2023 mid-year retrospective

Reflecting on my health, Japanese progress, career aspirations, and life beyond work.

My last retrospective was almost a year ago. It's been too long! A lot of things happened that upended my routine and changed my perspectives in life.

Table of contents

What went well

Relearning Japanese

I have stuck with this goal since last year! So much so that I traveled to and survived in Japan for about 55 days. I learned a lot of phrases related to traveling, ordering at restaurants, buying stuff at stores, etc.

Before that, I got to about 1700 out of the 2200 常用漢字 from Remembering the Kanji, volume 1. From the Core Japanese Vocabulary Anki deck, I got to 1261 mature and 273 vocabulary words; currently that puts me at 100% N5, about 70% N4, about 30% N3, about 19% N2. I maintained a 200+ day Duolingo streak, but lost it when I was in Japan. I reset my progress on the Fluent Forever app in the past month, so I only have 88 words memorized there so far. I read a few manga volumes in Japanese: 3 volumes of 聲の形 (the first 2 twice), and part of the first volume of よつばと!I have watched several shows and movies with Japanese subtitles or no subtitles at all, though I still struggle to fully understand most stories. I used to have live coaching sessions 3 times a week for 10 minutes at a time, but reduced them to once a week, 20 minutes each. I practice reading children's stories with my work friend for 30 minutes every week.

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Book reading is enriching

I read 33 books last year, including 3 (2 twice) in Japanese! Spending time reading books is almost never a waste. There are also just bad books, and I should feel more comfortable exiting them early...

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Better sleep routine

After returning from Japan in early April, I found myself going to bed at a reasonable time (10-11 p.m.) and waking up well-rested between 6 and 7 a.m. This was such an improvement from most of the past few years, where I would go to bed at 2 a.m., wake up sleep-deprived between 7 and 8 a.m., and then taking hard, deep naps between 7 and 10 p.m. The current downside to this routine was I wasn't exercising as much, but if I discipline myself, I should be able to fit in exercise as well.

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Financially healthy

I am blessed to have been financially healthy for most of my adult life, and that's continued into this year. Aside from my other stupid reasons for being stressed, I have never really had to stress about money. My partner and I have comfortable incomes relative to our lifestyle, we both grew up from simpler means, and we continue to have desires that are below our income; we have not succumbed to lifestyle creep. I know this financial healthiness has contributed to our marital and general happiness. Reflecting on our current progress with my new life goal of Barista FIRE by age 40 (see below), I am ecstatic to see that we are well on our way to achieving that goal.‌                                

Barring major unforeseen expenses...!

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Misc. achievements

Succinctly listing things out to feel gratitude and pride.

  • Traveled internationally for the first time since COVID
  • Learned so much Japanese: ~1,700 kanji, thousands of vocabulary, many grammar patterns
  • Got a new, great job and did really well my first year
  • Kept up my fitness and health for most of last year :)
  • Have a healthier relationship with time spent video gaming
  • Started several courses--in machine learning, systems design
  • Attended a lovely wedding
  • Got a railing installed in our front steps
  • Got preventative termite care, removed rotting wood near house
  • Became treasurer of our HOA (volunteer)
  • Became a member of the Typelevel steering committee (volunteer)
  • Traveled to NYC thrice
  • Created a Trello board to track my goals

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What could have gone better

Poor work-life balance and loss of ambition

I quickly settled into my new role in this new company starting last February 2022. I worked my butt off and built a good reputation. Fighting imposter syndrome to make my mark in my new team, become familiar with a whole new environment, and learn several new technologies--many times my work-life balance suffered. However, I had hope that it would all pay off during my annual review. When it came, I got some good rewards, but not the thing that I really wanted: a title change. Comparing with my peers and their titles for that year, I (and they) thought I truly deserved it.

I received this news when I was in another country (Japan), while my team was undergoing some stressful changes.  After I came back home, I had to adjust to the new work changes, finish grieving from my lack of promotion, and trudge through a project in a territory I was very unfamiliar with. For the first time in a long time, I felt incredibly useless, unproductive, and stupid. All of these things threw me for a loop compared to my previously great year.

While working in Japan, I was temporarily forced to have a better work-life balance, given my very tough sleep schedule and all the sightseeing I wanted to do. I also somewhat naturally became a bit more detached from work, being immersed in a totally different world.

Post-Japan, I am shaken with my competency and confidence. I thought I deserved a promotion, but now I feel like I am treading water in my current position. Stepping back, I know that's an exaggeration--I know it just has to do with this first project outside my normal domain and skill set under the new team changes. I am blowing things out of proportion. Regardless, whether I'm actually an imposter, or whether I just need to play the corporate game a bit longer, that carrot on a stick dangling a bit farther from my mouth, I have become fed up.

The past few weeks have made me officially burned out. I have wanted to quit, but I know that's just a knee-jerk reaction. Still, I no longer have the ambition I once had to keep rising the ranks in the corporate ladder. I just want to do my job well, get paid, clock out, and Barista FIRE by age 40. Being in Japan, getting my promotion rejected despite an "exceptional year", and feeling incompetent for the past month--all of these things inspired me to reassess my goals. I now just want a calmer life, free from work to enjoy simpler pleasures--indulging in my hobbies that enrich me and connect me to other people outside a profit-making machine (work).

