The sun shines brightly on moss covered stones on a cliffside above a river. At the edge of the cliff there's a small pine tree next to a huge moss covered boulder.

2019 Retrospective and 2020 Goals

Alright, we're back at it! Another year gone by, and each year I do a retrospective. I'll be working off of last year's retrospective to review the goals I set and see how it felt to meet, or sometimes not, meet them.

What’s a retrospective?

You may be wondering, silently to yourself, what’s that even mean? A retrospective is a list of questions that help you think through what’s happened.

  • What went well
  • What could have gone better, or what’s not working
  • What you can fix for a better result

A recap of 2019

In last year's retro, I mentioned that 2018 "was an emotional year for me," and honestly I feel that a lot of this year had the same thing. Maybe I'm just a complete human with lots of emotions? This is a general observation after reading my retrospective from last year. We have to be kinder to ourselves I think. Life can be a lot sometimes, and it's okay to feel things and take a step back when you need it. Anyway, I digress...

Here are the things I said I wanted to do:

1. Write, post, and do more work in public. This is so hard for me. I often get caught worrying that what I'm saying isn't worth typing out, or that I'm "wrong", and I get frustrated trying to write. Basically, I get in my own head a lot. So in 2019 I wanted to try and be more open and in public, because I think it's important that we lend our voice to things that are important.

2. Reach out to more people to create a stronger community. I wanted to make more close friends and have a group of people I really felt know me. I missed this type of connection so much when I was traveling constantly 2015 through 2017.

I also wanted to expand my professional community and have more support from people that have similar careers to mine.

3. Find additional outlets for creativity. I started doing ceramics off and on at the very end of 2018, and wanted to put additional efforts toward gardening and making the changes to the house that my partner, Jason, and I were excited about.

Last year I also made a plan to check in and write about my goals every quarter to track my progress. Well, let's just leave it at the old saying that the best laid plans often go awry, because I definitely didn't do that.

I did personally check in periodically to see if I was moving in the right direction, so I feel that was enough.

So what went well?

I gained more confidence in my design skills

The biggest piece of this confidence was understanding that deep down into my bones I'm a designer, and I got the chance to do good work. I said "no" to things that were important to say "no" to. I asked "why," and I asked it a lot. And I saw how that made positive impacts in my work, and the work that I produced.

In the past couple of months at Netlify particularly, I've felt like I've had the opportunity to truly come into a calm, confident, thoughtful place where I have the time and trust with my team to ask questions.

I learned something about myself, too. In the past, I've automatically ascribed excitement as a positive emotion. But I realized in mid 2019, that for me, excitement is a mask for my anxiety. Typically if I feel excited, I'm actually anxious, and it not only wears me out, but I end up making choices from a place of fear and loss, which is a terrible way to make decisions!

I started writing and posting more in public

I wrote 10 blog posts in 2019, which is way better than the 3 posts I wrote in 2018.

I also created drafts for about 20 other posts that are sitting in my queue and outlined enough that I can complete them when I've got time.

I did a brain dump for a potential book that I want to write in 2020. (A brain dump is just the act of writing out all the thoughts you have on a specific subject, to get them out of your head and onto paper. You spend time later curating and organizing the ideas).

The last thing I did to was to get really fired up on Twitter about design, research, and climate change. This helped me find some great people to follow and causes to get more involved in, which I'll talk about more in a bit.

I grew my friendships

We have a wonderful dinner party each month with Leslie, Matt, Kristina, and Joel. This is a trend we started in 2019, and it has slowly led to us having impromptu lunches, going to events together, or going over to each other's houses to bake and drink wine.

Of all the things that happened in 2019, getting closer to these wonderful people was the best. Leslie and Kristina sat with me while I cried during our lunch one day. We spent a whole day (10 hours, I kid you not) baking pies. We've been on beautiful hikes, and learned so much about each other. And oh, the food we've eaten.

A collage of some of the delicious things we've made over the course of the year.

One of my childhood friends also moved to Portland this year, and that has been better than I could've imagined! She's one of those friends that knows you so well you don't need to say anything to each other. You can sit on the couch together or go for a walk and just enjoy the company of the other person.

So, for the first time in probably 7 years, I have people nearby that I can truly call if I'm having a bad day, if I'm having a great day, or if I just want to chat. And I know they will be there not only to talk, but to listen, which is a gift that we should all be so lucky to have.

I grew my community

Last year I talked about participating in Hack Oregon, but didn't have the chance to get involved due to work obligations.

I did, however, start participating in the Transportation Justice Committee in Portland, which is part of the 350PDX initiative. The work on this committee focuses on urban mobility and reducing carbon emissions in Portland.

I joined because the climate crisis is the one umbrella issue that impacts every other part of our lives: political policy, economic stability, and overall health. It's overwhelming to try and tackle everything at once, but by focusing on one local thing I'm hopeful that we can start building a city that mirrors other sustainable, bikeable, and walkable cities that are envrionmentally sustainable and designed for humans.

I also wanted to expand my professional community, so I joined the Computer Human Interaction Forum of Oregon (CHIFOO) and got to attend several great talks about design, research, and smart cities. Joining that community and starting to participate in some related Slack groups has given me the opportunity to learn and bounce ideas off of people.

