2023: Showing up and growing backwards
This was some trip around the sun

Presently exploding are the two words I would choose to describe both this year and my time through it. Looking back, the number of exponential changes that happened this year makes it almost hard to believe. The numbers hold them up, but believe me when I tell you that what happened this year on many fronts dwarfs the cumulative amounts over the five preceding years.

It's been a year of showing up and aging backwards. Let's take a fun look through. You can jump around and see why these reviews exist, how they're written, see some pretty graphs, or hear me talk about friends, work, the best habit of the year, or of last year, parasocial existence, or have me get a little mushy at wonder, aging research, and showing up.

Or you could just find the cat.

But before we do that,

§Why though?

This is now year four of writing an end-of-year post. Every time I sit down to do one, the first question on my mind is why. Every year I get three resounding answers:

  1. It helps me remember. That feeling you get as you age, where the years get shorter? That they go by as quickly as a wink? I'm now firmly convinced that memory is to blame. Unarrested, we spend so much of our time trying to handle the seconds of our life that the minutes, hours, and days lose their detail. It helps to look back with effort and purpose.
  2. It helps me understand. For the same reasons as above, most of our lives don't follow a hero's journey, not even the Dan Harmon version. Life is chaos, and covariate collapsed condensations where a story emerges only in retrospect. Retrospectives - especially well-considered ones - don't appear without time and effort, and this is as good a time as any.
  3. It helps me connect. Reviewing my life without judgment helps me reconnect with who I was this year. It helps future selves understand who they were in 2023. It helps friends and family estranged by time and distance understand where I was this year.

So it is, that what started six years ago as a short update on social media has turned into a week-long undertaking. Here's what I do:


I usually start in December, although this year I did a mid-year jot down for myself because of how much was happening. I put down a large, incoherent bullet-point list of the things that happened this year. I keep it on my phone and add to it as I remember things throughout the month. Being partway done reminds my mind to keep looking for more things.

Towards the last week, I start looking through pictures for the best ones. I've always worried that we take far too many pictures we never look at, so this is a relief and a joy.

I go back and read all the other posts - from 2022, 2021, and 2020. The changes in tone are always surprising. Even more surprising are how things change in size. Something that seemed so important is almost forgotten now, and something small has had such a big impact. It's also become common to set an intention to look back on, ever since I realized that they have a habit of coming true.

Once I have all of those things, I begin grouping them into narratives and sections, learning which stories in 2023 want me to tell them. This is the tough part - lots of rewrites.

The next and penultimate piece is to procrastinate actually writing the thing.

Eventually, around the 28th or so, I sit down and take a first pass. Then I get weird and self-conscious and don't read it for a while, before forcing myself to do a few more passes and publish. A larger version for me, a smaller one for this blog - not every story I'm in is mine to tell.

So, what kind of a year has it been? Let's start with some numbers.

§My world in data

Modern AI has been amazing for the quantified self. It has completely vindicated my impulse to catalog and record things about my life I didn't think I'd ever have the time to analyze. So many 'some-day' projects got dusted off the shelf this year to be finished in a few hours.

Let me show you what I mean - with data!


GPT has seemingly returned my ability to fix things, make things and make lots of them. Despite a year of overseas travel, fundraising on my own, rising family time, and managing a company through a tough period (though I had the best help I could get), I'm somehow writing code like I was a solo dev-CTO in a two-person company focused entirely on building.

This has been amazing. I've been able to build & release projects (like wishful-search, wasm-ai, and socrate) that have helped people and give back. I've been able to build semi-public things (Home cooked apps if you will) that hopefully served as a symbol of affection or a helpful thing for someone I cared about.

I have also been able to solve so many of my own problems with solutions I've thought about, but never had the time for.

I've managed to read, write, and think more this year than any other year. Number of papers read (350), hours in meditation (120) and words written (300K) are poor proxies, but they are all more than three times the last three years combined. In this post, I'm hoping I can answer for myself (and for anyone curious) how that happened.

Health, however, paints a different picture.


