A lot has happened in 2016. Many people would say it was the worst year ever. It wasn’t, but it had its challenges: from wars and occupations, migrant crises, unexpected political outcomes, to many artists leaving us forever. Even so, there was one event that made this year one of the happiest for me.
I became a dad in February. The tiny, fragile baby turned out to be the biggest change in my life because, for the first time, I was truly responsible for someone else. When I was alone, or later with my wife, the decisions I made had no effect on others, or the affected people had a say in it. Now it was more complex: a life would flourish or stumble depending on my actions.
In spite of the huge life change, the (not so) surprising realization was that I remained … well, I. The new situation provided another lens through which I could observe the world in a different way, but my interests and needs stayed the same. My free time, however, got decimated. I named the resulting tug of war between the time I want to spend with my son and the time I need for myself “brutal prioritization”.
I also started to experience parental worry. For three decades I couldn’t understand why my mom asked me about food, health, and being safe all the time. It all sounded like nagging. Now, of course, I worry about my son too: did he eat, will he get hurt, is he happy? The worry is constant and relentless. I try to accept it as something that parents do.
You know how everyone says it’s easy to learn when you’re a baby? I’m not so sure. They are clumsy as an intoxicated panda; they can’t talk, read, or write; and they shit their pants every few hours. However, in spite of all the obstacles, they still learn at a frightening pace. Every couple of weeks there is something new they can do. And why? If babies are not sleeping, they are learning. Every waking hour they try and fail, try and fail, try and fail until they succeed. Then they try something new and start the cycle again. They can be in a room full of strangers, and they are not ashamed when they don’t succeed at first; nothing stops them from trying again. Imagine how quickly you would learn if you would practice a skill 10-12 hours a day and not be afraid of being judged. And you have two things going for you: you can surf the Internet, and you can use the toilet.
Fascination with the mundane reminded me to put things into perspective. Watching my son’s pure joy while eating an orange or seeing a ball fly through the air for the first time made me realize that grown-ups often overlook simpler experiences and try to find fulfillment in “something else.” Spending time with babies gives you a second chance to experience the world for the first time.
2016 was the year I started to question the benefits of social media in my life. On a couple of occasions, I had to disconnect for weeks at a time for personal or business reasons. This is what happened:
- I didn’t miss browsing the feed.
- I got more time out of the day.
- The world didn’t collapse, and I got all important news through other channels (like talking in-person with people).
- Nobody, and I mean nobody, asked me why I wasn’t sharing or commenting.
I wrote a post “Your own media company” in May with some of the questions I was trying to answer at the time. A couple of people responded and explained their perspective. In the months following the post, I read a couple of books that touched upon the subject and also attended a lecture from a psychiatrist. Long story short, feeding the social media beast can ruin our self-image, relationships, and make us procrastinate.
Social media tools are not intended to harm us; we have built them with the best of intentions. However, we are not able to use them properly. The instant gratification they provide overwhelms our brains. Think of alcohol—in small amounts it makes a dinner meal enjoyable, but take too much for too long, and it ruins everything. The free and unlimited access (our smartphones) to social media is like a vibrating self-replenishing flask of alcohol in your pocket—it is dangerous and too hard to ignore.
I won’t quit social media for now, but I’ll keep it under strict control.
I’m running this personal blog for four years now. I wondered many times what do I want to do with it. I don’t get a lot of traffic, but I also don’t sell anything or don’t need to build an audience.
I noticed that writing helps me think. I write my messy thoughts down and come back regularly to improve them. Sometimes I can do that in a week. Sometimes I need to talk to other people or read books to form my thoughts, and that can take time. Drafts often stay drafts for months. Sometimes I never publish finished pieces. However, the process of slow reflection that happens while I write is why I keep coming back to it.
I disabled website analytics in March as an experiment because I didn’t want website visits to serve as an external validation (a form of “like”). From then on, I enjoyed writing even more and never enabled the analytics back. I write for myself.
I see a lot of diapers in my future. Hopefully a lot of laughter and enjoyable moments, too.
I have also been exploring new areas for professional growth and new ways of learning. But that’s a topic for another post. Have a great 2017.