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Annual Review 2021

Happy new year, friends. Wishing you a prosperous, emotionally healthy and Covid-free 2022.

Let's dive right into it.

What went well this year?

  • Got a job in London, and one that I'm genuinely happy with. One thing I will never take for granted is being able to work from home 2-3 times a week. Best thing to have come out of the pandemic.

  • Playing To Win in the Big Four took off and got featured on Graduan's website.

  • Developed a proof-of-concept WatchOS app (with help from a developer, but still counts!)

  • Got my ICAEW membership.

  • Upskilled - super comfortable with Power Tools/PowerBI now (which has saved me so much time at work), and got started with Alteryx.

  • Accepted writing commissions.

  • Set up a YouTube channel.

  • Covid vaccine! Never been so happy to get jabbed in my life.

  • One year of trading on Trading212. Made returns of c.4%, which isn't great but hey, better than keeping it in my bank account given how rubbish UK interest rates are. [Editor's note: Adam pointed out that my returns before my new capital injection at the end of the year was more like c.22% and that I should add this 'for the sake of journalistic integrity'.]

  • I am the happiest I've ever been with myself, which is a big achievement after years of self-loathing.

  • I'm more comfortable with physical pain (in large part due to this book), which is another big milestone for me after years of needle anxiety. I managed to avoid getting tested for dengue, avoided blood tests to test my suspected thyroid was bad. Not quite 100% there yet but I'm less anxious about it than I was last year.

What did I learn this year?

I spent the first half of 2021 as a Cambridge housewife, and the second half as a consultant in London. I'm so grateful to have had that split, because it's helped me gain a different perspective to work this time around. My period of not being employed (and crucially, not having kids during this time) gave me so much time to think, write, tinker, experiment with potential side hustles, really think about what was important. This is a huge privilege of course, because I had the means to pursue all these things and still have my basic needs met - I'm all for universal basic income. However, a major downside was of course constantly worrying about money, worrying about stagnating for being out of work for a period and unexpectedly, huge productivity slumps. Which is ironic right? When you supposedly have that amount of free time on your hands? But there were long spurts of languishing and not being able to do anything. I couldn't motivate myself to get anything done. I was in a rut for months. Then the job offers came in. My productivity and motivation spiked when I started work again. I had so much drive. I wanted to outwork everyone. To prove myself. To prove I deserved to be there. I said yes to everything. In retrospect, I overdid it a little because there was a period where I worked on a live deal during the day while juggling my pro bono work at night, and had very little time for my family, and definitely no time to do weekly reviews or introspect. I was just too busy. I had almost no energy left by the end of the period and just cruised along each day. Adam was a superstar and did most of the heavy lifting for pretty much everything - tracking our finances, sorting out the house, buying groceries etc. That's not the way I want to do things in 2022. It needs to be more sustainable. A temporary reprieve came in September when I went on leave. I didn't want to go on annual leave then because I was saving it all up to visit family in Malaysia or go on a holiday. But it was a use it-or-lose it situation. And wow, taking annual leave and not going anywhere is a game changer. It felt like when I was in Cambridge and had all that time to plan and reflect. To just write. To read. To research. To experiment. And so, this is a long-winded way of getting to my key lesson for the year:

  • Building in time to think and reflect is a non-negotiable. I can relate to Bill Gates' Think Weeks. I get it now. When I was an audit associate, I thought that the only way I could do whatever I want to do was to quit my job and work for myself. I drank the four-day workweek KoolAid. But I've done that and I much prefer being employed with some decent personal time built in. I've learned and upskilled so much in the last 6 months at work. I have so much excellent free resources at my disposal. My job is to learn. My job is to be smart and offer insights to clients. It's much easier in a structured learning environment like the Big Four. Equally, I got to build and make things when I had the freedom and time to do so. I wouldn't have built this website or taken on commissions or learned how to make digital illustrations etc. if I didn't have time to tinker, with no deadlines. With no pressure to produce. Just the freedom to be.

