Happy New Year, friends! 🥳
Before we jump into the New Year, I wanted to take the time to reflect on 2021. In a typical movie arc, I’d compare my 2021 to the part where you see the main character struggle but then they remember who they are and about end up saving the world before it all falls to pieces. My life is certainly less dramatic, but definitely, one to remember.
Each year I have a word that I write everywhere to remind me what I want to “ground me” for the 12 months ahead (inspired by the Bullet Journalling community.) For 2021, my word was “Serenity“, which makes me pull this face 😬 because it was anything but serene.
The Year of “Serenity”
Unlike other years, I didn’t set goals for myself in the attempt to create more moments of “taking stock.” This attitude didn’t last very long, and I ended up setting goals, which I rebranded to intentions to trick my brain into slowing down. This plan didn’t work either, and I ended up making the most significant life changes in the shortest amount of time possible. 🤦🏻♀️
Despite 2021 not being serene at all, I regret absolutely nothing. The last 12 months have been the most exhilarating and challenging I’ve ever experienced, and I’ve never felt more aligned with my values than right now. I’m grateful to everyone that has opened doors for me and helped me along the way, up the ladder, or after I tripped, I couldn’t have done it without you all. 🙏🏼
However, it’s not all been sunshine and rainbows. It never really is. I’ve had the most challenging battles to fight: mental health, grief, crippling doubt, adjusting to BIG life changes (twice), and other things that I’m honestly still processing.
Oh, and obviously the uncertainty from the ongoing pandemic.
It was clear that I was struggling to take it all in. The warning signs were being tearful most days, not feeling happy doing what I usually love, using food to cope, cutting my hair to feel something — I stopped before too much damage was done… With all this change, it’s no surprise that I was on edge, overwhelmed and anxious all year.
Resilience is a character trait that I wear with pride. Despite all this, I just kept showing up, rain or shine, with an optimistic attitude (well, whatever I could muster up that day.) I’m proud of that. Now I’ve taken time off, retreated to my parents’ home and walked a few miles in the Peak District; I feel like I finally have space to think and reflect on making improvements so that the next 12 months isn’t as chaotic.
In this reflection post, I’ll attempt to organise my year as best as possible with categories and bullet points, so it’s easily digestible for you and my future self.
It’s been a wild ride, grab a cuppa – this is what 2021 looked like for me ☕️
The Pandemic 😷
When I tell the story of the pandemic or for future historians: 2021 started with a lockdown—our third one in the UK. After seeing the number of cases on the rise and the vaccine still outside of arms reach, I expected the lockdown, but it was difficult not to feel deflated.
Fast forward to the spring/summer, my loved ones and I finally got the jab. 💉💉 Although I was hesitant to return to my “normal” activities, I eventually got past the anxieties. I started living like I used to (albeit in a newer way that included more hand sanitiser and facemasks where required.)
However, as I’m writing this, the Omicron variant has caused the world to react the same way as December 2020. One step forward, two steps back.
Before the booster got to the arms of my loved ones, I found myself in the same place as I was when the pandemic began. I’ve reeled back on my normal activities and adjusted again with reluctance and a heavy heart.
When will it end? I’m not sure. But I have faith in science and people to do the right thing. 💜
Career: The Great Resignation (Paw’s version) 🚀
Whew, where do I even start here? 😅
Six months after entering 2021 with a new job as a DevOps Engineer at SBG, I left to pursue my dream role in Community/Developer Relations/Advocacy at Gitpod. This job change was the highlight of my 2021.
DevRel was a big goal that I decided would be in the cards in my five-year career plan, but Gitpod gave me a shot that I couldn’t throw away. My previous SRE/Platform/DevOps experience will always stay with me, but I have to say, I have never felt more part of tech until this role.
- 🎙 At SBG, I organised and hosted an internal tech conference in my first three months. These were some nice things people had said about it!
- 💻 At SBG, improved my confidence in using Kubernetes, Prometheus, Grafana and Chef.
- 🎙 I helped organise, kicked off and concluded CNCF KubeCon DevX Day
- 😊 I increased my salary by 150% compared to my first tech job!
- ✨ I improved my self-confidence in doing DevRel activities officially from content creation, live streams to community work. I’m enjoying every moment 🥰
- ☁️ I entirely switched to remote development with Gitpod. No more local development!
- 📺 I had the opportunity to show the world what Gitpod can do with video content
- 🚀 I launched DevXPod and DevX Digest with Mike!
