Home Personal Blog Two Years In Retrospect

Two Years In Retrospect

by wforbes

The Older You Get, The Faster Time Moves

When you’re a kid, time just runs more slowly. I remember the summer of 2000, I was between 8th grade and 9th grade – only 13 years old getting ready to start high school the following school year. I spent every day that summer skateboarding with my friends and hanging out at their band practice. There were days we wandered around with nothing to do and nowhere to go. Floating along the streets, looking somewhere to skate or some new thing to see. It felt like that summer lasted a lifetime. We did so much in those 3 months. Even back then we recognized it – forever known as the ‘endless summer’. If I called up my friends from that era, I’m certain they’d all remember that summer the same way I do now.

Things are different now. The summers come and go. One minute it’s 2019 and I’m starting a new job, my life’s moving forward in a good direction. I have so many ideas and plans for projects I’d like to do… I even write a blog about it. The next minute it’s 2021 and nearly two years flew by.

In that span of time, we had the Black Lives Matter protests, murder hornets, Australia burning down, fears of World War 3, a chaotic political climate with Twitter-storms of epic proportions, and Cryptocurrency mining ruined the graphics card market. Twitter got hacked, the government got hacked, toilet paper got hacked, and oh yeah… a global pandemic with mandatory stay-at-home orders totally upended all of civilization.

Not quite as much has changed in my personal life since 2019. I kept my job and worked from home through the pandemic. I paid off my new car and started saving money to buy a house. I whittled away at my Computer Science degree at a decent pace. The biggest change was moving in with my girlfriend and starting to rent the house we live in now. But, despite all that’s happened and changed over the last two years on a global/national scale, to me in my little life – the last two years went by in the blink of an eye.

It may be my age (34 this year), or it may be my stable routine, but it literally feels like 2019 was just yesterday. Up until this week, I hadn’t even realized it had been a year since I last wrote any blog at all. Wow. I’m taking tonight to pace back through the last 24 months and take account of where I am now and what I’ve learned. Join me, won’t you?

Plans Change but the Goals Still Remain

Near the end of 2019, I wrote a couple more blog posts that revolved around detailing a huge list of goals and projects that I would be dedicating all my free time to work on. (Blog#2 and Blog#3) After keeping a journal over the previous 3 years, I had a huge list of dozens of dozens of ideas and projects, research and notes, links and references, thoughts and goals. They were all built up just waiting to be organized and acted on. Here’s a rough list of everything I wanted to do or look into, all my main goals:

  • Finish my Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science by 2021
  • Get my CSSLP certification
  • Learn the C++ programming language with professional proficency
  • Work on my video game project “Omnia” – https://github.com/wforbes/omnia
  • Start flipping (buying/selling) websites and running small online businesses via https://flippa.com
  • Complete as many online tutorials and courses as I can for Software Development and other topics (via Pluralsight, Freecodecamp, KhanAcademy, Udemy, etc)
  • Build a web application that provides gameified to-do lists that makes getting stuff done fun (https://lvlz.app)
  • Practice editing videos with Adobe Premier
  • Write articles and create video tutorials using my college work and research journal entries
  • Post videos to my YouTube channel regularly
  • Read at least 50 pages (or one chapter) from a book each day
  • Post articles on the books I’ve read
  • Research and study neurology with the goal of working with neurologists as a programmer
  • Further organize and expand my Indicium project of useful links and categorized topics
  • Learn the React.js framework
  • Get more proficient with WordPress development (themes and plugins)
  • Set up and run a physical web server in my home for practice
  • Learn to fly Freestyle FPV drones (like this)
  • Learn D&D and start playing with a group of friends regularly
  • Write music and practice guitar at least once a week to post music on soundcloud
  • Skateboard at least once a week and start filming clips regularly
  • Draw on my graphics tablet an hour per day and get really good with Photoshop/Illustrator
  • Work out at least 8 hours per week

(And that doesn’t include everything, only what I thought I could handle…)

Then the year 2020 happened…. and slowly but surely plans steadily changed. Looking back at this list… there are a few things that I made progress with, sure, but others I still have yet to do regularly or even START.

As I mentioned in Blog#4, it would be easy to blame the COVID pandemic and the events of 2020 for not being able to somehow do all these things I listed. In all honesty, though, that has nothing to do with it. At the end of the day, all the insanity of 2020 really didn’t affect my own life very much. I’m supremely thankful for that and I counting my blessings.

