Best of 2023
Recapping my year in writing
Hey everyone! Happy holidays to you and your loved ones. I’m back in Germany and enjoying the festive spirit this side (the Germans go all out for Christmas).
I love this time of year – a few sacred days off to reset and do nothing.
After a few days of sleeping in till 10 am, taking Lily out for trail runs in the mountain and stepping away from the laptop, my energy levels are up and I’m feeling excited about writing and tackling big goals in 2024 again.
As a light lift to close out the year, I thought it could be fun to share the writing that I’m most proud of this year.
I also curated my favourite “favourites” - the top quotes and books I read and my favourite photos.
There is also a little bonus in section 3 as a thank you to all my subscribers.
Thanks for your readership this year and I’m looking forward to sharing more stories next year. Until next time ✌️.
I published 26 newsletters this year. Here are the 5 pieces I’m most proud of:
“For a long time, I had doubts about my career path […] Until, one day, I considered whether this 'regret thinking' mindset was serving me. Could I move forward by constantly looking over my shoulder?”
This essay spoke about the play between reflection and commitment and resonated with a lot of readers. Assaid: “I love this essay's illustration of the first set of pathways. The green line shows how even when you make a choice, that one choice leads to a whole full menu of life engagement. It helps me to visually move from the inner sense I am restricting myself when I make a choice to what will actually get opened up by the act of making that very choice”
“The world isn’t black or white, it’s everything in between. There are many roads to Rome and many ways of being.
I never knew that finding your passion could make you more empathetic. If you live (find your thing), then you can let live.”
This was one of the more difficult pieces to write, but also the one I’m most proud of. I had no idea where I was going when I set out. I just wanted to capture a change I observed in my approach to life (being less prescriptive and judgmental) and I ended up coming to a nice realization – that you are more relaxed about other people’s lives when you are content with your own.
“This compilation of guiding principles started as a Whatsapp conversation with a friend who asked me (1) what my ideal day looks like and (2) what I value above all else. Two dynamite questions. I sent her a long list of things. Here’s an edited and cleaned-up version of that message.”
Really enjoyed writing this one. Probably the biggest effort to get over the line, but I was happy with the finished product – 23 guiding principles I (try to) follow in my life.
“I love reading. And I’m guessing many of you, as avid newsletter readers, do too. When people ask me for book recommendations, this is what I send them.”
This edition highlights my 30 favourite books (15 fiction and 15 non-fiction) together with some tips to read more books per year.
I enjoyed compiling this list. Even though my list of top books has already changed and will change many more times in future, it will be good to reflect on the books that shaped my thinking up to July 2023.
“My views on traditional and creative work have become more nuanced. While I would still encourage people to try creating and writing and see what comes of it, I also realize not everyone can make it as a solopreneur. There are a few individuals who shoot the lights out and make a living from their videos and writing, while the vast majority of creators need to take on part-time work to keep their passions alive.”
There are different ways of selling your skills and you need to find the best mix for you.
Writing this essay felt like a release. Since quitting corporate, I felt like my identity was tied to making it as a solopreneur/writer. Sharing an honest reflection and making peace with my journey has given me new energy and direction.
2. My Favourites
Here all the top quotes, books, and photos extracted from my usual “Favourites” section for 2023.
Top 5 quotes:
1. Listening can make you more interesting.
"So if you aspire to be a good conversationalist, be an attentive listener. To be interesting, be interested. Ask questions that other persons will enjoy answering. Encourage them to talk about themselves and their accomplishments." – Dale Carnegie
2. Why we should train our minds and not only our bodies.
“But it is your mind, rather than circumstances themselves, that determines the quality of your life. Your mind is the basis of everything you experience and of every contribution you make to the lives of others. Given this fact, it makes sense to train it.” — Sam Harris (via the Waking Up app)
3. Take a moment to be grateful.
“People complain about the bad things that happen to ‘em that they don’t deserve but they seldom mention the good. About what they done to deserve them things. I don’t recall that I ever give the good Lord all that much cause to smile on me. But he did.” – Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men
4. If you’re ever scared about sharing your thoughts because you fear what other people think, remember there is a generation of young people looking up to you for guidance.
“Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them—if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you.” – J.D. Salinger
5. If you’re at a crossroads or reinventing yourself, take heart. Being comfortable with uncertainty can lead to the greatest growth and joy in life.
