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2022: A Year in Review

John Nicholas
John Nicholas
11 min read
2022: A Year in Review
Riding the wave!

Hi there and welcome to my second public annual review!

The Christmas holidays are a good time to play golf (if you're in the Southern Hemisphere), eat more than you should and reflect on the year that has been. I took a moment to look at diary entries, old newsletters and my goals for the year from my previous review.

In many ways 2022 was one of the best years of my life. I went from being stuck in a dead-end job to creating under my own name and going self-employed. I got to spend more time doing what I love with people I care about.

At the same time, there were some big lows. My grandad passed away in March and we said goodbye to our dog, Pacco, in May. I also went through the proverbial wringer applying for 30+ jobs before finding a new path.

The highs were incredible and the lows taught me some valuable lessons. It was a year of uncertainty, but I also felt more grounded as a result of writing. All the experiences added to a rich and colourful year and I wouldn't have wanted it in any other way.

Let's dig in!


Overview

2022: A Year in Review

  1. Highlights
  2. Lessons
  3. Accountability: did I achieve my goals?
  4. Memories

2023: Reflecting Forward (publishing next week)

  1. Priority setting exercise
  2. Principles to live by
  3. Goals

1. Highlights

Work

The main theme this year was creating more autonomy and freedom in my life.

At the start of the year I was stuck in a corporate position where I couldn’t express my creativity and where I had no upwards movement. I felt caged in, like a bird whose wings were clipped. It was time to break out, but where would I go? Into another cage or somewhere completely new?

Obviously I wrote about this a fair bit. In The Future of Work (April) I outlined my ideal work environment. In Creators' Corner #17 (June) I wrote about the three doors I had in front of me – staying in corporate, interviewing at startups or going solo.

The three doors

As it turned out, I walked through the 3rd door - the scary, but exciting road of self-employment. I became a free bird so to speak.

At the time, this choice didn't seem obvious. Self-employment presented risk and uncertainty. It presented something unknown and ominous after 9 years of working in the relative safety of the corporate environment.

But over the last year my conviction has grown. Writing created new opportunities I could never have dreamed of. It connected me with a community of entrepreneurs and self-starters. What seemed like a scary choice, became the most obvious choice and has allowed me to optimize for:

i. Location independence: The flexibility to work from anywhere.

ii. Schedule independence: The ability to perform deep, uninterrupted work.

iii. Skin in the game: Performance-related outcomes.

I like Tyler Cowen's take on this:

“At the end of the day, too many potentially highly productive individuals are underutilized, to their detriment and to the loss of society as a whole.” — Tyler Cowen

Here's to maximizing our potential – for ourselves and those around us.

Personal

Apart from the positive news on the work front, Jess and I got a new puppy. Lily has been a constant source of joy and energy in our lives and she's shaping up to be a great running companion.

I also got to spend more time with my family this year. I'm writing this on a 3-month digital nomad workation trip to Cape Town.

And I did the Berlin Marathon in September - my first 42 kilometer road race. It was an incredible day and the culmination of three months of training.

Timeline

  • February: Launched my newsletter called Creators' Corner. 34 editions in and still going strong!
  • April: Completed Write of Passage cohort 8. My second time completing the course. Left with three new essays and a number of new writing friends.
  • May: My essay, The Fisherman's Guide to Writing, was featured in the Write of Passage newsletter.
  • May: Completed Michael Sklar’s Personal Monopoly Accelerator course. Lots of lessons learned here. A big step towards identifying topics that give me energy & others can learn from.
  • August: Completed Nate Kadlac's 80/20 Design Challenge. Pumped to go deeper into creating visuals this year.
  • September: spoke at the Disruptive Actuary conference, hosted by ProActuary and attended by over 3,000 actuarial professionals from around the world.
  • September: co-hosted a workshop on supportive conversations and active listening with online writer and life coach Rik van den Berge.
  • October: I launched my first digital product - a content management system for your newsletter. Something I'm looking to do more of in 2023.
  • October: became a Write of Passage mentor for cohort 9. A very proud moment. I had the opportunity to work with highly talented, creative people and give 5 writing lectures over 5 weeks. I rediscovered my passion for teaching and facilitation.
  • October: landed my first consulting gig.
  • November: landed my first writing gig.
  • November: Started a drawing community called Creating Visuals for Writing (CV4W) with Angie Wang. Very excited to grow our community in the year ahead.

