2018: Some Closing Thoughts

This was not the year I expected.

December 23, 2018Filed under blog#burnout#career#fitness#health#podcasting#reading#writingMarkdown source

Assumed Audience: mostly my future self!—but you’re welcome to read along and see my thoughts on how 2018 went for me and what I hope 2019 will look like.

As has long been my tradition1 I’m wrapping up the year by looking back at what happened in it and thinking about what I’d like to do in the year ahead. I say little here about family or church, but that should not be taken as an indicator of importance: in fact, my commitments in those two spheres deeply inform everything else!

2018

2018 was not the year I hoped or expected it might be. It was difficult in a great many ways, and the more so as the year went on. It was not the single hardest year I’ve had—that title goes without question to 2016—but it’s up there. There’s still a lot of good in the mix, but it was hard.

Podcasting

I had intended to publish about twice as many episodes of New Rustacean this year as I was ultimately able to release. My goal was actually to be releasing 3–4 episodes each month, and to cover most of the rest of the language! As it turned out, I was able to release only 1–2 episodes per month. I’m nonetheless very happy with the episodes I did release this year. And my episode on burnout may end up being one of the most important things to come out of the show, from the email responses I’ve received about it.

We launched a new design of the Winning Slowly website and we were able to record and publish about three quarters of the episodes we had planned for Season 6 before the burnout tanked me. There’s a wrap-up episode we recorded and which should be out in a few days (after I edit it!). We also released our 100th episode, which was fun! It was frustrating not to be able to finish everything we had planned, but I remain proud of the work we’ve done there over the last five years, and this season had a couple really important episodes in it. If you didn’t listen to anything else, I’d commend 6.04: Move Slowly and Fix Things and 6.06: A Kind of Blindness. The latter, on “big data” and the difference between information and wisdom, is one of my single favorite episodes of the show.

Reading and writing

I also set out this year to read a lot of books—I had a list of a 14 pieces of nonfiction on the list—and in the end I finished none of them. I participated in a reading group which covered much of Domain Modeling Made Functional, and I made it through the first fifth or so of St. Augustine’s City of God, but I didn’t even manage to finish a few books I had started last year! The only things I managed to finish were novels:

  • I finished rereading The Wheel of Time and enjoyed some new-to-me “popcorn” in the form of Agent of Change.
  • I devoured Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky.
  • I read a couple Hugo and Nebula award winners: Larry Niven’s Ringworld and N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season.

While those novels were basically the only thing I read, I very much like the habit of writing very short reviews I started with those novels. I expect to keep that habit, and it should be useful as I dig back into nonfiction in the future!

Speaking of writing: for all that this year felt like it was unproductive in some ways, I still ended up blogging to the tune of somewhere around 75,000 words across about 95 posts.2 That’s a solid showing for a year full of burnout (even if burnout itself ended up being the subject of no few of those: about 6,000 words).3 But one of my goals for the year was to publish a few longer-form essays, possibly even getting paid for them. That certainly did not happen; I did not manage to publish even a single essay at Mere Orthodoxy.

Health

I ran a fair bit, and am slowly adjusting to living at roughly 7,000 feet above sea level instead of about 400 feet above sea level. But for the third year in a row, I did not manage to run a race. I can still feel, and the more so at this altitude, the lingering effects of the mild case of walking pneumonia I came down with in the summer of 2016. The one thing I did manage in terms of exercise and health was a lot of cycling. Despite my dad’s being in the midst of ongoing monthly chemo treatments for a brain tumor, he and I rode 80 miles in two days together for the Courage Classic.

Work

Work has been a mixed bag. On the one hand, I accomplished a lot this year. Despite a number of large roadblocks that were entirely outside my control, I led a very important effort to hit several meaningful milestones. I also kept pushing the state of our tooling forward, including some important open-source work, and at the end of November gave a “tech talk” on technical costs which seems to have made a real (if, so far, still small!) impact on the entire organization.

On the other hand, work directly triggered the burnout I experienced. To be sure, I had plenty of existing stressors from moving across and walking through my dad’s fight with cancer with the rest of my family. But the things that pushed me over the edge from tired and worn down to burnout were challenges at work. There were the aforementioned roadblocks. There were some high-stress projects. But most of all, there is a lack of alignment between my engineering and business philosophies and those in play at Olo. Those aren’t moral, but prudential and strategic, kinds of differences—but that does not make them unimportant! More on this below.