Instead, I’m writing this blog to share what I’ve learned about setting goals, stretching yourself thin, and the counterintuitive limits of developing self-discipline.

Set Impossible Goals, Then See What Happens

Out of those dozens of things I wanted to explore and accomplish two years ago, even mastering one of them by now would be outstanding. I realized as much back then, so I wasn’t expecting to get it all done. I tried my hardest with reasonable effort, but I still spent time with my girlfriend and my friends. I still played laser pointer games with the cat. I still slacked off when I needed to, and I didn’t beat myself up too bad about it. Instead, I’ve gradually just tried to improve my habits and do as much as I can without too much stress.

So, even though I’m not looking back at the last year and marveling at my world-record accomplishments – I have a much better idea of what I’m actually capable of. I know where I can make improvements in my routine. I’ve realized some of the bad habits I have so I can work on them. I’m wiser today than I was two years ago. That’s my greatest accomplishment so far.

My advice in this regard is that you should never limit what you set out to do, just be realistic with what you expect. Try to do everything. Work like a maniac. Then dial it back. Find what’s most important to focus on, recalculate your plans, restructure your approach. Then try to do all you can. Work like a maniac. Then dial it back and repeat. Doing this will teach you what you’re actually capable of, there’s only one way to learn that. Pushing yourself may help expand what you’re capable of, but pushing too hard won’t always turn out so well.

Stretching Your Schedule Doesn’t Earn You More Time

Pushing yourself too hard, trying to wedge too much into your schedule, then depending on your own improvisation in getting better at managing it all is … well, it’s like a train-wreck waiting to happen. If your focus is spread too thin among too many different things, you probably won’t magically find a way to make it all work…. instead your work in all efforts will suffer somewhat evenly. That’s what I found at first.

I’d work on projects or college assignments in the morning, I’d do my day-job work through the majority of the day, then I’d work on more projects at night – leaving just enough time to read, workout, practice a skill or two, and collapse in bed asleep. Then, I’d do it all over again. I have a high tolerance for burn-out, so this went on for a while. I could manage it for a time until eventually, I realized that instead of burning out – the quality of my work was just fizzling away. I would spend the scheduled time focused on a task… but my progress toward that task would result in less and less as the days went by. Eventually, I just wasn’t getting anywhere in anything… but I kept on doing it anyway.

After about 3 months I changed my trajectory. I thought about it and tried different approaches until eventually I just went with the flow. There was absolutely no reason to keep trying to hold myself to a time-based schedule in a planned routine. So – I stopped doing it. Almost immediately I started making progress again, it was just in fewer different pursuits each day. I spent more time on things I had to do – like college assignments. I spent the rest of my time only on what I wanted to do – like write some code, or complete an online tutorial/course of my choosing.

Then, there were days focused entirely on recharging. I didn’t do anything but my day-job work, study college assignments a little, and spend time the rest of the day relaxing. A few hours of quality time with my girlfriend and scratching our dog behind the ears ended up netting more positive results in my work than forcing myself to a strict 24/7 schedule.

Allowing for blocks of time, or entire days, where I could simply deviate from my schedule and do whatever felt right provided the perfect balance to return to hard-working days when that felt right instead.

True Discipline Means Having Full Control Of Yourself

At the beginning of this journey, I had this certain concept of “discipline” that I’m not sure I agree with anymore. Back in 2019 and before, I’d thought that being completely disciplined meant that you were always able to do the hard work that you didn’t necessarily want to do. It meant putting off short-term enjoyment for long-term rewards, in every situation. Now I’m realizing that this creates a sort of “John Wick dilemma”. Let me explain.

In the movies, the character ‘John Wick’ is a trained assassin. In fact, he’s the trained assassin. He’s the prototypic action movie anomaly that is unkillable no matter the odds against him. He’s supremely focused, and the ultimate master of his craft. The line from one of the movies is: “John is a man of focus, commitment, sheer will… something you know very little about. I once saw him kill three men in a bar… with a pencil, with a fucking pencil.”

John Wick is legendary without bound. Known the world over, feared by all. A figure that, when I used to consider the concept of ‘self-discipline‘, my mind would instantly conjure up. He’s a character that you can always use as an impossible goal-post. Just focus, be like John Wick.. be a man of focus.

But since the beginning of 2021, I’ve started to realize the profound dilemma that the John Wick character is trapped in. The reason for the conflict in his story and what is actually driving the plot in those movies. (Spoiler Alert ….)

