2019 Annual Retrospective

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David Neuman // January 25, 2020
9 minute read
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I’ve been loosely tracking my annual goals over the past two years. But I’ve never done an in-depth retrospective. Now that I’m writing here, I thought it would be a good idea to start.


These were the goals that I laid out for myself in 2019. It’s worth mentioning that I didn’t do much in terms of actually tracking my results (go figure) — I’ll rectify that next year.

  • Read 12 books. I reignited my passion for reading over the past few years. I figured that reading one book per month in 2019 would be a reasonable goal.
  • Build something with code that I am proud of. At the beginning of 2019, I didn’t know how to code. An ambitious, audacious, and inspiring goal.
  • Develop a writing habit. I had only just discovered 200 Words a Day and was excited to build a habit becoming a better writer.
  • Save money on silly things; spend it on what matters. Silly meant mostly eating out. I wanted to spend my money on experiences or opportunities that yield tangible value.
  • Focus on physical and mental health. Exercising has been important to me for years. Taking care of my mental health? Not as much.
  • Love and support those who mean the world to me. Vague? Yes, but I meant well.

I’d like to use these annual retrospectives to answer four common yet important questions:

  1. What went well this year?
  2. What didn’t go so well this year?
  3. What did I learn?
  4. What will I change next year?

Keeping last year’s goals in mind, let’s dive in.

What went well this year?

2019 was a big year for me. This is how I would define it in one word: change.

I embarked on a career change.

At the beginning of the year, I worked in a completely different industry. For the longest time I was unhappy and felt unfulfilled in my career. Now, I’m employed as a software developer working on applications to improve our client’s operations. I couldn’t be happier. I’ll get around to writing a detailed blog post on how I managed to transition in such a short period of time, and what I learned.

The team at Square Lab | Credit: Roshanag Rahmani

I developed a writing habit.

I started writing 200 words every day for several months. The practice forced me to stop and think about what to write about in the first place. I learned that it’s difficult because writing is thinking, and thinking is hard. I wrote every day to prepare myself for launching this very blog, and I believe that it’s a testament to the hard work I put in over the past year. My 200 Words a Day profile when my writing was most consistent I went from writing in my journal sporadically to writing consistently each and every day. That’s a win in my book.

I built something with code that I am proud of.

My final project for my coding bootcamp is a web app called Clearmind. Given our time constraints, I think my colleague and I did a great job. I’d like to think that it was impressive enough to help land several interviews right after bootcamp was over. The codebase may be messy, but the project paved the way for my new career.

Demo Day @ Lighthouse Labs | Credit: Alain Wong

I made the most out of experiences.

I tried to be present and make the most out of the time I spent with my friends and family. Overall, I think it went well. Some highlights from said experiences:

2019 was a good year

What didn’t go so well?

I read less books than planned.

I used to love to read. When I was 13, I read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy. I have been trying to reignite my passion for reading over the past few years. And it’s worked, for the most part. But I still didn’t quite manage to meet my goal of reading 12 books last year. Career change or not, there are no excuses.

While there are several other books I picked up this and haven’t yet finished, here’s the list of those I read front-to-back:

We Are the NerdsChristine Lagorio-Chafkin
21 Lessons for the 21st CenturyYuval Noah Harari
The Hard Thing About Hard ThingsBen Horowitz
The Phoenix ProjectGene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford
Red RisingPierce Brown
Golden SonPierce Brown
RangeDavid Epstein

I didn’t make enough time for friends and family.

From what went well this year, you can probably tell that I focused mostly on myself. It’s not a bad thing — I needed to put in the time when it came to my career change, and I think this is the stage in my life where I need to really work hard to achieve my goals. While I did a good job at being present during quality time with friends and family, I didn’t make enough time. From checking in with my parents, to scheduling time with friends, I could have done more in managing my relationships even though I was busy.

I continued to succumb to an old, familiar habit.

I’ve been playing video games since my uncle handed me a SNES when I was a little kid. I’d be lying if I told you my passion for gaming would someday dwindle.

Luna watching me play

Tim Ferriss recently shared that he tends to procrastinate by reading, a “socially acceptable form of avoiding things”. As for gaming, it isn’t bad in and of itself. Modern games are incredibly well-designed, with narratives that provide an experience similar to that of film and books. Yet there are days where I plan to get things done and video games get in the way. Sinking time into video games is how I avoid getting difficult things done.

What did I learn?

The power of accountability.

Several months ago a colleague of mine and I decided to form a habit of waking up at 5 am and having productive mornings. Each morning, we’d send each other a message confirming that we were awake. I was surprised at how committed I was to waking up early no matter what. We continued for weeks, and I made a habit of waking up between 5 and 5:30 am for several months. Now, we message each other several times a week to check in and make sure the other is on track to hitting their weekly goals.

Forming a habit becomes easier when you have someone that expects you to show up.

It’s never too late to change your career for the better.

I used to think that I could go through life working in a field that I didn’t love. I thought that I could work to pay the bills and fill my spare time with hobbies that I’m passionate about. That didn’t work for me. In 2016, I experienced a minor bout of depression that stemmed from my dissatisfaction with my then job. A trip to Southeast Asia and two more jobs in finance made me realize that it wasn’t just that job — it was the type of work that I was doing.

Take the time to figure out what you like to do, and see if you can make a career out of it. While I loved writing and playing music in a band, I came to the conclusion that being a touring musician wasn’t the right move for me. But to come to that kind of decision you need to experiment and take chances. Dabble with different skills until you get lost practicing or learning for hours without realizing how much time has passed. And when you experience that, pursue it relentlessly.

What will I change for next year?

Overall, 2019 was a fantastic year. I’m happy about where I’m at in my life, and I’m excited to see what the new decade will bring to me and my loved ones.

I want to consistently do what I say I’ll do.

Nir Eyal writes, “being indistractable means striving to do what you say you will do”. For me, this is easily the top priority. Taking control of my time and energy means that I will be on track to do what I want on my own terms. I want to make better decisions and plan time for challenging goals. The best way to do this is to become indistractable.

I want to focus on three pillars of self-development: reading, writing, and coding.

Consume less, create more. This idea resonated with me this past year. I’m a big subscriber to newsletters — I love reading curated, quality content. But there’s something incredibly rewarding about creating. I discovered my love for creating by composing music for my band, I continued to pursue it by writing, and I unlocked a new career through it by learning to code.

In the coming year, I’d like to balance consuming and creating. It’s easy to get lost consuming too much content, from endlessly scrolling Twitter feeds to over-researching for a blog post. It’s more difficult to put something out into the world before you’re comfortable that it’s ready.

I want to improve how I connect with people.

I focused on myself in 2019; in 2020, I want to put more effort in connecting with people. As I mentioned before, there are important people in my life that deserve more of my time and effort. I’m looking forward to planning some quality time with them this year.

I’d also like to meet some strangers or potentially new friends. You might call me a social introvert — that is, I enjoy good conversation with the people I’m most familiar with. The idea of attending an event by myself? Scary. I created a Meetup account and, lo and behold, I attended precisely zero events in 2019. It’s time to change that and meet interesting, down-to-earth people.

I want to teach.

There’s no better way to learn than to teach. One goal I have for this year is to return to Lighthouse Labs as a part-time mentor. It would be a great way for me to give back and help future cohorts win at bootcamp. The prospect of helping others succeed sounds fulfilling to me. Not to mention the fact that I would be able to expand my network and meet more incredible people from different backgrounds.