2019 has been a year of highs and lows.
It started off with uncertainty and challenge. Having decided to leave The Dot at the end of last year, the startup I was on path to co-found from Founders Factory's London incubator, I was left with a void to fill. But doing something for something's sake makes no sense, so I spent the first couple of months working out what I wanted, and feeling out the different opportunities.
I considered remote roles, part-time roles, contract and perm. But in the end I really liked the folks I met at Octopus Wealth, and the idea of having one less variable in my day to day life, so decided to take a permanent role as a Senior Software Engineer.
The team was small, just the 4 of us, the Head of Engineering, a couple of junior developers and myself.
In the end I wasn't at Octopus Wealth for long. Things didn't end up working out, as the business model didn't play out as the owners had hoped, and so after just 5 months the entire tech team were laid off and the business pivoted away from a tech-led model.
I enjoyed my time there though, the two more junior engineers progressed a lot in that time and I developed more skills in leadership as well as technically, using TypeScript and Redux for the first time. Plus working right next to St Paul's Cathedral, one of my favourite buildings in London, was a daily treat.
The job hunt: round 2
Upon hearing I was being made redundant, I was suddenly back where I was at the start of the year, working out what I wanted in a role, 5 months on.
Again the main dilemma was between going the contract route or taking a permanent role, despite the lack of "permanence" in the role that had just ended.
In the end I decided to take another perm role. The extra money and flexibility of contracting was tempting, but the company I ended up joining, and the fit of the role to my skillset and interests was too much to pass up in the end.
In general when making life decisions, those decisions that are bigger and weightier, and have a sizeable effect on the direction my life takes, I try to take a longer-term view.
What decision now is most likely to have the best payback for me in 5-10 years time? Of course I have no idea of what life will look like then, but optimising for future Fred is preferable than focussing on what my bank balance will look like 6 months from now.
In actuality that means looking at what skills and experiences I'd gain from each path, and which type of doors that may open up down the line. Sometimes taking a pay cut in the short-term is the most likely way to gain the highest financial returns in the mid-to-long. And financial returns certainly aren't the only, or even main, measurement to live by.
Secondarily, a big theme over the past year has been "optimise for the least regret". This has gradually evolved over time, but has come into focus this year as I've made some bigger decisions at regular intervals.
I knew this was a role I wanted to take on as it was a relatively unique opportunity, and gave me a chance to play a part in a startup with big ambitions.
Another of those decisions was to leave my one bed flat in Hoxton. I left before I was made aware of being made redundant, and had no next place lined up. I'm fortunate that my parents live only an hour outside London, so I briefly stayed there whilst finding where next I'd call home.
I ended up moving to Limehouse, in a flat share, and 6 months in I'm so happy with my decision.
It's a lovely area, with the River Thames a thirty second walk away, the park fifteen seconds away and Limehouse dock & canals a minute or two away.
Transport wise it's ideal too, just fifteen minutes on the train into central London, and a fifteen minute walk into Canary Wharf, London's financial district.
Canary Wharf, it turned out, is where my new office would be. This was an unexpected blessing, having moved into the Limehouse flat before being made redundant and starting the new role. Having a fifteen minute walk along the Thames with views over the city is a daily blessing, and I'd argue that I've got to have one of the best commutes in London.
I've been at the new company for a few months now. We're pre-launch and don't have too much to say about what we're up to yet, but the high level goal is to improve how information is stored and retrieved on the internet. If that sounds interesting, my DM's are open.
As I wrote about in my last year in review, 2018 was all about a change of direction, from being intensely focussed on work and my ambitions to run my own startup, to realising that as humans we have needs that go beyond just food and drink, that we're made for connection and community too.
As a result I stopped travelling and settled back in London.
Since then my focus has been primarily on working on the neglected areas of my life, building up a community of friends to "do life" with. As we all know, these things take time, especially in a city as big and busy as London.
Having only spent six months of 2018 in London, 2019 was a year of moving beyond the shallow into deeper relationships.
The biggest example of that was a calculated risk, starting a relationship with my best friend in London. It all came about organically, and snuck up on me if I'm honest, but we ended up hanging out a lot and realised we liked each other quite a lot.
I'm someone who takes these things very seriously, not wanting to be reckless with my heart or the heart of others. But we were such close friends and the possibility of something more was a risk we were both willing to take.
In the end after five months together we decided to just be friends, but both came out of the relationship blessed and she's still a close friend of mine.
I feel at peace about the whole thing, as we made the best decision we could at the time, and in line with my philosophy of optimising for the least regret, I hand on heart have no regrets that we gave it a shot.
Despite having peace about the decision to be friends, it always hurts to lose a level of intimacy with someone you love, and it's been a process to readjust to what life looks like without that closeness.
That process continues on in 2020, but I feel like I've grown and been blessed through it, despite the inevitable pain.
Writing on the daily
At the start of the year I decided to begin a new habit, writing 300 words a day. It was a spur of the moment decision, lying in bed at 10pm on January 1st, seeing that Owen Williams had launched a platform for developing a daily writing habit.
