Sharded Year

I’ve had this post rolling around in my head for some months now, but until a couple of weeks ago didn’t really know how to frame it up. The gist of it is this: it’s been a really complex, dynamic, shifting, difficult, but in many ways gratifying year. (Since about January, give or take but probably a month or two before that.)

But a friend the other day told me he’s feeling like his life lately is a collection of shards — lots of different, distinct activities — so many that they’re all-consuming — but because they’re so different, they don’t quite add up to a whole like he’s used to things. (He’s an extraordinarily high performing & functioning guy, so even in this “sharded” state, he’s getting a humbling amount of important work done.)

That captures how I feel about my year in a lot of ways. The start of things was right around Christmas last year when Mom had some serious health issues (she’s fine now; doing fantastically well). The year has been complicated with work, of course, as I transition out of Mozilla and to Greylock. Dislocating my shoulder and the subsequent surgery and (ongoing rehab) changed the whole complexion of the year for me — it’s hard to explain how significant it’s been. And my grandmother died in August, having lived a full life and going out on her own terms, but nevertheless, a major transition.

Add to that watching and helping and learning as SPL turned 5 and continues to grow into being his own person. And the day-to-day successes and failures in the role of husband and father — on the whole doing very positively, but living an imperfect life, as we all do.

So when my friend talked about his “collection of shards” for the year, I really understood what he meant. On the whole, I’m feeling as happy now as I’ve felt in some time, and am feeling great about the coming months and years. But I’d like a little more coherence and resonance across activities than I’ve had this year.

When I talk with friends, I find that others have felt a bit like this in 2010 and 2009 — so many of them that it seems to me that the context of the state of the world and our country must be playing some part.

But here’s the really good news, at least for me: I’ve felt this way before. And, in fact, I find that I tend to have periods of stability that last many years, with periodic shardings. 1995 was a year like that for me: leaving Stanford, starting Trilogy, parents divorcing, grandfather dying, reconnecting with Kathy, moving to Austin — lots of motion, many shards. So was 2005: Sam was born, joined Mozilla, left the company I started. And in every case (those plus some others), what was happening in retrospect was that I was rearranging the furniture of my life, reconfiguring things for something new, and the steep learning curves associated with the sharded year over time yielded to a better understanding of myself and my family and my work, and a new sense of where I fit and how to be who I wanted to be.

I’m not sure this will sound super coherent to anyone but me, but wanted to capture how I’m feeling, and why even with so much in motion (and I’m adding a few new shards as we speak), I’m feeling very comfortable and happy about today, and tomorrow, and the days after that.


  1. Very thoughtful and sincere post, John; especially the last paragraph.

    I feel as though there is, indeed, something peculiar about these times; perhaps, less so about the years 2009/2010 themselves. I’m not sure, but I also feel that “the context of the state of the world in general” is — out of all possible factors — mostly responsible for the perceived scatteredness. Never before have there been so many so many actors and so many events in each capsule of time along the entire timeline. Eras are created more rapidly than ever before. Anyone is filling any role. Chronology is becoming largely irrelevant, and the simple laws that traditionally govern societal roles appear to be failing us today. People in the Valley are prone to attribute this to technology, but I think the case is also true even in the most rural areas of the world where mobile phones are still the most fascinating testaments of technology. And, again, I really don’t know for sure, but I am reminded of the butterfly-effect myth or theory. It would corroborate why our lives, even if very distant from these actual warping of order, are nevertheless affected by them eventually.

    Maybe there is a major butterfly flapping its wings right now, but I find that the only groups that don’t seem to have a sharded life are today’s teenagers and those born after 2001. But as I ponder farther, it makes sense since their reference frame is already one with “little or no coherence and resonance across activities”. They probably wonder why others think things are falling apart.

    But again…I’m not sure.

  2. Interestingly, in your account, major changes happen every 5 years in your life (what happened in 2000?)

    In my life, I find back cycles of +/- 3 years with kind of boom and bust events

    For me, 2009, was 12 years since I started working and 13 since I met my wife … and it all ended wrong and frustrating; but 2010 is the year of rebuilding

    2006: almost changed job
    2003: changed job (after failure)
    2000: changed job (after success)
    1997: started working

    I could digg and detail more, not only looking at my work but also at my family and personal life, I kind of always find back cycles.

    Thanks for your post which made me think through this.

  3. My belief is everything happens for a reason, and we have a path in life to take with learning points along the way, some will be good some will be bad, but they are all there to help us on progressing through the physical life.

    Generally most bad things if looked at closely enough, you will find something that is changed, helped with. I also believe we have karmic choices, what you describe in your post I bet alot of the hard times resorted in either a learning cycle or a change in your life path.
    Great post and a pleasure to read.