2020 Annual Retrospective

An avatar of David Neuman
David Neuman // February 2, 2021
9 minute read
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⁣2020. What a year, to say the least. For many it was a difficult one. I’m lucky to say that things could have certainly gone worse for myself and my loved ones. Danielle and I caught COVID-19 in late August but we both had mild cases.


Here are the things that I decided to change for the past year:

  • I want to consistently do what I say I’ll do. A vague and difficult “goal” to measure. In 2020 I became more at ease with mindless distraction when it was planned. Yet I still didn’t manage to schedule my time in a way where I can confidently say that it was a goal that I was able to achieve.
  • I want to focus on three pillars of self-development: reading, writing, and coding. These pillars are still my focus today and will be for the year, particular the latter two. I want to ship more creative work this year. For me, this will generally be software and words on a screen.
  • I want to improve how I connect with people. 2020 made it difficult to connect with friends and family in the traditional sense. But it was a reminder that humans are social creatures; we need to connect with each other to survive and thrive.
  • I want to teach. And I did!

As was the case last year, here are the four questions that I’ll answer:

  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?

What went well this year?

Despite the fact that most of 2020 was shrouded in the cloud of COVID-19, there were many bright spots.

I got engaged.

Engagement ring

Photo from Unsplash, not the actual ring I gave her 😅

In August my then-girlfriend and I took a trip to B.C. We visited Vancouver, Tofino, Ucluelet, and Victoria. It was one of the best trips that we’ve ever been on together. It felt great to explore unknown territory in our own country.

It’s also where I asked her to marry me.

Given the circumstances we’re unsure of when or what we’ll decide to do. All we know is that we’ve agreed to spend the rest of our lives together. That’s what’s important.

I launched this blog.

Launching my own website was an early win for me in 2020. I couldn’t have published my first annual retrospective without it! I didn’t post as often as I would have liked. Hell, I didn’t even write as much as I would have liked. But the fact of the matter is that I put out content publicly for anyone to consume.

I started mentoring.

Me eating pizza with Lighthouse Labs' CEO Jeremy Shaki

Chatting with Lighthouse Labs CEO Jeremy Shaki at one of their events in early 2020.

Teaching was one of the goals that I achieved this year. In February I began mentoring part-time at Lighthouse Labs, where my journey into web development all began.

The mentoring experience changed dramatically during the pandemic. It’s a change that I’m still grappling with today. The bootcamp experience is now 100% remote for both students and mentors. As a result, I’ve started mentoring students from all over Canada.

Since I only mentor 1-2 times per week it has become difficult to make meaningful connections with the students. At the beginning of the year I’d go into the Montreal location and get to focus on the same students each week; now, I rarely assist the same students twice. The new mentoring experience is one that I’ll be revisiting this year. There’s a good chance that I’ll take a break from it until we get back closer to ‘normal’.

I landed an exciting job after some instability.

I started 2020 at one job, joined another for several months, and then found my place at Stingray. I get to work on fantastic products for music-lovers all over.

I genuinely miss most of my former colleagues, especially from my time at SquareLab. But it was time that I found a company where I could grow and level up as a developer. So, I joined Stingray this past August.

It was my first time starting work 100% remotely. The experience is not without its challenges — sometimes it’s hard to stay focused at home, and I miss interacting with colleagues in person. But I’m lucky to have an amazing team and work on interesting, challenging problems every day.

I took more time to reflect on my days.

Open journal with "Notes" writen and a pen on the page

Journaling is a rewarding and fulfilling experience if done in a way that feels right to you. Notice how I didn’t say correct; in my opinion, there’s no right or wrong way to do it. Some days you might feel like writing about how you’re feeling. Other times you might write about what you’re grateful for, or a specific experience.

This past year I journaled just about every other day, give or take, which isn’t bad at all. Going through my journal entries helped me identify and speak to some of the answers in this post. Journaling is a habit that I plan to maintain for the foreseeable future.

I read more books.

It may have only been three more than last year, but it’s the consistency and improvement that are important. This year it was a good mix of fiction and non-fiction. Here’s the list of books I read in 2020:

IndistractableNir Eyal
You Are HereThich Nhat Hanh
No One Cares About Crazy PeopleRon Powers
Exhalation: StoriesTed Chiang
SkywardBrandon Sanderson
StarsightBrandon Sanderson
The Shadow of What Was LostJames Islington
An Echo of Things to ComeJames Islington
Atomic HabitsJames Clear
Steal Like an ArtistAustin Kleon

My 2021 goal? 20 books.

