Ever since I graduated, I've made an effort to gather my thoughts and write about my life at the end of each year passing. In 2018, 2019, and 2020 I was eager to crystallize my thoughts into a written post to share with my friends and loved ones.
But in 2021 I felt quite lost, and that's why I have been procrastinating my yearly review until, well, early 2022. Hopefully, writing my thoughts down will help, so here we go.
Any job, even if done on the lowest possible effort, will take a significant chunk of your waking time, during the best years of your life. You don't want to spend those years eating your soul for peanuts; so at the very least an ideal job should be enjoyable to do, and pay well.
My view on this has definitely evolved over the years. In 2018 I was naively excited about hustling four different jobs; in 2019 I focused on the impact my job was having ("helping literally hundreds of thousands of people in leading a better life"), in 2020 I quit, rating the year "an unfortunate blip on an otherwise great track record of passion and drive at work".
Passion and drive? Over the years I have become more and more disillusioned about the real impact any individual can really have on a global scale. I also have this sinking feeling that every year from now on is going to be worse for the world than the one before, and my job is not doing much to prevent or change that. The passion is still there; the drive, much less so.
By my two key metrics (enjoyable to do and paid well), my new job has been a success throughout 2021. The product I work on is used daily by around 3 million people; my colleagues are just as smart as the ones I met at my previous workplaces, and my stress levels are mostly manageable. I am still learning useful skills.
I just can't keep wondering: is this all there is to it? I do get challenged on the job, and I can work in Lisbon, in Singapore or in Amsterdam (or remotely...) giving me the freedom to explore new regions and cultures basically every year. Financially, I am paid plenty of money to basically think about stuff and occasionally write emails.
But last year I wrote "I hope to be as excited about work at the end of 2021 as I was in 2019". Honestly even though my responsibilities and pay have grown, my drive hasn't. I am no longer excited about my work; I am passionate and content about my work - and there's a difference there, which is subtle but relevant.
The classic question is: "if you won the lottery, would you quit your job?". I use to think I wouldn't, but I don't know anymore. Sure, my job helps me learn things about the world and about myself; it forces me to be confronted with personal and technical challenges I would otherwise avoid, and as the last four years show, it's the primary catalyst towards changing my world view. But it doesn't seem to have a higher purpose.
And if that's the case - then maybe I am really only working because I have to.
Two damns out of five
In 2021 I lived in three places: Tallinn, Lisbon and Singapore. In each of these I met a significant, but small, number of cool new people. Some of them could have been my best friend back in college; yet it's hard to match schedules and planning the next meet-up takes effort and time. This is a side effect of growing older, and moving around a lot.
But the people I meet are diverse, and interesting. This year I got to know Brazilian college drop outs, American millionaires, Chinese actors, Estonian doctors, a Lithuanian witch, Taiwanese pilots, and many more characters that I can vividly see in my mind, right now - a colorful cast making my life more interesting at every step. Each of them is a bunch of threads weaving back into the tapestry of my memories.
What I do wonder, is whether I can keep up this lifestyle in the next 2, 5, 10 years. The people around me are settling down, whether I like it to admit it or not; and with kids, pets, houses and whatnot come increased responsibilities, limited time, and new interests that I might not be a part of. Would it be worth it to stick to the friends I have instead of moving countries every 6 months? My answer right now is it's fine to keep exploring - even though I might regret this a few years down the line.
Four damns out of five
'Financials' was not on last year's list, but it is a relevant item to reflect about this year, so it's making a comeback.
Having more money than before is not making me happier. In 2019 I wrote "While I don't care much about money itself, I used to be very stressed about the lack thereof". That stress is now gone, but has been replaced with a new form of stress - that of worrying about where to store, what's happening with, and how to use my finances in the best way possible.
I definitely will need to figure this one out; yet somehow it's never interesting enough to me to make it a priority. Some of my friends are literally obsessed with money - and I'm not talking about investments or financial management: it's the kind of people who pays with different credit cards at different restaurants, so that they can get 5 dollars extra cashback a month.
I don't want to live like that. But I also feel I could be using my financial luck in better ways than what I'm doing right now. At the end of this year I made my first investment; it's stressing and uninteresting, but also - it's a start.
Three damns out of five
Last year I was in love, but we still decided to break up as I was going to be abroad and didn't want to do a long distance relationship. Last year I also wrote this: "effortless relationships very much exist - they are just few and far between". I was right, and I'd also underestimated how few these are.
This year I dove head first into dating again, and despite a raging pandemic I went out with many brilliant people that I respected, liked, and whose company I truly enjoyed. Even so, the people were amazing but the relationship never quite managed to recapture the magic I found last year.
I don't regret taking the decision to break up, even though I do miss having a partner every day. And I realize now how hard it is to find someone you can truly build things together with. Ultimately, the relationships I had in 2021 were so far removed from the one I wrote about in 2020, that I am now starting to worry my 'love' section in 2020 might have been a one-time fluke.
