After separating from my partner of 10 years at the end of 2017, this year was always going to be a bit of an unknown quantity. Indeed, from relationships to work to location and even just living the daily routine, 2018 was full of unfamiliar situations. Many of these I went looking for because I’m the kind of person who does that, but many were also just the ones life throws up. If my 2018 had a theme, then, it was figuring out who I am and how I deal with things when I’m by myself.
This time last year I made a list of things that must, should or might happen in 2018, and I hoped that everything on that list would align towards cultivating four personal qualities that I wanted to focus on after separating from my partner, as these felt like ‘the real me’ I wanted to reconnect with. Through my actions, I wanted to be someone who is independent, curious, healthy and delighted. By focusing on these things, I also hoped I would be someone others found delightful in turn.
So how did I do?
The ‘must’ here is a must to myself. It means I’ll be disappointed with myself if these don’t happen, because it means I’m not serious about it. It may as well be called my ‘shit or get off the pot’ list.
- Learn to cook some stuff - enough to take care of myself and maybe also a signature something to make for others
I did this. Those who know me well know what I was like with cooking before, and all the general taking care of yourself as an independent adult stuff that surrounds it. I had some help bridging the confidence gap in the first place, which can never be overstated. Once it was clear I could actually do this, it took me a while to integrate all the overheads of doing grocery shopping and meal planning etc etc into my weekly routine, and make sure I had the equipment I needed, and understanding what that was. The result is I have about half a dozen things I can make without too much effort which I have on rotation, and I have cooked enough for others that there is evidence on record of the miraculous transformation. It’s hard to remember what I was worried about, in hindsight.
- Domino the debt - the separation means this is part of a two-year goal to being in a financially strong position, but the bulk of the difficult work has to happen this year
Separating from your partner is expensive, as it turns out, in all sorts of completely foreseeable ways that I nonetheless failed to foresee clearly. A couple of years ago I made a transition from being a long-term student working low-paid jobs, into professional work. Because of my misadventures in business and ensuing bankruptcy in my early twenties (and some bad habits with money), I never really had savings. I’m now trying to correct all this and work towards a strong financial position, but it’s taking longer than I thought. I could make it faster if I applied more focus, but that would come at the expense of other aspects of myself I want to invest in. This is probably where the saying applies that too often we overestimate what we can do in a year but underestimate what we can do in five years.
- Get some muscle - this hasn’t happened, ever. This year it will, and before and after pics will tell the story.
Well this was a misfire. A few years ago I decided to ‘get fit’, even though I didn’t really have any idea what that meant or involved apart from a pile of weird assumptions that someone who read a lot of books and never went outdoors would have. Over time it became clear that what I really meant was get healthy, and this had four aspects: better diet, an active lifestyle, good habits, and strength training. I explicitly made the focus here about strength training, since it felt like I had weaseled out of this one for the last few years by focussing on the other three. As it turns out, I really just don’t care enough about this to put in the effort. Maybe that will change in future, but for now I will drop the pretence.
- Play tennis - I’ve had this one on the list for a few years but a series of unforced errors have meant I never got my game up and going. Let’s ace this one this year.
This did happen. It’s included in the active lifestyle part of being healthy, which I’ve realised also has to be fun. I’m really just not prepared to do fitness as work, which probably explains the strength training part because nothing about that seems fun to me at all. But tennis is fun. I joined a club with my friend in August for the new season and go twice most weeks - once for coaching and once for practice and a hit around. We’re both absolute beginners and pretty much absolutely terrible. But it’s good fun and we’ll get better in time, no matter how impatient we are about that.
- Be a good manager - I’ll do a bunch of stuff to make sure I’m someone who can effectively lead and take care of my staff while getting results.
By any measure, this was a success in 2018. I delivered one large high-value and high-visibility project under pressure in the first half of the year, and kicked off another more proactive and high-visibility change project in the second half of the year. You can ask the people I work with how they like my leadership – that matters a lot more than what I think about it. I did some formal leadership training through work and also throughout the year also pursued all the little paths of exploration that a good autodidact usually does. Interestingly, the way I framed this goal shows I had some intuition as to where the real challenge lies – how to balance relationships with results. Getting this balance wrong is actually in hindsight the main thing that sank my business. Getting it right means fusing together everything I’ve learned since then. This year I got some meaningful runs on the board and also reached some clarity about what it is I’m trying to do and how to think about it. This opens the way for a stronger focus in 2019.
- Explore New Zealand - I’ll pick away at this in every way I can throughout the year. It’s as much a cultural exploration as a physical one.
