A Year in Review 2017: Personal Growth Amidst a Fragile Macro Environment
I’ve had a number of iterations of the same conversation with friends as we have reflected on 2017 in the year’s waning days: despite it being a very, very bad year for the institutions, policy makers and civilians that work to uphold the democratic conventions upon which all of life as we know it rests, it has been a successful year of personal growth and development.
Now two and a half years out of University, friends have been promoted, moved onto new opportunities and to new geographies, found love or made important next steps in their relationships. And for those whose life doesn’t look too different from this time last year, many have used 2017 to lay the groundwork for changes in the year ahead. I find myself in the latter category, but I still consider 2017 to have been a year of growth.
But I want to make it clear to my future self that I am aware how fragile this platform is: civilization and civic norms enable the knowledge market economy which has provided the opportunity for my friends and I to prosper and grow, but 2017 has shown me that we can’t take anything for granted. When White Supremacists can feel bold enough to reveal themselves and protest and not be condemned by the President of the United States it is important to take action and speak out – this is not normal, so we can’t carry on as normal. It may seem like the riskier move in the short term, but the tail risk of inaction is far, far greater.
As I move into 2018 I want to build on the highlights from this year and take these lessons to heart:
Sustainability as a feature of my lifestyle: In 2017 I took the personal values that were cemented in 2016 and scaled them to a wider audience. The good news is that most of the “actions” don’t even feel like an effort any more. It does make me happy to reflect on the following highlights, and I also get a little buzz of excitement thinking how I make 2018 even better:
- Working with Sean Sullivan, Rebecca McSween, KC and others involved with RISE to raise $30,910 for a new 16kW Fordham Solar Array was the most rewarding thing I did in 2017. This was Fordham’s first ever alumni-led fundraising campaign, and was a rewarding process multiple reasons: a) it involved many steps that needed proactive organization (engaging the university, building a base of supporters to help spread the word, hosting a launch party, soliciting small and large donor donations etc…); b) we showed Fordham how important sustainability is for their alumni, which will hopefully spur further action; and c) most importantly, we have raised the funds to make a quantifiable dent in the emissions produced on Fordham’s campus in a relatively timely manner.
- I believe I was relatively successful in evangelizing the elimination of beef from my diet: this post on “Why I gave up beef” is my most read post of 2017 and began multiple conversations with friends, some of whom have experimented with reducing their beef consumption or given it up entirely. For full disclosure: I ate one piece of beef in 2017, as part of a communal dinner with a set menu that couldn’t be altered. It was delicious, but I came away more convinced than ever that everyone can and should at least severely reduce beef intake to no more than 3 or 4 times per year.
- KC and I were more successful in growing our own vegetables and fruits this year — we had an abundance of delicious green zebra tomatoes, jalapenos, and mint that made for many delicious late summer dishes (and mojitos). We were less successful in growing cucumber, cauliflower and squash. Lesson learned: all the water and sunlight in the world might not be enough to grow a plant if the soil properties aren’t right. I’m excited to grow more in 2018.
- Our participation in a bi-weekly CSA farm share was a mixed success. I maintain that it was worth every penny to enjoy locally grown vegetables that I wouldn’t otherwise have purchased while engaging with members of our neighborhood in a non-transactional manner and supporting a sustainable business model for small/mid-sized farms. KC laments the wasted produce that we ended up having to compost when we couldn’t eat it all based on our schedule or laziness.
- We ended the year challenging ourselves to “No Waste November”, and though we occasionally slipped up it was a worthy, habit-altering challenge: I now refuse to drink coffee from a disposable cup, am very cognizant of all the plastic in my life, and strive to compost all the food waste I produce. Whereas previously I felt morally comfortable acting on the “Recycle” part of the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” mantra, today I am much more focused on the “Reduce” directive. In fact, I think we should re-brand the mantra as “Reduce, Reduce, Reduce; Reuse, Reuse, Reuse; then Recycle” :). The highlight of No Waste November was the no waste, vegetable-forward friendsgiving we hosted.
