2017 – the worst year ever


I did not count the number of times I heard the phrase: "This is the worst year ever" or, for some dramatic emphasis, its variant: "This is the worst year. Ever." last year. I am, however, pretty certain that the general public must have set a new world record when it comes to badmouthing a year. While I don't want to contest that some bad things happened back in 2017 – just like roughly 85% of the world population (but unfortunately only 51% of Americans), I'm not the biggest fan of Donald Trump –, I think that this has had a very negative effect on a lot of people. They just seemed to give up on the idea that ‘their year' might have actually been a good one. Which doesn't exactly make a whole lot of sense, because how affected are you really by a lunatic that's living on the other side of the world?! (Some readers might argue that I'm making a fair point, but that their own personal opinion depends on whether or not that same lunatic gives the order to start a nuclear war… I don't want to go in to a lot more detail here, but I'll happily concede the point.)

I think I must have fallen into the very same trap, which must be why it only started to dawn on me rather late that 2017 was, without a doubt, an absolutely fantastic year. Over the course of the year, I could feel the fatigue setting in. So much so that in December, I was constantly feeling down, like I wasn't up to the task in front of me – and it didn't even matter whether it was in regards to work or family matters. It didn't exactly help that I was working on several websites for experts in the field of "burn out prevention"… all the "self checks" they offered on their websites in development painted a pretty dire picture when it came to my own mental health.

Only when I decided that I'd just call it a day a year, and not force myself to sit through another day of work with very little fruits to show at the end of it, I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel again. This was a pretty dim light, mind you; on New Year's Eve, I had to sit down and collect my thoughts for a good 15 to 30 minutes. My body simply wouldn't let me get up and join the first guests that had arrived (my older son provided a welcome distraction by occupying the potty for a longer period of time, just so I could claim I was helping him when in fact it was him who was doing me a favor). Afterwards, I was feeling better, but there was still something building up on the inside. It was a knot tying up my stomach, not exactly of the worst kind (usually it takes some alcohol to produce those knots and let's just say the night was still young), but a Gordian knot regardless, one that I couldn't quite solve in that very moment. I did some entangling, though, mentally rearranging thoughts into shelves that opened and closed in my mind at will. I could have gone on, but time was of the essence, which isn't all that surprising on a day when everything's leading up to a very big countdown.

Speaking of the devil, the new year arrived a few hours later. With it, the knot had seemingly disappeared. It wasn't that all my (first world) problems had suddenly vanished, it was more that the way I was looking at my problem had changed overnight (in the most literal sense of the word; also, this is obviously the space to insert a metaphor that involves a sword that's representing the dawn of the new year as well as the above-mentioned Gordian knot, but I didn't want to go that far with my figures of speech. This is my second language after all and I might offend some folks with the best words that could have done a much better job) and I was full of energy again.

I love New Year's Day

… which has probably something to do with the fact that it is the biggest party in my hometown. In a town with around a thousand inhabitants that throws festivities on every other weekend (on average), three of which draw in more than three times its own population, this is speaking volumes. In case you're wondering, I do indeed refer to New Year's Day and not New Year's Eve, as New Year's Eve is only the quiet before the storm, at least where I'm from. Most folks go home relatively early at something like 2 or 3 am and they aren't all that intoxicated (compared to the average intoxication of a person living in one of the most rural areas in Germany on a day like New Year's Eve or May the 1st, which is a national holiday in these regions, etc.). On New Year's Day, in my hometown, we get up at 10 am and start a tour around town that involves a lot of friendly greeting and just a little bit less drinking. It is the coolest tradition that puts Halloween to shame; kids can go around town and sing "Glück-seelich's, neues Jahr!" ("blissful new year") and they'll be handed candy and / or money. The grown-ups don't need to shout / sing, a friendly greeting together with a handshake is often enough and you'll be rewarded with an alcoholic beverage. Some years, I wished my immediate neighbors all the best, only to go home again and recover from the first 6 stops of my tour (that involved cider, rum, cognac, vodka, liqueur and something I can't quite remember just now, but I think you get the idea…). I could go into more detail, but I'll save that for another blog post.

Anyway, my mind was suddenly at ease with the fact that I had 10 or so projects to attend to in the nearby future. That I'd have to once again fight the good fight against the German bureaucracy and fill out a number of forms to make sure my second-born would be allowed to attend kindergarten in the nearby future. That there was still a whole lot to do when it came to our brand new house like setting up a terrace in the back and making sure we'd have some sort of drainage solution, and so on.
Because, I've done (almost) all of this before. And at the end of the day year, I'm still here. To be a bit more precise, just last year, I've done almost all of this crap. I had to deal with a whole lot of bureaucracy courtesy of the Arbeitsamt, just because I wanted to create a job. I have set a new record regarding the turnover of my company, despite managing to not work into the night and spending a healthy amount of time with my family. Did I mention that we built a house?

