In five days, I will move out of my current home (more on this below). In ten days, I will move in with a friend in a different city. Moves should feel like momentous life experiences, yet today these happenings still feel like a distant concern beyond my event horizon. At no point before in my life have I been so focused on the present moment.
Numerous friends, my therapist and my coach have explained before: balance in life is like sitting on a chair. It needs at least three grounding points and generally four before one point can be moved to a new location.
One of the grounding points is routine and rituals.
Routine is key! The power of routine is underrated. Although my move will require some adjustments, I expect some common features to remain: meditation, business communication and focus work in the morning, errands and meetings in the afternoon. Exercise two to three mornings per week, martial arts classes one or two evenings per week (when not traveling). A minimum of one rest evening and one rest day per week. My social agenda should remain unimpeded too: a minimum of two evenings a week and one week-end day of availability for last-minute meetups plus ample additional time when scheduled in advance. There will be travel; travel is part of my routine too.
Why I am sharing this summary? Part is prayer, hoping that writing about it will help it continue to manifest. The other part is pride: it took me years of careful (and not-so-careful) experiments to figure out a balance that works. I was never taught how to take care of myself this way as a child; I had no role models worth taking inspiration from, until adulthood. I also feel grateful for those friends and professionals who helped along the way.
Another foundation for balance is an engaging endeavor. It so happens I have a momentous project ongoing, and plans for a few after that.
The current project is a home transformation.
This project started a bit more than three years ago, triggered by a painful event. A good friend then let me know my home was not a safe place: she measured the CO2 level to be excessive in most rooms when windows are closed—which, in winter, is unavoidable. I failed to believe her initially; we lost touch (I would prefer to believe that was for other reasons, but I’m not sure), and one year later I finally understood that my frequent bouts of headaches and brain fog in the morning were, indeed, caused by CO2 buildup due to insufficient bedroom ventilation.
PSA: folk, ventilation is absolutely key to good health. Install a CO2 monitor! (I put recs at the bottom. Avoid the cheap stuff; it’s worthless.)
Further research revealed that most homes in the Netherlands built prior to 2004 are poorly ventilated. Subsequently, I spent six months in 2022 searching for a better home. This led to two conclusions: it is very hard to find a home I would like better than my current one w.r.t location and comfort; and the prices (OMG, the prices!) were so high that I might as well… invest the price difference in an improvement to my current home instead.
Fast forward: the project has grown from adding active ventilation in all rooms to switching the heating to an energy-neutral (or near-neutral) solution with air conditioning in summer; increasing the surface area, creating an open kitchen and creating better guest space for visitors. It took a year of work to prepare the transformation (I hired an architect and multiple advisors), and the transformation should begin within a month or two. I hope for four to six months of construction work, but am prepared for more.
This ship is still on the launchpad but its engines have fired already. Flying the ship is not optional any more.
This project currently occupies most of my time, again in a similar way to flying: the take-off requires the most attention.
After that (in one or two months), I will mostly depend on my architect, to whom I have delegated the daily liaison with the general contractor and other parties I have hired to carry out the work.
Now to a convenient segue to the past and the future.
A couple weeks ago, Cockroach Labs and I parted ways amicably. (I had been delivering engineering and leadership services to this NYC-based business.) Sensing that the end of that engagement was likely near, I had actively worked on an orderly transition over the summer, such that the separation last month felt clean and painless. The release of CRL’s hold on my schedule was, in hindsight, a relief. I am not sure the new project could fly well if I had to fly the other one simultaneously.
From my eight years with the CRL team, I retain fond memories, high-quality branded clothing and travel gear, and very dear connections and friends.
To those I was meeting regularly outside of work: I am hoping we continue to meet in-person, albeit perhaps with a slight change in frequency to my travels. To compensate, soon enough, I will be able to host adequately in the Netherlands too.
The question was raised of where I would direct my attention next, after the home project has advanced enough as to liberate my time and energy.
Assuming good health allows it (knocking wood!), a long term project—ten-plus years—is to foray into politics. For the longest time, I have been loudly complaining that I was probably better able to do their job than most politicians. Recently, it dawned on me that I now have the strength and stability necessary to actually do their job. If you are reading this, you probably already know how I think about the choice between shutting up and taking action. Yet, this future transition will require experience that I do not yet have: a convincing profile as an executive.
I am still working on a strategy. There is management, leadership and decision-making, for which I have some experience already. The bigger piece I feel I am missing is legibility: a longer track record, public messaging about where my values lie and the goals I’d like to reach within my community, and an easily understood narrative for where my next steps are likely to bring me. All these are still somewhat fuzzy to me, and will require more work.
Tactically, in the meantime I plan to partner with entities whom I can help in that way. There will be opportunities in IT, of course. I also do not feel shy about looking further. I discovered a fondness for human systems in my thirties which exceeds the one I (still) experience for automation. I profoundly believe that incentive systems and soft power structures will continue to drive high-level social governance for at least fifty years, if not more, and I want to be a part of that.
That said, where (and with whom) I will be spending my professional time next year is still unclear today. I might not know before January 2024 or later. There is much to handle before then.
The last foundation for balance I can cover today is relationships.
The power of emotional and psychological intimacy of close bonds on good health, both mental and physical, is hard to overstate. I knew this intuitively from my twenties onward, but only learned to perceive and comment on its depth in the last five years or so.
Yet, I find it hard to describe my experience in this regard in general terms. I feel that each of the last ten years has been rather unique and interesting in its own way, and I can’t say I can describe a recurring pattern. Moreover, I have historically found that the most value and enjoyment I get from extending or transforming my social network only becomes clear two or three years later, so it will be hard to say something meaningful about this year’s evolution in particular.
Perhaps two points are still worth mentioning.
One is that in 2022 I started to actively make time for serendipitous encounters closer to home, and the investment paid back handsomely. I feel thankful for the meaningful relationships I have grown locally over the last two years (for some definition of local—800km feels local) and which help me, in hindsight, feel more geographical and cultural coherence when I travel. This is something I did not know I was missing previously, and which I now can hardly imagine living without.
The other is that I am slowly starting to verbalize the current nature of my relationships and where I want to bring them. Stating relationship goals aloud is a skill, one that I had not started to exercise until recently. I can’t say I have a lot of experience yet, but I am learning from good masters. I am also expecting my fair share of mistakes, stumbles and misfires. I do not feel shy or afraid of the associated learning pains. This confidence, too, is new.
This is about all I can muster in prose for today. As stated initially, I will enjoy a continuing connection. Feel free to reach out.
To wrap up, some discoveries from this year, and recommendations:
- Bite-sized videos that cover most of the topics about mental health I care about, but better worded than I could: https://www.youtube.com/@healthygamergg
- Bite-sized nuggets of wisdom about interior design, that can make you happier in your own home: https://www.youtube.com/@DearModern
- A rather satisfying cohesive story that weaves most of the pieces of my belief system together: https://alwaysasking.com/why-does-anything-exist/
- From the same author, a piece that made me optimistic: https://alwaysasking.com/what-is-the-meaning-of-life/
CO2 measurement recs: