2014, Turmoil & Transition - A year in review

2014 has been over for a few weeks, and for the first time in my life, I’m going to sit down and take stock of the last 12 months.

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. What went well
  3. What do not go well
  4. Travel log
  5. Lessons

Introduction

I was inspired to do this after reading Fizzle’s End of Year Review Process and Chris Guillebeau’s excellent annual reviews. My review is a hybrid, and perhaps somewhat less exhaustive version, of both approaches. It’s more of a personal account (and it does get quite personal) than a quantitative inventory.

Doing this exercise, and especially writing it, was great in helping me recognize and appreciate all the good things that happened (I tend to focus on the negatives). Being able to draw lessons from the bad things was also very valuable.

I don’t expect many people to read this, but I hope it serves as inspiration to those who may also want to do the same.


What went well in 2014

I quit my job

In July of this year, after months of increasing tension with management, I left the small Web agency where I had worked since January of 2013. Though things had gone very well for the first year, over the course of several months and through a series of unintended clashes with my hierarchy, my relationship with my manager and other colleagues soured. In May, my boss, who also wanted to put an end to this strenuous situation, proposed that we conclude our collaboration on amicable terms. The procedure, which was not without stress and tension, took two months and my contract officially ended in July.

Leaving my job took a tremendous weight off my shoulders, but also came at just right moment. During the months which lead up to my departure, my attention had shifted to a new found interest, Bitcoin. Knowing that I would leave with a reasonable severance cheque and that I would be eligible for unemployment benefits, the stars were seemingly aligning and would give me the opportunity to pursue a long-time ambition of entrepreneurship.

Embarking upon this path is, without a doubt, the most significant life decision I have made since moving to France in 2007.

I got heavily involved in Bitcoin

In late 2013, I became very interested in a new disruptive technology called Bitcoin. Just over a year later, that interest has become my full-time line of work.

As an avid podcast listener, I initially heard about Bitcoin on the Let’s Talk Bitcoin podcast. In December of 2013, I responded to a call for podcasters put out by LTB’s host, Adam B. Levine. This would result in my future business partner and I meeting on a Skype call. Looking back on it, that meeting was instrumental in preparing the career switch which follow.

Here are the Bitcoin-related accomplishments that I am particularly proud of:

  • Co-founded Epicenter Bitcoin, which has become an influential podcasts in this space
  • Founded the Bitcoin Talks Lille Meetup group, which has grown to over 100 members
  • Became a board member of the French Bitcoin Association
  • Attended Bitcoin conferences in Berlin, Amsterdam, London and Brussels
  • Was invited three times to be a panelist at various events and conferences
  • Was featured in the Lille edition of 20Minutes (online and print) in an article about Bitcoin and the Meetup I organize
  • Gave half a dozen talks at meetups and other venues
  • Was introduced to someone as “Mister Bitcoin North of Paris” (which made me laugh)

I started my first company

As mentioned, in January of 2014, I co-founded the Epicenter Bitcoin podcast with Brian Fabian Crain, an economist and entrepreneur based in Berlin. We recorded the pilot episode for a contest organized by Let’s Talk Bitcoin. Although we came in second place and would have had to opportunity to join the LTB Network, after much debate, we ultimately decided to remain independent and do our own thing. Today, we are very happy we made that decision.

What started out as something mostly resembling a hobby has now become a real business. We incorporated the company in November and are now generating advertising revenue sufficient to pay our expenses and our first employee, a Community Manager. Indeed, the coming year will be one where we structure our business, streamline our operations, grow our audience, and hopefully, generate profits.

I started podcasting

As a long-time lover of radio and frequent podcast listener, I’ve always wanted to one-day host a podcast. Adam B. Levine’s call for podcasters was my trigger. With very little knowledge about Bitcoin, and wanting to know more about this fascinating technology, I felt this was the opportunity I had been waiting for.

In the fall of 2014, a friend and I launched Flying Zombie Radio, my second podcast. In this French-language show, illustrator Philippe Devauges (a.k.a. Hardlip Consumed) and I (who go by the personas Jimmy Jim and Jacky Jack) lightheartedly talk to aspiring indie rock bands about their music. Through this project, I was able to rekindle a long-lost love for music, which I had neglected in recent times.

I traveled and met new people

In 2013, I made a conscious decision to travel more. My objective, visit as many new cities and countries as possible. Indeed 2013 was a good year in this respect.

In 2014, traveling was frequent, and somewhat contained to France and its close neighbors. I did however visit 4 new countries as well as London and Berlin for the first time. My most memorable trip was three weeks spent in the Balkans, which included a week-long stay in Albania with a group of friends for a wedding.

What I’ve most appreciated about traveling this year are the people I encountered. Beit new friends or professional acquaintances, I am grateful that I have met so many wonderful new people. Attending conferences and hosting the podcast have greatly contributed to this. Professionally speaking, the number of interesting people with whom I have connected has been staggering.

Other things that went well

  • I wrote more than ever (this is by far the longest thing I’ve ever written).
  • I became quite knowlegable about worker’s rights in France.
  • I gained important knowledge about podcast production and content creation.

What did not go well in 2014

I was very depressed

It is my view that great change is often accompanied by great disturbance. The important changes my life underwent this year where only matched by an equal amount of turmoil, which ultimately, was the cause of great anguish.

For the better part of this year, I dreaded getting out of bed. I was overcome with anxiety and gloom at the very thought of going to the office. The persistent headaches and stomach cramps I endured throughout most of this period, were undoubtedly the result of the extreme amount of stress I carried with me.

I felt more than relieved when it was all over. I went on vacation, twice, and looked forward enjoying my new found independence. Soon, I would be confronted with the hard financial realities of being unemployed and in student debt, while starting a company which was making no money.

