2016: My year in review

It was a time of productivity and grief, creativity and pain

These past twelve months weren’t a meme, a curse, or a referendum on reality, but they had meaning. Its hard for me to articulate how I’ve felt and its hard to feel like my struggles are worth writing about in a year that has seen so many people buckle and break under its weight.

This was year that made the world feel so much smaller for so many people. The walls of our collective bubbles groaned and cracked. The world broke in, all of it at once, and kicked us in the gut. But it feels important to try focus on what happened away from the political churn too and reflect… and so, here is my attempt.

A Portland bagel shop was vaporized in a gas explosion this year. An omen perhaps.

Month, the first. Year, the start.

The year began in complete uncertainty: I had quit my job in December of 2015. By all accounts it was the best job I had ever had in title, salary, benefits, impact, connections, and co-workers. There was no guarantee of finding another job that was similar and in my great wisdom I chose the frigid and barren job market of mid-winter to exercise my right to leave.

I spent 2 months getting more and more uncertain while I burned my savings like the Weimar Republic.

I’m probably not good at this. It was a fluke. The gravy train is over. I’m a fraud… there are probably jobs in North Dakota.

I’d spent two years growing the confidence that comes from being lucky and privileged enough to work and remain in Tech. That confidence slips away very quickly with a surplus of free time and a drought of opportunities. And it did. I’ve counted myself among the optimists for most of my life, but when i’m idle and uncertain the darkness can creep in.

When I was just about to start throwing in the towel I started getting calls and e-mails back from the places i’d reached out to in the depths of Winter. You could almost hear the thematic music change.

I still feel lucky. I have a hard time attributing a lot of what has happened to me in the past 4 years as anything but a coin toss that incredulously keeps coming up heads.

4 years ago I made $12.50 an hour with no benefits, had no savings, bad credit, student loans, and about 35% of a degree in a field I was disillusioned with. And at that time I was by all accounts doing much better than i’d been in prior years. When I interviewed it still felt like that boy 4 years ago is sitting across the desk from the interviewer. What could I possibly have to offer?

But this year there was someone else across the table too: Me from 2016.

It turns out Johann from 2016 did have something to offer. I was grateful to accept a position at a company I like, with coworkers I respect, and a great product in Customer.io. I find that i’m being challenged enough that I’m forced to grow or at the very least do my best impersonation of growing, when all else fails. Coming into 2017 that’s not a bad place to be.

Reykjavik in Winter

The last time

In the spring I went home to Iceland for the first time in 5 years. My father’s health was deteriorating and I wanted to see him. We’d been estranged for 4 years by then… though in some ways we’d been estranged my entire life. When I arrived I found that his worsening condition meant the man I traveled to see wasn’t the one I grew up knowing or the one I’d seen five years prior. I met a familiar stranger.

After a week together I hugged him and said goodbye. He said “I love you” for the first time in a very long time and so did I. That was the last time I saw him.

He died on July 1st. I flew home with my Mom and Sister to lay him to rest.

I didn’t know how to feel… I still don’t. I wish things had been different. That he had been different. That we had been different. I grieved for the Father I wish I had, the one that he actually was, and the man that he came to be at the end. I buried those three men that day.

Since then I can’t say i’ve been spectacular. I feel like steel that cracked when it was tempered. I’m stronger in some ways and more brittle in others.

But as with everything else that’s happened this year… life keeps moving, pain dulls, anger subsides, and cracks get mended. Slowly, but surely.

It sounds like…

In 2015 I created a podcast called Well Don’t Just Stand There. They say if you’re not embarrassed by something you did a year ago then you aren’t growing. I’m somewhat embarrassed.

But nothing is wasted if it teaches you something… and I happened to learn just enough about compression, choosing the right file type, microphones, pop filters, and editing to make my voice sound alright. So in 2016 I started a second podcast of a wholly different flavor. This is Space Desk.

P.S. if you enjoyed this i’d be overjoyed if you left a nice review on iTunes ♥︎

I’m a little bit proud of it and… a little bit behind on it, but 2017 should see it kick off again with more episodes. The last half of 2016 was a blur professionally, personally, and creatively… but i’m at the bottom looking up and projects like these feel like the steps to going back up.

Barely (product) managing

Professionally i’ve shipped a few things i’m quite proud of this year and i’m really glad to have had the opportunity to work on them. I’m a Product Management journeyman on my best days, but its a miracle how competent you can seem with a good team.

That team consequently shipped some things i’m really chuffed about.

Customer.io went multi-channel in 2016. Pretty sweet.

We also shipped a few other really cool things. Rightly or wrongly my brain associates shipping with success and i’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of some really great shipped projects.

This year has also revealed the extent to which I need to work on several of my skills in management in general. When it falls to you to keep the work of others moving smoothly then the mistakes you make roll downhill. Quickly.

Falling to the side (-projects)

One thing I’ve not been as pro-active about this year have been side projects to keep my skills sharp. I learned to code a few years ago, but the skills slip away quickly and I would be hard pressed to ship a side project entirely on my own at this point…

But, we’ve got this fresh and exciting new year with all this unspent time coming up.

2016 was more than exploding bagel shop.

Looking ahead

As I pick myself up from the floor of 2016 I see there is a lot of work to do. I plan to be more politically active, opinionated, resourceful, servant to others, and kind.

If I can be of help to you in 2017: please reach out to me. Be it professional or personal, I can at least promise i’ll listen.

Along with all of that I want 2017 to be a year of professional growth and excellence. I want to ship early and often, at work and outside it.

Watch this space.

Talk soon.