2021 Year In Review
Another part of an incomplete story.
The ending of the year is usually weird. You have this nagging feeling that you didn’t do enough in the year. To be fair, you might be right. 365 days is a long time to not do anything significant. But to be fair, you might also be very wrong. 365 days is a long time to have a full and proper picture of how the year went in your head.
This is not going to be one of those “I smashed all my goals this year” posts. I did not. Some of it was my fault. Others were just because things changed during the course of the year that some of the “goals” became irrelevant or outdated.
The dynamic nature of my year made for some interesting things happening that I did not plan and I will definitely not take back.
Investing in Experiences
If you’ve been following me since 2020 (or read my 2020 review), you would probably have known that I was not a particularly happy person. It was even when I was going through my Gratitude List that I remembered that someone contacted me to talk to me about how I was being too negative.
Well, that changed this year. My mental health changed for the better.
I came across this video
and the summary of what I got out of it was that the reason many of us are unhappy is that we don’t invest enough in experiences. So that was a turning point for me. I started looking for every excuse to leave the house and I sort of over-corrected my former tendency to not stress myself and just stay at home. I actually got to understand that a change in environment did me so much good. I began to see things more clearly, identify problems I was having with more clarity and even be more optimistic.
That being said, different things also added up to me being a happier person this year. I started listening deliberately to happy music. I created a Happy Vibes playlist I went back to so many times. I listened to so much Afrobeats for the fun vibes as well. My Spotify Wrapped said I listened to BTS a lot, just to buttress the fact that I prioritised music that made me feel good.
I also started deliberately being happy. It’s a weird thing to explain. But it’s basically saying “I am not happy right now but I choose to be.” Obviously, advising someone to do this would sound insensitive but in my case, it worked.
There’s this thing I’ve noticed about finding solutions to a problem after you’ve decided you’re going to solve it. It wasn’t long after my decision I found myself in a Social Club that went out frequently. I went for almost every single one(if not all) and had a lot of fun.
Some of you probably look at me like “this guy has money” because of this stuff, and yes, I know that’s what it looks like. But the truth is, they just became priorities for me. In retrospect, I can only sum it up to this:
“I woke up a few years ago, 20 years old and realised I had wasted my teenage years without many fond memories I could look back to. Do I want to wake up 30 and feel the same way?”
So it’s not a flex. It’s a deliberate effort to invest in memories. I could lock myself up in a room and focus only on work. But I’d go back to square one. Personally speaking, one of the major reasons my mental health became better this year was because I tried to have some form of a social life. That’s why I tweeted this:
I could’ve saved up all that money (which wasn’t a lot actually) but I would’ve been a sad and probably insufferable person by now.
My life in this area is one life long experiment. The first few months of the year had me struggling with productivity. I’d start and end the day wondering why my capacity to work was so small. One day I decided to count the hours I spent doing actual work and the numbers shocked me. The habit has stuck with me and my productivity went on an upward trajectory after that. There’s just something about seeing numbers and data and noting things down that helps me make sense of things in my life.
I also studied myself more and started making changes to my life to make me better. For example, I’m a morning person so I tried to do most of my work very early in the morning when I could.
In one of the books I read this year, a concept that stuck with me was “The body is basically a machine with inputs and outputs. The inputs determine the outputs.” and that’s how I see a lot of things now. If I can’t focus, there’s a reason. If I’m irritable and frustrated, there’s a reason. What inputs caused them? It might be something as simple as not eating in the morning before starting work or not getting enough sleep.
Sometimes the Suffering Olympics we do when working to make ourselves feel productive and good is exactly what it is — suffering.
No matter what I do, there’s always this persistent feeling that I’m not doing enough. And in my case, I know I’m right. I think I let the fear of outcome limit me and maybe it’s because the moment I get that one thing I want so badly, I wonder what else would be left of my life to pursue.
