Doing an annual review is an important part of my year. Once published, annual reviews can serve as cairns to mark the journey of life.
This year, I streamlined my process to make it more efficient. I wanted to put more intention into doing this because I will only do a few of them in my lifetime. I started doing them in 2013 when I was just 20 years old. If I continue to do them until I am 80 years old, I would be lucky to finish 52 more annual reviews. While I am strong and my memory is better, I would like to make the most of this yearly practice.
Since 2019, I have been asking myself four questions to perform my annual review:
- What went well this year?
- What didn’t go so well this year?
- What am I working toward?
- What did I learn this year?
I answer the first three questions for the four big areas of my life: health, relationships, sustenance (my financial and material life), and meaning (my vocation and art).
Since this post is long overdue, let’s get right into it. Here is my 2020 annual review.
What went well this year?
My single biggest achievement in this area is taking care of whatever hearing is left to me so that my tinnitus does not increase in volume. Even more important is developing a healthier response to the noise, which eventually lead to habituation, or me getting used to the sound.
This is an important achievement as I consider my tinnitus similar (although less severe) than the biggest challenge I ever faced in my life: my 2011 depressive episode. More than a year since the ringing in my left ear started bothering me, I continue to cope with it. There are days when the sound seems louder than usual and, on these days, I sometimes ask myself when it will ever stop. But most days, I am able to function well and continue life as usual. I don’t even hear it sometimes, especially when I am so absorbed in whatever I am doing.
The second health achievement I am most proud of this year was losing 30 lbs or 13.6 kgs since starting a low-acid diet in August 2020. I was forced to do the diet after suffering from a throat problem caused by the reflux of stomach acid towards my upper esophagus. This condition is called Laryngopharyngeal reflux or LPR. To heal my throat, I needed to heal the sphincter that prevents the stomach acid to reflux into my esophagus. For this to happen, I needed to take some medications, remove acidic food in my diet temporarily, and lose weight. The diet I followed covered the last two goals. I ate only foods with pH levels 7 and above. As an added bonus, these foods also helped me lose weight.
Following this diet meant giving up intermittent fasting, which is a habit I established last year and which, I considered my most important health goal back then. It is clear now that intermittent fasting wasn’t helping me control my weight (in fact, I was obese before my LPR) and, worse, it was messing up with my stomach acids. Today, I eat smaller but frequent meals and it has worked well for me.
Interestingly, the pandemic had a reverse effect on my relationship with Lea, my girlfriend. While it forced us to be apart (something we are thankful is finally over), our relationship actually thrive within those 300 days we were separated. Don’t get us wrong, being separated was not good for us; it would have destroyed us if it went further. However, a benefit of the separation was that it forced us to think creatively in maintaining our bond while away from each other. It created good habits that we still do even if we’re already together in person.
During those 300 days we were apart, we had daily conversations in the evenings. We only missed a few, when I wasn’t at home. But most days, we would talk for about two hours each night. During our calls, we would play (thanks Houseparty!), review our day, settle problems, sing, write poems, and draw. Most importantly, the daily conversations helped us understand each other better. We were able to develop honesty and respect in our communication—something that isn’t easy not only because of the long-distance situation but also because of our personalities.
Aside from building my relationship with Lea, I was also able to build new relationships this year. This was primarily through Tungko ng Tula, a community of poets that was started by Rem Tanauan after the nationwide quarantine rolled out. Last December 30, 2020, the two batches of Tungko had a year-ender and one of the alumni, Cris Garcimo, used the word “daloy” (flow) to describe his experience of friendship in the community. Through Tungko, he met new friends, who, in turn, connected him with other friends. For him, Tungko became a critical node that opened up lots of streams of friendships. He was basically describing my own experience of Tungko. Through Tungko, I met interesting and genuine individuals, who, in turn, were connected with larger communities of like-minded and like-hearted people. The community made me feel less alone in 2020, a year when loneliness was at a record high worldwide.
While I built new friendships, I was also able to nurture existing friendships. The pandemic deepened my relationships with a few close friends. Losing physicla connection encouraged many of us to seek alternative ways to connect via the Internet. If done right, these can actually be really great temporary replacements to physical connections. The pandemic forced me to start daily, weekly, and monthly habits that connect me to loved ones (a Zoom call with my sister tonight, another with cousins tomorrow, a weekly catchup with an accountability group every Wednesday, etc.) I wish that these habits will remain even after the pandemic.
Obviously, the pandemic was not easy for a lot of people’s finances and for the economy in general. However, like any disaster, the pandemic also proved to be a great wake up call for most people’s business and work life. Perhaps one of the pandemic’s most important lessons is that online-based work is more lockdown-proof than industries that rely heavily on physical contact. This is something I am very grateful for.
While the pandemic led to economic loses, many of which were caused primarily by the sometimes excessive restrictions imposed on individuals and businesses to prevent the further spread of the disease, some industries were not profoundly hit. For example, students and academics continued their studies online and the influx of editing assignments I received have been consistently stable. This meant that I was in a good position to help family members, friends, and volunteer organizations as they coped with the economic effects of the pandemic.
