2015: My reflections on this year

2015 has been a long long year for me. Somehow 365 days has been stretched to feel like 2 times that. That's not a bad thing. I've enjoyed it immensely and I feel like I've grown so much more during this time. This is of course because so many important things happened this year. Many things were achieved. Many changes were made or happened. With such a busy year done, I wanted to make some time to reflect on what I achieved, what I didn't, and what comes next year.
Just to be clear, I was never a fan of 'new year' resolutions. I have discovered that setting goals for a given period time (a year is the longest), whether that period starts in January, or April, or the next day, can yield surprising benefits if you are willing to write it down and follow it up.
My larger goal for 2015 was to get over my horrible habit of stagnating and procrastination. Part of that included getting over taking risks. I felt that in order to get anywhere with any goals of mine, I'd probably have to break apart this bad trait first. So how did I do?

Recap

  • At the start of the year, I took a plunge into an opportunity to be a lone software developer at brand new startup. I worked there from day zero. This was a crazy nerve wracking step for me since I was leaving a job that was paying me well, and was definitely not bad by any means. But for me this was a personal journey. I'd never developed a full stack of software on my own, much less one to be used in an actual production environment. I felt inadequate, as if my ideas on how software development should be done were just talk and would never make it in the real world. That plunge turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made. I look back at what I did and I'm so happy with it. Even when I inevitably see the flaws in it in a year, I'm still incredibly happy that I made it the way I did. It meant learning a ton. It meant confronting myself and the worst qualities in me as a developer. Most of this was my lack of management of evolving requirements Even though I didn't get over it at that time, I feel like I've moved on a lot since then and have become much better at it. Ultimately though, I took a rehire offer from the company I left because financial stability was starting to matter a lot more in life. More on that later
  • In April I was given a chance to speak at a conference on User Experience in E-Commerce. I took the chance. This was also a growing experience for me. I had to push myself out of my comfort zones in public speaking. For a while I felt like I wasn't preparing enough for my talks. With this one, I pushed myself to bring concrete examples and facts to the table and in many ways, I achieved that. As a huge benefit, from that conference, I've grown a larger network of people I know, and have received several interesting calls and offers.
  • In April I also finally got my blogging software up and running. Even though I personally consider the overall progress of it to be a failure, I'm super happy with how much it helped me get back into blogging. This is definitely something that's going into next year's todo list.
    In May I returned to the previous work place. This was a separate lesson in life where no matter how much you enjoy the work you do, paying bills also does matter. While taking work just to earn more is something one should avoid, one cannot shirk responsibilities either.
  • Sadly, the job just wasn't working out. This was a difficult period for me. I wasn't doing my best work, I wasn't really happy with what I was doing. It's not that the job was bad. What I wanted from a workplace and how it functioned were just not aligned. It was pretty sad for me since I really wanted the opportunity to work out. However, instead of stagnating and causing damage to both the company and myself, I took a super scary move and applied for a company I've dreamed of joining since 2012. And I made it through.
  • My attempt was a success and I've gotten a chance to work with a company that I've learned from, just by reading their blog posts. More on the company and other details in the near future. For now I don't want to jinx it :D. But I digress. The entire experience was so nerve wracking but ultimately the reward will hopefully be the best thing ever. My thoughts here are that if you want to find happiness, it's very difficult to do it by sticking on to something you aren't happy with. You have to keep making the scary moves of trying out new things. This doesn't mean you drop something the moment the going gets tough. Once you do find something you love, enjoy, and find happiness in, you have to work hard to maintain it and make sure it continues to work out.
  • I also published my first product for public use. This was an app born out of my own want to reply to tweets at a later time. That way I could carry on conversations when I was available, or in order to check on people who were going to the doctor or going to play a game of tennis. A few people have signed on since then and have had varying degrees of success and failure using it. Again, I need to continue maintaining the product. Doing this yielded so many lessons. I even gave a talk on it a few weeks later. I've also written at length about it on my blog.
  • In November I achieved a health milestone of reigning in my weight from 72 kilos back down to 62 which was my weight when I was at my peak during school days. Self control for the win. For the last two days, I've been checking my resting heart rate and it's gone from 63 to 72 back down to 47 to 58 beats per minute.
  • The last major event for the year has changed the rest of my life. On November 26th I became a father (financial responsibilities, say hello). Even though I mentally prepared myself for the fact that everything in life would change, from sleeping to having just 'us' time with my wife, it's still been a roller coaster ride of emotions. For the first two weeks, every two days I would cycle between "this is the best thing ever" to "I really hope this doesn't turn out to be a bad idea" and back to "this is the most adorabl-est thing ever" :D. My only advice from all of this. Don't take the challenge of a child lightly. It will test you, especially your character, faster than you can say 'poop'.

