I was out on my bike this morning, cycling through the autumn rain. Getting my morning cardio, and letting my mind wander, thinking about all the weirdness that has happened over the last year.

I kept thinking about the changes to our lives that have been forced on us, ostensibly because of the Virus. You must stay in your homes. You must wear your masks. You must stay away from other people. Do this or you’ll be killing grandma!

Now, we have the prospect of a vaccine, that we must all take just as soon as it’s available.

There’s that word again.

If you indulge me in a bit of open geekery, but I’m a big Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan. There are many great episodes with many memorable moments, but there was one episode in season 5 in particular that kept coming to mind.

During this episode Buffy was being forced to undertake a series of tests by her former bosses in order to be deemed “worth” of being allowed to have some important information about the season’s Big Bad. Also in that episode, the Big Bad showed up at her house, did a lot of posturing and left.

Throughout the episode, both the good guys and the bad guys were all insisting that they were the ones in charge. That Buffy was nothing, unimportant, and that she must do what she was commanded to do. That they had the power.

At the episode’s denouement, Buffy came to realise that they all wanted something from her. They were all impotent without her compliance.

That she had the power.

How many times in my life have I been told that I must do a thing that someone else wants? That I’m a bad person if I don’t do a thing that someone else wants? Over the last year, this has been a constant theme.

It’s about power. I have it, and they don’t. This bothers them.

No, I’m not fluffing my ego, or comparing myself to our blonde vampire kicking hero (I’m far more of a Xander).

I am just pointing out the realisation that the only way that anything happens in the world at all is by human effort. Your action on the world. Which means that the only way that someone can increase their power, to make a larger impact, is to convince others to act for them.

Others are constantly trying to convince you through argument, bribery, violence, shame, and various other forms of coercion to act in accordance to their desires rather than yours. They will bribe you. They will threaten you. They will gaslight you into believing that you really actually want what they want. They will present you with a limited menu of choices.

They will say you’re a bad person unless you do what they tell you, and get upset and call you names if you don’t.

Certainly, all of this has been used against me this past year, if not my entire life.

It’s about power. I have it, and they don’t. This bothers them.

The question is why must I do a thing. Now, it may be that there is a good reason that will align with my interests and desires, however it seems to me that in general people who tell you that you must do a thing need something from you. They need you to act in the world in accordance of their desires and interests, which may not align with your own. They must convince and coerce, because without your compliance they are impotent.

So who has the power?

It’s strange to think, as 2020 moves into middle age with widespread civil unrest, that a global pandemic would be the least dramatic thing to happen this year. The simulation appears to be glitching all over, and while the lockdown is easing up agonisingly slowly, most of us are still mostly locked in our houses.

Still, it’s important to focus on stoicism, do what you can, enjoy what you can, and make the most of things.

Here’s some of the lessons I’ve learnt, in no particular order.

You’re right to follow your gut

I’ve always had a habit of running speculative “what if” scenarios in my head, I find it quite an entertaining game to imagine what I’d do if some unexpected situation were to happen. Depending where it falls on the threat matrix, I often looked at what I could do to hedge against them to a greater or lesser degree.

For example, I have a grab bag with everything I need to survive for a few weeks and restart my life, ready to go. Not because of zombie apocalypse or collapse of civilisation, but because, for example, fires happen.

I routinely operate on the 10th man rule, so, if everyone and everything is telling me that it’ll all be fine, I speculate that maybe it won’t be. This habit has served me well in the past.

As a result, long before lockdown or the virus was even mentioned on mainstream news, I had already told family and friends to stock up on food and to renew their prescription medications. A few people called me paranoid, but I figured I was just being prudent.

Worst thing that could happen if you prepared and nothing happened? You’ve got a full larder. Worse thing to happen if something happened and you didn’t prepare….

You have millions of years of survival instincts behind that feeling in your gut. Listen to it, even if people are telling you not to.

Taking stock

The initial excitement settled into boring routine.

While in many respects, lockdown has been frustrating – everything shut down, twitchy dot people, shortages and queues – having a period of forced slowdown has actually been quite refreshing.

Like many of you, the change in routine has forced me to slow right down. Lockdown has made me take stock on where I am, and what I want to do next.

Early morning workout buddy

For a start, nobody is doing anything, so I was able to completely shake that feeling that I was somehow “missing out”. I can’t go anywhere, or do anything particularly exciting, but then neither can anybody else.

I’ve found it quite refreshing not feeling like I have to do anything.

We’ve all been made to slow down, enjoy the simpler things.

