2022 State of the Sam
This article originally appeared on SamSpurlin.com on December 24th, 2022.
Ten years ago I wrote a yearly review that I cheekily called State of the Sam. I was going into the last year of a positive psychology master’s program at Claremont Graduate University and was a couple weeks away from hearing that I was accepted into the PhD program (which I would ultimately drop out of several years later — but that’s a different story for another time). I was 25 years old. I had been dating a girl for about a year and a half. We had just gone camping at Joshua Tree National Park. She visited me in Prague when I lived there over the summer. Now, we’re married.
I wrote about the software I liked, particularly Things and Fantastical. Things and Fantastical are still the backbone of my daily productivity. All that is to say, ten years is a long time, things change, and even more things, maybe surprisingly, stay the same.
It’s fun to look back and see how a year went and it’s even more fun to look back 10 years later and see what felt like it was worth mentioning. So, to give 2032 Sam something to read, let’s do it again: another State of the Sam.
The Year of Work
I’m tempted to punt on this first section by simply pointing you to one of the very few articles I wrote this year that happened to be a long retrospective about my career. I mean, it’s pretty good so if you’re extremely curious about how I’m thinking about my work as an organization design consultant at The Ready (my employer for the last seven and a half years), I recommend you check it out.
As far as 2022 goes, though, I suppose I could dive into the weeds a bit more. The first part of the year I was 100% supported by The Ready to co-lead our DAO and web3 exploration. The full explanation of that work is probably outside the purview of this article (and this article I wrote from late 2021 is a pretty good summation of where my head was at in early 2022). I got to spend a bunch of time learning a completely new area, building relationships with people who work in that space, and generally trying to figure out how to bring The Ready’s work to a community and movement that could absolutely use our assistance, if we could just figure out how to package it in a way that resonated with them. It’s hard to say how successful we’ve been because this work happened to coincide with a particularly nasty downturn in the crypto markets.
Roughly halfway through the year The Ready decided we could keep that work alive while shifting some of our time and attention to other (revenue generating) projects. That meant that for the first time in a long time I was going to be sinking my teeth into another (hopefully) long-term transformation project with a more traditional client. I had wrapped up my last major engagement early in 2021 and then went on my 4-month sabbatical only to immediately jump into our DAO work when I returned. I was actually really excited to get back into some work that felt like it was more squarely in my wheelhouse. What started as a project designed to take half of my time with a partner turned into a full-time project that I worked on largely by myself for the last four months of the year. I really enjoy the client and the work we are doing together. I vacillate between whether I like working as almost a free agent within The Ready or whether I miss having a teammate to help shoulder the load and push me to be better. It really depends on the day.
I think I’m doing very good work with the client and they’re happy (we just extended our arrangement for at least the first three months of 2023). Without going into too much detail, one of the things I’m helping them with has the potential to be a repeatable and generalizable program/product that I think The Ready could scale. I hope to validate this initial pilot version with this client in the first quarter of 2023 and hopefully have enough data to bring it back to The Ready as something we can try to sell elsewhere.
I still feel great about The Ready and I’m proud of what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. We’re growing in headcount, impact, and influence while sticking to our principles. I really can’t imagine a better place to let me bring the best version of myself to bear on gnarly problems. I’m grateful for the flexibility that allowed me to take time off for my wedding and honeymoon (more about that below!) in addition to a normal summer vacation. My year did feel a little bit fractured with extremely large and disruptive (in the absolutely most positive sense) events so I’m looking forward to really dialing myself back in as a senior member of the The Ready who can do a lot to help improve the organization for everyone else and as a consultant who is constantly trying to elevate my own practice.
We held three full company retreats last year; one was virtual (the tail end of the Omicron outbreak was happening), one was in New York City (it was kind of surreal to remember that I used to live there), and the last one was in Miami (good call for a late fall retreat location, right?). I did one quick jaunt up to Toronto to meet with my DAO Circle co-steward, Tanisi, for a full-day in-person strategy meeting. I attended a conference called ETHDenver in, well, you can figure it out. And I had one trip to Boston to facilitate an in-person workshop for a client. A relatively light year of work travel, all things considered.
