2020: Delve Deeper

One of the biggest disappointments of 2019 for me was interviewing at a company across town and failing to land a job there. It was a company I had admired for some time, the role itself was to be the team leader for a small group of technical specialists overseeing a North sea portfolio and the pay was better; an added incentive. The interview itself started off well I thought but somewhere around three-quarters of the way through, it delved into territory I wasn’t overly familiar with. Part of it was a failure of preparation; I hadn’t taken the time to get intimately familiar with the company’s portfolio and thus prepare for any potential curveballs. The more I mulled over the disappointment, and let time do its thing, the clearer it became to me that this had ultimately been a failure of depth. I knew enough about my subject, had built a reputation in my locality and knew enough about the company to give the perception of competence and suitability on the surface. It was when the screws were turned and the veneer was stripped back, that a lack of depth – somewhat dodgy foundations if you like – proved my undoing.

In the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders, Jesus tells a story of two folks who build houses, one on the sands and the other on rock. When the winds, rains and storms come, the house on the sand – without depth – falls flat whilst the one on the rock survives. The parable’s primary purpose is to exhort listeners to hear and do the words of Christ. There is however a wider principle at play here I believe, everything worth its salt will be tested, the only ones which survive are those which have depth and are inherently resilient. It is an idea not too dissimilar to ones raised by Nassim Taleb in Skin In The Game when it comes to assessing the credibility of others.

All of the above is why my focus for 2020 is Delve Deeper. To delve is to reach inside hidden spaces and search for and extricate something. Implicit in this is the expending of energy, which has opportunity costs. For this to not be an exercise in futility therefore, these hidden spaces have to contain something of value which is the focus of the search. For 2020 the search will be for deep knowledge in the various domains across which my life intersects. The wider objective is not knowledge for knowledge sake, it is using that knowledge to build systems and routines that can stand the tests and ravages of time and life and can deliver lasting value in my various interactions. It is not a focus I expect to be fully developed and understood in 2020 alone but one that might just guide me through the 2020s (coincidentally my forties).

For all its warts, 2019 wasn’t the worst of years, not least because the biggest disappointment of 2019 is mitigated by a work opportunity at the end of Q1 this year to look forward to. That said, being intentional and tracking a host of data points over the course of the year helped identify a number of life domains which are good areas to kick off this process of delving deeper with. 2019 was the year I finally managed to put words to the feeling of spiritual malaise I have wrestled with over the past few years, spiritual homelessness. My finances are another area where I need to build a level of robustness in. Several big projects over the last decade, and a few failed (Nigerian) investments, meant I haven’t derived as much value as I could from my earnings over the past year. That is something that needs to change, particularly given I am now ten years closer to retiring. The third domain I believe needs focus in the near term is my relationships. Most of the past decade was spent insulating myself from people, focusing on myself sometimes to the detriment of real-world relationships and friendships. In continuance of one of my themes from last year, engaging the friends and people in my life better is something that needs focus this year.

How does this translate into real-world action? Three main behaviours to change/implement:

  • Question my answers: My existing outcomes in the domains I have identified for focus are the result of years of learning (both positive and negative) and ingrained habits. Real change can only begin by identifying what those underlying answers are, questioning them and then looking to arrive at better answers, iteratively. I started a Codex Vitae, a book of life, inspired by Buster Benson. This is something I hope to return to again and keep updated over the course of the year.
  • Build Systems: Two of the books which influenced me the most in 2019 (James Clear’s Atomic Habits and Drew Dyck’s Your Future Self Will Thank You) highlighted the criticality of systems (things broken down into repeatable, routine activities) for effecting change. As knowledge from digging deeper comes to the fore, the focus would be to break down any required actions into daily routines to ensure they get properly embedded into my life going forward.
  • Implement a Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle: One of the changes implemented in 2019 was to build a dashboard which tracked my performance against a few key metrics in each life domain. Its usefulness became abundantly clearer as I pulled my year-end review together. I plan to implement this fully in 2020, incorporating a weekly review process into the system to ensure learnings and opportunities to tweak things are picked up as early as I can.

To a Year of Delving Deeper then! Happy New Year friends and readers.

2019: The Year of Living Intentionally

The Year of Living Intentionally-2

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If I had to boil down the essence of the year of being thirty eight into one word, it would be coasting. It felt like I lurched from one crisis to the other, my actions driven more by the need to fight whatever fire glowed brightest than any form of plan or structure. As I stand here on the cusp of turning forty, I feel like something needs to change significantly – a fool at forty is a fool forever they say. That, and that there is someone who is significantly affected by my actions only makes it more imperative that I get my SH*T together soon.

