What did I learn from 2021?

A look back on my journey through 2021 and a reflection on what I learned from it all.

What did I learn from 2021?Published January 04, 2022
I've been doing a lot of thinking about the previous year. 2021 was an interesting year, to say the least, and it's taken me some time to digest all that's happened during it. Sometimes, it's hard to even comprehend that things happened within the same year.

I'm going to be talking about my journey through 2021 and how I've grown over the year. I think taking a step back and looking at yourself and your progress is a great way to see just where you're at. There are so many things to learn from your experiences, both good and bad. You might learn things about yourself that you never knew before or maybe you have doors and paths open for your that you didn't know were there. I had a lot of those this year, more than I've had in my life previously. I discovered a lot about myself. This year gave me a taste of who I am and where I'm going.

Without wasting any more time, here is my full thoughts and reflection on 2021.

Bringing Balance to the Force - Work, School, and Communication 👨‍🎓

The year started out very strong. I was engaged to my girlfriend of about three years on New Year's Eve and I had started a new job. I had one semester left of school and looking forward to graduation. Everything was shaping up to be an amazing year.

My new job was a full-time web developer position. I had previously been working as a junior developer part-time for about a year and a half. I had started working as a developer in my junior year of college. Being part-time, staying on top of school was not difficult. I was also winding down on my time spent studying, as I was wrapping up my community college classes and getting ready to transfer to the school where I would receive my bachelor's degree.

Now being full-time and back within a harder, more rigorous course load, I found myself struggling sometimes to keep up with everything and strike a balance between work, school, and life. I would work an eight-hour day, then turn around and study until I went to bed. I didn't have as much time for things I once enjoyed doing, like playing video games and cooking. To make things even more challenging for myself, I decided I was going to be a math minor as well, adding two more math electives to my already packed schedule.

My final semester put me through my paces. I was in two math courses, operating systems, the course capstone, and a general education class. It was not an easy course load by any stretch of the imagination. Add on working full time, and you've got yourself one stressed-out Brock!

But I made it through. I graduated in May with a 3.8 GPA. The only B I had that semester was in Linear Algebra and it was because I chose to. If I wanted to, I could have redone work and quizzes to push my grade up, but it wasn't worth it to me. By that point, I was ready to be done.

My team at work was really supportive of me getting through my education and my teachers were more than willing to accommodate due dates and assignments around my work schedule. I had one amazing math teacher whose class actually met, but he made an exception for me to watch the lectures online and take tests on my own time during test days. It made my life much easier and let me continue pushing on.

While difficult, the key to managing everything came down to open and honest communication. School, for me, tended to be easy and I never really put much effort into it. I could skate by without having to study much. Even in high school while being a full-time competitive gymnast I never really struggled to get good grades or my work done on time. This was much harder, now as I now only working an eight-hour day, I was studying 3-4 hours afterward and still had a life to maintain. I have bills to pay, cats to feed, and a house to keep up with. Communication helped me get through it.

Asking for help is something that isn't easy for me to do. I tend to be the kind of person who can eventually figure something out if I look at it hard enough. Being open with my teachers about concepts I was struggling with, assignments that I might need extra time on, and even when I can take tests really helped me get through my classes. At work, asking for help on difficult or tricky bits of code and problems helped me learn and move through tickets faster. While it's still an area I can improve on, it still helped me tremendously. Why spend hours on a problem when you can spend five minutes reading the docs?

Being open and honest really was what helped me get through that semester. I learned my own boundaries when it comes to how much I can take on and how much I can do in a day. I can't do everything by myself because I'm only one person. I learned that managing my time effectively and asking for help when needed saved time in the long run. This was a difficult time to get through certainly, but I don't regret taking that path.

That's not how the Force Works - Summer 😮‍💨

While I was in school, my fiancé wanted to start trying to resolve her health issues again. When we first started dating, she started experiencing extreme fatigue that only grew worse as time went on. We were shuffled from doctor to doctor until eventually one said there's a possibility this is myalgic encephalomyelitis and referred us to Mayo Clinic for further testing and a diagnosis. In June, right before we left for Disney World, my fiancé and her sister were getting their nails done when she had a seizure. One epilepsy diagnosis later, we were on a plane heading for the Happiest Place on Earth.

It was this diagnosis that shifted the focus to this being a neurological issue and lead us down a more narrow search path for an answer. Mayo Clinic was able to confirm epilepsy and shifted the fatigue focus to narcolepsy. That was a hard and terrifying differential to hear. And after two trips to Minnesota and loads of tests, we got our answer: sleep apnea. After all of that stress and uncertainty, we had an answer. Not only that but my fiancé was given her life back. All we needed was a C-PAP machine and some caffeine.

