With 2019 coming to a close, there are a few major events I could recount.
- The end of my first serious and long-term relationship
- Running my first marathon
- Vacationing in North Carolina
- Surviving the unspeakable evil that is strep throat
But something less obvious defined my year more than anything else: measurable numbers. It crept into almost everything since I thought it’d improve me as a person. I need specific data to know exactly how to get better at work, writing, and life in general, right?
Not the case at all. That focus caused most of this years’ regrets.
The Regretful 2019 Numbers
I focused on the number of side projects I had and wanted to make. I gave up larger ones I was more interested in since I’d finish fewer in the end. I tried shorter, snappier ones I didn’t enjoy as much. I gave up on most of them and didn’t go back to the larger ones.
I got a big list of topics I wanted to learn for my career. A bigger number seemed to mean a bigger payoff. But I overwhelmed myself and couldn’t rank their importance. I wound up haphazardly learning who knows how many in the end.
I watched the number of posts I published online, wanting to write more. I saw how often others wrote compared to me, and I felt like an inferior imposter. I got a list of post topics that I could plan ahead on. But these topics didn’t match with my main reason for writing. It’s to explore and solve my own problems in life in a way that others could enjoy. As I result, I wrote less than I planned to and wanted to.
I even measured my life success in part by my number of relationships and social events I went to. I wanted more so I could appear engrossed in an active and exciting life. But this kept me from investing in my current, quality relationships as much as I wanted. It also kept me from going to social activities I enjoyed more, even if they were less “sexy” than others. I psyched myself out, felt like a failure, and shut myself in more.
The numbers even hit my side hobbies like piano and laser-cutting. My progress felt empty if I wasn’t making enough progress to “wow” others. I couldn’t get the number of good responses or learned skills up to the numbers I wanted. They felt like failed jobs instead of relaxing joys.
The irony isn’t lost on me. My excessive focus on numbers didn’t only make me worse off. They also made the numbers themselves worse.
The irony for my below 2020 goals isn’t lost on me either. I want to improve the numbers by taking the focus off them.
1. Flow is a Must-Have
The Career Adventures of Johnny Bunko talks about focusing on strengths over weaknesses. It mentions finding activities that give flow. They energize and immerse you, and you consistently do them well.
Writing gives me flow, but not all the time. I wrote an article on killing Webpack from my personal website, and I felt little flow. I kept needing to stop, got distracted, and had to mentally recover when I stopped for the day. The post took longer than expected, and I didn’t even like it enough to cross-post it afterward.
Writing gives me flow when it’s not only a tutorial, it’s a story. A story that taps into my emotions and a lesson I learned. I felt flow when writing about finding meaning not in happiness, but in painful experiences. I felt flow writing about overcoming insecurities as a “casual blogger.” I felt flow when I turned design patterns into weird fairy-tale spin-offs to explain their purpose. I’m feeling flow now, writing about how I’m hoping to overcome my major regrets this year. They make me feel more vulnerable yet stronger and tell some kind of story (even if it’s silly).
Coding gives me flow, but not when I’m only building something to put on display. Building front-end components for no reason other than to show I can feel pointless. I felt flow coding for my job since governments and citizens use them each day to solve issues. I get flow refactoring and improving my personal site since it helps me better share my writing. I get flow making things with my anime API, like the quote maker and first Twitter bot. They’re things we get value from.
Knowing where I find flow is vital. Even if it hurts the final “numbers” of blog posts and side projects. Flow keeps work from feeling like “work,” and more like “what I do.” It’s what I do for fun and meaning, not paying my bills. Flow is my top criterion for everything in the coming year. If it doesn’t give me flow, and I have the option to avoid it, why should I pursue it?
2. Take “Being Less Serious” Seriously
The focus on numbers for my life outside work took away so much joy. So I’m going to allow myself to not be “amazing” for my hobbies.
For piano, I’ve been liking jazz piano quite a lot. It’s simple, expressive, and less restrictive. It also avoids the rote memorization and repetition I’ve found with much sheet music. I won’t learn as many fancy pieces or be able to show it off as much. But I’ll also go back to actually enjoying it, which is why I started at all.
I make anime laser cut prints for gifts and apartment decorations. This specific niche gets them less “social media love” than others made at the maker space. People have also tried to persuade me to make some changes so I can make them faster and sell them. But even the thought of monetizing them, or not making what I enjoy most, takes away the joy. I don’t want it to be a stressful side-hustle if I can avoid it.
The common lesson is not stressing over what could be. It brings me less joy than what already is. I’m grateful I have hobbies I have the time and resources to pursue and enjoy. Isn’t that what I want from them in the end? Nothing more and nothing less.
3. Change the Numbers Focus
While I’ve realized numbers are a bad focus for me, that doesn’t mean I won’t ever use them. I’ve learned they make me do something less instead of more. So I can use them to better control bad habits going forward.
So what if, for the new year, I kept numbers for how long I watch videos? Or how long I play video games? How long I browse social media feeds? Adding a chore of “I need to track the time” makes them less addicting. Seeing the time spent on those also puts a real measure on what they cost me. Three hours on pointless videos that I could’ve spent reading or catching up on chores. Something I’ll remember it all before the next time I open YouTube.
This way, this year’s issues with numbers aren’t an absolute failure. I learned a new trick for keeping bad habits at bay. For the new year, I’m making better use of it.
Looking Towards 2020
I won’t say I’m feeling too good or bad about 2019 or 2020. I’m upset about how I let numbers drag down the past year, but I am glad they helped me find new approaches for 2020. I’m excited to see what they help me overcome next year, but I am worried I won’t follow through. Plus I’m anxious about the new obstacles I know will appear along the way.
If that’s the case, you may wonder why I’m bothering with these resolutions at all. If I may reference my post on being a perfectly unhappy developer:
[These activities] make me feel like a human going headfirst into the turmoil of existence. Seeing a spectrum of ideas and feelings that push me up, drag me down, and toss me somewhere else. To find something new. To struggle with a new obstacle. To discover a new strength.
Most of all, they make me feel I’m making the best possible use of my time alive.
So next year here’s to doing more of what makes me feel alive. To going through pain and joy in the path to help myself and others in some small way.
To constant, meaningful change.
To 2020, and hopefully, many more years to follow.