I'll write another post in detail about everything I'm looking at for health, but you can see this year has been a rollercoaster. The first quarter looks like the healthiest I've ever been, and the second one looks like stress. Strain low, sleep okay, HRV low, and RHR high - definitely stress. Things seem to have recovered, but I think I have a lot more to go.

Indeed, parts of this chart mirror how I feel - when I correlate it with my journals or my memory. It feels like the important things - exercise, sleep, food - are getting back under control. Good way to start the next year.

Small teaser for what I'm trying to learn - does sleep consistency consistently affect any measured variable here?


The quick answer seems to be no. Moving right on...

§A year of karate and friendship

It has indeed been a year of being dayman, both in the friends I've made and spent time with, and the completely flipped circadian rhythm I've kept this year. Some would say this is the normal day-night cycle for humans, but to them I say Nightman for life.

As we end the year, I can't help but be incredibly proud of my friends. Just to name a few, they've:

and I'm just listing the things that happened in the last few months. Somehow among all this, they've managed to make so much time to be humans together, been excellent people to each other and me, and (for some of us) kept themselves from spontaneously combusting under the workload. I love all of them.


It has also been a year of new friends, powered by the internet. This blog and Twitter have long been helpful here. I've come to look at writing almost as a method of sticking out an antenna at a particular resonance frequency. The closer it is to yours, the more you connect to the things it picks up. Long-form writing on the web has this timeless quality. Posts from ten years ago that I've long forgotten still manage to sometimes find humans who have the same thoughts or problems as I do.

§A year of work

I'm still surprised work hasn't completely consumed this post. From almost any vantage point this year, work would have looked all consumingly massive.

It has been a crazy year. I'll just do a greatest hits, then explain:


For me, I've:

We've also done our best to contribute to AI development, explaining and open-sourcing what we can. As we stand on the shoulders of giants, it's the least we can do.

Some fun demos:

I think some old habits and new held me together this year, despite everything.

§Best habit of the year

The smallest and most impactful habit this year was TODO-ing. Like most of us, I have been maintaining lists of things to do for a while - first in Evernote, then in Notion, then Notes, then Samsung Notes, and occasionally (but hopefully less now) in the brains of my cofounder and my girlfriend.

This year all of that condensed down to a single app that lives on my phone. If I can do something right away, I do it. If not, it goes into the list, which I clean every few hours or at least every day.

I go through thousands of items a month, and I cannot stress how much this has changed my life.

It's made me less forgetful of things and of their context. The longest I'll forget something is a few hours.

It's made me more mindful of the things I do, and spend more time thinking about them. Each time I read through the list, some way to improve something pops up, which gets written down. By the time I get to some of the big things, they've had a lot more work put into them over the time they've been on the list.

Paradoxically, it's given me a clearer mind because I don't carry them around. Context switching (from work to work or work to friends or a movie) has become so much easier. I find that I'm far more peaceful. Deeper meditative states have come sooner, and restful sleep has been easier to find.

I think it has functioned the same way as learning to rely on my digital calendar. Computers are far better at perfect recollection and reminders than us. (More than seven separate things and our short-term memories often tap out). Relying on them for what they're good has helped me regain some of my humanity.

§Best habits of yesteryear

Write. Please write. If I could only make myself and everyone do one thing, it would be to write more.

The biggest benefit is long-term, and it has nothing to do with what you do once you've written something. Delete it after writing, burn after reading. You've already forced yourself to think more deeply about something, to wrestle coherence out of your thoughts and experiences, and to strengthen your recollection of your own life.

I still hate writing, but I hate it less every day, every time I write.

It'll also make you a better writer, thinker and speaker. In these isolated flesh machines it's our only way to be understood, to connect. There's a good chance it's the bottleneck in your life.

I've been able to write significantly more this year (sometimes with the help of LLMs), and it's made a difference. I find my memory improving, and my understanding of something has a much longer half-life. Journalling my time in the US (which meant scribbling as little as 10 words every half hour) has made that trip my most memorable in the literal sense.


