I’ve never really been a fan of the idea of “New Year’s Resolutions.” I don’t like to confine myself to a specific schedule for improving my life: I think that life improvements should happen often, and continually. An interesting thing happens at the end of the year, though: things slow down. Even when you’re a workaholic, things tend to slow down over the holidays. The combination of the slower pace and change in calendar makes it a convenient time to reflect on the last year, and to look forward to the upcoming one.
This time last year I was working too much on a finance start-up that was going nowhere, for abusive and exploitative Americans. And I was living in a place that I had outgrown. Over the holidays, I managed to stop touching computers for a day or two and reflected on what I was doing with my life, and thought about what I wished I was doing with my life. I was horrified at the difference between the two.
I don’t think that what I want out of my professional life is much different from most other creative technologists: I want to solve interesting problems, using fun tools, with enjoyable people. My work certainly wasn’t providing any of this, and because I was working for finance industry sociopaths I knew I was going to be screwed out of any potential upside anyhow. My focus on trying to save a broken company was preventing me from spending time with my family, putting any effort into my own personal growth, or generally getting enjoyment out of life.
When I rested long enough to look at the big picture of my life, I didn’t like what I saw. My work was preventing me from having a life outside of work, it was not even vaguely aligned with my values, and I had outgrown the conservative, neo-liberal, Americanized country that I had lived my entire life in. These were the things I would have to focus on to improve my life.
It is difficult to impossible to find work with American (and Canadian, by extension) firms that enable you to work a “typical” 40 hours per week[^40-hours]. And if you want to have an exceptional career (obviously, being rich is the only way to be happy in American culture) then 40 hours isn’t even the bare minimum. It was important for my future happiness that I find work that enabled me to have a life outside of my work.
I was also becoming continually annoyed and infuriated by the proliferation of closed, tightly controlled, services that restrict users and steal their data. I didn’t want to work on a closed “Software as a Service” platform, the latest darling of the Silicon Valley “get rich while providing little to no value” crowd.
Perhaps most worrying, this time last year Canada was approaching a decade of rule under the tyrant Stephen Harper. The damage he and his friends did to the country, and especially its economy, was just starting to be realized by an observant and radical few. Even now, when the evidence is clear and obvious (but clouded by the decline in oil prices) people still don’t realize quite how bad this is likely to be. The newly elected underwear model is a huge improvement, but the damage done by his predecessor is massive, and will require many consecutive terms to undo. With Canada attached to the US, it’s unlikely to ever be fixed.
We decided it was time to start thinking about leaving Canada, and see what was out there. At the beginning of 2015 I started looking for a job in Europe. We had a backup plan that didn’t involve leaving Canada, and I wasn’t very optimistic that I would be able to find a job, and navigate the immigration bureaucracy to make the move. I was very pleasantly surprised at the response to my search. Nearly immediately, I found opportunities in Edinburgh, London, Sweden, Germany, The Netherlands, Denmark, Australia, Russia, and others. We ended up moving to Malmö, Sweden in June of 2015.
[^40-hours]: Technically, 40 hours is supposed to be closer to maximum. At least in Canada.
This has been our first Christmas in Sweden. The change in work and locality has provided everything we’d hoped it would. Just six months after moving, I’m less stressed, I’ve lost weight, and I’m noticeably happier. I actually play board games with my family, and we eat dinner together most nights. I’m spending more time with my friends, and we’re all learning new things.
I’m still not sure I like “New Year’s Resolutions,” but it’s nice to use the break, and the slower pace to reflect on what I did last year. In 2015, I changed my life dramatically and for the better. I couldn’t be happier for the result.
This holiday season, I’ve been thinking about how I was able to turn my work-life balance around in the last year. And I’m thinking about my health. I don’t have any resolutions, so to speak, but I’m sure it at least helps to think about where I am and where I might go over the next year.
Happy New Year!