It's crazy to think this year marks the fifth anniversary of the Damn blog existing. And tradition calls for me putting my thoughts together for my fifth annual review - that of 2022 - after doing so in 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021.
In fact, it's been long enough I can now track the evolution of the different categories across half a decade - and how this year stacks against the previous one with a simple scale:
five+ ▓ , five █ , four ▇ , three ▅ , two ▂ , one/zero ▁
So, what happened this year?
Last year I was feeling quite ambivalent about my job. "It is the primary catalyst towards changing my world view", I wrote in 2021, "but it doesn't seem to have a higher purpose".
In hindsight, what I was experiencing is classic post-pandemic detachment towards my workplace, which I think is a function of three factors; a perceived lack of purpose, lack of interaction, lack of growth.
To unpack this further, we need to consider how my job was at a significantly higher seniority level in 2021 than in the preceding years; and at a company that managed to keep the stakes - and expectations - much higher than Adyen did in 2018-2020. In addition to this, I onboarded during covid and then moved to Singapore amidst full lockdown, meaning I didn't in fact meet any colleagues in person until late 2021, when I wrote my last 'year in review'.
If there's one thing to be learned there: at a senior level, remote working can be quite alienating.
In the first half of 2022, I went back to the office - in person - pretty much every day. I also significantly grew my team, started a new one, shipped several products, and managed to build out a reputation as someone who builds meaningful things. My team truly bonded and become one of the best teams in the entire company (it's a pretty large one); no one is leaving, everyone is growing, and everybody loves their job - which is extremely significant since we try to separate professional and personal life, meaning there's no fancy team dinners or feelings of 'we are a big family' to compensate for shit work. It's just that the work is meaningful, and good. And for a while, everything was well.
In the second half of 2022, I was hit by an unexpected setback at work that took some time to resolve. During this time, I got a bit stuck - I struggled to get recognition for my efforts, and generally felt like my career slowed down unfairly. Luckily by the end of the year all clouds had dissipated, and I was able to get back to full speed.
Instead of cashing my goodwill and results towards a promotion, however, I have decided to take a step down and a pay cut, and move to another role that is more challenging and interesting for me. This also means I'll be relocating again for work, this time to Japan.
I am worried and excited at once - this is the biggest gamble I've taken work-wise and I truly hope it pays off the way I planned for.
A turbulent year, but with a decent ending.
Three damns out of five
In 2021 I wrote: "the people I meet are diverse, and interesting". This year I can separate the people I met in two groups: the ones I met in Singapore, and the ones I met while travelling.
Wherever I travelled in 2022, I met people that were caring, creative, nimble, and smart. This is a side effects of my hobbies and of my work, I feel, but also of the fact that I tend to attract a certain type of people because of my lifestyle and how I choose to spend my time.
On the other hand, the people I've met in Singapore are those that tolerate or even love living in a country that is structurally stacked against self-discovery. As a result, the people I met are not just unable to challenge life, but even uninterested in everything life has to offer - in a way that makes me think of Tolkien's Hobbits, or Foster Wallace's "what is water?".
For readers - including future me - that think I might be unfairly characterising an entire slice of the world, I have two notes: one, I'm talking about people I met in Singapore, regardless of whether they're Singaporeans or expatriates, and two, I think this is a compassionate assessment: the reality is worse.
With a few notable exceptions (and friends notable in their exceptionality), Singapore has brought me the type of people I either didn't know existed, or I knew of and tried to avoid my entire life, with remarkable consistency and tempo; a true barrage of mediocrity.
Last year I wondered if 'it's worth to keep exploring'. After witnessing the dismal way the people I met in Singapore lead their lives, the answer is yes, a thousand times yes, and forever yes: a life spent exploring is a life worth living.
Witnessing the differences in happiness, energy and accomplishment that the friends I met in Singapore display in their early thirties as opposed to those I met abroad has been a defining experience in a defining year, and I'm forever grateful to them for showing me.
