2023 In Review

Like most years, 2023 was a mixed bag! I hit some plateaus...but I also found some joy.

My 2022 review ended with this paragraph:

This is the most positive, satisfied, content year-in-review I've written in years. I'm proud of myself for finding balance and joy in 2022. I wish you, and myself, the same in 2023.

How did this forecast pan out?

Wellllllllll maybe okay. I continued to find some joy and balance in 2023...but it was far from sunshine and rainbows. In fact, I hit a pretty bad patch emotionally in the fall of 2023. I've bounced back a bit. And as usual, when I look back at the totality of the year, I find things looked a little better than I thought they did.

For the last few years I've settled into a particular format of year-in-review article, featuring specific categories of my life and many embedded tweets. I'm going to stray from that a bit this year, and tackle it like we might tackle a sprint retro — what went well, and what didn't?

Scratch that, reverse it — what didn't go well, and what did — because it's always nice to end on the high notes. Consider the items that follow to be roughly in order of worst to best.

What went poorly?

I plateaued. In multiple arenas.

I'm not making very much art right now. I worked on a large project for a gift for my wife this year, and I've had trouble starting something up again since. I have a new pair of cycling shoes to paint, but I've struggled to figure out what to do with them. I'm feeling stuck.

I've been cycling regularly for nearly 30 years, but you wouldn't know it from my speed on a bike. Despite putting in 3000 miles of riding in 2023, a similar number to the previous two years, my power and speed on a bike has basically never changed. This frustrated me a lot in 2023. Rouvy, the platform I use for indoor cycling, sent emails with "something for everyone," and the rides that fit my power profile were labelled "for hobby riders." This was demoralizing and infuriating.

In late autumn, I re-started a membership to the local climbing gym, for the first time since before COVID-19. Within a couple weeks, I'd worked my way back up to a familiar plateau — anything labelled v3 or below was relatively easy for me; anything v4 was impossible.

I feel stuck in my career progression. I enjoy the team I work on and the work that I do, and I have felt like Developer Experience is the place for me since I started...but I fear my "technical" skills are atrophying, and I'm not sure I'm gaining enough other skills to justify that. I'm also getting pretty old for an individual contributor, and I fear that a loss of skills is much worse for me now than, say, ten years ago. I spent most of 2023 (and this first few weeks of 2024 😅) feeling varying levels of discomfort about this.

I hit a very low point in the early autumn.

Starting in May, I took a break from my therapist, because things seemed to be going well and scheduling would be difficult over the summer. This seemed fine for a while...but by autumn, with some of the aforementioned plateaus weighing on me, and some challenges at home, I felt pretty bad about myself. To make it worse, I had set a bar for myself that I would return to my therapist "when I was ready for season 2," with a clear idea of themes to work on. I never really got a clear idea of themes...and that prevented me from scheduling an appointment until much later than I needed one.

I really struggled to create content.

I published 3 articles in 2023! The fewest I'd published in a year since 2017. What happened??!

(Obviously, the articles I did publish were 🔥 and you should read them. Especially this one about spoons, matches, and developer experience.)

I published the last few episodes of A Deveoper Experience Podcast (season 1) early in the year; most of that work had been done in late 2022. I intended to pick it up again in late autumn/early winter, but I never felt inspired to do it. I might be finding that inspiration now, but I'm not sure.

One subject dominated my content creation — a project I spent a lot of time on with Camunda docs and SEO — and I published that as a video, and an article.

And it's actually that specific content that broke me, I think. I worked on that article, and avoided working on that article, for months. When I finally published it, I said out loud "I 🤬 hate writing." At this point I'm not sure I 100% believe that...but at the time I definitely did.

I gave up on Mastodon.

I was a huge fan of the tech community on Twitter, until it was run into the ground. In late 2022, I switched over to Mastodon as my main driver, hoping to rediscover the joy I'd found on Twitter.

After a year of using Mastodon, I decided I just don't like it. The same people preach or complain about the same things over and over. It's a very self-righteous place, and not much fun. Sure, Twitter was also a self-righteous place, but I also found joy in it that I never found on Mastodon.

I've been using Threads as my main driver for the past few months. I like it much more than Mastodon. I feel like you see more sides of people than either Twitter or Mastodon, which I think is nice. I don't find the exact joy that I found on Twitter, but there is a joy.

It's too quiet though. I still miss Twitter.

What went well?

I read 8 books.

I'm pretty sure I haven't read 8 books in one year since I was a kid! I've been a 2-to-4 book guy for basically as long as I can remember.

The one weird trick in 2023? I read books I wanted to read. Only one of the 8 books was non-fiction, and that one was an Erik Larson book — his books read to me more like fiction anyway. The rest of the books were science fiction, usually post-apocalyptic.

