2021 Reflection

I typically end the year with a blog post reviewing and thinking about the year done and the year to come. I didn’t bother at the end of 2021 because I don’t feel like I have much to write to future-me. Nevertheless, here I am documenting that I don’t have much to write.

2021 was characterized by waiting. I did grow a lot during the year and read (or partially read, in some cases) 10 books on design thinking and systems thinking. I also read about 40 fiction books, which was pretty awesome, thanks to Libby and the Springfield-Greene County Library.

But at work, I feel like we were stalled out most of the year. We made a lot of progress with our product documentation site and content, which was great, and I developed a purpose and mission for the Adaptavist Library and got its technology stack headed in the right direction, but the major initiatives I wanted to launch all languished.

In the past, to get initiatives moving forward, I would meet with the right people in London to work out details and get approvals in person. I’m six hours behind the key project sponsors, and it’s hard to get time on their calendars, so getting anything done remotely is hard. I began submitting strategy and initiative documents in March or April, and by the end of 2021, we still didn’t have anything firmly approved.

I have some ideas on how to get things done regardless in 2022, but I definitely ended 2021 on a down-note, and I don’t feel particularly optimistic or excited here at the beginning of 2022.

That said, I began listening to a podcast in November of 2021, Managing Leadership Anxiety, which has been fantastic. It introduced me to the concept of “family systems theory,” and I decided to dig into that more in 2022. I think it will follow my study of systems thinking nicely, and I’ll be joining Steve Cuss’s online learning community to learn and grow more in this area.

I failed to finish my annual read of the Bible in 2021, but I’m starting back over in Genesis despite that. For 2022, my goal is to pay particular attention to passages addressing money. I was thinking about retirement investments and stewardship over my winter holiday, and it occurred to me that, while I’ve read some FIRE (financial independence, retire early) and finance bloggers who happen to be Christian, I haven’t read much about finance that is targeted to the Christian audience. Dave Ramsey is obviously big in that area, but his target is debt elimination. I’d like to focus on long-term stewardship, and I think this dovetails well with my 2022 focus on leadership.

I want to learn how to help people become better leaders, not by developing templates or lists of phrases or specific actions to take (the “what to do” bit), but by helping them become who they need to be. But if asked, “Hey Matthew, can you help me become a better leader?” right now I wouldn’t quite know where to start. I think I do know where to start with stewardship, though, and it’s closely related. So while I begin writing about stewardship, I’ll be reading and learning about leadership and coaching.

Beyond all that, when I reflect on 2021, I think the main word and success that comes to mind for me is “discipline.” In many ways, 2021 was harder than 2020. The beginning of 2020 with covid really rocked me, and my mental health between March and July was not great. But we had Isaac at the end of 2020 and overall I ended the year enthusiastic, optimistic, and excited for what comes next.

2021 drained my excitement away. Work projects didn’t go to plan or on the timelines I had set, and Isaac’s health problems and lack of sleep made the year a challenge. But we got through it, and we were disciplined in our budgeting and keeping our finances on-track with our long-term goals, and we kept our house fixed and improving, and we read the Bible and prayed, and we served at church, and we made time to build friendships and pour into our community.

I was accepted to the board of public utilities for Springfield and I contributed to developing bylaws for Club Blue. I provided space and time for people to connect with one another. And I built a foundation of systems thinking in myself that I hope will lead to more growth and learning in 2022.

So 2021 wasn’t great, and I didn’t return from my winter holiday feeling particularly optimistic. But I do feel like I have some goals, and I have the energy and discipline I need to pursue them. I think that is enough for now.

IOU, Steve Proffitt

I’ve been putting off writing this for a while, and the increased cognitive load and knock-on delays are forcing my hand. I can either write it, or forget it altogether, and I think it’s too important to future-me so here we go.

Back of the program for Steve’s funeral

One evening, during my second semester of college, I was walking west to east on the north side of campus. For those of you who are familiar with MSU, you can imagine me passing by Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts and thinking about the nights I had played there in the symphony, and approaching Scholars Hall where someone I cared about deeply lived… but she was in the process of ending our friendship and I was feeling lonely and sad. On that night, I had no one to call or spend time with, no one to commiserate with me, and I prayed to God.

Please God, I need some Christian friends. I need a community. I’m desperate, Lord.

And then I decided that I needed a cup of coffee. I could turn around and head downtown to the Mudhouse, but I recalled that there was a coffee shop just east of campus that I had never visited. I’d pop in there and get something, then continue my walk of angst.

I crossed National Ave., climbed the three stairs to the porch of The Potter’s House, and approached the counter, which back then was left of the door but parallel to it so you faced the back of the shop when ordering. I placed an order, perused the corkboard to the right of the register filled with advertisements for roommates and barbers and whatnot, and then accepted my sugary frappe thing while handing over my credit card.

