2020 in Review

date
Dec 18, 2020
slug
2020-in-review
status
Published
tags
Life
summary
A look back at my high points, low points and the lessons I learnt over the year 2020.
type
Post
One thing is for certain, 2020 is going to be a year I will not be forgetting in a hurry. I'm sure the same goes for most people.
I have seen people writing these reflection articles before and loved the idea of it. I admire the openness and honesty from the writers, to put their struggles out on the internet for the world to see, almost showing you a glimpse of their life through a window. Similarly, having a memory published publicly that I can come back on in three, five even ten years time is a reassuring thought.
I want to do that.
So here it is. My 2020. Wins, challenges and lessons learnt.

Wins

Goodbye Monzo, Hello Attest

In 2019 I started what at the time I considered my dream job, as an Engineering Manager at Monzo bank. I was a user of the product and totally got behind their mission to "Make money work for everyone".
I was fortunate enough to spend a chunk of time there, working with some of the best managers and being able to mentor and coach the most talented engineers. My time at Monzo supercharged my personal development, I grew not only as a leader but it enabled me to build confidence in myself, that I was good enough to be working with some of the most talented people in the country.
During the coronavirus though, things became a struggle. Staff were getting burnt out, myself included. This was a challenging time for me, on one hand I wanted to stay and push through it, romantic about the idea of the company and my dream job, but other areas in my life were taking a hit because I just wasn't happy there anymore. I longed for things to return to how they were for the first six months of my Monzo journey, but upon learning that some of my colleagues that I was closest too were going to be leaving the company, I decided to take voluntary redundancy.
I know this sounds glum so far, but this is a win for two reasons.
Firstly, shortly after making the decision to call it a day at Monzo but having not announced my intentions yet, my now current manager Will Lewis who was Head of Engineering at Attest pinged me a message to introduce himself and tell me about Attest. What I am sure Will intended to be a casual chat and a swapping of stories became much more than that, as I learned more about Attest and how engineering was done there. I was sold pretty much after ten or so minutes and asked if he had any jobs going. Fortunately he did! Right now, four months in, I couldn't be happier. We have a fantastic group of managers and an awesome group of talented engineers.
The second reason this was a win was that I made a tough choice but put my mental wellbeing first. I was proud of myself for doing this and whilst getting that job at Monzo was such a big moment for me, the pride that I had didn't outweigh the fact that it was not a healthy environment for me to be in at the time. I put my own wellbeing and the wellbeing of others around me first.

My Website

In September, I enrolled in Matt DAVellas "Slow Growth" course. I have been a fan of Matt's videos and other content for a long time, and I joined the course mainly because I enjoyed watching him and listening to what he had to say, not certain that I was going to get anything out of it.
The course turned out to be massively valuable for me though. The lesson here was consistency, and how it is very rare to achieve any sort of success without a huge amount of consistent work in the background. We see the end goal of other people, those who are working for top companies, those who are selling books and courses to thousands of people at a time, however we rarely see the amount of work they have put in to get there. It gave me a much needed boost of motivation to get something published and build a habit of writing.
I put together a website in Ghost, with the intention not to distract or slow down myself by having to build something from scratch and make it perfect. I started writing. It was hard to begin with, but I was overwhelmed with the amount of support I had from the developer community online each when I announced my website, and it was the wind in my sails to keep going. I wrote about my process here.
notion image
Above is the analytics for my first month. Whilst not mind bending figures, it was definitely a proud moment to see that people had at least come over to my site for a short while to see what it was about. It was the boost I needed.

Challenges

COVID (obviously)

I know we are all sick of it, however it wouldn't be a 2020 review if COVID wasn't mentioned here somewhere! 😷 Apologies!
The situation has been tough for so many people, some families being tragically torn apart due to the virus. In a sense we are very lucky, living in the countryside of West Berkshire, the rate of infection has been consistently low, and I made the decision to stop travelling to London very early on, weeks before the government put us into lockdown.
One of the harder parts for me to deal with personally was the fact that myself and Becky were due to get married in May 2020. We have been together for twelve years and engaged for six years. We were finally in a financial position where we could afford to get married, and had planned a small, intimate wedding in Exeter which is our favourite place in the country. It was devastating to have this cancelled, mainly because it felt like it was so long coming. We were very fortunate to be able to postpone for a year with not much drama at all though, so 2021 - fingers crossed - I will be a married man.