Five damns out of Five
Keeping it short: collapsing markets this year meant that whatever small cash investment I made turned into, well, a smaller amount of money than I had at the start.
On the other hand, my very own stock has been relentlessly improving. I like my job, I like my life, and I think I'm managing myself well.
I also like that my lifestyle has barely inflated: my most important metric is "f**k-you-money", or how long I can live without any source of income. That's now five years in a high cost of living country, and around 15 years where life is cheap. Considering I started my career with no money at all, that's really something to be grateful for.
Five + damns out of Five
In 2022 I fell in love twice; both times we ended it because of geographical considerations and the unwillingness to do a long-distance relationship. It's kind of ironic that what I did to my partner in 2020 is now coming to bite me in 2022; karma is clearly a thing.
I also met and dated a large amount of people; not randomly, as I would sometimes do in my early 20s, but deliberately; which makes it even more unsettling to consider that, despite the effort and care, neither of these attempts succeeded.
2022 is the first year I've been ghosted by partners I was seeing; not just once, but repeatedly. Being ghosted is painful and gives one no sense of closure; most importantly it doesn't allow you to learn anything from the experience.
Maybe getting ghosted is a feature of dating in Singapore, rather than dating in my late twenties (I date people my age); but at the same time I also can't help but notice the people I'm meeting now are more bitter, and less hopeful about the future than the people I used to date in my early 20s. So while the number of available partner hasn't really declined for me, their personality has.
A wise friend once told me that relationships are hard because "the car only breaks down after 50,000 miles". At the time I didn't get it, but I do now.
One damn out of Five
Last year I naively wrote "I might very well ride this pandemic out unscathed", obviously that didn't really factor in half the world deciding that covid's over and people being too selfish to wear a mask in crowded places; I ended up catching covid twice this year and both times it was a wild ride.
I'm feeling very pessimistic about the next couple decades or so after seeing how the World handled this pandemic; and honestly that will have an effect on my health (and everyon else's). That feels like a significant dark cloud hanging on our future;
I also developed carpal tunnel and some other small bumps; but I'm grateful for my health. As I get to see my loved ones aging around me, all I can think of is how I must keep taking advantage of my health for as long as I have it.
Five damns out of Five
One of the worst things living in Singapore did to me is that it somehow eroded my energy and ability to initiate and pursue new hobbies. In 2021 I wrote: "I can do hobbies - simply because I try - but I do not excel at them". In Singapore, people have very few hobbies - sometimes none at all. As a results, communities are small and inspiration is always far away: it's enough to try something, really, to be best in class. So it's easy to just do the bare minimum and call it a day.
In these circumstances, I found a brilliant community both in Singapore and abroad of people taking photographs; people with a keen eye for the world, that are somehow able to thrive even in very art-averse countries. As a direct result of meeting them, I was able to pick up film photography - something new to me, that also allowed me to express myself in a new way and get some absolutely incredible shots that I am insanely proud to show off.
As a result of photography I was also able to explore - walking more than 4,000 kilometres this year alone - and discover beauty in unexpected places. That and the other few communities I encountered were truly the saving grace of a year that would have otherwise been lost.
Last year I also wrote I wanted to "systematically tackle product design"; I wasn't able to do so as a hobby, but I did it at work - several of my designs were good enough they actually shipped in our production app, and are now used by literally millions of people around the world. Imagine how proud that makes me.
Next year, for obvious reasons, I'll only have one new hobby, which will span across several years: learning Japanese as my fifth high-fluency language. I'm curious to see how that will pan out; but if this year has been an indication, I'll get there no matter how winding the road might be.
Five damns out of Five
In 2019, I wrote "I'd love to go and work in Asia on a permanent basis"; that took me over two years. When it finally happened, in 2021, it wasn't at all what I expected: at the end of last year I wrote: "Singapore was supposed to be the place to end all places", but wondered "if I can spend the entirety of 2022 in it".
