Where have I been?

A short reflection on 2023

tags:: sketchbook
date:: Jan 16th, 2024

2023 was the year of “deceleration” for me and is the first year I finally found a satisfying balance and focus.

Over last year I started realizing how overcommitted I was. I like to be ambitious and start bold projects, but without fully handing them off my responsibilities just build up more and more over time. Last year was a breaking point for me. With demands from my family and job, at one point I just stopped replying to anything that didn’t relate to my immediate personal life or job.

I wish I had been better at fully handing off responsibilities. It’s a tricky thing to do sometimes. There’s no need to get super concrete, but two projects I neglected were absurd-sql and Actual (which has a thriving community luckily but need me for a few things).

If you were impacted by my neglect, I’m sorry! You might be wondering where I have been, and I’ve been quietly focusing on my family and job, and rarely using social media, checking discord, replying to emails, etc. As you would expect, this was amazing for me, my friends, and coworkers (because I was fully present), but it surely impacted others.

Doing this made me realize just how overcommitted I was. I feel like I had space to finally process life: to think about things going on around me, and to actually come to conclusions about what I thought about it. To take the time to discuss it with people and grow relationships.

Last Spring I became tech lead for the Design Systems team at Stripe. The technical problems my team faces are incredibly hard, and on top of that I really wanted to work on learning how to grow relationships on a team and help everyone do their best work. To do this I really need to focus.

In my personal world, I have a wife, 3 kids, and friends. Keeping up with these relationships trumps everything else.

The biggest reality that hit me is that once you have a job and kids, you really don’t have much time for anything else. And I mean that literally. When I map out my day, there’s just no time have a side project. Here’s a rough example of my day:

  • 7:30-8:30: rushing kids to school
  • 8:30-9:15: shower, breakfast, etc
  • 9:15-5:15: job
  • 5:15-5:45: exercise
  • 5:45-6:15: dinner
  • 6:15-7:30: whatever thing is going on (kids stuff, etc)
  • 7:30-9:30: bedtime
  • 9:30-11:30 spending time with my wife, decompressing

Sure, I could sacrifice something here. (Don’t get me started on the 2 hour bedtime. It frustrates me sometimes, but on some nights it’s important time with the kids.) I could get up earlier, I could exercise less. But any sacrifice means I’m reducing my presence with either my job or family. Maybe you can do it, but I’m out.

I do think I can squeeze in different kinds of work in here. I’m not going to launch a new product anytime soon, but I can definitely write articles and make videos. Things that don’t require a long-term commitment. That’s why I restarted my website this year, and I plan on writing a ton more. I’ve certainly learned a ton over the last 5 years from my side projects so I have a lot to say.

Until then, if you need me, DM me. I’m in a better place now so I’ll actually respond. :)

- James