2017 was another outlier

Going over a year is usually quite fun for me. There are usually a few key things worth going into, other things can be glossed over and plans can be discussed for what is to come in the next year. This is pretty much what I did when I wrote a blog post for 2016 – a year I also proclaimed an outlier. I’m noticing a trend…

With 2017, it’s a bit more tricky. I learned so much, that I feel like I need to write about everything, just so I can remember it all when I come back to this post in the future. So, this long post is really more for me. I won’t blame you if it is too boring to get through.

It is intended to be a way for me to clarify my mind by writing and more importantly, a way to read it again one day and see if I learned anything in the long run.

Rasmus Rask talking at an event
The last thing I organized as a project manager in the Ministry of The Environment of Estonia – an opening event for the resource efficiency measures. Rasmus Rask gave a great keynote talk.

The Estonian Presidency of the Council of the European Union

In the beginning of January, I didn’t really know what a Presidency is. I knew however, that my part in it would be small, so I imagined I would pick it up in due time. Things changed when one of my dear collages suddenly left the ministry and I was offered a new position. This also meant a bigger part in the Presidency team.

I was excited but after getting a first taste of the amount of work and catching up I needed to do, I started to get a bit scared. Fortunately, there was not really much time to get hooked up in that as things were fast unfolding.

My part was to help organize a conference on Nature-based Solutions together with Tallinn University. I was lucky to have really good people around me, so everything turned out well in the end (of October) but I have to admit that much of the time I felt I was building a house of straw and constantly fearing for a gust of wind. In retrospect, this was mostly my own mind playing tricks.

A full house at the conference “Nature-based Solutions: From Innovation to Common-use” as Deputy Director-General Joanna Drake speaks. Photo: Martin Dremljuga.

I find the Presidency really hard to describe. The work that many amazing people did is still a bit difficult to comprehend. There were so many things, so many events, so many problems. However, pretty much everyone I met was helpful, professional and understanding and everything came together because of it.

The main thing I learned from it was to trust the process – trust the people, trust the plans and stay in the flow. Plan well, nudge things here and there and watch everything unfold. At the time, I was way too stressed about the little things that rarely matter.

Sometimes you need to sweat the small stuff (as I learned from the excellent Chris Hadfield book “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth”) but often, details don’t matter as much as the big picture. At least when you are on Earth.

The podcast

As things were getting more stressful at work, I started doing more and more things outside of it to balance my life. The podcast we had started in 2016 had taken off and we were hearing from more and more fans. By June we felt confident enough to do a live show in Von Krahl to celebrate our one year birthday. Feeling a bit cocky, we decided to invite Jarek Kasar to be on stage with us and give a concert afterwards. The crazy part was, he actually said yes!

As the day approached, we were getting a bit antsy. We didn’t know, if anyone will even show up. Granted, we were only doing an audio recording so the listeners would not see the empty hall but we’d still feel like a couple of boobs if the whole thing failed (is this a sexist phrase to use? I hope not).

Luckily the worries were for naught as the hall filled with people, Jim gave me my first ever shot of Tequila on stage, Jarek was funny and talented (this was not a surprise) and everyone enjoyed themselves.

Popkulturistid on stage
After we had recorded the show and half of the letters had fallen off the stage, Jarek gave a great concert.

We also had a bit of a secret while on stage – Raadio 2 had approached us to see if our podcast could work as a radio show. We didn’t know at the time how our pilot had fared with the management but by the end of the summer, the decision was in – starting in September, we’d be doing a radio show.

Like with everything in life, the decision came with its ups and downs. However, after a year of us talking in my living room, a change was needed. Thanks to the increase in discipline the radio brought, I feel that we have gotten better at what we do – we try to think things through more and actually get somewhere with our arguments. It has also helped us be much more consistent and get some wonderful guests on.

My photography

Developing my skills in taking photos has been a great support throughout the year. While still stressful at times, it stands in contrast to the work I usually do and acts as an important creative outlet.

I really wanted to take my photography to the next level in 2017 and while I am not convinced I achieved this, I did grow a lot. I have started finding more consistency and intent in my pictures. Much like I learned to trust the process in my work at the ministry, I have learned to trust the process at each photo shoot.

I try to go in to each shoot with less rather than more, expecting each model and situation to inspire me then and there. I have seen that when I go in with a very clear idea of what I want to get, I am more often disappointed.

Two performers on stage
One of the last big photo shoots of 2017. I got a wonderful chance to take photos of a play in Von Krahl called “See uluja tuul”.

I took a lot of pictures in 2017, mostly focusing on people. Pictures of couples, families, people working and performing, important events and intimate situations. I don’t see growth with each new set of images any more but I do see a difference in the images I took in the beginning of the year and now. They are getting better, slowly but surely.

I also finally replaced my trusty Sony NEX 5N camera, that I have used since the spring of 2012. I felt it was starting to hold me back and so am very happy with my new Sony a6300.

My writing

While it was hard to find much energy and time to be very prolific in my writing this year, I still contribute to Geenius and am very happy they keep me around as the people there are all really amazing.

