My personal 2020 reflections

📌 My 2020 Word of the Year: Proactive

🎯 My 2020 Yearly Goals:

  • Build and launch the app I am working on: ❌
  • Become financially independent from my entrepreneurial ventures (i.e., writing, programming client work, startup ventures) ❌
  • Eliminate my caffeine dependence ❌

2020 has been a tumultuous year for me, full of struggle, frustration, accomplishment, and personal growth.

Did I accomplish my yearly goals? Nope. And that’s okay.

I ended up accomplishing other achievements I had not remotely imagined. I’ve learned to be more open to change, become more resilient, and doubled down on my confidence.

Here are my reflections on the past year:

On Struggle

I have a lot to unpack here.

Losing My Life Purpose

At the start of January, I joined my local co-working and entrepreneurial community to begin building my startup, an app to help people connect. I had spent the previous year mostly observing entrepreneurs and learning programming, so I was ecstatic to get started and I finally felt I had enough skills to start developing the first Android app.

I felt fulfilled. Happy. Excited. Perhaps a little over-confident. I was trying to build the app, while still learning how to build Android apps, do the startup side things (create a business plan, do customer discovery, etc.), and pitch my idea- by myself, as a team of 1. It was taxing but gratifying, because it was my mission at the time.

In March, I was doing more customer discovery and found an app already existed which does the exact same things I wanted to build in my app.

I was crushed. 😞

I thought I was building something truly unique- an original idea, something that had not been done before. The uniqueness was a vital motivator for me to build it at the time, and once I found out it was no longer unique, I lost my motivation.

I know, I know. It is very rare to have a completely unique idea, and uniqueness alone does not signify greatness.

But the app which already existed had been around for years, has a solid team, and has millions of dollars in funding. As a solo founder and developer, I simply could not compete, and did not find it worthwhile to build a nearly identical replica- that would not have been satisfying to me.

The first lesson I learned is I was too emotionally invested in my startup and too much of my identity was associated with it. I’ve learned to take a healthier, more objective approach to my future ventures, and not tie my identity to a company, startup, or role, whose success is not within my full control.

The second lesson I learned is I was not at the stage where I could build an entire app; I needed to develop more skills.

The third lesson I learned is I need to be working on something meaningful to be fulfilled.

Debilitating Seasonal Allergies

When March hit, I had to pack up my things and drive 16 hours to stay with my parent- not because of Coronavirus, but because of seasonal allergies. Like last year, I was debilitated from the tree pollinating happening around me. I did not think I would be able to move back to where I was living, as I remembered the 6 month torture I endured last year. While at home, I started getting allergy immunotherapy to help improve my immunity to seasonal allergies. Fortunately, the pollen dissipated in May, and I was able to move back to my city and function like a normal human being.

Unfruitful Software Engineering Job Search

I looked into freelancing for awhile, but ultimately decided I was not ready to take on building apps, searching for clients, managing contracts, and running the business all by myself. Simply building an app is much more than one person can handle- that’s why there are teams that build portions of apps for companies, as it is an insane amount of work.

I decided to look for software engineering jobs to grow as a developer, learn from others, and build my network, to make freelancing less overwhelming in the future. I am confident in my skills and my ability to learn anything, so I thought securing an entry level software engineering job would be pretty easy.

Let me tell you about it. 💁🏻‍♂️

If you are a developer, you know the technical interview process is broken: top tier tech companies use esoteric, toy interview problems which take 6 months of preparation and have no real practical application, and smaller companies have you build a small app, even though they could easily see code you’ve written from previous projects on Github.

As I was interviewing as a software engineer, it was dejecting to have spent a week building an app for these technical interviews, implementing all the required features with clean code, only to have it materialize into nothing and receive no feedback.

I have spent hundreds of hours learning programming, building apps, and creating a portfolio to prove myself over the past years, but it always feels like it’s never enough for some companies.

The software engineering interview process made me start to detest software engineering and was attacking my confidence. Although I was referred to as “top talent” and was told my skills were “very impressive”, things did not work out.