In sum

In spite of the burnout, and notwithstanding all the things I did not get done, I’m grateful for this year. My dad has so far not only survived his battle with a brain tumor but is thriving overall. I managed to come through my experience of burnout mostly okay. Our new church has been a great blessing to us, and we’ve been able to step into serving in many ways already.

2019

So looking forward into 2019, my hopes (I dare not call them plans anymore):

Podcasting

I want to publish the dozen more episodes of New Rustacean that I had planned for 2018! At my current rate of about two a month, that’ll take me the first six months or so of the year. Once I’m through that list, I’ll have covered the entirety of the language and quite a few of the most important crates in the ecosystem. But there are always new things happening, so I’ll have some interesting decisions to make about where to take the show.

I’m also going to keep producing Winning Slowly with Stephen Carradini. We have not yet nailed down what Season 7 will focus on or look like yet, but we’re far from done. The issue is not finding something to talk about, but narrowing it down to which specific things we want to zoom in on! We also have an interview lined up in January (which will come out as an inter-season standalone episode) which we’re very excited about. It’ll be quite different from the other interviews we’ve done, and represents an important step forward for the show.

Reading and Writing

My reading and writing goals for the year ahead are intentionally modest. I’ve consistently failed to achieve my more ambitious goals over the past few years, and I’m rather chastened by that. I also have to remind myself fairly often that I will, Lord willing, have many decades of life when I don’t have my kids around. That means both that there is plenty of time to spend on reading and writing later and that there is not very much time to spend with my daughters later. Insofar as I want to continue reading and writing in important ways—and I do!—I need to make my reading and writing time count by approaching them in more focused and targeted ways.

I have people ask me quite regularly for recommendations on various topics, and I simply can’t give them! That needs to change, so I want to read at least four popular level books on theology or culture—about one a quarter. My plan is to review them in this space, but also (more importantly!) to be able to point people in my church toward or away from them. In the long-term, I would love to take up a role (official or not) as a custodian of our church’s library.

I also want to keep my mind sharp and growing on theology, culture, politics, art, etc. I’ve very much felt the lack of engagement on that over the last few years (and have said so here more than once). In that connection, I aim to work through two academic works on theology, and two on some other aspect of culture. I have yet to decide what those will be. Most likely I’ll start by finishing the volumes I already started, but I also expect to spend a bit of time on Patristic Christology, as I’m teaching a class on the person and nature of Jesus in August for our church.

Writing-wise, I know that I’ll continue blogging here. However, I actually hope to blog less overall. The time I spent writing 70,000 words this year was time well-spent, but as I note time and again, I have a hard time not blogging. I plan to work on that in a couple ways.

First, I’m going to try to evaluate, with each idea I have, whether it should be a blog post or just go in my Zettelkasten. So much of my writing over the last decade has been a kind of public thinking-out-loud. That’s good, but I also feel much more need to polish something if I’m going to publish it than if it’s a private note. The way I polish a blog post is nothing like the way I polish essays, of course, but I do spend some time clarifying and adding nuance. Even when specifying an assumed audience, I need to be more careful if I am writing for others than if I am working something out by writing about it for myself. As a result, I expect a lot of things which might have ended up on the blog in the past to just go in Bear.

Second, I plan (and we’ll see how this goes), I’m going to try very hard to write fewer blog posts in favor of more well-developed essays. About a month ago, I started drafting an essay which seems like it might be legitimately important. Unfortunately, even though it is certainly more worth my time than the things I have written since then (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), I have not made progress since the day I started it. It’s not that my notes on research and note-taking are worthless. Rather, it’s that there is a cost to spending my limited time on writing those instead of more important writing efforts.4 At a minimum, I intend to do even less polish on those posts than I have to date, when I let myself write them.

Health

I have a handful of goals for this year in terms of physical health:

  • I want to lose about 10 pounds. I’m at a healthy weight currently, but I felt and performed at my best a few years ago when I was down in my target weight range. This is going to require tweaking the content, rather than the quantity, of what I eat, and introduce more variation into the kinds of exercise I’m doing. I can tell both that my metabolism has shifted as I’ve hit my 30’s, and that I’ve acclimated to the workout load that I’ve more-or-less consistently held over the last eight years. It’s annoying, honestly!

  • I plan to participate in the Courage Classic again with my dad, and I’d like to do the 80-mile route at least one of the days. Maybe both days, if he and I are both trained for it! Unfortunately, this probably means investing in a new bike. The one I have currently is almost twenty years old, and it’s a good bike… but it’s increasingly going to need parts replaced. So: CraigsList here I come.

  • I’d like to complete another half marathon, probably in May. I don’t particularly care what my pace ends up being: I just want to get back in the rhythm and routine of training and completing the event. I went through a similar push after we moved to North Carolina, and 30 months later I ran the best race of my life. Now, I know that the sub-1:25 time I ran back in 2015 is not something I’m apt to see again, especially at altitude, but I’d like to get back to that kind of consistency and discipline (and I’ll see where it gets me!).

Given that I’m currently planning two events in late spring and summer, I also need to find something to do in the fall and winter next year, just to keep up my fitness level for something. Previous years, I had the same issue for the spring, and the year I was in my very best shape, I played Ultimate in the spring and fall and did a super sprint triathlon in the summer. So: something like that again, perhaps.

Work

As I close in on the end of the first decade of my career, I’m thinking a lot about what I want the next decade of my career to look like. I don’t expect to be able to figure it all out ahead of time, of course. At the same time, I’m resolved to find opportunities that align more with my values and the general aims for my career I’ve started developing. As I suggested above, I’ve found that I’m not on the same page as, well, most businesses about how to approach a great many questions. There is no short-term fix for this; but in the longer-term I want to have enough independence to do things more in line with my “winning slowly” view of the world.

One part of that is that I intend to push forward on a few things I’ve been plotting for a few years now. I started learning Rust back in the summer of 2015 for a reason, and I’m coming back to that reason this year. I don’t in the least regret the detour that I’ve gone on in the meantime: New Rustacean remains one of my favorite things I’ve done, and is certainly a more important contribution than any code I could have written in that time. But the project that got this all started has my attention again, and I will be spending some of my personal time on it this year.5 It’s the kind of thing that I rather hope is my career a few years down the line—but there’s a boatload of work to do to get there.

Another part is looking at a much longer horizon even. Over the past three years, I’ve become increasingly interested in programming language theory and practice. I have some ideas and insights I think are genuinely valuable and relatively unique (at a minimum they’re not currently in use in industry anywhere, and I’ve yet to find any papers touching on them) and I would like to see them land at some point. Getting there is a long game; I am not exaggerating when I say that if I ever really make this happen, I expect it to be in my 40s. Probably my late 40s. But that gives me time to learn in the meantime: to build small languages and see what that process is like, to find ways to collaborate on existing language projects, to learn a wide array of existing languages in more detail, and so on. If the ideas I have are ever to come to fruition, all of those things are necessary precursors for my efforts.

Here in late 2018, I have just started on much of that: I am reading a book on programming language development and taking an awful lots of notes along the way. I will be completing the exercises in the book, and I will also be trying to learn enough to build my own little toy languages along the way. I am getting some practice in the pragmatics of it by collaborating with Dave Herman on the do expressions JavaScript proposal, which we hope to make substantial progress on in 2019. These kinds of programming language ideas will not be the emphasis in 2019, but they will be a piece, in the interest of laying the foundations I will need later.

In sum

I hope 2019 is a less difficult year than 2018 was. I am also aiming to be more effective in accomplishing the things I care about, in part by setting more modest goals for myself. Keep podcasting. Read a few books of a few specific sorts. Write some essays, at the expense of some blog posts. Start on some new projects, but not in a hurry or a rush. Love my family and love my church.


  1. I’ve been doing this since 2007, but I’m not linking you to the blog post I wrote that year. There’s nothing quite like reading things I wrote halfway through college to make me cringe. There is some good stuff there, but also: 20-year-old Chris Krycho was, uhh… very emotional. And the way I approach my faith has shifted a lot since then.

  2. Running wc -w on the posts I wrote in 2018 reports 80,911 words, but that number includes all the post metadata. Assuming an average of 65 words of metadata per post, across the 96 posts I wrote, that comes out to around 6,250 words. So: very roughly 75,000, for an average of about 780 words per post. Not too shabby!

  3. Meta note: that includes this post. So the final count depends on how long I make the previous footnote. And this one. Such recursion!

  4. So: what of this kind of year-end review, which is itself not exactly one of those more important writing projects? Good point. I find his exercise helpful, though, and I’d almost certainly be doing it privately in nearly identical terms. I have found this practice helpful over the years, despite never coming near accomplishing the specific goals I’ve set myself, so I expect to keep up this habit.

  5. This is another reason for the emphasis on focusing my writing time on high-value projects. Time I spend writing random blog posts is time I am not spending on these programming efforts.