- 🧡 I’ve seen our wonderful Gitpod community grow from strength to strength. It’s been so exciting to be a part of it.
- ⚡️ I got better at using Discord now that it’s part of my full time job and where I hang out with other communities! Big achievement because I used to struggle with it 😅
- 🙏🏼 I’ve collaborated with some incredible folks in tech, including Alejandra, Wes and Scott, Eddie, Siddharth, Jamon, Cirpo and more!
- 🐳 I cleared the Kubernetes and Cloud Native Associate (KCNA) exam 🎉
- ⚡️ I cleaned up my portfolio and joined PolyWork to showcase what I’ve been up to!
- 🧠 However, it’s not all sunshine! With everything else in my life, I quietly struggled to adjust to all the changes. Switching jobs and adjusting twice a year left me so exhausted. Hoping to slow down, a touch.
Community: Growing & Nurturing 🌿
- 💻 I launched Ladies in DevOps, now with 600+ women from around the world. Building this community was an incredible journey to be a part of alongside Erleene, Yasmin and Rahmat – there is now a safe space for women in the DevOps space to learn and connect.
- 🎤 I spoke about how and why we built this community at a meet-up
- 🎤 I spoke on so many Twitter Spaces about cloud learning, community building, communication skills, mental health, ephemeral dev environments, tech careers!
- ✨ I featured on UpRooted Magazine, The Communities Show, noCSDegree podcast, Getting into DevRel Recording with Eddie, two issues of the Collectiv and two episode of The Humans of DevOps Podcast about my journey to tech and dealing with Imposter Syndrome.
- 🎉 I became an AWS Community Builder and an official ambassador for Code First Girls, where I created content about AWS and hosted events for CFG. I’m no longer a part of both of these communities, but the time I had in both of these communities as an active member was an absolute joy.
Pawlean: Continued growth 💜
I continued to write blog posts, create podcasts and videos under “Pawlean“. Although I got a little busier and uninspired, especially at the end of 2021, I always tried to make time to sit down and write.
I’m grateful for all the folks that continue to read/like/watch the things I create here. It’s still my special space on the internet.
- 🎉 2000+ “a podcast by Pawlean” downloads. I collaborated with Rebekah, Sonnie, Elle, Pratiksha, Sonia, Darren, Emma, Kim, Ahsana, Rituja, Matt and Clark. 🥰
- 🎉 One of my YouTube videos hit 11,000 views! Even better: it wasn’t a tech video. 🙉
- 🎉 I don’t look at my blog metrics too often because it’s easy to fall into the content creator trap. I don’t want to deviate from my core value of writing what I want to write, not what I think other people want to read (and get trapped in that content creation cycle.) I have to say, though, I’m surprised by them every year. If one person still reads my blog, then I’d be thrilled, so this means a lot 🥰
- 🎉 I hit 8.87k followers on Twitter (compared to 5k last year), which I didn’t think would ever happen.
- 🎨 I improved my editing skills in podcasts and videos. I also gained confidence with streaming on OBS (thanks to Gitpod as well!)
- 📝 “Enough” was my favourite 2021 post to write.
Personal: A bumpy ride 🪨
I’ve changed so much; some days, I struggle to recognise myself. Not surprising, though, because everyone has changed in some ways since March 2020.
I’m trying to be gentle with this new me, who is often more sad, blue and emotional because of, well… waves hands at everything. My dips of depressive episodes still hit some days, but I’m finding ways to adjust and take care of myself.
- 🏔 I spent most of 2021 with my family. Working remotely enabled that, which has been great for a change of scenery. I’m happy with the amount of time I spent at home.
- 😞 I experienced consistent low moods and showed depressive symptoms (crying most days, lack of joy in the things that usually did, irritability, binge eating)— the last time I felt this bad was in 2015 when I first went on antidepressants. I’ve tried to deal with it in my usual way: movement and meditation, but finally reached out for help with cognitive behavioural therapy.
- 🕊 In May, my grandma passed away with COVID complications. It’s the first time I’ve experienced loss so close to us. Because we’re so far away from home, it’s been more difficult to process even to this day. She was an incredible woman who endured hardships that I can’t even imagine. We love her so much.
- 🍰 In June, I turned 25.
- 🏝 In September, Matt and I went to Gran Canaria for two weeks. Our first trip since November 2019 was the headspace I needed, especially with everything that had already happened.
- ⚔️ I watched Hamilton Musical Live in the West End 🎶
- 👀 In October, I changed my life in 15 minutes with LASIK surgery that I’ve always wanted.
