Looking back at 2021

With a new year starting, I thought I’d write a short post to recap the year, and to reflect on Q4 and 2021 as a whole. 

Main takeaways: keep setting goals – and reflect on your progress

My main takeaway is definitely that I should keep setting goals. Q3 was when I really started experimenting with setting goals extensively and consistently for the first time in my life (not even very consistently). As you can read below, I trained for and ran 10k in an hour, and studied for the PMI exam. And then I would post updates on my progress on this blog. That reflection also really helped me focus and feel motivated. (I wasn’t able to take the PMI exam when I planned to due to bad planning, but I’ve booked a slot in the next few weeks.)

Then, after I stopped setting goals and organizing my time to achieve them in Q4, I definitely noticed right away how much I missed it. How much setting goals had helped me, in more ways than one. 

Living out your days

For one thing, having goals and keeping myself accountable for reaching them greatly improved my mood. Because I was constantly working towards something that gave my life, for lack for a better word, meaning.

It was a bit stressful at times, because I’d set too many goals and then had to disappoint myself sometimes, because I didn’t have enough time to properly work on all of them. 

But setting goals in itself, balancing sport and health on the one hand and learning and mental exercise on the other, and then reflecting on them, was effective and made me experience my hours as contributing to something, instead of just ‘living out my days’. So it’s definitely something I want to keep doing in 2022 (reintroduce, actually). Especially with the pandemic, it’s important to keep learning, exercising, maintaining friendships, just experiencing new things in general. 

A list of fun things worth celebrating

So in my list of things I want to remember about 2021, setting and working towards achieving goals is definitely the most important one, because it’s so fundamental. 

But I have other highlights as well (inspired by Ernst-Jan Pfauth’s list (Dutch)). In no particular order: 

  • Training for a 10k (cardio and strength) made me feel much healthier and fitter. Using your body every day gives you much more pleasant aches and pains in your body than the stings and sighs you experience when you don’t train. I’m going to train for it again this quarter, trying to improve my 59 minutes record – even though I hated actually running those 10 kilometers while I was doing it. 

  • I did a leadership course in the second half of the year. The most important takeaway for me was understanding that relationships are actually more important than just about anything else you can do. If the relationship isn’t good – between parents, coworkers, friends – no framework or methodology will help you reach your goals. You need to work on the trust first. That might sound obvious to some, but for me it was a real eye-opener, and it has changed my perspective on work and personal life immensely. 

  • I became a vegetarian early in the year, after reading Safran Foer’s ‘Eating Animals’. I really miss the taste of meat – but I’m happy I stopped because I no longer feel guilty for eating it. It had the convenient side-effect of improving my cooking a lot (after having invested in lots of new cookbooks and newsletter subscriptions). I’m much more creative now, because I’ve had to relearn how to construct a nutritious and tasty meal. 

  • Chili flakes/sambal pepper: I never believed in it, thought chili powder could achieve the same for your meal. But chili flakes really add a lot of flavor to your food without over-spicing it too much. It’s my new favorite spice! 

  • I bought a Nintendo Switch just before 2020/2021 New Year’s, just to have something to do during those bleak dark days in lockdown. I am very surprised at just how much fun we were able to get from it in a year. I’m using it every Sunday for a Fortnite game with some friends (see below). And my son and I play age-appropriate games every weekend. (My tip for the 5-year old in your household: Pikuniku.)

  • That weekly Fortnite game is something I look forward to every week. It’s the cap on a nice weekend, and a fun start of the week. Plus: I speak to my friends more often. 

  • This year, a not insignificant number of people I know have benefited from mood-enhancing medication. I’m very grateful that it exists. 

  • They made ‘Dune’ into a decent movie! The book was like a foundational text for me when I was a teenager, and I enjoyed Villeneuves visual spectacle (though I found the 2 lead actors boring and uninspired). Two other movies that I loved this year were Julie Ducournau’s Titane, about a disturbed and violent woman impregnated by a car, and Il Segno di Venere, whichI stumbled across on Netflix, an Italian comedy from 1955 that holds up surprisingly well, about a young woman trying to meet her future husband.