2016 Year in Review
In 2016 I threw in the towel on a startup and transitioned into a new career as a designer.
But before any of that happened, I had to dig myself out of a rut. Toward the end of 2015, I felt stuck and in need of a big change. So I gave up my apartment and moved away. I started 2016 in Rio de Janeiro with the intention to live and work in South America for three months. I returned five months later with a renewed sense of self and a clear focus.
I'm pleased to say the process I started over a year ago hasn't stopped. I'm writing this post to acknowledge the work that's gone into the last year, and as motivation to keep moving forward in 2017.
I changed my environment to change my behavior.
It was hard to leave New York, perhaps for good, but the move turned out to be just what I needed. A new environment broke the pattern I was in and allowed me to move forward. In 2015, it felt like my identity was completely tied to my life in NYC. By creating distance I was able to rediscover what truly matters to me.
For the first time in long time, I was able to have an office space. This made all the difference. It gave me the space I needed to think without the distractions of WFH. My ability to concentrate for long stretches went up, and I became more motivated.
Something happens to your sense of time when you live somewhere new. My first month in Rio felt equivalent to three months worth of "regular" life back in New York. Because I only had a short time there, I made an effort to do things every day. I woke up early to hike or run or watch the sunrise. I thought, why can't real life be like this? When I left Rio for Buenos Aires, I had to start over again. I noticed once more how my emotional state changed with a new environment. I started off comparing and resisting the differences between the two cities. Eventually I stopped resisting enough to notice the wonderful things. As it turns out, different ≠ worse. It occurred to me that this process happens over and over again in life. It's silly to fight it.
I dedicated time just to think, and I started writing every day.
Going into 2016, I asked myself three questions: What do I want to have accomplished a year from now? What new habits do I want to form? Who do I want to be a year from now?
Plenty of solitude, introspection, and writing allowed me to name and accept what I know deep down to be true.
Writing was crucial to this process of self reflection and realization. I started this blog in January because I wanted to get better at writing. While I stopped publishing blog posts in July, I didn't stop writing altogether. Instead, I wrote case studies for my portfolio and began free writing using the site, 750words.com.
I've been free writing since July 2016. Since then, I've written over 100,000 words. I usually write first thing in the morning. I was skeptical at first, but it's become sort of like therapy for me. Now I use free writing to help think through decisions when planning or designing.
I created a routine and introduced time blocking.
Certainty is a fundamental human need. In 2016, after years of working for myself, I learned that the best way for me to meet my need for certainty is by keeping a routine and sticking to it. A routine makes me feel collected and productive. I know now that no matter where I go, I have to preserve my routine if I want to be in good place.
Part of my new routine was dedicating time to things I value. (Reading books, for example.) I got in the habit of listing everything I want to do in a month and then blocking off time on the calendar to actually get it done. I found this method actually works for me.
I read more books and started listening to podcasts.
The practice of writing, note taking, and time blocking made me mindful of how I was spending my time. I installed Facebook News Feed Eradicator, a plugin for Chrome that's like Adblocker for news feed content. Not completely, but largely, I replaced articles found on Facebook with books. Around the same time, I swapped music for podcasts, at least while working out and commuting. The result was that I read many more books in 2016 than I did in 2015, and learned a lot from both the books and the podcasts.
I got my story straight.
2016 was a year of reinvention. The most important thing I did all year was to figure out my story, how to tell it, and whom to tell it to. When my startup ended, I had to decide: what do I want to do next? I thought about my past experiences, and I asked myself, what am I good at and what do I love to do? I emailed over 100 people, and I met with a lot of them. I listened to their feedback. I wrote. I refined. I talked to more people. This process repeated for months until I got it right. By September, I had a portfolio I was proud of, and I was interviewing with many of the top tech companies in NYC.
I realize this process can never stop. You're constantly telling and adjusting your story and your audience.
My year in numbers
I lived in four cities.
- Rio de Janeiro
- Buenos Aires
- New York City
I traveled to seven more destinations.
- São Paulo
- Salvador, Brazil
- Praia do Forte, Bahia
- Ilha Grande, Brazil
- Iguazu Falls, Brazil and Argentina
- Fitz Roy Mountain and Perito Moreno Glacier, Patagonia, Argentina
- Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina (the most southern city on the planet)
10 remarkable experiences.
- Seeing the sunrise the last night of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro
- Getting to the top Morro Dois Irmãos for sunrise (first time on a motorcycle)
- Having Lopes Mendes Beach on Ilha Grande, Brazil to myself for two hours
- Seeing the Perito Moreno Glacier up close
- Hiking up Fitz Roy Mountain in Patagonia and discovering I'm an INTP personality type
- That one night at Club 69 and that one night at Negroni in Buenos Aires
- Living without a phone for 3 months ( ! ) while in Brazil and Argentina
- Getting lost on the city bus from Salvador to Praia do Forte
- Helicopter ride over Manhattan (first time on a helicopter)
- Interviewing with Google
10 new habits.
- Waking up early most days
- Having a morning routine
- Writing daily, weekly, and monthly to-do lists and blocking time in my calendar to do the work
- Writing every day
- Dedicating time to read books
- Listening to podcasts instead of music while working out
- Taking and/or editing one photo a day
- Breaking my Facebook habit (thank you, News Feed Eradicator plugin for Chrome)
- Using the Notes app to capture thoughts, lists, plans, ideas, links, quotes, etc. (I wrote 1,178 notes in 2016)
- Running regularly
62 pieces of writing.
- I published 47 blog posts
- I wrote 11 case studies
- I created three resumes
- I made one CV/portfolio site
- I completed three design exercises
- The Art of Travel
- On Writing Well (I read this at least twice)
- The Design of Everyday Things
- Don’t Make Me Think
- Waking Up
- Intercom on Product Management
- How Not To Be Wrong
- On Writing
- Thinking, Fast and Slow
I partially read five other books.
- The Second Machine Age
- How Google Works
- The Hard Thing About Hard Things
- Never Split the Difference
One career pivot (and a budding side gig)
- 111 people emailed for coffee
- 19 people emailed for job applications
- 30 meetings or phone calls
- 4 portfolio feedback sessions
- 15 interviews
- 9 new friends
- 1 new job and career pivot
I also met with nine professional photographers, assisted on two photo shoots, and decorated an apartment with my photographs.
- Met with nine professional photographers in NYC and Rio de Janeiro
- Assisted on two professional photo shoots
- Printed and framed 20 of my photos to decorated a friend's apartment