2022, Year in Review

This is a very long post. Sorry not sorry.

December is existential crisis month for me, and December 2022 has not deviated from that norm. Given my penchant for reducing my life to spreadsheets, I also look forward to this opportunity to chop up my year in numbers and lists: I analyze spending patterns, update budget spreadsheets, amass my tax paperwork and my rental property P&L. I update my annual good/bad/fail/goal summary tab, which has been helpful in giving me a more quantitative look at what I’ve accomplished in the previous year. I realized a long time ago I tend to look at my accomplishments very cynically, and kick myself for being a disappointment and waste of potential — a worthless meat popsicle — and I need to be able to look at what actually happened to alleviate this sense of utter failure. This feeling has always been with me, I am extremely hard on myself and my absolute worst critic 100% of the time, and living with this perception of my life day in and day out is a nightmare. 

My primary work-related goals in 2022 were to (a) master my new role in 3 months versus the 12-18 I was told I would need to fully absorb my responsibilities, and (b) survive employment at this company through the end of my retention bonus/relocation payout, which would be clawed back if I departed before November 1. Both were accomplished, and I took on a second team in July on top of my own team growing in leaps and bounds proficiency-wise. I certainly experienced some speed bumps along the way, but overall it was a professionally successful year where I found quite a few aspects of this role I really enjoy, namely upskilling/sales enablement and managing people in general, which was a surprise.

Q4 in particular was a real soul-crusher, and I shared this with my supervisor before we all split for holiday break: the headwinds we experienced as an org, and proceeded to deal with quite poorly, created a lot of skepticism in me toward pursuing another promotion here. We are also simply not the same company we were when I began–for better and for worse.  My first few years here were amazing, and it felt like a startup: teams were very decentralized and we were all just contributing to growing the business. We do not function that way anymore; we lack the creativity and agility that made us great, and for the first time since 2014, we lacked honesty and transparency. There have been some significant improvements, and we are releasing some new technology that (if it works) is promising, but I’ve felt much more like a cog in a wheel in the last 2-3 years than I ever have before. As a result, I feel a distinct lack of purpose in what I am doing, and I do not believe the mission statement we lived and breathed in my earlier years is still a core function of this company.

As the years have passed it’s also bothered me more and more that I am an extreme outlier in my division. It’s such a glaring feature of my presence that my boss put it in my last quarterly review (as a positive). I sometimes feel a deep intellectual loneliness, where no one in my immediate life shares common passions or any interest in talking about broad theoretical things I find interesting. I’m puzzled by how or why this has only begun to bother me in the past few months: perhaps because I have been so forthcoming about the challenges we’ve had at work and I have been shouting into the void while others have just accepted the mediocrity that plagues me 5 days a week. I have always been the odd person out, and found success regardless: it’s only been in the past few months that it’s begun to eat away at me, probably because so few leaders have spoken out about the potential outcomes of what we were doing in Q4. Maybe it was an honest mistake–maybe they didn’t see it. But it happened nonetheless, and a lot of people got screwed over and lost faith. So, we’ll see I guess. I’m not naïve enough to believe other corporations are any better: greed, corruption, selfishness and incompetence are everywhere, and it’s a risky time to shift companies in the tech space. I will also never fit in anywhere, and I’ve accepted the fact that where other people have one “tribe” or the other they belong to, that is unattainable in my life, for a variety of reasons.

When I first moved here, I was very social and eager to forge some new connections in Denver, but around the end of August I was pretty honest with my new friend group about not being around given how much I had to juggle at work and how much time I’d be spending going back and forth to Texas. I could’ve had a larger group over for Christmas Eve, but I only ended up inviting one friend, who will probably be relocating for a promotion soon: the other person I hang out with regularly is moving away in mid-January. I find that after listening to people talk and having to be present in hours of conversations every work day, I’m burned out and want to be left alone in my free time, but I should probably spend more social time with other people next year, especially given the fact that I’ve met really, really cool people here. In any event, Christmas was pretty nice: I threw together a solid spread for Christmas Eve (including 5lbs of Persian lamb, which turned out beautifully), and Christmas Day was spent eating cheese, making lamb stew with the leftovers, and watching T-34, a hilarious and awesome Russian film that now ranks among my favorites.