My hardware setup has remained almost completely unchanged. I’m still using a stock M1 MacBook Air as my only computer, a 27" HP external monitor, a Logitech webcam, AirPods Max, a Blue Yeti mic on a boom arm, a Fully Jarvis sit/stand desk, a Herman Miller Aeron chair, and an iPhone 12 Pro Max. The only new piece of hardware was upgrading my old Apple Wireless keyboard to a new Apple Wireless keyboard with a built-in TouchID sensor. Wanted to live that fingerprint-as-password lifestyle, you know?
The Year of Life, Travel, and Relationships
I got married this year! After a decade of being a couple and roughly four years of living together, Emily and I tied the knot in Naples, Florida at an absolutely perfect event hosted by her parents. Really, I’m not sure it could have gone smoother. Being surrounded by friends and family for a couple days of pure celebration is one of those things I have a feeling you never really forget.
We decided to not immediately leave for a honeymoon, as various uninteresting logistics considerations made it make more sense for us to go at the end of September. Which we did with a Mediterranean cruise that started in Rome and hit Naples (the Italian one), Barcelona, Mallorca, Marseilles, Florence/Pisa, and back to Rome. We capped the trip with a flight back to Barcelona so we could attend Emily’s brother’s wedding. All-in-all, a truly once-in-a-lifetime travel experience and well worth the several month wait.
Another highlight from the year was doing our third annual Spurlin Brothers’ Weekend. Every year my four younger brothers and I try to find a location that is a.) interesting(ish) and b.) in a relatively central location for all of us. Previous locations have been a cabin in Michigan along Lake Huron, an Airbnb in the woods in Pennsylvania, and this time around it was an Airbnb on a farm just south of Columbus. This has quickly become one of my favorite traditions that I look forward to every fall. Since we are all super nerds, it’s basically a 2-day marathon of board games and frozen pizza.
Other trips included a pre-wedding trip to Florida to do some preparations (I had a near run-in with a ~10 foot alligator), a trip to Cape Cod to visit family and have a vacation, and a trip to Michigan to have a second wedding celebration in my parents’ backyard for family and friends who couldn’t make it to Florida. Closer to home, I did a several day triathlon training camp on the eastern shore in Maryland, a race a couple hours drive south of us, and two races in Williamsburg, Virginia.
New Hobby Alert: Triathlon
After yet another concussion during beer league in 2020 I decided I needed a less dangerous athletic hobby. After properly mourning the end of my hockey “career,” I decided to give triathlon a shot.
I technically started my triathlon journey in late 2021 by hiring a coach and getting started on a regular training schedule, but 2022 was my first full calendar year of consistent training and racing. I went into the year with the goal of finishing three races: a sprint distance in April (750 meter swim/12 mile bike ride/3.1 mile run), an Olympic distance in June (1,500 meters/24 miles/6.2 miles), and a half-Ironman (1,900 meters/56 miles/13.1 miles) in September. I did end up doing the three races, but they were slightly modified after I developed tendinitis injury in my right foot after the second race. Instead of rushing myself back from injury too quickly, I decided to step my planned half-Ironman race down to the Olympic distance to allow myself the proper time to heal without the looming pressure of a very long race on the horizon. That was a good and smart move that I’m not sure Sam from ten years ago would’ve made. I’ve been telling myself that I’m in no rush to do anything overly specific in triathlon. I want this to be something I can and want to do for the next twenty years, not something I burn out doing after two.
This warrants a longer article at some point, but I’ve loved my experience training for and doing triathlons. I’ve brought a level of consistency to this endeavor that I wasn’t sure I was possible of. It isn’t about ever becoming “good” at any of the three disciplines. I will never be fast enough to compete for a podium in my age group. I’ve always said that my only goal with all my races, at least so far, is to “finish with dignity.” So far, I’ve been able to do that.
