2022—When The Masks Fell Off

Aki Kärkkäinen
7 min readDec 30, 2022


Photo by Alexander Kagan on Unsplash

2022 — what a year! After an emotional roller coaster of 2020 and 2021, I knew 2022 wasn’t going to be smooth. It turned out to be a dramatic year, but for slightly unexpected reasons. Russia’s war in Europe made many people forget or ignore the ongoing threats of COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis. All things are interrelated, so I will begin by reflecting on these key topics in 2022. I’ll follow up with what I did, what I learnt, and conclude with my goals for 2023.


Russian Invasion of Ukraine

On 24 February 2022, the Russian terrorist state attacked Ukraine, just like on 30 November 1939 the Soviet Union attacked my native country Finland. Both my grandfathers, Toivo and Torsti, fought in the war. They survived with health issues, and I can’t imagine what they had to go through. Thank you both! ❤️

Europe has been sleepwalking since Putin’s rise to power and Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. And so, once again, we’re against a hallucinating Kremlin dictator and a failed empire. Russian aggression led Finland and Sweden to swiftly apply for membership in NATO on 18 May 2022. Better late than never! Now, instead of whining about the rising price of petrol, electricity, being cold etc. in the “West”, we must all do our utmost to stop the Russian fascists and the genocide of the Ukrainian people.

Ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic

Just like “the masks have fallen and we only see the cold faces of war”, so have most people stopped thinking about the pandemic. Masks have fallen both figuratively and literally. The war took over people’s attention. However, I believe the main reasons for most people not using face masks in crowded or poorly ventilated spaces any longer (some never did) are lack of solidarity, fear of change, reckless individualism, and the polarised post-truth world we’re living in. Additionally, national exceptionalism may prevent learning from others.

Om Sverige var en person skulle avståndet mellan självbild och beteende vara så stort att det var dags att söka professionell hjälp.

Gina Gustavsson, Du stolta, du fria: om svenskarna, Sverigebilden och folkhälsopatriotismen, 2021 (in Swedish)

What I learnt is that Sweden is not the country I thought it was. The chief scientist at the World Health Organization (WHO) said she regrets that the WHO didn’t forcefully say much earlier that this is an airborne virus. Despite this, in Sweden where solidarity for vulnerable people is almost non-existent and where science denial has gone mainstream, airborne transmission is still largely rejected. Bureaucrats at the dysfunctional Public Health Agency of Sweden (Folkhälsomyndigheten) are not willing to learn from their grave mistakes; instead, they’re spreading disinformation that gets amplified by politicians and uncritical journalists, further confusing the public, and undermining democracy. Witnessing all this has negatively affected my mental health, much more than the pandemic.

For more on this topic, see my 2021 post, Gina Gustavsson’s excellent book Du stolta, du fria (in Swedish), and the new book Sweden’s Pandemic Experiment.

We were not forcefully saying: “This is an airborne virus”. I regret that we didn’t do this much, much earlier.

Soumya Swaminathan, WHO, 23 Nov. 2022

Climate Crisis

If behaving as if the COVID-19 pandemic is over is irresponsible and egoistic, how about the climate crisis then? What can I say? Another wasted year. It’s too late to “hope” that the climate crisis will somehow magically be solved. To “hope” means placing responsibility outside ourselves, be powerless, be a victim. We need to act instead, take responsibility, create pressure on the governments and politicians, and create new habits that help us focus on solving this crisis—even when we don’t feel like doing so.

There is no Planet B. Photo by Li-An Lim on Unsplash

My 2022

Here’s how I coped in 2022, the year of dark shadows and some light.