Despite all his focus and commitment and sheer will … despite his mastery of deadly combat and amazing driving skills… John Wick is a prisoner of his own bottomless abilities. He is able to kill anyone, do anything, and accomplish whatever he puts his effort into – yet this ability is the entire reason that he’s suffered all his worst losses in life. It’s the reason he has to now somehow escape the impossible in the next movie.

In the story, he left the world of assassins and got out of that industry just before the movie series began. He was able to get out and enjoy time with the love of his life, for a time. As the first movie is opening, he’s dealing with the cancer-death of his wife. Thugs then break into his home and destroy the last present his wife gave him before she died … and so begins the saga of movies. A saga of vengeance. A string of gnarly fight scenes and endless killing. We’re rooting for Mr. Wick because we want to see that vengeance enacted just as much as his character does. Go John!

But… wait a second. Just because you can murder literally hundreds of the most dangerous people on the planet and burn down the empire of a mob family for revenge, then repay a blood oath by assassinating some under-world royalty, then try to defend against that entire under-world coming after you…. and so on, does that mean you should?

Rewatching the movies now, I see – plain as day – that my initial concept of the ‘discipline’ that I wished to work toward years ago is a total contradiction in logic. If John Wick was actually the most focused and committed individual on the planet, he wouldn’t rest until his problems were solved on his own terms – in his new silent life away from violence. In a way that truly honored the memory of his deceased wife and the life they shared.

Thugs break in and mess up your greaving process? Well, first – move, then you’re the most feared assassin on the market, pull some strings, make some calls, study accounting and law, then perform a non-violent hostile take over of their empire and get them all sent to death-row. Blood oath comes back to bite you in the butt? Well, again… pull some strings, have a high-council meeting or two, and let them sort out their own damn family problems, work out the oath/council conflicts in the rule book, and keep on truckin’. If you somehow still wind up being hunted by every trained killer on Earth, then clearly now it’s time to start killing… but at least you made some measured efforts.

That poor wife of his was probably spinning in her grave so hard at all the mortal sins being committed in her name I’m surprised she didn’t helicopter out of the ground and start killing people alongside him. Or maybe she did and they just cut those scenes out – you never know. (There’s a ‘spin-off’ pun in there somewhere, be thankful I didn’t go for it.)

In all honesty, the John Wick movies are a perfect example of uncontrolled discipline. It’s the story of a mythical murder savant stumbling from one unplanned, unrestrained, uncalculated, unsafe … and actually undisciplined mishap to another; all the while utilizing the most disciplined abilities imaginable. Riding on the razor edge of death on a daily basis for what must be months at a time.

Just because you can train yourself to push away all distractions, tune yourself to be endlessly productive, and focus your energies toward a mercilessly impossible set of tasks absolutely doesn’t mean you’re ever actually in control. Becoming consumed with building self-discipline, productivity, commitment, and focus leaves you totally vulnerable to become locked into that state. Head to the grindstone. Obsessessed. Consumed. Ignorant.

What is true discipline then? In this context? Lately, I’ve cultivated the idea that it’s a finding the perfect blend of sticking to long-term goals but having the short-term control to remain flexible throughout day-to-day events. It means framing what you do in the short-term so that it works toward the long-term, understanding that you may not always be accurate in your assumptions of how to get there.

It’s the act of challenging yourself to try harder when you don’t want to and, knowing when not to. It’s being able to do what’s actually required of you, rather than simply what you desire to be required of you.

It’s patience. With yourself and with the process. Awareness of your surroundings and how you affect others.

It’s striving to find an ever deeper consideration for the broader context in which you live.

That is true focus, commitment, and discipline.

So, What DID I Accomplish?

If you’re really that interested, here’s a snapshot of my current progress with that silly list. What I realized many months ago was that the only thing that matters on this list, right now, is finishing my degree. Everything in this list will be improved when I’m making more money with the degree. I’ll have more time to spend however I want once I’m finished with the degree. There’s no side-hustle, no project, no other thing I can do right now that will increase my earning potential and knowledge like having my degree finished. For the last 9-10 months, that’s been my game plan.

