A real “rebuilding year” is when a sports team is broken down and reassembled, basically from scratch, after—and as a response to—a dreadful season. 2020 was a dreadful season for, well, everyone on earth due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It certainly was for me. I experienced some deep trauma back in 2018 when my father died, which I thought went away after a few months, but never really did. Watching my father die (of Alzheimers and old age) completely messed me up. The emerging pandemic in early 2020 let the lingering feelings I had from that time metastasize into full-blown depression and anxiety. Work and home life were both stressful to me all the time. My relationships with everybody suffered. I was a wreck. So was everyone else at the time, which blinded me to how much of a mess I was. At some point, my eyes slowly opened to what was really going on with me, mental-health wise. My problem was that once I realized that my brain wasn’t working right (as in, rationally), I could not trust any of my thoughts, even the ones that could lead me to getting better. It took me months to figure out how to get help, even though, in hindsight, it wasn’t really that hard. By the end of 2020, I was well on the way to recovering from my mental health problems, but I hadn’t rebuilt my life yet.

2021 has been a rebuilding year for me, pretty much from its first day. I made it a point to reach out to people. At work, I set up one-on-one meetings with everybody in my department, and asked for coaching sessions from people higher than me in the organization. At home, I made efforts to listen and to be more present in my relationships with my family members. Internally, I tried to be less hard on myself. I gave up some activities that were productive but stressful. I decided to write a blog entry every day. I allowed myself to waste time on mindless fun, like just listening to music or playing video games, after the kids were in bed (or supposed to be in bed, at least). I had thought that I would get the COVID vaccine and society would get back to normal. Of course, that hasn’t quite happened yet, but I am optimistic that next year will be the time when masking and social distancing pretty much go away. (I’m aware that a lot of people don’t wear masks when they go out, but my wife and kids wear masks at school for hours and hours each day, so masking and social distancing are very much going strong for my family.)

Over the course of this rebuilding year, I have re-learned what I love to do, which I had forgotten over the past few years: Break complex things down to make them understandable; ask big, deep (or maybe dumb) questions; and to communicate ideas, especially in writing.

I am both doing less than I used to and doing more. I am programming less and writing more. I made it a point to improve my presentation skills, and I did that. I taught myself how to make better slides, even though it was very challenging at first, and how to rehearse and revise a talk until it is brisk and concise. I have given …five or more presentations at work this year, on department-level and company-level Webex calls. I created a slide deck for our managing partner to present to the board of directors. I am getting more well known for my technical skills and presentation skills at work, too, which makes me feel great about my job for the first time in years. I also made it a point to write an article for my company’s newsletter, and I am about 85% done with that now, and plan to wrap it up next week. Lastly, I learned to type in the Colemak-DH layout on an unusual, ortholinear keyboard (still really slowly, I admit), and that proved to me that my brain was flexible enough to do it. I am literally rewiring my brain.

By the end of the year, I will not be rebuilt, but will keep rebuilding. That is the most important thing I learned this year.