This year has been really tough, for the whole world. For me too it wasn’t easy, but when I drew the line at the end of this annual review, it seems that ultimately it was a lot better than 2019, in many regards.
The start of 2020 was particularly hard for me. In constant pain physically and not in the best place mentally, I was suffering. I also had to commute to work, while in pain, which proved to be exhausting.
I also found out that there was little time to do the things that gave me joy. Not being able to ride my bike, but also having little time outside of work, kept my mind in constant check. One good thing about the situation was that at least I had a lot of time to read on the commute.
That was my context, when we all heard of a virus on the other side of the planet for the first time. I discussed the situation with friends at the time and none of use believed that the virus could reach us. Few months later the world was a different place and our lives changed permanently. With that in mind, I had to change my goals and prioritise different things to reflect the new normal.
What didn’t work?
I didn’t write any of the posts I planned to write at the start of the year. This is why writing is not something that worked in 2020. However, say all that, toward the end of the year I started to keep a journal, very informal, for my own benefit. Because of its private and ad-hoc nature I have been writing a lot more there and many insights have come through that process. Because of that I feel like it has been a very fruitful thing and I am planning to keep doing it.
I tried having a physical journal but that didn’t always work for me and it slowed down the output of my thoughts, so instead I am using a digital one with the reflection.app, which is both accessible on my laptop and my phone. I type fairly fast and this allows me to put my notes down quickly.
Nada 🙂 I did not work on learning anything new, maybe a few words in Romanian. It was optimistic anyway and other areas took higher priority.
I read a lot this year, a lot more than the previous one at least. Last year I finished 36 titles, but they were not all books, some were series on a given subject. This year I’ve read 31 one new titles and I think a few that I got last year. This accounts for 147 hours listening on Audible and there are a few others that I’ve started in physical format. Typically for me the favoured genre was non-fiction, but I also added a lot more fiction this year and loved it.
Some of the titles that I’ve enjoyed were:
- The Horus Heresy – A science fantasy series, which are part of the larger Warhammer world. The interesting thing about the series is that they are written by several authors. More on it here.
- Fahrenheit 341 – The classic which I finally got to read. It is very much a reminder of 1984 but distinctly unique at the same time.
- Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race – This is the book which came out after Reni-Eddo-Lodge wrote her article of the same title. It is a must read in the context that we live in. It opened my eyes to how little I understand racism and how many misconceptions there are in general about it.
- The Book Thief – Again, a classic that I absolutely loved. It really is an amazing book that touched me and it shockingly pulls you into of Nazi Germany and WWII.
- The Warren Buffett Way – A brilliant book that goes more into the minds and ways of the biggest investors in history. It really helps ground one’s investment strategy away from the ups and downs of charts, but to a real understanding of the markets and how to approach investing.
A very controversial topic in terms of “worked well / didn’t work well” but overall I believe it was a good year. At the start of 2020 I was due for a surgery due to the damage done allegedly by the participation in the Transcontinental Race the year before. However, a week before the surgery my body had healed and the surgeon said the procedure was unnecessary.
I went back into my regular cycling but this time without major goals. I simply dedicated myself to enjoying what I loved to do. Being out in the Peak District and in nature, whenever it was possible, after work, on the weekends, etc. It was exhilarating, I felt incredibly happy. This was the case from February until August, all the way through lockdown. However, in August I went on a two day trip with a friend around the souther part of the Peak District. The first day we did a 100km ride which wasn’t anything crazy (I had done 70km rides the months before).
But, on the second day I noticed symptoms that the problems I had before were back. I wasn’t wrong. Essentially since August I stopped cycling and went, once again, through a long healing phase of agony and constant pain. Currently, I am completely off the bike even though towards the end of the year I managed to heal again, I am afraid to risk going on again. The reason is that these periods of pain truly take it all out of me and are both physically and mentally challenging.
Unable to do the sport that I love the most I reverted back to a previous passion of mine (that I have kept alive on/off through the years). I’ve restarted my dedicated body-weight training program. I have long-term goals here that are very difficult but they and the above experience promote patience and discipline. I am in no rush to get to a result tomorrow and instead am trying to savour every training.
As part of this strength training and following Andra’s passion, I’ve started introduced a lot of yoga practice in my schedule. This is both for recovery, but also it has improved my mobility and flexibility massively. My body feels a lot less rigid, much stronger and in control overall.
Another benefit of the yoga practice I’ve noticed is the deeper awareness to the body as the same routine repeats and allows you to focus on the details and the breathe. It has a very meditative effect that also calms the mind.