Two damns out of five
In 2019 I wrote: "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."
I now realize how stupid that approach was. My health in 2021 has been disappointing: heart problems, food problems, migraines, nausea, and whatnot - I feel like I'm definitely on a downhill slope, and it is terrible to not be able to perform at 100% capacity.
I have been walking (around 400km a month), biking (about the same), and I've picked up swimming and bouldering (both thanks to Singapore's habit of having swimming pools in every condo, and climbing gyms in every mall). My energy levels are higher, my blood tests nominal, and I feel better about myself.
On top of that, I got vaccinated three times against Covid, which is an absolute miracle of both science and logistics. I might very well ride this pandemic out unscathed, and that thought makes me feel both happy and incredibly lucky at once.
But still, barely a passing mark for my health this year.
Three damns out of five
This year I finally learned how to cook properly - and documented plenty of recipes to boot. I also started an actual product management blog, and began doing consultancy on the side. I tried (and failed at) being a digital nomad. I did some Courseras on hardware programming. I also took hundreds of great photographs, and found a good place to publish them. As mentioned in 'health', I am now bouldering on the regular. I also biked a lot.
All of these are essentially recreational hobbies: I can do these better than the average person - simply because I try - but I do not excel at them. Instead, I wish I had the time and dedication to deliberately practice and become a remarkable figure in what I do on the side.
For me, hobbies are a way to counteract the apathy of finishing work at half past five and spending the rest of the evening scrolling aimlessly on Instagram or Tik Tok. They should also be a way to become a better, more interesting person - for myself and for others. As I cross the easier hobbies off the list, the challenge becomes to continue trying new things - and hopefully excelling at them.
This year, I'm planning to systematically tackle product design, either with a digital product, or through industrial design; I also feel like I have less and less energy to start new hobbies and keep up with existing ones, so that will be a good way to keep the challenge up in 2022.
Four damns out of five
In 2019, I wrote "I'd love to go and work in Asia on a permanent basis"; in 2020 I was still obsessing over the "Asian Fiasco"; in 2021 after almost two years of attempts I did manage to move to Singapore after all.
When planning my move, I figured that moving to a place I knew relatively well, on a salary that would allow me to live very comfortably would essentially be a cakewalk. I was unfortunately wrong: Singapore is a city-state that values different things than those I love; a very consumeristic place that drains my health (both mental and physical) and does not encourage me - or enable me - to do my best work.
Throughout the year I moved thrice: first to Estonia, then to Portugal, and finally to Singapore. I thought Estonia and Portugal would feel like transit destinations; instead they turned out to be incredibly meaningful places where I made some incredible memories and discoveries.
Singapore on the other hand was supposed to be the place to end all places; the spot where I would finally settle down in my late 20s. On paper, it looked like the perfect place for me. In practice, I'm not even sure if I can spend the entirety of 2022 in it.
As the saying goes - "be careful what you wish for".
One damn out of five
2021 was an unsatisfying year, and not just because of the pandemic dragging on. From a rational point of view, I achieved everything I wanted when I started writing this blog. But I've changed a lot, and I'm just not sure anymore that those were the right goals.
As it stands, I have an absolutely fantastic job, yet I hardly feel any excitement about what the future may bring career-wise. I am living in Singapore, the one city I have been trying to reach since the start of the Covid epidemic; yet somehow I am failing to get the right vibes from it. And as 2022 rolls in, I can record what a confusing year I've had, but I can't really think about how to improve my life moving forward.
Most of all, I feel like I'm floating. I read less and less, do less and less hobbies, and many evenings find me aimlessly scrolling the web, reading news, or just straight out wasting time. It's clear something is not working, but I don't really know what.
If I really wanted to put down three goals for this year:
- One, I want to pick up structured creativity again and potentially prep for a career switch into a more design-oriented role;
- Two, I want to try and make Singapore work. But if it doesn't, I'll need to have an idea of where to go next - a destination list of places that are not going to backfire like Singapore did - and start prepping to move out as soon as my lease lock-in expires in December 2022;
- Third, I'd want to take a real shot at finding a relationship as interesting as the one I had in 2020; if it can't be effortless, I'll have to put in the effort then.
Work, Places and Love were my worst ranked categories this year, so it totally makes sense that those are my three main objectives where I want to improve.
I also believe it's time for me to start thinking about what I want to do in the longer term: I've had many careers and many lives, in a way, for someone my age - and that gives me the luxury to be picky and conscious about what works for me and what doesn't.
2021 was in many regards a transition year, lived with suitcases always packed, always ready to go, always building something, always going somewhere. It's ironic then, that despite starting a new job, living in three wildly different places, and doing so much, I feel like I went nowhere.
May 2022 be different.