I decided to count how many articles I wrote in 2017 and the number turned out to be somewhere around 33 (I may have forgot some). While not super impressive, I had made a new years resolution at the beginning of the year, that I would write at least two articles per month for Geenius. Averaging it out, I did better than expected.

I also got another really cool opportunity to hone my writing skills. A book is being put together about Kalamaja and in a wonderful turn of events, I will have a (small) part to play in the writing of that. It makes me especially happy as this is something I am doing together with my partner Eva.

It is still a bit early to go into details but I will surely let everyone know about it as time goes on.

The failures

All of this might sound like a huge unwarranted pat on my own back but in all honesty, I just did my job(s). A lot of the things that made this year so interesting were due to chance. I worked hard to make sure things went well but it was more chaos than a real plan. At times I felt I had no control. Things were moving forward and I felt I was always a few steps behind, never really catching up.

Most of what I had planned for 2017 did not happen. A lot of things had to take a back seat. It was hard to take care of my physical and mental health at times, relationships deteriorated and some of the effects of this will likely have a negative effect on me in the future. It meant less time together with family and friends, weight gain and a lot of self doubt.

Many things were left undone and I was also a bad supervisor for a student – a very painful but important lesson and something I will undoubtedly do better in the future.

The intense workload made me see all the things that I still lack – the ability to focus more deeply, manage people efficiently and let go of things not in my control.

So, now what?

For me, 2018 will be the year of self-improvement. I won’t make any specific resolutions but when making decisions and plans in the next year, I will remember this theme and adjust my actions accordingly. I am very much drawn to the idea of yearly themes as CGP Grey has talked about numerous times, so it is worth a shot.

I plan to spend more time with those close to me and try to lessen the amount of distractions in my life. Social media takes a lot of focus away from my life and lately I have started to feel it pull me too hard. I will need to find ways to change that. Not everything can be fixed but I can learn from my mistakes and try to avoid them in the future.

I have also started compiling a list of books that can help me learn how to do things better and already read a few of them. I started with “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” by Mark Manson and am now reading “Deep Work” by Cal Newport. I am also very interested in design thinking so I’ll be reading a few books on that.

I felt kind of lost in November and early December this year but I feel that I have made peace with a lot of the baggage I gathered throughout everything. I can finally feel excited about what the new year will bring – both good and bad.

I want to learn new skills and be a bit more adventurous. Maybe I’ll finally sew myself a pair of golden pants? We’ll see…

I’ll also start writing in my blog again as this has been nice.

New song: “How to live”

It has been almost two years since I last posted a full original song on YouTube. While that is kind of sad, it has been an odd time with many changes in my life. Hopefully I will now find the time and interest to concentrate on my music again.

I am really excited about “How to live”. Most of the song came together quite quickly but it took a long time to get it done. I started with a simple riff and built upon that. Before finalizing it, I asked my friend Helene Urva to add her vocals. I am very happy with how it ended up sounding. Hope you will enjoy it too.

The song is also available on soundcloud and bandcamp.

2016 – a dynamic year

Retrospectives are a nice way to analyse what has happened and whether the changes have been for better or for worse and I am all about analysing.  In addition 2016 has been such an outlier, it should make for an interesting read years later when I discover this post.

A year ago I was still in the university. I had made the move from Sweden back to Estonia but my thoughts were still mostly back in Västerås concentrating on the defense that laid ahead. I traveled back there soon after the beginning of the year and did my presentation successfully. I received my PhD and that was that. From then on I was back in Estonia, thoughts and all.

Ivo standing in front of a whiteboard looking at a book.
Defending my PhD (Photo: Patrik Klintenberg)

Looking back now, moving to Estonia was for the better. Many things in my life have changed and while this process has been quite stressful at times, after four and a half years in Sweden, it was needed. Both me and Eva are more fulfilled now and can plan our lives more equally.

I have also reconnected with some of my dearest friends and gotten much closer to my family again. I see my parents almost weekly now and have found much more similarities with my brother than we had previously shared.

It has not only been about reconnecting. Making new close friends as an adult is difficult but necessary after being away for so long. For the most part however, it has gone surprisingly well. Nothing exemplifies this better than my friendship with Jim that was developed largely while recording the Popkulturistid podcast. We were friends before but this experience has brought us close and experiencing it in such a public way has been interesting.

Ivo and Jim squatting in front of geeky things
Promo photo for the Popkulturistid podcast – squatting like western spies (Photo: Gea Grigorjev)

Speaking about friends, as the year developed I began to look at my time in Sweden more often through rose-tinted glasses. While parts of the experience were very difficult, I met some incredibly lovely people who I miss very much. Social media is a great way to stay in touch but people I used to love talking to almost daily, are now often thousands of kilometers away. Takes a bit to get used to it.

Another thing that took a surprisingly long time to come to grips with was the fact that I was not a PhD student anymore. It had been such a big part of my identity that finally graduating left me feeling somewhat hollow. Happily it took me only a month to get back to work. Identifying myself as a governmental employee has been somewhat difficult for some reason but having such a practical outlet for my knowledge has been very rewarding and interesting. Plus, the people I work with are all very nice!

