D.

2019's retrospective

24 December 2019 #life

Before I start to look back at what my 2019 year was like, I wanted to look at the expectation I had set for myself in 2018.

  • Run a marathon ❌
  • Finish a promo-triathlon ❌
  • Work on side projects ❌

In hindsight, I think I was an optimist, and I had great things going on. How could I have known that 2019 would give me hope to tear it all apart the next minute?

Christoph Rumpel tweeted about how writing his retrospective was a sort of therapy, and I can't agree more. 2019 was one of the toughest years I had in a long time. On many occasions, I gave up, and my family had to jump in to get me back in a positive state of mind. Without them, the last quarter of 2019 would have been very different.

Which is why writing all of this down is important for me. We tend to hide or soften the negative side of our life. But this year, I'm going to say fuck this and let's write a more honest and real retrospective with the good, the bad, and the worst.

Work

I think this is the most positive aspect of 2019. But to talk about this, we have to go back to 2018.

After a bike accident in august 2018, I had to stay home for two weeks while my wrist was healing. During those two weeks, I realize that I wasn't happy in my current job.

In the next six months, I applied to multiple companies in Belgium, Ireland, and Germany. In December 2018, I applied for trivago. After two months of interviews, I received an offer to work in their Leipzig office.

On May 3rd, 2019, I was taking a one way trip to Leipzig (Germany) to start my new life there. It was a strange feeling for me. For the first time in my life, I wouldn't be close to a family member. It may sound silly, but my family is essential to me.

It was also the first time in four years that I wouldn't be working with PHP and Laravel. It was both scary and exciting. In my opinion, the Laravel community is one of the best in our industry. And I enjoy being part of it, however, after May, I only looked at it from the sideline.

I'm now working with NodeJS, and more recently, with TypeScript. I also work on more exciting and challenging projects.

Home

In September, I officially moved to my flat in Leipzig. But the road to get there was hard.

When I moved to Leipzig in May, I moved into a shared flat provided by trivago. All I had with me was two weeks' worth of clothes and my laptop. And that is all I had for the next three months.

I was lucky enough to have my room in the flat with a bed and a wardrobe. Almost every week, new people from the other trivago offices would come and stay at the flat for a week. This allowed me to meet a lot of new people. But it also removes any feeling of "stability" as it was a constant in-and-out of different people.

A hard part for me during that period was that I was living in my bed. As there was no desk in my room, I had to sit on my bed for everything. Using my laptop or playing my switch if I wanted some entertainment.

If you don't live in Germany, you might find this weird, but here, flats are usually rented without a kitchen. You are expected to bring yours when you move in or buy the one from the previous tenant. This made the flat search very hard.

Here are some fun numbers, in the three months I looked for a flat:

  • I contacted 56 people to visit their flat.
  • I visited 17 flats.
  • I submitted my application for five flats.

Bear in mind that I don't speak German, and in East Germany, most people don't speak English. It made the whole process that much more difficult.

This period was very hard for me. It was also the first time I thought about returning to Belgium. I remember vividly a phone call I had with my parents, where I told then about not being able to find a flat. And that night, all my siblings called me.

And because that period was not hard enough, I was told that they needed my room for another new employee. I had two weeks to find a flat or I would be in the street.

I finally manage to find a flat, but the lease was only starting in September, which was a month after I was supposed to leave my current room. I also needed to spend 2000 euros to buy the kitchen. But I had no other choices. I was fortunate that the current tenant had already left the flat and gave me the keys to move in un-officially until the lease would take effect.

It all comes to a matter of hours. On the day I had the leave the flat at 4 pm, the landlord told me that my application was accepted and the current tenant gave me the key to the flat. If the landlord had turned down my request, I would have been in the street.

The very next day, my parents drove from Belgium. With boxes with some of my belongings. For the first time in months, I had a place to call home. It was a huge win for my mental health.

But this wasn't the end of my issues when it comes to my flat. It took two more months to get the internet.

This one was infuriating when I think of it. When the worker from Vodafone came to check why I didn't have internet after I installed my router, they noticed that the signal was not reaching my flat.

They got in touch with the guy from the agency to see if they could potentially install a new wire up to my flat. He refused. It took two weeks of debating to get an appointment with the building owner and the Vodafone guys to explain the situation and come with a decision.

That appointment was three weeks later. On that day, the building owner never showed up.

So here I was, seven weeks into not having internet and the one person that could have got me internet didn't show up to an appointment he took at a time that he decided. I was not feeling good at this point. It took me over three months to find a flat, and almost two months being in the flat, and I still don't have the internet.

Then a colleague told me to read my lease because it usually contains a clause that let me decide to lower my rent if an issue with the flat is not fixed in a decent amount of time after being reported. And lucky for me, that clause was present.

I sent an email to the agency threatening them to reduce my rent by a significant amount (200 euros) if no action was taken in the next week. Ten minutes later, I got an answer, and two days later, I had the internet.