Personal Summary

  • Spent more time with my old parents: Sadly, my mother has Alzheimer’s disease. My father is her caregiver at home. Fortunately, I was able to support and see them more in 2022. It’s been equally heartbreaking to see my sister suffer from Parkinson’s disease.
  • Donated money to Ukraine. We must all do more to support Ukraine. The Russians have some serious soul-searching to do after their defeat —much like Nazi Germany did after WWII.
  • Attended Alistair Cockburn’s talk and his Elephant Carpaccio exercise at The Swedish Tax Agency (Skatteverket) in June 2022. This was the icing on the cake of my three years’ (mostly remote) Scrum Master assignment at Skatteverket between 2019–2022. Great colleagues and great memories from this otherwise very difficult pandemic period.
  • Started A New Work Assignment: In September 2022 I started as Scrum Master consultant at Trygg-Hansa via One Agency, working remotely in two distributed international teams. It’s not only an opportunity to work with great colleagues in a new industry, but also to improve my listening, communication, agile coaching and facilitation skills in a distributed team context. As always, I’m striving for transparency, psychological safety, healthy culture, and better ways of working.
  • Read 100+ books. I try to read 20–50 pages every day. This year I started using libraries in Malmö as well. Some book highlights include Deep Work by Cal Newport, Chatter by Ethan Kross, Stolen Focus by Johann Hari, Atomic Habits by James Clear, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, and several books by Thich Nhat Hanh.
  • Wrote 10 articles on distributed teams, agile, change and leadership on my website, pushing copies to other services (Medium, LinkedIn, Twitter). I use the POSSE model to give back to the community.
  • Walked 3300+ kilometres (according to Google Fit). That’s roughly the distance from Malmö to Casablanca. I also found great barefoot shoes from Be Lenka.
  • Spent holidays in Finnish Lapland and in Portugal—the first time travelling outside Sweden and Finland since 2019. I feel flight shame which I’m trying to alleviate by carbon offsetting. I’m also reducing my carbon footprint by not eating meat, and not owning a car, for example.

Before going into my goals for 2023, let’s talk about distributed teams and restoring focus.

Distributed Teams

Remote work is not a new phenomenon, and I believe working in distributed teams is the new normal. It’s like with any new successful technology: when it’s available, it’s impossible to not use it. The same is true with distributed teams and working remotely: when people experience empowerment, it’s impossible to go back to old ways of working. However, leaders also need to step up by not only letting go of top-down control, but also by being extra clear in their communication. The last few years have been a good opportunity to learn more about this on a larger scale. We’ve demonstrated that working 100 percent remotely works well, and I want to continue going all-in into leading and enabling distributed agile teams.

Restoring Focus

Many people are suffering from an attention crisis, triggered by social media and surveillance capitalism. I’ve certainly become aware of my own shortened attention span. This realisation motivated me to read more books than ever before. I wanted to restore my focus with the help of deep work, mindfulness meditation, and new habits. One of my new habits since the pandemic started is to walk at least eight kilometres every day, often combined with mindfulness. I’ve applied many new ideas I got from the books (or from walks) in my work with my teams.

The books I read in 2022. See my 2022 reading challenge on Goodreads.

My goals for 2023

Focusing on the goals is crucial as change and disruption will only accelerate going forward. Next year (and onwards) is a big question mark as a new world order is emerging. I’ll be focusing on compounding habits, along with my other goals, adapting them if needed:

  • Help my parents by running errands, cleaning, cooking and so on. I’ll be visiting more often and for longer periods. My mother’s Alzheimer’s disease progresses, and my ageing father also needs support at home.
  • Support my sister who has Parkinson’s disease.
  • Bag my fourth 4000-metre peak in the Alps by Autumn 2023 (I missed this goal in 2022).
  • Walk eight kilometres (8000 steps) every day.
  • Create a routine for 2–3 workouts each week.
  • Read at least one book every week, digging deeper into leadership, communication, coaching and distributed agile teams, without forgetting novels. Reflect, try new ideas in practice at work, reflect and repeat! Possibly supplement learning-by-doing with additional training or certificates.
  • Listen at least one podcast every week.
  • Write one article every month on a topic such as agile, teams, change, leadership, future of work, or on something completely different!
  • Reduce my carbon footprint with at least three new ways by the end of 2023, for example by creating new habits or choosing products consciously.
  • Continue being useful for others, including my family, friends and good causes such as supporting Ukraine.
  • Reach out to at least five old friends by the end of 2023 who I haven’t talked to in a long time.
  • State clearly where I stand on various issues, based on my values and principles, while being open to think again and relearn.
  • Accept others for who they are, while not always agreeing with them.

No one knows how 2023 turns out, but let’s take a stab at it! As always, I want to see less individualism and polarisation, less war, and much more altruism, compassion, curiosity, empathy, focus, humility, kindness and solidarity. Being a resilient realist, however, I’m afraid things might get worse before they get better.

Thanks for reading. Here’s to 2023! Stay safe.

Originally published at https://www.akikoo.org on December 30, 2022.



Aki Kärkkäinen

Scrum Master, Agile practitioner and former UI Developer with 20+ years of international working experience in six European countries. Occasional Music Freak.