2020 is over.
It’s been a rough year – for just about everybody. Hopefully we’ve all taken the time to stop what we’re doing, stay home, and rethink our lives.
It’s the end of the year, the beginning of a new one. Several people (including James Clear, author of Atomic Habits) take the time to do an annual review, reflect on the previous year, and set themselves up for success in the next one.
Since I’ve never done this, I’ll just steal Clear’s 3 questions:
- What went well this year?
- What didn’t go so well this year?
- What am I working toward?
Let’s get started.
1. What went well this year?
I didn’t catch COVID!
Once it became clear around March or April that this year was going to be defined by COVID, my main goal for the year became to not catch COVID. I believe in smart risk-taking – but my tolerance for the risk of catching a deadly infectious disease is not very high.
All of my other goals or priorities shifted for the year, since most of the things I planned to do in 2020 became difficult, unimportant, or impossible in light of the pandemic. Health, or even survival, takes precedence over everything else.
None of my immediate family members caught COVID (that I know of), or died from COVID. The amount of personal tragedy in my life was relatively small, something a lot of other people can’t say.
I read 51 books in 2020, depending on how you count it. That’s good. Many of those books were really good, and several of them ended up on my recommended book list. Looking back, I should have spent even more time reading, but 51 is a respectable amount, even if a pandemic gives you a lot of time to read.
I complete NaNoWriMo. For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is the National Novel Writing Month, where you spend the month of November writing 50,000 words of a novel. My “novel” is in an unfinished state, and I’m really not sure anything will come of it. More on that below.
If I take an overall view at the current state of my life, I ended the year in position relatively similar to where I started. Maybe a few things are a little better, and maybe a few others are a little worse. A small minority of people had a fantastic year, improving their life in every respect compared to me… and many others had one of the worst years of their life, or even lost their lives.
2. What didn’t go so well this year?
Materially and practically speaking, the year went about as well as it could have. Better than a lot of people. I didn’t catch COVID. I didn’t die. No one I know died from COVID.
However, I have to count this year as one of the worst of my life, and certainly in the bottom half of years of my life. I suspect most people are going to say the same. I spent most of the year worried, and in despair about the state of the world and its future. There’s a lot of things I should have done more of: meditate, read Stoic philosophy, refuse to worry over things I cannot control. But I didn’t do enough of those things, and my mindset suffered over most of the year. It just goes to show that when the outside world is out of your control, the only thing you truly have is your mind.
The pandemic meant that I had a lot of time to spend productively this year – but my productivity suffered greatly. Instead, I spent (roughly) 1000 hours this year playing video games, 200-400 of which was spent playing and modding one RPG. For hardcore gamers that’s not a lot, but I could have spent that 1000 hours in many other ways. Learning a musical instrument. Working out. Learning a marketable skill. Or reading. While it’s true that I read around 50 books this year, 1000 hours of video games could have been spent reading an additional 50, or 100 books.
It just goes to show that it isn’t just about how much time you have, it’s about using the time you have effectively.
Oh well. At least I didn’t die from COVID.
3. What am I working toward?
After the annus horribilis of 2020, there’s a few key areas I’m looking to improve on in 2021.
I’ll get something out of the way first: I mentioned that I did NaNoWriMo this year. It was interesting, and I’m glad I did it. But I think I need to put novel writing aside for now, or make it a low priority, because I have goals other than being a novelist.
Namely? Solving climate change. Earlier in 2020 I was researching climate change and then posting what I learned every week – but then I stopped when I realized that I didn’t need to become an expert about how climate change works, since there are already people who are experts in that. What I need to do is become an expert in solving climate change. To solve a problem, you don’t need to know everything about it – but you do need to know what leverage points exist that can be manipulated to either make the problem smaller, or solve the problem entirely. Once that leveraged solution is found, you scale it up 1000x.
But then how do you scale that solution up? I’ve come to believe that a corporation needs to be founded specifically to find a scientific solution to climate change, and make it profitable. This corporation would be designed from the ground up for the specific purpose of making money by solving climate change, and ignoring literally everything else that doesn’t contribute to that.
I either need to design that corporation, or join it in the unlikely event the right kind of corporation exists.
That’s the long term. The short term is finding a way of generating capital to create this corporation. That either requires angel investing, or generating capital through entrepreneurship. I have ideas for both paths.
I want to look like a Greek statue by the end of the year.
That’s not hyperbole. I don’t want to just look good, or be athletic by the end of the year. I want to have my body match the aesthetic dimensions of a Greek statue.
It’s called the Grecian Ideal, and it’s what bodybuilders used to aim for before the age of steroids and mass monsters. Obviously looking like a Greek statue requires diet and exercise, but more specifically it requires going to one of the Grecial Ideal Calculators to find the measurements for your ideal (male) body. I have my measurements – combined with several fitness books, fitness equipment, and a specific exercise plan, I think I have a far greater chance of meeting my fitness goals this year than any previous year, despite setting them higher.
I spent most of 2020 in despair about the state of the world. While a lot of other people did too, that is neither healthy nor productive. I’ve decided that this year is the year I establish a regular meditation habit. I’ve dabbled in meditation before, but the trick is to keep doing it. It’s one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself, and is incredibly easy considering that it is largely the act of doing nothing – something we’ve all forgotten to do in the age of screens and constant distraction.
I also want to write more – blog posts, rather than fiction. I have this blog, but I don’t do nearly enough with it. What to write? One of the next things I’m going to write about on this blog is about my relationship with video games – and reevaluating that relationship.
In 2020, I read about 50 books.
In 2021, I want to read at least 80 books.
Why? Because I know I can read that many, and I have a very long reading list. At the same time, I’m going to pick a few books that I must read this year. These are books that I think have a good chance of ending up in my book recommendations. If I read a lot of other books, that’s good. But if I spend the next 11 months only reading these books, that will be also fine, as long as I get to these absolutely-critical-must-read books.
These days I divide the books I read into 12 categories (you’ll probably want different ones for yourself), so I’ll pick 1 book from each category.
My Must-Read Books for 2021:
- Fiction: “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” by Homer (okay this is technically two books, but it would be wrong to read one without the other, and they are often combined)
- Self-Help and Health: “Mastery” by Robert Greene
- Psychology and Neuroscience: “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman
- Science and STEM: “Godel, Escher, Bach” by Douglas Hofstadter
- Green and Environmental: “Whole Earth Discipline” by Stewart Brand
- History: “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” by William Shirer
- Biography and Memoir: “The Power Broker” by Robert Caro
- Politics and Society: “Why Nations Fail” by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson
- Philosophy and Religion: “The Open Society and Its Enemies” by Karl Popper
- Business, Economics, and Finance: “Only the Paranoid Survive” by Andrew Grove
- How To, Art, and Other: “How to Read a Book” by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren
- Re-read: “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig
Very famous books, very difficult books, books I’ve been meaning to read for a long time, and one book I’ve been meaning to re-read for a long time.
I think that covers just about everything for this Annual Review.