Never look back

I think my engine was running at full speed for so long that I completely forgot to take a good look in my rear-view mirror and contemplate what my wife Wincy and I have managed to pull off over the course of the past year(s). I do still remember my number one fear going into 2017: Whether I'd be able to love Levi, our second child, as much as I love Jayce, our first son.
Now, if you're reading this and you don't have kids yourself, I can imagine that this must sound like the silliest of thoughts. Maybe you've been blessed enough to have received lots of love from your own parents, maybe you just assumed that all parents love all their kids and equally so, but if you just take a moment and give it some more thought (or if you've been in this situation and can't stop theorizing over everything that lies ahead, which is both a gift and a curse), I'm pretty certain you'll be able to emphasize with me.

Up until the moment the little one popped out, I was scared. Which is the weirdest thing since I knew exactly what was coming. The birth was much easier than the first one – do not read this statement like I was the one doing all the work, I'm just saying this as a humble observer that was lending a hand (and some legs and knees to rest on, as well as moral support and plenty of words of encouragement, none of which comes close to the Herculean effort my wife had to overcome). But once I saw Levi, even though he didn't see me as his eyes were still shut, I knew that I would love him unconditionally. I would, over the course of the following months, learn that it was a different kind of love, but that was only fitting since he also acts very differently when comparing him to his older brother.

My second biggest concern involved a lot of numbers and € signs following them. Considering that we had signed the contract for the house we're now living in at a time when we weren't in possession of all the funds we were contractually obliged to own (we would have had to borrow money from our parents) as well as the fact that everything – yes, literally everything – is a lot more expensive than you expect when it comes to houses, this is also not much of a surprise. But let's just say that we're doing great in this department, even though it wouldn't have been possible without the help of all of our parents as well as the support of a number of great friends.

All the small things

If someone had asked me to describe what 2017 would be like at the start of the year, I could have given them a number of pointers, e.g. "in April, we'll welcome our second child, in May or June, we'll move into the new house, etc.", many of which came true in exactly the way we expected them to. Some didn't, like our move that was originally scheduled for late May, which ultimately happened in late July. At the end of the day, most of the "problems" that arose because of these changes of plans could be solved the American way. You had to throw resources (often money, but sometimes also time) at them, until they finally disappeared. If you're fortunate enough to not care about money to the extent where renting your apartment for an additional month won't completely throw you off track, you'll benefit the most from the mindset that a lot of problems really aren't as impossible to overcome as your inner mind is claiming. (At this point, I'm reminded that I should probably update the books section of this website and add a review of "The Myths of Happiness" by Sonja Lyubomirsky…
I should also make a case for universal income, explain how it relates to a situation like this and how there is no way around it, even if you're more of the conservative nature…)

In hindsight, the things I expected to bring us a lot of joy (and sweat) did deliver exactly that. At the same time, a number of seemingly "smaller things" made a very big difference. I do enjoy the fact that I started to learn a whole lot more about investment strategies as well as cryptocurrencies (which shouldn't exactly be considered an investment strategy, but it's very hard to make that case when you doubled a significant amount of money by throwing it at Bitcoin, Ethereum, and so on…). I don't even mind that I ‘only' learned about these things in my mid-30s; "better late than never" is a good way to describe my feelings regarding this.

What I regret the most is stuff I wanted to do, but ultimately ended up not doing. It's not that I regret not succeeding in something like getting on a stage and doing some stand-up; if I had tried and failed, that would have been one thing, but I didn't even try and that's far more painful for me. I can cope with defeat, I just don't like it when what's been defeating me has been myself rather than some external influence.

Looking forward, I want to take more risks and work less. I've been saying this for years and I guess I did manage to sit in front of my computer less hours, unfortunately, I didn't really manage to put my mind at ease and not care about work for the remainder of the time, though. As I mentioned above, I'm at the point where I'm starting to / need to get a lot more concerned about my mental health, so my main goal for this year is to get healthier again. I don't even mind if I end up gaining more weight, this is not about physical appearance, this is about ‘functioning' more than anything else. I even want to go as far as picking up some new healthy habits, especially meditation. Even if it doesn't work out, I'll at least give it a serious try and not defeat myself again.

Alright, that's all for now. Some of you complained that you didn't get to read anything from me in a while, so I hope this longer update will make up for the lack of news in the last few months. Please excuse the extra long sentences and parentheses and all the other fluff that ended up occupying space on this page. I couldn't really help myself, I haven't been writing as much lately as I wanted to. Let's hope that will also be different this year.

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