- 📺 To help me cope with the year, I enjoyed light-hearted content, explicitly wanting to point out my discovery of The Office, Office Ladies Podcast, Superstore and enjoyed every minute of anything Marvel put out.
- 🎵 I fell in love with Nic D‘s music
- 📚 I read 25 books
- 👾 I also just let my inner child go and play; whether that was video games, drawing or experiments with hair and make-up, I just let her go. It’s been relieving.
- 💰 I hit my savings goal! This year has been the most I ever saved. 🥰
- 🏡 Matt and I are buying our first home together. Significant change #4, now? 🥲 It’s been a super stressful process, but hopefully worth it when we finally move in!
- 📱 I’ve taken multiple breaks on the most addictive app (Instagram)
- 🍎 2021 was my year of upgrades… I upgraded everything from my iPhone to MacBook to Watch. You are welcome, Apple. 🙈
Health: Still at the core 💪🏼
- 💜 I finally started taking my degrading mental health seriously and started going to therapy. I’m still figuring things out, but I feel better talking to someone about personal battles I’m fighting. It turns out I’m not alone!
- 🏃🏻♀️ In a desperate bid to get out more and to improve my cardiovascular fitness, I started running, which I was consistent in during the Spring/Summer months.
- 💜 I started accepting body changes more positively.
- 😴 I took all of October off of exercise for LASIK recovery. Surprisingly saw the benefits of not doing intense exercise all the time.
- 🏋🏻♀️ Another year of exercise in the bag! My goal was to move as much as possible to maintain my physical and mental health in check, no matter the circumstances. I experimented with Apple Fitness+ strength workouts and returned to the gym for heavy lifts and pilates!
- 😩 My strength took a backseat as I took precautions before returning to the gym. Hopefully will improve this!
Moments of Learning
Check out my annual blog post on the five things that I learned for my full personal learnings.
I also wanted to highlight this message:
2021 brought to light the struggles that women face every day. It’s been good to see the conversation on women’s safety become more of a priority to an extent, but not when it’s come about after women have been assaulted, injured or killed.
I shouldn’t have to gift the women close to me with safety alarms, just in case. I shouldn’t have to wait for someone to be available so that I can go outside without being harassed. I shouldn’t have to wait for a reasonable time to go out for a run just in case something happens. I shouldn’t have to pretend that someone is home with me to the delivery/takeaway guy so that they know I’m not home alone (even when I am.) I shouldn’t be living constant fear in my home town.
But I am, and so many women are. It’s about time we change the behaviours of men and shift the responsibility on their shoulders. It should not be another thing for women to think about.
To add to the conversation of how women deserve to be respected, I’ve generally discovered a new level of appreciation for women this year. I wanted to give a big shout out to every woman who continues to do it all in the middle of a pandemic.
We bear the weight of the world on our shoulders at home, at work, in life. I’ve personally felt it more than ever this year — I don’t even have kids! Although it’s incredible how we do it all, it’s also essential to push back, set boundaries and take no shit from anyone.
I tend to forget how powerful, resilient and impressive we are. 💜
Although we still have a lot of work to do to stop violence against women and equality on multiple fronts, I see glimpses of good education, and I have high hopes.
2022 – High Hopes
My attempt to set no goals had the opposite effect: I felt unfocused, anxious and jumped from one thing to another. Having no plan isn’t necessarily bad because sometimes, having a very detailed step-by-step life plan can ironically suck the life out of you. Unfortunately, I’m speaking from experience there.
The Year of Serenity gave me space to explore outside the rigid planning walls. Looking ahead, however, I’d like to add a bit more structure back into my personal life. Heavily inspired by how we work at Gitpod, I’ll organise myself with goals and results every quarter.
As someone who has grown up on the internet, I’d generally be public about my intentions.
However, even though I’ve had a stellar year, especially on the career front, I’ve struggled with things in my personal life. I’m committed to the deep work to untangle some of the emotional chaos that has developed, especially in the past two years. All of which I don’t feel ready to share right now (or perhaps ever.) So I’ll be keeping them to myself for now.
If there’s anything else I learned from 2021, it’s that stepping away from social media and keeping some things to myself more often has dramatically improved my mental health anyway.
I will share that I have chosen the word(s) for 2022 to be High Hopes* to affirm that everything will be better this year. I’m hopeful. 🙏🏼
*Start your 2022 singing this, it’ll put you in a great mood.
Have a great 2022 all! 🌿