One thing, I’ve done more reading than I’ve done for a long while. I’ve gone down various rabbit holes of YouTube, learning random skills that I’ve been meaning to swot up on but never got the time to.

I have saved a bunch of money. Somehow. I suspect largely through not routinely going to the supermarket when hungry after work (since shopping these days is such an unpleasant experience, I’ve been only going when necessary, ordering a lot online, and actually planning meals).

The gym has been closed, so I’ve really focussed on training what I can, as well as diet. I have been extra disciplined (and not having office snacks), and as a result am now at my ideal competition fighting weight.

As things are starting to open up, I’ve spent more time with family and friends. But before that, one thing I’ve realised, through the weeks of solitude… I really do like being by myself.

What next..?

Not sure. 2020 is far from over, and stuff around the world just seems to be getting crazier and crazier.

I intend to keep up the good habits I’ve formed since lockdown – spending less on stuff I don’t need, training and diet.

I’ll still travel, of course, but I’ll also focus on simple pleasures. Family. Friends. Spending more time with other humans, even if I need to travel a long way to see them.

Also, as I mentioned in a previous post, remote work is going to be the new normal.

I’m definitely not going back to the office.

This is going to be a bit of a battle, but I’m prepared to stick my heals in on this one. I’ve been remote only for over a decade, and my short stint of being back in the office has reminded me just how much they suck – strip lit boxes almost designed to destroy your focus.

Contrast this with remote work and the quality of life improvements you get – freedom, more time, ability to cook a decent meal and train, even simple things like being able to be in for deliveries… oh, and not to mention being geographically independent, letting you travel and live cheap.

Speaking to my peers at work, as well as wider contacts in the industry… nobody in IT is going back to the office after all of this.

It’s a generational battle, in that the institutional members of the organisation seem to desperately want to get back to “normal” as it was in the “before time”.

But those times are gone. Holding out is only putting off the inevitable… if, for no other reason, that hiring talent (already a problem) is going to be impossible if you require them to be present in the office.

Skilled IT workers have had a taste of their life without the commute, spending time extra time with family and loved ones, and not having to sit all day at a desk under florescent lighting.

Another day in the office

I am currently writing this on my laptop on a train to see some friends for a Czech Christmas tradition of mulled wine and fried carp. I’m surrounded by frantic Christmas shoppers , and I’m pondering the year that is almost gone as they stuff bags of last minute gifts into overhead luggage shelves.

In a way 2019 can be thought of as the culmination of the decisions made last year. The pivots I made, and the focus I gained. Well, culmination may be a bit of an overstatement, but I’m well on the way. Nothing in life is ever complete, at least not until you’re in the ground.

Career wise, I made the decision that what I was doing was, while keeping a roof over my head and food on the table, didn’t really have either the trajectory or the velocity to get me to where I wanted to be in the time available. So, at the beginning of the year I pivoted hard and got a “proper job”, but the benefit of that job not being my only gig meant I could go back to corporate land with a view of only doing interesting things and not having to put up with the BS that drove me out of that world so many years ago.

A brief overview of 2019
Third Man

So, I accepted an offer to develop services that help scientists around Europe gain access to the equipment they need to do cutting edge research. As well as the day to day, this also required me to get involved in some important European data sharing projects.

The job involves a fair amount of travel, so that certainly aligns with some of my main goals, and I’ve spoken at world leading scientific conferences. I even accidentally set EU data sharing policy.

Crazy amount of work with some very cool people, crazy amount of experiences, and crazy opportunities going forward. Exciting times!

Despite all this, for those interested, I’m also still offering consultancy services! I’m still am active in the open source community, most notably contributing to Known. 2019 was the year that I’m delighted to say saw Known leave development hell and in to a 1.0 release. Community engagement has been fantastic, and we’re already sketching out a roadmap for future exciting features and versions.

Outside of work, I have progressed in my Judo. Training hard and obtaining my blue belt, as well as competing in my first competition. I got my motorcycle licence, and achieved some pretty serious personal bests at the gym.

So, I begin 2020 having achieved many of the goals I’ve set myself, and thinking about what goals to set in the upcoming year. While I enter it with optimism, I’m aware that the event horizon of possibility is drawing nearer, and the window of opportunity for certain life directions is growing smaller, if indeed they’re still possible.

This sense of urgency has now permeated everything I do, and every aspect of my life. No choice but to keep pushing forward and becoming the best version of myself that’s possible.

On to the next decade… the roaring 20’s!