2019 was a tough year for me, but it’s hard for me to point a finger at any single cause or even piece of evidence of this claim. My wonderful family has been a cornerstone of my life and this was my favorite year with our daughter Ada so far (she turned 3 in 2019). I’ve been successful at work and grew my team to 35 people. We had a few small setbacks this year but were still surrounded by family and friends and were able to enjoy two wonderful family trips to attend weddings in Hawaii and Seattle.
I think for me it felt like I got into too much of a routine and didn’t really break out of it enough. The strongest driving force for me is to make things: programs, games, artwork, films, food. My next biggest driver is to experience the creative works of others, particularly books and films which challenge my viewpoint. My third driver is to get out into the natural world and do intensive backpacking and hiking. I don’t think I satisfied any of these three impulses in 2019.
In 2020, I see the opportunity to celebrate and recognize all of the things going well in my life, but to improve my understanding of what I find fulfilling and spend more time making things and expanding my point of view. I believe that examining the past year and how I did against my expectations is a key part of this iterative process, so I’d like to cover how I scored my goals for the past year and how that feeds into my plans for the next.
Objective: Be healthier and happier.
Key result: Days below target weight.
My goal was to get into better shape in 2019, so I modeled a target weight which decreated each day until reaching my goal for the year. Then I counted how many days I could stay below target. In the first half of the year, I kept on pace or better and even reached my annual goal for a single day in July. Something switched at that point and I started steadily gaining pounds back. I tried to reset my daily target in September when I had gotten really far away from it, but that didn’t work. I really lost control of things in the period from Thanksgiving through New Years as you can see from the graph below. A minor setback I hope: I’m starting this year better off than I was at the start of 2019 and I continue trying to figure out what works for me in 2020.
In June I was feeling overwhelmed at work and wanted to try and understand that better. I started scoring myself on a subjective 5 point scale on how happy I was feeling at the end of each day: 1 being a really bad day, 3 fairly unremarkable, and 5 fantastic. I averaged each measure by week and plotted the trendline below. I think the line indicates what I’ve intuitively suspected–that I was slowly getting more unhappy in 2019. The graph includes working days only and doesn’t count in weekends (where I’m generally happier), but I think the measure is still pretty interesting. I’ll be tracking this every day in 2020.
Key result: 12 planned family trips.
On the topic of enjoyable weekends, I felt that my goal of planning more activities with my family went well this year. We had a mix of local San Francisco activities and trips to other states. These activities included Ada’s first baseball game, camping trip, and ski lesson. It’s really exciting to plan these “firsts” and even gives us the chance to build up family traditions. I’m eager to do more next year.
|February||Snow White at the Children's Theater Association San Francisco|
|April||Bike ride to Ocean Beach|
|June||Bay Area Discovery Museum|
|July||San Francisco Giants game|
|August||Camping trip at Yosemite|
|September||We cancelled plans in September on account of all of us getting sick|
|October||Woodworking class at The Butterfly Joint|
|December||Ski trip at Northstar|
It really did feel like I was able to focus on spending more time with Steph and Ada this year, and even though 11 completed trips doesn’t sound like a great deal, I really enjoyed every one of them. They all feature in my 2019 one second every day video, where you can get a clear sense of how much fun we had as a family over the course of the year.
Objective: Learn and grow intellectually.
Key result: Practice Mandarin for 182 days.
I practiced Mandarin using Rosetta Stone on 174 days in 2019. To be honest, it’s not really giving me much in the way of discussion skills, but I have been understanding snippets of conversations when overhearing conversations or if Steph is watching a show or listening to a podcast in Mandarin. I found that Ada likes to listen to the program too, so some nights I run through a lesson while giving Ada a bath. Increasing the frequency of lessons to roughly every other day seemed to help me with retention, so I’m expecting to keep up this pace next year.
Objective: Create things.
Key result: Playable Act 1 for adventure game.
This was the goal I was most excited to take on last year but wound up being the hardest to make any kind of real progress against. I started off the year with various tech demos exploring shader effects, rendering character animations, point and click navigation and felt that things were off to a promising start. However, the idea of working on such an ambitious and personal project was so weighty that I don’t think I ever felt comfortable getting past all of this yak shaving. I hardly opened any project files or even planning documents in the second half of the year. As a goal, this was a fairly big failure.
I used my guilt about not working on the “big” game as a positive force for structured procrastination, though. I decided I wanted to learn some more 3D modeling and took an online Blender 3D class which I really enjoyed. I got much more comfortable using the Blender software, and created the following works as part of my homework for the class.
I cracked open Beatwave on the iPad and created music for Zero Coast in less than an hour. This is the first time I’ve made a song and I was proud to see people compliment the game’s music, not knowing how far out of my comfort zone creating it was.
So I didn’t make the thing I set out at the start of the year to make, but I did make some things which I felt proud of.
Planning for 2020
I wish I had made more things in 2019. I’d lost sight of the joy of sharing things and the satisfaction of actually creating something for others to experience. I still feel that I want to make my adventure game, but getting lost in the big picture really held me back. In 2020 I want to work on things which I find creatively stimulating. I want to recognize the effort to make things, regardless of whether a project winds up being a big ambitious narrative, a weekend art project, a simple piece of music, or a watercolor painting. So I’m removing any sort of criteria for what I want to make, but will hold myself to make two things a month, where anything I make on my own is valid as long as I share it with others in some way.
As I didn’t make my target weight goal in 2019, I will once again plan to stay below a target weight line in 2020. To help with that, I’m also committing to 200 days of exercise in any 20+ minute form, be it commuting to work on my road bike, going for a run in the park, or an actual session at the gym.
I’m still expecting to take at least one family trip or outing per month and we already have more ski and camping trips planned. I’m also planning a trip to Alaska with the goal of backpacking for a longer period and taking a kayak trip to see a glacier (while I still can).
As I think about my own learning and exposure to culture, I regret purposefully drawing down the number of books I read in 2019. As I have a considerable backlog of books and films I’d like to get through, I’m committing to read 17 books and watch 15 films off of my list. These selections are going to seem pretty random, and I have various reasons for picking each. A common theme is that I either have a copy of these or have been intending to read/watch them for over a year, so in a way I see 2020 as an opportunity to clear myself of some long-held baggage.
- The Power Broker
- White Fragility
- Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life
- The Fire Next Time
- Where The Bird Sings Best
- The Dream Machine
- The Difference Engine
- The Visual Display of Quantitative Information
- Gravity’s Rainbow
- The Broom of the System
- Why Are We Yelling?
- Thomas Jefferson’s Creme Brulee
- Refactoring: Improving the Design of Existing Code
- All I Want To Know Is Where I’m Going To Die So I’ll Never Go There
- The Prophet
- Andrei Rublev
- The Killing
- Burden of Dreams
- The Lighthouse
- Beyond the Black Rainbow
- The Witch
- Color Out of Space
- Until the End of the World
- The Godfather
- The Shawshank Redemption
Dwight Eisenhower said “plans are useless, but planning is indispensable”. I enter 2020 with more clarity about the life I want to live, a scaffold for how to go about it, and an excitement to see what kinds of unexpected opportunities will arise throughout the year. Here’s to a better 2020.