“Oh, sorry, we’re cash only. No cards,” said the person behind the register, or something to that effect. But I already had my drink, and I was suddenly overwhelmed by shame. I probably blushed, and I stammered out that I could run across the street and get some cash from the ATM. Here I was, screwing everything up again, just like I had been all year.

“Nah, don’t worry about it,” said Steve. “We’ll just write you an IOU. What’s your name?”

My brain shut down about then. “An IOU? What do you mean?”

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I wish I had switched from Carbonite sooner

I was happy with Crashplan back in the day, and when they sold/switched me to Carbonite, I didn’t particularly mind. I’ve had two successful restores after hard drives died… the first was stressful but everything went fine, which was a huge relief. When I fried my drives a few weeks ago (remember kids, don’t use cables from an old PSU with a new PSU…), I was confident my data would be restored without any trouble.

What I didn’t know was that Carbonite is now throttling transfer speeds. I have ~650gb and it took almost 3 weeks to restore. I started looking for an alternative a week ago, and when the restore finished last night, I killed Carbonite and installed Backblaze.

My upload speed isn’t that fast, but it’s 10x faster than Carbonite’s throttled download speed. About 90gb uploaded overnight, and I’m optimistic that Backblaze will be done in a few days.

I also really like how much more secure Backblaze is. I’ve encrypted my backup, and setup 2FA with no fallback to SMS.

The timing is perfect because my Carbonite subscription renews in 9 days. As soon as I can confirm that Backblaze has my data, I can cancel Carbonite.

My dog Willow has died

Willow was a good dog. We adopted her from the Humane Society in 2011 at the age of 4. I had been wanting a dog for years, but I was working ridiculous hours at the university and taking night classes. It wouldn’t be fair to have a dog stuck at home when I was on-campus for 10-12 hours a day.

She joined our family the day after I graduated with my BA.

Her name had been Tarheel, and it seemed to me like she hadn’t been well-socialized with other dogs. She was small for a Labrador Retriever, and I suspected she had been kept in a run because, when let loose in our backyard, she would just run back and forth in a straight line.

But she bonded with me immediately. She was my constant companion, rarely even tolerating being in a different room from me. I spent months working with her and other dogs, and she got better and better. She lived to love me and to make me happy, and I never felt like I quite deserved it.

She had two nicknames:

  1. Widdershins, because for the longest time she would spin in circles whenever excited for dinner, or excited about anything else, but would only spin counterclockwise. Willow Widdershins Stublefield.
  2. Triangle-Ears because her ears would perk up whenever she thought food or anything else interesting was available.

She didn’t mind the cats at all. Eventually, they came to tolerate her.

She was definitely my dog. She liked everyone, but I was the one she followed and obeyed. For the last 6 and a half years, I have been working from home and she has been my co-worker every day, on the sofa in my office right next to me. For 10 years, she has slept on the floor next to the bed, right beside me.

I was hers and she was mine. But she liked April too.

She generally pretended like our kids didn’t exist. If they were between me and her, she would go right through or over them if we weren’t careful.

She lived 13.5 years. On the way home from the vet, who diagnosed her with kidney disease, I checked online and learned that labs typically live 10-12 years. In dog years, I think that means she was 94.

I think we gave her a good life. I know she made my life better.

I cried so hard at the vet. I knew when we adopted her that this day would come. I’ve been prepared to mourn her since that first day. But it was still hard, so very hard, and I wept on the floor in the vet’s office while holding her.

I’m crying now.

I’m going to be expecting to see her come around a corner in our house for days, maybe weeks. I keep expecting to feel her nudge my hand or put a paw on my leg.

She was such a good dog.

I’ll miss you Willow. I love you. Thank you for being my friend.

My Uncle Dave has died and I have some complex feelings about it

My Uncle Dave lived in Arkansas, and when I was young (starting in 4th or 5th grade, probably… maybe 6th, I don’t recall), we began visiting his family almost every weekend. By junior high, I would also spend a week or two at their house in the summer without my parents there. I spent a lot of time at their home, hiking through their woods, swimming in their pool, eating their food, playing video games with my cousin Neil, teasing and getting teased by my cousin Charelle, and just being a part of their family.

Uncle Dave was an alcoholic and a drug user. I’m pretty sure he was abusive towards Neil. At least, that would explain the anger issues that Neil had that prompted him to try and murder me most weekends when we visited.

I never experienced peer pressure from my schoolmates. Dave was the first to try and make me drink beer, and once when I continued to refuse he just poured his can over my head while cursing and yelling at me.

One summer, my cousin Neil and I accidentally lit a field on fire with some bottle rockets. It was state land, and we were terrified that we would be arrested and our lives were over. Dave called the fire department and covered for us. We didn’t get in trouble at all. Neil bought me a sports drink at the corner shop (which was actually a mile or two away at the end of a dirt road) and we were allies for a day.

