2021 in review

I didn’t write a year in review in 2020, deciding that it would have been too full of pandemic and fury. That was probably a good decision, and the fact that this post will have to touch on things that happened in 2020 only reflects the strangeness of time right now.

At the beginning of 2021, three things happened:

I probably can’t or shouldn’t say too much about the first two, but doing a post-graduate degree in one year, during a pandemic, while working more than full-time hours, and while getting divorced, is about as Rachel as it gets. I don’t recommend it, though I enjoyed doing it immensely, and I guess it kept my mind off everything else.

Speaking

I used to start these round-ups with the distances I had traveled and the places I had been. It’s been over 18 months since I stepped onto an aircraft of any type, and I’ve been on precisely two trains-to London and back to speak at the one in-person conference that managed to happen.

However, I have spoken at a bunch of online events and run a few workshops. You can find all of those on my Notist profile.

Work and a big change

The majority of 2021 was, spent working on contracts with both Mozilla (working on MDN) and Google (working partly on MDN documenting Web APIs, and partly on web.dev as an editor.)

In October, I ended my 20-year run as a self-employed person by taking a full-time role at Google as a staff technical writer. My responsibilities are as the content lead for the web.dev and developer.chrome.com sites, working as part of Chrome DevRel. As I write this post, I’m almost four months into the role and very happy with the decision to make the jump. There’s a lot to learn as I figure out how to operate within a giant company.

People keep asking why I made this decision. I was a successful business owner, freelance writer, and contractor. I didn’t need to move to full-time. There had been opportunities put to me in the past that I had sidestepped. Ultimately it was the right time and the right role. For the first time since my early 20s, I was making a decision just for me. My daughter is grown-up and running her own successful freelance business. Post-divorce, and with the sale of Perch, I am no longer required to run a business due to it being our sole family income. I was contracting for and working with the people who would be my team and enjoyed working with them. And, as someone who is primarily a writer, there is a limit to what you can achieve alone. I love to dig into technology and then pass on what I’ve learned to other people, and I’m reasonably good at this. However, the only way I can scale that is as part of a team. Earlier in the year, I read Sarah Drasner’s post about career laddering, and her example career ladders for people who write documentation. This underlined a growing feeling that I was stuck, that I’d pretty much done what I could do alone. When the possibility of becoming a full-time employee came up, it was a pretty easy decision to go for it, despite knowing it would involve my first interviews in over 20 years!

Sport and fitness

Despite the pandemic canceling everything and making the gym and pool seem terrifying, I’ve kept up my training. My little box-room home gym now includes an extensive set of Les Mills Body Pump weights, a Watt Bike Atom, a rowing machine, and the only TV in the house. Strava tells me I logged 400 hours of training in 2021 and swam, biked, and ran a total of 3447 miles. I also started open water swimming at Vobster Quay. I am not brave enough to be jumping in a lake in the middle of winter like some, so once it warms up again, I’ll be heading back there.

I’ve done a couple of races, but deferred others due to a run of injuries. I’m starting 2022 in a good place injury-wise, and I’m working with my coach and physio to keep it that way, hoping to do another 113 (half-ironman distance) triathlon this summer.

The year of DIY

In my 2019 review, I mentioned that we (my now ex-husband and myself) had managed to buy a house. Three months later, my marriage ended, and I was left wishing I’d bought a home in a better location for me, especially given the pandemic was going to trap me in it! The house also needed a lot doing to it, and so, once I’d got the legal stuff sorted at the beginning of 2021, I embarked on a year of house projects. I’ve been able to get people who know what they are doing to do the major things by learning to do a lot of smaller stuff myself. This has included laying floors in three rooms upstairs, so I now know how to lay LVT flooring and fit skirting boards. I also own a power mitre saw, and a shop vac.

In the process of laying floors and doing other jobs, I’ve relearned how to use all my power tools left-handed. For those who don’t know, I completely shattered my right elbow in 2013, and I’ve had a lot of surgery to try to put it back together. I have significantly reduced range of motion but more problematically nerve-related problems with my right hand. It basically can’t be trusted. I drop things without realizing it, I burn and cut my fingers because I can’t feel them, and the vibration from power tools makes it all a whole lot worse. I’m pretty good left-handed after all this time, but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to learn to use a jigsaw, for example. It turned out that flooring was a good practice project, the fiddly bits aren’t that fiddly, and if you mess up, you chop the end off that board and try again. After doing three rooms, I’m perfectly competent and looking forward to tackling other things.

This house isn’t the forever home, but it’s going to be home for a while, and all the things I’ve learned will be helpful if I manage to buy the Victorian home that I would love to own one day.

Onwards!

I’m heading into 2022 a happier person than I’ve been in years. I’m working with people I like, who are brilliant at what they do, and I’m learning so many new things. Life is quiet, calm, and ordered, and it’s good. I miss travel, and I can’t wait to meet up with my friends around the world. I miss the conversations with people after a conference, and finding a place with great coffee (or whiskey) in a city where none of us live. I’ll value those moments so much more when that becomes possible again.

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