2022: A Mitigated Success
For me, 2022 was a great year and a difficult year. I had great successes, and I failed hard. This is what worked, what didn’t, and what my goals are for 2023.
Note: This was originally something I wrote as a personal reflection on the year, but while reading it, thought there was some value in publishing with some light redaction.
Why publish it? For one, I think the way that I wrote about my year might resonate with some other people's experience. But also, I made some goals and public accountability is good :-)
This post isn't tech-related! If you're just here for that, you probably won't find it interesting.
What worked this year? I turned 25. I read a lot of thought-provoking and fun books, including the Oedipus plays, The Silk Roads, The Verge, and Going Postal, and watched a lot of really good movies. I strengthened old relationships and built new ones: started regularly getting coffee and seeing movies with old friends, made acquaintances at Handmade Seattle that could turn into friendships, and connected with mutuals on Twitter and coworkers at work. I stretched my brain and my body: started Ancient Greek lessons and swing dancing classes, went rock climbing for the first time, and wrote a metric shitload of Rust code. I kicked ass at work: optimized code that used to take tens of thousands of machine hours into code that takes less than thirty, helped build the backend from scratch, helped onboard new hires, and moved informally towards a more senior role. I made a bunch of cool projects, most notably the Sortes Alearum, QuickDNA, The Fall of Mezentople, The Flock and the Flood, and Blackout in Apopol. I gave my first talk ever, about writing a JPEG decoder, at HackerNights. I wrote drafts of short stories: Wind-Rubble Thought, The Talking Fruit, The Eye of the Universe, and edited some old ones: The Micromanaging Emperor, The Worshipful Guild of Fusionists. I wrote poetry and started tweeting more, made a Mastodon account, got to 90 followers on Twitter and 115 on Mastodon, though Twitter is more active, got begrudgingly into TPOT, and encouraged my wife to start tweeting to flex her own writing muscles. I published two blog posts and both were successful in different ways: one about arena allocators, which was popular on lobste.rs and got shared on Reddit and This Week in Rust, and another about SDFs, which got to #5 on Hacker News. I started working on a bunch more blog posts and even a new knitting project.
What didn’t work?
I started strong on exercise but faltered later in the year.
Swing dancing had to cancel classes, hiking buddies got busy, it got cold and my wife and I stopped taking daily walks.
I had some success with a more stable sleep schedule before I fell off, but I proved that it’s possible for me to have a stable sleep schedule for a medium-length period of time.
I struggled with work-related stress and burnout
despite working a “dream job”. I had trouble getting used to billing hourly instead of salaried work. I struggled with loneliness at a remote and mostly asynchronous job, and didn’t connect with people as much as I’d hoped. My wife was stressed about her own new job, and I struggled to balance it with my own stress while worried about going into 2023 with financial uncertainty.
I didn’t publish any short stories, or almost any blog posts
for most of the year, eventually publishing the first blog post on accident—I ran the deploy command to update my website's CSS, not realizing the
mmap post wasn’t marked as a draft—and that post finding success regardless was the only thing that convinced me to publish more. I was scared of rejection, and still am.
Despite many attempts, I didn’t make progress on Themengi: I didn’t publish a devlog, and spent a lot of time on a platformer prototype pivot that I eventually discarded. Though I did get inspiration for a new direction that feels promising at the Handmade Seattle conference, I wasn’t able to make myself sit down and work on a prototype.
I enjoyed Twitter, but also felt that I was struggling to control my usage, frequently scrolling through the night until the early morning or during times I would have rather been doing something else. I felt self-conscious about how many followers I had and hopeless about growing my account. I wasn’t even sure why I wanted to grow my account: was I still trying to promote Themengi? My games in general? My “brand”? Or have I just been sucked into the machine, just another doomscroller who thought they would be the one to master the algorithm for their own purposes. I had one popular tweet, but most floundered with no likes—and the tweets I liked the most did the worst. I rabbitholed into TPOT and I don’t know if that’s a good thing. There’s interesting ideas and smart people, but also strong judgements, close-mindedness, cults of personality around a small clique of micro-celebrities, and an astonishing amount of hubris.