After my parents got divorced (I was around 12 years old and in 6th or 7th grade), I never heard again from my dad’s side of the family. I haven’t seen Dave, his (now ex-)wife, or my cousins since before my parents got divorced. I did get Charelle’s phone number so I could invite her to our wedding in 2008 because she was always kind to me, but she had a scheduling conflict and couldn’t be there, and that was the last we spoke.

I don’t entirely know how I feel about Dave dying. It was inevitable, really. My dad said he had a heart attack, but I know he was still abusing drugs so that likely shortened his life.

He wasn’t a bad uncle to me, all things considered. He taught me how to split firewood and how to skin a deer. How to dispose of the guts of deer and turkey. How to fish, how to clean them, and how to smoke salmon and trout. One of our main sources of meat, when I was growing up, was hunting on his land.

I can’t miss him because I haven’t had a relationship with him for almost 25 years at this point. But my inability to fully parse my feelings is what indicates that my feelings are complex. I have so few ties to my childhood and to my past, and one more is gone I suppose. But it has actually been gone for a long time. Really, I can’t be certain how much of a relationship was ever there.

For a few minutes, I considered attending the memorial. I’ve thought a lot over the years about how I would react to seeing my cousin Neil again who inflicted so much torment and pain on me that I nearly committed suicide the night before having to visit my uncle and his family for yet another weekend. At this point, I think I have enough distance and enough of the Holy Spirit that I can extend grace even if I’m still working on full forgiveness. As for my uncle, it’s not like the death of a stranger. I knew him, and he played a large role in my childhood. Not an altogether positive one, but there are worse stories than mine, and so I don’t feel like I can be too upset about it all.

He is gone. He wasn’t all bad. I hope that others will be better, and I know that I will be. Dave is one of my inspirations for fatherhood and for being a good husband because he modeled what one oughtn’t do. I do believe that he loved, but I also know that he was broken and drug-addled.

Goodbye, Uncle Dave.

2020 Reflections

At the beginning of 2020, or the end of 2019, I decided that my blog going forward would be written to my future self. And I’ve had a tradition, maintained pretty regularly over the last decade, of writing a year in review. Some years, it’s comprehensive and I write about my job, our church, our finances, my education, our family, etc. Some years, it’s brief.

2020 contained so much, and yet this blog will be quite brief. We did indeed have a lot happen in 2020, and for us, much of it was pretty good. Financially, we’ve made wise choices and are doing well. Isaac was born. I achieved some big goals at work and am optimistic that 2021 will be a really great year for me and my teams at Adaptavist. Our church is thriving despite us not meeting in person since March 2020. April and I read through the Bible last year, and are doing it again in 2021, and we both feel like our relationships with God have grown. Biden won the election and Trump may finally be held accountable for his crimes.

But I can’t bring myself to take an hour or two looking back over 2020 and writing. I want to look forward. I have a baby to snuggle with and a toddler to play with. I want to finish building our new playground this morning. We should take a walk to the coffee shop to get more beans. I’ve got another few chapters of Job to listen to today. I want to take this weekend to let my brain rest, and then Monday I dive into a new task at work that I’m excited about and I think will be really good for my teams.

The Lord is our God, The Lord is one. I pray that 2021 surprises us with goodness.

Sitting in the garage

April is off to pick up dinner.

I’m sitting in the garage with the doors open.

And Simon is delightedly running circles around the garage, the van, and the doors.

It’s idyllic. And I wonder, are there people out there in similar circumstances who take this for granted? Who can just enjoy it without much analysis?

Because I am very aware of how blessed I am. And I am very aware of how temporal this is. It could pass in a moment.

I am deliberate in enjoying it. In soaking it in. Because I know how quickly and easily it could be gone.

Would being unaware be better? I don’t know. I think it might.

Is being aware better? I think it might. No way to know one way or the other, really. I can’t compare.

Oh well. I’ll appreciate it. I appreciate Simon’s excitement about the cat across the street, and the rain, and the old license plates we still have lying around.

Robert passed away

I decided in December that this blog is really me writing to future-me. So while I don’t want to write about this, I think future-me would want this to be written down.

Yesterday, I found out that Robert Bleeker passed away late last week. Robert headed up the online and Atlassian Summit portions of Atlassian University. AU is Atlassian’s training program.

We had worked together for around the last 5 years, but beyond that professional relationship, he was just a really nice guy. I always enjoyed hearing about his motorcycle trips with his son, and his daughter’s academic studies, and how his family was getting on. And Robert was (more recently) always quick to ask after my son Simon and want to see pictures of him.

Robert was a role-model to me of a good dad. I was really looking forward to seeing him in a few weeks at Summit and catching up, and now he’s suddenly gone.

I’m just so sad. Goodbye, Robert.