While I thought of writing this review on 31st December, I couldn’t overcome my laziness. It has been a persistent problem with me in 2020, which I haven’t been able to fix as of now. On average, the year 2020 was a good year for me. It wasn’t equally forgiving to me on every issue of my life, but it was most undoubtedly lenient on the issues I consider most important at this phase of my life. As for most people, it was a year of self-retrospection for me as well. I identified some new goals in my life, forgot some others, compromised with some failures, and learned the value of loved ones.
Like previous years, I have identified some critical areas of my life, where I am putting more focus year after year. It is easier to focus on one topic at a time. I have decided to omit some parts of my life from this write-up because I am not yet ready to reveal them to a specific set of people (although very few people read this blog now, thanks to my irregularity, I prefer to stay risk-averse).
2020 belonged to the pandemic. So it is most prudent to start with the topic of health. For the last some years, I have been struggling with a lot of health-related issues. Although this year was a much better one for my body and mind, I am still petrified of my health issues. It seems that I am a worry-magnet, and the worry of catching coronavirus was the biggest of them all this year. I spent almost 3-4 months in this worry. It took some toll on my health, but in the end, I was able to come out of it, thanks to family.
I should give part of the blame to my laziness. I had stopped all my learning activities in the mid-to-late year (perhaps I was exhausted). And that gave way to evil thoughts in my mind. As they say, “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop!”. Thankfully I got hold of the situation while it was still manageable.
This graph shows how my sleeping times changed throughout the year. I lost track in the third quarter of the year. Anyway, in December, I seem to have come back to the correct path.
This chart doesn’t convey certain things very clearly. First, it shows the average amount of time I slept in a particular month. However, that time includes the afternoon nap also. And in the mid-year months, where you see 9+ hours of sleep, it means that I was sleeping quite a lot in the afternoon and less at night. In the last three months of the year, I have been trying to regulate my sleep timings at night, and I am quite satisfied with my progress. I have observed over the years with my sleep experiments that whenever I start sleeping less at night, I tend to exhaust myself in the next couple of months. This theory got validated this year when I exhausted myself from June onwards, and my health issues reappeared after sleeping significantly less in April and May (night sleep).
I actually did some exercise this year. I bought a gym subscription this year, but unfortunately, that became my worst financial decision in the last several years because I left Bengaluru before the government imposed the lockdowns. However, I did some light exercise at home. That didn’t do wonders, but at least I was able to keep my BMI constant throughout the year. Even after eating delicacies prepared by Mom all year!!! 😍 Hopefully, I will be able to start running in 2021, even if only on weekends.
In November, I suffered from severe back pain. After getting an ergonomic chair, things seem to be in control. But that incident reminded me of the importance of exercise. I will try to include some simple back exercises in 2021.
The year 2020 was quite an unusual year on this front. Since I started at NITC in July 2014, I have been away from my family for most years. But thanks to lockdown, I got to spend time with my family this year. I had anticipated lockdowns in India quite early, so I left Bengaluru in March just before the government imposed lockdowns in a “shock and awe” manner. So I reached home on time, and that was the best decision I have taken this year. If not for my family, I don’t think I would have been able to handle pandemic-induced health issues.
I have been away from my brother for almost seven years now. More importantly, these seven years were the life-defining years for both of us. It turns out that he and I think very differently. I guess that our thinking results from the different environments where we spent our early adulthood. It was initially very tough to agree on something, but we slowly learned to agree to disagree. Staying away from family has made me more careful and risk-averse in some sense. I tend to (over) analyze everything, and that causes delays in decision making. On the other hand, he is quite free-minded and rebellious. How different we both have turned out to be!!!
I don’t mind this variety, though.
I had set a target to read 20 books this year. In the end, I managed to read a lot more than 20. Mid-year, Around July/August, I started losing track of the books I was reading. As I mentioned in my last year’s review, I was getting disillusioned with Goodreads for some time. This year I tried to use it, but ultimately I didn’t log the majority of my reading anywhere. I don’t know if this is a good thing to do. I will try to keep it this way for some more time and then analyze the data-collection pros and cons.
I have identified some issues with my reading pattern. I tend to read the books passively. That makes it quite challenging to retain knowledge for the long term. On top of that, I don’t make notes as well. So, I cannot even revise the content quickly without going through the whole book again, which is counter-productive. It is a childhood habit, and I assume it will be tough to break this habit. However, whenever possible, I now actively remind myself to question the book and not take everything written in the book for granted. It will take some time (perhaps years), but I am confident about changing this tendency.