“Oscar Wilde said that if want to be a grocer, a politician, a general or a judge, then you will invariably become it - that is your punishment. But if you never know what you want to be, if you live what some might call the dynamic life, but what I call the artistic life, if each day you are unsure of who you are and what you know, you will never become anything and that is your reward…Not knowing what you want to be—reinventing yourself every morning; not being a noun, but being a verb; moving in life, not being fixed in life—is a privilege. And though it’s a difficult life sometimes, don’t feel bad about not knowing. It’s a wonderful thing.” – Stephen Fry
My 5 favourite books:
1. East of Eden by John Steinbeck (1952)
An incredibly rich, entertaining story set in the US at the turn of the 20th century. Previously I read The Grapes of Wrath, which I found excellent, if somewhat angry. East of Eden is pure poetry, with magnificent philosophical debates and a good amount of humour and irony. Steinbeck also describes it as his greatest work. Quote:
"And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual."
2. Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan (2020)
A powerful novella dedicated to the victims of the Magdalene laundries, where an estimated 30,000 Irish women were incarcerated between the 18th and 20th centuries. I read Foster (2010) earlier this year and I was blown away by Keegan’s writing. Similar to Foster, Small Things Like These isn’t a thick book, but the messages and themes stay with you for a long time after reading it. Quote:
“As they carried along and met more people Furlong did and did not know, he found himself asking was there any point in being alive without helping one another? Was it possible to carry on along through all the years, the decades, through an entire life, without once being brave enough to go against what was there and yet call yourself a Christian, and face yourself in the mirror?”
3. A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life by George Saunders (2021)
One of the best ‘how to write’ books I’ve read. I give it a 5/5 purely for Saunders’s choice of short stories to analyze (written by Russians in the 1800s), his actual analysis, his sense of humour and his understanding of the inner workings of a writer’s mind. This book makes you fall in love with the classics again and with the art of writing. Quote:
“The Russians, when I found them a few years later, worked on me in the same way. They seemed to regard fiction not as something decorative but as a vital moral-ethical tool. They changed you when you read them, made the world seem to be telling a different, more interesting story, a story in which you might play a meaningful part, and in which you had responsibilities.”
4. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (1985)
Describes the journey of a band of scalp hunters during the Indian Wars of the 1840s in West Texas and Mexico. Although McCarthy is best known for No Country for Old Men, this is arguably his greatest work. It’s gripping from the get-go. A tale of a kid (“the Kid”) who falls between prison, hustling and fighting to stay alive in the American West. Lots of gore with incredible philosophical segments about free will and the value of one’s life thrown in between. I couldn’t put it down. Quote:
“A man seeks his own destiny and no other, said the judge. Wil or nill. Any man who could discover his own fate and elect therefore some opposite course could only come at last to that selfsame reckoning at the same appointed time, for each man's destiny is as large as the world he inhabits and contains within it all opposites as well. The desert upon which so many have been broken is vast and calls for largeness of heart but it is also ultimately empty. It is hard, it is barren. Its very nature is stone.”
5. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (1984)
A stunning novel. Philosophy meets erotic adventure meets communist resistance epic. It explores the artistic and intellectual life of Czech society from the Prague Spring of 1968 to the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union.
Kundera passed away recently. I never read any of his previous work, but Unbearable Lightness was on my to-read list for years. Happy I finally picked it up. He argues that it’s sometimes good to have a heaviness in life, a purpose worth fighting for. Having it all too easy is unbearable. Quote:
“The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?”
I took a bunch of kickass photos and saw some interesting places this year. Here are a few of my favourites. Big thanks to’s Photography for Creatives course, which was a catalyst for my improvement and newfound appreciation of capturing landscapes.
Left to right, row by row:
English Garden, Munich, Germany.
Schyrenbad public pool, Munich, Germany.
Lago di Garda, Itlay.
Soiernspitze, Garmisch, Germany.
Perlacher Forst, Munich, Germany.
Lyst auf Sylt, Germany.
3. Annual Review worksheet
As the year is winding down, it’s a good time to reflect back on 2023 and reflect forward on 2024.
Earlier this month, I hosted a creative workshop where I took 25 students through the prompts I use to write my Annual Review. The cues are a collection of my own ideas mixed in with a few things I’ve picked up from reading annual reviews by writers like David Perell and James Clear.
As a thank you for your readership, I’d like to share my Annual Review Worksheet with you.
This is my 3rd digital product and it’s absolutely free to all my readers. Of course, if you find it valuable or want to support me, you are more than welcome to make a small contribution.
Link: Annual Review Worksheet
Before I sign off, I’d like to share a big personal update.
Jess and I got engaged two weeks ago. It was a beautiful summer evening in Hermanus - a coastal town outside Cape Town that's quite significant to us. We are very excited about life together and are overwhelmed by all the beautiful messages we’ve received. Life’s good.
Until next time - Happy New Year and happy creating!
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