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My 2021 Annual Review: A Year of Divergence (And Slowly Started Converging)

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First of all, I'd like to thank everyone who has read my blog posts this year and commented on LinkedIn, Twitter, or even during a virtual/in-person chat. Your perspective mattered a lot, and I was able to effectively clarify, solidify, and sometimes refine my personal ideas as a result of these interactions. Thank you.

To make 2022 even more fruitful, let me reflect the year based on the Keep-Problem-Try retrospective framework. The format is also inspired by Annual Reviews by James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits that gave me a really nice insight recently as I summarized in "Quality Habit-Formation: It's Like Casting a Vote on My Desired Identity".

Note that I intentionally focus on my desired identifies, "product developer", "minimalist", "traveler", and "hiker & runner", and evaluate the year based on how my behaviors were aligned with them.

Keep: Things that went well & I will continue

I highly value an action that adds randomness/uncertainty and brings something new to my life. In this regard, 2021 was definitely one of the most successful years in my life.

Learned and wrote a lot. I have taken 15 online courses, ranging from data visualization and supply chain management to blockchain and sustainability development. Meanwhile, I've read dozens of books, which were probably the most over the last few years, and listened thought-provoking podcasts on a daily basis (recommended: NPR Short Wave, Ted Talks Daily, Software Engineering Daily, Your Undivided Attention). Consequently, I published 55 blog posts (26 were in Japanese). Importantly, the topics didn't always overlap with my day-to-day work as a professional, and hence they nicely kept widening my perspectives with numerous eye-opening facts.

Maintained mobility and flexibility. I have relocated from Japan to Canada and changed a job. Furthermore, I have switched a role from product manager to software engineer, which is in fact an inversion of "Why a Data Science Engineer Becomes a Product Manager". These decisions brought a lot of new experiences such as being part of a new local community, making new friends, exploring new tastes (not only literally about a taste of drinks & foods, but "interests" in a broad sense), and working on new product & technology. Everything naturally helped to expand my capabilities and possibilities at a faster pace.

Became conscious about ethics and sustainability. I started thinking more about positive and negative externalities of my behaviors both at work and life in general. That's why I asked "Are You Creating Products That *You* Love?" myself and dove deep into some of the practical solutions to make modern software products more ethical and sustainable, like ethical challenges in recommender systems. Also, my learning objectives for the sustainability-related online courses were in the same direction, and I largely changed my purchase and consumption patterns (e.g., being semi-vegetarian to reduce my carbon footprint). Questioning my "normal" behaviors clearly revealed their side effects against users, communities, and environment, which I overlooked for many years, and the facts enabled me to rethink what kind of person I really want to be.

Problem: Things that didn't go well

Unsurprisingly, there is a flip side of all the benefits of exposing myself to a wide variety of new things—Lack of concentration and a cluttered mind.

Gap between learning and being hands-on. Even though I aggressively learned a lot and verbalized my thoughts in the form of blog articles, I wasn't able to take further actions and build anything impactful on the top. To be more precise, my only 2021 GitHub contributions I can confidently present are data visualization for flight CO2 emissions ("How Much CO2 Emissions Have Your Flights Made?") and word cloud generator from website link-trees (use case: "Understanding Big Tech's Sustainable Commitment with Word Cloud"). These are too little, and the work is indeed insufficient to maintain my identity as a product developer.

Psychologically "busy" all the time. I don't recall when was the last time I was relaxed in a true sense. In fact, my working time is moderate, and I do take time off as needed; I'm sure I am technically relaxed while running, hiking, and enjoying a pint of beer. However, it doesn't mean I was able to become really "empty" at that moment. By contrast, there always seemed to be multiple different things in my mind simultaneously as new ideas and anxieties were continuously surfacing.

Failed to "travel" a lot. Of course, everyone cannot travel that much because of the pandemic, but this is not about the travel restrictions. It rather means there was an issue in my traveler identity that represents willingness to go outside and experience something exciting. Due to the cluttered mind mentioned above, I occasionally became unwilling to step out and feel stuck with the unseen barriers. Eventually, I hesitated to physically go somewhere farther away from my neighborhood. Interestingly, even though I "moved" a lot this year for relocation and job change, I believe the time spent at home was the longest in the last few years; it was even longer than 2020, the worst year of the pandemic, seriously.

Try: Lessons learned, so what?

A high-level objective of 2022 is to turn this year's insights into actions so I can deepen and flesh out my desired identities.

Close the learning loop. Throughout my learning and writing activities, I will set a single underlying theme aligned with my product developer identity, rather than accumulating one-time, ad-hoc gains that are normally too small to be actionable. Thanks to this year's experiences, I currently have a good picture of what kind of person I want to be, what the most important thing in my life is, and what I can be passionate about; the resolution of the picture is the highest ever. Therefore, I want to spend my time more on them and deliver actual values to others and society in general. Ultimately, I'd write code every weekday and seek one or more external presentation opportunities to widely publicize the outcomes. I've lost such opportunities after the pandemic, and the last big presentation was in 2019, which is clearly outdated.

Leave the comfort zone. I also explicitly set a monthly (or could be quarterly) learning objective that is significantly different from the core theme. They will be mostly aligned with my traveler, hiker, and runner identities. As a consequence, I expect to interact with new people as much as possible and become more open-minded. The fundamental motivation here is to diversify my perspective with a different cadence and break echo chambers & filter bubbles. While I am currently surrounded by really good people (thank you!) and working on what I truly like, I'm worried about that the comfortable situation over-amplifies a single aspect of a problem and opinion; it is important for me to be a system thinker who does not overlook the facts I cannot normally observe.

Stay calm, and enjoy the moment. Last but not least, I'll form new daily habits for meditation and self-reflection to stay focus on the essential things. That is, by explicitly echoing the importance of having a focus and disconnecting from irrelevant mental & physical interruptions, I put myself in a situation that I need to be mindful more about every single moment e.g., while eating, drinking, walking. Life is simple—Don't make it over-complicated. It should be noticed that deciding what NOT to do is equally or more important than thinking what to do.

I appreciate all the opportunities I had and people I interacted with throughout the year. It was clearly the best year in my life, and 2022 would be even better.



Life & Work

  See also

My 2022 Annual Review: Towards the Deepness
Quality Habit-Formation: It's Like Casting a Vote on My Desired Identity
Next "Dot" in Journey: Curiosity-Driven Job Change in Canada (Aug 2021)


Last updated: 2022-09-02

  Author: Takuya Kitazawa

Takuya Kitazawa is a freelance software developer, previously working at a Big Tech and Silicon Valley-based start-up company where he wore multiple hats as a full-stack software developer, machine learning engineer, data scientist, and product manager. At the intersection of technological and social aspects of data-driven applications, he is passionate about promoting the ethical use of information technologies through his mentoring, business consultation, and public engagement activities. See CV for more information, or contact at [email protected].

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