This has been an expensive year for me, which I expected, and I knew I’d beat myself up for spending so much money getting set up comfortably down here. My Christmas present to myself was sending my kilim rug off to be professionally cleaned, and I received it back last week, a year and a day after arriving here. While I still struggle with a nagging unsettled, dissatisfied feeling, when I look around at my life as a whole, I have a lot to be grateful for: enough to live with and not amass more of x or y or z. Last week I created an Excel file with tabs for Amazon expenditures; Poshmark purchases with % wasted (ie, clothes I bought that I have not worn frequently enough to feel they were worth buying); I pulled all of my vaping transactions (an annoying habit I quit for a lengthy period of time with absolutely no issue, and then picked up again willfully for no apparent reason), etc. After seeing the final numbers, I realize I overestimated the amount of money I’ve wasted, and how much money my one bad habit costs me, though that won’t change the ultimate outcome: I am giving up Poshmark (I buy virtually all of my clothes and shoes used) and vaping in 2023 solely to challenge myself to go back to subsisting on less. I am 100% sure quitting scrolling through Poshmark will be harder than giving up nicotine.

I went through a “sober October” this past fall to reset my alcohol intake (which was not particularly excessive) and have not really returned to drinking more than 1-2x a week. I sleep terribly–I always have–and my life has been punctuated with prolonged periods of insomnia despite many years of being a gym rat and killing myself on the stair mill 4-5x a week. I’ve spent most of this week off from work sleeping like shit. I’m hoping with more life changes I will claw my way out of this negative feedback loop and start sleeping better. It may not improve… I may be vacuuming my house or rearranging the contents of my refrigerator at 2am… but we’ll see. I enjoy challenging myself to cut things out of my life experimentally. I’ve been trying to make my time spent home more productive (as opposed to just watching TV) and have been cooking more complex meals again; I’ve continued filling my freezer with soups and stews for when I’m swamped at work and get home late. There’s a branch of the Denver Library up the street, and I dropped in there last week and got a library card, since buying books is another waste of money when I read them so fast.

I wrote previously about taking the Foreign Service Officer Test, and jumped the gun on the timeline. After doing some pretty diligent research, I’ve decided to take it later in 2022 (most resources suggest giving yourself 6 months to study, which is a lot more than the 4-6 weeks I had earmarked for preparation). I have a responsibility to my dog, who would not be able to join me, as she is a restricted breed, and the crushing guilt of rehoming a dog I’ve had for 7 years and was my only living companion during COVID will not be alleviated by accepting a career path with a greater sense of purpose (I know myself that well, at least). My primary reason for rushing into this process was pension qualifications, which are more lenient than I initially believed: I have years to partake in this and switch careers and I would still qualify. There are also some domestic (federal, NGO and private sector) opportunities I’d like to look into, with lengthy application processes, so I will take some time to investigate while building up my slush fund for whenever I choose to press on. After reading a few books on the Foreign Service, I do think this would be an excellent option for me in the future, and I feel better knowing I’ve found a career I’d thrive in. Surprisingly, according to some research, around 40% of foreign service officers are INTJs: quite an outsized proportion given we make up less than 1% of the population. So, that’s where they all are. I’ve knocked out Inside A US Embassy and Career Diplomacy, two recommended reads for this career, so I feel appropriately educated as to what my life would look like if I pursued this.

I never know what the year ahead holds, and my friends’ lives are changing too, and our travel plans are in flux. I had planned to head to Finland in May, and stop in Copenhagen en route to get another Nordic tattoo before this very renowned artist retires (the man who did my two dragons has retired, but his apprentice at the time, who is still based in Copenhagen, carried on his process). I will probably do neither. After telling myself and everyone else that 2022 was my last Brutal Assault, I am starting to cave to peer pressure to head back for 2023. I am very much looking forward to Uzbekistan and just received my crisp new passport in the mail; I will probably spend a few weeks in May/June in Myrtle Beach; possibly head back to CZ (with maybe a side trip back to Budapest or Riga), then onto Mexico for my lazy 9-10 days on the beach in September/October, and my parents have recently shared they want to take a family cruise around Christmas next year, which sounds dreadful to me, but I said I’d go for everyone else’s sake. I will probably head back up to Alaska at some point for a week to check on my house. I am already traveling for work to Chicago and Texas in the first two months of 2023, and will likely show up in Atlanta for a few days at some point.

