Here’s a look at how 2023 went for me. Thank you to James Clear for the inspiration. Read some of my previous Years in Review:
What went well?
I started an AI podcast
For the past decade, I have wanted to create more content. At the end of every year I am disappointed in myself for not doing so. This year, I did it… I started an AI podcast!
I interview other AI founders and researchers. We chat about where the field is going and make predictions about how things are going to look in the future.
I still have that little disappointed voice inside me wishing I did more episodes. But… I’m *very* proud that I started.
I just did it. I didn’t overthink things. Hoping to bring more of that energy into 2024.
I experimented with lifestyle habits
I stopped drinking this year. My husband suggested we try it out in January. I thought it was a stupid idea (after all, we only drank twice per week) but went along and then was surprised by how challenging I found it not to drink.
We had a routine of drinking on Friday and Saturday nights in our backyard while watching the sunset. I missed the alcohol. I especially missed not drinking on Fridays when my brain was still buzzing with work and a glass of wine was a reliable way to turn it off.
It scared me how hard I found the month of not drinking and so we kept doing it. “A little bit longer” turned into the entire year. I’m not steadfast about the “no drinking” rule. I’ve consumed ~10-15 drinks all year – the vast majority on a single night with The Chainsmokers (who are investors in my startup) in Las Vegas.
To be honest, I don’t feel any better by not drinking. My stress levels are about the same. Skin, weight, and energy levels are all equivalent. I do sleep a bit better.
The reason I continue not drinking is because (A) I don’t miss it any more, (B) the long-term cognitive effects scare me*, and (C) I realized that I hate talking to people when buzzed. I would much rather socialize with my full wits about me, and I’ve now gotten over the social pressure of feeling like I need to get a drink when out.
* I think this Huberman episode scared many people into not drinking. For me specifically, I got scared by the study showing dose-dependent decreases in gray and white matter volume, even for people consuming only 1-2 drinks per day (which is equivalent to the ~2-3 drinks I was consuming twice per week). Any measurable brain volume decrease is a pretty frightening effect in my book. Here’s the UK Biobank study.
Weekly sauna + cold plunge + meditation
I continued the habit I started at the end of last year. I do 1 hour of sauna and cold plunge every single week (occasionally more than once per week). This year, however, I solidified the habit of meditation during these sessions. I meditate the entire time that I’m in the sauna. It’s my guaranteed time to practice focus and it increases the mental reset I experience.
Although I don’t feel any different with and without alcohol, I feel dramatically better with this routine. I definitely notice its absence in the weeks that I don’t do it.
Shoutout to Watercourse Way in Palo Alto. I’ve been to saunas all over the world and Watercourse continues to be my favorite. Archimedes Banya in SF and Cabanas Tulum Hotel in Mexico are also excellent.
Learning to enjoy running
I injured my shoulder while surfing in Hawaii and couldn’t bear weight on my arm for months. With yoga and HIIT both out of the picture, I resorted to running, which I have historically despised. However, after a few sessions, I actually started enjoying it.
It’s nice to get outside and see the neighborhood I am in. I do short 15-20 min runs. I noticed that I am more comfortable having a high (Zone 4) heart rate for longer periods of time compared to when I was only doing HIIT for cardio.
Digestive enzymes… aka magical pills
I am allergic to dairy (I think. It’s some sort of immune-mediated allergy to dairy products. It’s not lactose intolerance).
A few years ago I was in Spain and decided to f*** it and eat cheese and ice cream because, goddamn it, I was vacationing in Spain. By the end of the vacation I developed low-level pancreatitis and couldn’t eat anything without substantial abdominal pain for over 1 week. Not worth it.
This year I went to Italy and the same upper abdominal pain started developing despite my best efforts to not eat a lot of dairy (I had learned my lesson in Spain). By chance, I found a bottle of Pure Encapsulations Digestive Enzymes* at a local pharmacy.
I decided to give it a try and voila! All my abdominal pain disappeared within the hour. It was magical.
Note: I don’t know how to explain the mechanism. I realize that it’s weird for a (seemingly) IgG immune issue to respond almost instantaneously to an oral supplement. I’d still like to understand it, but, in the meantime, I am so grateful for these amazing magical pills.
*Pure Encapsulations is the main brand of supplements I buy in the US. The pharmacist – Izabella Wentz – is the expert I trust most on autoimmune-related topics. Here’s one of her articles on digestive enzymes.
I spent serious time and energy on my jaw issues.
I have a rare degenerative jaw issue. About ~40% of my TMJ condylar bone volume has disappeared in the past 10 years and I developed a severe anterior open bite that makes it hard to eat.