The second highlight of my year was definitely catching up properly with old friends I haven’t seen in too long, and making new memories with them:
- Visiting Carlos in Mexico City and seeing him hustling to build Eiya from the ground up; commuting around the city with KC in a cargo bike; running through Bosque de Chapultepec.
- Staying with Ian in San Francisco and spending hours with him picking the brain of Zack from Huckleberry Bicycles about the economics of a bike shop; running through the Golden Gate Park to Ocean Beach. Ian’s return trip to NYC and our run from Midtown to DUMBO followed by a test ride of Van Moof electric bikes. (Sense a theme?)
- Two trips to NYC from Chris Chung which involved a lot of reminiscing about MGS IB banter and too much #coinlife conversation with Chekroud. Stoked to hear about his work with CRISPR at Harvard — believe the hype.
- Wonderful few days catching up with Mossy and Rose — perfect dinner at the Farm on Kent, too much fun watching Mossy attempt yoga at Brooklyn Grange, and of course Tom nearly dying on multiple occasions.
- Catching up in person with my future-co-founder Jackson on the waterfront in SF, albeit briefly, and coming away buzzed about his personal future, the possibilities of game-changing technologies in the next 2–3 years, and also more generally after more glasses of wine than anticipated.
- Multiple NYC adventures with Hannah who spent 10 weeks as a visiting fellow at Columbia: some unreal ballet, the Laura Owens art exhibit at the Whitney, 3am piano bars, and all day boozy brunches.
- A flying visit home saw long overdue catch ups with Clarkey and Sarah — lovely to see them and hear about their 2018 plans.
Some other highlights:
- Side project to interview friends while they are aged 24/25 — that magical age I find myself where the defined path of school>college>job has been achieved, but many of the life defining choices are ahead of them. I only interviewed 2 friends in 2017, however, so need to up the ante in 2018 to make this a worthwhile endeavor.
- Work was good to me in 2017 — I worked on a few interesting transactions, broadened my scope to include negotiating documentation points and mentoring interns and first year analysts, and apart from a stressful 2 month period over the summer the work-life balance was pretty reasonable. The downside to working a 9am-8pm job is that the weekdays have become too predictable – working all day then coming home and watching some Netflix to unwind. I need to not let my job stop me from living life, especially when it isn’t particularly burdensome.
- I ran 2 official half marathons (1.59 was my quickest this year, slightly short of my 1.57 PB) and my first official 10K race (pretty happy with 52.01 for the morning after Halloween), and as noted above I enjoyed some wonderful runs in different parts of the world. Not quite 2016, but still some great memories.
Room for Improvement
- I was largely satisfied with my 2017 record against the goals I had set in last year’s Year in Review; however, it was disheartening to look back and see that I didn’t achieve my goal of giving a prepared talk to 30+ people. Unfortunately I think this is indicative of a) my not being part of a specific community of individuals with overlapping passions as mine with whom I interact on a regular basis, and b) not pushing myself beyond my comfort zone to use my weekday evenings more effectively and find that community. I have a lot of wonderful conversations with friends, but too often they are infrequent and not oriented towards specific action items. I think working a desk job that sometimes requires me to work late has made me hesitant to commit to a hobby, but partly it’s a function of nerves/laziness (work life hasn’t been too stressful in the past few months — hopefully saying that doesn’t jinx it).
- In 2017 I developed multiple theories or philosophies that I thought were valuable enough to write down and share, but I don’t think I do a very good job of articulating them succinctly or conveying why they are valuable. I like investing because if I have a thesis I can act on it and be proven right or wrong without telling anyone — I will understand why I am investing even if I can’t do a great job of explaining why. As I look to grow in 2018 in my mind I need to become “an honest salesman” — someone who isn’t afraid to promote and evangelize because they truly believe in what they are “selling”. I need less waffle and less hesitation, more clarity and crispness.