This all seems so much more tame than my old life, flying halfway around the world for a few days, to Oslo or Bergen or Tilburg, and yet maybe that is just my own distorted sense of history. Everything feels so different now: I shared with my former roommate in a lengthy WhatsApp conversation on Christmas that my experience during the pandemic was so grim and painful that a piece of me died and I might never be the same… I am making gradual progress, but it’s so much slower than I want it to be. I remember a time in my life when I was really happy, and satisfied; proud of myself for what I have accomplished thus far and the person I have become; I felt hope for the future. I don’t know how to get back there: but if I think about myself a year ago, overcome with a feeling of impending doom and misery, spending my Christmas break in a camping chair in an empty house, asking myself what the fuck I had done to my life, I’d say I’ve made pretty exceptional progress. Yet somehow it’s not enough. Not yet.

I recently read The Power of Regret by Daniel Pink (he’s written two other books I really enjoyed), and it was well-timed. Despite how I feel about my life, I cannot identify any path not taken, any time I was not brave enough to go get what I wanted. On the contrary, most of the harder periods of my life have been the result of plunging into the unknown and struggling, and I do so more gracefully than I used to. The things that have hurt the most in my life would not have occurred at all if I had been a coward: I have only been burned by my own fearlessness. Even when I think about the relationships I have torched (mostly friendships where there were moral or ethical falling-outs), I feel little if any regret, and would do the same if I had to do it over. Any regret I feel is around how I dealt with some of these things and how much I allowed unexpected outcomes to throw me off course. I suspected reading a book about different kinds of regret would make me feel worse, but it actually made me feel better. I have never not done something because I was too afraid of discomfort, uncertainty, challenge, potential failure. 

I’ve shared with a few people lately that I’m envious of people who are content with their lives. People are creatures of habit: they find safety in routine and predictability. I don’t have that, and I wish I did. I think of my grandmother, who passed away in August, and how minimally-traveled she was, and yet she was happy to just sit in her chair in her kitchen and look out the window, watching the birds and the squirrels. I can, at some points in my life, relish in simple pleasures, and appreciate small things (I especially love reading outside here in the sunshine, which was not something I could do in Alaska very often). Did I do too many cool things in my life that ultimately raised by baseline expectations? Am I just a dour, cynical person who will never be happy? I’ve wondered at times if all this forward propulsion is just me running away from things — but that’s not it either. When I came clean about this to my boss, he asked me if I just need a lot of tension in my life, which was a really good question, and the answer is yes, but that tension is not the negative kind, the dramatic kind, the toxic kind. I hate being in the same place for too long, I hate feeling trapped in any way: professionally, financially, emotionally. The fact that I’ve covered so much ground in my life leads me to believe I can continue that trend instead of slowing down and being satisfied with the present. To what end?

I appreciate some of my closest friends who are able to chop this up with me: many people I’ve encountered are extremely uncomfortable talking about this kind of stuff. I don’t think these thoughts are absent in others, I just think I am more deliberate in contending with them and vocalizing my struggles, and that freaks people out. I suspect most peoples’ subconscious contain these thoughts: I am just willing to pull them up and lay them out. 

I’ve knocked out a few other books this month: The Man Without A Face by Masha Gessen, which was excellent. I read John Hersey’s classic Hiroshima, which should probably be required reading for Americans: I only ever remember the narrative of American might in WWII in terms of Japan, but not the human cost of dropping these bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. My impulse read this month was Malcolm Gladwell’s David & Goliath, which was OK, although I find his writing style generally remedial and annoying. I don’t like this soundbite writing style with random (often uncited) anecdotes, and Gladwell and the guys who wrote Freakonomics are partially responsible for the explosion in popularity of these kinds of books. I liked the primary themes of this book, which were (a) that adversity seems to prepare people to overcome challenges because it helps them develop coping skills early on, and (b) that a lot of situational outcomes depend upon how you approach the problem. The chapter about college and the way that people stack up against one another having unintended negative consequences was oddly motivating to me. I remember coming to this conclusion previously, after reading Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers, thinking about the relativity of wealth and social status being hugely definitive in how people feel about their own lives: being poor isn’t horrible if everyone else around you is also poor. If they’re not, that’s a problem. Same with intelligence, success, social status, relationship status, etc.

I think I’ve rambled long enough here. January will be busy, and February will kick off with a friend visiting and then I’m off to Chicago. I’m hoping for fewer ups and downs in 2023, but we shall see. 

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