The clincher was finding out that I would, once again, have to delay getting permanent residency or French citizenship because of the fact that I was no longer working. This was devastating news after 7 years of living here, which crushed my long-awaited hopes of finally getting out of a precarious temporary residency status.

These were just some of the reasons why I felt immensely depressed in 2014. Looking back, I can’t help but feel that something was taken away from me this year. Perhaps a certain youthful and positive attitude I once had about life, which was replaced with bitterness, ungratefulness, and pessimism. And this, I’ve come to realize, has had devastating effects on my life and personal relationships.

I felt lost

A man can feel astray walking down a road he has never been down. One of the side effects of shifting career paths was a growing sense not knowing where to focus my attention. Even now, it remains unclear if I should concentrate my time and energy on Bitcoin-related projects, or continue to offer consulting services as an independent, or both. The other possibility is that I look for work, preferably for a startup in the Bitcoin space. I’m not really sure what I should do at this point, and these questions have been plaguing me for several months.

Over the years, I’ve gained valuable experience managing web projects, consulting for small businesses to enterprise clients. Despite the hardships of my last job, it had enabled me to evolve as a competent user experience consultant and trainer. However, I have some level of insecurity about whether to commit to things I am good at or things I am more excited about. I guess it comes down to this: should I do the “responsible” thing and focus on what will make me money now, or turn to what I’m really passionate about? This question is not easily answered, but it’s clear that being scattered will likely end in failure.

Another thing I noticed, and perhaps I am being overly critical here, is my seeming lack of ability to apply the same level of quality, structure and professionalism to Epicenter that I would normally apply to client work. I find this is especially true when it comes to the areas where I have the most experience, and should normally excel at. Perhaps a fear of failure which would put to question my abilities? There may also be something to be said about the security which comes with the structure of a job and the pressures of satisfying a boss or client.

I failed at organizing a Bitcoin conference in Paris

In late summer, I was approached by the French Bitcoin Association to head the organization of a Bitcoin conference it had planned in Paris in October. With a little less than two months before the event was to take place, I took on the role of project coordinator. The team and I worked relentlessly, inviting speakers, prospecting potential sponsors and marketing the event.

As the date approached, it became obvious that we would not secure enough sponsorship funding to cover our costs. Despite having an impressive program with amazing speakers, ticket sales were slow. Ten days before the conference was to take place, the decision was made to postpone the event to a later date, which, at this time, has yet to be defined.

In retrospect, I’ve realised many of the factors which contributed to this failure were outside of my control. From the start, I had serious doubts about timing and perhaps should have pressed to have the date pushed back. However, as project coordinator, I can’t help but feel this was a massive failure on my part, and that an enourmous amount of time and energy was wasted.

I didn’t go to Canada

It has been nearly two and a half years since I last visited Canada, by far the longest time since movning to France. Where my work was what got in the way previously, money is now the issue.

I was very fortunate to be visited by my mother and her spouse for two weeks in May, however, I greatly miss my father and sister, my extended family and friends. The fact that I have little visibility about when I will be able to go makes it that much harder.

I lost interest in things I love

Feeling depressed, lost and generally shitty for most of the year, drove me to lose interest in the things I once enjoyed. My guitar, which I used to play every day, now sits gathering dust in the corner of my living room. Listening to music is also something I do a lot less now.

I got lazy too. I completely stopped cycling when I used to ride +100km per week. I also ran a lot less than previous years and really neglected Brazilan Jiu Jitsu, a sport I took up two years ago and thoroughly enjoy. Only recently have I found the strength and motivation to train again.

Other things that did not go well

  • My dear childhood friend, Melanie Lavigne, died after a long struggle with Crohn’s disease. She would have turned 30 this year.
  • Both my Nexus 5 and brand new foldable bike where stolen.
  • I badly sprained my ankle and struggled with recovery, which forced me to stop training Jiu Jitsu.
  • I started smoking again at some point durring the year and, although I’ve stopped again now, I still smoke occasionally.

Travel log

Here is a mostly exhaustive list of my travels this year.

January

  • Krakow, Poland - Started 2014 in Krakow (with a hangover), where I had celebrated New Years with friends.

February

  • Berlin - This trip is full of firsts. It was my first time visiting Berlin, I attended my first Bitcoin conference, inside Bitcoins, and it was the first time my new associate and I met in person.

April

  • Paris - Attended COMAD 2014 where I was invited to speak on a panel about alternative currencies.
  • Brussels, Gent, Bruges, Paris - Spent 3 days visiting Belgium and Paris with mother and per spouse while they were visiting Europe.

May

  • Amsterdam - Went twice this month. Once to attended the Bitcoin 2014 conference and once to visit friends.

June

  • Paris - Attended Maison du Bitcoin inauguration.

July

  • London - Attended CoinSummit. This was my first time in London.
  • South of France - Spent a week vacationing with friends.
  • Balkans - Spent 3 weeks vacationing in Albania, Montenegro and Croatia.

August

  • Amiens, France - Spent a few days visiting a friend.

September

  • Paris - Spent 4 days working out of La maison du Bitcoin.

October


Lessons

The one thing that stands out as a great revelation in 2014 is this: take some time off. Although it may sound obvious, I believe most entrepreneurs struggle with this. Recently, I’ve become more aware of the importance of disconnecting from technology. I try, as much as I can, to turn off my computer and put my phone on call-only mode at least one day per week, usually Saturdays. I hope to continue doing this, and perhaps, increase to 2 days per week at some point. My goal is also to go off the grid for at least 10 consecutive days sometime this year. Easier said than done, but I believe it’s achievable.

Image credit: SplitShire

Author

Sebastien Couture

Host at Epicenter, a podcast which explores the current state and potential future of the blockchain and cryptocurrency industry.

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