I found a new favorite author — Blake Crouch. Each of the 3 books I read had a "father/husband looking for his lost family across dimensions" theme that hit me extremely hard. The book Dark Matter, despite my friend Niall ripping it to shreds after I shared it with him, is my favorite book since I read The Hitchhiker's Guide series 15 times in my teens.

I picked up my guitar.

In the fall, I was feeling a little shame for not making art, but I had a little more time due to not training for triathlons. I found myself picking up my guitar.

Don't get excited — I bought this guitar 35 years ago, when my partner at the time needed rent and I wanted a cheap guitar — and I am definitely not good at playing it. But I picked it up and just kind of strummed along to music that I liked. And then I did it again, and again.

I'm not saying I can really play anything worthwhile on it...but that seems like a more realistic future than it has previously.

And most importantly, it's been fun to mess around with.

I crushed the sports.

2023 was seriously incredible for me in regards to triathlon. I set PRs. I ran harder in the Fontana Triathlon, a particularly hilly race, than I've ever run before. I finished highly in multiple races. I trained more total hours than ever before. I did much better at Age Group National Championships than I expected.

I stayed healthy all season, largely thanks to the strength training that I've fallen in love with. I took a couple weeks off from strength in the peak of triathlon season, otherwise I lifted weights once or twice per week for the rest of the entire year.

I also picked up climbing again this off-season, which has been a fun change to my usual routines.

I continue to feel very lucky that the thing I enjoy most outside of work is something that is healthy for me.

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I returned to my therapist.

Eventually I realized that I had, once again, set too high a bar for myself. I returned to my therapist in the fall, despite not having a clean "this is what we're working on in season 2" guide.

As it turns out, we're mostly working on the same things we were working on in season 1. 😅😬

We also talked about recurring mild depression, and the idea of experimenting with my brain chemistry. I've started taking ashwagandha, and it has gone pretty well. Even though I still have a lot of the "stuck" feelings mentioned above, I'm not ruminating on them very much. A couple days before the holiday break in December, I published a large project I'd been working on....only to find a handful of seemingly unrelated regressions, discovering them to be definitely related, and reverting the release immediately. This kind of thing would have wrecked my sleep in the past, but I was able to brush it off, and forget about it until after the holidays. I'm proud of this.

Probably the idea that most affects me is my fear of declining skills as I age — but I'm thankfully not losing too much sleep about it right now.

I kicked ass at work.

From my self-review in December:

As I write this self-evaluation, I am convinced that I did a fantastic job this year. I produced high quality work, a high quantity of it, I stepped outside of my comfort zone, and I made the docs a better place for everyone. In the examples for the "Exceeding" Performance Indicator, there were only 2 boxes that I couldn't confidently check for myself.

Dear reader, you know well of my self-criticism, of my self-deprecating humor, of my low self-esteem. You must also know what a surprise it was for me to write that self-review.

But it's true! I did a lot of work in 2023, and I am proud of it.

I wouldn't have recognized this if it weren't for all of our work being tracked in GitHub. When writing my self-evaluation, I looked back at all the issues and PRs that I closed in 2023. Being able to review all your work in one place is a self-evaluation superpower, and a practice I'll be taking forward.

Jon and I started 2 Rad Dadz.

I saved this one for last because it is my favorite thing about 2023.

Early in the year, my friend Jon and I decided to hang out and smash some code together. We actually had talked about doing this when I left Artsy, but every time we hung out we'd end up talking and catching up.

I don't remember why we decided to stream our hangouts, but we did. Streaming prompted us to stick to code for most of the sessions — don't get me wrong it's nice to just hang out, but I really miss pair-programming, and there's no better pair than Jon. Also, we still do hang out every time to catch up, it just happens mostly off-stream.

Our friend Pavlos started showing up to taunt us in the comments, and there's no better friend/fan than Pavlos.

Streaming has also kept us consistent. There is the occasional lapse due to holidays or summer, but for the most part we've been streaming every 2 or 3 weeks since we started.

Our first project was an idea I'd wanted to build for some time — a browser start page that shows a nice image and one of many nice comments I've received as feedback. It feels a little silly to have a "Steve Hicks fan club" running in my browser all the time to boost me, but also maybe everyone should have that.

Now we're working on an app for the Playdate which will....TBH I'm not sure where we're headed, because I keep distracting Jon from the finish line with side quests.

Even if Pavlos wasn't our #1 fan, and it was Jon and I literally shouting to the void, it would still be an absolute highlight every other Wednesday.

What's next?

First and foremost, by the time I write my 2024 review post, I'm hopeful to have some resolution to my career stuck-ness. I don't really have an idea of what that means yet. But I don't want to spend another year feeling like I'm not moving forward. One of the "joys" of being in your upper 40s 💀 is that you start to count the years down instead of up. Maybe that's just me. But I'm getting pretty serious about not wasting my time.

Beyond that, I hope Steve in January, 2025 is still streaming with Jon, has done something with another iteration of a podcast, has a creative outlet, and still loves to stay active.