I’m restarting my yearly tradition of reflecting on the past year after I abandoned it a few years ago. Consistency has always been my problem when it comes to writing. Now I want to challenge myself and finally write more often.
I’ve been thinking “This is probably the hardest year in my life so far” for a couple of years in a row now. Something happens every year to make it harder than the one before. This year was no different.
From burnout to laid-off
I recovered from burnout (although not sure if fully — can you ever truly recover from it?) without any help from my employer, my manager, or my coworkers. I pushed through it alone and finally became productive again in January. But then something even more traumatic than burnout happened.
February 9 was a typical Thursday until 4 pm when I was ambushed into a Zoom call named “Role discussion.” There was little discussion to be had. My manager’s manager was there, accompanied by a legal adviser. I knew immediately what the call was about. I was laid off two months from completing my fifth anniversary at GitLab, and more importantly, two months before our twins were due.
A normal, uneventful Thursday afternoon quickly turned into one of the most traumatic days in my life. It took me months to recover from that, but looking back I’m grateful for it. It taught me so much and pushed me in the direction that I had been wanting to head down for years but didn’t have the courage for it. Sometimes you need to get a kick in your ass to get to do better, greater things and have a positive impact on many more people. Getting laid off was that kick for me. My computer got completely erased minutes after I got laid off so it took me more than a month to get it back up to speed and start working on my projects. A lot of time was wasted there.
My projects and building a personal brand
I panicked after the layoff, mostly because my imposter syndrome went crazy. I’ve never doubted myself as much as I did in the months after losing my job. I jumped the gun on a couple of things and invested time in projects that I probably shouldn’t have. Because of so much self-doubt, I started copying others instead of following my plan. Eventually, I realised that it didn’t work and had to revert to what I was doing before.
I managed to get my shit together by September when I started publishing blog posts on Better Web Type and wrote the Designer Layoff Stories and Why Designers Quit — the 2023 report. I also started posting on LinkedIn daily and it brought results — I went from around 1,500 followers to 4,400 in less than six months. Nothing compared to other prominent designers, but I’m happy with the results so far.
I also made good progress on Medium, where I went from around 2,000 followers to almost 7,000. I only published nine posts, so I think that’s pretty good. If I manage to publish regularly, I expect that to at least double in 2024. Medium, along with LinkedIn are the platforms that I decided to focus on for building my personal brand and expanding my audience beyond my mailing list which plateaued at around 20,000 subscribers this year. I have plans to scale the mailing list in 2024, but more importantly, improve it.
I finally managed to break free from Mailchimp in 2023 and moved to ConvertKit. This was the first, fundamental step towards improving the mailing list. Until then, I was sending promotions for my book to everyone, even those who already got it. Now that I’m on ConvertKit, I’ll be able to build better automations and keep the list healthy. I’ll focus on bringing more value to my subscribers and increasing engagement.
Without panic and self-doubt, this would be an incredibly successful year. But considering that I went through two highly stressful life events, whatever my achievements, they’re a huge success.
I managed to bring my two projects (UX Buddy and Better Web Type) to the point where they’re set up for future success and have the potential to sustain my family fully. I’m filled with optimism fuelled by ideas on how to improve and scale these projects in 2024. I just hope I’ll have enough time and energy to do everything that I want.
I started collaborating with TLDR in August curating their TLDR Design newsletter. A few of my newsletter subscribers told me that they were looking for curators, I got in touch and we decided to give it a go shortly after. I took my family to lunch to celebrate. It was a lovely warm August day that will stick in my memory forever.
I took most of December off, guilt-free. I was happy with what I had accomplished and decided to spend all of the remaining days with my wife and our babies. It was magical, exactly what I needed after a hard year.
Becoming a father and finishing our house
Our twins Lars and Galia were born on April 12. It was the most magical day of my life as we finally got to meet the babies that we had been impatiently waiting for. It’s hard to be a new parent, especially to twins. But I think to myself every day how lucky I am to have two beautiful babies, a boy and a girl, just what I had always wanted, with my wife, the love of my life.
