Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Looking back on 2019

Well, this is my only post for 2019, continuing the long, slow decline of frequency since the peak in... (checks blog)... 2008 with 204 posts! I didn't even write about my expectations and goals for 2019 like I intended. Why not?

I intended to have monthly goals, but I hadn't figured out what all of them were going to be yet. But I had the first two planned. January was going to be no backlog. My interpretation of that was something like "inbox zero" for new stuff where I'd deal with it each day. However, I promptly departed for a 2 week international work trip whereupon that plan went right out the window.


February's goal was going to be to buy our house... and we bought it in August instead. So that didn't exactly help me build momentum with the monthly goal thing. Those were bad goals. For 2020, my first goal is to have better goals.

So without a blueprint of ambitions and expectations laid out at the beginning of the year, I'll just muse on various aspects of my life in 2019.

Home & Family
The most noteworthy thing that happened this year is that we became homeowners! I'll spare everyone the boring complicated details, but we didn't move. It just took a long time to go from being renters to owners. Jon is still loving his work and doing a great job, so a couple of solid years with both of us earning respectable professional wages finally made that possible. We're so glad to have made that leap and thankful to everyone who played a role.

Adele continues her trajectory of awesomeness as a first grader. There have been some new struggles this year with friends, but all part of growing up. In the last year or so she has upped her game skills so we established a weekly family board game night. It's fascinating to recognize some of the odd affinities and hangups she has that I relate to from my childhood. I can tell that she gets worked up by the anticipation of uncomfortable things in a way that I did a lot as a child but Jon did not, e.g. taking medicine. She also shares my affinity for gnarly tree roots and making sets of M&Ms with one of each color.

This year I canceled a failing monthly event with neighborhood mom friends that I started about 5 years ago. I was bad at reminding people, but I also wasn't hearing from anyone despite the recurring calendar event. Sometimes no one showed up, which was kind of depressing for me. Jon is the kind of person who commits heavily to a small group of friends. He has about 5 close friends and at least any two of them are over at least 2 times per week to play games. I hang out with them too, but I also want my own group of close friends. The kind of sad truth for me is that I really don't have a close friend here. I know a lot of people and have a lot of friendly acquaintances who could potentially be closer friends, but I couldn't think of anyone I felt close enough to to invite to my birthday dinner. I work too much and volunteer too much and try to do too much around the house and don't do a good job prioritizing friendships. I skype monthly with my two best friends from grad school, I'm in close with a college friend who lives a few hours away, and I hike monthly with a few women, but sometimes I am sad that I don't have more regular hang out friends around here. It's not like there aren't cool people here. I need to do a better job in 2020.

I traveled for work in January, February, March, April, October, and November. Half the trips were international. For the first time since our honeymoon in 2009, we managed to combine a work trip with a family vacation. Considering how many trips I've done for work since then, that's kind of insane. It just either hasn't made sense logistically (especially with a kid), or been feasible financially. But this year, Jon and Adele joined me at the end of a work retreat and we made a long weekend of exploring a different part of the country.

Our biggest family trip this year was visiting Disney with my parents. Adele was such a fun age for it (almost 6). We also did a couple of shorter trips to visit friends and attend our college reunion.

I'm established enough in my position now that this year I've gotten the highest profile invitations of my career. I did a handful of interviews and gave a couple of prominent invited talks. For the biggest, it was an entirely new talk for which I spent at least 60 hours preparing, and I knocked it out of the park. I've never received so many compliments in my life. That felt good. Then I slept for 11 hours straight.

Stuff and Attention
I watched Marie Kondo's Tidying Up and parted with a lot of clothes and books. I have a growing realization that I'm trying to fit too much into my life (in terms of my time and commitments), and cluttered corners of the house are a reflection of the same phenomenon, but with physical things. Watching Tidying Up helped me think about what I can be grateful for but let go. I'm trying to do a better job of not trying to hold too much, physically or metaphorically. I still have a lot of papers and misc to go through to decide if they spark joy.

