Something of a personal review of the year, that's pretending to be a list of my recent publications
Bloody hell. 2020, eh?
That was the toughest year since I went self-employed in 2012, both financially and in terms of my mental health. I suffered an appalling crisis of confidence in the early part of the summer, and that led me into a dark hole I’m only just emerging from.
And the disturbing part of that is that I know that I had it easy compared to many.
2021 has the makings of a better year. We’ll have a bleak early few months, I suspect, but then the vaccination rollout will slowly start opening life back up again. And then, sadly, we start counting the costs of the crisis: the financial ones, in terms of businesses lost and government finances; the mental health issues, which may roll on for years; the physical health issues, with too many medical problems ignored for too long; and finally the long-term effects of COVID19 on many. But, hopefully, the appalling daily death toll will be gone.
In the shadow of those challenges, we will be able to celebrate again. I’m looking forwards to hugging my nephew and niece, to going for coffees with work friends, with training people face-to-face again. I’m looking forwards to weekends away with the family, and long walks in new places.
And even going for a pint in the pub.
But that’s all the future. Let’s look back on the recent past:
One Man & His Blog
December was a surprisingly busy month on the site, despite the fact I’ve taken quite a bit of the last two weeks off. I’m not going to do a comprehensive list of my posts here, but just highlight a few interesting ones. For example, and rather ironically given the platforms I’m using to write these words, I expressed my concerns about Substack’s evolution — and how it may be becoming a new gatekeeper.
Probably the most important piece I wrote was about the issue of trust in journalism — which far too many journalists would like to pretend is either:
Not a problem
If it is a problem, it’s not their fault
Sadly, I think an awful lot of what we consider standard journalism practice is actually undermining trust from our readers. This is a theme I intend to explore more in the coming year. One thing I have realised in the last month is that my niche is, essentially, the edge voice saying the things journalism doesn’t want to hear. In a field of media analysts who have realised that the way to a sustainable business is to tell people what they want to hear, I’m going to go a different way.
It’s probably not the best way to build the site into a sustainable business, but if I can’t write from a point of passion, what’s the point in putting finger to keyboard?
The big hitters
I also listed the top 10 posts on the year by traffic. Next year I’m probably going to need to start factoring in email open rates into this, too, based on the steady growth of my subscriber base, but that’s a problem (and an Excel spreadsheet) for next year.
Two interesting things for me in this:
My analysis pieces are much more popular than my aggregation pieces. I have a small audience but loyal audience for those, but a much bigger, but less loyal audience for the analysis. I need to work out how to balance that better next year.
This is the first year in some year the majority of the popular posts were from this year. That’s encouraging, I think.
Aaaaaanyway, here’s the posts:
The top post, rather inevitably this year, involved Substack.
And that’s more than enough about the journalism part of my life for one year.
I have an ill-maintained blog called Walking With Daddy, which is notionally about my mission to make sure my daughters grow up connected to nature, but is increasingly becoming about a middle-aged man trying to figure out what he needs in his life as he stares down the barrel of turning 50.
I’m certainly going through something of a mid-life crisis right now, but I’m not doing the standard mix of buying a new car, motorbike or boat, running around with inappropriately young women, or chugging down antidepressants. Instead, I’m exploring what I need to have in my life in the next few decades, within the constraints of having a fairly young family and needing to earn an income.
I genuinely want to devote more time to it, because I find it gives me the same escape that writing on One Man & His Blog used to — before it became an essential part of my work.
Recently, I wrote about:
Finding a sustainable Christmas tree — a post I’ve been trying to do for three years, and was delighted to finally write this year
Coping with life in Tier 4 — an unexpectedly well-received post about learning to love where I live, thanks to lockdowns.
I still write for Next, which was an annual conference in Hamburg, but obviously one that didn’t happen this year. They’re my longest-term client, but were forced to reduce my work thanks to… well, you know.
Here’s what I did for them this month:
How do I build a fluid business? — something that this year has proved is critical.
Thomas Müller: using foresight to redesign the world — a quick write-up of his talk on the What’s NEXT online show.
The Top 10 posts on the NEXT Insights blog in 2020 — I find this a hugely valuable exercise every year. It’s striking to me both the degree to which evergreen content dominates the top 10, and how much the topics shift around every year. In many ways, I feel like I writing for people in two or three years’ time when I write there.
A Book recommendation: Wintering
The last book I read in 2020, and it was perfect timing. It’s not just a book about surviving winter, but surviving the difficult and lost moments in your life. The writing is exquisite, drawing in making you want to keep on reading. Under a broadly chronological structure, the book hops around time and location, exploring the issues that arise from a particularly difficult winter in the author’s life.
In many ways, this book is the ultimate antidote to the toxic startup culture that seems to have infected business spilling out of the Silicon Valley VC world. Rather than hustling harder and faster, and throwing any extra energy into a side hustle, this book explores the periods of our lives when we need to conserve energy — and money — survive the storm, and be ready for the next spring.
Life is cyclical, not linear. And this book will truly help you understand what that could mean for the way you live.
Happy New Year
Wherever you are, and whatever you’re doing. I wish you a better 2021 than the hell year that’s just finished.
May it bring you joy, reconnection with the people you love, and a sense of purpose in your work.
All the best,