Mexico City, upstate skiing at Windham Mountain, San Francisco, Bangalore and Gokarna in Southern India, two trips to DC, Lake Tahoe and San Francisco (round 2), East Hampton, camping in the Catskills, Miami, England and Key Largo. Other than catching up with friends in Mexico and SF/Tahoe, the biggest adventure of the year was attending an Indian wedding… in India! KC’s friend from studying abroad, Prudvhi, got married in a spectacular 3 day ceremony outside of Bangalore, and he managed to bring ~25 of his friends from around the world. We had too much fun, and KC and I needed the following 7 days on Om beach (secluded and spectacular) and Agonda Beach on the Southwestern coast to recover. Lake Tahoe’s natural beauty blew me away and given its proximity to Yosemite, cemented the Sierra Nevada range as perhaps my favorite place of natural beauty in the world (thanks for taking us, Jackie!!).
Food was all about communal dining for me in 2017, a trend I only hope will accelerate in 2018.
The year’s most spectacular night was attending the Outstanding In The Field dinner at Amber Waves Farm in the Hamptons with KC. The food was incredible (local little neck clams, porchetta with delicata squash and salsa verde etc…) but the environment and the connection with foodies and farmers alike made it truly magical. Similarly, our Sunday Supper with Tom and Rose at The Farm on Kent was a perfect evening that reminded me how lucky I am to live where I do. KC and I ended the year at the PITH supper club enjoying Chef Jonah’s creations such as King Crab with kohlrabi and shiso — it was also here we had the one piece of beef, prepared with trumpet mushrooms, mushroom and black garlic sauce, and fresh polenta. The beef melted in my mouth but it was the mushrooms and sauce that made the dish special.
We also had some very memorable non-communal dining dinners. Biko in Mexico City was the best birthday present I could ask for; Cosme provided a cool atmosphere for modern Mexican cuisine and a corn husk meringue I can still taste today; I had to take KC to ABC Kitchen after enjoying myself therer so much with Tom and Rose; Nix showed us how cool vegetarian restaurants can be; KC and I celebrated our 6th year anniversary with dinner at Bistro Petit, our favorite French-Korean hole in the wall, and Chef Park did not disappoint with a beef-free tasting menu — I have no idea how that place doesn’t have a Michelin star.
- Books: by far the most influential book I read in 2017 was Sapiens. I’m so happy I finally took the time to read it after seeing it recommended by so many people. It has done more to change my mental model of how the world works than almost any other book, and that’s the highest compliment I can pay. I’ve nearly finished the follow up, Homo Deus, which builds on Sapiens effectively but lacks the mind-bending arguments of the first book. Until I read Sapiens, however, I was convinced that The Third Plate by Dan Barber would be the best book I read in 2017 — an incredible mix of anecdotes, exploration, history and research into the food system from one of the world’s greatest chefs. I also read: God In A Cup, a wonderful read on third wave coffee; Designing Your Life, a Millenial’s how-to guide to life; Lab Girl, an intimate memoir of a female biologist’s career and love of the environment; A Wrinkle in Time, the classic sci-fi book I read ahead of the film’s release in 2018; Cryptoassets, a great primer on the whole crypto-space for the non-technically minded (ie me); A Place Of My Own by Michael Pollen, whose writing style never fails to make me smile; and, Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed To Reverse Global Warming. I am also about half way through Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama, who is one of the best writers I have ever read; the book is incredible but heavy (emotionally), so I can only take it in short bites.
- Newsletters: I spend a good 45 minutes every morning reading newsletters, and consider it time well spent. As with last year, Stratechery and Snippets remain the two most valuable newsletters I receive, but I’d also add Money Stuff by Matt Levine and (though not strictly speaking newsletters but updated daily on their website) AVC by Fred Wilson (which I’ve read for years), and the Electrek Green Energy Brief (a new edition).
