Reflecting on 2023, and thoughts going into 2024.
My good friend, Max, and I recently went to dinner at a favorite Thai spot around the corner from my place. I've come to cherish one-on-one meals as my preferred way of reconnecting, particularly with close friends like Max. Our conversations never grow stale; instead, they flow organically from one topic to another, spurred by my perpetual digressions. As we were nearing the end of the year, he asked a casual (and maybe even predictable) question. Perhaps it was the way he said it—thoughtfully, contemplatively, and with a hint of earnestness—or the sudden hush in the cozy, ambient restaurant as he inquired that made me ponder more than usual.
“How was your 2023?”
In the corporate world, particularly in early-stage tech, I've observed a tendency for people to fixate on 'narratives and mental models.' Opinions and memories seem to be painted over time, morphing into a strong but potentially unaligned narrative that 'feels right,' often influenced by thought leadership encountered on platforms like LinkedIn or through conversations with colleagues and peers. This phenomenon is oddly terrifying as reasons for beliefs start to change post-hoc, often in favor of a more compelling story.
Whether it was my response or this preloaded narrative that was doing the talking, I’m not sure if I could tell you, but the words that came out felt like you’d be listening to a prepared Oscar speech, or a quote from a self-help book; a bold, banal soundbite.
“This was the best year of my life.”
Like a relentless podcast, I followed up by spewing more commentary on the matter. ”If each year isn’t the best year of your life, you’re doing something wrong.”
Whether I agreed or not doesn’t feel as important. It simply didn’t feel like my opinion. Why did I feel such a need to be this walking figurehead, molding into more of a GPT clone than a man with experiences and values of his own?
As Max and I parted ways after our dinner, his question lingered in my mind, prompting a deeper introspection into the past year. As I sat at writing club the following day, I found myself reflecting on Max's seemingly casual inquiry, allowing my thoughts to drift beyond the confines of Lemongrass Thai. It was in this moment of quiet contemplation that I began to unravel the tapestry of my experiences throughout 2023, recognizing a common thread that wove through each accomplishment and personal revelation.
I moved to Cobble Hill in Brooklyn. I’ve said this countless times now in conversations with friends and family, but I absolutely love it. Closer friends know in 2022, I felt out of place in East Village, Manhattan. Despite turning the corner and seeing people my age sport NYU hoodies, overhear conversations that feel like those that friends my age would engage in, and seeing the “New York City energy”, I felt drained, not motivated. Some of my distress may have been psychosomatic, self-induced as I thought about this and entertained the gloom (I can promise winter in the city doesn’t help with keeping spirits high).
As my roommates and I neared the end of our East Village lease in April, I considered my options: moving back to the Bay, being nomadic for a bit and going on the road trip that still remains on my bucket list. After contemplating, I found myself on the StreetEasy hunt, relentlessly touring apartments after work with Wesam (who’d become my roommate). Simply thinking of NYC apartment hunting makes me more anxious, so I’ll keep it short: walking around in Brooklyn, from Boerum Hill to Prospect Heights, Park Slope to Carroll Gardens, just felt right.
It wasn’t just the residential feel of the neighborhoods—likely attributable to the tree-lined streets —or the stroller-pushing parents, stress and serenity worn equally on their faces. Brooklyn felt like I could breathe again.
Perhaps this move was more in my head than anything, a prime example of the “fresh start effect”, the cognitive bias behind why we have New Year’s resolutions, start new habits on Mondays, or promise that we’ll finally stop watching Netflix as soon as the clock hits the hour. Called a temporal landmark (for time), I think of Cobble Hill as my geographical or spatial landmark.
With this increase in space around me, I found time to look inwards and become the person I wanted to be. Some goals and ambitions manifested themselves in front of me, with little upfront work needed.
Towards the end of April, with less than a week till my East Village lease would end and I’d effectively become homeless, Wesam and I were still touring apartments. One specific apartment was on the eastern side of Park Slope, just a five minute walk to Prospect Park. The weather was astonishingly beautiful, and we decided to stroll through the park while talking over our options. We made our way past the road and onto the more walkable path, next to the larger uninterrupted meadows, away from the bicyclists zipping away at over 40mph. As we found a tree that provided the right balance of shade to sunlight, we laid back. Wesam had relatives to visit in Staten Island, so before long, I was left alone to take in the landscape in front of me. Surveying from left to right, I gaze no more than a hundred feet away at what looks to be a casual cricket match. Played with a tennis ball rather than the traditional hard cork and leather ball, and on a rougher patchier pitch that looked equally happenstance and man-made, but a cricket game nonetheless.