Throughout all of that stress, we still traveled to a multitude of places. Disney World in Orlando was first, then a trip to Tampa, and finally Aruba in August. We took those trips to relax and enjoy what life was offering us right then and there. We spent time with family and got to do a lot of fun things. When the sleep apnea diagnosis did come in, it was a feeling I can't even describe. We now are discussing other trips we can take and things we can do together. For the new year, we decided that we are going to focus on our physical and mental health, something we continued neglecting throughout 2021.

I continued working and decided that with my newfound free time I was going to start exploring other areas of software development I was interested in. I knew I wanted to get serious about a blog and start building an online presence. My development background was mainly C# and React at that point, with a small bit of Java and Python. I tried WordPress, Ghost, Django, Nuxt, and countless other pieces of technology that never really clicked for me. What was cool though was getting to test out and experiment with them.

I'm a big fan of just trying new technology. All the time I had during the summer let me figure out what I like to use and don't like to use. I learned here that I don't need to like or use things just because other people are. PHP for example, sorry PHP people, did not click with me at all and I probably won't use it for any of my own projects. The issue with all this was it burnt me out. I was trying to absorb so much information and push myself to do more.

On the one hand, we have our health and diagnosis stress telling me life is too short to keep putting goals and dreams off. Traveling solidified that for us in that we lived in the current moment and lived life to its absolute best. On the flip side, it pushed me to keep doing and keep learning, but I did so without a plan or way forward. I was learning to learn, being productive just to say I was being productive. Looking back, putting as much time as I did into WordPress and Ghost was probably a waste of time. Unless I start building and selling themes or plugins for them, I don't have a use case for them nor did they make me happy to build in. Life is too short and I had to do more, faster.

A New Hope - Twitter, learning, and a new year 👨‍💻

My fiancé made the choice for me that I would not be bringing my laptop to Aruba. I protested and wanted to know why I couldn't take artsy coding photos on the beach. She countered with a very good point: I needed to detach and take a break. My laptop stayed home.

Most of my time in Aruba was spent on the beach or by the pool with a margarita and a book. I brought a few books to try and finish while I was there. Just sitting, reading, and absorbing the information from the page was incredible. Because I had nothing that could pull my attention away from my books, I was able to thoroughly enjoy and reflect on them in my journal. I was able to develop opinions and feelings on the lessons I learned.

It here I also decided I should just get on Twitter more. I started Tweeting daily, creating threads, and interacting with people. I started growing and making connections with others who were either more established or just getting started. I learned a lot from my conversations and interactions. Tweeting became more and more of a second nature to me. I worried less about what people would think about me and focused on what I was providing to others. I became more confident in myself. Do people seriously want to hear what I have to say? About coding? It was this revelation that my voice meant something within the community that changed how I was approaching my own goals and learning.

Twitter pushed me forward in other areas of my life too. Taking my newfound confidence, I wanted to get back on the blogging scene. I created a Hashnode account and started writing content on software development. I also spun up a personal site to link to Hashnode in NextJS. I took time to learn and focus on Next and Typescript, along with a few other serverless technologies and libraries to make my life easier. I was finally feeling good about what I was using to build my projects and started feeling eager to build more. I felt like I had a purpose, a direction in what I was learning, and an outlet to share my learnings on.

I also created a weekly newsletter, which I need to start sending again after I rebrand it, and even did live streaming for a little bit. I also filmed and edited an entire YouTube video before deciding it was not good and never posting it. It wasn't up to my own standards. It felt weird and awkward and didn't belong within my own pool of content. But besides those things not going exactly to plan, they still taught me valuable lessons on pacing myself and how to determine if I'm going the right way or not.

Peace and Purpose - Conclusion 🥂

I think that I'm on the correct track for myself now. 2021 taught me a lot about communication, time management, pacing myself, and so much more. Life is far too short and unpredictable to not take risks yet being reckless causes all kinds of issues too. Doing something for the sake of doing it isn't the right way to go about life. If something isn't working for you, you don't need to force yourself to continue through it. Keep pushing forward, but pace yourself so you don't burn out.

I learned a lot about who I am and the kind of life I want to live. My love and passion for development were reignited and I have so many ideas for things to build and share. I'm more open to taking risks and putting myself out there because even if I fail, I learn and grow from it. I have some big plans for the future, but also appreciate and learn from living right now. You have one life to experience things, so why not do all that you can in it?

So here's to you and to me, and to a fantastic 2022! I thank you for reading and I wish you the best in all of your endeavors this year!

There's more where that came from!

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