Alex Stephens
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2021 Retrospective


Well, well, well, 2022 has rolled around, and you know what that means – it's been about a year since I posted anything on this darn website (unless you count this – personally, I can't say I do).

Anyway, it's time for some reflectin' – if you're not me, not really sure what you get out of reading this, but have fun!


So, what actually happened in my life in 2021? Quite a lot actually!

Here's the big picture stuff:

  • Became MCR President at my Oxford College (Exeter) in January – took my responsibility level within college from 0 to 100 real quick!
  • Until around April, the UK was in pretty heavy Covid-19 lockdown. This didn't ease up substantially till May, and only in June/July were things mostly back to normal.
  • Moved out of college accommodation in July, into a lovely share house with a group of friends.
  • Did my first triathlon in August! Signed up on a whim only a month or so prior, not realising at the time how big of a decision this would be...
  • In December, flew back to Sydney for the first time since leaving in September 2020.


Putting myself out there

This idea of "putting myself out there" was something that I noted as a goal in my 2020 retro. At the time, I was thinking of this through the lens of online content creation – overcoming the Curse of Expertise, acting on the advice from Austin Kleon's book Show Your Work!.

So how did I go? In short, pretty badly. This blog should've been a place to do that, but I didn't really touch it throughout the year, and I also slowed down a lot with photography so only posted a couple of new pics all year.

However, I do think I did alright with some other kinds of putting myself out there, which in retrospect I think were much more valuable – and it was because I was devoting time and energy in these directions that things like the blog well by the wayside.

The first big example of this was my decision to run for MCR President at Exeter College in January 2021, after only having been in Oxford a little over 3 months. This was a pretty daunting step to take, and was a ton of work throughout the year, but it was genuinely immensely rewarding and having done it will benefit me for the rest my time in Oxford doing my PhD.

Then there was my decision to take up triathlon, which I really did decide to do with basically no training. I was already a competent runner, but I hadn't swum long distances in probably a decade, and was no more than an regular commuter as far as cycling went. When the idea of signing up for a triathlon came up, my logic was basically "I don't feel ready to do this, but I can probably finish the race, and if I enjoy it I'll have a good baseline for taking it more seriously later". I think this was a good approach, compared with the alternative of "I'll sign up for a triathlon once I'm in better shape for it" – where's the motivation to get in shape if you don't have a race to look forward to?

So I'd say I did put myself out there in 2021 in the sense that I took on commitments that were well outside of my comfort zone, and pretty damn stressful at times, but ones that I knew would be worth it in the longer run.

What I'm grateful for

Honestly, I have a lot to be grateful for about how this year went for me. For a lot of people I know, it was basically a year of pandemic, a year of not being able to do what they wanted to do, a year of waiting it out until things improve. In some ways it was all that for me as well, but the novelty of it being my first full year living in Oxford meant it was an exciting year anyway.

A few particular things:

  • Remaining in good health – a big one, once again.
  • Settling in to the UK – now that I've been there for more than a year, it properly feels like home to me, and I'm glad to have a well established group of friends in Oxford at this point.
  • Discovering triathlon – this wasn't even on my radar at the start of the year, but for some reason when an event came up as I was scrolling on my phone, I decided it'd be fun to sign up for. I'm super glad I did, since it's broadened my sports interests a lot and been a ton of fun so far.


  • First triathlon! Took part in the third event of the year in the Oxfordshire Tri Series in August 2021 – 1k swim, 35k bike, 7.5k run. Absolutely stoked with this one.
  • First half marathon: Oxford Half 2021, chip time 1:50:48. Outstanding atmosphere on the day, and a finish time that I was more than happy with.
  • Election as MCR President at Exeter College in January, and subsequently making it through an insanely busy year in the role, hopefully having done a decent job of it.

Stuff I enjoyed more of this year


Although I've been into podcasts for a good couple of years, for some reason I hadn't got particularly into any audiobooks before this year. Recently, I've been really enjoying my audiobook reread of The Stormlight Archive books, which I've never listened to before. I listen to these only when I'm out on runs, which gives me an extra little bit of motivation to get out there (habit stacking – thanks James Clear!).

Cold showers

Well, here's a fun one. I'd tried this out a few years ago, but never stuck with it long enough to make it a habit. This year, I had a few solid months of doing 3 minutes fully cold to finish off my regular morning showers. Honestly, this shit feels incredible as soon as I get past the discomfort, and leaves me feeling great for a substantial part of my day. It's a complete no-brainer to me that the benefits of cold showers are worth the discomfort, and in fact I find that the discomfort is beneficial in and of itself – it feels great to start the day by tackling a challenge, even if that challenge is just standing in some cold water (if it's so easy, you go do it then!). I did let this habit slip in the second half of the year, but trying to bring it back for 2022.


When I signed up for my first triathlon, I decided I wouldn't allow myself to drop the money on a proper road bike until I'd got through my first event and proved to myself that I liked it and would remain committed. So, I did it on my crappy commuter bike, but since then I've recently got myself a nice road bike which I'm quite excited to ride more. Feels like it unlocks a much larger radius for me to explore around Oxford, and I'm keen to do that once it starts to warm up a bit.

Focus for 2022

Looking back at last year...

I had varying levels of success with the stuff I wrote in this section last year.

I feel good about the focus on running (and fitness more generally), and also think I did a solid job of finding or making opportunities to connect with new people throughout the year. There were quite a lot of times where I felt vaguely anxious or worried about being seen as an idiot for suggesting some social event, but I deliberately pushed myself to go ahead anyway because I knew that the reality was that there'd be little to lose and plenty to gain.

The reading habit slipped a little though, and I think I made next to zero progress on my deep work routine, so those will be ones to re-evaluate a bit this year.


So, with all that in mind, let's take a look at the focus for 2022. I will say that I very much intend to continue the focus on social interaction from last year, but I'm not listing that here, this list is specifically for things I want to focus on improving in 2022:

  • Fitness: this was a focus last year, but it's really a focus this year. I am signed up to run my first marathon in April, and to do my first Half Ironman triathlon in July. Both of these are way more ambitious than anything I've done before, and will require serious training to make it through.
  • Deep work: I made fuck all very little meaningful progress on this last year. This year it'll be more important, so it's time to focus up.
  • Regular writing / showing my work: I want to document things better (here and/or Twitter), practice writing more, and also more generally build the habit of expressing myself creatively. It would be good to have those creative muscles working in the background all the time, but just like any other muscles, that'll take training.

Plenty to think about for now – let's make 2022 a great year!

Thanks for reading!

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