I did so much creative stuff this year!

I got much more experienced in ceramics, and have taken a class every week now for the past year. It's been wonderful learning a tactile skill that has nothing to do with screens, but still deals with visual and physical design.

The bowl on the left is the first bowl I ever made, and the one on the right is the one I made in my most recent class. Quite a difference!

I also got over (well, learned to work through), my fear and frustration about making changes to the house. We made some changes to our windows, got a new fence and seating area, and built a shed! Now that the hardscaping is done I can get started on the actual gardening part of the backyard, which I'm happy about.

Before we made any changes to the backyard
After we added a new fence and pergola / patio area, and built a shed!

I took salsa dancing classes this year as well, and took a couple gardening courses at the local nursery to learn more about landscape design and native plants.

What could've gone better?

Overall I felt that I learned and grew a lot in 2019. There are three things I wish had gone differently.

First, I wish I'd been better about understanding and addressing my anxiety. By the time I realized that I needed help, I'd been having trouble for months and it was taking a big toll on me emotionally. I started having panic attacks again, which I haven't had in about 8 years. It was also affecting my personal life, making me angry or sad or repeatedly play out past events without coming to any closure. By the time I realized what was happening, I was too stressed to successfully find a therapist. For a while, I felt like a failure. I'd missed the signs that I should've seen. I felt like I was slipping back into unhealthy habits that I'd spent so much time working through.

Luckily, some time away from my work, starting a new role that's better aligned with my skillset, and a compassionate and caring team helped me reassess and reduce my anxiety.

Second, I wish I'd been more dedicated to writing publicly, in any form. I didn't write as much as I'd wanted to in 2019. I enjoy having written, but really don't like writing. I know the only way to solve this is to suck it up and do the work anyway.

And the biggest thing for last. 2019, for me as an individual, was a pretty good year. But for the planet, it was absolutely horrific. We lost more coral reefs from bleaching, we lost icebergs that melted away, we lost forests to fire, we lost hundreds of millions of animals, and we lost people who were trapped in these situations. As I write this, Australia is burning uncontrollably, with over 5 million hectares burned in bush fire.

For perspective, that's an area almost the size of Ireland. I've added some overlays of the area from a Guardian article about the fires. You can see how much area is burnt, in relation to an area that you are familiar with. I've included Galway (Ireland), Portland (Oregon), and New York City (New York) for reference.

The bush fires in Australia have burned an area almost the entire size of Ireland.
This shows how much area has been burned in the Australian bush fires in comparison to the city of New York.
This shows how much area has been burned in the Australian bush fires in relation to Portland, OR and the cities around us.


So although overall my year might have been good, how can any of us truly thrive when our only home is dying, and we're killing it? We live in such dissonance. We go about our daily lives, while parts of the world lay in ash, never knowing what area will be next.

People don't like to talk about this. It makes them uncomfortable, and scared, and sad, and angry. It makes me feel all of those things, too. But the only way we can create a change is by understanding this reality, working together as a community, and learning how to adapt to current change and mitigate future change.

What will I change in 2020?

I don't particularly want to change anything, but take more time to focus on the things I started working on in 2019.

To do that, I'm going to:


1. Get more involved in local climate justice work. That means attending local meetings, lending my voice where I can, and publicly raising the voice of others who have stories to tell, science to share, and research to guide us.

2. Write more on research, design, and climate change to show that we can bring climate work into our jobs. I don't believe anything happens completely independently. We are all part of a larger system, be that a natural ecosystem, a business system, or a social system. Because everything we do impacts these systems, I want to show how we can address complex problems by thinking through the way we research and design our work and the world around us.

3. Continue getting better at ceramics and be able to make sets of different things like cups, bowls, mugs, and jars. Ceramics has become my full blown hobby, and I want to use this year to evolve my style, ability to repeatedly create somewhat uniform pieces, and expand the shapes I'm able to create.

4. Do dedicated gardening and get my backyard planted so that birds, bees, and butterflies can benefit from it. The house I live in is my habitat, so I intend to create a garden that creates a habitat for the other animals that don't live in my habitat. I'm excited to learn more about landscape design, native plants, and creating a garden.

5. Be more patient and kind to myself, treat myself the way I would treat a friend, and share that patience and kindness with others I meet. I'm often very impatient with myself, and I'm kind of embarrassed to write this, but I also have a tendency to be very mean. If a "friend" spoke to me the way I speak to myself a lot of the time, I would break off our friendship. So this year I want to be more kind, and give myself the space to be a full human without guilt or shame.

I also want to be more kind to the people around me. We are living in a stressful time and a lot of people are in very real pain, and living with fear. For all good people that are acting in good faith, I want to be more kind and patient. It's easy to get frustrated, it's better to try and be kind. We need each other in order to create change and really thrive.

What are your goals for 2020?

What do you want to do in the next year? Anything you've been wanting to do that you want to focus on? Writing a retrospective each year has been a great way for me to see where I'm at, and where I want to go.

It's just a snapshot in time, but it's helped me measure my progress and see how I grow and change over the years.

So, if you want to do your own retro, all you've go to do is answer these three questions:

  • What went well
  • What could have gone better, or what’s not working
  • What you can fix for a better result

Where do you hope to go in 2020?