I read a variety of books this year. Most of these books were related to humanities subjects like political science, history, etc. I got interested in tech quite late in my life. Before that, humanities was my favorite pastime. Once I entered the tech field, I somehow couldn’t continue this. But this year, I found myself distancing from technical topics somewhere around June. There is a reason behind that disinterest that I would like to keep private for now. At the same time, I struggled with my health issues, so I decided to start with humanities again. Looking back at that decision, I feel it was a superb choice. I have learned so much about India, its history, and the present. Somehow, I was able to ask questions about why a particular thing was done the way it was done. I was never able to think like that while reading a technical book. Does that make my knowledge about tech hollow? I don’t know yet. But I will be actively looking for an answer in the coming times.
One subject, where I expected to glide through was Economics. I mentioned in my 2018 review that I find Economics interesting and want to learn more about it. I couldn’t do that in 2019, but this year I decided to pursue that goal. So I started with the most fundamental books - NCERT class 12th Microeconomics and Macroeconomics. The result is that I have lost my interest in learning economics now (hopefully temporarily). Either the books are written horribly, or I didn’t put enough effort. It took me ages to complete these two books, and still, I don’t understand a lot of the concepts. I think it was the wrong strategy to start with these books. I should have watched video lectures by some University professors. Perhaps I will do that this year, whenever I get time from my other goals.
Another subject, which caught my interest was Anthropology. I had read links to a new website that I set up this year. the excellent “Sapiens” book by Yuval Noah Harari a couple of years back, and that was a thought-provoking read for me. So I decided to read further on the topic to answer some of the questions that I had about human society and why certain cultural elements got evolved in the way they are at present. It is quite an interesting subject, specifically social and cultural anthropology.
Below are some of the superficial statistics about the books that I read this year -
Once again, these numbers are not accurate indicators of the quality of reading. Not all of the books were worth reading. I consider around 25 of these books as a waste of my time. Some books were as small as 100 pages, while some were so good that I wanted more even after reading 800+ pages.
Now, the question is how many of these books benefited me. I plan to reread some of these books and prepare some notes after/along with the second reading. I have tried writing on paper, but my perfectionistic tendencies stop me from “spoiling” the paper. So I will make the notes on Onenote this time and write them down on paper later. Rewriting on paper is a compulsion because my mind seems to be having issues recalling digitally-read content. It is one reason why my Kindle is inside my drawer for a very long time.
One of my wishes for 2021 is to read The Story of Civilization.
Blogging and Writing #
It is quite evident from this blog’s activity in 2020 that I didn’t write very actively. I am going through a challenging phase (imposter syndrome?) in my tech journey that is difficult to describe. I started this blog when I was actively learning new things in tech. But now, I have almost hit a plateau. If I phrase it in another way, I am not learning enough technical content now. I don’t think it is related to my work, but somehow, my attention has been on other things lately.
I have not been able to write anything on paper as well. I did some analysis on this issue, and it turns out that I have perfectionist tendencies, as I mentioned in the last section. I try to do everything with perfection, and that doesn’t work most of the time. You can’t always have everything perfect in real life, although aiming for perfectionism is not a bad thing. But when this goal becomes the process, it starts creating problems. And I am facing the same issue. Now, whenever I sit to write anything, I remind myself at regular intervals that I don’t have to be perfect all the time. It seems to work till now.
Anyway, in 2021, I will write a lot on paper and perhaps on this blog. I am still contemplating if I should write long-form essays on some contemporary issues on this blog. Maybe I will create a new WordPress blog for that kind of stuff and keep this blog for my technical content and everyday life-related posts.
I figured out one more issue with my thought process. Given a topic, if you ask me to write a summary of it, I wouldn’t be able to articulate my thoughts. Something that Richard Feynman was very good at. In other words, I struggle in explaining my knowledge to others. I guess this means that I don’t understand the topic well enough to write anything about it. It might also mean that I have some issues in thinking clearly. I hope, with practice, more active reading, and regular writing practice, I will win over this issue.