In general, I struggled with a “funk” the whole year without realizing it: I’ve always had ups and downs with my mood, but in the past they were obvious, “eating hummus with a spoon on the floor” downs. This year was different, more subtle—but obvious in retrospect. I was more reserved, more irritable, more “bleh” and “sick”, less bouncy and energetic and talkative and excited. Even though I was making things, I felt like I was pushing uphill and “falling off the wagon” frequently. This contributed to struggling with my Twitter usage: Twitter’s mood was also very negative, especially after the Elon acquisition, and it paired with how I was feeling. I kept chasing a hit tweet, thinking it would prove that what I was making and writing was valued, and that the followers I would gain would help my projects “get the attention they deserve”. That chase kept me scrolling long past effective or advisable limits on many autumn and winter days. I feel like I’m starting to come out of it now, finally. I’m starting a new knitting project, finding success with my blog, and feeling more connected to people—I had a great time just chatting with new people at Handmade and with Linnea’s family at Christmas—but I’m still scared that it won’t stick. That I’ll need to get back on antidepressants—which I've been off of for a few years now—that this is just one of those temporary periods of “doing better” and soon I’ll slip back into depression without even realizing.
Overall, despite the setbacks, I’m proud of this year. Getting older is hard. 25 might not seem very old to some people, but it feels like a significant age, a nice round number. I’ve been married for two and a half years now. I’ve been at my current job for longer than any job I’ve had before. Things are starting to feel “adult”, and that’s both exciting and scary. I have judgements that I don’t have it together, and yet at the same time have friends in the same situation or who were struggling at my age. Before writing this, my view on the year was profoundly negative—but looking back, despite struggling, I’m proud of what I accomplished. If I had one failure in 2022, it wasn’t being depressed. It’s not a failure to struggle with mental health. My failure was that I didn’t recognize that I was struggling. I let my successes mask to myself that I was struggling, and if I can help it, I’m not going to let that happen again. I’m hopeful for next year. I’m starting to think that I have momentum, that this is the strongest start to a year that I’ve had in a long time, and that if I play my cards right, I can kick ass for the back half of my twenties.
With that in mind, I’m keeping my goals for next year a little nebulous, but actionable: I want to commit to things without limiting my options, as much as possible. I’ve never been much of a new year’s resolution person, for two reasons. The first sounds pretty good: I like to go with the flow and take things as they come. If I had committed at the beginning of 2021 to get a new job and stick with it for a year, I wouldn’t have ended up where I am, and had all the career success that I had this year. I like to be adaptable and follow my instincts, which are strongest in the moment. But there’s another side to avoiding resolutions—I don’t trust myself to follow through with them. I’ve broken promises to myself so many times in my life, broken commitments to habits and assurances that “this time is different”, that I’m scared to even say that I’ll do something because that means if—when—I fail, I won’t just have failed, but I’ll also have broken yet another commitment. I want to commit anyways, but mindfully. @visakanv has a really great tweet about self-trust: that when your self-trust is shot, you need to build it up slowly, in steps as small as saying “I’m going to get a glass of water” and then getting up and doing it. I’ve been practicing that the last couple weeks—I just got a glass of water while writing this sentence—and it’s been surprisingly difficult. It’s hard not to laugh at myself when I’m resisting saying that I’m going to get a glass of water out loud because “whAt if THeN I DoN’t do It???”— just say it and get the damn water. Each time I say that, it’s been getting slightly easier. In that spirit of committing to small things without limiting my options too much, I’ve come up with a small list of goals for next year.
