It's hard to believe it's been a year already since I wrote my last 'year in review' - yet here we are! In 2019 I wrote 25 full-form Damn Articles, flew 70,000 miles, moved once, bought 7 pairs of sneakers, shipped 2 incredible products at work, bought 2 new cameras (returned one), took 1000+ pictures, read 67 books, finished 2 videogames and 120+ movies, fell from the stairs twice - and broke my ankle once.
In short, 2019 has been a long year. But has it been a good year?
In 2018 I wrote: "this year's theme was work".
In 2019 that still rings true - but in a different way. Last year I worked many different jobs, trying to get to a point where I'd be stable financially. This year, I've been firmly and gainfully employed at a Fintech unicorn with offices all around the world. This job has become one of the main pillars of my 2019: something I've dedicated a lot of time and effort to - and all things considered, something I thoroughly enjoyed. But even though I still have the same job as I did at the end of 2018, a lot has changed.
"I have great work-life balance" - I wrote in 2018. That one is most definitely a goner, as work consistently crept up into my regular, day-to-day life, throughout 2019. All of it was because of me: I took up more and more responsibilities, claiming more and more work, and kept delivering above and beyond leading to people trusting me with increased amounts and variety of work. I would do it again.
"I am paid very well". While that was true at the end of last year, halfway through 2019 the added value delivered to the company I work for shot through the roof. My pay, unfortunately, remained the same.
But that's no big deal: I have recently been able to renegotiate my salary to a number I'm happy with; and I've also gotten invaluable breaks throughout the year, most importantly the opportunity to travel to our satellite offices for significant stretches of time. And even though I'm not retiring anytime soon on a tropical island, I have finally been able to reach the financial stability and independence I was striving for during the last few years - which is really reassuring.
2018: "I'm not doing cutting edge tech like previously and we're mainly solving first world problems.". This has also changed, as in 2019 I got truly showered with a downpour of responsibilities, and accidentally ended up landing a great position for both of our two main products for the 2019-2020 cycle. Both of these products have a level of complexity that is entirely out of bounds compared to anything I've done before. They require enormous amounts of coordination, large teams and significant capital investments. I'm finally doing cutting edge tech again.
Even more important, the first of those two products has had a significant impact on a number of developing and developed markets alike, helping literally hundreds of thousands of people in leading a better life. The other one hasn't fully launched yet, but I foresee it having a similar level of impact - which is incredibly exciting and rewarding.
There's nothing I'd change from a work perspective in 2020, and I'd very much like to stay at my current employer and work on all the things I'm excited about for next year - which is a testament to how much I'm enjoying what I do, the atmosphere, products, colleagues and friends. It seems like I got lucky for the second year in a row, as my work in 2019 deserves once again...
Five + damns out of five.
Some people see 'friends for life' as the only worthwhile form of friendship. And sure, that's what poets and singers preach. As the years go by, I am more and more convinced that friends are more like travel companions for a well-defined period of your life. And it's OK not to see them for days, months, or even years as long as the stretch of road you walked together was worth everyone's time and effort.
I have been lucky enough that most of my friends have been like that. They come from all backgrounds and geographical locations - people I've met because of work, travel, studies, love or life in general. They have contributed in shaping my personality into the interesting mess it is now. In 2019 I managed to keep in touch with the large majority of these guys and gals - and despite the distance, whenever we met up, it was as if I'd never left.
From this assorted group of amazing people I met at different times and places of my life I've drawn strength, useful advice, brilliant jokes, fantastic visits to unknown places, and so much more. As I plan to move to Asia in 2020, the time difference will be rough and visits will become incredibly expensive and time consuming, clocking in at about 13 hours of flight either way.
The interesting part? I am not worried at all. I don't need to see my current friends every week in the same places, helping the familiarity of a weekly routine carry our friendship forward into our old years. Our bond is stronger than that.
Every single person I've met in the past has been extremely enjoyable to spend time with. Some of those people have helped me grow and have significantly shaped my personality. These are who I'd really call friends - and in 2019 I had plenty of 'em.
Four damns out of five.
The easiest review item on the list. In 2018 I approached bankruptcy twice; in 2019 I bought everything I wanted, cash, and still ended the year with a five-digit amount in my (capitalist) piggy bank 🐷
While I don't care much about money itself, I used to be very stressed about the lack thereof. Not having that anymore is a huge step forward.
Five + damns out of five.
The year came and went, and I'm still single. That's not a big deal at all: 2019 has been my best year yet on the dating market - a trend that I fully expect to keep up in the next decade or so - and if I wanted to be in a stable relationship for the sake of it, I'd be in it.
But I was making out with this girl recently, and she suddenly pulled away and asked me 'why?'. That's a good question that I'm currently unable to answer. I go through the motions chatting up people, pursuing them, whatever, even though I know quite well I don't want to be spending the next 20 years with them. Why?
