My 2023 Annual Review

What went well in 2023? What did not go so well? What did I learn?

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.

This is my third year writing an Annual Review in this format. You can find my reviews from yesteryears here: 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021.

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?

Let's get into each of these in the sections below.

1. What went well this year?

Consistently acting on wishes. We spent 3 months at the beginning of the year in a rental apartment in the south of Spain because we felt we could have 3 more months of good living if we temporarily lived somewhere warm. We thought we'd like to live in a smaller city, so we moved this year. We felt it was time and successfully found a childcare spot for Charlotte. These are some of the more notable examples of how we've followed through on our "I will ..."s this year.

Moving from Berlin to Düsseldorf. Temporarily living there for 2 weeks to get a feel, decide and start apartment hunting, and move to a new city in the same year.

Finding a good new job. I was laid off from Shopify on 14 May (receiving this exact message as a work email on my sudden last day) and signed a new employment contract with the Fintech startup topi on 8 June. That's less than a month! It certainly felt longer when I was in the thick of it because it involved countless hours of interview prep, scheduling, and going through interviews with around 10 companies in total. But I'm happy I managed to pull it off (in a bad economy!) in under a month and am now working in an interesting role at a promising startup.

Writing daily logs for myself and my daughter. Once in a while I'll be inspired into action by something someone on the internet is doing. This year's most impactful thing is logging. I've setup a simple text file hosted on Dropbox that I can append new log entries into with the tap of a Shortcut on my iPhone. I started doing this late in the year and have already accrued 340 entries in my log and 90 entries in my daughter's.

I don't expect to know or reap the full benefits of logging like this until I've finished a full year of doing it, but so far, judging by the fact that I refer to it at least once weekly to retrieve various nuggets of info tells me that I've started doing something valuable. I detailed my workflow in this post.

Permanently uninstalling social media apps on my phone. I was getting distracted by LinkedIn and Instagram whenever I had pockets of time to spare (like, even when I was waiting for the 10-second microwave timer to ring) and I disliked it a lot. It wasn't just the time wasted that made me take notice; it was the emotional rollercoaster ride that these apps took me on every time. These apps pick me up with Hulk hands and shake me silly, so I did what was sensible: I left the abusive relationship on 24 September 2023 (90 days ago) so those hands can't touch me anymore. I still use social media but I'm way more deliberate because the experience on the web isn't close to as smooth as the mobile apps. Friction is put to great use.

2. What did not go so well this year?

Falsely assuming job security. I got laid off all of a sudden. Part of why I was so surprised was that I hadn't expected it. I could have been a little more stoic about it, preparing for the worst. But I just assumed that software engineers would be one of the last to be let go in a tech company. That turned out to be an invalid assumption. I reflected on this soon after the fact.

Foresaking new projects before completion. I created a visual web project a day and stopped at 40/70. I aimed to write 1 thought per day as a newsletter post and got to 14/30. I think I have a problem with finishing what I start. Funnily this doesn't happen at work, just with my side projects. Part of me thinks this is not a problem and is the way I should expect these projects to play out - I'm throwing things and seeing what sticks! But another part of me thinks that I always stop throwing soon after feeling the onset of fatigue.

Not knowing work's place in my life. Before being laid off, I reflected that work is meaningful first and foremost because it allows us to pay our bills. Meaning that comes out of doing the job itself is just the icing on the cake.

After rebounding from being laid off, I made a personal vow to keep work strictly professional. That meant working for work's sake and pulling off my professional duties but not sinking any more time than necessary into it.

But one of my new managers is indirectly helping me reconsider this stance, and re-reading the enthusiasm about work in books like Radical Candor is making me unsure again. We do, like it or not, spend a lot of time at work. So I continue into 2024 uncertain of work's place in my life, trying to figure out where it fits.

Going back and forth on digital versus physical books. Every year I try to rekindle my interest in reading books, but every year the same thing happens: I waste time and cognitive capacity on deciding if a book should be digital or physical, rented (via Libby app) or bought.

That indecision, I believe, stems from not having enough conviction that time for reading a book is the limiting reactant. So this year I haven't read many books. To help myself read more next year, I've decided to just buy all my books as Kindle ebooks to be read on my Kindle. I can afford money more than time, so I'm buying. And I need to be able to search my highlights easily to gain the most out of each read, so I'm going with the Kindle (and Readwise for review highlights - been a customer for over a year and it's great).

3. What did I learn this year?

Music heals. When I lost my job, I wanted something to distract me from the jumbled-up emotions I was feeling and turned to music. I don't recall how exactly I ended up listening to The Beatles' wonderful music...

Songs like Blackbird:

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life,
you were only waiting for this moment to arise

And oh my, Yesterday:

all my troubles seem so far away
Now it looks like they're here to stay
Oh I believe in yesterday

I'm not half the man I used to be
There's a shadow hanging over me
Oh yesterday, came suddenly

Why, she, had to go
I don't know she wouldn't say
I, said, something wrong
Now I long for yesterday

These songs healed me one playback at a time. I listened to The Beatles so much that Spotify Wrapped told me they're my top artist for 2023. I'm a new fan.

Shortly after finding my new job, I decided to pick up the guitar and have been enjoying playing ever since. I especially like strumming chords and making up lyrics that Charlotte dances to. It's my newfound simple guilt-free pleasure. I'd like to at some point learn how to play the crazy melodic fingerstyle song Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits, perhaps the Yoni Schlesinger interpretation of it!

Big names no more. I've done a tour of a big tech company (Shopify) and I think that has satiated my curiosity for what it's like. Plus, the ink is on my resume. From now on, in terms of seeking work, the name will not matter as much because good enough is good enough.

Subscribe to Nick's Notes

Don’t miss out on the latest issues. Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only issues.