Saturday 16 September 2017

My 2016 10Q answers

Stourhead, 7 November 2015.

Every autumn I go through this process of self-reflection by answering a question each day for 11 days. I like the document it creates of my past selves. You can read my answers from 20102011201220132014 and 2015 as well). Here are my answers from 2016:

Day 1:

Describe a significant experience that has happened in the past year. How did it affect you? Are you grateful? Relieved? Resentful? Inspired?

My answer:

I moved in with my girlfriend, Fran, 6 weeks ago. It's been lovely. I've moved from my house out of town in Kidlington back to my old neighbourhood, Jericho. This makes my commute longer (more time for podcasts!) but also means we can get into town much quicker and we're only 5 minutes' walk from our local cinema.

Being with Fran is great. We get on really well; can balance each other's ups and downs; love spending time together, cooking and eating, making our house into a home, making gradual improvements to the way we live.

When we lived apart, we spent a lot of time planning the logistics of seeing each other and travelling back and forth between Kidlington and Wolvercote and making trips into town. Now we come home to each other every evening and can put our slippers and pyjamas on as early as we like without having to go out again.

I'm getting to that (middle) age where I resent having made plans in the evenings and at weekends. I'd much rather stay home with Fran, sleep in, and make our own plans for the day - even if that's mostly planning when to have the next meal and what to eat.

I'm really grateful to have met Fran and made such a good start to our relationship. I've felt very comfortable with her from the very beginning. We soon settled into a nice pattern of seeing each other. We could have moved in together much earlier, but I moved into my own place shortly after we met and wanted a bit of time to try living by myself. The natural cycle of tenancy agreements also delayed it somewhat. But we decided earlier this year to start looking for places to live together. Our first search was unfruitful. But when we tried again, after one horrible Saturday of seeing three dreadful places in a row (well, the last one wasn't that bad), I heard from my old landlords in Jericho that they had this flat available and we could take it before it even went on the market. I'm so glad to be here with my old landlords in my favourite part of Oxford.

It's a relief that things have worked out so well. But then I believe that if you let the world know you're looking to make a change, it's more likely to happen. That's kind of how I met Fran in the first place. But that's another story…

Day 2:

Is there something that you wish you had done differently this past year? Alternatively, is there something you're especially proud of from this past year?

My answer:

I wish I'd been better at handling my workload at work this year. It's still an ongoing problem. Over the past few months I've struggled to deliver all the hours I've been allocated. I don't really know why my productivity has dipped. I get interrupted quite a lot and have found it hard to get into the flow and maintain flow for long periods of time. Slack (the instant messaging app) doesn't help: being interrupted. Nor does having my email open. In some ways I know how to fix it (or at least make improvements), but it's hard to break habits. I wonder what's holding me back. And why.

I had some interesting conversations at work today. I talked to my boss about these issues yesterday and my other boss suggested today that my time might be required elsewhere in the company - perhaps helping with more pitches for new business. I had a really good meeting at Chatham House last week and think I've impressed some people with my knowledge and ideas. I think my role will continue to develop. Maybe I just need a change to keep me interested. (Not a change of job or company, I might add!)

Sometimes I wonder if I'm better at presenting ideas than actually working on the long-term projects to make them a reality. I'm a bit of a magpie: attracted to shiny new things and less motivated by the everyday grind of just getting things done. Does that make me a salesman? I don't know how I feel about that.

But it brings back some of the same guilt and procrastination I struggled with throughout my failed DPhil thesis. This problem isn't particular to last year: it's been a recurring theme in my life for the past decade.

There are things I'm proud about, too. I know I can deliver good work. I get some really nice feedback from clients every now and again. But that's coupled with the shame of knowing how much I fall short of my retainer hours sometimes. Anyway, the good stuff is there. So I've started keeping a list of nice things people say about me. The theory is that in rougher times I can look back on it to help rebuild my self-esteem and see through the darker clouds.

I'm also quite proud of how my relationship with my girlfriend, Fran, has developed. I think we're good together. We love spending time together. I'm not always great in company: I'd like to be better at making people feel comfortable around us, of including them. But at least I'm aware that I'm not always fun to be with.

Day 3:

Think about a major milestone that happened with your family this past year. How has this affected you?

My answer:

My dad retired around his 63rd birthday this June. He moved back to Ayr, my hometown in Scotland, with my mum shortly afterwards. They now live much further away than they did when they lived in Bristol, so I'll probably see much less of them. I'm really pleased for them, but sad for myself that we won't have as much contact.

But it's time for them to do things for themselves rather than for the sake of us four (grown-up) children.

I've barely spoken to them since I moved in with Fran 6 weeks ago. I need to make more time to phone them and email them. We've only had a few very brief (mostly logistical) chats and the odd text message exchange. And all this after me berating them when I visited them in August for not keeping in touch, not phoning me. Maybe I was berating myself during that conversation as much as I was berating them.

But life gets in the way, sometimes: I'm wrapped up in my own world with Fran, making our own family (nope, we're not adding to the family: I'm talking just the two of us). I could have phoned them tonight but wanted to do other things more keenly. And there's only so much time…I'm already going to bed later than I would like.