The reason why I didn't have the internet? A faulty connection with the wiring behind my fuse box. It took 5 minutes to fix and 60 days of waiting.

My last belongings arrived mid-December. My parents made their third trip to Leipzig with a car full of my stuff.

Boardgames

I always loved board games, but I think 2019 is the year where I fully embraced it. In 2018 I think I bought 5 or 6 games. In 2019 I bought around 25.

In late 2018 I started to play board games weekly with my mother. I would go every weekend to visit my parents and spend the afternoon playing Ticket to Ride, Azul or Takenoko with her. I really miss those moments since I moved to Germany.

When I joined trivago, I started at the same time as another developer. And when we discussed, we realize we both love board games. We decided to organize board games nights at the office. So on Tuesdays, we would bring some games at the office and invite our colleagues to join us and play games. I think we did around 20 events and played differents games almost every time.

For Halloween, as we had the day off, I invited people to come to my place to play Mansion of Madness and Betrayal at House on the Hill the whole afternoon/night.

In November, we also started to organize board games lunch where we would play small, fast games like Codenames or Coup.

D&D

After a request, I ran two Dungeon and Dragons games from colleagues. And they liked it so much that we are now planning a small campaign of 10-12 sessions. I also made a Christmas special One-Shot adventures.

Playing D&D was a challenge as I didn't know the rules. I had played other RPG settings that had different systems. So I had to learn the rules and teach them to my players. Being a dungeon master was also quite a challenge, as I never did it in English before. But according to all the positive feedback I got from the players, I'm doing a good job.

It had been a while since I had played a tabletop RPG, and it's still as fun as it was. And now that I'm writing my campaign, it's even more rewarding. I can't wait to play and tell my story to my group and see how they can mess with it. To find inspiration, I have restarted to games I hadn't played in a long time, like the Dragon Age saga. And it was fun to play those games again. I rediscovered them with a new set of eyes. I was no longer playing the game to enjoy a story or mechanics. I was taking notes of different narrative ideas, ways I could hook the players into a quest.

Mental health issues

The biggest issue I faced this year was at the start of the year. With all the stress of the job interviews, the possibility of moving to another country and not liking my job anymore, I had insomnia the whole month of February. It was so bad that I decided to go to the doctor in March, and she prescribed me anti-stress and sleeping pills and gave me a week off work.

On Wednesday that week, I woke up with ten missed calls from my manager. And he kept calling me. In the end, I think I had 17 miss called and around 15 text messages.

Some people might answer their phone when they are on sick leave, but I'm not. In 2018 I had started to implement a clear separation between my work and private life.

Every time my phone rang, it stressed me even more than I already was. And the problem my team was facing was a straightforward communication issue where the project manager didn't understand what the developer told him regarding automatic deployment.

The week after that, when I went back to work, I immediately resigned. I just had received and signed my contract for trivago. But even if I hadn't another job waiting for me, I would have left anyway. That kind of behavior was unforgivable.

What didn't go right

I believe that if you have reached this part, you already have a good overview of what happened to me this year, good and bad. But I wanted to list a few other smaller things that happened amid everything else. If you follow me on Twitter, you are already familiar with all of this.

In September, two days before leaving for a four days trip organized by trivago for all of its employees, I twisted my ankle playing badminton.

It resulted in the most absurd visit to the doctor I had in a very long time, if not ever. It took me the whole morning to find a doctor that spoke English. And when I went there, the doctor sent me to the hospital for an x-ray without looking at my foot. At the hospital, they told me to come back the following week. So I spent five days with a possible broken foot. One must love the health care system in Germany. In the end, it wasn't broken, but they didn't know that at the time.

The day after I had my x-ray, I lost my wallet. Which resulted in yet another morning running around to cancel all my cards, go to the police and do all the related paperwork. It's always fun to lose your paper abroad. I had no ID, no money, and I was 900 km from my country.

Closing notes

I'm sorry for the lengthy post. In hindsight, I should have written about all of this sooner.

There's probably a lot of things I forgot about my year. But let's assume that if I have forgotten them, it wasn't important.

For the first time, I don't have any goals for the next year. When I look back at everything that happened to me in 2019, nothing went as planned. Yet, I had a great year. Sure lots of shit happened too. But how can we have good things happening if no bad things happen?

The only thing I want to do in 2020 is to continue the work I'm doing on myself. I've made some minor changes like buying new socks for the first in a whole lot of years.

I should perhaps also work on losing all the weight I gain stress-eating my way through my issues. But I fear that if I make it a goal for the year, something will fuck it up.

As a wise man once said:

Make a plan, execute the plan, expect the plan to go off the rails, throw away the plan.

So, enjoy Christmas and New Year. Have a good time with your family. And let's do some good shit in 2020.

Others people retrospective

If you are interested in reading other people 2019 review, I'm curating a list on https://a-year-review.tech.