It's my first-ever annual retrospective!
Parenthood and COVID have obliterated my sense of time and memory, and I need to start doing these, at least for myself. I want to capture both the joys and lessons from my time on this Earth before they slip from my mind forever.
Highlights of 2022
Moved to Seattle
This year, we chose family, leaving a place we loved to be closer to my brother and parents.
Leaving the Bay Area wasn't easy. I was absolutely spoiled by the weather. I miss being able to feel the sun on my face almost year-round. All the places I loved and needed to get to regularly were easy to access. I left behind several amazing friendships.
But overall I'm grateful for the move, and for my family's help facilitating it. I live in a nice quiet neighborhood near a bike trail where we take frequent walks. It's quite beautiful here, and I feel way more connected to the outdoors on a regular basis (at least when it's not too rainy or dark to go outside). Above all, it's wonderful to have my son get to know his grandparents, uncle, and aunt.
Accepted my limitations
One of the most impactful books I read this year was Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals. My main takeaway: I'm going to die before I can achieve many of my creative goals and ambitions. I've written about similar realizations before, but sometimes I need reminders and validation.
When I first became a parent, I thought I could focus on 2-3 projects, carving out 30 minutes a day for each of them. In theory, this is plenty of time to make good progress on those projects over the months and years. I quickly discovered how unsustainable this is in practice.
I'd internalized the idea that not achieving all of your goals is a time management problem. I've fully realized now that it's an energy problem. It's impossible for me to accomplish anything substantial for multiple projects at the end of the day, even if I have a solid 3-hour block of time after my son goes to sleep. I'm completely wiped out then, and having to context switch between projects wipes out any hope I have of being productive.
Keeping too many goals in mind created massive problems at every single point of the creative process:
- Before I start working, deciding what to do with my limited free time was a constant struggle
- While I was working, any sign of difficulty or boredom made me question whether I should be working on something else
- After I was done working, even in the rare case I made progress on a project, rather than being proud of what I've accomplished, I thought "what about all my other projects?"
What all this means is that I'm saying no to a few things that I love that I no longer have space for right now: namely music and drawing. I'm going to just have faith that I'll make space for them again sometime in the future.
A younger me would've viewed this resignation as profoundly sad. However, it's clear to me now that realigning my beliefs in this way isn't objectively changing anything about my circumstances. It's just accepting a reality that I denied before: I can't be all the things I want to be. And I'll be happier in the long run to live in reality than to live in fantasy.
Biggest challenges entering 2023
My inability to be bored
So much of parenting is essentially just sitting around doing nothing, i.e. watching my son play and making sure he doesn't try to dive headfirst off the couch or walk backwards down a flight of stairs.
Taking care of my son has strongly highlighted my inability to be bored. When I'm watching him, I feel the need to check my phone every 5 seconds, even when I don't have anything to look at. I just want to read something, anything.
But parenting is only the most obvious indicator of this problem. Any time my side projects get hard, I start browsing Reddit or Hacker News. When I have to wait more than 5 seconds for something, e.g. in line at a store or at a crosswalk, I feel the itch to reach for my phone.
I'm sure a lot of people can relate to this, but my situation feels dire. This issue is certainly preventing me from falling far short of my potential as an attentive parent and a creative person.
Losing faith in myself
In 2009, I was overweight and hated the career path I was on. Within a year, I lost 50 pounds and began my software engineering career. I've always leaned on that transformation as evidence that I can do anything I put my mind to.
These past few years, those achievements are no longer making me feel better. I've broken too many commitments to myself. I told myself I would dedicate time to writing and creating, and I haven't. My self-confidence to draw from my own motivation to accomplish my goals has hit an all-time low.
What I want 2023 to look like
I abandoned New Year's resolutions long ago, looking instead to concepts that are far more like wayfinding than specific goals.
This year, I discovered CGP Grey's yearly theme concept — a single word or phrase that encompasses what you'd like your year to look like. A simple theme is compact enough to keep in your head, and can be enough of a guiding principle to make choices that improve you on a day-to-day basis.
My theme this year is consistency. I believe both my current challenges can be solved by finding a consistent routine:
- My inability to be bored got way worse when my meditation practice fell off a cliff. I'm certain bringing it back will help me be more present.
- My lack of faith in myself will certainly be resolved by more consistency. What more is consistency than honoring a series of tiny promises you've made to yourself?
I have concrete goals too!
- Write at least one weekly post for my Substack. I've created Stuff They Don't Teach You In Bootcamp, dedicated to helping new engineers navigate a variety of technical and career topics.
- Launch a developer Discord community. I've wanted to create a friendlier, more conversational StackOverflow for a while now. 2023 is the year I hope to make it a reality.
- Develop frontendeval. Add more questions and create a better user experience.
My plan is to hold tightly to my theme and loosely to my goals. If I end 2023 having been more consistent than I was in 2022, I'll be thrilled. If I accomplish these goals (which will only be possible if I am more consistent), even better.
Art that impacted me in 2022
🎥 Everything, Everywhere, All at Once
I'm kind of convinced I will never see a movie as good as this one again. This movie was an amazing blend of philosophy, action, and emotion. Everything, Everywhere, All at Once spoke to me as an optimistic nihilist, showing how our choices don't seem to matter at all at the scale of the universe (or the multiverse), and yet they are still critical.
On top of being thought-provoking and entertaining, I felt super seen by this movie. It perfectly captured the first-generation immigrant experience. I don't think I've felt so emotional watching a movie in quite some time.
📚 The Three-Body Problem
This is a sci-fi classic, soon to be a Netflix show. I devoured the entire thing in a few short weeks.
My main takeaway: the universe is a cold and dark place, and mankind's chapter in the cosmos will almost certainly just be a fart in the wind.
This can be interpreted as a depressing and dark take. Instead, I view it as freeing. People devote so much time to making their lives significant, while it's actually impossible to amount to much in the grand scheme of things. It motivates me to create meaning only in the ways that matter to me.
📚 Good Inside: A Guide to Becoming the Parent You Want to Be
I've read many parenting books both in preparation for and in the course of becoming a dad. None have impacted me like this one. I got two major insights from this book, both of which I feel apply to all my relationships, not just parenthood.
First, everyone is inherently good, including my son and me. When my son is throwing a tantrum or being cheeky, he's not "being bad". He's a good kid having a hard time. Similarly, I am a good parent who has a hard time sometimes. When I find the space to take a step back during hard situations, this truth grounds me.
Second, two people can have competing views and both can be true and valid. My son wants to play with the stove burners. I obviously can't let him, but that doesn't invalidate his desire to play and explore. Acknowledging other people's viewpoints is vital even if you make decisions they don't like.
📚 Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals
Mentioned earlier, this book confirmed my suspicions that I need to learn to let some things go. Four thousand weeks, if you haven't guessed already, is the average lifespan of a human. Life seems pretty damn short when you put things that way.
There were more lessons I took from this book than I can convey here. If you struggle with overwhelm, perfectionism, and overachieving like I do, I can't recommend this book enough.
It's probably optimistic to wish for this these days, but I hope everyone has a safe and stable new year of becoming who you want to be!