I probably applied to around 70 jobs over 4 months and interviewed with 15 until I burnt out and needed to take a break.

I am 1 of 155 Google certified Android engineers in North America, I have built complete Android and iOS apps from the first line of code to publishing them to the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store, and have built apps with a plethora of technologies.

What more could I possibly do to prove myself- build an entire app platform? 🤷🏻‍♂️

It didn’t work out this year. I was very close to securing a few opportunities, and I can only be happy with myself because I did everything I possibly could do that was in my control. I know it is just a matter of time until I find the right mutual fit. For now, though, I am going to focus on building apps I am passionate about.

Challenging Months

The last few months of the year were the worst:

  • I broke up with my girlfriend of two years, which has been difficult to process.
  • My roommate unexpectedly moved out and told me she was suicidal, leaving me to pay for the entire apartment by myself and carry the weight of her emotional burden.
  • When I asked my friend for advice on a job application, he straight up told me I wasn’t good enough as a software engineer, attempted to steal the job I was applying for right in front my face (as he didn’t even have the decency to backstab me), and told me he would not give me a recommendation because it would hurt his reputation, leaving me depressed and demotivated for a week.
  • I was hit by a car that ran a red light which was completely out of my control.
  • I was rejected from jobs I was certain I would secure.

These past months have been challenging, to say the least. 😑

Opportunities Falling Short:

I had a few promising opportunities.

Ukulele Teacher

I went to a music shop to help my girlfriend at the time pick out a ukulele. I was trying out some ukuleles and the store manager asked me if I would be interested in teaching ukulele. I was pretty surprised- I used to play guitar, but I hadn’t played for over 5 years and only knew a couple of ukulele chords, so I didn’t feel qualified to teach. However, he was confident I knew enough (and a little desperate for teachers) and convinced me to become a teacher.

Knowing that I would be teaching others made me excited to pick it up again and learn more. I was ready to take on students, but then Coronavirus hit, and all the awaiting students were no longer interested.

Develop App for Startup

I also had an opportunity to develop an app for a local startup. I was talking with the CEO about building an app for them, but when Coronavirus hit, they no longer had a budget to work with.

Oh yeah, I also broke some dishes..

On Accomplishments

Despite not achieving my yearly goals, I accomplished things I had no intention of achieving in the beginning of the year.

Programming/Professional Accomplishments

Once I stopped working on my startup, I spent a few months building apps and learning programming.

I learned the following:

  • How to upload apps to the Google Play Store and Apple App Store, which is vital to launch my own apps.
  • The Flutter framework and the Dart language. I was hesitant about learning Flutter (instead of just continuing to learn more about native Android) because I believe specialization is more important than generalization, especially when it comes to programming since there is so much to know to get good at any one technology. But I am thrilled I learned Flutter because it is much more enjoyable and easier to get most things implemented compared to native Android.
  • How to build iOS apps thanks to Flutter! This expands my horizons for apps I develop.
  • How to build for the web- again, thanks to Flutter.
  • How to use Firebase products, such as Cloud Firestore for database, Firebase Authentication to authenticate users, and Cloud Functions.
  • How to set up a CI/CD pipeline for Flutter apps using Codemagic.

I built the following:

I accomplished the following:

On Relationships

Romantic Relationship

Although it came to an end, I am grateful for the time we had. We had a very healthy relationship, motivated and supported each other, and shared experiences on working towards our goals.

At the end, I did not feel desired, and there were some issues that started to close the relationship. I don’t think either one of us was ready to be fully open, for different reasons.

Friendships

I’d like to give my gratitude to my friends and people I met who brought some light to my year:

Ryan M. : For opening up to me when you were in distress and trusting me to give you advice. It helped me as much as it helped you and made me feel valued as a person and a friend.

Jon B. : For showing enthusiasm for the apps I was building and giving me constructive feedback, without me asking. Your interest gave me motivation to keep building my initial apps.