Other lessons were more personal and had to do with events external to me but indirectly affects me nonetheless:

  • Apathy helps no one. I stopped calling things out, even when there were very clear wrongs being made. It was the path of least resistance. I had no fight in me. But if anything, recent events around the world have reminded me that keeping quiet doesn't make the problem go away. It just makes things worse. I don't want to be like that in 2022.

  • We have a moral obligation to understand ourselves better and be more self-aware, because hurt people hurt people. Big breakthroughs were made this year on the mental health front, both internally and within the wider family. I'll leave it at that.

  • Wanting to please everyone holds you back materially. If you're pleasing everyone, you're not making much progress. Sometimes it's worth stepping on a few toes.

What didn't go well this year?

This section was hard to write and I've been procrastinating it for a few days, but I might as well be honest about what didn't go well this year. That is the point of the annual review. Physical health. I'd be lying if I said that there weren't some physical health fails this year, and by fails I mean things preventable with better habits. Like my cavities and having to do a root canal this year. Expensive, preventable mistakes. Another fail is not exercising consistently, which is a recurring theme every year except the year I got married - I had a personal trainer that year. Having a personal trainer or some form of financial penalty is the only way I can get myself to exercise. Classpass and Beeminder worked for a period, but I stopped when I got overwhelmed with work and never got around to restarting it. A slight win is that being back in London means it's easier to walk everywhere. So I've lost some pandemic weight. But I'm not strong, flexible or toned. I'm not setting it as an outright goal for 2022 as an experiment so let's see how the year goes. Let's try something different. Personal productivity outside of work. I was initially going to write that I wasn't productive this year, but that isn't true if you look at this year's wins. However, I think I could have done so much better on the making things front. YouTube videos - 1 Articles written - 8 (although I've removed some of them now) Books read - 4 Those stats are horrendously dismal. Making things is hard. Building a reading routine is even harder. Also, on the systems front, deep work tracking was non-existent. All my Notion systems didn't work for me anymore, but I still use Todoist to keep on top of things. Either way, the whole personal productivity front needs an overhaul in 2022.

Abandoned projects. I'm probably being slightly unfair to myself here but let's acknowledge the abandoned projects. I really wanted to delete these tweets, because abandoned projects are embarrassing. But I made three key public commitments this year - The Business of Science series, my newsletter and writing a book (lol). Either way, I tried. That was the main thing. On the Business of Science, I genuinely wanted to pursue this. I still have all my notes from when I planned it out. But when I received my job offer in late January, it put me in a bit of an awkward position because...well, the business side of science was literally my job now. I wasn't sure what I could or couldn't write about and one of the companies I wanted to write about turned out to be a client of the firm anyway. So, project abandoned. Tweet remained. I feel bad because some people followed me because of it.

On the newsletter, I have a grand total of 11 subscribers. One positive thing from this is that the initial consistency did pay off in the beginning, and I gained more visitors to the website and more subscribers to the newsletter. But again, abandoned...with the hope to revive it in 2022.

It was just hard to keep thinking about how to create value for the readers. I wasn't sure why I deserved a space in their inbox. That was probably me overthinking it as usual. So instead of just sticking with it, I stopped. It was pretty much the same thing after my Big Four article came out - I was paralysed by this pressure to be good. I couldn't write.

Also, the book. It's practically impossible to write a book when you have no idea what's worth writing about. If I'm ever to attempt this project again, I'm going to make sure I have an audience first. And a book deal.

Being present. I felt that I hyper-focused too much on work, which was somewhat tolerable for the past 6 months as I had just started a new job and felt a need to prove and establish myself, but I wasn't really 'there'. With Adam, with my family. I found it hard to unwind. Then after long hyper-focus periods, I'd be so burned out all I want to do is stay in bed and doomscroll or watch TV or play games. I need to find a way to make it more sustainable in 2022, because this is not how I want to live.

Neutral ground - neither good nor bad. It just is.