Coeliac disease

Early on in the year, in the middle of lockdown, Becky was taken ill. Her eyes and skin turned yellow and she was experiencing intense pain pretty much daily where she would be crippled over in agony on the floor.
With a couple of trips to the hospital her illness was put down to Coeliac disease which had gone on to cause severe yet temporary Hepatitis. When she had started to show recovery it became just how apparent how bad it was, the doctors told her that they were so worried because she wouldn't have lasted more than a couple of weeks in that state. Apparently Coeliac disease commonly is hard to diagnose, so we were very lucky that we got a diagnosis and then could cut gluten out completely before the damage to her liver got worse.
She has been so incredibly strong throughout this time, taking everything in her stride and getting on with life, even though things have changed. We cut gluten out of our house completely, as the risk of cross contamination is too high, especially whilst she is essentially still recovering. It has been a massive inspiration to me and it has taught me a lot of valuable lessons about resilience and strength.

Lessons learnt

I changed my relationship with money

I developed a negative relationship with money when I started working in tech. Having been a labourer for a number of years, working minimum wage jobs and barely scraping by, I remember getting a salary of £50k at the age of 25 and I was not wise with the money at all.
I connected wealth and happiness to the ownership of things, and this in turn meant I would buy more things than I needed and I would eat out regularly, just because I could. Essentially I was wasting the money, and other than some material goods I had little to show for it. I had no financial freedom, I was spending every last penny of my paycheck and this lead to a constant drive to make decisions that would earn me more money, whether that was releasing a course that I didn't feel passionate about, or taking on freelance work that I didn't have real capacity to do well.
Starting a job at Monzo, and now Attest where I am lucky enough to have a really generous salary, my cost of living is actually nearly as low as it was when I was working a minimum wage job through a lot of cost-cutting and changing my attitude to how I approached the ownership of things. I owe this mainly to Goodbye Things. I save more than I spend each month, which in turn has meant I have been fortunate enough to save quite a bit of money and myself and Becky are looking to buy a house in the new year. This is an extremely priveledged position to be in and I realise how fortunate I am to have this opportunity as a person of privilege.
There are two quotes I have saved that I look back on frequently. The first is from Naval Ravikant:
“When you're finally wealthy, you'll realize it wasn't what you were seeking in the first place."
The second is from Ali Abdaal:
"The definition of rich is when money is not a limiting factor in your life for the things you truly want to do".
What I take away from these quotes is that now I have gotten to be earning a certain salary, and am financially comfortable, endlessly chasing more money would be misplaced. It will not make me happier, therefore why seek it?
Of course, whilst it would be amazing to own a sports car and it is something I want to do in life at some point, will that make me happier? What is the point of putting myself under financial strain to be able to own it? The feeling of having saved hard for something which then you can comfortably own, even if it is ten or twenty years down the line makes the joy of purchasing that thing all that more valuable.

Talk More

2020 has taught me a lot about myself, how I cope with things and it has given me a greater understanding of my own mental health.
I would consider myself quite a stoic person, someone that doesn't outwardly complain too much about how they are feeling. Every 121 I had with my manager would start off with "How are you doing?" followed by "Yeah, I'm good thank you", regardless of any discomfort, pain or upset I was feeling.
2020 has shown me the importance of being open about how I am doing, and how it is healthy to be able to vent about things at some point. I am forever grateful for those who were closest to me at Monzo and those who are closest to me at Attest for being there to support me, to listen to my problems and to pick me back up. It has helped me to be a better manager, coach and people person, being able to accept empathy from others has meant that I in turn can show more empathy to other people.
My aspirations for 2021 and the new year are something I have not yet thought about in much detail. I am looking forward to using the holidays as a time to reflect and align my goals and personal vision.
I do plan to publish these early next year, and they will be going public as soon as I have fleshed out exactly what they will be.

© James Bedford 2021