I’m going to nurture my relationships with my wife, my family members, and friends both old and new. Coming through this year, my marriage is stronger than ever, and I’m going to come along as that relationship turns from a lifejacket that buoyed us through a year of difficult times into a pair of well-worn gardening gloves for a year of pulling old weeds and planting new flowers. I’m going to call my family as much as I can, since now that my parents are retired I can call them whenever I want :-). I’m going to get even closer to my wife’s family members, especially the ones I haven’t spent as much time with. I’m going to reinforce old friendships, especially those that were hit hardest by the pandemic lockdowns. Maintaining relationships online is hard, at least for me, and that means both doing as much in that arena as I can, and bringing as many friendships as possible back to in-person meetups—at least some of the time. I’m also going to cultivate new friendships as much as possible. You can’t account for the situation others are in, but if 2022 was the year of “getting leads” for me, I want 2023 to be the year of making deals, or at least presales.
I’m going to work with my body, not against it. I’m going to exercise when it’s fun—I already have a standing invite to go back to that rock climbing gym—and at least a little bit when it’s not fun, but never when it hurts. I’m going to keep ahead of chronic pain. 2022 was the year when my tendonitis didn’t come back, and I want to make 2023 the second year, along with continuing to walk and move to keep the rest of my body in good shape and free of stiffness and pain. I’m going to eat well and exercise and not worry too much about the details. When you’re suffering so many things seem like magic bullets—a sun lamp, iodine supplements, TPOT’s nootropic of the week—that it’s easy to write off everything lest you become overwhelmed. I’m probably not going to try a nootropics stack or pick up powerlifting this year, no matter how far into the “lifechanging” quadrant they are in some anon’s survey results, but I can eat well—I love cooking simple meals, and recently picked up An Everlasting Meal —and I can do fun exercise. I know what makes me feel good, and that’s good enough. But, while keeping in line with what I’ve already said, I’m going to keep gaining physical skills. Trying more rock climbing could be one, but also going back to swing dancing classes. I want to go on more hikes, and I want to push myself to try challenging routes. Maybe I could even try something new?
I’m going to learn new things in a wildly cool yet unpretentious way. This was my first year with Twitter, and I struggled with how many things there were that I could learn. People are really into philosophy and name-dropping esoteric authors! People are really into hardware and low-level programming! People are really into rationalism and “Schelling points” and applying Bayesian statistics in questionable situations! I’m going to learn some of this stuff. Properly learning statistics, as opposed to the half-assed job I did in high school, has been on my todo list for a long time. Maybe this year is the year I finally memorize what Bayes’ theorem means. I wrote a lot of Rust last year, and have been working on a blog post about a single-pass C compiler, so low-level programming seems to be a vibe. But I haven't dabbled much with hardware in a long time—I read NAND-to-Tetris as a teenager, made Minecraft redstone computers, and built a logic-gate Pong game in a high school electronics class, but I haven't done much with hardware since high school, and I want to learn more about it. Maybe this is the year where Theia enters her hardware hacking era and joins a Seattle makerspace. Or maybe it’s the year I really get into philosophy so I can stop defiling Hegel’s name by talking about dialectics as simple theses, antitheses, and syntheses. Lots of people are interested in these things, and that probably means they have some merit! But on the other hand, I’m going to keep learning things and making stuff that I care about even if nobody else does. Debugging symbolic linguistic grammars for use with my Treebender engine, putting in the hours on Themengi, code-golfing generative art, writing poetry and short stories, making games with my wife: I spent 2022 worrying if any of those things made sense because it seemed like people weren’t interested. I had dumb tweets do numbers and things I cared about flounder. But I got better at each of those things the more I did it, and I’m going to keep getting better, regardless of whether people pay attention. And it's not hopeless! Some things I did hit both those buttons, interest and popularity, like my blog posts. Some people do care about these things, and since I’m going to share what I learn, maybe it will inspire other people too. I need to not focus on the numbers or chase trends. I’m not going to learn things just because everyone’s talking about them. The database internals posts are cool, but you will have to drag me into the SQLite source code kicking and screaming! :-P
I’m going to be excited for 2023, not dread it. I’m going to remember what worked in 2022, and avoid what didn’t. And most importantly, I’m going to remember that, while culturally meaningful, January 1st is a day like any other, and change will happen because of my actions, not the turning of the calendar.