#045 | My 2021 Annual Review - Bitter Sweetness
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2021 has been a wild ride 🎢
I am grateful that I am still alive; that my love ones are still healthy and well; and that I get the opportunity to chase my dreams 🙏🏼
Last year, my 2020 annual review reflected on the key principles that has allowed me to accomplished my projects, specifically focusing on the NLP365 project. This year, I will do something slightly different; celebrate the wins, reflect on the challenges, and share principles! 🎮
This newsletter is more for me than for you to be honest. These are not advice but my reflections on the year. By sharing my journey, hopefully you can pick up something useful for your journey ❤️
This year can be summed up into two words: Bitter Sweetness
Short of time? Jump straight to The Lessons (Principles) section on what I have learned 😁
I love starting with the bitter.
This year has been a challenging year.
But I realised it’s a conscious decision that I have made and so I am embracing (at least trying to lool) the challenges that comes with it.
I have decided to take on high risk and uncertainty, where all my effort could potentially lead to nothingness.
As a result, my biggest challenge this year is the internal emotion and energy management.
The constant struggles within and between Zeroton and PhD has led to mental exhaustion that I never felt before.
I am literally being destroy from the inside; by my internal mind; by the high standards that I set myself; by the expectations that I had in mind.
At this point, I had two options.
Give up… or Evolve.
If you know me, you know that there’s only really one option. I will never give up on my dreams.
But, something have to change… (the third challenge below)
My second challenge this year is to learn to FOCUS.
As if Zeroton and PhD weren’t enough to keep me busy, I started my own Youtube channel and newsletters, maintaining close relationships, have different personal and fitness projects, and so on.
All of which takes up more energy (and time).
I had to let some projects go.
It wasn’t easy as I love all my projects.
But it’s what I needed to do so that I can focus on what REALLY matters: Zeroton and PhD.
I only manage to get through this challenge around Q3 2021. The first half of 2021 was learning to slowly let go off projects.
We are kept from our goals, not by obstacles but by clear paths to lesser goals — Robert Brault
My third challenge this year is to learn to unlearn.
I created Ryan’s Game of Life few years ago that consists of both mindsets and frameworks and processes that represents my core principles and beliefs in life. It’s what makes me me. It’s how I see myself. It’s how I see others. It’s how I understand the world and life as a whole.
Ryan’s Game of Life (GoL) v3.0 was created in 2019/2020 and it worked amazingly well for what I was dealing with back then.
But since October 2020, I have taken on riskier and harder projects that I ever had before.
Naturally, this requires a new set of principles and mindsets, which in turn requires a new set of frameworks and processes.
To no surprise, GoL v3.0 starts to fail me and to fix this, I first need to learn new principles and also unlearn some of my core principles in order to come up with new frameworks and processes.
But I fell into the trap of being too busy executing with deadlines and don’t have time to learn and unlearn…
I ended up relying on GoL v3.0 throughout most of 2021 despite knowing that it’s no longer working…
Let’s take a moment to understand how irrational that is…
I am following a framework that I know it’s no longer working for a long period of time because I was too busy to fix it… 🤯
Yeah… we are definitely not rational human beings lool or at least I am not…
The last few weeks, I have been very strict with blocking out times to work on GoL v4.0…
This does means less execution and progress on projects…
But I am finally done with the baseline GoL v4.0 🎉
There are still many things I would like to add to GoL v4.0 but for now I am feeling much more confident on what I have in place, ready for 2022 :)
Now that the bitterness is out of the way, let’s enjoy the sweetness as I had a lot to celebrate this year.
Passed my PhD’s ESA. Passed my PhD’s early-stage assessment (ESA) and established a clear roadmap that I am happy with. This is just the beginning and the level of uncertainty is still high but happy with the progress and ready to go harder in 2022!
Reading Habit. I read around 75 books this year; 50 unique books and 25+ rereads! To put things into perspective, last year I read 4 books… Loving to read is my new superpower and I will definitely be continuing this habit for many years to come! I also really got into stoicism, having completed the 1st volume of Seneca's letters. Will definitely share more on this in 2022. Here’s my top three favourite books of the year:
How to Die (Seneca) by James S. Romm
Think Again by Adam Grant
Range by David Epstein
Reading is fun but rereading the same book feels even better!
