2021 yearly theme: Limited Heartbeats

A yearly theme is an overall idea of how I would like to approach each year or season. It’s a sort of guiding principle for my work and personal life that shapes some of the major decisions I make throughout the year. I’m writing this blog posts to review the past year through the lens of my 2020 yearly theme and give shape to my theme for 2021.

I was introduced to yearly themes by the Cortex podcast; if you’re not familiar with the concept, I can’t encourage you enough to listen to episodes #95 and #110 to hear hosts Myke Hurley and CGP Grey discuss their own themes

My yearly theme for 2020 was System Consolidation, a theme which was born out of feeling spread out across too many fronts, stretched so thin that I was struggling to keep up. Looking at the past year, 2020 has been… interesting, to put it mildly. I’ve had the luxury of living through the COVID-19 pandemic relatively unscathed and so did most of those who are dear to me (at least to this date). However, the pandemic did bring some significant changes, such as going back to working 100% remotely. From the perspective of my theme, my feelings of fragmentation and fragility are now gone, mainly as a consequence of committing almost exclusively to my work, with my partner and my dog as notable exceptions. No hobbies, no distractions, no traveling, no moving between countries, no social life, little exercise. Just work, navigating the company through the rough waters of a global pandemic and letting go of everything else. It is often said that one of the most important things to master in life is the ability to say no and this has truly resonated with me over the past twelve months. However, precisely because I have let go of so much, I now feel… Empty. Which is not an entirely unwelcome feeling, although it is a scary one that I don’t want to indulge in much longer. Which takes me to my theme for 2021: Limited Heartbeats.

The year of Limited Heartbeats comes from a silly realization I had while listening to the astoundingly, even astonishingly beautiful The Anthropocene Reviewed podcast; it had never occurred to me that, regardless of how long my life will be, my heart will only ever beat for a finite, limited amount of times. In fact, most people’s heart will beat south of 3,000,000,000 (three billion) times, which is not as high as it seems when we consider that each day sees our hearts contracting and expanding a bit more than 100,000 (one hundred thousand) times. In fact, we could index each single heartbeat in an average lifetime using only 32 bits.

Ok then, what to do with this (potentially slightly depressing) bit of information?

Looking at hearbeats as a finite, non-renewable resource which I am forced to consume brought me to think about how I consume them. Am I being efficient in using my heartbeats? Am I doing things truly worth the amount of heartbeats that they require?

The answer to these questions is a disappointing perhaps a little, but mostly no. I’m not exercising and I’m constantly under an unhealthy amount of stress, which increases my heartrate and makes me burn through my reserve at a faster rate. I’m also not doing anything else but working constantly, which makes for a rather unbalanced allocation of my heartbeats. This is not to say that work isn’t worth a few heartbeats! On the contrary, I believe that work is one of the primary sources of meaning in one’s life and deserves a significant investment of heartbeats. However, it can’t be the only source of meaning and nor it can make for the totality of someone’s investments.

I would have considered a similar state of things to be entirely unacceptable from the start had I been dealing with resources like electricity, fuel, water. The fact that my hearbeats are not metered does not mean I should just squander them aimlessly. I am paying for these with my life - literally.

My guiding principle for 2021 is to increase a) how efficient I am in using my heartbeats and b) how meaningful and varied are the things that I choose to do with them. A few changes that might make sense under such principle are the following:

  • significantly more physical activity, doesn’t really matter what shape that takes;
  • less things, better things - I want to surround myself with material belongings that I actively enjoy using and/or that make me more efficient, from kitchenware to clothes and shaving razors;
  • better ways to disengage from work, perhaps better note-taking techniques and/or separate devices for my work and personal lives;
  • branch out a little, at least one non-digital hobby (go back to playing the bass?) while saving some time for learning system programming and hardware tinkering (home automation?).

However, just as the way 2020 is coming to a close, 2021 will start with a high degree of uncertainty. Who knows what committing to this theme will prompt me to do or whether I’ll even manage to stick to it!

I guess we’ll see at the of 2021. Happy new year everyone!