Mike MJ Harris

2018 Retro

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Life throws lots at you and both at the personal or macro level (such as global political changes or terminal illnesses for friends). These one has little control over. In this post I wanted to focus on some of the areas of my life I felt I did have an impact on the outcome. While learning and analysing mistakes is important I think it is equally valuable to celebrate and enjoy life when things work out - and I definitely err on the side of celebration here.

Year in numbers

I monitor and track a few easily measurable parts of my life. It's interesting to see how my habits and focus changes over the years. Mainly I track books I've read and the exercise I do - I feel they are often an indicator of how well or busy other parts of life are. These are the stats for this year:

Activity 2018 2017 2016
Books Read 34 18 10
KM Run 1,642 1,083 1,145
KM Swam 116 125 123
Yoga Sessions 48 30 60
Blog Posts 14 7 5

Looking at those it looks like a pretty stellar year - read almost double the number of books as last year (which was pretty much a record year) ran 50% more than each of the previous two years (and the most I've ever run by a few KM) and written the most blog posts. But what's the story behind the numbers? What's the one secret trick to reading more in a year?

The biggest impact on my year... Working in the arts

At the end of 2017 I joined the Royal Academy of Arts and for numerous reasons this has impacted huge areas of my life. Some of the impact is for mundane reasons - I now have a longer commute which has contributed to both running and reading more. Others are more inspirational - working in the arts is an amazing environment and I've been inspired to learn more about arts and culture than at any other point in my life. It's given me the urge to read and understand more, the confidence to expose myself to new experiences and has broken down mental barriers.

Running more doesn't necessarily mean a good year of running

This year I ran the most that I've ever run! Previous best was 1,639km in 2012. So it must of been a great year of running? Well - not so much. The year started off well but an achillies tendon from overdoing the running in March meant I was injured for the London Marathon. In May I was still recovering and posted my worst half marathon time at the Hackney Half (we run that each year with our techrunners group). A large chunk of running has been jogging home. My current job is the furthest west I've ever been and for the first time in 16 years I'm having to deal with the tube. Running is a good alternative! Injuries are sorted and I hope the solid groundwork will pay off next year - I'm attempting my first ultra - 100k round the Isle of Wight in the Spring!

I like getting told what to do

Yoga and swimming take up the rest of my exercise time. The highlight on the swimming was a swim trek holiday for the second year in a row. The trip this year was to the Montenegrin fjords and the group swam about 4k a day in beautiful scenery.

Yoga I attempted to do self practice at the start of the year. After 11 years of regular practice I thought I'd be OK. It was a disaster - I struggled to do anything more than the odd token session and I didn't improve in my technique. I've gone back to paying for sessions and am much happier being told what to do by an expert. It was a good experiment and will think if I could of done anything differently to make it more of a success if I try it again. On the upside I've progressed on my goal of achieving a handstand - I attended a number of workshops and had a 1-1 session. See this twitter post for a taster.

Book reading

This year I've almost doubled the amount of books I've read. There's lots of reasons behind this but I think the main one is having a commute on a tube. It's not very long but it means I get started with a book quickly. On top of this I'm more settled in my career and also inspired by the environment around me.

In this blog I've written a number of times about having a more balanced reading list - this year has helped correct the overall balance over the years as 21 of the 34 books I read were by women. Another big change from previous years is that I read something other than fiction! The job has influenced that with lots of my books about artists or periods of art. My favourite book of the year was Walking Through Walls by Marina Abramovic and you can access the full list at books.mikemjharris.com.

Blogging and side projects

This year I've written the most blog posts. Again the new job is a factor of this - we're a small team and there aren't the same opportunities to discuss ideas as you get with a team of ~90 which we had at MOO. I enjoy trying new things and find the process of writing blog posts a way to get the ideas sorted in my head as well as a focus to finish off side projects.

On the side project front the most fun one was a view from the RA - again related to the job - I get so many opportunities to take amazing pics from beautiful spaces and this collects the ones from the RA.

Other side projects allowed me to tackle a bunch of interesting tech from GraphQL, Serverless, and Vuejs. Favourite blog post and side project combined: I most enjoyed purchasing, setting up and coding on my chromebook which I wrote about here.

The year in a weekend

Being in the arts has inspired me to learn and do new things. Working in an area I never thought I would and doing a good job of it (according to the feedback I've had so far) does wonders for your confidence and for trying things that I've had a mental block on. One of those is reading in a group and analysing a books content and meaning - I've generally read for myself and not wanted to join a book club. This year through a random meeting on holiday I ended up joining the London literary salon on a weekend trip to St Ives to discuss Virginia Woolf's 'To The Lighthouse'. This weekend brought together a whole bunch of my year - I got to hike, run and then swim in the sea. St Ives has been a base for many artists over the years and I visited the Tate and the Barbara Hepworth museum. Virginia herself was closely connected to the visual arts world with a friendship with Roger Fry and her sister Vanessa Bell attending the RA. It was a fantastic group of people and I loved delving into more depth into the book. The whole weekend was a joy and summed up my year - sport, art, reading, new people and new opportunities. Plus I took my chromebook along for a bit of tech on the train ride.

Year Summary

A glorious year in terms of books, exercise and writing blogs/doing side projects. I haven't touched on work topics - I have plenty of other outlets for professional related feedback - either at work, with my network of with my mentor and mentee. The topics covered in this post aren't the entirety of life but they are telling metrics for me and ones that I have some impact on. Deeper and existential angst I prefer to save for professional therapy.

Overall I feel the fittest for a while. Mentally I feel stretched in a huge range of directions and this has been an intellectual Annus Mirablis. Let's see how 2019 goes!

Appendix - Resolutions

I did write some new years resolutions at the start of the year, succeeded to a certain degree in all of them. However I found that they didn't feel like a significant part of the year - I set myself a whole range of goals from daily, weekly to multi year and have lots of ways of managing and progressing along those. It was fun to write the New Years resolutions, I'll probably set some this year but wont write about them as they don't feel any more special than the rest of life.