I was planning to have a four-month parental leave after their birth but because I got laid off I had to work instead. I missed out on some of our babies’ key events because of that. I feel that I was robbed of the carefree time with them, but I like to console myself with the fact that I worked on my projects and not for someone else. I decided not to get a new job because that would mean late afternoon meetings and 8-9-hour workdays, and I didn’t want that. With a new job, I’d miss out on even more.
Inflation was crazy this year all over the world and Slovenia was no exception. My mortgage had a variable interest rate which increased a lot because of the situation in financial markets. My monthly instalments increased by more than 40% so I decided to sell some of the GitLab stock and pay off the debt. Now we own our beautiful house.
Speaking of the house, it’s not fully completed yet. It’ll be two years since we moved in this March but I’ve been too busy, especially since our twins were born, to finish all the little things. But as it is with all design work, it’s the little details that matter most and bring the most joy. I’m grateful for our beautiful house but sometimes it still feels a bit cold and simply unfinished.
My wife and I moved a lot in the past ten years: Germany, London, Edinburgh, and back to Slovenia. One thing that follows this lifestyle is that you never settle down. You never get to decorate your flat fully. You take care of the essentials, the bed, the sofa, a working desk and a chair and that’s it. You never know when you’ll move again, which is probably soon, so there’s no point investing in beautiful plants, cushions, rugs, or vases. Now we’re finally settled down and I’m fed up with that lifestyle. I want our house to be a beautiful, warm, cosy place that we love coming back to.
There’s still some furniture missing, mostly in the gym and in my home office and there’s still a lot to do in the garden and the garage. After two years it gets annoying to step out on where the deck should be but instead, it’s just raw, dirty concrete. I want our house to be fully finished, including the garden and the garage by Autumn of 2024.
We got our new car! The Range Rover Velar that we had been waiting for for nine months. I had it custom-built and ordered it in June 2022, well before my wife was pregnant. Initially, we were looking into Range Rover Evoque which is much smaller but decided to go with the Velar because it’s bigger. I’m glad we did. I had to go pick it up on my own because my wife was just weeks from giving birth to our babies. It was a cold, grey February day, I took a long bus ride to the car salon and took the long way back, driving through the beautiful, snowed-in countryside. The car was a pure joy to drive. It was a day that I’ll remember and cherish forever.
Hobbies and reading
The only time that I had to invest in my hobby of assembling and painting miniatures was right after getting laid off. There was the WW2 tank that I had started but never had time to finish — the Tiger tank. I spent a couple of weeks doing just that — researching, watching tutorials online, painting, and listening to podcasts. It was therapeutical, exactly what I needed.
Books I’ve read
- The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr
- Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom by William Glasser
- Pre-suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade by Robert Cialdini
- Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker — Still reading
I stopped posting photos to Instagram after the layoff. I’m not even sure why, this is something I’ll need to fix in 2024. Here are photos of some key events from the past year.
Things I want to keep up with:
- Writing a weekly newsletter (shorter form)
- Posting daily on LinkedIn
- Exercise 3-4 times per week
- Solo movie nights on Fridays (I enjoy watching horror movies alone)
- Movie nights with my wife on Saturdays
- Continue my collaboration with TLDR on the TLDR Design newsletter, I’ve been enjoying working on this
Things I want to start and/or do better:
- Become a part of a community (either local or online) and make new friends — people I can hang out with and be less isolated
- Start swimming and do it relatively regularly (at least every two weeks)
- Be more involved with my existing friends and the wider family
- Network more and better
- Publish more blog posts (long form), I’m aiming for 20
- Read more, at least one book per month, ideally two
- Take more time off guilt-free → go somewhere nice for the summer vacation (after more than 3 years of not going anywhere)
- Re-establish a routine but don’t be afraid to break free from it occasionally
- Go out and work from a coffee shop once per week
- Get a camera and get into photography again
- Start tracking my working time
It’s a bit ironic that I’ve been reading the book Why We Sleep, which outlines and emphasises the importance of good sleep and all the health problems that come from not sleeping well, in the period of my life when my sleep is the worst. It’s a hefty book and I still have about 80 pages to read. But I can already recommend it, I learned a lot from Matthew Walker who is the leading sleep scientist in the world.
If I had to summarise 2023 in a few words it’d do it with “chaos” and “new beginnings.” I want the 2024 to be about excitement and independence. Let’s see how it goes.