The highlight here was probably the road trip I did with my friend Steve early in the year, which for both of us was the first trip to the South Island. Since then I’ve been back twice – once for a few days for a wedding in Queenstown and later to Christchurch to visit an exhibition on games and politics. I also spent a week in Wellington and surrounds with family after taking the scenic train from Auckland, spent a long weekend around Coromandel and have done day trips from Auckland to Waitangi, Waitomo and Hobbiton. I’ve climbed Rangitoto, visited Tiritiri Matangi and enjoyed visiting winderies in various regions including Waiheke, Marlborough, Martinborough and Central Otago. I even had a work conference in The Tron. I took some introductory classes in Te Reo through work and I am fortunate that since AUT is so deeply involved in the Maori and Pacific space, my cultural education continues just by dint of showing up and being willing to get involved. Although there are things I miss and things I find frustrating, I’m enjoying New Zealand a great deal and can see myself being there for a while.
- Keep a good home - where I live should reflect who I am, and who I am should be awesome, welcoming and nice to spend time with.
I think really this is just 2017 Danu’s excuse to have nice things. 2018 Danu would say who needs an excuse? This is of course also partly what has made this year expensive. When you suddenly have half as much stuff as you did before, what do you replace? And do you replace it with something merely functional, or take the opportunity to choose something expressive too? Well we all know the answer to that. I’ve had lots of fun picking out things and experimenting with the teal and mustard colour scheme (with support from cream and maple touches) I’ve long had a fondness for and which suddenly seems to be everywhere. 2018 is also the year I got someone in regularly to do the cleaning. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a while but have nonetheless had moments of wrenching class anxiety about. And indeed I will probably look back on 2018 as the year that I made up my mind about some class markers pretty decisively, which has changed the way I relate to some people and, perhaps moreso, the way they relate to me. But as for having someone do the cleaning, I won’t look back. The real point of this whole goal though marks a simple but important shift in priorities. Before, when I wanted to ‘be myself’, I would go out. Now, I want to be myself when I come home. It’s been a good year for this in terms of style. I expect it will continue in 2019 in other ways.
WILL PROBABLY HAPPEN
This is a bunch of stuff I planned to do in 2018, with the understanding that not all of it may happen, because life is like that.
- Learn language - whether it’s Te Reo, my old stalwart German or something that allows me to connect to other worlds that are important to me, I want to put in some genuine effort this year
Aside from a bit of Te Reo at work, I studied German level A2 throughout the year through the Goethe Institute group language classes and thoroughly enjoyed this. I’d like to continue with B1 in 2019 but it will be a question of time and priorities.
- Zumba - this is fun and effective and I want more
This didn’t really happen. My favourite instructor changed classes and there was a schedule conflict with Zumba, tennis and German which I never managed to resolve, especially as I was spending so much time figuring out how to master having a grocery shopping and cooking routine. Still keen though.
- Learn jazz piano - I’ve gone as far as I can go without a good teacher, so I hope to find one this year and unlock the next level
No progress here. I put the focus on language learning instead.
- Whanau Choir - joining my work choir and singing songs in te reo is fun, social and feeds the soul. More of this as scheduling permits
Scheduling largely did not permit, and I can only say yes to so many things.
- Be social - as a good friend of mine put it recently, I want to say yes to things more often
Something odd happened here in 2018. I spent dramatically less time connecting with my friends, while simultaneously somehow being more social. I suspect that what’s going on is I want different things from social relationships than I used to. Something to unpack further for next year.
- Keep reading - I dropped off a bit last year. Just putting this one in to remind myself that it remains a priority
I got back to my target range of 30-35 books this year, with a good mix of non-fiction and novels, thanks to my affirmative fiction policy. Fiction highlights include Jasper Fforde’s newest ‘Early Riser’ and Maggie Shen King’s ‘An Excess Male’, both great darkly humourous examples of what I’m calling social sci-fi. Non-fiction highlights include Timothy Snyder’s ‘The Road To Unfreedom’ and David Graeber’s ‘Debt’ and ‘The Utopia of Rules’, which gave me powerful new categories to think with.
- Game design - progress my interest in games as technologies of empathy for public good in some way this year, who knows what.
The crystallisation of this impulse has turned out to be the decision to reboot my plans to do a PhD, where making a game is the answer to a research question about matters of policy, expertise and public good. This all seems so bloody obvious in hindsight that mostly I’m surprised I’ve been faffing around with all this for so many years. Expect razor-like focus in 2019 to make up for lost time.
- Side income - I have lots of skills. It would be helpful to monetise at least one of them, both for the practice and for the extra income.
