Year In Review - 2020
Pushing the WINS flywheel
I played Bee Gees', “Stayin' Alive” on loop many days this year because staying alive through the year seemed like a good enough goal.
Feel the city breaking and everybody shaking, people
Stayin' alive, stayin' alive
Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive, stayin' alive
Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive …
I experienced a strange duality of fulfillment and fun most of the year amidst feeling lonely and sad.
I get low and I get high
And if I can’t get either, I really try
Thankfully, here I’m at the end of the year. Not only I survived, but I also thrived. 2020 became at once a year of uncertainty, sadness, and growth.
I have been publishing annual reviews since 2011. As I went through the ritual this year, I felt lucky but also guilty. While my countrymen starved, and some even ate dead animals in the middle of the road, I was abstracted away from the contagious virus and the associated effects of lockdown. My heart is filled with gratitude for the privilege of life I have.
Reasons for angst
In addition to the wide-spread fear about the Covid and its economic impact, I had a personal reason for anxiety.
My parents were staying with my sister in Bangalore. In March, my dad went to home-town and got stuck. Since they had moved to Bangalore, they didn’t have much provisions at home-town for continued living. Plus there were not many shops open. We were worried about our father, and we called him every day to check on him. But the old-man is strong.
My mom joined him later in May. We are still concerned about them, but at least the couple has company.
What sustained me
In January, I preached a message based on Psalms 147:13 & 14. When I delivered the message, I hardly knew I was prophetic.
He strengthens the bars of your gates
and blesses your people within you.
He grants peace to your borders
and satisfies you with the finest of wheat.
Whenever angst filled my heart, I affirmed these verses. I was indeed filled with peace and satisfied with the finest of wheat.
Proudest thing I did
I taught cycling to my wife.
When the lockdown started, the kids and I were exercising at home. Later in August, we started cycling in the early mornings. Envious of us, my wife asked if I could teach her cycling so she can join us.
Thankfully we had a bicycle rentals near our house. In about ten days, she managed to cycle, without a scratch, to the cycle and her. Because of her confidence and enthusiasm, we bought a BSA Ladybird cycle. Now we cycle every day for six kilometers. Who would’ve thought a pandemic would rekindle the romance?
Last year I created WINS framework as a personal flywheel. WINS stands for: Wealth, Insights, Network, and Self
WINS is a systems framework, which means that when you improve a factor, you make the whole better.
This year, I was able to push the flywheel a little further than the last year. It still got to get its momentum, though. Having this framework in mind helped me drop any activity that didn’t fit into one of these four buckets.
If this flywheel interests you, you should check out the course.
I saved like a pessimist and invested like an optimist.
Beset by uncertainty, I postponed every purchase. No eating-out, no dress-shopping, no non-essential spending meant savings, savings, and more savings.
I invested all the savings on high-dividend yielding stable companies. While these stocks were available at lower prices, there was a doubt if this low was a blip or a permanent dip. Thankfully all these stocks have grown 10 - 20 percent from the purchasing price.
Since I started working 25 years ago, I developed the habit of donating 10% of my income. I distribute the amount between those who serve among slum-dwellers, orphans, and prisoners. Amidst the pandemic, I had a thought in my heart to increase my giving. I was hesitant since there was much uncertainty. When I discussed the idea with my wife, with a lot of hesitation, she wholeheartedly supported it. Encouraged by her acceptance, I upped my donation to 15% from May.
In my years in Chandigarh, I came to know few daily laborers. Due to the unplanned lockdown, they lost their livelihood. Due to the strict implementation of lockdown, we couldn’t meet or speak to each other; they didn’t have access to mobile since they lost every income source. When we got back in contact, I realized that many families didn’t have proper food for days together. Two of my college-mates donated, and we organized household provisions for ten families. When we handed over the provisions, every one of them wept. Recollecting that scene brings tears to me, even after so many months. While witnessing tragedy and sorrow, you can question the existence of a god, or you can roll up your sleeves and exhibit godly love.
Though this is the most fulfilling thing I did this year, I also realized the impact of haphazard government policies.
Created an additional stream of revenue
What started last year as unstructured coaching morphed into a regular coaching program this year. A family friend of mine requested me to coach him. We started as unstructured sessions over Zoom, where he asked questions that bothered him, and I answered as best as I could. As we progressed, he encouraged me to open the coaching to others. He even sold the first slot to a colleague.
I announced in my newsletter that I’m starting a coaching program, and three of the readers signed up immediately. In July, I officially started the first coaching session. I started the second batch in November. Between the two batches, I have trained ten students. I’m happy that all of them have given fantastic testimonials.
As they say, once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, thrice is a business. I have announced the third batch on January 16th. If I can attract enough students for a third batch, I know I got a business in hand. If you want to build competence and confidence to thrive in your life, you should join the course.