It isn’t easy to summarise my work experience. It’s my third year at Cisco now. The team in which I was working for the last two years got dissolved. However, higher management was quite helpful in transitioning to a new team working on Snort development. So, I will be getting a much-needed product development experience now. Till now, all is good; however, product development is slightly weird. I need to give it more time before drawing any conclusions. Since I have joined the new team, I feel that my day-to-day learning has suffered during work hours. I hope it is a temporary phenomenon and I would be able to overcome it soon.
The COVID outbreak has spoiled some of my plans, and I am unsure if my familial circumstances would allow me to opt for those plans in the near future. I reoriented my goals to adjust to the changing conditions. But whatever happens, I will try to utilize the available resources to the maximum extent possible. Hopefully, everything will settle in the right place soon.
Media Consumption #
I seem to have been able to conquer the addiction to social media. I had been trying to do this for 3-4 years, and this year, I feel that I was in control for most of the time. Whenever I lost myself in Twitter/Quora/Reddit, I found it easy to cut-off myself from these websites without any withdrawal symptoms, which is a very pleasing experience.
Facebook deserves a special mention here. I have been entirely out of touch with Facebook for the last couple of years, partly due to self-control and partly due to the bad press Facebook has recently gotten. One thing that has helped me is that I don’t have any content on my newsfeed because I took some time to unfollow everyone. As there is no content to scroll, I don’t feel the urge to stay longer on the website. I log in occasionally to the website just for checking the notification and friend requests.
Coming to the media content consumed by me, these are the movies that I watched this year. I did a lousy job logging this stuff, so this data is not comprehensive. Of course, I watched a lot more movies than this.
I watched many web series during the July-October period. I can recall a few right now - Sacred Games 1 and 2, She, Flesh, Bard of Blood, Mirzapur 1 and 2, The Witcher, Sex Education, and Paatal Lok. In short, I wasted a lot of time watching useless content. Sensory satisfaction, peer pressure, and the urge to run away from my boredom are to blame for this binge-watching time.
I am using Letterboxd to log the movies, but there does not seem to be a free service that offers both movies and web series logging. I wish somebody will make one in 2021.
I use an Android phone and use Digital Wellbeing to monitor my phone usage. Unfortunately, I can’t export my usage data from the Digital Wellbeing app. This data gets lost because I switch ROMs frequently. However, according to my liberal estimate, I was able to keep my per day phone usage under 4 hours on most of the days. There were some outliers, but mostly, my phone addiction was relatively under control. However, I would have liked to keep it around 3 hours per day.
What in 2021? #
This section is a new addition to this year’s review. I usually don’t set explicit targets and certainly don’t share them in public. So this is something different. I am sharing my goals here. I will take this as a benchmark when I sit to write my year review for 2021. I am hoping for at least a 60% success rate.
- Publish six long-form essays - The plan is to learn the skill of articulating thoughts. I don’t have any particular topic in mind. Perhaps a mix of History, Political Science and Tech. It can be in the form of essays or an explanatory post, or anything else. Ideally, every two months.
- Read five fiction books - To learn how other people write fantasy. I hope to be able to read it for learning, not just for fun. You can follow my progress here.
- Sleep at proper times - Now that majority of my work meetings are expected to get scheduled during IST, I will try to sleep by 10 PM and sleep for at least 8 hours every day. I am aiming for an 80% success rate in this aspect.
- Phone Usage - Keep it under 3.5 hours per day (Aiming for 80% success)
- Write a Journal - I have tried it earlier also but failed. This year, I will try to document only important events in my life. At least once a month should be good enough. The more the merrier!
- Regular exercise - I need to reduce my BMI to 22 from 23.3. That requires me to shed at least 4 kgs of weight.
- Weekend running (Aiming to do it on 50/104 weekends, accounting for winters)
- Mild 15-minute exercises at home two days a week (Aiming for 80% success)
- Meditation on the two days of the week (Aiming for 90% success)
- ██████ (redacted) - I want to achieve this one badly.
Note: A number of these goals depend on how many more months I get to spend at home, after June.
2020 was quite a year. I hope humanity has learned its lessons. While industrialization and globalization have brought us a couple of hours away from each other, it has become equally easy for pathogens and germs to travel and reach farther ends of the world. I like to equate this situation to the disease-carrying Europeans who went to the Americas in the 17th century. Nations could practice some carefulness and proactivity in dealing with such problems. It is not the last pandemic to ravage the world, for sure.
I expect to achieve some of my goals in 2021, but I won’t deny a potential role of luck or chance (whatever you like to call it). Hopefully, the gods of chance will be on my side.