2021 retrospective: The journey to find happiness and meaning
From planning a move to Europe, rejecting a job at a tech giant, and finally found my happiness and place to be more impactful.
End of year is one of the best time for us to self-reflect, to do a retrospective of what went well — so we can be grateful, and what can be improved — so we can always be a better person, with a bigger impact to others.
I hosted a Design Chit-Chat session on 23rd December, with six guests, talking about their 2021 and what’s the plan for 2022. I didn’t share mine, and some asked, “What about your retrospective?” I was initially thinking to have another Youtube live session, but I missed writing a blog post, so here I’m gonna write them down.
Looking back 2021
Question #1: If this year were a movie, which movie is similar to your story? What happened?
This year has been, using the term that tons of people use, a roller-coaster ride. Early in the year, I was set to move to Europe. Some things happened that the move was cancelled. I always believe God knows the best, and as a human, we have this limitation that we can’t “connect the dots looking forward”, we can only “connect the dots looking backwards”: only later in the future we’ll realise the meaning and the why of things that happened actually lead us to something good or better. We unpacked everything, decided to stay in Singapore, and I started a design consulting service. Quite surprising that my only one post on LinkedIn, gave me several quality leads, and ended up as my clients — including the biggest telecommunication provider in Indonesia, and a new fintech startup.
I’ve always been looking for a bigger impact. So while helping several companies in design innovation initiatives, I kept looking for a job that would allow me to have a bigger impact to more people. At that time, the choice was obvious to me: I need to lead product design at one of the tech giants, the big four (either Apple, Google, Amazon, or Facebook). I applied to two of them, and got positive replies. The process, although it’s nerve-wrecking, went smooth. I somehow felt more confident than usual, and each session ended with a positive reply. “Awesome presentation,” said several, not only one, interviewers, after I presented my best portfolio. Similar responses were given during last stage of an interview-marathon. I reached the offer stage with one of the tech giants. I’ve been looking for a place that I think would give me an opportunity to have that bigger impact.
But something’s wrong. I was not as excited as I thought I would be, when we talked more about the product that I’ll be designing. I always trust my heart and intuition. Another choice came up, the one that I mentioned earlier: a new fintech startup, called ALAMI. I fell in love with the culture, the products, and the people. I’ve been their design consultant (my title was Acting Head of Design) since June 2021, and just like any good relationship: it keeps getting better. So if anyone asks if this year were a movie, which movie it was, it would be Hercules. Similar to him, I’ve been working super hard to finally get my place at a tech giant (Hercules was trying hard to get a place at Mount Olympus), but then I realised that my heart belongs somewhere else, and there’s a better place where I can be more impactful to more people (Hercules decided to stay on earth, with the people he loved and where he could have bigger impact/contribution). I joined ALAMI full time in mid December as their Head of Design & Research, and never look back.
Question #2: What worked well that you’re grateful for?
I used to travel >50% of my time, and surprisingly working fully remote from home worked pretty well. I needed some time to adjust, especially in managing the schedule, and with more added regular “work” — like cleaning up our cats’ litter box, but so far it’s been great. I also started taking a power nap — a 20–25-min of sleep before lunch time, which I had never done before. So adjusting to the new way of work, is something that I’m grateful for, including more time spent with the family. I talked more to my wife and kids, and I could feel the quality of our relationship increases significantly. I’m also grateful that my parents are healthy, although they got Covid before. I’m grateful that I finally found the place where I can be more impactful to people, by joining ALAMI. I’m also grateful that I managed to get a work-life-spiritual balance, working at ALAMI — with their 4-day work week policy.
Question #3: What was challenging or disappointing? How did you overcome the challenge or disappointment?
The challenge was my ‘struggle’ to find my place to make a dent in the universe. I was lost for some time. Got confused with where I was going. Even reached a point where I think I wasn’t good enough as a designer. I needed to readjust my end-goal several times, and did a reality check whether I was taking the right path or not. I course-corrected and I repeated my end-goal to myself many times: to be the person that benefits people the most, and that this world is not the end-goal — it’s a means to the hereafter, as we’re muslims that believe there’s a hereafter, an eternal life. My wife helped me to course-correct my end-goal and supported me a lot, and it helped me to decide a lot of things easier than before. My parents were also giving me advices and encouragement words that helped me to feel better every time.
Question #4: What were your meaningful moments?
One, was the time when I learned to accept things that out of my control and be content with what I had and where I was. Second, when I realised the best place to be impactful was not always at the “Mount Olympus.”
Question #5: Where did you spend most of your time and energy?
The journey to find my place. It was an exciting, nerve-wrecking, frustrating period. I’m grateful that I’ve found my place now.
Question #6: Looking back overall, how would you rate your happiness, on a scale of 1–10? Why?
By the end of the 2021 journey, I’d rate my happiness to be 10. I usually never put 10 in anything, but why not now? I’m healthy, have a cool job (Head of Design & Research) at a great company, my family are healthy, and I have a peace of mind.
Question #7: What advice would you give to your last-year self?
I think whatever happened to us, shape us as a better person. I’d let my last-year self to go through those struggles and learn by himself. I know, at this point in time, that all of those negative or positive experiences I had in 2021, have helped me to find my happiness today.
Looking forward 2022
Question #8: As you look to next year, what will be the highest use of your talents, skills, experience to be more impactful and benefit others the most?
I’m gonna focus a lot on growing people and building impactful products at ALAMI. Of course I’ll still be hosting my Design Chit-Chat channel and contributing to the community. I’ll continue tweeting as well.
Question #9: What’s the area that you’re planning to stretch yourself out of your comfort zone?
I’m looking forward to contributing to other areas outside of Design & Research, with the same end-goal: to benefit others the most.
Question #10: What does success look like to you next year?
Mainly, it would be the thing that I’ve mentioned several times earlier: to more benefit others the most. It’s also a success if I can make the spiritual aspect the largest in my work-life-spiritual balance. Another thing would be for me to be more patient, content, enjoying life and the time I have with my family more. And one last thing: to lose the extra 10kg (that I gained since COVID started).
I do hope 2021 gave you the strength to be the best version of yourself in 2022. The best version that would be content and grateful with what you are and where you are. The best version of yourself that would benefit people the most with whatever role you chose.