I'm really pleased for them that they have the means to buy a house and move back home, to design a life for themselves without the burden of children. "Burden" might be the wrong word. Responsibility? Ties? Obligation? I think I know what I mean, but it sounds wrong when you express it that way.

I guess that reflects some of the reservations I have about the thought of having children myself. I feel too selfish right now to be responsible for another new person. I want to be the focus of my life for now. That's probably not a particularly attractive trait, but it's how I am at the moment. It might be why I've been steadily quitting social commitments: refereeing rugby and touch; Sol Samba; Man Choir - all things I used to do willingly but have now decided, for one reason or another, aren't worth it anymore. My time alone and with Fran is more valuable to me at the moment.

I really hope my parents enjoy their retirement and that it's a long and happy one. I'm slightly worried that Sandy, my dad, will find himself at a loss: won't know what to do with his time. But I think he and Moira, my mum, are aware of that danger and I hope they are taking steps to prevent any bad stuff happening.

Day 4:

Describe an event in the world that has impacted you this year. How? Why?

My answer:

I was really upset after I heard the result of the EU referendum. I couldn't quite believe it. I lay in bed for about 20 minutes with the radio on, trying to take it all in. I was disappointed in our politicians for fighting a half-hearted campaign and especially disappointed (although not that surprised) at the dishonesty of the Leave campaign.

The news was super-interesting for about 4-6 weeks afterwards, but eventually everything calmed down and went back to normal. I'm so glad we didn't end up with Michael Gove as prime minister. I think the Brexit process will take a long time to work itself out. I'm hoping there will be compromise.

The Brexit vote made me somewhat ashamed to be British. I didn't think that's what we stood for. I'm intolerant of intolerance.

I think of myself as European. I can see the benefits of sharing wealth and power in Europe. Most of the mainstream arguments against the EU are selfish and small-minded.

I was pleased to see how many people engaged with the process and the aftermath, though. It beats apathy and indifference.

I'm not pleased with how the Labour party has behaved - especially the Parliamentary Labour Party. Leave Corbyn alone to do his job. Get behind him or leave the party. Why are people so afraid of him? I was really hopeful this time last year that he would help to change the nature of British politics; but his party has behaved despicably. The referendum result was an excuse to go after him in the unstable times. All the major parties have been dead-headed this year.

But day-to-day life for me hasn't changed at all. Yet.

Day 5:

Have you had any particularly spiritual experiences this past year? How has this experience affected you? "Spiritual" can be broadly defined to include secular spiritual experiences: artistic, cultural, and so forth.

My answer:

I went to a Christening at St Margaret's. I found it incredibly boring and uncomfortable. The artifice of the high church rituals just seem ridiculous and fake. They're all people, and yet some of them believe something that I don't. I felt a bit ostracized, but I didn't wish to be a believer.

Nevertheless, I think it's important to experience places of worship and people at worship from time to time. And to respect what they do, even if you don’t join in.

I have a cynicism that I've developed since primary school. There is a certain amount of hypocrisy in religion that I can't see beyond. And I've just never got the wonder of it. However, I can appreciate that some of the rituals might be soothing. I just can't see, however, how people would wish to give up their Sunday mornings to sit in an uncomfortable pew and listen to someone Christen children he's never met.

This might be a problem in the future because, if I ever get married, it wouldn't feel right to me, at the moment, to get married in church. But I think Fran and perhaps her parents would want to. I've preferred non-church weddings: they focus more on the people than the tradition and the "doing it in front of God" bit. How much would I want to resist this? Does it really mean that much to me or is it just a preference? Marriage is supposed to be about compromise. But I've also respected the weddings more when the personality of the couple comes through. Church isn't me.

Day 6:

Describe one thing you'd like to achieve by this time next year. Why is this important to you?

My answer:

I'd like to be able to swim front crawl with ease and grace by this time next year. It's important to me because I've invested quite a lot of money in my swimming lessons with Keith at The Swim Shed. Swimming is also helping me to lose weight - but that's probably also got to do with living with my second conscience, Fran, who is helping me to make better decisions about what I eat.

I was inspired by the marathon swimming at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. The women looked so elegant swimming and stroking the water so gently.

I like the praise the our coach, Keith, gives us. It makes me feel good. He says there's a swimmer in me. I like training my body again. I haven't trained in a sport for a while. I like being able to learn from a coach, having someone pay attention to you and teach you, tailor his coaching to your needs.

I've progressed quite a lot in my swimming after only three lessons. I can now breathe more comfortably under water i.e. breathe out through my nose under water and in through my mouth above water. I do proper breaststroke with my head under the water now, wearing goggles and a swimming hat.

I'd like to be able to swim from the top of Port Meadow, near the Trout, all the way down to the Rainbow Bridge. I could probably do this now by breaststroke but I'd like to do that with proper front crawl. That's a goal for next year.

We're also thinking about signing up for the Bantham Swoosh in July, which is a 6km river swim out into an estuary. The last little bit swooshes you out into the bay. It's supposed to be quite shallow with clear water. I suppose I might eventually need to get myself a wetsuit - if I can find one that fits!