According to TrainingPeaks, the software I use with my coach to plan and record my workouts, I’ve completed the following in 2022 (with one week of training yet to do): 2,491 miles of cycling, 459 miles of running, 98,900 yards of swimming. More importantly, I’ve truly enjoyed the vast majority of these miles and yards. It has been incredibly gratifying to see myself go from not being able to run more than a mile or two without my shins hurting to running for well over an hour without a problem. To go from gasping for air after 50 yards in the pool, to being able to swim nonstop more or less indefinitely. To go from considering a 20 mile ride as particularly noteworthy to finishing my first ever 100 mile bike ride.
If you’re curious to follow along with my training, I use Strava to track my training pretty consistently and you can follow me there.
The Year of Creative Output
My creative output was spread across a few different projects. My brother Max and I continued our podcast called Fields of Work all about our very different experiences of work (he’s a small scale organic farmer and I am very much not). We recorded nine episodes, which is probably a few fewer than we would have liked to have recorded. The show now has 63 episodes in total and we’ve been doing it since the summer of 2019. We’re both very happy to continue our very non-professional approach to it because the last thing either of us wants to do is suck all the fun out of what is really just two brothers having a phone call and catching up on each others’ lives every so often.
My newsletter, The Deliberate, continues, at least in theory, as I only managed to publish it three times this year.
I published seven articles (not including this one) on my website, SamSpurlin.com or on The Ready’s Medium publication this year. The only one that felt like a meaningful attempt at pushing forward my independent thinking and writing around deliberate work was the one I published in March, “Stop trying to change your habits and start playing with Deliberate Patterns instead.” This was my first attempt at trying out the new nomenclature I had been developing — “deliberate patterns.” Another article I published this year that I’m kind of proud of because it felt real and personally therapeutic was also from March, “I never properly mourned the end of my hockey career.” The remaining articles were a look at bringing the idea of operating systems to DAOs, a race report from my first ever triathlon, an experiment in going “monk mode” to work on something difficult, a seven-year career retrospective, and a look back at the software I used in 2022.
Related to my writing about The Deliberate, I finally made progress on some of the ideas that I tried to pull into a book proposal in 2021 before realizing that I needed to go back to the drawing board with some of the basic ideas. It has manifested as a public Notion board that I call the Deliberate Pattern Library where I’ve started gathering examples of these deliberate patterns — little recipes that I, and others, can either experiment with or try to internalize. It’s still very much a work in progress but it felt good to finally start chipping away at this amorphous intention that has been floating around in my head for the better part of a decade.
Finally, I had the opportunity to appear on a couple podcasts this year. First, I was on an episode of Bounty Hunter (now called Quorum) talking about the work The Ready is doing with DAOs. Second, I was on a very long episode of The Clique Podcast talking about organization design and DAOs. This one happens to be available as a three-part YouTube series, too.
Ultimately, I’m deeply unsatisfied with how much I created this year. I wanted to do more writing for The Ready. I wanted to do more writing for The Deliberate and SamSpurlin.com. Hell, I even wanted to do more personal journaling just for myself. I need to figure out how to make this be the last time I ever write a yearly review where I lament the fact that I feel like I’m leaving my creative potential on the table.
The Year of Entertainment
I made the intention to read more fiction in 2022 than I had in previous years. There have been years in the recent past where I’ve read 50–60 books and fewer than 10 of them would be fiction. That was something that needed to stop and I’m happy to say I read more fiction in 2022 than I ever have before. I completed 18 pieces of fiction including a couple of absolute chonkers like the Iliad and Rhythm of War. A few of my favorites: the “Remembrance of Earth’s Past” series by Liu Cixin (blew my mind), the “Millennium” series by Stieg Larsson (maybe the most addictive books I’ve ever read), and the two-part “Daemon” series by Daniel Suarez (incredibly compelling). I feel like I’ve seriously tapped back into my love of science fiction and fantasy over the past year and I intend to go much further down that rabbit hole in 2023.