Stats and numbers for 2022

  • 8 -> number of countries visited (Germany, South Africa, Italy, France, Austria, England and Scotland).
  • 51 -> number of posts published on my website (4 atomic essays, 14 long-form essays and 33 newsletters).
  • 1368 -> number of kilometers run.
  • 1 -> international flights missed due to forgetting my passport.
  • 18 -> books read. Less than previous years, but a function of reading more newsletters and spending more time writing.
  • 28 -> newsletters subscribed to. Maybe a tad over-subscribed 😄.
  • 19 -> visuals created.
Some of my sketches from 2022.

2. Accountability time

How did I fare against the goals I set in my previous annual review? A hair-raising moment!

Creator goals

  • 20 Essays. Result: 14 ⏹️. Not bad.
  • 50 threads on Twitter. Result: ~30 ⏹️. Pivoted to a newsletter (33 editions) ✅.
  • Incorporate design and drawings in my writing. Result: a resounding yes ✅. Improved my illustration ability and created an accountability group for writers who draw.
  • Experiment with publishing across different platforms. Result: sort of accomplished this ✅. I've focused on LinkedIn and Twitter this year. Also exported essays to Medium. Thoughts on social: it's a necessary evil. I need to get my work out there even though I don't like being "switched on" and looking at my phone constantly. Something to continue working on in 2023.
  • Improve my website and “Start here” page. Result: done. ✅ incorporated the Ubud theme on my Ghost site.
  • Improve my tech skills. Learn how to use no-code tools. Result: lol ❌. Totally forgot about this. While I didn't focus on learning no-code, I still found a way to revamp my site. I still upskilled on the necessary tech skills as and when I needed them.
  • Create more atomic essays. Result: ❌. I didn't focus on this enough. Something I’d like to roll forward into 2023.
  • Earn my first $1 online this year. Result: ✅. Yes! I created a content management system for newsletters. I've officially had 24 downloads so far and made $88 from it. While the amount is small, it gives me conviction to keep on building, experimenting and trying things.
  • Develop my personal monopoly. Result: Getting there ⏹️. Current personal monopoly: (i) creating visuals for writing, (ii) writing your way out of corporate (or going from corporate to creator) and (iii) stoic lessons and principles for life.
  • The Accidental Actuary. Result: ❌. I set out to write more about my career and what I do for a living in 2022. Writing about actuarial science didn’t attract me or give me as much energy as the other topics I mention in the bullet above. Something I might re-visit in 2023.
  • Web3 and crypto. I want to continue exploring new projects. Result: ❌. Funny. Crypto was all the rage in 2021, now it's a distant memory following the bubble popping and a string of scandals (like FTX). Maybe a fortunate fail.

Personal goals

  • Family. Navigate living in Germany and seeing my family in South Africa for a month or two each year. Result: ✅. Spent over 3 months in SA in 2022 and plan to incorporate more of this going forward.
  • Outdoors. Do more hiking, skiing, trail running. Result: big yes ✅. 6 hikes in the Alps. 9 ski days. Plenty of running and exploring.
  • Races. I didn’t do any races in 2021. Fix this in 2022. Result: ✅. Took part in 3 races – Wings for Life (33km), Salomon 'Run of 22' in Munich (10km in 41min 50sec) and the Berlin Marathon (42km in 3h11min).
  • Dopamine control. Learn to switch off and be more present. Result: ✅. Positive changes. I’ve adhered to my screen time limits and learned to switch cheap dopamine hits (Instagram and social media) for more higher-level thinking and engagement (reading books and newsletters in my spare moments).
  • Learn to say ‘no’ more often. Result: ⏹️. Still a work in progress. It feels good to say "yes" to every opportunity, but when I am over-committed, I tend to under-deliver. My big aim for 2023 is to cut down and focus on a core list of priorities.
  • Mental health and being kind to myself. Result: ⏹️. Also still some work to do here. Instead of saying I "have to" publish something every week, I prefer saying "I get to" now. This has been a positive mindset shift that has made me enjoy writing again. At the same time, I definitely felt burned out towards the end of 2022. I spent many nights working on my writing and side projects. Towards December I couldn't face my laptop and the thought of work and writing anymore. This is something I want to be mindful of in 2023.
  • Support and promote others. Result: ✅. I've been able to support other creators and showcase their work through my newsletter. I have convinced friends and colleagues to get into writing - big win. Mentoring and teaching writing during Write of Passage was also a big highlight this year.

Really a mixed bag of wins, works-in-progress and some failures. What I would expect from a list of ambitious goals. I'd like to take some of these goals into 2023, while others that seemed important, have fallen by the wayside (no-code and crypto especially).

The main takeaway from this list is that I will continue to pursue the things that give me energy, while avoiding the things that deplete my reserves.


