January 19, 2020

2019 Year in Review

Business

I know I say this every year, but this year went by so quickly. Sometimes the fast-moving current that was 2019 helped to propel me forwards, and other times it felt like I was swimming for my life just to keep up with it.

Perhaps because the time passes so quickly, I love taking some time at the start of a new year to reflect on the year that's been and truly appreciate everything that happened and all the changes that were made. So here it is, my year in review.

2019 was a little chaotic

I started the year with a solid plan for what I wanted to achieve, broken down into quarters and written down in my bullet journal. I was ready to take action.

And then Mark and I got an email from our letting agent.

Our landlord (who was trying to sell the apartment) wanted to amend our two-year contract to put in a clause allowing him to break the lease with a months notice. And if the lease needed to be broken, he’d refund us 8 months worth of rent. If you know London rent prices, you know that’s no small sum. But having just moved in to our new home about 6 months earlier, we didn’t want to move again. We were happy there. Mark had just started a new remote job. We didn’t want that disruption in our lives.

This wasn’t the first time the landlord had made this offer however. We’d turned him down the first time when he’d offered less compensation, and the fact that he was coming back with another offer for double the amount only a month later had us worried. He was obviously getting desperate, and we were concerned that if we didn’t take it he might find some other way to force us out. Plus, we were pretty tired of the constant viewings that were being held most weekends.

So we agreed: If the flat sold to a buyer who wanted to live in it, we’d move out.

While ultimately it was a good decision, it was the start of ten months of uncertainty. Firstly because didn’t know when we’d be served the notice to move out. Then, when the flat was sold in March, we had to decide where we wanted to move to.

We made the decision to take the rent refund (and the fact that we were both working remotely) and move to a city I’ve wanted to live in ever since I first visited in 2009: Valencia. Mark had attended university here, so we knew the city well and finding a nice apartment in our budget (that was large enough for two people to work from home without getting cabin fever) was immensely easier here than in London.

We made the move in July, but the uncertainty wasn’t over yet. Brexit was fast approaching and I needed to get Spanish resident status to have the best chance of staying once it went through. I finally got that little green piece of paper in October, and its only since then that I’ve been able to fully relax into life here in Spain. And it is a wonderful life.

Living here is a dream I’ve had for a long time, and I’m extremely proud of the fact that I managed to make it come true. I feel more relaxed here. I spend more time outdoors. And despite the Spaniards penchant for fireworks and fiestas, it’s rather peaceful. I do miss London, a lot. In a way that I’ve never missed a city before. But for now I’m enjoying living somewhere less expensive, more walkable, and much sunnier.

Needless to say though the whirlwind of tax law, residency applications, packing up all our belongings, dealing with international moving companies, flat hunting, and unpacking a lot of boxes as well as the overall on-edge state I was in for the majority of this year... it really got in the way of me achieving everything I had so diligently planned in my bullet journal in that first week. But let’s dive in to the things I did do.

Career progression

As I wrote about in a recent blog post, my role at ConvertKit is still the best job I’ve ever had in my career. Early in the year I spoke to my manager about wanting to put in the work to move up to the next level in our standardised salary scale and I landed the promotion in July, officially becoming the Marketing Design Lead. Soon after I started leading our marketing site squad, managing projects and making prioritisation decisions. I’ll be honest, I don’t love project management, but I’m grateful to have this chance to work on getting better at it, and at being a leader.

I designed a lot of things I’m proud of this year, but mostly I’m proud of the improvements I’ve made to my design process. I got really into user research and interviews this year and got on a lot of calls with creators to learn about their business and watch them interact with our website. From there I ran A/B tests and made improvements to the site based on that research. It was a year for iteration and improvement rather than big splashy new designs.

This year, I was also named one of Adobe’s “UX Designers to Watch” which was a huge honour.

Conferences

Public speaking is something I’ve been working hard at getting into over the last couple of years. In the past I’ve mostly been invited to speak at events about YouTube and content creation, so I’m really proud that the majority of the speaking engagements I had in 2019 were about design. Design is what I want to be known for, even if it is YouTube that gets my foot in the door in many cases.

  • I spoke at a UX meetup in Wellington to teach designers how to better promote themselves and their work.
  • I spoke at HOW Design Live about how to increase your worth as an in-house designer (side note: I'd love to give this talk again at a different conference! Hit me up if you run one and would like to have me speak. It’s a great talk, I promise)
  • I presented a workshop at Craft + Commerce (ConvertKit’s conference) teaching design fundamentals to creators.
  • I also presented a panel at VidCon London about being a creator part time.

This year I'll be speaking at another meetup in Wellington, and hosting another workshop at Craft + Commerce. I definitely have my eye on a few other conferences I’d like to pitch to speak at too. So, watch this space.

Travel

As per usual, 2019 included a lot of travel. I keep thinking I need to find a way to cut down on the number of trips I’m taking each year and spend more time at home (especially now that my home is a beautiful city with year-round sun). But when I look at this list of trips, there’s not a single one I could bear to have skipped. Travel is so enriching, and I’m grateful I get to do so much of it.

