If you follow a lot of personal blogs, I'm sure you are drowning in year-end roundups, retrospectives, and resolutions; I'm sorry to say, this one isn't going to be much different. It's such a clichéd post that, looking back on last year's retrospective, I said almost exactly the same thing.
Nicely done, Zach.
But, I've never let clichés stop me before, and I don't intend to start now, so let's get to it! Like last year, I'll break down my post into similar "Good, Bad, and Beyond" sections (like Bed, Bath, and Beyond, but not nearly as useful). The basic idea is to reflect on what went well, what didn't, and what I want to change looking into the next 12 months. You know... like an stereotypical sprint retrospective... but for my life.
I'm not sure if starting with the good is akin to optimism or impatience, but using the 'ole management "shit sandwich" tactic of starting on a positive note feels somehow appropriate.
I read almost as many books this year as last year, but flagged significantly more as "recommended" in my reading list, so I'm going to chalk that up as a win. Like last year, here are a few that I particularly enjoyed—but unlike last year, they're not all non-fiction.
- Breath by James Nestor This was an incredibly compelling book. While we've always been told about the importance of breathing in the context of meditation and mindfulness, James Nestor does an excellent job detailing how breathing in-and-of-itself is important (beyond the whole "keeping you alive" part). Everything from the way we breathe to how we breathe affects our mental and physical health in profound ways. Two quick tips that I found invaluable: breath through your nose at all times, and hold your breath when you're feeling anxious.
- Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman I went into this book expecting another toxic example of "productivity porn," and was pleasantly surprised. Throughout the pages of this book, Oliver Burkeman makes an excellent case for the futility of productivity at all. In a best case scenario, we only have 4,000 weeks on this earth, and despite the promise that we'll eventually "get it all done" so we can hopefully enjoy the last thousand or so... we won't. So don't delay happiness, because "in the long run, we are all dead" anyway.
- The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester I made the mistake of watching the movie—which, for the record, was great—before I even knew this was a book. A piece of writing unlike anything I've read before, The Professor and the Madman is the story of the creation of the first Oxford English Dictionary. An interesting story in itself, what really made this book stand out was the author's frequent digressions into the origins of seemingly random words throughout the text. Highly recommended.
- Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl This is one of those books that is both amazing and difficult at the same time. In it, Frankl documents his time in Auschwitz within the context of logotherapy, a school of psychology he founded that emphasizes the search for life's meaning as a central tenant. A heartbreaking, yet inspiring read that I can all but guarantee I will come back to again and again.
- The Call of the Wild by Jack London I'm pretty sure The Call of the Wild is a young adult book, but I've been on a bit of "public domain" kick lately (thanks Project Gutenberg) and of the books I read that are out of copyright, this one was by far my favorite. The main character's tale of survival and return to a more natural, primitive existence was equal parts exciting, engaging, and emotional.
I've never written about this, but if money wasn't an object, I would quit the Tech industry and become a high school programming teacher in a heartbeat. The thing that I absolutely love about software development is that learning it has the ability to substantially change the course of someone's life with minimal financial investment; whether it is due to financial constraints or life circumstances, college simply isn't everyone's future, but that doesn't mean a they don't deserve a bright future.
It is what makes software development such a powerful skillset.
Seriously, how many other career paths can you think of that enable someone to completely change their socioeconomic status without having to invest tens-to-hundreds of thousands of dollars in a four-year degree program? I can't think of any.
Whether I like it or not, though, money is an object, so going back to school isn't on the agenda for me any time soon. But that doesn't mean I can't take my own education and professional experience and give back in some other meaningful way. So, at the start of 2022, I signed up to volunteer with code.org and Microsoft's TEALS, and reached out to a few schools in my district to offer... whatever help I could.
Unfortunately for me, TEALS doesn't partner with any schools in my area, but I did get contacted by a middle school teacher on code.org and will be presenting to her classes this February, just in time for my 36th birthday. The outreach that was the most successful for me, however, was a connection I made with one of the computer science teachers at Green Mountain High School in Lakewood, Colorado. I had the honor of not only presenting to a few of his classes, but also to participate as a mentor in an after-school program, where I helped a set of exceptionally bright high school students plan, design, and build their own full stack software development projects.