My big nonfiction win for the year was finding the author John McPhee. Something about the way this guy writes is utterly mesmerizing. I found his 716 page book about geology hard to put down. If a dude can write in a compelling way about rocks then he’s obviously a master of his craft. I read a couple other books of his, including one about his writing process (Draft №4) and now I can’t wait to work my way through his entire bibliography.
The Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander was another important book for me this year, as it gave me the “pattern language” idea and terminology that I’ve been using in my The Deliberate thinking and writing.
Overall, it looks like I’ll clock in at 44 books read this year. This is quite down from the last few years (58 in 2021, 53 in 2020, and 60 in 2019). In terms of pages, I’m at just over 18,000. That’s about 3,000 pages fewer than 2021, 400 more pages than 2019, and about 1,000 pages fewer than 2019. That brings things more in line with what I’d expect a year of reading that included multiple 700+ page books to look like.
Reading, as you might expect from what I just shared above, is the primary way I spend my time when I’m not working. Meaning, the next few sections are going to be pretty short.
My TV year has mostly been consumed by an ongoing re-watch of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia that I’ve been doing with my wife, Emily. We don’t watch very much TV (maybe 2–3 episodes of a single show per week) so it has been taking us a while to work our way through it (we’re on season 13 so we’re almost done). Other shows we tucked into this year include the second season of The Witcher (feels like the wheels are starting to fall off…), Severance (so good), season 2 of I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson (Tim Robinson quotes comprise the vast majority of our inside jokes as a couple), and Prehistoric Planet (surprisingly good).
As far as solo shows go, I finished the final season of The Expanse (pretty good), The Queen’s Gambit (pretty good), and House of the Dragon (pretty good). I’ve delved into YouTube a little bit more than in previous years and have really enjoyed the Sampson Boat Co. project channel (restoring a wooden sailing yacht by hand), a couple of triathlon-related channels (That Triathlon Life and Lionel Sanders) and a chess-related channel (Gotham Chess).
I watched a grand total of six movies this year. Jurrasic World Dominion because I’m a sucker for nostalgia and dinosaurs and Elvis were the only two I saw in the theater. Rewatching The Matrix for the first time since it came out was like watching it for the first time (thanks terrible memory!). Encanto was fine and Hunt for the Wilderpeople was maybe my favorite movie of the year. Nope was weird and good.
I went incredibly long periods of time this year where I barely touched one of my favorite hobbies, video games. The games I did finally sink some time into, though, were very much worth it. Two in particular, Control and Hades, are among the best games I’ve ever played. Starcraft 2, my old mainstay, was around for most of the first couple months of the year but fell away hard after about May. Slay the Spire and Vampire Survivors have been great mobile games that are actually just great games, period.
The game that really signifies 2022 for me, though, is chess. Specifically the Chess.com app and the constant ongoing games I have with a couple of my colleagues. I’m still terrible at it, but I’ve been making some progress in actually learning some of the basics that might help me not get absolutely stomped every single game.
Podcasts remain the primary audio entertainment that kept me company (probably too much company, to be honest) throughout 2022. Most of the roster has remained unchanged for years at this point. I’m the type of person who doesn’t really browse through various podcasts. I have a handful that I listen to almost every single episode of and a few where I’ll pick and choose episodes based on topic. For the curious, the former group consists of: 32 Thoughts, Accidental Tech Podcast, The Adventure Zone, Connected, Cortex, Dithering, Exponent, Fields of Work (yes, I listen to my own podcast), The Always Sunny Podcast, My Brother, My Brother and Me, Reconcilable Differences, Robot or Not?, Roderick on the Line, Sharp China with Bill Bishop, Sharp Tech with Ben Thompson, Stratechery, That Triathlon Life, Under the Radar, Up First, Upgrade, and The Vergecast.
The newcomers in 2022 are the two new “Sharp” podcasts that are part of the Stratechery bundle. Both have been very good right from the beginning. Philosophize This! has been the one podcast where I’ve been working through the 150+ episode back catalog. The only other notable development in my podcast listening is that the back catalog of You Look Nice Today has somehow become my “go to sleep podcast” whenever I’m going to sleep by myself. Weird, I know.