Day 7:

How would you like to improve yourself and your life next year? Is there a piece of advice or counsel you received in the past year that could guide you?

My answer:

I'd like to continue losing a bit of weight. I feel better about myself; less schlubby. Living with Fran has helped me keep better sleeping patterns: going to bed at 11-ish and getting up at 07:15 with enough time to have breakfast before work. These may be small things, but I think they make a difference to my wellbeing.

I'd like to get better at time management at work, but I'm not sure how I'm going to do it. I have days where I focus on the task at hand, but then I have to catch up with the email backlog that I leave behind.

My life is really good at the moment. Living with Fran makes me so happy. I came home this evening and could see the light on through the front window. I waved at Fran excitedly as I walked past to the front door. It's so nice coming home to a cosy house with Fran and the cats.

There's lots I want to do and I'm gradually working my way through my list; but my to-do list also keeps growing. And I need some downtime where I can relax and not worry.

We had a really nice weekend last weekend - staying at home, not doing much. It was good to unwind.

I also like the idea of deciding what I give a fuck about. One only has so many fucks to give! I've been quite good over the years of letting go of things that are less important. And living with someone certainly helps that because you have to find a happy medium between what we both want.

I'm not sure if there's a single piece of advice or counsel that could guide me. Keith, my swimming coach, is full of wisdom. He told us off for calling Fran "Calamity Fran". I guess the theory is that you live up to your name and it introduced negative thought patterns.

Day 8:

Is there something (a person, a cause, an idea) that you want to investigate more fully in 2016?

My answer:

I want to investigate One Metric more fully in the coming year. It's a concept I've discussed with a couple of clients at work; and today I started working on making it a reality. It's not my idea; I got it from Moz. But I'm implementing it and adapting it for each organization.

The idea is that you produce one aggregate metric that tells you how well a piece of content is performing compared to another piece of content. You work out what expected (average) performance is for a group of metrics and then you compare the performance of a single page against expected performance. At the end of it, you get a single figure between 0 and 100, where 50 is expected performance.

I'd also like to develop my analytics skills beyond pure data gathering to actually being able to deliver insights and encourage change. That's the hard part: producing analysis, not just reports of numbers.

I'm also looking forward to getting my head around Google Data Studio and Google Optimize. I like that my job has exciting new developments every so often. I find it fulfilling and I geek out whenever some good news comes out.

Last week, for example, I was really excited that you could now move properties between Google Analytics accounts. This will mean nothing to people who don't know anything about Google Analytics; but to me it's a big deal!

Day 9:

What is a fear that you have and how has it limited you? How do you plan on letting it go or overcoming it in the coming year?

My answer:

I'm not really afraid of anything. I don't feel limited in that way. There are some things that I don't want to do: such as dance in public, but I don't think that's a fear; it's just something I'm uncomfortable doing in public.

I guess I am a bit afraid of my big brother, Gregory, and his mental illness. I don't like seeing him like that. I'm afraid of what he might say to me. Apparently he's been quite hurtful to other members of my family, but I've been spared (so far).

I'm now the closest family member to Gregory since my parents and brother Richard moved back home to Scotland. I'm somewhat afraid that Gregory might turn up on my doorstep one day or need my help. I'm afraid of how that might disrupt my comfortable life.

If this is, indeed, a fear, it has limited my willingness to try getting in touch with Gregory again. I've written to him in the past without any response. But I haven't tried in a while.

I don't know if I want to let this go or overcome it. There are some people that you can't help, who need to help themselves and learn how to accept help from others. I think Gregory is one of those people.

I don't know what I'm afraid of when I'm with him. I'm afraid of the discomfort when he's depressed and monosyllabic and can't or won't hold a conversation with you. I'm afraid of his mania - a side of him that I don't want to have to witness again. I don't know why mental illness is so scary. I was scared when I went to visit Gregory shortly after the first time he was sectioned. I didn't recognize him. He did no harm to me except verbally bully me or tease me. I was scared of the mental ward he was on and the other people in it. It's making me uncomfortable now writing and thinking about it.

I guess this is a fear I've repressed.

Day 10:

When September 2017 rolls around and you receive your answers to your 10Q questions, how do you think you'll feel? What do you think/hope might be different about your life and where you're at as a result of thinking about and answering these questions?

My answer:

I hope I will continue to be as happy as I am now: with Fran, with my home, with my life, with my job. I hope I will be happier about my weight, feel fitter, feel glad I got more serious about my swimming. I hope I will feel able to share my answers again. I'm quite happy to put myself out there - particularly as it's what I was thinking a year ago. So in some ways it isn't me anymore.

I hope there aren't any drastic changes. I've enjoyed reflecting on the incremental change that happens and this is recorded, to some extent, in my answers to these questions each year. It's quite a nice document, a record of what I was feeling in the autumn of each year. As the leaves fall and the cold returns, it's nice to shed some of my own leaves. Some will grow back over the next year. Others will remain, mulched into and enriching the soil around my roots.

Day 11:

What are your predictions for the coming year?

My answer:

Life with Fran keeps getting better.


Record your own answers this year at