- Podcasts: I was shocked to look back at last year’s review and see that I only really advocated for Revisionist History. This year I have been overwhelmed by a ton of different podcasts, but a few have stood out from the pack: The Ezra Klein Show is the best interview podcast out there by a long way — his interviews with Bill Gurley, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jennifer Doudna (part of the team that developed CRISPR) were incredible. The Energy Gang has become an instant weekly-listen podcast with incredible insight into the world of clean tech and green energy; Pod Save the People is my favorite show of the Crooked Media empire due to the awesome round up of news that doesn’t make it into the mainstream media, led by Deray Mckesson; additional shout outs to the Tim Ferris Show (his 2 hr interview with Naval Ravikant and Nick Szabo is the best I’ve heard on crypto), Death Sex and Money, and This American Life.
- Theater: I only saw one show in 2017 but boy was it a doozy — KC and I saw The Color Purple on Broadway 5 days before the show’s run ended in January, and I have never been moved the way I was when I heard Cynthia Erivo sing. Best performance I’ve ever seen.
- Concerts: I saw more concerts in 2017 than I have in a few years. I love seeing people I know grow into accomplished musicians – Future Generations and Ritual Talk both had a fantastic 2017 and I look forward to seeing them blow up in 2018. Oh Wonder at Brooklyn Steel was super cool, too, but the highlight has to be Mumford & Sons at United Palace in Washington Heights. They remain my favorite band in the world, and seeing them live for the 4th time was as good as ever.
- Movies: La La Land stole my heart in January 2017 and probably remains my favorite movie. Get Out shocked me, The Big Sick made me laugh and cry, and to a lesser extent so did Lady Bird. Okja was the first streaming movie that I really appreciated, and Coco was wonderful enough to make it’s way into my top 5 pixar movies of all time. I also watched Selma for the first time in 2017 and was blown away by Ava Duvernay’s brilliant movie – if you want to understand Dr. King, this is an incredible portrait.
- TV Show: Handmaid’s Tale from Hulu was the best show of 2017 without question. Brilliant acting, writing and filming, led by Elizabeth Moss. Game of Thrones was back on top form. Broad City was brilliant, and The Good Place has a special place in my heart.
Goals for 2018
- 2018 is going to be a big year for me and KC… more to come at the appropriate time. More generally, I want 2018 to be a year where I say yes to opportunities more freely, because 2018 is going to be a year of adventure. #2018yearofadventure.
- I aim to focus more on my health in 2018 — both mental and physical. More runs, more yoga and perhaps some meditation. By April, I am setting myself a goal of running 3 official races, including one half marathon.
- Higher creative input and output — I need to prioritize my creative projects in 2018, and the inputs that help me be creative (people, places and quality of content — books over articles in particular). In 2018 I’m going to set myself a writing goal for the first time in 3 years: 16 full length posts. I also want to interview at least 5 more friends in the first 3 months of the year. Future creative output to be determined by those future inputs.
Things I’m excited about in 2018
- Bringing ideas about sustainable organization design that have been developing, evolving and growing for 5+ years into the real world. More to come.
- Stacey Abrams running for Governor of Georgia
- The mainstream scaling of clean tech — Model 3 / Powerwall + energy storage / impossible burger / (to a lesser extent) electric bikes
- A big year for Tesla. My expectations: ~225k Model 3s produced with ~$40k average selling price , +~100k model s/x = revenue >20bn (with solar+energy). 15% gross margin = ~$3bn GP. ~4bn Capex spend means I expect 1 capital raise of ~2bn before hitting fcf positive in q4/Q1 2019.
- Not cleantech but the launch of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy
P.S. This post is only being published on January 7th because of a slight scare on Jan 1st in which it looked as though our apartment might be about to collapse and we would have to vacate. Fortunately, I Like I say… #2018yearofadventure!