Getting off my soapbox, meditation has also been a strong part of this year. I've fallen off a few times, but managing to do at least 10 minutes a day has changed my relationship with my mind and my life. It's hard to explain but I'll try.

Meditation has managed to reverse a large part of the damage done to my attention span through modern (social) media, and I think the lion's share comes from re-learning how to actually do nothing for a little bit. It's made me so much less fearful of boredom, and this year it's turned me around to realizing that being bored is when the amazing stuff happens in your mind.

The biggest change, however, has happened this year. Somewhere along the way I started looking for words or analogies to describe this change I felt in my waking moments, and this is the best I could come up with:

I feel like I've been living conceptually up to this point. I identify, interact and exist with concepts - chair, table, person, happy, comfy, hungry. Nothing wrong with it, except somehow I forgot that it wasn't always so.

There's a tangibility to the raw experience of being alive that gets boxed up and de-entropied by concepts. When I touch my keyboard, I know I'm touching keys, that they're moving up and down, that they push back on my fingers. Yet somehow the true lived experience - if you look for it - has nothing to do with keys, up, down, or fingers. It's something that's always with you, yet it needs effortful practice to be perceived.

I'm not sure if I'm mangling this, but finding this space has been one of the most freeing experiences of my life. Living experientially instead of conceptually - when circumstances admit it - has made me more empathetic and added more color to everyday experience.

To use an example, two red cups (or two sad friends) are the same in this sentence, even though we know they're not. I can use more words in my inner monologue to separate them, but I will continually fail to capture, feel or respond to what is actually there. Being okay with not being able to verbalize something, even to yourself, and allowing yourself to really feel the intangible complexity of the world has been genuinely amazing - even within my limited knowledge and experience.

Waking Up is a good place to start.


Making (this kind of) coffee has stayed on as a hobby and a habit. I've now moved through two more machines (at next to no cost thanks to the healthy secondary market in Singapore) and settled on a near-perfect machine.

This is the one. My only complaint is the lack of double insulation on the steam wand. Otherwise it has everything you need - heats up in 30 seconds, pulls wonderful shots, and has served hundreds of coffees in the past few months, sometimes at breakneck pace for large groups of exacting customers. Worth the money - if you're into this kind of thing.


I've been trying to include this part in other sections, but it has adamantly refused categorization - much like the actual platform.

After a long time of learning from others as a lurker, and not being able to understand the dynamics of short-form writing (almost to the point of not seeing the value), this was the year I decided I'd actually give it a real shot.

If you measure it in terms of numbers, it's been insane. Six months ago my Twitter was non-existent: 60 wonderful people who followed me for some reason, and 10 tweets.

Today that's about 6.7 thousand someones, and the amount of close friends, critical feedback, and happiness from being an active contributor that I've gained has been invaluable.


Doing it has forced me to learn the basics of writing all over again. It has helped me understand the dynamics and flow of large digital social networks by being a part of it. It has engaged me in true back-and-forth discussions I would never have had otherwise.

I grew up with one-to-one, personal digital interaction, and until now I don't think I'd ever graduated to being a part of a parasocial community. It's a strange feeling and a stranger mind-space. I'm still learning how to exist, but challenges are always welcome.

To be clear, I think this has less to do with Twitter the platform, and more to do with the community of people around AI and technology. The sheer speed at which this tech has become democratized is road-rash-inducing, almost forcing you to keep up and stay in once you engage.

Trying to contribute in a meaningful way has also been a learning experience, in explaining things simply and succinctly, and trying to add value. I'm getting better I think.

Also without Twitter, I think I would've missed this gem:

§A year of wonder


This year started with daily bike rides and meditations around Lake Wakatipu. Maybe it was something in the air, but it shows up in every graph I've made about that time - including the health metrics at the beginning.

Most days this year have been wonderful, for the smallest of reasons. The interstitial moments of life, like walking out of a room or putting on a shirt after a shower, felt more accessible and present than ever. Seeing light glinting off of a coin felt like watching C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. Finding small spots to ride my bike to and have coffee has been special, likely because of the company.

