Monthly update: A year in review (best articles, books and lessons)

Nov 27, 2021 11:06 am

Hi !

I won't send an update in that awkward Christmas/New Year period when no-one is checking their emails anyway, so this final update of the year will be something of an annual review.

Think of it as the digital equivalent of one of those dreadful round-robin letters you receive from old acquaintances you can barely remember – but at least you can unsubscribe from this one without any awkwardness.

✍️ This year in writing

I've written less in 2021 than in any past year I can remember. This is quite a comedown from last year, when I set myself the goal of writing at least 500 words every day – and wrote up the results here.

This year I didn't set writing as an explicit goal, which was a mistake. Yes, I've been extremely busy, but I'm sure if I'd set a goal I would have made the time. I'll probably reinstate it for next year.

As a consequence I dropped my weekly blogging schedule, and settled on a frequency of "sporadic". As it happens though, I'm happy with a far greater proportion of what I have published – probably because I only made the time to write when I was feeling particularly inspired, so there was no "filler" content just to stick to the schedule.

My favourite articles of the year were:

🙃 This year in life

No dressing it up: 2021 has been a crap year. Multiple unexpected (non-Covid related) deaths in the family, the most difficult and stressful time in business I've ever had, and no travel – which is hardly a great hardship in itself, but quite a change from what I'm used to. (I tell the full story of our work-and-travel background at great length here).

In a funny way it's been weirdly reassuring, because for years I'd been vaguely worried that I'd not encountered enough adversity and balance was due to arrive at some point. I'm still in the top 1% globally for general good fortune so perhaps there's more to come, but at least this year has been a start. It's also been good for building general resilience, and developing an even greater appreciation for what I have.

What's the point of sharing this, other than to moan very efficiently at scale? Well, mainly that really – but I also think it's helpful to be open about when things aren't going well because most people aren't. So if you've had a crap year too, don't believe that everyone else is living an Insta-perfect life.

💪 This year in hobbies

I felt a bit left out in 2020 when lockdown started and everyone suddenly had oodles of free time to start baking sourdough, selling on Etsy or learning Korean: I had no commute or jam-packed social life prior to lockdown, so it entirely failed to open up new horizons for me.

Belatedly, this year I took up two new hobbies: playing the piano, and strength training at the gym. Roughly six months on, and while I'm certainly not two separate gorillas yet, I can bash out a mean "Nobody Does It Better".

My main observation from starting these new hobbies is the importance of a good teacher. In the gym, I've worked with a personal trainer to get results in months that I failed to achieve in years of solo training in my twenties. And with piano, I've been guided by some amazing YouTube tutorials – and have learned more than I did in years of seeing an average in-person piano teacher as a kid.

It should, of course, be possible to have a hobby purely for enjoyment without feeling the need to see results – and I've certainly benefited from that too. In a tough year, being able to distract myself with something physical and something creative has had huge benefits.

💰 This year in the economy

This year we've seen plenty of phenomena – house prices booming while the economy struggles, inflation picking up while central banks refuse to do anything about it – that make little sense on the face of it, but perfect sense if you have a decent understanding of economics.

The trouble with economics is everything is inter-related – so it doesn't become valuable until you understand almost all of it to some degree, and everything you try to learn is explained with reference to five different concepts you've never heard of. By contrast, although your understanding of the French Revolution would be enhanced by knowing about other periods of history, you can follow along perfectly well without.

Well, I'm doing my bit by writing a book – working title "How Money Works" – that attempts to take you from the very basics of what money actually is, all the way through how it's created (which is an eye-opener in itself) up to the point of understanding exactly what's going on in the world today, and what might be coming next.

All being well, it'll be coming out in the first quarter of the new year. My wife has described it as "dense" and repeatedly fallen asleep while editing it, so get your pre-orders in now.

🍿 This year in media

On the whole, this has been a disappointing year for new podcast and TV/streaming/YouTube discoveries – so if you have any recommendations, please let me know.

I've read a few decent books, but my wife has (somehow) read 77. I asked her for her top recommendations, and she said:

So there you go.

🗞 This year in this newsletter

I've been writing this monthly update for nearly two years now: I hit send on the first one in the "before-times" of January 2020.

The best part of doing it is there's no particular aim, and therefore no pressure. I promote it minimally and non-aggressively, so people only subscribe if they really want to – resulting in an open rate of 78% (which, in the world of email newsletters, is ludicrously high). I have no targets for growth, and it can't generate any revenue.

As someone who defaults to setting goals and targets for walking to the station or doing the washing up, it's refreshing to have a project like this. If you're a similar type of person, I strongly recommend having a project in your life where you put all that aside (and if you're not that type of person, congratulations on being normal and balanced).

So, I'll keep doing it next year. If you've had enough already, please hit the unsubscribe link at the bottom – otherwise, I'll see you in 2022. Either way, thank you for reading and have a wonderful break.