I have no regrets this year. I took a couple of risks and some didn’t work out the way I thought but everything was a learning process and there’s one thing I can’t deny, which is just like the previous years, this year had steps in a forward direction. Maybe a few steps back as well, but hey, life isn’t linear.
So negative vibes out of the way. I started the year unemployed and ended it unemployed (I left the job I got). I thought I would be in some places by now but that didn’t work out. I have multiple fears about some of the career decisions I’ve made (or didn’t make). I have several fears in general(even beyond career), some of which are very paralysing. I know everything I’m supposed to do but I sometimes just . . . can’t.
But let’s go back to the beginning of the year.
If you read my last year in review you’d remember that designing UIs got boring for me. I wanted to explore more art direction type work. And I did.
So I got a couple of freelance gigs to stretch those muscles. But the plan to transition into Art Direction didn’t exactly work out like I planned it in my head. So the idea was to apply for jobs in agencies and get in one. I applied. I actually got a few job offers as well but had to turn them down for one reason or the other. It was good validation, though. Because in retrospect, my portfolio was not good enough in job application standards but the fact that I got called for interviews and even got to offer stage felt like some form of validation. I also hoped that the new projects I’d picked up could go to my portfolio but the clients didn’t release the work the designs were for so I was there sitting on stuff I was proud of but couldn’t share, at least not publicly anyway,
I did get a job that started as a freelance gig turned startup and took it because partly I wanted to take risks (it was partly a whole thing with doing stuff that two of my close friends would understand). Basically I’m young and don’t have much on my head so such a risk was worth it. Plus it looked like I was going to be flexible to do other things. Oddly enough the work ended up with me mixing graphic design type work with product design type work.
But yeah. I discovered at some point in the year that it wasn’t UI Design/Product Design that was boring. I just needed a healthy dose of being a generalist. You see, I get bored easily and I’ve found that it starts to affect me and my work if I’m stuck doing the same thing over and over. But I did learn that work, no matter how much fun it is would have its monotonous moments and that’s just the nature of work. So what helped my sanity was freelance work on the side of my main job. So the main job gets monotonous, no problem. Because I get to try my hands on something entirely different when work closes for the day. Work on editorial design for a while, get my hands dirty with Webflow, do some UI design and then some other posters for some form of event.
Being a specialist is good and all. It’s a fast way to grow. I’ve seen people who started Design after me do crazy stuff that I doubt I’m capable of because they stayed in one lane. Problem is, I can’t. And I’m learning to accept that and find ways around it.
The job started off well but over time it became clearer to me that I did not want to be there but stayed because if I did, things were likely to fall apart and few people would’ve been out of a job. It became a chore and my main job started to feel like a distraction from other things I actually felt I wanted to do. This risk did not turn out to be worth it in the time being. But maybe it would’ve been worth it? We were building something that could help so many people. It could’ve been something huge. But one day I got fed up and realised that I was staying there for all the wrong reasons.
I resigned from this job that I’d been at for around 6 months without any other job offer (other than some freelance stuff I’d been doing on the side). Smart? Probably not. Necessary for my sanity? Yes. Fortunately for me, I wasn’t losing much when it came to pay and the freelance stuff was the one really keeping me afloat anyway. The thing about me is that even my seemingly impulsive decisions are calculated risks. When I resigned I knew I wasn’t far away from getting a job. Either I was going to get one soon or I’d have two months of preparatory work against next year. Worst case scenario, I go back to freelancing for a while. The way I saw it, I either had what it took to get a job, or the work I needed to put in to get a good one was not far from me. But the thing is, the potential of being able to do something can be more alluring than actually doing it. AJR’s “Next Up Forever” is the perfect song to describe this.
Also, I see design jobs all the time. People are looking for designers. The next question was, was I good enough? And a follow up question for that was, could I present myself as someone who is good enough? And even if I did, would I repeat what happened this year?
These are the issues.