3. Memories

My most-liked image:

"It's almost always better to learn from peers who are 2 years ahead of you than mentors who are 20 years ahead of you. Life evolves and most insights get outdated." - James Clear

My most-liked article: Increasing Your Luck Surface Area

Favourite Books:

  1. The Pathless Path by Paul Millerd (2022). My most gifted book this year. Paul provides a shining light for people like me, who were left unfulfilled by the default path. This book has been a wonderful guide I've returned to many times on my journey from corporate to creator.
  2. West with the Night by Beryl Markham (1942). A classic. In what Hemingway described as “a bloody wonderful book”, Markham chronicles her life growing up in Nairobi in the early 1900s. She trained horses, hunted game and became a legendary bush pilot. A colourful, eventful life.
  3. A Guide To The Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine (2008). The ultimate guide to all the Stoic lessons.
  4. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield (2002). A plea not to cave in to the "Resistance" – the invisible force that holds us back from doing the work we are meant to do.

Favourite podcast: The Tim Ferriss show with Roelof Botha. Roelof is a South African actuary turned Silicon Valley venture capitalist, most notably as partner at Sequoia Capital.

Favourite lecture: Introduction to Mimetic Theory by David Perell and Johnathan Bi. Most of us live according to what we think society wants from us. Not what we want. We want to impress others and gain status. If left unchecked, we will continue to play status games late into our life.

Favourite documentary: Stutz by Jonah Hill and his therapist Phil Stutz. One of the best documentaries I've seen in a while. It combines two topics that are close to my heart: active listening and drawing from conversation.

Favourite Series: Slow Horses on Apple TV. A fun, dry British comedy about a defunct group of MI5 agents.

Favourite First Meetings: Rik van den Berge and Charlotte Grysolle. I am surrounded by talented, creative people and I feel lucky to share my writing journey with them.

Coolest New Experience: skiing. I am totally addicted. So lucky to live near the Alps.

Skiing in Mayrhofen, Austria.

Favourite New City: Dresden, Germany. Once home to the Kingdom of Saxony (1800s and early 1900s), this city was completely destroyed by Allied forces after WWII. In the 1990s, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the unification of Germany, the city was restored to its former glory. Author Kurt Vonnegut wrote the famous anti-war book, Slaughterhouse-Five, about the firebombing of this city.

Favourite Live Sports Moment: attending the UEFA Nations League match between Germany and England at the Allianz Arena in Munich. The stadium was filled to capacity with 66,289 people attending. Incredible atmosphere.

Favourite Tour: boys whiskey tour through Scotland. I also got to meet Tobi Emonts-Holley, one of my writing accountability partners, in real life for the 1st time. Hoping to add more IRL creator meetups in 2023.

Clockwise starting top left: hike up to Arthur's Seat (Edinburgh), Aberlour, Loch Ness (sadly no sighting of the illusive monster), trail run on the Isle of Skye (a highlight), Portree, the Oban Distillery, Glasgow City Chambers and the Glenlivet Distillery. Visited Edinburgh, Oban, the Isle of Skye and Glasgow.

Favourite Day: Running the Berlin Marathon. 42km of pushing my physical limits. Pure joy to see that finish line. It was a special day with Olympic Champion Eliud Kipchoge setting a new World Record (2:01:09) and underlining his Greatest of All Time status.

Most Intense Week(s): all five weeks of being a mentor for Write of Passage 9.

Favourite Travel Experience: traveling to L'Escalet in the South of France with Jess and her family.

Favourite Quotes:

Writing is an antidote to restlessness:

"Whenever you are fed up with life, start writing: ink is the great cure for all human ills, as I have found out long ago." – CS Lewis

Writing and creative work is not only good for you as an individual, it's a gift to the rest of the world:

"Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention. It's a gift to the world and every being in it. Don't cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you've got." – Steven Pressfield, The War or Art.

Helping others and raising their aspirations is some of the most important work we can do:

"At critical moments in time, you can raise the aspirations of other people significantly, especially when they are relatively young, simply by suggesting they do something better or more ambitious than what they might have in mind. It costs you relatively little to do this, but the benefit to them, and to the broader world, may be enormous." - Tyler Cowen

I hope some of these reflections resonated with you.

Good luck with the goals you’ve set your sights on this year.

Next week I will share my plans for 2023. Reflecting back on the year that has been has allowed me to reflect forward on what I want to achieve in the year ahead.


Thanks to Rik van den Berge for reading drafts of this essay.

Writing

John Nicholas Twitter

Actuary and creator.

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