This year I also read How to Do Nothing by Jenny O'Dell (so did Obama, btw) which got me thinking even more about the attention economy and how to make conscious decisions about my attention. I've definitely spent less time on conventional social media this year, especially Facebook. I have some complicated thoughts about my role in the attention economy but I really enjoyed the book.

Work & Emotional Labor at Work
Last year I reflected on some of the growing pains from moving into my dream job. This year has overall been much smoother with my colleagues, but I'm definitely feeling the stress of being at the interface of internal and external expectations. There are a handful of difficult external people who I've had to deal with, and the amount of emotional labor and time it takes to interact with them is exhausting. It has been difficult to know the best way to proceed in many circumstances and definitely caused me to lose sleep.

One night I had a dream that I was near a forest fire. For some reason, I thought I could get closer and still get back out safely (I can't even remember why). But in my dream, the fire quickly got more intense, and I was trapped and had to be rescued. I realized I was a fool for going in because I had not only endangered myself, but the person who had to come rescue me.

I woke up from this dream with the realization that I needed to set clear boundaries with the difficult person I was dealing with at the time. I took it as a warning that if I didn't, I was putting my team and project at risk by proceeding. Essentially, this difficult person was an unpredictable forest fire capable of inflicting damage.

I love my job. I care about it so much that I have a hard time not working. I'm almost always trying to accomplish more than is realistically possible in a week. The team had many great successes this year, but I've also wasted a bit of time on some things that kind of flopped. We didn't lose anything but the time we put into it, but I feel a little self-conscious about those things. However, I've more than succeeded in many other areas, so it's just good for me to hone my sense of where to put my effort and attention. I also think I did a great job foreseeing a potentially disastrous collaboration and cutting it off, though it caused me a fair amount of anxiety for months before finally made the call. I probably should have done it sooner, but I kept hoping they'd get their act together.

I don't like saying no or letting people down, so I sometimes have trouble setting boundaries for work and prioritizing. I should be more strict about that in 2020, for my own sanity and health.

I've also done a lot of volunteering this year. One of the things I volunteer for has a strong interaction with my work, but it's not exactly part of my job. Over the last year it's been exciting to see how it has grown into a movement, and I'm not having to manage all of the mental responsibilities for it anymore.

I'm also nearing the end of a long-term volunteer commitment and find myself looking for the light at the end of the tunnel. It's been a bit more stressful than fun for the last 2 years. Perhaps I should write a longer reflection on it at some point.

I've organized a lot of events. Some for volunteering, some for work, and I have less and less patience for it. It falls into the category of something I'm pretty good at but don't enjoy. I hate all of the little decisions about the venue, the food, the budget, etc. I should have a personal limit for event organizing and stick to it.

I did a good job of committing to a particular ritual every day (~95% success). I plan to continue the ritual for the foreseeable future.

Last year I noted my weight had crept up more than I was comfortable with (i.e. my clothes weren't fitting), so I'm pleased I managed to lose about 10 pounds this year (though it went up first before it went down!). However, I have probably had higher blood pressure this year than ever before, thanks to these aforementioned difficult people and generally working too hard. I'm not really exercising though, so that's not great.

Just before leaving for 10 days of travel in October, I made a frantic dash out the door for something that was urgent but not really very important, and in my haste I fell down a few steps onto the sidewalk. I scraped myself up pretty badly and hit my cheek on the concrete. I ended up with a spectacularly awful black eye, but honestly I'm grateful that it wasn't worse because I easily could have broken something. It was a wake up call for me. I took it as a warning to make sure I don't try to do too much, get hasty, and break myself (or my work) in the process and ultimately make things unnecessarily more difficult.

All in all, it's been a great year and I can hardly complain. We're incredibly fortunate. Wishing all who read this a healthy, just, and peaceful 2020!