There have also been big reasons. It was pretty fun fulfilling a lifelong dream of mine (and my dad's, who I wish had been here to talk to about it) to visit the Smithsonian. Seeing historic airplanes hung up in motion like toy planes really did feel like being a kid again. There are so many pictures of me grinning like an idiot at everything. My face hurt that day when I got home.


This is also the year I fell more in love with technology. It's strange how a business and a study of pure information has touched so close to what it means to be human. We passed the Turing test! We passed it so quickly we almost didn't care. We made an intelligence - and there's so much to learn from it.

As the second comparable general intelligence to exist on this planet, modern AI feels like it raises wonderful, specific questions about the nature of our own minds. Why do we need to think things through? What does it mean to think? How compressible is human knowledge? Do we exist in our minds, or only when we think?

§Somehow still aging backwards

This still freaks the hell out of me. For the last few years, it has felt - on all accounts, every single one - like I'm younger every year. The aches that started troubling me in my mid-20s, like chronic back pain - are gone. A knee that's prone to dislocation since I was 17 is now stronger than ever. Memory? Definitely better than it was ten years ago. Friends? Closer and better than I had it in college.

Did I just have a terrible teenage time? Not really - I still remember it as one of the best times of my life, I was a reasonably athletic kid, so none of this makes sense. But I am certain that I can do more with my body and mind, and I feel healthier and happier than I did at 18.

I wish I could say I fixed my microbolome or took a permanent dose of NZT - all of those make more sense to me than what I think it is. It's exercise, meditation, writing and remembering to show up.

Do as much as you can, and find the line that changes you without breaking you. I really think that's all it is.

What do I mean by showing up? It's hard to explain but I'll try.

§A year of showing up

Sometime around last year, I remember waking up to realize I was starting to be on autopilot. Likely an increase in workload and the fear of inescapable monotony had made me check out of things that didn't truly need me there - like all the moments I was just talking about.

Do you really need your prefrontal cortex to take out the trash? How about taking a shower? How about a weekly catch-up call or watching TV? It's a slippery slope.

Taking an immediate break for a few days to try and fix things led me down a few paths. It was hard to reconcile the general lack of objective purpose in life, with a dawning realization that I had most things I truly needed. What was the point of more? Why do things, and why do them well? What truly matters? Who am I becoming and what do I become?

Maybe I'm dramatizing, but the distant memory feels like it was somewhat dramatic. These were hard questions to ask, especially when life was satisfying, gratifying and comfy. Why rock the boat? Is it fear of stagnation?

First, I needed to understand who I was and what drove me, if I was rationally accurate about fears of losing the things I have. I'd lived long enough to see patterns, and I could - and should - put aside my worry about things that looked like true black swans.

The more I thought, the more I kept being pulled towards two inescapable conclusions.

The only consistent driving forces for all of my life have been the people around me and curiosity. My work - and my self - is defined in its expression on the people I communicate with, and the species at large. There was no escaping this. There are no self-made humans, just as there are no true islands among men.

If I accept this, it almost felt like a paradoxically axiomatic conclusion - what I wanted for myself was to show up. Show up to life for as long as I've got it, big moments and small. It was the least I owed to the wonderfully improbable joy of being conscious, and to the humans that have been kind to me.

The point, it seemed to me, was to live an effortful life. Since then, it's been the measuring stick for my days: "Did I manage to show up today?"

After a few early months of struggle and work, we come to the end of 2023, and I think I've made progress. I think it's improved my relationships, given me back my time, and it's counterintuitively made my life feel more effortless.

It's given me an anchor to fight the urge to take the lazy path. I still lose often, but I lose a lot less than I did before.

In an exploding year, it's given me more presence and permanence in my life.

§At least one of you is here for the cat

You know who you are. It's been a wonderful year, and I'm happy I got to live it with all of you wonderful people. It's now customary in these reviews to end with a cat, but this year you get two!

Hrishi Olickel
28 Dec 2023