John W. : For compassionately challenging me on runs, being a true friend, and grinding out Coronavirus at the station. (Let’s be honest, though, we would be grinding there regardless of Coronavirus or not)

Desiree C. : For celebrating the small wins together, motivating me, and caring for me. I am grateful for the time we spent together.

Barak K. : For helping me actually feel motivated, not demotivated after interviewing for a software engineer job. That experience meant a lot, as it was the only one I didn’t feel demotivated afterwards and felt valued as a person.

Peter F. : For helping me shoot my shot with applying to Google. Your confidence and generosity inspired me.

Curt B. : For sharing the commiseration of us not attaining jobs we were well qualified for. It helped me to hear I was not the only one going through that experience.

Joe E. : For always believing I can do anything and knowing me better than I know myself sometimes. Although we had not spoke in 3 years, it felt like no time had passed when we did this year.

Mom : For always supporting me in whatever I choose to do. Because of you I have the freedom to explore the interests in my life and build something great.

On Bad Habits

Note to 2021 self: Do less of these things

Ejaculation Addiction

I’m going to be honest and open here, so I can be truly free.

Yes, I do have an ejaculation addiction.

To become a better person, you have to own your s/t: both your good and your bad.

I have been dealing with this for a long time and noticed I’ve been heavily using it as a temporary pleasure to ease the difficulties of this year. It is an addiction because it is negatively affecting my life by depleting my life force.

If you are young man, you can probably relate to this.

Reading The Way of the Superior Man by David Dieda has completely changed my life and helped me to be more mindful about this bad habit. If you struggle with this, I highly recommended you read it.

To quote Dieda:

“In a subtle way, excess ejaculations will diminish your courage to take risks, professionally and spiritually. You will settle for doing enough to get by, to be comfortable, but you will find that you would rather watch TV than write your novel, meditate, or make that important phone call. You will have enough motivation to live a decent life, but ejaculations drain you of the “cutting through” energy that is necessary to pierce your own wall of lethargy and slice through the obstructions that arise in the world. Your gift will remain largely ungiven.” — David Dieda, The Way of the Superior Man

Too Hard On Myself

I have dealt with this for a long time too. I beat myself up when I get off my routine. A lot of times it ends up doing more harm than good, because it takes me longer to bounce back. So note to 2021 self: be more compassionate to yourself.

On Good Habits

Indestructible Confidence

Despite being rejected from software engineering jobs and my friend telling me I am not a software engineer, I never lost confidence in myself.

My sense of self has allowed me to teach myself programming, become a Google Certified Android engineer, and given me the courage to build anything I can imagine.

I know I can do anything.

After this year, I’ve doubled down on my confidence and strengthened my inner fortress. The only person who can impact my confidence is myself.

Solace in Books

I found solace and strength in books when I was overwhelmed with stress and anxiety. After reading during these times, I always felt refreshed and invigorated. I turned to books as a healthy coping mechanism and avoided unhealthy ways to cope.

On Spiritual Growth

I found solace during my time of distress by reading The Obstacle is the Way and Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday, which helped me develop my perseverance, defend my confidence, and be still.

I became more aware of the feminine and masculine cores by reading The Way of the Superior Man. I learned more about why I am attracted to someone and how the feminine expresses itself. I gained a deeper spiritual understanding of how to better interact with the feminine core and embrace my own masculine core.

I learned how to be truly, fully open in love at any moment, with anyone from reading Blue Truth by David Dieda.

I gained greater insight of Stoicism by reading Letters from a Stoic by Seneca.

On Newfound Activity

Spikeball

I always thought Spikeball looked like a fun game. I bought a set during lockdown and started playing with friends. It is one of the most fun sports I have ever played and am so glad I got into it.

On Absent Activity

Badminton

Since Coronavirus hit, the gym where I played badminton has been unavailable. I desperately miss playing badminton (especially doubles), and a lot of joy in my life has been missing from playing. I bought an indoor set and can play in an indoor racquetball court, but still cannot hit clears properly. I hope I can start playing real badminton again soon.