In a previous post “How I Became a Professional Multipotentialite”, I also showed that I have massively cut my working hours because of my new editing job. This is probably the best thing that happened to me in this area last year. This meant more free time for me to do projects that are not necessarily income-generating but are more aligned to what I want to do.
Living a meaningful life in 2020 was obviously challenging because of the pandemic. The biggest drawback for this year was that there was very little travel possible. Traveling was a big part of my life before the pandemic as most of the people I care about are far from me. Despite this, the restrictions, again, encouraged us to be more creative: we all needed to find ways to feel alive even when we were socially isolated. And that was what I did.
This year, I really dove into poetry. Most of the books I read this year were poetry books, and I finished the nine-week poetry master class, Tungko ng Tula. Reading and writing poetry led me to tinker with newspaper blackout poetry, which I immediately fell in love with. I tried it in English newspapers, Pangasinan magazines, and Filipino tabloids. Writing poetry was also the most social thing I did this year as it connected me with other poet friends. As a contribution to our community, I volunteered to design our website.
Last 2019, I started going back to an old passion: drawing. And this year, I continued to draw. When the pandemic started, Robert Alejandro began a series of daily art classes. I joined one of these classes, and that started my drawing journey in 2020. I drew a series of blind contour drawings featuring Filipino comedians and personalities then international authors. I also drew my friends when they celebrated their birthdays.
In 2020, I also launched Mantaltaliwa, a Pangasinan newsletter that featured some of my Pangasinan poems and translations. I see it as my small contribution to the project of revitalizing and saving our dying mother tongue. I also started uploading videos I took while walking and riding my bike in Nature on YouTube and sharing these in my project Worn out Wheels.
But perhaps my biggest creative project in 2020 was immersing in Thoreau’s words. I read his entire journal for one year, translated entries that resonated with me into Filipino, shared these translations in social media, created a workshop on his life and creative processes, and tried out his field work process for about a month. Doing all these had a strong effect on my life as a writer as Thoreau taught me how to become truer to myself and to the things that really matter to me.
Aside from Thoreau, my biggest win this year was establishing a minimum viable life system. Starting in July 2020, I started exploring Caroline Miller’s goal-setting work book, which I coupled with Tiago Forte’s Annual Review process, which I converted into a mid-year review. Moving forward, I started learning a lot from Tiago’s work and built my own life management system, which totally changed how I function in a daily basis. The life system I established this year solved the problems I was struggling with for many years, and it has profoundly improved my sanity. It is still a work in progress. For example, this year, I moved from Evernote (the main app I was using) to Craft, which was a more beautiful note-taking app that has most of the things I need. I also streamlined my annual review process to be more efficient. I’ll be sharing more about my system in the future.
What didn’t go so well this year?
My tinnitus started bothering me in January 1, 2020, but that issue started back in 2019. It got bad because of a series of mistakes I made last 2019. While 2020 was the year it started bothering me, it was also the year of recovering from it—searching for help, trying out different therapies, finding what might help me, and sticking to what works.
What really went bad for me in 2020 in terms of my health was the Laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR) I suffered starting August. LPR is when stomac acid travels up into the esophagus and eats up the throat. The most prominent symptom was a sensation of a fishbone in my throat, but I occassionally, I also experienced difficulty of breathing.
Like my tinnitus, and like all other health issues, my LPR was the culmination of a lot of bad eating habits and choices: it probably started when I began intermittent fasting, which created extreme hunger, which gave me the license to overeat during meals. Because of overeating, I gained a lot of weight, leading to obesity, which placed a lot of pressure on my sphincter.
Obviously, things got better for me when I started correcting my diet, but good eating habits from the start could have prevented this health issue.
There were two things that didn’t go well for me in this area last 2020. First, my relationship with my younger sister got strained. We were not used to living in the same house—a reality we had to face after she was forced to stay with us indefinitely because of the pandemic. The differences between our personalities got out of hand and we arrived into a mutual understanding that we can no longer live in the ame house for that long again. I believe things will get better in the future. But for now, this is my reality, and I have learned to be comfortable with it.
Another thing that I think was a failure in this area was the death of two of our pets. While I have already made peace with this, I still believe I could have done better to prevent what happened. It was a learning experience. I became a more mindful pet owner after it. Now that I transferred to Laguna, I have decided not to keep pets for the time being, knowing how large a responsibility they actually are (and should be).
While I am grateful that this is an area of my life that is currently stable, I am also aware that I am not yet as resilient as I possibly can. I still need to establish alternative sources of income so that I have a financial safety net.
After doing Tiago Forte’s Annual Review, which I turned into a mid-year review, the biggest thing I realized from the process was that I was not really setting big, scary goals for myself. I was playing it safe. I wasn’t taking any risks. I forgave myself for this especially because 2020 was a particularly difficult year. But this 2021, I challenge myself to step up—to really do the work that I am called to do and to take more risks and expose myself to more challenges.
