My 2020 Annual Review

This is the first time I am writing an Annual Review in this format. I’ve experimented with various formats over the last three years (2017, 2018, 2019) and I think it is time to bring some consistency into these year-end reflections.

An Annual Review is a personal note that is designed to spark self-reflection about the year that just went by. The goal is to take stock of the year, appreciate the little things, digest the learnings, and apply them in the years to come.

In the review, I ask myself three questions:

  1. What went well this year?
  2. What did not go so well this year?
  3. What did I learn this year?

I go into each of these in the sections below. Let’s get started!

What went well this year?

Consistently published every week. In June this year, I joined two people to form a writing group. We imagine ourselves as word rafters. Since we came together to support one another, I have consistently published an article every week for 25 weeks. I consider this newfound consistency one of my biggest wins this year. Thank you Shime and Michael for being my writing buddies. I intend to at least keep up the momentum.

Meditated every morning. I found my groove for meditation and have now been consistently meditating every morning for 233 days in a row since April 2020. As I grow as an adult, I can see more clearly the importance of mindfulness in making each day meaningful and easier to live.

Created value for 1,000 people. I have answered questions from 13 people on LinkedIn, taught 7 colleagues the basics of web development through my 11-week internal programming bootcamp, and shared my thoughts with 18 programming bootcamp students on Zoom about a career in software development. On average this year, around 5,000 people read something on this blog every month.

Migrated this site from WordPress to Gatsby.js. I wanted to stop using WordPress because the site was slow to load for users and it was difficult to tweak since I knew little about the WordPress back end. Migrating to Gatsby has made this site load much faster and I can tweak the site using vanilla JavaScript or React.js, which I am familiar with. In the process, of migrating I gave up blog comments but gained writing and development happiness.

Fulfilled my dream of living abroad for a full year. I learned a lot about what is important in life, like diversity, language, seasonal weather, and quiet Sundays.

Gained tech independence with a private cloud server. I bought and set up my own NAS (network-attached storage) device, which serves as a personal cloud server. I am using the Synology DS218. Now, instead of launching the Google Photos app to sync my images and videos to Google’s servers, I launch the DS Photo app to sync them to my server that is attached to two swappable 6-terabytes hard disk drives. The peace of mind that comes from knowing that my life’s memories are stored in these physical drives is priceless. I know my partner won’t ever have to ask me, “What have you done?”

Started managing my knowledge with a personal wiki. One of the more exciting things I have started this year is to set up my own personal knowledge management system. I created 362 notes this year, each one trying to contain an atom of knowledge. I am confident that next year my PKM will start to bear fruits as it hits a critical mass of inter-related notes.

Grew the courage to share my articles on Facebook. I have always kept what I wrote on this blog away from Facebook, which I consider my most personal social media account, out of fear of being judged. I have overcome that fear this year. Perhaps it has something to do with having moved to a new city. As a result of sharing what I write with friends, I have increased the pace in which I am learning in public.

What did not go so well this year?

Lost my exercise routine. Last year my partner and I would go rock climbing 2-3 times a week. That kept me physically fit. This year, partially because of COVID-19, we hardly climbed at all and I have not found (nor have I tried) another exercise routine. I have been experiencing worsening neck pains that is probably related to this. Yet, the resistance of working out for working out sake remains strong.

Spent 144 hours watching TV shows. I spent too much time watching TV shows this year. I downloaded my Netflix viewing history and fished out the main time sinks:

  • The Blacklist (Seasons 1-5): 76.5 hours
  • Ozark (Seasons 1-3): 30 hours
  • You (Season 2): 8 hours
  • Final Space (Seasons 1-2): 7.6 hours
  • Snowpiercer (Season 1): 7.5 hours
  • Sex Education (Season 2): 6.6 hours
  • Unorthodox (Limited series of 4 episodes): 4 hours
  • Rick and Morty (Season 4): 3.8 hours

I watched most of these on weekdays just before bed. Assuming that I had, on each weekday evening, 1 hour to watch something, it means that I have squandered 144 out of 262 weekdays. That’s 55 per cent of all weekday evenings spent mindlessly watching TV. This is why I don’t ever allow myself to say, “I don’t have time.” To be clear, my goal is not to hit 0 hours but to reduce it to something more acceptable to me.

Tried and failed at writing a novel. I was serious about trying to write fiction this year, especially when NaNoWriMo came around. But halfway through November, I gave up because I was dissatisfied with the quality of my writing. The story felt juvenile as a result of my unrefined fiction writing skills and lack of imagination.

What did I learn this year?

No need to journal daily. One of the goals I set myself this year was to journal every day. Once I started meditating, I realised I needed to journal less. Some days I’d sit down to journal and find that my mind was already clear. I had nothing I wanted to talk to myself about. So this year I realised that I only need to journal whenever I need to clear my mind.

The best way to improve your writing is dedicating time for re-writes. As I started publishing once a week, I realised that the quality of each article positively correlated to the amount of time I spent rewriting. I also learned that when a piece is well-written, friends will tell you about it. Some nice people told me that about the disengaging from politics article and the one about the untouchable space between stimulus and response. So put in the time to rewrite before publishing an article.

Reading someone’s list of learnings is not very helpful. This section is exactly a list of learnings, and I bet they won’t bring you close to as much value as they bring me. An ex-colleague whom I look up to wrote a brilliant 50-points list of things he had learned while working at, but when I tried to apply his learnings to my day-to-day work, I failed miserably. The reason, I learned, is simple: we learn from stories, not pithy bullet points or quotes. There is a difference between helping someone conclude and presenting them the conclusion.

Hurt people hurt people. In any given year, we will get hurt several times by people we encounter. But once I learned that it is people who are hurt who hurt other people, I became able to sidestep people’s attempts to hurt me. Most of the time, these people don’t even realise that they are hurting inside when they in turn hurt you. Let them be, and don’t let them hurt you. It’s a worthy reminder that you control your response. Let that person work on his response.

And that’s a wrap on my 2020. Thank you for reading, and happy new year!

I would like to thank James Clear for inspiring me to write my Annual Review in this format.

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