Since August I also started running. Not being able to ride was a big hit for me and I needed to channel that energy. Running is very different to cycling but one thing that it has in common is that endurance aspect that I am
I did not record all of my training on Strava, but at least all the cycling and running was on there. Here’s what they say:
And my personal summary of my year in training stats:
- January – 0.00 km – 6:56:15h – 3,405 kcal – 6 workouts
- February – 18.90 km – 10:45:06h – 5,498 kcal – 10 workouts
- March –230.05 km – 20:10:32h– 11,006 kcal – 18 workouts
- April –236.65km – 19:05:29h– 12,184 kcal – 20 workouts
- May –323.60 km – 20:37:49h – 14,145 kcal – 22 workouts
- June –353.85 km – 21:30:15h – 13,891 kcal – 15 workouts
- July –371.80 km – 24:23:24h – 14,575 kcal – 21 workouts
- August –339.90 km – 24:45:33h – 14,080 kcal – 19 workouts
- September –32.70 km – 12:24:19h – 7,326 kcal – 13 workouts
- October –61.45 km – 13:29:38h – 8,132 kcal – 21 workouts
- November –79.00 km – 33:21:43h – 15,727 kcal – 52 workouts
- December –32.50 km – 23:46:12h – 9,975 kcal – 27 workouts
Total: 2070.4km – 231:16 h – 129944 kcal – 244 workouts
Last year: 6842.05km – 376:32h – 268534 kcal – 190 workouts
You can see clearly by looking at the distance and calories, which months I was able to ride my bike and which I wasn’t. Moreover, you can see this having a direct impact on the overall training hours, calories burned and distance covered. However, I have replaced that with more workouts focusing on strength and recovery.
Resting heart rate
Resting heart rate is an important measure as it shows the strength of the heart and generally (unless one has problems) a lower resting heart rate means that the heart is strong enough to provide blood and oxygen to the body with less beats. Mine this year has been 52 beats per minute.
My sleep improved a lot this year and even though there were some low points (mainly related to traveling or sleeping outside) the average sleep time has increased. I think part of the reason for this is that I travelled less to work (working from home) and as a result was a lot less tired overall. Also, there were less of the stressors I had the previous year and I focused on rest and recovery.
Because of the problems I’ve had since the TCR my diet has been a major focus. To put it simply, I’ve never eating better and healthier and that is simply as a result of there being no other option. I see this as the silver lining to all the problems that have come. It has lead me to feel very good, I can see the results on my body too as I’ve lost some extra weight while maintaining my strength.
As always, this is no small part due to Andra’s amazing cooking and treating me very well. She adapted the food she cooks to my needs and I’m very grateful!
Even though, my travels did not happen as planned in 2020 (surprise, surprise), it was still a year with some memorable trips:
- Wales (January) – A little retreat with close friends around the time of Blue Monday. It was really good timing and so necessary, a much needed boost of energy and good vibes.
- North York Moors (August) – We rented a remote cottage in the Moors and stayed
there for a long weekend. It was such a fun weekend with walks, running and having fun as a group. An absolutely needed energy boost after the long lockdown.
- Wales (July) – I went for a long weekend away with a friend, literally between lockdowns. We visit castles and coastal towns, but didn’t realise (bad preparations) that Wales was closed for business, so had to go out of Wales every evening and camped at the border on the English side. Even though it was mostly unplanned, we went to a lot of historic sites and it was a really fun trip. Also since everything was closed, we had to improvise our dinners with supplies we got ourselves:
- Greece (August) – Absolutely the best holiday, it was Andra, me, Tudor and Mr Fox. We had a really great time, literally not doing much but relaxing and spending time in the sun and at the beach. We had great food and it was a leisurely and peaceful holiday. I also got a chance to meet my parents, which I am really thankful for!
- Romania (September/October) – I went to the dentist in Romania and found myself between restrictions for coming back to the UK. It was a really good time because I focused on work, health and reading.
- Greece (October/November) – A second visit to Greece because I thought that if I spend two weeks there after Romania I won’t have to self-isolate when I get back to the UK. However, a few weeks in and the rules changed, Greece went on UK’s red list. So, knowing I’d have to isolate anyway I decided to stay a bit longer. It was a really good time as I got to see my brother and also had a lot of time for myself. I got into a good and healthy routine which helped me a lot to recover from the mental health struggles earlier in the year. I read a lot, exercised a lot and wrote as well.
These are some very special moments, that I am infinitely grateful to have shared, especially in the year we’ve had.
Strangely, in 2020 I found my relationships with people both strained and strengthened.
In the midst of uncertainty and more stress we have two options when it comes to other people – we can reach out or we can close in. I did both, at different times throughout the year. At the beginning I isolated myself and tried to focus on my own problems that were directly in front of me. But as the year progressed my connection to others grew.
Through remote conversations I strengthened existing relationships. And maybe, because we were all in the same boat, all sharing this massive, overwhelming uncertainty and fear, those conversations were honest and open. I connected much more to my friends and family and I think we all appreciated each other more.
New friendships also were strengthened and especially the people around us in Sheffield.
It was a challenging year, there are no doubts about it, even for me and Andra as we were both burned out from the year before and then stuck in difficult positions (at the start of the year). But as is typical for humans, we tend to stick together in times of difficulty, and once we overcome them we are better for it.
The second half of the year has been noticeably better and more positive as we all got used to the new normal. Nevertheless, the bond remained and I am grateful for re-discovering so many of my friendships, my family and making new connections.
