MJ's Recap of 2021
People, books, running and a little bit of fashion. The lessons on organized chaos.
This year was a chaotic disaster. At least, that was my perception before I started diving into my notes from the last 365 days and reminding myself of noteworthy moments.
Every year since high school, I try to go through pieces of the year captured on my phone, written in my notebooks, and reflect on how these moments & learnings enriched me personally. In the last 2 years (2019, 2020), I even dared to share my recap with the public. Since this sense of public exposition makes me dive deeper into the reflection and understand myself more, I will continue with this habit.
Intros aside here is the story of 2021.
Building my corner on the internet
I'm an organizational freak. I like to have structure and a clear idea of what will happen. With all the information overload I encounter in the physical world around me, the digital world (social media, news), and the world inside my job (building a global digital service), it gets harder to stay mentally sane.
This year, I decided to clear up my relationship with the internet. It will always be an ongoing project, but let me share the current state. I transitioned my digital presence into 3 main places:
Instagram – my running diary. Capturing the sweaty miles to have memories over the years. I also want to share my hobby with others and meet new runners.
LinkedIn – The space for work announcements. Promoting what we are building and connecting with other professionals in the industry.
Personal website (a subset of that is also this newsletter) – This is my personal piece of the internet. A digital track of record.
Thanks to this distinction, I could take back the control over the digital myself. This came with a decision to get rid of Twitter & Facebook. Those networks haven't had any profound meaning for me in the last couple of years. I don't need them to become who I want to be. The internet is a tool that can help me achieve my goals and grow into the person I want to be. These networks made me feel pressured to be a fabricated version of myself while consuming my time. Instead, I want to invest that time into my friends or become a better designer.
Simplification of life
I'm on a long-term mission to get from confusion to clarity. I thought of small everyday moments in the physical world that could be optimized with non-significant effort.
For this reason, I minimized my wardrobe to a few good quality essential T-Shirts & Sweatshirts. Asket became my favorite clothing company with its approach to fashion. An exception is Nike for running gear.
I redefined my personal to-do tracking to be more connected to how I as a manager operate at Kiwi.com. For years I have been using Things to control my life. I switched to Notion to connect everything and use fewer apps. Work, travels, investment plans, everything in one place. I tinker with an idea to write about life & work frameworks more in separate articles.
All the optimizations, yet I disrupt myself – constantly
Thinking of lowering distractions I realized, that I have this internal push to continually move forward. That my consciousness is not satisfied with a feeling of comfort. It is counterproductive because I constantly create new chaos for myself. One of those steps outside this year was a move to Prague. It was a spontaneous decision for a couple of reasons:
It is a bigger city with more competition in everything. It inspires me to try my best.
My family members & friends are here.
The airport is close to where I live, enabling me to change the scenery more. Meeting friends around the world became easier. (more on this in the paragraph below)
A more extensive network of designers and many new opportunities to learn & grow professionally justify my financial investment into a higher cost of living.
The most challenging thing was leaving all my Brno friends. All those runs around the city, fun dinners. To this day, I miss that.
On the opposite, this move deepened my commitment to making long-distance friendships work. Even if it means traveling to the USA or Brno.
To all the people of 2021
I spend time with too many special people to name. I was more in touch with my design classmates from Copenhagen Design School. It was inspiring to see how everyone has grown since our school days.
A Slovak designer from Innovatrics, Tomas Janek, put together a friend group of interesting designers coming from Slovakia. We started having a regular monthly meet, where we talk about everything from design challenges to the industry's current state and our personal lives. I can't even express how amazed I feel listening to the wisdom of people who achieved much more in their careers. It has allowed me to start understanding the Slovak design ecosystem more.
It is no surprise that my dearest Kiwi peers have been more fabulous than ever. I wrote a short LinkedIn post about our yearly highlights.
Finally, to all my new and long friends, mentors, and family members who have the patience to keep up with my shenanigans – Thank you <3. You deserve a medal.
The regular yearly themes
Running – I'm getting old
Long story short, I got injured in the second half of the year. I pushed my training in the High Tatras too much and started having a muscle issue in my left leg. Therefore, I haven't passed the regular yearly 2500kms mark. As the problem is not going away, I'm going into 2022 with a new year's resolution – not running for at least 6 weeks.
If I can resolve the issue, I intend to get back into full training mode stronger than ever. There is a life milestone waiting for me. One of my last chances to run 10k in 36 minutes.
Reading – less was much more this year
I read only 14 books in 2021. Yet, it didn't make my shortlist selection easier this year. I've been waffling between all the titles focused on my favorite topics like people, design, writing, productivity. I ended up choosing 3 from different genres:
In Order to Live
A memoir from a woman who escaped North Korea and became a Human Rights activist. She describes all the painful struggles of being ready to die, human trafficking, living the majority of life in famine. It makes you realize how great our lives are and how much a simple ID or passport means. Although this is a sad story, it has a hopeful ending.
"In the free world, children dream about what they want to be when they grow up and how they can use their talents. When I was four and five years old, my only adult ambition was to buy as much bread as I liked and eat all of it."
No Filter by Sarah Frier
An inside story of how Instagram was born & acquired. The story is based on interviews with employees who have been at the company. Shows the challenges of their growth from both product & cultural perspectives. The most fascinating part is hearing the nitty details of what they considered while making the product decisions.
"It used to be that the internet reflected humanity, but now humanity is reflecting the internet."
The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel
This is a book from which I generated the most notes ever. It is a guide to thinking about your life's investments. It doesn't give you a specific formula for where to invest. It teaches you to think. The paragraphs are wisdom after wisdom.
"We all think we know how the world works. But we’ve all only experienced a tiny sliver of it."
You can always check my complete list on Goodreads.
As I'm writing this last paragraph, I'm sipping a chai latte in my favorite Prague coffee spot – Cafe Letka. It's a narrow, noisy place, where people sit at a spacious work desk with other strangers. You can hear a subtle electric beat and various noises from the coffee maker. Next to me is a young couple on a date going back and forth discussing who will pay. Pure chaos.
My friend Jan recommended Letka to me when I visited Prague for my apartment viewings this year. It immediately became my go-to spot to work, read, write.
As I kept coming here, I mastered the art of focusing on what was important to me at that moment. Be it the book I'm reading or the design I'm shaping. A significant amount of progress has been made here.
I'm using this as a direct reflection of the disorder of my year. I voluntarily come here and choose to embrace the chaos of Letka to get in the zone and make progress. And that is the same with my life.
My goal is not to optimize and get rid of chaos completely. It will always be around me, no matter how much I try. The need for personal growth will always require escaping the comfort. And I'm at peace with it. If I want to grow, I need to embrace new disruptions, more travels, more confusing steps out of my comfort zone (writing an English newsletter?). Even life itself prepared for me new challenges down the line.
The biggest goal is to keep my principles and direction straight. Keep my friends, family, our team on top of my mind. Put the hours in to grow as a designer, as a human being. As I mastered my focus in Letka this year, I started learning to master my focus in life. Nothing can disturb me as I'm focused on writing my thoughts down – word by word.