I honestly don't know. I love my freedom. I value my time. I'd die if I were to become yet another half of a couple that spends weekends binge watching Netflix series. And I'm completely positive somewhere out there there's another human who loves complexity, statistical problems, street photography, financial engineering, korean movies, different cultures, Paris in the winter, long books, tall mountains, the smell of forests when it's raining, and the emptiness of it all.
The reason why I'm so certain of it, is because I've dated those people before. But while 'Paris in the winter' is a great concept, it doesn't help much in building the next 20 years together. I think the greatest predictor of successful relationships is how much effort you want to put in to make it work.
And I've been reliably unable to put in really any effort. So I'll date without knowing why, and let the relationship fizzle out without knowing why, and start the cycle again without knowing why. Seems like a structural problem to me - and entirely on my end. Why? No idea.
Zero damns out of five.
A new addition to the yearly review, health is something I've only recently started thinking about.
2019 was terrible. I was in the hospital a lot, which is insane given my age. Some stupid accidents, as well as recurring problems. I had trouble with my teeth, my eyesight got worse, I'm beginning to get a beer belly and when I have to run to catch a train I start huffing and puffing like the big bad wolf.
No idea how to improve that, short of hitting the gym with regularity. But I've done that before, and it's not really a long term investment, in the sense that any physical gains quickly fade away as soon as I stop exercising (duh).
If you expect to live until 90, it does make sense to stay healthy. But if (like me) you fully expect to fizzle out by the time you're in your 50s, then the time spent in the gym is better invested, well, anywhere else.
As 2019 winds down, I'm thinking more about this gamble. Maybe, like everything else in my life, I just need to find some balance. A balance that was entirely absent this year.
Zero damns out of five.
While work took up the lion's share of my year, I've managed to keep up with most of my hobbies and even tentatively pick up a few new ones.
Photography in particular has been a staple of my 2019. I have gotten to a point where I can visualize even the most candid street portraits in my mind before I press the shutter, and it's super rewarding. I also wrote a lot of technical articles and managed to keep up with technology even though I'm not directly working as a technical person anymore.
I also traveled a lot - being away from home for around 20% of the year. I read a large amount of fantastic books. Lots and lots of art. And while I didn't cook much, I tried so many drool-worthy foods it's incredible.
On a negative note, I did not improve my chinese and still not much work in hardware. I'm planning to fix those in 2020 - in general, however, I'm super excited about the person I've become in 2019. The next few years are going to be insane.
Five damns out of five.
Both of my parents have spent their entire life pretty much in the same city. I'm the exact opposite: I have moved a lot in the last decade, hold a dual passport, and have spent significant time in most European capitals.
I think traveling is the fastest way to be confronted with your own limitation - what people would call 'leave your comfort zone' - and to understand where your life fits in a global , rather than local, context. It is an invaluable experience and there is really no substitute for it.
In 2019 I've traveled around quite a lot. From Hong Kong to Singapore, from China to Australia to Brazil along with most countries in Europe, and even Japan. I am so lucky, and this is probably the most unique highlight of my year.
In 2020 I'd love to go and work in Asia on a permanent basis. I think the region is ripe with opportunity. I might explain why in another post - for now, I'm just crossing my fingers hoping that I get the transfer I asked for. It's my pivotal plan for 2020, and something I'm super excited about.
Five damns out of five.
Last year I wrote: next year I'd like to build some projects that have revenue potential, probably by partnering up with someone.
When I wrote that, I was probably thinking of a side gig. Instead, I pretty much achieved my goal at work, where I started becoming very knowledgeable about a few (admittedly niche) deep tech subjects. I built cool projects with a selected amount of brilliant people, and really learned a lot, all while keeping up my other tech-related hobbies on the side.
Five damns out of five.
Last year was a good year for me: at the end of my 2018 wrap-up I wrote: "I am very lucky in that I have something I enjoy doing, the money and time to do it, the freedom to share it, and of course people to share it with".
2019 was more polarizing: my health was terrible, and I still haven't managed to sort out my love life. My work and hobbies, however, were a true home run - and on a personal level I'm really starting to appreciate the incredible amount of interesting things I'm lucky enough to do day in, day out.
So what about next year? 2020 is going to be very interesting. As briefly mentioned, I'm trying to move to a completely different region - Asia - on a permanent basis. Additionally, work is going to bring on a slew of technical and personal challenges that I'm not sure I'm equipped to solve. It's going to be an uphill climb for sure!
However, I'm super excited. 2019 was a challenging year - my first real adult year - and I managed to handle pretty much every curve ball that life threw at me. I saw incredible places, met fantastic people, got to tackle complex problems, while developing my own personality and life into something I'm super proud of.
I'm a regular twenty-something wasting time writing on the internet. I've done nothing to deserve this amazing life and this amazing year, and yet here I am.
I am so lucky. Overflowing with happiness. On to the coming year!