2016 Review: Personal life

posted by Jeff | Saturday, December 31, 2016, 12:30 PM | comments: 0

I've been writing these year-end retrospectives now for a very long time. At some point, I started asking the fundamental question about whether or not I end the year in a happy state, and this is the first year where I addressed that long before December rolled around. (Spoiler alert: Yes, I'm happy now, but I wouldn't characterize this as a great year.)

Career

It's often helpful to look back to see if you are getting along to the place that you want to be. Moving to Orange County in 2013 was easily one of the best decisions we ever made, and from a career standpoint, it was even better than that. My contract year at SeaWorld Entertainment was a lot of fun, and gave me more of the administrative and technical experience I wanted. That set me up to a great 2.5 years at AgileThought, where I was able to run development teams and kick ass from a delivery standpoint. I've had some time to think more about my departure from AT for awhile now, and while it was still the hardest decision ever (easily more difficult than leaving Microsoft, and that wasn't a good decision), it makes a lot of sense.

Really it came down to two things. The first was my relentless pursuit to make sure I was heading toward a bigger world with more responsibility. I've known since 2008 that my sweet spot was to build teams that build awesome things and #WINNING. I was doing that at AT, but it wasn't consistent. I started the year in what was essentially a staff augmentation role, and while the client loved me and I delivered, I wasn't running anything. I had two amazing projects with mounds of praise after that, but then I was headed back down the staff aug path. It was clear that the agency model of the company made it hard to advance into a more permanent role that involved leadership and long-term delivery accountability.

Second, I think a part of me was starting to see that the first thing I needed is better served in a company that builds software-as-a-service (SaaS) products. AT has done some product work like that in the past, but it's not the core business. This realization frustrated me to no end, because I adore the people there, and I miss working with them every day. But I've made the mistake of letting career happen to me instead of making it happen for too long, and I had to resolve that.

The new gig is pretty intense, there's a ton of work to do, and being small means that in the short term I need to rely on myself a great deal. That's OK. It's a lot of fun, the product and business has enormous potential, and I'm enjoying it. The anxiety of leaving the previous job and the people will certainly fade over time, but it's hard to leave something you loved for the uncertain promise of something you will hopefully love more.

Health

This was a challenging year for us. Diana struggled through much of the year with migraines, which means she wasn't entirely her normal self. One medication worked at first, but faded over time even with higher doses. Then a different med was prescribed, and we're hoping it has more long-term success. It's a strange condition, because it's not that she wasn't functional, she just wasn't always her "normal" self. I haven't known many people in my life that were as awesome and switched-on as her, and to see her even fractionally less than that was hard.

I addressed my own health in two ways this year. First of all, I finally did an annual diagnostic, after three years. The results were pretty much what I expected. My cholesterol and triglycerides are just over the normal range. This was also the first time I've ever had blood pressure just high enough to be outside of normal. While not at risk tomorrow for hypertension, it's a pretty clear sign that I have to stop neglecting myself in terms of weight and activity. It was another year of neutral weight gain/loss, but I'm no closer than I was a year ago to dropping another 20. I don't have any valid excuse as to why I haven't done it, I just know it hasn't ranked very high in my priorities.

I also took the time to see a therapist for the first time in about a decade. By late spring, I was just feeling... off. I don't think I was unhappy, but I wasn't feeling like myself and found that I was often anxious. There is a lot of depression in my family, and I owe it to myself and my family to head that off if I'm at risk for any kind of hereditary depression. Once I got over the guilt associated with the "my life isn't so bad and I shouldn't complain" thing, it was super productive. I learned a few core things about where my head was. The first was that the work situation, regarding long-term goals, was real. I was feeling comfortably trapped, and that's probably where most of the anxiety came from. Making the change was hard, but there was a weight lifted when I did. I also wasn't doing enough of the things that I liked, and likely over-emphasizing my provider role. I resolved to do more for me, because it really doesn't detract from my obligations to my wife and child. Parenting didn't feel like it was going well, and maybe that was a lack of perspective with the rest of life feeling like a challenge (or struggle). Finally, I was directing too much energy to things largely outside of my control, causing me stress. It really started with the Pulse shootings, and continued through the summer with the toxic politics of the election. I think I fooled myself into thinking that racism, xenophobia, homophobia, misogyny, etc., were all things from the fringe of our society, but it turns out they're not.

I wrapped up the therapy in the late fall, and it made a huge difference. I don't know why we stigmatize this sort of thing. It's the third time in my life I've seen a therapist, and I've come out better from it every time. We take care of our bodies, but it's every bit as important to take care of our heads and our hearts.

Epic vacations

About a year ago, we committed to doing a cruise to Alaska. By that time, we had logged seven voyages with the Disney Cruise Line, and you could say we have a cruise problem. As I've said before, the appeal of cruising for me is the inherent ability to unplug and have everything taken care of for you. No (useful) Internet, no cooking or responsibilities. Applying that care-free approach to travel with a more exotic locale seemed like a pretty good idea, and Alaska looked pretty epic. We started the year with a "local" cruise that our Seattle family came down for, and on that cruise, they signed up to go with us to Alaska. This worked out really well, because as it turns out, flying to Vancouver was going to be way more expensive for us, like $250 more per person, so we flew to Seattle, had bonus days with the family there, and drove up to Vancouver with them for the cruise.

