Bye 18, hi 19.

by Dries De Roeck on February 11, 2019


The first month of 2019 came and went, it’s been an intense end of December and an evenly intense start of the new year. As I’ve been doing these looking back and ahead posts for quite some years now (and like looking back at them every so often – 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017) I’m pushing this out before I forget all about it. I had my 2018 highs and lows written down for a quite a while already, but never took the time to flesh it out a little beyond the bullet points. So here goes!

(Funfact: I drafted this in bullet points during a cold Belgian December day and finished writing this on a 30+ degrees Senegal February day)

Things that stuck with me looking back at 2018

The relativity of it all

It seems as life progresses, this becomes ever so apparent. This year, I once again came to understand and experience the relativity of life on different levels. Firstly, little A. stayed with us for a year. He arrived at our home as a crisis foster child, meaning that there was an urgent need for someone to take care of the child while the social situation around him were to be evaluated and taken care of. After some months it became clear that he couldn’t return home. My wife and I very deliberately chose to focus on short term “crisis” fostering some years ago, so we made the though decision to start looking (together with the fostering organisation in Belgium) for a future perspective for this child. Whilst doing something like that, it always strikes me (this was our 9th foster child) that the value you can offer as a human being to society is worth so much more than any kind of monetary reward, job title or personal achievement.

So as the years fly by, I see my personal values shifting to things that actually make a contribution to society or a community. I should be clear, this is often something I struggle with quite a lot but I think it is important to be aware of ‘the relativity of our lives’.

Ethics in everything

The past year I developed an increasing interest and consciousness about ethics. And although ’ethics’ clearly did turn into a buzzword in 2018, I do follow the train of thought related to the importance of ethics in the work I’m involved in. My own twist on ethics comes down to being respectful on all levels. The past year I probably got into some arguments I would never have gotten into before because I didn’t dare to speak up. Whenever I felt disrespected or when my opinion (I don’t often really have one) was muted I attempted to speak up. Don’t let yourself and your life be fooled or directed by others.

And I must say, it’s really hard to do that. I had several arguments and good chats with my wife on being tolerant and to not judge the behaviour of others. I’m still learning, but that’s how I’m experiencing ‘ethics’ in my day to day life.

First kickstarter & other side projects

Although I should focus on my PhD work, I invested some time in a couple of side projects that brought joy and satisfaction to my mind and were a way to get rid of some creative urges I tend to have. First of all, I had a blast running the ‘don’t complain, suggest what’s better’ kickstarter stickers & artwork campaign. This was the first kickstarter campaign I launched and it was super fun to do. I learned a lot, both about the administrative/logistical side as the social side and ‘expectation management’. It was very fun to get some local artists involved to rework the original quote and being able to pay them for their delivered work.

Besides that, I also enjoyed putting together a workshop/course on how to behave on the internet for parents of our local school in Belgium. Together with two other parents, we created three distinct workshops focussing on ‘privacy online’, ‘mindful online’ and ‘online gaming & entertainment’. The idea behind this was that instead of focussing on our children and their behaviour online, many parents have no clue about the state of the internet these days. So our goal was to inform parents in an interactive way in order to be able to increase our parenting skills with regard to these topics. By understanding and talking about these ‘digital things’ with other parents, we shape our own thinking and become able to question the way we integrate the digital world in our family lives.

Lastly, at the end of the year I pitched a concept to receive a grant in order to create a visual / artwork for an upcoming ‘next generation internet’ publication (supported by Nesta, UK). My proposal was to give children between 6 and 12 a very simple assignment: “Draw the internet”. The idea behind this was to get a glimpse in the heads of the future generations to understand how they experience what we call ‘the internet’ today. I have already done this with a local school in Belgium, and hope to do the same with Senegalese primary school. So far, results are super interesting and I can’t wait to deliver the final piece. This should be available online somewhere in March.

Things that worked out differently in 2018

Finding focus

I had hoped to spend more time on focused, deep work. For about the whole year I had the feeling I was ready to deliver a bunch of project work that I had been chewing on for way too long. But for some reason, everything still stayed quite superficial. I had planned and hoped to publish some cornerstone articles related to my research throughout 2018, but I couldn’t find focus or spend longer stretches of time to get down and do the legwork.

Personal projects

Maybe this is obvious, but the list of personal project I would like to do one day just keeps growing instead of shrinking. Also, every time I read through the list – I get inspiration for other projects.

In comparison to other years, however, I have the feeling I didn’t really develop any new skills or didn’t really improve on skills. I would have wanted to spend some more time on coding and, for instance, getting my community Christmas lights version 2 project up and running. That didn’t happen.


I had to give up on some relationships in 2018, in particular there was one very though situation in which eventually the other party (very rightfully) gave up on my ever lasting doubt and fuzzyness. I won’t go into details here, but this has been a major ‘social’ learning for me.

Things I want to do in 2019

Get over the PhD

It’s the final year of funding, if the PhD is to happen – it will need to happen this year. If it doesn’t happen, that should also be clear this year. I’m very grateful to all people that keep supporting me and telling me I should just finish it. I think I’m on the way to finishing, it’s all laid out quite nicely now. And I hope to get some focussed, deep work, done in the weeks & months to come.

What is, however, very clear is that I need to get it behind me. “The PhD” has been this little voice in my brain constantly calling out it needs attention, which I haven’t always put in 100%. It needs to be purged out, in whatever way possible.

Experience Africa

Quite randomly, I’m spending 3 months with my family in Warang, Senegal from January to April this year. It all started out with some chats on temporarily relocating to teach elsewhere. Those discussions ended up in realising that both my wife, children and myself were really fed up with the way a lot of things happen in Belgium. We needed some time to get away from it all, reflect, and return with new ideas and perspectives. Over here in Senegal, my wife works at a local school. Our children go to that same school and I spend time at home where I’m getting writing work done for my PhD. During the weekends and some afternoons, we explore the local region. We decided upfront to pick a stationary spot and explore from there, which would allow us to experience ‘local life’ a lot better. So far this is all going rather well, I have the feeling spending time close to your ‘tribe’ is critical and is something we very quickly overlook in Belgium where everything needs to pay off, everyone is stressed out and social respect is hard to be found.

In conclusion

//I added this section after rereading the whole thing, realising I might have been a little dark and negative

I have the feeling that 2018 was a year in which I maybe didn’t get down to do the “work” I had planned, but I did evolve quite a bit on a mental level. I feel that currently my state of mind is a lot more peaceful, and that I need to be concious about where and when I spend my time and energy. My family’s choice to move to Senegal for 3 months is, to me, a confirmation and very much linked to that realisation and learning.

Top songs of 2018

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