The year has also been defined by many side activities and projects that have helped me stabilize after such big changes. In addition to Popkulturistid, I have loved working as a co-author in the technology news portal Geenius. Having an outlet where I have to constantly think about the audience and consider both the accuracy and clarity of my texts has helped me grow as a writer immensely.

I have also had several very cool photo shoots this year. For a while I even toyed with the idea of doing something with my photography at a professional level but decided against it. Honestly, my skills are no where near that good anyway. The low stress experience of just going out with friends and making beautiful pictures together is much more what I need from photography at the moment. It is also something that we enjoy doing together with Eva, giving us a nice hobby to do as a couple.

Picture of Ivo sitting on a couch
In our new home, on a couch bought in Sweden (Photo: Eva Krustok)

So a year full of experiences as was to be expected with all the changes we had to make in our lives. From here, there will hopefully be some stability in which to grow both personally and professionally and enough change to keep things interesting.

I hope you all have great things to look back at today and expect form the year ahead.

Have a happy New Year’s Eve!

Stockholm in August

Picture of Nordens Ljus in Stockholm

We had our vacation near the end of August this year and decided to go to Stockholm for a few days. We moved from Sweden back to Estonia close to a year ago and it seemed like a good time to head back to see our friends and eat our favorite morotsmuffins.

Eva sitting on a staircase
Ivo checking his phone

The trip was incredible fun. The weather was very good (especially our first day in Stockholm) and we managed to go through most of the places we wanted to see. We’d seen most of the sights in Stockholm during the four years we’d lived in Västerås so we were more interested in the many lovely shops that we had started to miss. My favorite is the always fun Sci-Fi Bokhandeln, which is a bookstore dedicated to everything geeky.

We had arranged to meet a bunch of our friends in the evening at Mälarpaviljongen which is a lovely garden/bar/cafe/shop on the shore of Lake Mäleren. Part of the place was actually ON Lake Mälaren floating on barges connected by bridges. It was very lovely and everyone seemed to have fun.

View towards Lake Mälaren
The green queen flyer

After a few drinks we headed to a burger restaurant called Gnarly. The burgers were very tasty and we chatted until late in the evening when most had to take the bus to Västerås. We had a nice walk through Stockholm at night and stayed with our friend Mehmet, who had helped organize the evening.

All in all it was a great trip. Both me and Eva took many pictures with our phones and the Sony NEX 5n and enjoyed every minute.

It was quite sad to leave again as Sweden still has a special place in our hearts but the trip was definitely what we needed this summer. Thank you to all the friends who met us in Stockholm and we hope to see you all again soon.

Ivo looking at Hulk

Mastering Spotify

Although playlists are undoubtedly a very large part of listening to music today, I’m not a big fan of them. The idea of a bunch of songs arranged together by some specific genre or emotion makes sense but I tend to prefer listening to full albums. Very rarely do I want to listen to just one specific song from an artists.

Playlists are of course useful but every time I have started to make playlists in Spotify they turn out horrid. Sometimes my playlists only have a few songs in them as I forget to add new ones. Then there are some with a bunch of seemingly random songs and a few albums in there for good measure. Plus they are not built up in a way that makes sense – there is no logical transition from one song to the next. There is no thought put into which song should follow the other.

Discover Weekly in Spotify

The problem has started to annoy me more over the past few months. The Discover Weekly function is the crown jewel of Spotify and I have found more and more new music that I like using it. I also listen to the new releases every week just to see if there’s anything I find interesting.

The question then comes up, how do I remember these new finds. Again, I am more interested in the full albums than just the songs. Ideally I would like to have separate lists for albums that I can categorize by genre. It would be a grid of albums much like the new releases section that I could sort by name, date added etc. I actually sent Spotify this as a request but I am not holding my breath that they’ll actually add this any time soon.

A twitter conversation with Spotify
While waiting, I came up with a system that I hope will work for me. The idea is that I have separate album and song playlists in addition to a few temporary playlists. The song ones are standard – just lists of songs for Christmas or that I played at our wedding etc. The temporary ones are for songs that I find on Discover Weekly or elsewhere. Once a week or so, I will go over the temporary lists and see if I just like the song or the whole album. If I just like the song it will go into a random favorites list. If the album is good, I will add it to one of my album lists. This way I start each week with a clean temporary list to hold new music.

I categorize the album lists somewhat by genre or feeling. The important thing is that it makes sense to me. While the albums don’t show up in a nice grid, the list kind of works and at least allows me to find an album that interested me a few weeks ago quite quickly.

My profile on Spotify showing my playlists

All the album playlists I make will be public on my profile so if anyone is interested in my favorites in any given genre, you can follow them. Hopefully Spotify will make the dream of album playlists a reality but until then, I hope this method will help me listen to more varied and interesting new music. Too often I feel like listening to music for a few hours and don’t know what to put on…