I will never be lazy or stop taking my work responsibilities seriously. I will always be a dependable colleague who takes pride in their work. However, I will no longer try to go the extra mile for work. I will save that energy for other things in life that matter more to me. I don't even know if I care anymore about a promotion. If it happens, that's nice? If it doesn't, well, I just don't want to feel so depressed again, so I will try not to care.

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Poor exercise, lots of snacking

I plummeted in my exercise routine since I got COVID for the first time over Christmas break and my birthday. Granted, when I was in Japan from mid-February to the beginning of April, I was walking a lot and moving my body in other ways (hiking, bicycling) almost every day. But my state at home before and after Japan have been far from ideal for my body. Before my trip was due to the COVID sickness and (long COVID?) exhaustion. After my trip was due to jet lag and a lot of stresses at work. It's been almost a month since I've returned... I am slowly trying to get back at it. On average I probably walk 4 times a week for 20 to 45 minutes, with some light strength training 2 times a week. Today I sweated well for the first time in a long time after a decent cardio and strength workout.

Compare to before, when I would do longer and more intense workouts 4-6 times a week.

I have also found myself snacking a lot, despite my more sedentary life. I think it must be a way my body is coping through my burnout.

I just need to give myself time and grace.

It was sad when I saw for the first time on my Garmin Connect profile that my fitness age matched my calendar age. Before, my fitness age was always a year or two younger than my calendar age. I need to fix this if I want to stay healthy and keep healthcare costs low long-term.

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Being unintentional with my free time

I've probably wasted a ton of time watching YouTube about Japan and the Japanese language... Some videos have been useful, but many of them have not. The same is true with other clickbaity articles or videos on random topics, or doom-scrolling on LinkedIn. I easily waste 40-50 minutes in the morning and maybe a few hours at night doing this kind of stuff.

It's good that I got rid of most of my social media accounts last year. I very much wish I could get rid of LinkedIn as well! Alas, while I'm still a professional, I don't think I can.

One of the topics I keep exploring is passive income beyond my current financial investments. Is there a way I can leverage my other skills? For example, writing a book, starting a YouTube series, placing ads on my blog, creating a course... I keep hesitating. I am afraid to myself out there, and I honestly don't think any of my skills are interesting enough to monetize (beyond my day-to-day job). I don't know if I should make a goal to pursue some idea in this space, but maybe I should make a goal to decide whether or not to keep exploring this space at all...

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What are my goals for this year

  • Get back to intense exercise at least 4 times a week.
  • Lose 4 pounds.
  • Learn the last 500 常用漢字.
  • Get through all N4 core Japanese vocabulary.
  • Don't work more than 40 hours a week.
  • Limit wasteful Internet surfing to just an hour a day.

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Action items

  • Leave my phone away from my bed?
  • Programmatically limit my time spent on wasteful Internet surfing with website blockers and app blockers.
  • Limit my snacking portions.
  • Continue my daily Japanese vocabulary review.
  • Revamp my kanji review.
  • Re-assess my work schedule: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., or 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Be strict.
  • Exercise in the morning, before work. That seems to be the most effective time for me. Whenever I tell myself I will exercise later in the day, the chances of it happening lower as time passes by.
  • Fit in a short walking break during work.
  • Try out the walking treadmill for at least part of the work day, to get a little more movement.‌

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Again, I acknowledge that I may be am blowing my current setbacks out of proportion. This may be the first time I have not received a promotion when I truly thought I would. I am a paradoxically insecure yet (formerly) ambitious person who is used to being rewarded for going the extra mile (to make up for my insecurities) with good grades or a corporate carrot in the form of compensation or promotion. One way or another, I need to just get over my first world problems, and also be happy with what I have gained and how far I've come.

Regardless, more seriously evaluating my current financial situation has been truly liberating. It helps catalyze getting over myself by reminding me that I am doing financially well, I have options, and I can chill--I can 'rest and vest', or I can find a more relaxing environment someday without on call or other pressures.

I have a greater resolve as well to be intentional with my purchases. While my partner and I already live well below our means, we (especially I) can still be much better at reducing frivolous spending to get closer to a minimalist lifestyle. We already have so many books, games, model kits, etc. so let's properly enjoy them instead of filling our house with more things we don't consume.

With fitness, I have never been so inactive in my life as I have in the past quarter year (December to mid-February, early April to early May). It feels super crummy. But also, feeling my body rejuvenate after I do muster the discipline and courage to go out there and get a good sweat is a sweet nostalgia. I am thankful that my body can still move and do such amazing things. Self-care is not selfish. Self-care is self-love. I mustn't take my health for granted -- if I want to be financially free at a young age and live life to its fullest, I must prioritize my health.

With Japanese, the books I read, and some other courses I'm taking, I am reminded of how much I love learning. I hope I can be more intentional with my time by swapping out low-value activities with fitness and learning.

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