  • As some of you might have noticed, I stopped wearing a headscarf full-time for the first time since 2012. It was a big decision. It was a huge part of my identity for the better part of a decade. But one I've finally made peace with after 6 months. Why? That's a complex web of thoughts and emotions that are hard to untangle but the ultimate breaking point for me was Adam and I being harassed by chavs on the way back from the train station. They squirted water into Adam's eyes, they hit me with some pool noodles. It wasn't a violent encounter, thankfully, but anyone that has been in that position will understand how useless and small you feel because you were unable to defend yourself. Because it wasn't worth it. We didn't want to pick a fight with chavs. We just wanted to go home. It wasn't the first time this has happened, but everyone has a breaking point. That was mine. I found a lot of excuses to not leave the house alone. I wouldn't go anywhere unless Adam was free to go with me. I dreaded walking to and from the train station myself. What kind of life was that? I was a shadow of who I was. I don't want any girl or woman reading this to think that it's something they have to do when they live in the UK, by the way. It was a personal decision. Wearing a hijab didn't stop me from getting job offers here. I went through all of my university years and backpacked solo to 13 countries with my hijab on. The honest truth is that I just don't want to wear it for the time being. I want to blend in. Thankfully, I haven't been harassed once since taking it off. No one has asked me 'where I'm really from'. No one has given me dirty looks. No one has targeted me. My mental health has improved so much. And, if I'm perfectly honest, it's actually been quite freeing. I coloured my hair for the first time, I can wear cute knee-length dresses with tights and not feel bad. I'm happy. I haven't gone completely off the rails and started drinking etc. (alcohol genuinely doesn't interest me, even if I could drink). I just don't cover my hair when I'm in the UK. It's not that big a deal. I will in Malaysia, but not here. Not at the moment anyway. People are entitled to their own opinions. It's not going to change anything for me.

  • Due to the above, this has also been my most 'anti-social' year, because I effectively withdrew myself from social media the last six months as I wrestled with all the feelings of guilt/shame/worrying about what other people would think because I stopped wearing a headscarf. I feel that the only people that can truly relate to me are other women that have gone through a similar adjustment. I once got a mean comment on Instagram after my wedding from a man (it's always a man) about my not wearing a hijab properly, which I laughed off but I'm not going to pretend it didn't sting. It's complicated. But during that quiet period, I also found it quite liberating. I didn't feel the need to remind people I exist. Friends that cared still messaged or called. Eventually, to borrow some words from James Clear because he expresses it better than I can:

You have no responsibility to live up to someone else's expectation of you. Spend as little time as possible chasing other people's preferences instead of your own. - James Clear

What am I working towards?

As of today, I am 16 months away from turning 30. That's wild. It's an age that haunts me somewhat, because someone very dear to me passed away at the age of 30. Have I achieved as much as she did in the time she was given? Am I proud of who I am? Would my younger and future self be proud of me? Lot of questions, friends. My main focus for 2021 was to rebuild. We had to effectively start from scratch when we moved back to the UK last year. Quit our jobs to move to Cambridge, liquidated some of our savings, and relied on a mixture of Adam's scholarship money and some financial help from family until we started earning regular income again. The focus of 2022 is to work with who I am, not who I wish I was. No disrespect to James Clear, I read Atomic Habits, I've tried his strategies and I still think it's an excellent book, but it didn't work for me. It's great if you're neurotypical, but not great if you're someone like me. Robert Merki's ADHD Pro was better as I feel that I have better strategies for managing for how my brain actually is, as opposed to how I want my brain to be. Like managing my hyper-focusing tendencies. So instead of sharing specific goals and missing those targets (like I did in my 2020 Annual Review ), I'm going to share the main themes of what I want to achieve in the coming year:

  1. Design systems and targets that work with how my brain actually works, as opposed to ones based on how I wished it worked.

  2. Use my voice for good and be less of a people pleaser.

  3. Diversify income streams.

This means quarterly reviews as opposed to annual reviews (internally; not sure if that means I'm going to start writing quarterly reports for this website). This means designing goals based on how I work best - I thrive on deadlines, financial consequences and peer pressure. It's just how I am. It's how I've gotten anything done in my life.

This means not letting the question of 'What would other people / family think?' be an automatic reason for not doing something. Other objective facts should hold more weight in my decision making. I can't keep living a life solely based on pleasing others. I'm never going to achieve much that way. It's a life half-lived. Here's to a better year for all of us.

Until next time, Faridah

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