Year in Review (2023)

Year In Review




January 28, 2024

Another one

It’s your boy, back for another year in review. If you’re new here and wondering what this is, it boils down to me half-heartedly throwing some words together in an attempt to fight off the feeling that I didn’t accomplish anything last year.

Before I sat down to write this, I had a quick read through last year's review, and it seems like many of the same themes were present in the last two years of my life. I’m going to take that as a sign that I need to make some bigger changes in 2024. For now though, let’s recap my life in 2023...

What gave me energy?

Permanent Residency • The year got off to a great start, which is when I was granted permanent residency in Australia. I was delighted to have all of the anxiety, worries and scheming that comes from being on short-term work visas behind me. Over the past four years of living in Sydney it has started to feel more and more like home to me.

Australia is by no means a perfect country, but I do find that life is just easier here. It's unfortunate for many immigrants (my friends included) there can be no clear path to permanent residency, even after living here for 4 years. Living with the uncertainty of this whilst trying to make this place your home is super stressful. I'm grateful to be past the visa stage of my Australian life and now looking forward to applying for Citizenship in the coming year.

Relationship • I’m happy to report that I have made it through another year of a fulfilling and loving relationship, where I have somehow convinced an amazing woman to spend her time with me. She truly makes my life so much easier, more exciting and full. My girlfriend (Gabby) makes me want to be a better person, cares for me when I’m sick, lifts me up when I’m feeling down and even calls me out on my bullshit, from time to time.

Extended Leave • I took a 6-month break from work to recharge, do lots of traveling and spend quality time with Gabby. Taking a long break like this has been something I’ve wanted to do for years now, and I finally got the opportunity to do it last year.

Over the course of 2023, we travelled to: Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Perth, Ireland, London and Japan twice! Snowboarding is an expensive hobby to pick up but I might have caught the bug. Gabby is still working in Singapore which is the perfect base for traveling around Asia. I’ve spent a lot of time in Singapore over the past two years but my favorite part about it is probably the airport, because it means we’re leaving behind the oppresive Singaporean humidity.

Being in a long-distance relationship (for now) can be challenging at times and so I am really grateful for these 6 months together, and all the memories that were created. It's great to have an employer like Canva that was so supportive in my decision to take this extended period of time off. I’ve just finished my first week back at Canva and I’m feeling refreshed and ready to dive back into some work.

I did my best to get away from my laptop for the majority of the break, but I did do some work on personal projects and reading/writing in the first two months: I picked up Golang, played around with recent ML models, went through MIT's 6.5840: Distributed Systems and completed the fantastic Nand to Tetris project.

Comedy • I feel like political correctness and cancel culture has gone too far in recent years. We're on a path to an environment of fear, self-censorship, suppression of personality and excessive virtue signaling. I find that it’s more and more difficult to have nuanced conversations with people, especially in the workplace. People are so deathly afraid of how their words might be perceived by others that they prefer not to speak about anything real at all.

Listening to more comedians and comedy podcasts has helped me to take the world less seriously again. Some of my favorites are: Stavros, Mark Normand and Matt & Shane's Secret Podcast. Matt and Shane have such great chemistry and I really appreciate how down to earth and self deprecating they are. Usually they are just making random observations about real life and don’t feel the need to censor themselves out of fear of being cancelled, if they think something is funny they will say it. Their humour really reminds me a lot of a TV show that I love, Peep Show.

Miscellaneous • The first few times I tried bubble tea I was fairly unimpressed, but then I discovered Fruit tea in Taiwan this year and got a little addicted (with Passion Fruit tea specifically). Some other snack obsessions I picked up in Singapore last year were: Coconut Water, Pineapple and Iced Coffees.

In november, after almost four years of being a strict vegetarian, I started eating fish and meat again. I'm stilling eating mostly vegetarian food, but I'm now more flexible and less restrictive. As a vegetarian I found it very difficult to get enough protein in my diet and at least for now I’ve opted for the ease and freedom of a more flexible diet.

What took my energy?

Neck Injury • Since February I have been dealing with chronic neck stiffness and pain, which I can’t seem to get rid of. We’re still not exactly sure what’s causing it or the best way to treat it, which really sucks. I’ve tried so many different physiotherapists, doctors, specialists, medical imaging and medications but am still fairly in the dark about how to get better.

Luckily, the pain levels are manageable and it’s more uncomfortable than anything, but when this goes on indefinitely with no definitive diagnosis and no path to improvement other than a “wait and see” kind of approach it’s extremely frustrating. It’s likely that I got some kind of whiplash injury when I was snowboarding, but the waters are muddied by some nerve issues I have from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu injuries.