I kept the habit up for longer than I'd banked on, writing daily until the middle of May, 131 days in a row, almost 60,000 words in total.
The habit was a healthy one, helping me convert thoughts and feelings, often unconscious, into words swiftly. This helped me understand what was going on inside of me, and certainly flowed easier over time.
After over 4 months I decided to let it go though, as I'd gained more than I'd hoped for from the start and the discipline of a daily habit not paying enough back for me to justify the time.
In 2019 I travelled a decent amount without feeling like I was away all that much.
Early in the year I headed to Scandinavia for the first time, with a quick trip over to Stockholm. It was pretty cold, and having booked the trip about 9 hours before the flight was due to take off the next morning, not taking a coat turned out to be a mistake.
Despite the lingering snow on the ground I enjoyed my time in the Swedish capital. Wandering the streets of a new city with my thoughts is one of my favourite things to do, and I loved eating good food and exploring the beautiful, peaceful underground world that is Stockholm's subway.
Soon after that I popped out to the South of Spain, to see @martinstellar, a good friend who I hadn't met IRL until then. I spent a bit of time in Malaga on my own before heading east to his place, and we had a good time eating good food and drinking good wine, seeing the local area and zip-lining across the countryside.
Next up was a quick weekend trip away with the family, seeing my brother who'd popped back over from Canada.
Over the Easter weekend I then went away to a lovely cottage with some close friends for a few days. It was a really nice time chilling out in the countryside under the sun. It was the first time I'd driven in a few years too, thankfully I hadn't forgotten how to do it.
After that came a wild camping trip up in Scotland. I'd only ever visited Scotland twice before, never going further north than Edinburgh, so an opportunity to spend some quality time in the scenic highlands was one I was well up for.
I was expecting good scenery, but the beauty I encountered up there went above and beyond anything I'd been hoping for.
It was such a beautiful time with good friends that will live long in the memory. Despite the challenges, camping on hard ground, putting up tents and airbeds in fading light and rain, there's nothing quite like the pure adventure of setting off with a tent and no real plan, and just following your nose. My favourite trip of the year.
Not long after Scotland, it was off to Italy with some friends to celebrate the girlfriend's birthday. We had a beautiful time in Puglia, were very fortunate with the warm weather despite it being October, and came back with hearts full, blessed by our time away.
In the final month of the year I used my new found spare time to visit a good mate of mine in Dortmund, Germany. I shot a proper gun for the first time, and though I have no love for guns it was a good experience to feel just how powerful these weapons are. We played 3D indoor glow-in-the-dark minigolf, ate good food, had deep chats and laughed well.
The final trip of the year was a domestic one, popping up north to see some old friends, celebrating a 30th birthday, and getting some space to take stock of another year come and gone.
Overall this year has been great, despite not really achieving any of the goals I set last year.
I hit the gym more than any year before, experienced a new depths of love and intimacy in relationships, worked two jobs where I learnt a lot and saw quite a few new places.
Despite the challenges of the end of the year, I feel extremely blessed.
It reminds me that in life storms come to us all, and our goal shouldn't be to try to avoid them. We often can't predict when or where a storm will come from, but instead should focus on putting in place solid foundations, so that when the storms come, and they will, we won't crumble and fall.
With my track record of setting goals not being that great, I'm not going to put many specifics down on what 2020 will hold for me.
Going through a break up can be healthy though, giving a chance to take stock of life and use the energy for good. I've started down that path, going to the gym on the way to work, and want to continue to build healthy habits over time.
One current idea is to look to use my ability to work remotely more, with a very tentative idea of aiming for one trip a month.
Ideally I'd like to ship a side project next year too. I've not had the energy, capacity or motivation to work on any in the past couple years, since focussing my energies on other areas of life, but the itch came back for the first time last year, and I finally feel some capacity to get my feet wet again.
I'm aware of my limited energy for this though, so will be looking to work on something sufficiently small enough that I can get it out there without a significant push pre-launch. I've already started dabbling on a couple things, so we'll see what comes of that.
Most of all, I want to continue on the path I've been on. To continue to love, to risk, to be vulnerable. To continue to optimise for the least regret, to optimise for experiences, for learning.
With 2020 bringing up the big 30 for me this year, it's a good opportunity to take stock and make the most of the time I have on this planet we call home.
None of us know how long we have, and as George Bernard Shaw once put it, "youth is wasted on the young". I want to do my best not to waste the blessings I've been given.
The final point, is on the closing of a decade. It's been a fantastic ten years. There's been unexpected challenges, time's when I didn't know how I would get through and time's of joy I did not expect to have.
There are things I would do differently if I had my time again, but most of all I'm grateful for the undeserved blessings in my life. The decade has had too much to write about now, but maybe I'll write another post on that down the line.
In the meantime, I'm glad to enter 2020. I'm entering it as a human with fears and vulnerabilities, but confidence and excitement too at the new adventures that lie ahead. And I'm determined to work on my posture and perspective, so that as and when opportunities come, I'll be ready to grab onto them with both hands.