minimal physical exercise regime. Do more with friends and colleagues outside of work.
  • More focus, more structure. Practice saying “no” more. Be more diligent about putting plans to paper. Write more about what I learn about how to work (in order to “slow-think” it).
  • Mental health and personal relationships. Practice recognizing negative thoughts and identifying techniques to prevent them. Be more open about how I’m actually doing to those close to me. Prioritize time with family and figure out how to be an uncle.

Looking at what I ended up writing, it hits me that all this is probably pretty demographically typical for a person in the 30s living in the democratic West. Of course, there’s a bunch of goals and ambitions that pops up when you start thinking about them, but I’ll put them on the backlog for now.

# What about you then?

There seems to be no lack of people with advice and tips on self-improvement. My main source of inspiration is the Back to Work podcast with Dan Benjamin and Merlin Mann (which is way goofier than the wrapping may seem). The aforementioned Jason Lengstorf also has some resources for you in his blog post. Wherever or whomever you get inspiration from, taking the time to reflect and write about where you have been and where you want to go seems like a no-brainer. Whether you want to share it with the world, is entirely up to you.