When you have multiple interests like I do, you run into a few issues. One of which is people putting you in a box based on what they think you’re good at. This, in a way, was my fault. I used my social media to post stuff I did for fun, which shouldn’t be a problem because it’s my little space on the internet but I became the movie poster guy and not the Product Designer, which also shouldn’t be a problem but when you can feel people pushing you in a direction you didn’t plan for, it gets incredibly frustrating.
So I stopped posting movie posters and related stuff. The plan was to rebrand because these boxes were starting to affect my professional life.
Side note: Twitter can be a funny place. People hype you online and most of the time, your real life doesn’t match. The dissonance can mess with your head. You need to learn to separate the two. It will do you a lot of good.
Side note #2: There’s this weird mid level limbo you can get stuck in when you’re trying too many things. That part, I wouldn’t recommend.
I say I don’t know how to be money driven to my friends. But after giving it some thought, I just might actually be money driven. A huge goal this year was to upskill as much as possible. I can’t deny that a major propeller for that was to increase my earning capacity. The problem is when it’s time to go after the bag, I fumble for some reason, even though I can get it. Maybe it’s some form of self sabotage.
I guess you can say I’m money driven but for some reason I drag my feet to open the actual gate.
Maybe the propeller is not the money itself but just wanting to have a good life.
Anyway, inspired by Charles and Dums, I picked up Webflow this year. I could see a clear path to increase my earning capacity through it so I worked at it. God knows how many hours I’ve spent consuming educational content on this. Also, it turns out the company I worked for needed to build sites I was designing but couldn’t afford to hire good front end engineers. So, I pitched the idea of Webflow to them and they went with it. This helped me get better at it because now it was actually a deliverable. I think I did well in building this as a skill and you can see some of my experiments with it in this thread:
Other than Webflow, this year was the first time I actually learned how to use Indesign. It was a nice experience.
I also got obsessed with trying to be a better designer. I started several books, bought a couple of courses and spent so much time on YouTube. The more I searched for answers to my questions and things I was struggling with, the more I got convinced that you can’t escape paying for good courses and reading.
I started 20 books that ranged from memoirs to self help to design and I only finished 10 of them (two short of my 12 goal for the year). But what I’ve gained from all of them is a lot especially books like Atomic Habits by James Clear.
-I got to model for something. I will not be posting the result but take my word for it that it was a nice tangent I won’t mind doing again.
-Participated in Mudia’s Grid design challenge
-Charles and I did worked on Naira in Fonts
-Went on the canopy walk at Lekki Conservation Center for the first time. (I may or may not have an obsession with heights).
-I made a hobby of taking pictures of friends and actually got better at it.
-This year was the first time one of my friends got married (I don’t have a lot of close friends).
-Two of my biggest wins of the year were not even career related.
-Went kayaking for the first time.
-I met a lot of great people both online and offline.
-I actually let myself enjoy karaoke.
-Played real life pool for the first time (it’s harder than it looks like on iMessage).
-Turns out LinkedIn is a gold mine I’ve been sleeping on.
-Got to meet school mates I hadn’t seen in years. One occasion was my university course mates and another was secondary school mates.
-People telling you your quality of work has improved is a good feeling.
-Figma sent me merch. That was cool.
One major lesson that has been etched into my brain this year is the moment you decide you’re going to do something, like really decide to do something, you will start to see opportunities to make it happen. It will look like doors opened out of nowhere but the doors were always there. You just didn’t notice them.
2021 was something. I didn’t see myself where I am right now, making some of the decisions I’m making. I know it sounds good on paper but a lot of this shit is terrifying. But my comfort zone is about to be thrown out of the window and I’m here for it. December on its own has been a lot, and in a good way.
I wasn’t sure whether to write this and if I did, whether I should publish it. I feel like a lot of my year is part of an incomplete story and writing this without stuff like “I 10xed my income” or “I work for FAANG(MANGA?) now.” felt strange. But then time is a continuous thing and a year is basically a construct we use to keep track of it and not a compulsory bus stop. So long as I’m moving forward, I’m good.
Would be nice to pick up the pace, though.