  • Finish my Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science by 2021
    • (38% Done). Not on track to finish this year. Calculus has delayed me. On track to graduate 2023 at my current pace, but I’ll be focusing all my effort on moving that up to 2022.
  • Get my CSSLP certification
    • (10% Done). So far I’ve studied about a quarter of the material and I’m delaying going any further until I get my degree, or my workload in my day-job lightens up.
  • Learn the C++ programming language with professional proficency
    • (30% Done). I did really well in my introductory level college class, I’ve finished 1 of my 5 books that range up to advanced topics… so I’d say I’m just entering a novice-level understanding of the language. Nothing to write home about, but I’m happy.
  • Work on my video game project “Omnia” – https://github.com/wforbes/omnia
    • (20% Done). I spent about 2 months totally engrossed with this project. I got to the point of starting to work on combat and the inventory system when I realized that Java just isn’t the best choice for this game. I’ll be steadily rewriting it for JavaScript in the web browser, but this really isn’t a main focus.
  • Start flipping (buying/selling) websites and running small online businesses via https://flippa.com
    • (5% Progress) So far I’ve only done market research enough to realize that I can make my own websites for more profit, or I need much more start up capital to flip sites that people will actually buy. I intend on just creating my own sites and apps to list on Flippa eventually.
  • Complete as many online tutorials and courses as I can for Software Development and other topics (via Pluralsight, Freecodecamp, KhanAcademy, Udemy, etc)
    • (50% Progress) I was able to earn one FreeCodeCamp certification and complete most of a second and third. I got pretty far into the fullstack Codecademy course. I’ve learned ALOT of great skills on Pluralsight that I immediately used at work. I’m about half-way toward where I thought I’d be two years ago.
  • Build a web application that provides gameified to-do lists that makes getting stuff done fun (https://lvlz.app & https://github.com/wforbes/levelz.app)
    • (30% Progress) I was able to get a solid foundation of core features done. Things like the login system, permissions, profiles, media uploads, and I’ve worked out plans for all the to-do list functionality, experience, progression, and other things. At this point the app is about 1/3 of the way to it being usable by other people.
  • Practice editing videos with Adobe Premier
    • (5% Progress) I really didn’t concentrate on this much yet.
  • Write articles and create video tutorials using my college work and research journal entries
    • (10%) I’ve got great progress on a set of programming, C++ and web development articles on this site, just chipping away at it now and posting it as it’s ready.
  • Post videos to my YouTube channel regularly
    • (0%) Haven’t even started. There probably won’t be time for this until my degree is done.
  • Read at least 50 pages (or one chapter) from a book each day
    • (5%) I started out doing this regularly… but after a month or two I stopped. Time to start back up again!
  • Post articles on the books I’ve read – Nope
  • Research and study neurology with the goal of working with neurologists as a programmer – Nope
  • Further organize and expand my Indicium project of useful links and categorized topics – Nope
  • Learn the React.js framework – Nope
  • Get more proficient with WordPress development (themes and plugins) – Nope
  • Set up and run a physical web server in my home for practice – Nope
  • Learn to fly Freestyle FPV drones (like this)
    • (20%) For quite a while I would practice on a flight simulator (https://www.velocidrone.com/) using a real FPV controller… but over time I did this less and less. Time to start back up again!
  • Learn D&D and start playing with a group of friends regularly
    • (100%) Some of my lady’s friends have come over now and then to play D&D on an awesome campaign our DM made. It’s been fun and I’m really glad to have those times to kick back and roll some dice.
  • Write music and practice guitar at least once a week to post music on soundcloud
    • (50%) I’m not nearly as good as I’d like to be, but I’m getting much better than I was two years ago. I’ll be buying an electric guitar soon and I’ve got two new songs I haven’t posted yet that I’d like to build into full ‘prog rock’ tracks with drum accompaniment. Things are going in a good direction here.
  • Skateboard at least once a week and start filming clips regularly
    • (75%) I end up skating a few times a week, then once every few weeks. I’ve gotten some good clips this last year, but they’re few and far between. I learned some new tricks and relearned alot of old ones I haven’t done in years. The main thing I’m happy about is that I’m more comfortable on my board and have more fun than I ever did.
  • Draw on my graphics tablet an hour per day and get really good with Photoshop/Illustrator
    • Nope – I just haven’t felt inspired to draw lately. It’s ok. It comes and goes and I’m not forcing it.
  • Work out at least 8 hours per week
    • Nope – I’ll do some push ups before bed tonight 🙂

I’ll keep working my plan, with true discipline, and we’ll see how far I’ve progressed two years from now. I promise I won’t post another self-absorbed list-based blog until 2023. Cheers!

Image Credit: https://www.instagram.com/seamlessoo

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