The answer is a resounding no: I spent roughly half of this year away from Singapore, mostly in Europe, Korea and Taiwan.
In almost fifteen years of living in foreign countries, I've seen things good and bad; what all places had in common, however, was a willingness to improve and grow across a set of metric that I would controversially call the 'Human Development Index metrics'.
Singapore completely breaks this convention: here's a country that is richer and more developed than essentially every other country I've lived in, yet shows a complete disregard for giving its citizens access to the things that make life worth living. Like a secret millionaire living in filth, stashing his income under a frayed mattress, Singapore is all about the accumulation of status and money; it's about the comfort of watching your KPIs increase without actually developing the product. Singapore is a student that has crammed all of the past exams' answers without never actually bothering to understand the textbook's subject.
So what is the subject - what is it that makes a country a compelling place to live in? Is it happiness? Exploration? Self-development? Equality? Some higher ideal? Or simply, the ability to live one's live the way he or she - and not the government, or their parents, or society wants them to?
My major is in research economics. And by every relevant metric I was taught in school, Singapore is a highly developed country. The reality on the ground is different: a tropical hellscape where unhappiness is endemic, a concentration of mundanity and emptiness - a Groundhog Day of capitalism and endlessly repeating supermarket jingles and government-sanctioned prompts, it's the country equivalent of a liminal hotel lobby or a rust belt Strip Mall.
Expatriates call it "boring", locals call it "small": it's a reflection of the inability to truly label this cosmic horror. Singapore is neither small nor boring: it is void, void of beauty, of purpose, of self-exploration, and of the possibility to build a life that isn't mass manufactured and pre-fabricated by convention.
I love Asia and its potential, but I can't live in Singapore, even though I tried - I really did - but this place wins. Five and a half million people live here successfully, but I can't: I'm moving out, early next year, to Tokyo: a place that is everything that Singapore isn't. Or at least, that's what I hope: like a man running out of a burning building, I haven't really stopped to consider all the variables - all I know is, I gotta get out of here.
One damn out of Five
I started writing the year in review posts to track my life across several metrics. But over the years, the purpose of the year in review has changed, as has my way of looking at those metrics. 2022 was an ambiguous year: I developed a deep dislike for the place I lived in, but I also got to explore plenty of new ones; my beliefs were challenged, but I learned a lot about what I value in life. I had some significant setbacks, but also some victories. From the metrics themselves, it's hard to say whether 2022 was a success or a failure.
Last year I put down three goals for 2022: I wanted to move towards more design-oriented, creative work; to try my best to make Singapore work, and to find a relationship as good as the one I had in Amsterdam. From this perspective too, I succeeded and failed on all three counts: I did fulfil my creative dreams on the job, but in the end I found purpose and fun in what I already do. I failed to make Singapore work, but I did learn a lot in the process and ultimately successfully plotted my next move - to Japan. And finally, I did find relationships that were as good as the one I had in 2020; they just didn't last.
If 2021 was a transition year, 2022 was a year of acceleration: a trampoline towards my thirties. As I pack my bags once more and prep my move to Japan, I can't help but think about the vast arsenal of intangible skills and ideas I'm bringing with me. In a sense, that's the reason why I do my year in review: not to see how my life has changed along a set of metrics, but rather to see how my way of looking at those metrics has changed.
My biggest challenge next year will be assimilating into a culture that is notoriously insular and complicated. I believe fitting in and learning the language will have to be my primary goal in 2023. Finding some communities to join will be equally challenging, as I'm starting my life, once more, in a new city and a new country. And I do wonder what kind of people I'll encounter in Japan!
Whatever it is, I'm not ready for it. That's a refreshing feeling: as I keep trying the same thing year-in, year-out, the result is always different, beautiful, and unpredictable. I am not carried by the world changing around me, but I react to it. I'm not floating, I'm swimming. And that's a beautiful feeling.