This didn’t happen as such, but in hindsight the impulse here was to reconnect with my entrepreneurial side, which oddly enough did happen in another sense, as my mode of operation at AUT is basically to work entrepreneurially in the context of a large organisation. As far as diversifying streams of income itself goes, it’s more likely this will happen in a meaningful way in 2020.
Finally, a bunch of random impulses that are pretty unclear when I write them but usually turn out to be connected with something important when looking back.
- Yoga/Pilates - I need to be more flexible and stretchy. This could be a good way, but will I like it and will I fit it in?
This is about me living more physically and feeling more present and connected in my body, rather than living as a disembodied and detached intellect as I have done for much of my life. I didn’t in fact do yoga or pilates, but I did make progress on what it represented.
- Walking (tramping) - I’m not sure how hardcore I will become at this, as I’m ultimately a city guy who likes soft comforts, but as part of getting fit and exploring NZ I’d like to find out how far my interest goes
I do plenty of walking these days as part of my everyday routine. As it turns out, my interest in tramping extends as far as starting and finishing the day with a hot shower. I’m prepared to accept that whatever mysteries and wonders nature holds beyond this are destined to remain unknowable.
- Do more things on water - I like water (it’s ‘stuff white people like #51’, after all!) and Auckland has lots of it. I don’t really know what I mean by this goal - I just know I feel like a different person when I’m on the water, and I want to know that person better.
Nothing specific to report here. It’s possible that this impulse is a combination of a need to be more connected with the outdoors, combined with a spiritual dimension that I get from water. 2018 has been a year for reflecting a little on spirituality, among other things. We’ll see where this goes in future.
- Get to Singapore - I miss it and it makes me happy. It moves fast and things have changed since I was there last
As it happens, I’m writing this from a delightful little cafe in Tanjong Pagar. So many cafes have sprung up in Singapore since I was here last, it seems. And the place is definitely changing since Lee Kuan Yew’s passing. I did not really expect to fit this in this year, but I’m glad I did. Singapore is one of those places that speaks eloquently to my deep ambivalence about many things. It’s nice to be able to wander around inside that ambivalence from time to time.
- Do a cruise - a long-running sort-of joke with my friends. Could this be the year?
Said friends did in fact do a cruise, to New Zealand no less. I did not.
- Writing - still not sure where I’m going with this, but it’s often on my mind. Something might happen?
Nothing noticeable happened on this front, but as a result of other happenings this year, I am both much clearer about how to use my public voice and what I have to say with it. Accordingly, I’d be very surprised if this didn’t get a run next year.
- Buy more shares - not out of the question this year, but unlikely given the focus on paying down debt and dealing with the separation
- Public things - do something with my political theory, public responsibility stuff. Definitely not forgotten, just not necessarily likely this year given how everything looks at the moment. But who knows
Expect this to now manifest itself in the form of a PhD, at least in the first instance.
As I mentioned earlier, possibly the biggest surprise was realising I need to a PhD, especially given where I had previously landed on this subject. Though in retrospect, it was really only a matter of timing and the right conditions before this became inevitable. Given how long I’ve been wallowing in this issue and all the things I’ve learned about the academic industry over the last few years, I now plan to roll up my sleeves with this one and just get it done.
Another surprise was getting to make an international trip this year (Australia doesn’t count), and for that trip to be to Sri Lanka, which was the very first international trip I made back in 2004. It’s a special place also deeply steeped in ambivalence. It was great to reconnect with a fresh pair of eyes and reflect on how both the place and myself have changed since I was there last.
I’ve been saying to myself for years that what I really want to do at some point when the time is right is to get back to being an entrepreneur and start something cool. The only thing that has been unclear is what that might involve, or indeed any details about any of it whatsoever. But this year I’ve realised that I don’t need to wait to do this, because mostly it is a mindset and I am in fact already doing it at work. AUT is the kind of place that rewards entrepreneurialism (tacitly, if not officially), so I am able to flex my capacities here while also doing so in the relative safety of an organisation from which I draw a salary and can marshall resources. This insight, born of a mid-year funk between projects and with a leadership void, has fundamentally changed the way I have been thinking about a number of things. Accordingly, I will reshuffle the mental furniture fresh to double down on this in 2019.
The final surprise has been finding out that who I am when I’m by myself is pretty much who I was before my business fell to bits. At least in the sense that who I am is independent, curious and delighted. To that I can now add good health, a vocabulary and a well-stocked memory, wisdom and humility that only comes from experience, and possibility and plausibility space that will serve as a beachhead for me to embark on new projects with confidence and a bit of positional authority.
2019, you’d better watch out.