Meeting People/City Events

I usually meet people by going to city events and through my co-working space. Since Covid hit, both of those avenues have been destroyed. I miss meeting new people and going to cool events in my city.

Looking Ahead

Newfound Life Purpose

My newfound life purpose is to tell people’s stories. I envision myself working with individuals to help them share their story. I’m going to be building a dedicated app platform for this using Flutter, which will make it easy to discover stories of people everywhere.

Develop Writing Career

I also want to explore writing and the possibilities to make a career out of it. Stories are powerful and have the uncanny ability to connect people at depth. I have a deep connection to the authors I follow on Medium, because their powerful writing inspires me and forces me to think and grow. Reading Ayodeji Awosika’s articles invigorate me, Omar Itani’s ariticles remind me to live with intention, and umair haque’s articles give me a healthy dose of realism.

📌 My 2021 Word of the Year: Purpose

I am choosing purpose because I lost my purpose this year, which made me distressed. I realized I need to have a life purpose to be fulfilled, and this is a reminder to constantly be working on something meaningful.

🎯 My 2021 Yearly Goals:

  • Launch my own app platform to tell people’s stories
  • Make a career out of writing
  • Cultivate more meaningful connections

All of my 2021 yearly goals align with my word of the year: purpose. They all relate to each other in a way that reflects back my purpose.

I am excited for the future and happy at the moment. I am focused on my purpose, yet open to whatever may come next year.

Reflective Questions

While writing this post, I discovered Omar Itani’s article, which helped me deepen my introspection by thinking carefully through some reflective questions. If you are looking for a guide to help you reflect, definitely check it out.

I am including it in this post more so as a record for my future self, but it also summarizes my reflections concisely and includes some things I was not able to fit into the post. Here are my answers to the questions from his post:

What are the five things I’m most grateful for this year?

  • Financial freedom to experiment with my ideas and not have to work
  • Close friends I can count on
  • Live in a beautiful city with fun places to go
  • I sleep well and have good sleep hygiene
  • I have a co-working space to work from whenever I want to

What’s one are of my life where I made real, tangible progress this year?

What are three accomplishments I made this year that I’m most proud of?

Who were the three people whose friendships I appreciated most this year?

  • John W.
  • Desiree C.
  • Curt B.

What were the biggest struggles I faced this year? What were the biggest lessons they taught me?

  • Lost my life purpose: I realized I need to be working on something meaningful to be fulfilled
  • Rejections from software engineering jobs: I learned I can do everything right and still get rejected
  • Friend betrayed me: Even if I think of someone is a friend, it may not be reciprocal

Where was I five years ago and where am I now?

5 years ago: I was in my sophomore year of college, also studying abroad in Spain. I had the academia-is-the-only-way-to-success mindset. I had a more closed mindset, did not practice meditation or Stoicism, and was more ignorant and blissful. I was focused solely on the end goal, regardless of the suffering during the process to get there. My goal was to become a college professor.

Now: I am on a radically different career path, exploring software engineering, writing, entrepreneurship, and freelancing. I am living in the present and not fixated on the future. I practice Stoicism and meditation. I teach myself what I need to know instead of sitting through lectures. I focus on the process, not the end goal; if I do not enjoy the process, I do not continue to work towards the goal. My purpose is my primary focus.

If all goes well, where would I love to be five years from now?

Typically, I do not like the ‘Where do you want to be in five years?’ question because I think it is too far into the future to think about because so much change will happen in 5 years. But I’ll answer it here to humor my 31 year old self.

I want to be working full-time and making a living on a business I have built. I imagine it will take the form of an app, blog, or other creative adventure. I want it to be more fun than stressful and for it to feel like play, not work.

Based on that vision, what do I want my one-word intention to be next year? How can I manifest it in my everyday life?

Purpose. I need to live with purpose to fuel myself to spend years on building a business.

Thinking about my purpose is actually part of my morning routine. Every morning, I close my eyes for 5 minutes and envision my purpose to remind myself why I am doing what I am doing.