Reflections

First up, I think I'd give myself a B grade on achieving what I wanted to do this year. While I actually got the ball rolling on things and saw things through to a stage of "it's out there", I feel like I dropped the ball on continuity. My blogging hasn't been as consistent as I want it to be. My personal development hasn't been as consistent as I want it to be. My little tool to reply to tweets later has languished with bugs that other users have had to face. That all sucks.
I've also learned some super important lessons, not all of which are related to the recap of last year.

I've learned that when I have something I think is smarter to say than the other person, it's better to shut my mouth and go think about what the other person has to say first. I used to be a real smart ass and would think that if I had something smarter to say, I was probably superior. Now I find in nearly every case, the other person's argument/point has merit to it I didn't consider immediately. And that goes on to reshape my point of view as I start to see the places my argument fails in.

Along with that, I've learnt that in "this vs that" arguments, it's almost always a dumb idea to take a side. Almost everything is shades of grey instead of the black and white I used to believe in. I say almost everything because it's just dumb to say "everything is shades of grey" which is a black and white argument by itself. Some people believe that shades of grey is a sign of weakness. That you are too afraid to take a stand in what you believe in. My personal belief, and I recognise this isn't always true, is that it takes much more strength to believe you might not be entirely correct. It really does. Many of us mistakenly believe that having chinks in our arguments, vulnerabilities in our beliefs, means the other side must be correct and we must be wrong. Again, for nearly all things, that's not true. You don't have to be 100% correct for you to 'not be part of the other side'. The us vs them is a well known logical fallacy. I learned that this year. Check it out.

Be bold. Be out there. If you aren't out there creating chances for yourself, don't expect opportunity to come dropping at your feet. Be transparent. The most recent possible lead I got prior to my dream job came from me being open with an acquaintance I met while shopping. When asked "how's work?", I quite openly discussed what I missed. Said acquaintance made a referral and that actually turned into a fruitful conversation. My UX Colombo Conference talk has already turned into many chances.

Don't panic. No matter what the situation is, from a crunch time in your project, to just rushing to see why someone is frantically calling your name, it's probably best if you DO NOT PANIC. I've discovered that if I go over tasks well without rushing, but I do it fast, I actually avoid stupid little mistakes. Think about it from the most basic kind of rush you'd do. You are late for a meeting. You rush to grab all your things before heading out. You are panicking. And when you head out, you realise you forgot a couple of things. You rush back in. You get in the car. "oh no better go check the door because I can't recall if I locked it". Sounds familiar? I've found that this extends to many facets in life. Don't panic. Don't rush. Do things quickly, but do it well and you'll probably find that you are better off at the end of the day.

Goals for 2016

On the list of personal improvements I really want to achieve in 2016:

  1. Spirituality. I think I made some great steps in 2015 with regards to how I improved myself spiritually. But I want to go further this year. Especially when the month of fasting comes I really want to utilise my time better. Concrete goal would be to memorise some new suurahs from the quran and spend a bit more time in the mosque.
  2. Proactive-ness. Even though I improved a lot on this last year, I'm nowhere near where I want to be. There's still too much wasted time between tasks, and too much that gets put off to the last minute. It makes me more at ease now in handling a crunch situation (refer the do not panic lesson) but I really ought to balance. It's like I spent all my skill points in handling last moment situations. Concrete goal would be to start writing down a list of tasks every morning and to get that done. I'm going to try and keep a public record (I'll definitely keep a private record) of this stuff so that I can share my progress on it.
  3. Consistency. As an add on to the above, I need to maintain what I start. Now that I'm getting over my barriers of actually finishing a beta version of things in life (be it an app or a new habit in myself), I need to change gears and actually maintain and consistently improve. Concretely I'm not sure how I'll measure this or ensure it happens so for now I'm going with weekly goals.

On the list of concrete things I want to achieve in 2016 (apart from stuff mentioned above):

  • Finish my blogging software!!
  • Work a bit more on my reply later app.
  • Launch a small passive income source on the side.
  • I have a small thing going with a friend where we want to work on side projects together. I want to make that work in 2016.
  • Blog more. I want to be writing 2000 words a week minimum. 52 weeks of that and I basically have the equivalent of a novel. Although I'm ok if this writing doesn't happen exclusively on my blog.
  • Complete the MIT linear algebra course by Gilbert Strang.
  • Complete at least 2 more online courses (1 of which should be an algorithms course).
  • Read 1 to 2 books a month. Fiction, or non fiction, doesn't matter. Then review it.
  • Make time to do something special for my wife 1 to 2 times a month. She deserves more :)
  • Maintain a journal of life now that our son has arrived.

Final thoughts

2015 was an amazing year of change. In many ways it felt like one of my best years personally. A lot of that felt like it was owed to having some simple goals. I could have managed them better but that's hindsight talking. May 2016 be better in how I keep up with my goals.
Here's to a great year ahead.