I’d like for this year of being thirty-nine to be one of Living Intentionally. By Living Intentionally, I mean living a life that is aimed towards defined goals/objectives and which (by gathering the requisite data and analysing them) measurably improves. Defined goals/objectives suggest an overarching plan for life, various iterations of which have existed over the years. At its core that plan – derived from identifying the roles I fill, clustering them into three interaction spaces (Personal, Professional, Public) and identifying long term goals for each interaction space – can be summarised as:

  • Be the best husband, father, brother, son and friend I can be;
  • Excel in the Corrosion, Materials, Welding and Inspection discipline;
  • Live in and contribute to life in a great church and a great city.

So on to the focus areas for this year of living intentionally, which is organised around five themes.

Learn continuously (and become proficient in my core skill areas)
For work I pretend to know a lot about rust, which is one element of the wider job family I have spent the bulk of my career in – Materials, Corrosion, Inspection & Welding Engineering (MCI &W). For all the development activity I completed in 2018, it didn’t feel as structured as in previous years, driven largely by the fire-fighting I had to do at work. The goal for this year would be to go back to basics, review the competency definitions, identify my gaps and get a structured plan for closing them by self-study and or specific courses. Outside work, I became more and more intrigued by all the happenings in the data science/analytics/machine learning domain. From learning to code in python, I ended up taking a number of data science courses on Coursera and signing up for a Dataquest premium account for a year. This, and improving my writing skills I believe are the three areas I would like to develop proficiency in in 2019. The small changes identified in support of these goals are:

  • Complete my Dataquest Data Scientist path whilst studying for 5 hours a week*
  • Spend 5 hours per week studying MCI&W related topics*
  • Identify and complete a creative non-fiction writing course

Prepare (for fatherhood, ageing and eventual retirement)
Several elements stand out to me as being critical to being/becoming a good father, the key ones being building a solid spiritual and moral grounding to provide leadership within my personal circle, being more financially responsible so I have more disposable income and am also preparing for eventual retirement. Also as I totter on the edge of turning forty, what has become clear is that my metabolism is no longer what it once was, and downing multiple slices of pizza just won’t cut it anymore. It is also a time when lifestyle changes might yet stave off debilitating problems later in life. There is also the small matter of my life being split between the ‘Deen and Byfleet further down South. To get closer to these ideas, I intend to be intentional about:

  • Developing a daily practice of prayer and bible study (I have chosen to use the YouVersion app for its in built tracking and metrics)*
  • Save at least 10% of net monthly earnings*
  • Reduce weight to 80 kg
  • Run 3x a week (>20km overall) *
  • Improve average sleep to >6.5 hours per day: This is unlikely to be a quick fix as I first have to find and fix the underlying habits/issues affecting my sleep
  • Relocate to the Greater London  Area – another one that involves a lot of smaller changes including finding a job down south (in the same or different industry) or a means of replacing my current income
  • Read 25 books, covering Creative Non-Fiction, Fiction, Popular science, The Church Fathers/ Church History, Personal Development (Reading widely and consistently is a habit I would like to give to my future kids)

Engage (family and friends better)
One of the consequences of my year of drifting was a slow disconnection from all non-essential communication. For 2019 I would like to get into a space where I have regular meetups and phone calls with my close friends and family. Specific objectives in this domain for 2019 are:

  • Speak to my father weekly*
  • Speak to my siblings monthly (one each week), in-laws once a quarter*
  • Write to my sponsored (Compassion) children at least once a quarter also
  • Meet up with one close friend each month*

Diversify (Earn Extra income)
They say death and taxes are the only things one can be certain of, which is why I would like 2019 to be the year in which I diversify my earnings. The obvious advantage of extra income aside, there is also the opportunity to insulate myself somewhat from the ebbs and flows of big oil and its effects on job security. Two things come to mind as options for exploring this – developing and then monetising any data science/ analytics skills I pick up and also exploring options for engaging the online gig economy. Lots of work to develop this further this year I suspect but one I intend to be intentional about. My notional target here is to earn >£1,000 from a side gig by year end.

Measure and Improve
They say you can’t improve what you don’t measure, which is why one of the themes for this year is to find ways and means to simplify measuring and reviewing my progress towards all the changes I’m trying to be intentional about. A few of the apps I use (Strava, YouVersion, Dataquest, Garmin) automate the process of capturing performance related data. For the remainder, loop will have to suffice as a repository for tracking data. The idea would be to develop a short monthly review template which will capture key datasets and also include some text/ commentary as a means of self-assessing where I am on the path towards these goals.