Since moving to New York, I’d told myself I’d want to join a cricket league of some kind, but googling “new york cricket” didn’t yield much, some results either pointing me to the nearest mobile carrier store, and others with a quasi-established website, with no clear guidelines on how to join. In a subconscious pursuit to join, I found myself within the field boundaries—mapped using a rope and plastic bags tied in—occasionally tossing back the ball that came my way. I wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass me by, and so on the fourth or fifth time of me throwing the ball back, I walk a bit closer and casually ask the wicketkeeper if I could join in and field, to which he responded with a nonchalant yet subtly enthusiastic “yes man, go field.” I’d come to find out that this was a weekly Sunday cricket game, and where I’d spend 4-5 hours of my week for the next 6 months as weather permitted. The club was truly a mixed bag; a group of people the likes of whom I’ve never engaged with before. There were men aged thirty to eighty-two (yes, 82, and he ran faster than some of the thirty-somethings), from across the world. Most were from the West Indies (primarily Grenada), but a few fellow Indians, and one-offs from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, South Africa, New Zealand, and more. If Manhattan is the epitome of the word ‘metropolitan’, Brooklyn can most aptly be defined as the ‘cosmopolitan’, and joining this cricket club on the same week I moved to Brooklyn served as a truly memorable, ‘flagship’ experience that was emblematic of how the following weeks and months would unfold.
Other ‘self-improvement projects’ didn’t come without some work and consistency, though.
Opting to abandon a gym routine that felt more like an ego boost than a health regimen, I canceled my $200+/mo membership. Instead, I embraced running as a fitness routine, eventually falling in love with it. Before the move to Brooklyn and when our company’s office was still in Union Square (on 15th St and 5th Ave), after work I’d walk down 15th St until I reached Union Square West. If I turned left, I’d walk a few blocks to the gym, and if I turned right, I’d start the 30 minute walk back to my East Village apartment. Bag packed with a change of clothes, I’d find myself looking left, then after a minute, taking strides right and calling family while walking home. Laziness was one part of why I’d often choose to turn right, but the other was that I’d simply not found the act of picking up heavy metal to be fulfilling, aside from the occasional compliment on my progress and how I looked in the mirror. Since June, I went from being able to run a mile before feeling my lungs were collapsing, to now just passing 10 miles. Most importantly, I enjoy it, and am excited each day after work to lace up, even if just for 30 minutes to leisurely do a 9 min/mile jog down the Brooklyn pier. For all that I try to stay off social media, I’ll admit that reflecting on my runs through the orange and white user interface of Strava has further solidified my commitment to this more nascent routine.
While living in Manhattan, I often made semi-deprecating jokes that New Yorkers had few hobbies; they walked to dinner, then drinks, then home, then again to a boozy brunch—and that was the extent of their weekend. Post-move, I was keen on proving myself wrong and picking up activities that not only filled up my weekend, but those that made me an interesting person. I made the decision to quit drinking, fully aware of the jokes that would follow (and still do) about going dry before legally able to have a beer. Regardless, I stand one year alcohol-free, a personal achievement I take pride in. As cricket filled up my Sundays, and running filled up my time post-work, I looked for other ‘off-hand’ hobbies, soon falling into the ‘tech-bro’ stereotype and often taking the G-train to Vital, a bouldering gym in Williamsburg. Max reminded me of Magic the Gathering, a deck-building and strategic card game I hadn’t played in nearly a decade, since my time as a Boy Scout. In 2022, I observed many friendships around me originated primarily from college—an experience I opted out of. These hobbies I picked up weren’t simply a way to pass my time, but helped serve as glue to bind me to the community that participated in these hobbies. I made loose friends through climbing and Magic, even traveling to Pittsburgh recently for a Magic convention over a weekend. New York, I’m coming to realize, is transient and fast-moving, and those who choose to spend time on what they enjoy are also most likely to engage in building relationships. Whether ephemeral or long-term, these relationships rooted in similar interests are what I craved, and investing in recreational activities were integral to forming these bonds. On that note, perhaps the most substantial part of my year—cliché as it may sound—were the relationships fostered. I feel grateful for those in my life; brilliant, thoughtful, and warm human beings.
Like mentioned earlier, there was a common theme for this year. Colloquially, I’d call this the year of “getting my shit together”. Though on a more spiritual level, I like to think of 2023 as when I aligned myself to my environment. I don’t just mean a home or a city (though this was crucial for me), but the places one frequents, the actions one takes. Whether this is the self or the environment; I don’t care to get caught up in the semantics.
