2020 Review: What I Learnt And Experienced
How does one even begin to review the crazy year that has been 2020? A lot of well-intentioned plans were scuppered and routines up-ended. Instead, this year ended up being about preservation from a mental, physical and career perspective. Greek poet Archilochus said, "We don't rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training." This was the year that tested that.
Vipassana and mindfulness - Picking up where I left off last year, after exiting my company at the end of January, and wanting some peace and quiet to think about my next step, I went on my first 10 day Vipassanna retreat. The location was a peaceful UK countryside spot, and for 10 days, I spent my waking hours (4pm-9pm) silently meditating in 1-2 hour stretches at a time. Vegetarian meals are provided, as is shared lodging. There's no talking, exercising, eye contact or technology allowed. The sole thing you're therefore there to do is meditate and to go deep within.
Without a doubt, this was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life - how many other opportunities are there to really be able to disconnect so fully? I went in as someone not able to sit still and meditate for more than 10 minutes at a time, to being able to do hours of seated meditation a day. Back in the real world, I've been managing to maintain a seated meditation practice of 30 minutes a day, every week day. I'd love to increase this if possible, but the limiting factor right now is getting enough sleep to wake up earlier.
Introvertedness - COVID-19 was starting to make the rounds in the UK whilst I went into a 10 day cut off from the rest of the world. 2 days after re-entering the world, London went into lockdown. The Vipassana experience could not have come at a better time as a lot of what I internalised was the concept of impanence, and not getting cuaght up in the emotions of craving and aversion (living in the past or future).
I took this to heart and saw the new restrictions as a good opportunity to tap into my strengths as a natural introvert. Rather than pining for freedom or being resentful of what I could no longer do, I chose to view it as a big reset button. More time to myself to go deeper within. More time to focus on the things most important to me. More time to intercept and reject routines and habits that are no longer serving me.
Gratefulness - Tied to the point above was developing more empathy for others and a deeper appreciation and gratefulness for what I have in my life. I've carried on my daily journalling habit throughout 2020, including the jotting of some thoughts on gratitude each day which has been supremely helpful.
Career - A big goal of mine this year was to work on something I truly cared about. I started by having another go at starting another company, one focused on tackling climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. After 6 months we decided to cut our losses and take a break from being a founder. It was at this point that I decided that I wanted to spend my time developing my programming skills (this had been my original plan prior to starting my previous company), whilst learning more about how other tech startups are run. Since November, I've been in full time employment as a software engineer in an early stage startup, with a strong mission that I truly care about.
Sleep - In some ways, my sleep was worse than ever this year. Rumination, stress and worry have been the biggest factors for me in trying to fall asleep (rather than say something like tech before bed or caffeine). This is therefore more of a mental factor I need to overcome, rather than something physical, and this year will be focused on me trying to figure out good coping mechanisms that can help with this.
Fasting - Fasting was hard to do this year, as I was in my flat for the vast majority of my day, and in close proximity to my kitchen. I didn't want to put in place too many restrictions on my personal choices (since I was already being restricted by the government), so my main goal this year was to stick to at least a 15 hour daily fast, which didn't pose too much of a challenge.
Fitness - Having a solid workout routine was not easy for me with no access to the gym or my usual HIIT classes. The cardio that I focused on instead was outdoor running (30 minute sessions). For strength training, I luckily managed to find an outdoor weights gym. I purchased a Peloton app subscription and used the yoga and cardio classes to supplement my training.
Drums - My plan had been to take my drumming to the next level by working with an in-person teacher this year. Unfortunately, this was not possible so I've continued learning on my own. I've really enjoyed progressing with the drums and have been practicing consistently. I therefore took the liberty of rewarding myself by upgrading my electronic kit in September to enable me to play more complicated beats and songs. My big goal at the start of the year was to be able to play a Foo Fighters or Nirvana song. I'm happy to say that I managed to achieve this and a lot more which I'm over the moon about.
Skiing - We had been hoping for an opening of the ski lifts in the Alps, but unfortunately it was not to be in December. We ended up going to Les Saisies regardless, a small resort in the French Alps, for a spot of Nordic skiing. This was my first time trying this type of skiing over an extended period of time, and it was not easy. Still, I loved being able to escape to the mountains, breathe some clean, fresh air, eat some locally produced food and get a change in scenery.
Travels - Aside from the ski trip above, I was rather lucky in that I managed a couple of other trips. The first was a trip home to Malaysia in February, followed by Sydney, Australia, both to visit family. This was when COVID-19 was kicking off in South-East Asia so I was happy to visit at that time and then escape (not that it made any difference since the virus was on its way to Europe as well). In June, we managed a 1 week escape to Normandy, France, again to visit family (including a new baby!) and for a long-awaited road trip along the coast.
2021 will hopefully be a better year for us all, so here's to wishing you all a better 2021. Stay safe.