In terms of finances things were good for me and Andra this year. A few factors played into it. Compared to last year there were no big expenses – for example last year we moved house, my participation in the Transcontinental was expensive, Andra’s career change meant she didn’t work for a bit. Moreover, we both had stable jobs for the whole year and with the limited travel it meant hunkering down and focusing on other things. Financially all of this paid off and we managed to cover our costs from last year and save a bit which is very good.
Another good outcome of the year is that I had more chance to read and experiment with investing strategies. Particularly at the start of the pandemic I learned more about investing in individual stocks and stocks with dividend yields. This is showing positive results but I think it will pay off even more long-term. Still much to learn though! I also missed a good opportunity with BitCoin, but I guess that’s expected because of the volatile nature of crypto currency investments.
2020 has been very good for my career. I started the year off commuting to Leeds every day, between 3 and 4 hours both ways. It was very draining. However, when lockdown started we were moved to work from home. Before that I had began applying for jobs closer to home so that I can avoid the commute, and after the pandemic was in full swing that process had already gained inertia.
I got a job offer, but postponed my reply to August because I did not want to be in a vulnerable position right in the middle of lockdown when everything was uncertain. Eventually I accepted and moved. It was a great decision, because I found my new project to fit my skills perfectly, but also challenge me at the same time.
I really miss the relationships from my previous place, because I made some great connections and dare I say friendships. But in terms of career the move has proven fruitful and my new employer is also based in Sheffield (even though we work remotely).
Throughout the year I also gave the imposter syndrome talk developed the year before. It was always received with great feedback and much gratitude from the participants. I must say that this and the work I did mentoring were some of the most rewarding parts of the year, giving back. This is something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time and I am hoping to continue doing it.
- Started a new job at IRIS
- Learning a lot and gaining new skills:
- Software architecture
- Collaborating across multiple teams
- AWS Certificate
- 3 talks on imposter syndrome
- No more commuting
Review Annual Goals
After writing my 2020 annual plan, I made a list of the goals. Throughout the year I did reference that list, but as time passed I changed my priorities to reflect “the situation on the ground”. Still, I am happy I kept referencing what I had set out to do and made conscious decisions to deviate. This provided the confidence to know that I am choosing my problems.
In December 2019, as a Christmas present I received a digital piano. One of my goals for 2020 was to spend time learning it as I’ve always enjoyed playing music. I think that even though it was not the most consistent practice, overall I had a really productive year in that regard. I did not judge myself too hard, didn’t set crazy goals, instead simply enjoyed my time playing.
Over the years, learning different things I’ve recognised and established my own learning style. In particular, I prefer to have a structured approach to learn so that I can measure and see my progress, which motives me to do more. I could just try to follow videos on YouTube and learn that way, but I wanted to have a bit more than that. I wanted to learn to read music and to play with the correct technique. I knew that would be difficult to start but it would potentially pay off long-term.
I spent quite a bit of time doing research to find the best way I could do all of that from home, without paying a lot for a tutor. Luckily I found a resource that fit all my requirements – Playground Sessions.
Playground sessions is a brilliant tool, it’s a software you download on your computer and link to your digital piano. From there you can follow their lessons, step by step, from absolute beginner to very advanced. It teaches you to read music, to play with the correct time and techniques. You can also get song notations for different skill levels and learn them that way, while helping you to figure out best finger positions, etc. As someone described it, it is the next best thing after getting a private tutor and I fully agree.
Apart from starting to learn how to read music sheets, I’ve also managed to learn a few songs:
- Mia & Sebastian’s Theme by Justin Hurwitz (from the movie La La Land)
- The Sound of Silence by Simon & Garfunkel
And I am currently learning:
- Exile by Taylor Swift feat. Bon Iver
- Comptine d’Un Autre Ete by Yann Tiersen (from the movie Amelie)
Even though I did not practice as much as I could, it was a really successful year. I found the right tools, I have the right setup and I really enjoyed all the time I spent learning to play. It makes me really excited for the next year and my journey in music!
Photos of the year
I also made some much furrier friends:
I like this summary of 2020 written by Kai Brach:
What remains of 2020, for me at least, is this strong sense of fragility; that nothing is inevitable – not the next family visit or the next election, nor the food on supermarket shelves. Natural or human-made, the systems around us have demonstrated their delicacy and impermanence. As a result we’ve become more fragile as individuals, too. Our future feels more brittle.[…] If I had to pick a theme for the coming twelve months though, it would have to include more appreciation for the many things I took for granted, and more resolve to stand up and fight for them when it matters.
2020 was a very special year, one that showed us all how much we take for granted. In a way I don’t think everything should return to how it was, because that would mean we haven’t learned anything from this highly impactful year. But on the other hand, I long for going back to normality and safety. Realistically, the only thing one can do is:
“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
– Theodore Roosvelt
Be more kind and empathetic to those you come in contact with. Be more appreciative and grateful for the things you have. Life hasn’t stopped, it is just a bit different, but the values that make us human remain.