I won't rehash the trip (see here and here), but calling it life changing would be only slightly dramatic. I got to see two glaciers and ride in a train up to almost 3,000 feet. It was one of the most stunningly beautiful places I've been, second only to Hawaii. We want to do more of this, though we're a little torn now because of Simon's age. Yes, we should do some trips without him, but most of the time we like having him around. (Alaska was a mixed bag in that respect, actually.) I hate that I still haven't been to Europe, and I'm sure not getting any younger. Also, we've achieved platinum status with DCL, so my OCD desire to collect certain things is satisfied.

Weddings

I don't know if it's just our age or what, but we don't end up going to a lot of weddings anymore. Prior to this year, the only one we've been to for years was a couple of friends early last year, and a lot of that had to do with the fact that two dudes getting married only recently became a legal thing. This year, we had my mom remarrying in July, my father-in-law and our neighbors in October, and my best friend in December. And finally, I got to be in a wedding as a "bridesmaid," or "bridesbro" or whatever you want to call it. One of the great things about that last one is that it reminded me of the quality and diversity of my friends. I admit that I don't engage socially as much as I would like to or should, but when I do, I love the people that I hang out with.

Parenting

This has been a challenging year. I love that little boy and the beautiful personality that's coming together. But man, there have been days where I just don't feel like I can get it right. Of all the things I'm self-aware of, and hyper-critical of myself for, being Simon's dad is at the top.

I don't have any specific revelations to share here, it's just a general recurring feeling this year. I guess it's just what parenting sometimes is. It's less the ASD or developmental challenges now, and more of the typical 6-year-old things. I don't feel like we've set up expectations for an on-demand and absolute world, but many of his issues revolve around inflexibility when he doesn't get his way.

2016: Shit show

Putting aside my own challenges this year, I think we can generally agree that 2016 was a total shit show of a year. The weather, with a serious hurricane, along with fires, earthquakes and volcanos took countless lives, police were ambushed and killed, black lives are still less important, and we witnessed a tragedy unlike anything else here in Orlando when a homophobe killed 49 people. If you live here, it's likely you were not further than one degree separated from someone who died in Pulse. OK, so maybe I'm generalizing, but in our circle of friends and acquaintances, it didn't take long to find those connections. We live in a very diverse county. A number of friends still aren't sure what "normal" looks like, but they've worked hard to bring the community together. Six months later, the thing that disappoints me the most is how quickly the rest of the world seemed to forget.

The biggest shit show was of course the presidential election. Reality was simply unimportant, as was policy. The nation elected a fascist, racist, xenophobic misogynist. It's not so much the election itself that disappoints me, as much as the people who voted for him. Not one can rationalize the thing I keep coming back to: If you did any of these things at your job, you would most certainly be fired. He has publicly done things that would disqualify you from minimum wage jobs, or suitability as a mate for your daughter. We have erased the dignity of the office completely by electing an attention whoring reality TV host. There's no universe where that's OK. Hillary Clinton would have been the status quo, at best, but that would have been far preferable to a man that panders to hate. The idea that there is, or ever was, some kind of moral equivalency is intellectually dishonest.

We lost an extraordinary number of our artists and pop culture icons. It was jarring. Maybe it's partly just the shock to the system that us Gen-X folks would eventually feel, but it was a brutal year. It went right to the end, with George Michael and Carrie Fisher.

I can't say that the year was without joy, but between the death and destruction, and everything else, it was a suboptimal year.

Technology, my shelter

It's not news that I enjoy thinking about, learning about and using technology. This was a great year for it, even though I didn't really buy any outside of a last-minute phone purchase. Technology is where I put my head when the world around me seems impossible. I genuinely look at my phone as a thing of wonder. If I could show myself this device ten years ago, just before the original iPhone was announced, I would have certainly considered it science fiction. This was a time when that Mac Pro on my desk, with a massive 2 GB of RAM, was state of the art. My Pixel phone has twice that amount of RAM.

I also had a streak of commitment to start porting my forum app to the newer frameworks, and I really enjoyed it. It's still not in any kind of release state, which is lame, but it's hard to dive in when you're writing a lot of code in your day job.

This was a great year for Tesla, and as the owner of an electric space car, I was blown away at the progress the company made in terms of manufacturing capacity, energy products and the acquisition of Solar City. The sustainable energy future is coming, and we're getting close to the point where you just can't get that cat back in the bag. Entire islands are now going solar, and distributed generation is becoming a thing. Florida defeated a messed up amendment that would have thwarted efforts for net metering and distributed generation. Oh, and it looks like we're now qualified to get a free Tesla Powerwall 2, a 14 kWh battery for the home, because of customer referrals. If we had solar, it would offset some or all of our night consumption, but until we go down that road, it's the ultimate UPS and backup during an extended power outage.

Am I happy?

The answer is yes, absolutely... now. There were times throughout the year that I wasn't, for all of the reasons above. It's funny, because I think I spent a lot of time trying to outsmart myself with the typical, "Relative to x and y, life ain't so bad!" arguments. But you know, relative to the last three years, this was at best an uneven year, with extreme highs (Alaska, weddings), and serious lows (Pulse, the election). As I sit here now, and look at my darling wife and child, in my warm home, stoked about the work ahead at my job, it's smile inducing.


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