I wasn't really feeling like writing this post today, but I didn't want to break my multi-year tradition either so here we go. When I look back at this year, I see a mixture of growth, missed opportunities, great moments and some struggles as well. But ultimately I'd say this was a solid year for me, and overall I'm grateful for it.
Why the year of synchronization?
In my app Timelines, I wanted to have a way for users to be able to use it on multiple devices and have their data available everywhere. For anyone who's ever tried implementing this, they know it is quite hard. I'm planning to write a dedicated blog post with a technical overview, but in short: I chose the way of building it from scratch, with change tracking, changesets (inserts / updates / deletes) that are tracked locally, processed locally, and stored on the server in a database. There are many edge cases and technical challenges that had to be taken care of, and during the year I've run into several massive roadblocks, which made me question whether my choice to build this by myself was a bad one and whether I'll have to abandon months of work because I have run into some problem which just isn't possible to overcome in some reliable and performant-enough fashion.
To make a long story short: it was a huge struggle for me, and a humbling experience because I really felt like I "bit off more than I could chew". But in the end, even though it took me most of the year, I came to a state where everything is working reliably and I am decently confident that all conceivable edge cases are taken care of. Obviously, I will know more once I start beta testing it with more people, but I don't expect any surprises at this point (hopefully not the "famous last words" kind of situation :D).
What I learned from this whole endeavor: while it's deeply frustrating to do something that oftentimes felt beyond my abilities, I also loved figuring out these conceptual and technical challenges, and I enjoyed learning more about server-side development. Also, it was a welcomed change from the iOS / app UI development that I'd been doing for many years before this.
For the rest of this blog post, I will point out several themes / activities which were specific for me for this year and I will try to draw some conclusions which are hopefully also useful to some of you.
Learning how to play the piano
At the beginning of the year, I started to learn how to play the piano (keyboard). This is something I had at the back of my mind for many years, and this year I finally decided to go through with it. Having no musical background and no prior experience with playing an instrument, I found that I actually really like this. It's not about any end result for me, but rather enjoying being in the moment and having an activity that is very different from my work, yet very enjoyable and satisfying. For anyone also considering getting started with this: I'd highly recommend the Simply Piano app because it makes learning it fun, and teaches you how to read the notes in a gradual fashion. Plus you can play the songs you know with just the level of difficulty that you are capable of depending on your current progress in their course.
Started with basic investing
This year I also started with investing in stocks and cryptocurrencies. It's one of those things which I felt for a while I should get started with, but it wasn't until several of my friends taught me more about it and provided the much-needed tips and insights that I actually went through with it, set up an account at Interactive Brokers and bought some specific stocks and ETFs (and kept buying throughout the year). For following what's happening in the markets and also some general tips for investing, I'd highly recommend the Millenial Money YouTube channel.
I feel like this is the kind of thing that would be good for almost everyone, but most people don't do it because it feels foreign / risky / "not for me" (I was one of those people until recently.). But by investing even a small portion of your savings at first, you can start learning more about it, and it can make a big difference over the long term.
Doing more therapy
I've had mixed results with therapy in the past, and still hold the view that having no therapist is better than having a mediocre one. But - if you find the right person with whom you can build real trust over time, it can really help you like nothing else. I believe that self-educating and discussing with friends can get you far, but there's a limit to how far it can get you. Working with the right professional (emphasis on professional) can make a world of difference. A good friend of mine gave me a tip for this specific one, and I am super grateful to her for that. I'm also looking forward to continuing with this in 2022 because I still sure have some things I need to work through.
(A quick note on this section: I know that seeing a therapist is still a bit of a taboo subject, especially where I come from, but if I can do my small part in making it more "mainstream" by talking about it openly, then I'll gladly do it.)
Also another tip: a great resource for learning more about mental health is Medcircle. They host interviews with world-class experts on specific subjects, and most of the videos I've seen from them were super informative.
Overcoming being stuck in Prague
For a large part of the year, I didn't really feel like traveling because of the Covid situation. It wasn't until I got my vaccination in September and got through some subsequent health problems that I finally got around to taking a week-long vacation on Madeira. Which was awesome!
My reasoning used to be that "I'll take a break once I get work into some better shape" - but I am slowly starting to learn that I might never feel satisfied enough with where the work is. So it's better to just go. At least once every few months. Both the short-term and long-term benefits are well worth it. Also: a good friend of mine kept poking fun at me for never going on a vacation and that contributed in a small way to me finally taking one - so if you are reading this: you were a bit annoying at times, but: thank you! ;)
And a few lessons and learnings
I'd say the biggest ones came to me while I was in Madeira: namely the realization that I too am getting older, and there is no point in dwelling over things that I have no control over. I still have some goals I want to pursue, and I am absolutely convinced that they can be reached, as long as I make them more of a priority.
Also: I came to deeply appreciate the importance of attention. What is occupying my mental space matters, and when I reflected on what was there for large parts of the year prior to this trip, I realized that big chunks of it were not really helpful and weren't getting me anywhere. So - what I am actively trying to do now is to be more mindful about where my attention is going, and try to assess it several times a day. And if certain negative themes keep coming up I try to work through them in my daily writings and in my therapy.
Secondly on the topic of attention: the small daily frictions, be it a messy apartment, cluttered desk at work, tons of opened tabs in the web browser, etc. - these matter. And their cost in terms of lost attention and lost focus accumulates over time. In 2022, I want to make it a much higher priority to keep these things in order - to keep my physical and digital spaces as clean as possible so that I can focus on what truly matters to me.
Phew, at the beginning I said I didn't feel like writing this one, but now that it's done I'm glad I forced myself to do it. Thank you for reading, I hope this was useful for at least a few of you :). Happy New Year 2022!