Gym Chapter. I started gym 6+ years ago. August 2021 was my last gym month where I stopped tailoring my training to weightlifting. My hit rate in 2021 is 85.78% (175 / 204 sessions). I finished my gym chapter with an all-time 1RM squat PR of 162.5kg (1.96x bodyweight) and 40KG DB chest press (4x8reps). I still hit the gym 2 - 3 times a week to complement my climbing :)
Climbing Chapter. Officially kickstarted my bouldering challenge in Oct 21 - Mar 22. The goal is to hit V7 in 6 months of training. Specifically, I need to complete a V7 perma set and 7+ V7 boulder problems to consider “done”. Been climbing 3+ times a week consistently since October 2021 and really enjoying it! Since then, I went from V2/V3 to a solid V4 boulderer, completed two V5 projects, and one V6 (slabs) project! I also started rope climbing, which it’s really fun and addictive and it helps with my bouldering! I will be making adjustment to my training for the 2nd half in 2022 but the biggest focus point is recovery (especially my bad wrist is getting worse…).
Youtube Channel. I launched my Youtube channel, connected with many content creators, learned how to edit videos, construct my whole content creation process, learned how to delegate to freelancers, and more! Unfortunately, this is one of the projects I had to pause but I will definitely come back to it :)
Newsletters. I started my own weekly newsletters to share my journeys and lessons in life, PhD, and startups! I probably move from weekly to biweekly (twice a month) for 2022.
Staying in contact with close friends + new friends! Did a pretty good job at maintaining frequent contact with close friends using a simple personal CRM; at least 10 catch ups per month. Met many awesome people in Q4 that I would be staying in contact with ❤️
Discovery for Zeroton. I felt like I wasted a lot of time with Zeroton and going no where this year but upon reflection, I have learned a lot, both in terms of our customers and domain and the process of kickstarting a startup. We started the year tackling information overload and very quickly pivoted to habits formation, which resulted in our April’s Habits of the Month challenge, where as a group, we managed to read a total of 11,000+ minutes! A great success for us! But as we locked in on our target audience (knowledge workers / early-staged entrepreneurs etc.), we slowly pivoted back to information overload as that’s a bigger problem faced by our users. We established many connections and network for Zeroton. Onboarded three apprentices recently to speed up our solution validation phase. Our one goal for 2022 is to launch Zeroton and achieve product-market fit. Keep an eye out on this :)
The Lessons (Principles)
So what have I learned?
Design triumph execution. By design, I mean strategies; I mean navigation; I mean decision making. Design triumph execution. A caveat to this: If you have poor execution, then no amount of design is going to help you. Execution is what drives results. In my case, execution was not a problem and so it all came down to design.
If you have okay execution but amazing design, you will come out on top against someone with amazing execution but mediocre design. The strongest warriors are great at both.
So always design first, execute next, evaluate outcome, and repeat.
Design triumph execution.
Learn to Unlearn. Your biggest obstacle is yourself. To evolve, you must break yourself and rebuild yourself from the ground up. Some of my biggest strengths and beliefs are also the things that’s currently holding me back. And to evolve and become a better version of myself, I need to challenge and unlearn these strengths and beliefs; in order to learn new principles and develop new strengths. GoL v3.0 was great. But it was what hold me back the most this year. So I have to challenge it. I have to challenge the underlying principles that was governing GoL v3.0 in order to build GoL v4.0. It was painful and confusing. But now with the baseline GoL v4.0 ready, I feel great moving into 2022.
Take 1 - 3 of your strongest strengths / beliefs. Challenge it. See where it brings you.
Be kind to yourself. I was told this by at least 4 different individuals this year. And most of them are very believable (credible) people in my eyes. Am I being too harsh on myself? This links back to the principle of learning to unlearn. I have always set high goals for myself because this way, I will have to level up (fast) to master it. The downside is when I don’t achieve certain standards for my goals, it means I haven’t levelled up, and this can heavily impact me emotionally. This is an important one and I am still working on it.
One of the superpowers in this world is “the ability to not judge yourself”
Familiarise yourself with Death. This is my favourite. The idea is simple but hard to execute (like all important things in life lool). I dived into stoicism this year and realised how much I connect with it, especially on the notion of death. I love it. Memento Mori is the ancient practice of reflection on mortality and the inevitability of death. I wrote a newsletter on this so check it out below :)
Fun Fun Fun. This one is for you guys. One of my favourite and fundamental principles. If you are not having fun with your projects, then what the hell are you doing.
If it’s not fun, drop it. If you (really) can’t drop it, delegate or automate it.
Happy New Year!
I would love to hear from you! Share your thoughts by replying to this email 😊
As always, thanks for reading. Have a good week ahead! 🎮
All the best,