I follow the Consume-Produce-Engage model for generating insights. This year, I learned everything about launching a course from advisors and practitioners and taught two batches. I also learned to market the course. No quantum of bookish knowledge could replace the tangible experience.
Joining elite clubs
One easy hack to improve your thinking is to rub shoulders with those who have powerful ideas. Digital streams make it easier to find and join them.
Last year I joined Farnam Street Learning Community. I renewed the membership this year. This year, I joined Jack Butcher’s Visualize Value course, which opened doors into his fantastic community. I also joined a “Book Club” on Whatsapp. I gained so much from these communities.
I started creating Gravitas WINS course in isolation. With the covid news all over the place, I struggled to focus, and I couldn’t move as fast I needed. I requested my friend Amarendra Srivastava, whom I met via the Whatapp Book Club, to be my accountability partner. He and I agreed to review my progress every Monday.
Amarendra is not someone to trifle with. As a life coach and an accountability partner, he ensured I was on track week after week. I would not have launched the course without this setup.
Board of advisors
Early this year, I requested a few of my friends to be my advisors. I also created a WhatsApp group “Board” to officiate the plan. My board of advisors took their roles seriously.
Whenever I posted a new video, Harit sent me positive feedback with some tips to improve. He even took the pain of searching for some intro and outro music in Fiverr. The other board member Ritika, took more than an hour analyzing Gravitas WINS landing page. The landing page is better because of her suggestions.
Learning from practitioners
There is much good advice on the Internet on launching a course. Yet, nothing beats getting a bit of personal advice from a practitioner.
Ali is a GTD and Holacracy coach. He was a fellow speaker at Agile Network conference, which happened in January this year. As I was building the course content, I had doubts. He was gracious to talk to me for a long time, clearing one doubt after the other. After our call, I sent him a thank you message. He replied with an encouraging message:
You’re welcome Joseph 🙂 I’m rooting for your success! Yes happy to have a follow up.
The successful pay it forward. Ali is an example.
Blogging & Newsletter
I blogged and sent a newsletter every week except for nine weeks during the initial days of the Covid panic. Those nine weeks were tough.
As a Chief Technology Officer, I had to roll out a secure “work from home” program for our employees. As a father, I had to engage two boys in creative pursuits so they don’t get addicted to TV. Finally, as a household partner, I had to do my part to continue to have a sweet home for all of us. It was overwhelming when it all started. There was no time left to write.
Then, life settled. I established new routines and continued where I left. Surprisingly, my words resonated with few curators.
- Abhishek included Delightful Customer Experience in a Highway Restaurant in his newsletter, The Shack Recap
- Thinking About Things included The dichotomy of contentment and ambition
- Oren Ellenbogen of Software Lead Weekly included
I started the year with 80 newsletter subscribers. I now have 175 subscribers because they made me famous beyond the small circle of friends and family. If you like my writing so far, consider subscribing to my newsletter.
This year, I branched to other towns as a speaker.
In case you would like me to talk at an event, check out the talks page.
I tried sketching business ideas and creating short videos as a means to spread ideas. I didn’t get much response for the sketches, so I dropped them. On the other hand, Videos got lots of likes and positive comments on LinkedIn. I’m planning to go big on videos in 2021.
As an introvert and a software developer, I am comfortable talking to machines than humans. I set a goal to meet at least 50 people this year to change my proclivity. I started with a lunch session with my board of advisors. I was keeping up with my goal until Covid triggered a lockdown.
In a way, the lockdown turned out to be a blessing. Now I can invite anyone to talk to me, and they are all willing to talk to me sitting in front of a machine.
I was already overweight (84 kg) for my height (172 cm) when the lockdown started. It was clear that by locked at home and sitting in front of the computer every day without much body movement, I would put on even more weight. To minimize that possibility, I went on a daily exercising routine and took on intermittent fasting.
I managed to lose 5 kg this year because of exercises and fasting.
I have two boys aged ten and seven. They are polar opposite in everything. The elder one likes to read books; the younger one can’t read ten pages sitting; the elder one is creative; the younger one can’t sit in a place for ten minutes. It is challenging to manage them together.
I trained them to exercise with me and taught them whatever little storytelling I knew. They started a Youtube Channel. They amazed me with their creativity.
The younger one made a Cinderella-type story titled, Story Of A Poor Man Who Became Rich; he even made an ad for Gravitas Wins course. The elder one is into magic and stop-motion. So he created Clearing a couch with magic, and a chase. Later in December, they together made a plum cake.
They even managed to get 100 subscribers this year. If you like their videos, don’t forget to subscribe to their channel.
If I’ve to summarise the year:
This year, I realized how fortunate I’m. Instead of building a wall to protect my privilege, I tried to build a longer table so others can benefit from that privilege.
Retros of the earlier years