Not only was it fun and rewarding, it was incredibly humbling. Working with teenagers was surprisingly difficult, because I wasn't always sure that I was doing a good job distilling down the complexities of different software development principles in a way that they could understand. Life has changed a lot since I was a teenager, and I would often spend my evenings wondering if I was actually making any difference. But, at the end of the program, hearing them explain their projects and the concepts they learned throughout the semester in clear, cohesive language made me proud in a way that I've never felt before.
Life isn't all fun and games, and as much as we try to weather them, bad shit still happens. I won't dwell, but I think it's important to at least reflect on the bad in order to find some good.
From deaths in the family to hospitalizations, terminal illnesses to mental health struggles, it felt like everyone around me was suffering in some way this past year; which has somehow become my internally defined "vibe" of the year. Coupled with the world around me collectively deciding to get "back to normal" after the COVID slowdown of the previous few years, I'm fucking exhausted. 2022 had too much going on all at once, so my goal for 2023 is to try and reclaim some of that calm and slow the fuck down.
Publicly tracking what I'm reading has done a wonderful job of encouraging me to read more, but an unexpected (but altogether unsurprising) consequence of driving towards an arbitrary number of books has been a subtle reluctance to read longer, more challenging books, for fear that it would "affect my numbers." This mindset is contrary to my initial goal, which was simply to "read more." As a result, I have opted to read without a particular goal in mind, in the hopes that I will be less likely to fall sway to Goodhart's Law. Quality over quantity, as they say.
I might have gone a little overboard with my little analog revolution. Like many people, I have a tendency to go all in on a new idea or interest, often to the detriment of my own sanity, and this interest was no different. Don't get me wrong, my obsession with analog tools and toys hasn't lessened, but there are some things that just work better for me digitally (like calendars and planners). So, this year I'll be course correcting a bit and focusing on tech that enhances my life in a measurable, meaningful way.
Last year, I made a big deal about how I wanted to experiment more. Well... that sure as hell didn't happen. Almost before I even finished the month of January, I was overwhelmed to the point of insanity, and work and personal obligations pulled me away from any meaningful experimentation. I'd still like to spend more time tweaking things in my life and figuring out what improves it and what doesn't, but I don't think I'm in a place to be so prescriptive about it. This year I'll just take it one day at a time and be more mindful of how the choices I make actually affect me.
Now, on to the future. This year, the theme is connection. Connecting with my family, connecting with a community, and connecting with myself. With each passing year, I am finding myself falling more into the trope of male loneliness. It sucks, so I want to change it.
Find a Community
The older I get, the more disconnected I find I feel from the people around me. I think it has to do with life itself becoming more complex as I age, what with more family demands, more career demands, and even more health demands; and with the COVID-driven push for remote-friendly work environments, I've been finding it more difficult than ever to create the same meaningful connections in the workplace that I once did.
So, one of my goals for 2023 is to find a community. Something separate from work and family, where I can forge bonds with people outside the context of my current day-to-day relationships and vocation. I'm not exactly sure where I will find such a community, but one place I am exploring is the Freemasons. It might seem a little antiquated, but the group's stated mission to "make good men better" is compelling, and a few acquaintances I have that are masons really seem to be driven by their connection to the craft.
Simplify, Simplify, Simplify
As I've mentioned already, life has gotten for too complicated for me lately. So this year, I have to simplify. That means thinning down all of the junk that has accumulated in my basement (and every other nook and cranny in my house), and scrubbing off all of the cruft that has built up over the past year, both physically and spiritually.
Part of this shift is going to be reevaluating what I'm spending my time on. Self-hosting is an area where I will probably divest myself of some unnecessary mental overhead. I'm also considering re-Googling some of my life as well; at least my email, because the spam problem I've been suffering through is ridiculous, and Google has by far done the best job of keeping that shit under control.
The point is, I'm tired of the constant cognitive overload, so I'm willing to try anything to get it under control.
I covered this a bit already up above, but one thing I really want to invest more of my time in this year is finding more opportunities to teach. I haven't worked out exactly what that means yet, but nearly everything is on the table. From more writing, to YouTube videos, to volunteering... even tutoring, speaking at conferences, and actually applying to teach a computing class at the local community college are possible (although not necessarily probable).
The biggest challenge, I think, is going to be preserving the time and space to actually make it happen. But the goal is flexibly defined for a reason. Forward progress is the point, not perfection. If you are reading this, and have any ideas or even opportunities, shoot me an email. I would absolutely love to hear them!
This is post 027 of #100DaysToOffload