It’s one of those medical conditions where there’s nothing much that can be done. But, I promised myself that I would seriously invest in getting professional help this year, since I would like to avoid surgery in the future. And, since pain means that bone resorption is actively happening, avoiding surgery means trying to stop the jaw pain.
I spent about $5k and countless hours in appointments with specialists. Here are the top 3 things that worked for me:
- A specialized nightguard (took many dentist visits to get it right). This was the first major step function of reduced pain. Makes me mad I never did this sooner.
- Drinking collagen. I dissolve this Great Lakes gelatin in hot water and drink it. I was shocked at what a difference it made almost immediately. There’s lots of literature around the benefits of collagen for arthritis.
- PT exercises. I did 30-60min of daily exercises set by my chiro/PT. Strengthening and stretching specific upper-back and neck muscles was the third step function of improvement.
I also tried a lot more things that didn’t help.
My jaw pain is still there, but it is much more in control. I’m happy I invested the time and money into my health this year, and that they yielded positive results and strategies I can use.
What didn’t go well?
I isolated myself.
I pivoted my startup. Throughout the pivot I kept believing that we were super close to figuring everything out. Every week I worked as hard as if we were a few days away from a major deadline. Every week I thought, “just one more week” and then we’ll have a good plan for moving forward. I just have to push a bit harder. But “just one more week” turned into months.
We got into pivot hell.
I felt shitty about myself. I thought, “Let me work harder so that I have stuff to show and can feel better about myself again.” So I put my head down and burrowed further into a cocoon. This led me feeling even shittier about myself. And the cycle continued. (I literally didn’t talk to some of my best friends all year.)
This cycle was extremely counterproductive. It is critical in a pivot to maintain a strong mindset and high confidence, otherwise you make bad decisions.
Pivot hell was a very special kind of hell. It was like waging emotional warfare against myself.
PS – To my friends who I completely ignored, I’m so sorry.
There were several more bad things that happened, but I’ll keep private for now. Given all that guilt and regret I experienced this year, here’s quote to end on:
“Guilt and regret kill many a [wo]man before their time. Get off the ride. You are the author of the book of your life. Turn the page.”
― Matthew McConaughey in his autobiography “Greenlights”
Time to turn the page.
Running in the right direction matters more than speed.
I ran hard all year. But look where that’s gotten me. Not very far. Pretty much in the same place I started, but with a battered psychology. You sometimes need to go slow in order to go fast.
Listen to the person with less fear.
Fear is a funny thing. It can manifest in all sorts of ways – from excuses to deflecting, from not fully considering an option to lashing out. My co-founder and I made many consequential decisions this year. Usually one of us had more fear than the other. Who it was changed from decision to decision.
We did a post-mortem on our decisions – what we feel we got right and wrong in hindsight – and a rule of thumb emerged:
Weigh the opinion of the person with less fear more heavily.
Fear is a funny thing. It makes people not see clearly. Listen to the person who has less fear.
Don’t take success for granted
I was so successful so quickly after my PhD. Everything just went well. I built 2 successful companies in 4 years: a multi-million dollar AI agency and a VC-backed startup. I took my success for granted. I thought it was inevitable that I would be successful in whatever I did. I’ve learned to appreciate success when things are going your way, because they won’t always be.
When things aren’t going well, you need a life.
For the past few years my life has been 100% work. Everything was looked at through the lens of what would make me most productive. Mondays through Fridays was 100% work. I took Saturdays off and I took vacations, but everything was totally optimized around getting to maximal work productivity. All the evidence I had was that the more I put into my businesses, the more I got out.
This year, however, things did not go well. I kept the same mono-focus on work, but this time, the more I put into my businesses did not correlate into getting more out.
I realized at a particularly low point of the year, that I didn’t have anything else to turn to. My life – which from age 5 through my PhD had always been a balance between engineering, dance, and music – only had one pillar now. I had ignored my friends all year. I hadn’t danced in years. I hadn’t played any instruments in even more years.
I realized that it’s important to have other aspects of life to turn to when things aren’t going well. And since you can’t just snap your finger and get a life from one day to the next, having a life is something I need to cultivate continuously.
Don’t defer life.
I realized that I don’t want to defer life. Professional life and personal life need to progress together. It’s messier but necessary.
You can’t focus solely on your career and then pick up on your personal life in 10 years (you won’t have developed the skills and experience to keep up with people your age). Likewise, you can’t focus solely on personal life and then hope to leapfrog in your career down the road when you’re ready.
The book “The One Thing” has a good mental model around this. You need to keep a tight balance around personal life (things break here if you ignore them for too long, e.g. health, relationships, etc), but ruthlessly prioritize in your professional life.