Jan 122

2021: Opening up

2021 has been surprising, there's a lot that's happened in the past year that I didn't see coming.

And looking forwards to 2022, there's beauty in that.

365 days is a lot, but also not that much. At times time can feel like it's flying, but looking back I realise how much opportunity there is in such a brief period of time.

I read a quote recently that's been around for a while but true nonetheless:

People overestimate what they can do in a day, and underestimate what they can do in a year

Looking back on the last year, this feels true. I've not had the consistent rhythms I'd like, I've not maximised the year as much as I could have, and yet I look back on a year of risk, of stepping into the ring, of being vulnerable.

2020 was a hard year, it was hard collectively but personally hard too.

It started with the aftermaths of a breakup, one that surprised me in the depths of its damage. By the year end I was in a much better place, but wounds don't simply disappear, they leave scars.

As a result 2021 left me with a fork in the road, pull away to protect myself from ever experiencing that again, or open myself up to the possibility of being hurt again.

I decided on the latter, tentatively so, getting to know a girl who caught my eye in 2020. We took it slow, me for reasons stated above and her for her own, but having her in my life and experiencing what a more normal relationship can be like has been life giving.

A big theme for the past year has been wrestling, wrestling with faith and my relationship to it.

Being raised in any worldview can have its challenges, and being raised a Christian likewise has for me. When a worldview is a starting place, it can be hard to know if it's the right place or just the place that's known.

David Foster Wallace has best summed up this feeling for me:

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how's the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

Discovering what the water I'm swimming in really is, not simply swimming in it, has been a theme I've been working on for a long time, and this year was no different.

A couple of years ago I had one of those "who is the best version of Fred?" moments, and decided to finally start working on some areas that I'd neglected. One was the physical side, going to the gym, but the question nagged at me, "what is the version of the gym for the non-physical, for inner Fred?

It was around that time that recounting a story from childhood left me crying in the work canteen with a colleague, a feeling so foreign to me that it stood out like a flare does a cry for help.

It wasn't anything major, and it wasn't anything that happened to me personally, but the tears coming surprised me and reiterated the premise that inner Fred might need some work too.

Fast forward to 2021, and this feeling had become a background noise to my life, something that didn't affect me much but wouldn't go away. Having seen a friend recently do therapy and espouse the benefits of it, and having found a place that offers it affordably, I decided to give it a shot.

Best case, I get value from it. Worst case, I can quiet the noise and put the idea to bed.

So I started therapy. I began in the summer and I've definitely seen value in it. I've learnt more about how I handle relationships, both romantic and platonic, and some of the reasons behind that. I've learnt to have more grace with myself, seeing that my behaviours are natural responses to the experiences I've had. And I've learnt to slowly open up to inner Fred.

That's been hard, and I feel a bit frustrated how guarded I've been in it all, but my biggest goal in life is to take steps in the right direction, and I'm happy that I've done that, even if the distances aren't as remarkable as I might hope.

One lesson I learnt from childhood was to protect myself from hurt by avoiding risk, a lesson that has affected how I approach relationships but also how I approach life too.

One area that shows up in is in commitment.

Generally speaking, I like to keep my options open. I'd rather play things by ear and decide nearer the time than book up my calendar with a well laid out plan a month in advance.

That desire for spontaneity, for freedom, has been at conflict with my desire for stability and a place called home.

London has become my home the past few years, and I couldn't be happier about that. I love the city and I'm so grateful I'm able to be a part of it. But committing future Fred to it, and to a specific property? That's not how previous Fred has operated.

So the idea of buying a flat in London has been one I've been torn on. I've deliberated on it for a while, using logic ("but brexit/pandemic") to deflect, but the desire for a place to call my own has not gone away.

I knew sooner or later I wanted to own a place, and so tentatively started looking, first online and then with a few viewings, just to get an idea of what's on the market. The idea was to scout things out this year and potentially buy next, but as anyone who has gone through this process likely knows sometimes you find a place that you love and things can move quickly from there.

A couple of months ago I viewed a place, and soon after had an offer accepted. It's not completed yet, and there's still some parts that need sorting for it to go through, but I'm happy with my decision and hopeful for it to all be sorted soon.

And I'm proud of myself too. Proud of yet another step in the right direction, another risk taken, another vulnerability exposed, another hope acted upon.

In the lockdown of 2020 I built my first solo side project, a habit app. Belief in what I'd built waned over time, and by the start of 2021 I wasn't sure if I was on the right path with it.

Over the Christmas break last year I had a brain wave of a different type of app, one with a more unique experience that fitted my desire for minimal, privacy focussed tools.

That brain wave became Blocks. Progress stalled after the honeymoon period wore off, but I've picked it back up recently and submitted to the App Store for review today, so should hopefully have my first solo launch later this month.

Toggl screenshot of my years work on side projects
Screenshot of time spent on side projects in 2021

On top of building the app, I've used it to track my habits. These screenshots show me the investments I've made in myself, but equally the scope for improvement in consistency. I'm hoping the lessons I've learnt this year will help in achieving a better rhythm for next.

Screenshot of Blocks app showing workout habit throughout 2021 Screenshot of Blocks app showing side project habit throughout 2021 Screenshot of Blocks app showing mood habit throughout 2021
Screenshots from Blocks, showing daily log of different habits in 2021

Beyond the app, another creative endeavour of mine got a little unexpected recognition this year when I won a photography competition on Unsplash:

I love learning to see things. I once learnt basic sound mixing for live events, and it was beautiful how music went from a collective to something that could be broken down into different parts. That was a sizeable step in learning to hear, and for me photography has always primarily been about learning to see.

Looking forward to the year ahead my main goal is to reinforce the positive identity I've been building and continue to take steps forwards. As a result here are a few areas of focus:

  • 🏃‍♂️ Health: Run my first half marathon
  • 💰 Business: Make my first solo dollar on the internet
  • 〰️ Life: Continue to improve my routines and rhythms

The latter is a bit generic, but covers a lot of what is important to me, building healthier rhythms that form the bedrock of everything else. I'm hoping Blocks can play a big part in that.

Fred Rivett's face@fredrivett