What are the three things I want to achieve the most this coming year and how can I build myself a system that would allow me to achieve them?

  • Launch my own app platform to tell people’s stories: I can add a 6 hour daily goal to build the app platform. This strategy helped me learn programming quickly.
  • Make a career out of writing: I can dedicate 1 day per week to writing and researching how to earn money through writing.
  • Cultivate more meaningful connections: I can reach out to 1 person every day. This will also happen naturally through my work once I have built the platform.

What fears am I holding on to that are not serving my wellbeing? Why am I holding onto them and what empowering affirmations can I replace it with?

I have a few fears holding my back:

Fear of turning my purpose into a business

I am fearful of turning my purpose into a business, because I do not want it to become more stressful than fun. At the same time, I want to devote myself to my purpose full time- to do that, I need to also make a living from it.

I am fearful of this because I started to feel overwhelmed by stress when I was working on my previous startup. Partly why, though, is because I was trying to do everything by myself and move too fast.

Even though I am fearful of losing the passion by turning my purpose into a career, I can still work on it. It will take years to create a successful business, so I will enjoy the process of creating the foundation. If I am feeling overwhelmed, I can also look to build a team or hire others. I can always take a break if I am feeling too stressed; after all, no one is pushing me to do this except myself.

Fear of programming zapping too much energy and making me lazy in other parts of my life

I noticed when I programmed for hours on end, I was so mentally exhausted that I often did not have the energy or motivation to work out, or do other personal care things, like cook proper meals for myself.

I need to be compassionate to myself and acknowledge that programming is mentally taxing, frustrating, and exciting; some days, I will simply not have the energy to do everything I should. I will take breaks more often and ensure I work out in the morning before I being coding.

Fear of approaching girls

This is something I have dealt with for a long time and I am just starting to get better at. I make excuses, or beat myself up for not making a move. It is definitely holding me back in other areas of my life as well.

I will remind myself this is not just about getting dates with girls- it is more about getting out of my comfort zone and growing as a person. The worst that can happen is that she says ‘no’. It will only get easier as my confidence and practice grows. Approaching anyone in any context will get easier the more I practice this.

What is one bad habit I’m working on removing from my life, and what is one new habit I wish to replace it with?

I am working on removing ejaculation addiction from my life. I am replacing it with moving energy throughout my body and remembering to exhale fully throughout the day.

What kind of spiritual nonsense is that, you ask? Yes my friend, at first I was skeptical as well. After reading The Way of The Superior Man by David Dieda and practicing the techniques, my way of thinking radically changed.

To quote Dieda:

If your breathing becomes too shallow, the life force cannot be conducted through your body. Instead, this force builds up, usually in your head or in your genitals. If it builds in your head, you will begin to spend more and more time fantasizing about sex and women. If it builds up in your genitals, you will feel the need to ejaculate, either through sex or masturbation. Therefore, if you have not breathed fully during the day, by the time you approach your sexual partner you will be filled with fantasies and ejaculative urge.

What are three things I would love to do more of next year? How will I make more time for them?

  • Writing: Dedicated day to writing each week
  • Cooking: Cook two ‘fancy’ meals per week
  • Spikeball: Get a consistent group and times to play

How can I start my mornings more mindfully this year?

Avoiding responding to messages in the morning and be stringent with my morning routine.

How will I reward myself throughout my progress and upon my year-end success?

I will reward myself by keeping one day, Saturday, free to do something fun.

To celebrate my year-end success I will throw a party for me and my friends.

Hi, I’m Ash 👋🏼 Let’s connect!

🌐 ashtonjones.dev | 👥 @TJgrapes | ✉️ ashtonjonesdev@gmail.com

👨🏻‍💻 Google Certified Android Engineer |
✍🏼 Writer |
🧘🏻‍♂️ Stoic

Sharing my stories to inspire others |🦉 The Insightful Owl @ insightowl.site | 🖥 Software Engineer @ grapeworks.dev

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