2018 in Review

2018 was one of the most challenging years in my life. It was certainly the busiest, and likely had the most change in both range and scope. While it was rewarding, and validating, it was a restless year. After a brief but intentional reflection, I have concluded that I am happy with my life.

The highlights of my year were quiet moments without screens. Sharing music, books, and crayons with the child. Slow meals and walks with conversation with husband. Harassing the cat. Good, long conversations with friends, time outside in the dirt, and making food.

I didn’t plan much of 2018, it just happened. Most of it was work, and the rest of it was family. Not enough of it was friends. More of it was faith, but not as much as it has been in a long time. I wasted less time on the internet, and enjoyed that time outside instead. I re-discovered amazing music, even though I did not listen to enough of it. I ate some great meals, even though I cooked far less than I have in the past. The truth is, I was exhausted for most of 2018–mentally, physically, and emotionally. I failed to “do” or “achieve” things I wanted. Yet despite that, I was the happiest I’ve been in my life.

That’s why it took so short of a time, without “data,” to evaluate this year as a good one.

But in the interest of satisfying any quantitative cravings, here’s my 2018 in cherrypicked numbers:

Flights
Got on a plane twelve times. Farthest trips were to London and Switzerland. As a person who hates flying this was a big deal. Longest trip was for the Grand Meetup in Orlando. As a mother who is nursing this was a different kind of big deal.

Family
Saw family three times this year. It is the most times I’ve seen them in one year since moving away to college. Three friends visited this year. I think they mostly came to see the baby, but luckily also me. It sucks to have your close friends live so far away.

The baby turned one! My marriage turned eight! The cat turned eleven!

Injuries
As of December 2018, I’m rehabbing five six different injuries, some old, some new. Some dumb, some cool. Some happened through training, others because I didn’t train enough.

  • Left wrist. Physical therapy, acupuncture, massage, several braces, tape, a new keyboard, vitamins, pseudoscience, prayer, and a cortisone shot.
  • Lower back. Physical therapy.
  • Right elbow. Physical therapy.
  • Right foot. Physical therapy.
  • Left knee, a flare-up from the MPFL reconstruction I had 4 years ago and the little cartilage I’ve got left under my patella. Physical therapy and massage of the suckiest kind.
  • Update: Also left foot. Cortisone shot, likely surgery in 2019.

Slices of Pizza
Home Slice Pizza opened up in my neighborhood this spring and I keep a running tally of the number of slices my household consumes. Sixty-seven.

Speaking
Just two this year, but my average is once a year. Spoke at a SXSW unofficial event for Black and Brown Founders. Then spoke at a FrontEnd Conf in Zurich–this is the latest talk I’ve given and it’s also the one I am the most proud of. I got good feedback from two design beasts in the audience that I’ve learned from since I started making websites in high school. It made me excited to speak more. I pitched four more talks that year. And got rejected by all of them!

Articles
Edited nine articles for A List Apart, made a secret cameo appearance in one other. So rewarding to get to work with the editorial team and the authors. Good community is hard to find these days.

Stories
Every passing year, I think of what my mother and grandmother’s life was at that same age–and it’s a mindfuck. A couple of years ago then, I intentionally started collecting notes on these family stories, not just to chronicle a journey of a modern immigrant family, but because most people that I went to college with or work with now have no idea about these things. This year I wrote five.

Regrets
I think regrets are part of living an honest life. One time I turned down a free trip to Tibet. I regret that, especially because I just stayed home and went on the Internet.

This year, I have one regret, not getting back into violin, again. When it comes to free time, or the activities that bring me the most joy, this is it. I guess I just ran out of time. Or I pressured myself to prioritize things that didn’t matter. That’s life.

2018 started with the decision to move on from IBM. I had a moment where I realized that my parents and extended family would never benefit from the work I was doing if it ever became mainstream. If anything, they’d be more likely to suffer. IBM was a great place to work and grow as a designer because of the effort that IBM Design put into building their flagship studio community here in Austin. Even the side effects of working in a relatively new, large in-house design org–the thrash, as I like to say–was worthwhile, because of the growth. I always enjoyed working on enterprise software, and I was fortunate to be on the Watson team from day one. But it’s the subtle things coming out of the AI space that will have the biggest societal impact, and it’s always the poor, the tired, and the huddled masses in the real world that pay the price for the nonchalant actions we take inside our tech bubbles. I’m not saying IBM is evil, or saying that AI will doom humanity. But I am saying that the profitable and scalable applications of the technology are usually at the expense of the working class here and abroad. And most people won’t do anything about it because they’re frankly not related to anyone in that socioeconomic rung. I’ve never given this reason for leaving in public, because I am a private person, but discerning this became the turning point for moving onto something else.

This made me realize how much I missed the old internet. While I work in the tech industry, I am not of the tech industry. While I work in the design industry, I am not of the design industry. Despite specializing in a trendy tech industry area, and working out of one of the most celebrated design organizations, I am still of the web community. How you came up in your discipline and craft says a lot about you and what matters to you. Maybe next year I’ll admit how I’m still not over not getting to be a professor.

So as a pragmatist, when my heart starts making the decisions, I know it’s been a long time coming. I put together my book–as the design industry would say–and started looking, doing all the design challenges, which puts a lot of strain on the family. But it was nice to have some validation. At one point, we were ready to move to the Bay Area.

About eight years ago I did a career discernment program as part of my transitioning out of academia. I listed a handful of companies I would like to work for at some point. Automattic was one of them. I had applied back then–but never got a response. I gave it another shot, and this time it promptly resulted in a position. I hit the ground running in April. Immediately after my support rotation was over, I had my first team meetup, which was in La Jolla, CA. Then in September, I experienced my first Grand Meetup. The highlight of that was probably doing a Mewtwo raid in the pouring rain with colleagues.

This makes me realize that I didn’t have a real break from working until November, when the family and I took a crazy road trip to Washington DC from Austin on whim and I didn’t bring work with me. It’s not that I don’t recommend driving this long with a toddler, because it’s fine if you are all chill people who like road trip adventures, but anytime I think I’m smelling a hint of rancid Taco Bell in the car and I just want to jump out. It also probably didn’t help that two days after getting home, I jumped on a plane to NYC for a conference.

And then Advent was suddenly in high gear, we were standing in line for masa, Christmas came, Notre Dame lost to Clemson in the playoffs, and I’m here at a coffeeshop on New Year’s Eve, laughing.