Sunrise over the water and beach - CaboPress 2021

Looking Back at 2021

Forgive me internet, for I have sinned. It has been 351 days since my last post on here. Here’s a short one on 2021 to try to get me back into the habit.

Last year was one of self-assessment and struggle for me. I’ve heard several people refer to it as a roller coaster, but I love roller coasters and can’t claim the same affection and appreciation for 2021. I can say it had a lot of ups and downs. You could take a graph of weekly average COVID infection rates in my state of Oklahoma, mirror it on the vertical, and relabel it “Aaron’s Mental Health and Happiness”. It would be alarmingly accurate.

While most of the biggest challenges of 2021 were personal for me, professionally there were some significant changes and encouraging progress as well.

Self-Assessment

Starting even before 2021, in the latter half of 2020, I took some of my own advice and sat down to write out what was important to me, what I enjoyed, and, just as importantly, what I didn’t enjoy. It was overdue. I tell people it’s a practice you should do quarterly, yet I hadn’t done it in a year – and so much had changed in that time!

Setting aside the personal and family parts of that list, because those are for me, there were a lot of similarities to years past in the things that were important to me – the open web, making enough money to provide the lifestyle I want for my family, feeling like I make a difference, helping others to succeed beyond just the company I’m at, traveling (I have to admit, I miss this), etc.

Then came the hard part – applying these things to my life to cause changes and bring my life more in line with what I want it to be. I don’t think I fear change, but I’m certainly wary of it. I like to know all the things, and change makes that hard but it was worth it.

The biggest professional change happened very early in 2021. I was tired of pushing so hard to steer a company toward embracing and building on the basic principles of the open web and to drive home the importance of open tooling and standards. Especially as reorganizations began to reduce my ability to effect the change I saw was needed. I don’t think I even realized how exhausting it was or how much it affected my happiness, until I stepped back and eventually left.

I didn’t dramatically change what I was doing, but I moved to a company that sees the importance of the open web as I do. Even considering the massive merger that that birthed Newfold from EIG and Web.com, pushing toward the open web with a company full of people that are pushing the same direction was definitely one of the better parts of 2021.

Exploring Professional Interests

The move to Newfold was strategic for another reason as well – to further distance myself from the “developer” label I’ve long been tagged with. I was absolutely a developer – for many years that was my primary marketed skill and it’s what really kick-started my career and brought me into WordPress. I still write code for personal projects and even professionally from time to time, but it’s been a while since I considered myself a developer. Breaking free of that label has been tough, but I think 2021 finally put that to bed.

There is nothing wrong with being a developer, but the skills I most enjoy employing are guiding products and the strategies around them, bridging the gap between developers and non-developers, and building and maintaining relationships. I’ve spent all of 2021 doing those very things.

I’ve been able to split my time, running product while also being involved in partnerships and acquisitions. I even went to my first ever CaboPress, and I have to say – you’d be hard pressed to find a conference anywhere that better facilitates the building of relationships.

A Happier Path Forward

Looking ahead at 2022 the thing I hope to focus on is personal happiness even with regard to my professional life. There’s a niggling little voice inside me telling me that’s selfish, but I’m working to ignore it. For me personal happiness will mean more time with family, less stress about work, and focusing on continuing to employ and improve the skills I truly enjoy.

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