Any year where a new Coheed and Cambria album comes out is a good music year in my book.
Miscellaneous Good Things
- Getting all my consumable household supplies on an automatic schedule with Amazon has been rad. Have done the same with the vast majority of my groceries, too. I’m always looking for ways to automate the things I have to do on a recurring basis and both of these have been big in 2022.
- Combining finances with Emily after our wedding was smoother and simpler than I thought it would be. A shared checking account, a shared savings account, a couple shared investment accounts, and a couple individual investment accounts (through our respective employers). We use the same shared credit card (points, yo!) for all our shared expenses and pay it from our shared checking account. Don’t think it really gets much simpler than that.
- I mislaid my wedding ring almost immediately after getting married. I now have a bag of silicone wedding bands that I keep in a drawer next to my bed. I initially felt terrible but now I feel totally fine about it. It’s more comfortable, looks fine, and I don’t have to worry about any inadvertent grievous injuries caused by getting my ring stuck on something.
- I experimented with letting go of specifically tracking or even trying to do my Anchor Habits for a large portion of 2022. My Anchor Habits were daily intentions to Move, Sit, Read, and Write. I was rarely hitting all four of them in a day and realized the low-level bad feelings that created in me weren’t particularly helpful or wholesome. I let go of the intention and so far haven’t felt the need to bring them back. Most days I Move and Read just fine. Some days I Write. I haven’t Sat (meditated) consistently in months. Right now, I’m okay with that.
- I experimented with getting on a very consistent sleep schedule (bed around 10, awake via alarm at 6). I also experimented with going to bed as consistently as possible (still around 10) but waking naturally (usually between 6:30 and 7:30). I went back and forth on what is better for me and have decided, for now, that I’d rather have the predictability of the same wake time every morning even if that means I’m slightly underslept. I realized I could get the benefit of both, though, if I let myself go to bed a little bit earlier if I was feeling sleepy, so that’s what I’ve been doing.
- Writing up my internalized Deliberate Patterns has been fun. There are too many to name here, so check out the Deliberate Pattern Library if you’re curious.
Making Sense of the Year
It’s a cliche for a reason, but every year feels like it flies by faster than the last one. I kind of can’t believe I’m sitting here a couple days before Christmas and writing a recap for a year I could’ve sworn was just getting started. It makes me realize that my obsession with learning how to become more deliberate, and sharing what I learn along the way, is definitely worth the effort. When I was younger I could let years pass without being particularly deliberate and still feel like time was basically dripping by. Those days are over. Time has become a torrent and I’m lucky if I don’t get swept away by it. Being deliberate is the only way for me to get my bearings, anchor myself, and actually have a shot at navigating my life in a way that feels aligned with who I am and who I want to be.
While I’m in awe that the year is over, it’s obvious that it was a monumental one for me. Getting married to Emily, celebrating with friends and family in Florida and Michigan, going on a honeymoon to Europe, doing meaningful work at a cool company, spending a few days in a rented house with my four younger brothers, developing a new hobby and fitness routine that has pushed me to new levels of achievement and health — the highlights are almost too numerous to list. For that, I’m grateful.
My creative output, or lack thereof, is the main blemish on what I would consider a very good year. There is a part of me that I have not honored to the level that it deserves. It wants to be creating, specifically writing, much more than it has been. It’s easy to tamp down that voice when work is busy and when I can tell myself that even though I’m not doing much writing publicly, I’m doing a bunch of writing in the course of my day-to-day work. Or that the conditions are never quite right (“I’m too tired, I have too much to do, I don’t have any ideas that feel worth writing about, etc. etc.”).
That voice is getting harder and harder to ignore. Even if I could ignore it, I don’t want to.
This article originally appeared on SamSpurlin.com, which is where I publish all my new writing first. Add it to your RSS reader and/or subscribe to The Deliberate. The Deliberate is a periodic newsletter I publish any time I’ve written something new on my website. Subscribing to it is probably the best way to be aware of when I publish something new. Or, if you’re a masochist like me, you can follow me on Twitter.