What am I working towards?
After going through a strict diet, I now have lost 30 lbs or 13.6 kgs. This was a big personal achievement, but it is still beyond my ideal weight. For the first quarter of 2021, I would like to achieve a more normal weight by dropping from 192.7 lbs (current) to 178 lbs, which means I have to lose 14.7 more lbs in about seven weeks. I would like to achieve this healthily and sustainably through healthy eating habits and regular physical activity.
Aside from this, my other goals are:
- I would like to totally prevent another onset of LPR.
- I would like to help my eardrum close to about 75% of its hole.
- I would like to continue tapering my psych meds this entire year without experiencing adverse effects.
Overall, my intention for 2021 is not to have a serious health issue caused by my lifestyle choices. I would like to train myself to make better health choices every day.
My 2020 was a relationship-filled year, even when I was mostly isolated from people. I was able to build ties with new and old friends online. Now that I recently moved to Los Baños, I am looking forward to actually nurturing more of those relationships. I am also looking forward to being more intentional on the relationships that I build, hoping that they will support the mission I am pursuing.
For the past years, I have followed the books Your Money or Your Life (YMOYL) and Early Retirement Extreme (ERE) in thinking about and managing my money. While I still subscribe to the practices taught by these books, I have a growing curiosity on what alternative systems exist out there. I have read that Paul Jarvis, for example, does not resonate with the Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE) tradition that both YMOYL and ERE espouse. I wonder why that is the case.
This year, I would like to revisit my beliefs about money and restructure a system that works for me and helps me manage my financial goals and actions. In addition to this, I would like to look for another source of stable income, which will serve as my safety net in case editing projects come slow. I would also like to reconsider entrepreneurship so that I can align money-making with something I actually enjoy doing. Hopefully, I could be able to launch a product to test in the market before the year ends.
This 2021, as I am transitioning in a new place, I want to listen more to what my true self is telling me to pursue. Righ now, it is telling me to fully commit to developing my life system and philosophy of living further. To do this, I will have to establish a note-writing system—a daily practice of developing ideas into succinct, individual notes in the tradition of Niklas Luhmann’s zettelkasten and Andy Matuschak’s evergreen notes. I am considering publishing these notes as Borradores.
My hope is that through a daily practice of developing atomic ideas, I would sharpen my thinking so that I am more open to insight. My goal is to produce at least 300 fully developed notes. I have been dipping my toes in philosophy for the past three years. I think I am now ready to fully commit to this pursuit of truth and Ginhawa. This 2021, I would like to take more risks, to aim for scarier goals, as I thread through this field. To support me in this goal, I would also like to connect with people who are in a similar journey—pursuing truth and constructing their own philosophy of living as independent thinkers.
Aside from this, I also expect to finish translating all my favorite Thoreau journal quotes. By the end of 2021, I am hoping to have a first draft manuscript of Ang Talaarawan ni Thoreau, a collection con devotional of Thoreau journal quotes in Filipino.
What did I learn this year?
To end my annual review, I’m going to share to you several of the most important insights and lessons I learned in 2020.
You may not be able to change something, but you can change your reaction to it. This is something I have already learned in the past. But once in a while, I need a tragedy to relearn it. Going through tinnitus, one thing that helped me cope with it mentally was when I realized that it was important for me to differentiate actions I can take to lessen the noise and actions I can take to improve my reaction to it. When I realized I can do a few things to lessen the noise (sleeping better, eating better, relaxing more) but not completely eliminate it, I was able to focus more on reducing my anxiety to it.
Set scarier goals. Nothing is as awakening as realizing that you have played it safe for a long time. But this is what I realized the moment I did a mid-year review. My goals weren’t really scary enough to help me grow. While I still believe that the little things are what matters most, I also need challenges, once in a while, to help me learn more about myself. This year, I have set goals that are intentionally designed to help me grow.
You need a life system, not just a life philosophy. For a long time, I thought that what I was really building was a philosophy of living. However, as I was fixing my productivity system and information management system, I realized that a total integrated life management system is the ultimate project, and life philosophy is simply a part of that. Realizing that helped me define my priorities better.
You need project deadlines. I started putting deadlines on every goal and every project that I set. The deadlines are not fixed, strict, structural boundaries but rather reminders of what I can accomplish in a given time period. If I need more time, I simply use the deadline as a review time to redefine my thoughts on the project.
Reframe all setbacks as challenges. There are no setbacks; only challenges. This has been a life-changing lesson for me in 2020, something that really helped me cope with everything that made the year unusually difficult. I thank William B. Irvine’s book The Stoic Challenge for reiterating this lesson to me.
Happiness is generated by small actions, not big projects. After building my minimum viable system, I thought I would be the happiest person in the world. That was not the case. In fact, I felt an unexplained emptiness. This made me realize that one does not need a life system to be happy. It helps one be happy, but the heavy lifting comes in the form of habits and little actions that raise our overall well-being.
And with that, I close another chapter of my life. Thank you 2020, and welcome 2021!