I asked myself, “where did this come from? This awareness of the misalignment, and then the steps to correct it?”
I’m not sure if I can give a perfect answer here. I do recall thinking, however, “if I were on a date, and tried to share what makes me…me—what would I say? Who is Yash? What does he do?” I don’t want to give the impression that all “self-improvement” was in pursuit of becoming a more dateable individual, as this doesn’t just hold for romance. Whether this personal development is indeed for a life partner or platonic relationships, or even for the self—I wanted to become distinctly more of myself, like redoing my wardrobe to better suit me, rather than blindly throwing on what felt right.
I’ll caveat that I believe personal growth to be an evergreen project. Hearing from those a bit older in my writing club helps reaffirm this, and witnessing my parents learn how to spend their free time and prepare for retirement absolutely confirms this theory. (I’d be shocked and slightly worried if you found me a soul under fifty who believed they’re done working on themselves.)
The first step, though, is understanding who you are. A fundamental question: what makes you…you? How do you foster more of that? What do you wish you did more or less? I feel silly for having spent 21 years on this Earth and only now prompting these questions, but also know that this question is one to ask every few months. I expect to settle into my preferences in the next decade, but am all too aware of my naivete and aim to stay open to new experiences. I can say for certain that this city, with its overabundant nature, is an amazing catalyst at helping one prioritize their life.
In the context of running, folks occasionally ask about the ‘runners high’, and I’ll be honest: for the longest time, I didn’t know what that meant, and I’m not sure I do today. Reading up on the first article after entering a basic search query, it seems to be a release of endorphins post-run, yielding a ‘blissful state’. But to me, I’ve found the high to be less of what happens after the run, and rather how I feel during the run, or rather, how I don’t feel. For the half-hour, full hour, or even ninety minutes that I’m putting right foot after left, time slows down. My eyes scan ahead of me, occasionally looking down at my feet to ensure I’m not heel striking. I check my watch here and there, sometimes expecting only ten minutes to pass by, and seeing forty instead. Though, it takes a minute to fall into this rhythm that I can accurately describe not as euphoric, but as though you’ve been captivated by a storyteller.
For any run over thirty minutes, I learned the first fifteen minutes are on settling in. I’m conscious of my breathing, and my stride. It feels so natural to burst out of the gate, nearly sprinting for your first mile, then feeling the pain for the next few to follow—2022 taught me this. I’m slowing down a bit now. I don’t think my form is just right. My upper body feels positioned correctly, I’m not heel striking, but there’s still fundamental work to be done.
As I step into the new year, it feels akin to those first fifteen minutes of a run—there's a sense of settling in, finding my pace, and aligning my breath with each stride. I'm proud of the progress I've made this year and have wholeheartedly enjoyed the journey. Here's to keeping the momentum going in 2024.
- YG Dec’23
I thought I’d share some supplementary visuals to go alongside this piece.
New Years 2023, with Jan. At my East Village apartment.
Mom and Ayesha (sister) visit NYC. At the High Line, Feb’23.
Syracuse basketball at the Dome. March’23.
Jack and Anushka’s wedding. With Long, JZ, Johnny (left to right). In Bristol, TN. April’23.
Happy hour with Ramp folks. With Greg, Bella, Daniel (left to right). In La Jolla, CA. June’23.
Kayaking with Brad in Jordan Bay. In Raymond, ME. June’23.
Perusing Spanish literature. With Mom in Madrid. July’23.
At the US Open, watching Tommy Paul vs A. Davidovich Fokina. With Tristan and Krish. Sep’23.
Living the Midwest life, with Manthra, Adi, Quinn, Charlene (left to right). At Cuff Farms, WI. Sep’23
The Pacific Coast from Isla Vista, during a solo roadtrip down the California coast. Oct’23.
The Ramp Scooby Gang, with Natalie, Sam, Jacob, Morgan (left to right). Oct’23.
The star batsman (Vic) and his captain after a cricket win. At Prospect Park, Nov’23.
Thanksgiving dinner with the family away from home. With Omar, Gaia, Ahmad, Quinn, Wesam in Prospect Heights, Nov’23.
Magic the Gathering - Eternal Weekend. In Pittsburgh, PA with Max. Dec’23.
Karachi Community Radio with Ayesha. At Public Records in Gowanus, Dec’23.