At times this has been a real drainer on me physically and mentally, but I'm living with it as best as I can. I've had to give up Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Football, and I can’t really do any resistance training or any other strength based exercise. I’ve had to fall back on walking/running as my main form of exercise (which is fairly boring tbh) with some Pickleball thrown into the mix.

This injury has really made me conscious of how intricate and fragile human bodies are. If/when I recover, I will definitely be more careful about taking care of my body (especially as I age) and I will take immense pleasure in small things like being able to sit back and read a book without my nervous system going nuts. It’s also been a good reminder of the importance of having a good health insurance policy. Some other things that really flare up my neck include: carrying a backpack, sitting on a soft chair/sofa or looking down at a phone/book for more than a couple of minutes. I mainly read lying flat in bed now, holding a kindle in the air above my head. I much prefer physical books but I’ve had to give them up for the time being.

Anxiety/Worry • Despite the extended break from work, last year was definitely a pretty stressful year for me. The obvious culprit being the ongoing neck issues and the chronic discomfort, stress and anxiety that goes along with a long term injury like this.

It was great to spend Christmas with my family in Ireland (my third time being back since we moved to Australia). This was the first where I really noticed that my parents are getting old and that some day in the not too distant future I will likely have to care for them, in the same way that I see them caring for my now elderly grandparents. Ireland is quite literally on the opposite side of the world to Australia and I’m worried about how I’m going to be able to be there for my parents without making big compromises of my own independence and happiness. While not yet a pressing concern, I know it’s coming at some point and it’s a bit unsettling if I’m being honest. Being an adult sucks. And to add salt in the wound, my hairline is starting to recede :)

The Russia/Ukraine and Palestine/Gaza conflicts are evidence that humanity is not yet as enlightened as the west has liked to pretend in recent years. I’ve read enough history to know that people can and will do horrific things out of fear, hatred and necessity. We don’t know what kind of societal changes climate change and AGI will bring, but I’m willing to bet that there’ll be an awful lot of conflict and suffering along the way.

One of the main downsides of Australia is the unaffordability of housing and the inequality is growing because of this. It often feels like the clock is ticking and that I need to take out a horrifyingly large mortgage now or I’ll never be able to afford a house in the future. At the same time, the housing market seems like it’s in a bubble that has to burst. When you consider how few large cities there are and how many immigrants will be moving here over the next 30 years it does help to rationalize the “property go up” narrative that is dogma here in Sydney. The Australian economy and housing market is completely dependent on immigration to keep it growing and no government is going to stop the music any time soon. People are property-obsessed here, and it’s starting to rub off on me in ways that I don’t like.

Smartphone/Media • I did cover this at length in last year’s post, but I wanted to give a quick update here. The war for my attention is fully raging still. In my goal to use my smartphone less, I definitely made some progress last year. I’m hoping to write about this and share what I’ve learned and what worked for me, but I want to give it more time before I start preaching about how great and virtuous I am.

When it comes to reducing my media consumption, I still have a lot of work to do. While I rarely check social media and don’t really watch much TV, I 100% have a youtube and podcast addiction. I spend way too much time listening to other people talk and not nearly enough time thinking for myself.

I've also caught myself in cycles of refreshing BBC World News every couple of hours. Consuming global news like this on the internet only serves to reinforce anxiety about the economy, natural disasters, climate change, etc. The old saying “if it bleeds, it leads”' is certainly true and as somebody who is inclined towards cynicism, it doesn't do good things for my worldview and makes me less optimistic overall. History and geopolitics are my biggest interests though so it’s really hard for me to stay away. I’m really interested in exploring the concept of an “Information Diet” some more and how this could be beneficial to me.

Job Dissatisfaction • There’s a lot of positive aspects to being a software engineer (especially the pay). If your main goal is to have a secure job, build some wealth and get through life comfortably it’s a great career choice. Despite this, I’ve often struggled to find a lot of satisfaction and meaning in my work. I love being able to roll out of bed at, obviously. Or the freedom to work from anywhere with an internet connection.

But I think I need more than this. I need to feel challenged. I need to learn new skills. I need to spend less time talking and more time doing. I need to feel like I’m working towards something. I need to know that if I work 50% harder it’s going to make a difference. I need to feel like the work I complete was meaningful, that it moved a needle somewhere. I find myself less and less interested in computers and more interested in learning about the real world: history, physics, evolution, geopolitics and economics. The grass is always greener on the other side, of course.

Random favorites

Looking ahead

I’m definitely looking forward to a more relaxed (and stationary) 2024 in Sydney. In the prior 12 months I have moved apartments three times and been on more than 35 flights. I'm hoping to cap next year's travel at 2-3 trips.

As a closing note, I’m publicly committing to diving back into Machine Learning this year. I may end up switching specialities at Canva, joining a early-stage startup or even something more drastic like starting a Phd. program. Let's see what 2024 holds :)