What didn’t go so well?

I failed to deliver out of fear.

My uncle started a podcast last year. Over last Christmas, we spoke about the project and I offered to build the website for it. What at first appeared to be a fairly simple endeavor turned into an impossible hurdle — for me — to overcome.

I didn’t have the courage to face the uncertainty of building the site for him. I believe that I overestimated my skills at the time and felt that I couldn’t deliver what he was looking for. In the end, I suggested that he launch a Squarespace site which supports podcasting out-of-the-box. I accepted defeat. Resignation.

This year, things will be different. I’ll face my fears: the uncertainty, the fear of shipping creative work and impostor syndrome.

I continued to grapple with my relationship with video games.

I noticed a common theme in last year’s journal entries: my relationship with video games.

On many pages I wrote about the guilt of playing video games too frequently. From trying out Pokémon nuzlockes for the first time to playing anything Riot Games puts out. It was more than I would have liked. I hesitate to use the word “addiction”, but it’s clear that my frequent playing hindered some of the other goals that I established for myself.

This year, I’m going to explore this relationship more deeply by trying to identify why I choose to escape into virtual worlds. More discussed below.

What did I learn?

I learned how to type properly.

TypingClub is a godsend. On a whim I decided to learn how to type properly. It was startling to realize how poor I was typing with my right hand. The site’s gamification strategy works wonders. Most days I practiced far longer than I expected to.

I’m by no means a turbo typist, yet TypingClub forced me to learn to type with all ten fingers. I’ve since started typing faster than I ever have and with fewer errors to boot!

What will I change next year?

I will go to therapy for past trauma.

It’s about time that I admit that I have trauma from my past that I never faced head-on. For too long I ran away from it, or pretended that it wasn’t really an issue. I believe it’s the reason that I throw myself into easy, familiar things like playing video games.

Without dealing with the source of the trauma, I can’t heal and fix the problems that stem from it.

I will improve my information content diet.

A recent article from The Profile does a good job of describing why it’s important to improve your content diet. For me, the “junk food content” that Maria references is largely gaming content from YouTube and Twitch.

It’s not that I don’t have more productive means of consuming media – I do! It’s just a matter of spending less time with mindless entertainment and more time with content that can help me become a better person. These more productive means include:

  • Books
  • Newsletter subscriptions in Stoop
  • Podcasts

I’ve created a personal wiki that I plan on updating frequently this year with notes on content worth remembering.

I’ll make a practice of shipping creative work.

Creative work for me is writing code, words, and music.

Code 👨‍💻

I started working on Lee Robinson’s React 2025 course to learn about a modern SaaS template with Next.js, a framework I’ve not only grown to love but use daily at work. Lee is a great teacher and he’s a member of the Vercel team which is a plus.

My 6-month free access to Frontend Masters expires in May. My plan until then is to get as much out of it as I possibly can. I’ll probably try to tackle both the Professional and Computer Science career paths, if I can.

Finally, I’d like to ship a re-brand of this blog with Next.js and continue to use Ghost as an API for the content. I don’t plan on it being perfect by the end of the year, but in terms of shipping software — aside from my job — this is my top priority.

Words 📝

While I launched this blog this year, my writing took a backseat for most of the year. I’d like to change that in 2021. I’m still figuring out what kind of balance I want to have between technical and non-technical content. But the only way to find out is to keep writing!

I’m also looking to launch a newsletter this year! The latest version of Ghost has great newsletter support which I will take advantage of later this year. First, I have to upgrade the CLI and try not to break the current theme. Writing a weekly/monthly newsletter has been on my mind for sometime now, and I’m looking forward to making it a reality.

Music 🎸

In late 2019 I finished the rough drafts for some pop-punk songs that I’d initially started writing years ago. I sent the tracks to my former vocalist, who wrote and recorded lyrics over the instrumentals. But last year I didn’t pick up my guitar much.

I’m hoping that later in the year we’ll be able to meet up and hash out these tracks for real. While the idea of being in a band no longer appeals to me, I’d be thrilled to release some new music into the world.

What are your goals for 2021?