  • I rang in the new year in New Zealand, visiting family for a month and watching my little sister get married.
  • Then I headed straight to San Francisco for a few days, before road-tripping down to Oceanside for the ConvertKit team retreat along with a few workmates.
  • Mark and I went to Valencia for my 30th birthday in February, and again for his birthday in May (that visit turned into a flat-hunting trip).
  • I checked Chicago off my bucket-list when I went there to speak at HOW Design Live in May (I definitely want to go back for longer next time!).
  • In June, I made my annual trip to Boise for Craft + Commerce, and then met Mark in Toronto for a two week remote-working trip.
  • In July, we got on a one-way flight to Spain!
  • Three weeks after moving, we flew to LA to go to Street League (a skateboarding competition) and then I went on to Nashville for our August ConvertKit retreat in Tennessee.
  • In October I went to Venice with my parents.
  • Then I flew back to Nashville for a friends wedding, before going back to LA for Adobe MAX (and a day at Disneyland!)
  • Then to round out the year Mark and I spent a week in Tenerife for an actual lie-in-the-sun-doing-nothing break.

Phew.

2020 shows no signs of slowing down on the travel front. I keep waiting for the day that my desire to settle down and adopt a dog will outweigh my desire to see the world and visit the wonderful friends and family I have dotted all over it. But it hasn’t arrived yet.

Writing a book

2019 was the year that I started saying the words “I’m writing a book” out loud to people. I’ve learned a lot about the book writing process this year, and have spent 2019 figuring out what I want the book to be. What it needs to be.

I’m taking it slow and enjoying every single moment of the research phase I’m in. There’s a lot more to do before I’m ready to write an actual chapter. But it’s so much fun. In fact, one of my favorite moments of this past year was sitting on a sofa in an Airbnb with my friend Isa (an actual published author) chatting about the book writing process and the dreams we have for our respective books, while Fixer Upper played in the background. Bliss.

I love having something to obsess over. A project I can pour my heart into again. If you want to hear any updates on this book project of mine, feel free to add yourself to my email list here.

The things that didn’t go so well

I already told you about the chaos of moving, but it’s worth repeating that this move took a lot out of me. With all the travel I do, I need a home base to return to in order to feel balanced and safe. And I didn't really feel like I had a home for the majority of the year. It wasn't until the last few months of 2019 that I felt I had somewhere I was totally settled and at peace. That was tough, and it took its toll on me mentally. I'm glad to be through it and feeling more settled by the end of the year.

I made some mistakes this year in terms of prioritisation that I’ve definitely learned from, but they were hard lessons to learn.

Late 2018 I committed to working with a friend on developing a website for an annual event she runs. As soon as we decided we’d be moving I should have pulled out of the project and helped her to find a replacement. But instead, not knowing what turmoil was ahead, I plowed on through. The project turned out to be much more complex than I expected, and way beyond my abilities as a front-end developer. Even when I figured it all out and the site launched, an errant plugin couldn’t handle the number of users we had and the site completely broke. I figured out a solution eventually, but not before losing many nights of sleep and I’m sure a few years off my life from dealing with the stress of letting a friend down.

From this I learned two things: that freelancing isn’t for me (I don’t want to have to put my creative energy into anything other than my job and my own personal projects), and that I need to get much better about estimating the workload of a project, because getting it wrong can have dire consequences.

But by far, the worst thing to happen to me in 2019 was when, in the last week of August, I looked at the calendar and realised I’d forgotten my mum’s birthday.

That may not sound like a big deal to some. But I was devastated. My mum is one of the most important people in my life, and forgetting her birthday is unacceptable. Living on the other side of the world from my family means they often receive a belated card or present because I never remember to put it in the mail in time. But I have never just straight up forgotten to celebrate them. That’s not who I want to be.

Ironically, I only realised I had forgotten when I suddenly had a thought of a great gift for her and looked at the calendar to count the days to see if it could arrive in time. Then it dawned on me that her birthday had already happened the week prior. I rang her immediately in tears and of course, because she’s an amazing woman, she wasn’t mad at me. But I was mad at myself (and still am).

This incident made me realise I absolutely was not prioritising my family as much as I should have been, and it also really scared me that I was so wrapped up in all my own chaos that I could forget to celebrate someone so important to me. It was a huge reality check, and a lesson to slow down and be more intentional with my time. To not just let myself get swept along with the fast-moving current of the year.

Hobbies and habits

At the start of the year I read Atomic Habits by James Clear, and it was one of the best books I’ve ever read (seriously, go read it if you haven’t already). We hear all the time that habits are important, but James spells out a really approachable way to work on them and it convinced me to finally take them seriously. I worked the whole year on building better habits and while I still have many bad habits in my life, the intention to improve and the successes I did have (even if I was only consistent in short bouts throughout the year) made a huge difference to my overall health and outlook. I’m still very much a work in progress, but at least I'm a work in progress who doesn’t scroll Twitter for hours on her phone in the morning anymore...

As far as new hobbies go, I decided to take a short singing course with London City Academy in 2019. I love to sing along with music (perhaps a little too much if you ask my neighbours), and it was fun to spend 6 weeks going to a weekly lesson to learn about it from an actual professional. It was also a new experience for me to take a course on something completely unrelated to work or side projects.

Speaking of being completely unrelated, I just want to tell you that 2019 was the year I finally got into watching a sport. I fell in love with F1 after watching Drive to Survive on Netflix, and spent the year looking forward to Grand Prix weekends and listening to F1 recap podcasts. Mark and I are planning on going to the Spanish GP this year and I’m very excited. So, all you sport people who talk about your favorite team and live-tweet games/matches: I get it now. (And I’ll be rooting for Charles LeClerc to win the championship this year)

Looking ahead

Travel for 2020 is already underway as Mark and I are in New Zealand this month to spend time with my family.

I tied up some loose ends at the end of 2019 and feel like I’m starting the year in a balanced state that I hope will continue. I’m looking forward to a year of sunshine, friends, hard work, writing progress and continuing to work on those habits.

Here’s to a new decade.

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