February 2022 Retrospective
As promised, here is the first of my monthly update posts. The inspiration for writing these has primarily been the sprint retrospectives that my team has every two weeks at work, which I have found incredibly useful. I think they are probably the most valuable aspect of the scrum framework for us, and have been the most powerful drivers of improvement both on an individual and team level. Given my ambitious goals in various areas other than my 9-to-5, I want to at least try and see whether a “life retrospective” can produce similar results, and eventually to develop a system similar to the one Neel Nanda describes here.
Until that system materializes though, I’m going to stick with the way we do things at work; three columns for things that went well, things that didn’t go well and things I learned, and then a list of actions for next month.
What went well?
EUT training in February went very smoothly, which has accordingly bolstered my confidence and motivation. I hit all my weekly mileage targets and have been incorporating in more incline treadmill work in the gym to compensate for not having any handy mountains in running distance of my flat, and I have both anecdotal and empirical evidence to suggest that I’m getting stronger and fitter. Hiking up big hills when I’m trail running certainly feels a lot easier, and my watch also tells me that my VO2 max is going up while my resting heart rate is going down, both of which I’m excited about. My regular yoga practice has continued to improve my balance, strength and flexibility, as well as contributed to my remaining injury-free, and my partner has absolutely crushed the training plan for her first half marathon which we’ll be running this weekend.
Work has also by and large improved, in both the micro and the macro sense. I completed the majority of the 80000 Hours career plan, and learned a huge amount in so doing. The process gave me a healthy desire to recalibrate my career trajectory upwards, laid out several promising options for paths that would be both intellectually stimulating and emotionally fulfilling, and helped me gain a better understanding of what my biggest uncertainties are as well as what actionable steps I can take to reduce them. All this gave me the motivation to pull myself out of the post-Christmas slump I’d been experiencing, and I made a lot of progress in things work-adjacent activities I care about, like mentoring and STEM Ambassadorship, including signing up for my first event with the latter.
I’ve invested a lot of time in setting up my Notion workspace, fortunately the bulk of the work there is done and it’s already paying dividends. Having stopped posting here daily, I have successfully managed to transfer the habit of writing daily into a journal, the benefits of which are many, catharsis not least among them. I have a system for managing my daily, weekly, monthly, yearly and lifetime goals, which pretty clearly needs some optimization, but I think in the short term has already allowed me to be significantly more focused and productive than I otherwise would’ve been. Having all my thoughts in one place is in general very useful, and I am enjoying a wide range of possibilities that Notion offers, including for example a database of recipes that includes a rating, a picture I took of the finished product (taking aesthetically pleasing pictures of food is much harder than I’d anticipated), searchable categories for their primary ingredients and similarly searchable tags including geographic origin, difficulty/time requirement and cost per portion.
My mental health has been broadly stable, and I am starting to invest some time into thinking about what systems I can put in place to be proactive about maintaining this stability. I’ve yet to self-sabotage my romantic relationship, and things are going well, from my perspective and hopefully my partner’s too. I have found myself relaxing into it more, the myriad anxieties I feel around ceding some amount of control over my emotional state to another person are diminishing, and I’m slowly finding myself able to be more vulnerable. I’m still keen to be incredibly cautious when it comes to further increasing the overlap between my mental health and the success of my relationship, but I am at least past the stage of having a panic attack every time I think about it.
What didn’t go well?
A handful of minor things didn’t go perfectly with training; the tattoo on my leg took more than twice as long as I’d expected to heal, my rate of progress with yoga has slowed down, I haven’t been out with the club I run with, and after some of my long trail runs I still felt really good, suggesting I might’ve left some value on the table and ought to have gone on for longer. I’ve started to struggle with my relationship with food again, which has caused me quite a lot of anxiety, but I have a lot to say on that so I’ll write a whole other post, rather than discuss here.
While I may be out of my post-Christmas slump, there is still plenty I struggle with at work. The people on my team will be changing significantly in April, and while I recognise there are a lot of opportunities in that, it will mean I have to invest into building relationships from scratch again, including with a new manager. The rate at which I am learning in my day-to-day has plateaued and I am worried that I am stagnating. I struggle to engage in meetings and have difficulty following the threads of conversations, particularly when they are held virtually, so much so I have even been toying with the idea of getting assessed for ADHD recently. In a similar vein, my imposter syndrome has felt particularly potent this month, and I frequently feel as if the rest of my team are able to instantly grasp concepts or formulate plans, and I am slowing them down by asking them to repeat themselves or explain in a different manner. I also feel like my ratio of emotional investment to potential emotional reward is way off; I get upset at myself if I don’t do something well or don’t meet my targets in some way, but don’t allow myself the equivalent happiness from performing at or above the level I’d expected for myself.
Outside of work and training, I am also setting standards for myself that are proving to be potentially unrealistic. I’ve struggled to make enough time to maintain my existing friendships, let alone develop any new ones, and I spent a lot of time worrying about whether or not I’m meeting my partner’s needs, whether she is happy with me etc, even though I have asked her about it and she says that I’m doing great. Perhaps most importantly, I know I pushed myself super hard last month and was flirting between barely sustainable and burnout being inevitable.
What did I learn?
I want to try and keep these snappier than the rest of my reflections, so here they are in bullet point form:
- Sometimes optimizing for happiness means taking significant happiness gains now over negligible happiness gains later.
- Unless you are resolved to find a new job and are actively looking now, recruiters and job postings are far more of a distraction than they providers of useful information about the job market.
- The process is the process for a reason, and cutting corners is only going to be -EV.
- As a more concrete example of the above; when deleting a prod database, always take a backup of it, even if you think it’s completely unnecessary.
- Software engineering is an enormous field, and there are an enormous amount of potential career options encompassed within it.
- My default has been to get a job, wait until I don’t think it’s +EV for me anymore, then look for a new one and take whatever I can find. If you spend what is, in the grand scheme of things, a very small amount of time planning, you can make massive gains in happiness, salary, knowledge, fulfillment, impact and basically anything else you could possibly want from a job.
- The easiest way to find out how your partner feels and what they want, is by asking your partner how they feel and what they want.
- Having your partner be the only person you spend any meaningful amount of time with is a very easy trap to fall into.
- Awkwardness is unintuitively +EV.
- Bayesian updating is the nuts.
- I’m the kind of person that is quite susceptible to joining a cult.
- If something would take you as long to do as it would to add to your to do list, do it now.
- Arrange or attend two social activities where my partner isn’t there.
- Go on at least one run with the London City Runners.
- Seek out a mentor - cold email one person a week until I find someone who’s interested and seems like they’re a good fit.
- Write and publish a blog post about my experiences with disordered eating, as a way of clarifying my thoughts, getting feedback, initiating difficult conversations and holding myself accountable for taking action to address it.