As we enter a new year and a new decade, it seems as good a time as any to send out greeting, updates, and reflections to friends old and new. I’ve never sent a message like this before, but I always enjoy receiving them. Yesterday, I got a comprehensive and heartfelt decade-wrap from a friend and was inspired to do the same.
My first pass at this post was a high level recap of the past ten years. It seemed to be more boastful and less authentic than I wanted…which is really the case for any list of accomplishments over a period of time. Not much meaningful is communicated. I tried to add a “bad” section, but I realized that life isn’t so dichotomous that I can cluster things into simple bins of good and bad. And while it is not always the most popular opinion, I believe that often times bad things can be opportunities for growth and positive change, even (especially?) if they are terrible oh-so-terrible in the moment.
So after my first attempt at this point, I decided to start again, where I just have a stream-of-consciousness list of experiences, milestones, events, and feelings from the past ten years that I am sharing here with you. I have probably missed some things, but I hope you can appreciate what is here.
At a high level, I’d like to extend my sincerest thanks and gratitude to my family and friends who have been with me on this ride over the last ten years. I wouldn’t be who I am today without you and your impact. So thank you for being you and for being in my life. This especially goes for my family. Though they are not frequently mentioned in the list below, it’s nearly impossible to separate them and their support from the things I describe. It can be hard to describe a constant presence in discrete chunks.
Before we dive in, it might be worthwhile to ground ourselves back in 2010, where this all begins. In 2010, I was just about halfway done with college. It had been nearly a decade since my sister’s death. Barack Obama was in his second year of his first term and Osama bin Laden was still alive. The term “fake news” was only used on the Daily Show, and it had a very different meaning than it does today. The iPhone 4 and Instagram launched that year. Scrubs was ending its final season.
OK. I think we are ready to start. Here are some things I have done or learned over the past decade:
- I spent the summer of 2011 in Zurich, Switzerland, which instilled in me a travel bug and a deep appreciation for other cultures. Before that, I didn’t really have much interest in seeing the world. I most recently found myself back in Zurich last January for a 12 hour layover, where I serendipitously ran into a friend on the plane there.
- I graduated from MIT in 2012 with a degree in mechanical engineering. In 2010 I got my Brass Rat, MIT’s class ring. I still wear it every day, though I don’t know why. I don’t particularly like to broadcast that I went to MIT because it’s not relevant to most conversations.
- I started working at Formlabs, a 3D printer company that I’ve seen grow from 5 to over 600 employees from a small startup to a global leader in 3D printing. Formlabs has been like a second family to me, where I’ve grown both personally and professionally.
- I moved from Cambridge to Somerville. Not particularly far. I like Somerville. I also liked Cambridge, though.
- Sometime around 2014-ish, I stopped eating meat. I had toyed with the idea for a while. One of my coworkers at the time had been a vegetarian for several decades. We talked a lot and went on frequent coffee runs. So I decided to try cutting out meat, limiting myself to five meals with meat per week, tracking each instance. It was much easier than I expected, so I gradually cut it out entirely. First, I limited myself to several exception conditions in which I would eat meat—when traveling, for instance. Eventually I eliminated all of the exception conditions.
- I adopted the snail as my spirit animal, also sometime around 2014. Friends always send me pictures of snails or snail things they come across. Sometimes I am asked whether I get tired of getting those messages. The answer is unequivocally no, I do not get tired of those messages. To the contrary, I always love receiving a snail greeting. Some advice from a snail: take it slow, build up a hard outer shell, and make sure you always stay soft and gooey on the inside. And, no, I have never eaten a snail.
- In 2013, my cat Aayla came to live with me. I’ve known her since she was a kitten nearly 15 years ago, and she’d lived with my mother until that point. The first few days she hid under the bed and didn’t come out to eat. She is very polydactyl with seven toes on each paw and she had stomach surgery as a kitten. She loves to lie on my belly, purr, and drool. Over the past seven years, Aayla and I have grown incredibly close. Every day I look forward to coming home to Aayla and snuggling with her. I was never expecting to learn so much about love from a cat.
- I learned to read, or more specifically to enjoy reading. OK, so I knew how to read before 2010, but I never really enjoyed it or did it for fun. Since then, I’ve been reading more and more. Mostly I read non-fiction, a lot of behavioral economics, quirky investigative journalism, lighthearted memoirs, essays on workism, and food culture books. I especially like Jon Ronson, David Graeber, and Michael Pollan. And Susan Cain’s Quiet left quite the impression. The main exception to non-fiction is my favorite book the Plague, which I read every fall.
- I discovered forms of fitness and mindfulness practices that I actually enjoy: yoga and biking. If receipts are to be trusted, I started practicing yoga in the fall of 2016. I just go to one place, with a warm community and warm studio. No matter what is going on in my day, as soon as I am on my mat my mind is cleared. That time is dedicated to me and my practice alone and can always be treated as a space where the worries and expectations of this world cannot find me. Biking I have done since 2012 or so, though only on the weekends in good weather. There are two kinds of bikers in this world: people who bike for ice cream and people who do not. I am the former. Typically I will bike the Minuteman trail to Kimball Farms (33 mi) or Bedford Farms (26 mi). Twice I’ve gone to Walden Pond. Usually I go alone, blasting music in tiny earbuds, though sometimes I go with friends. A warm bath is usually called for afterwards.
- Baths are great in all ways, shapes, and forms: bubble baths, jacuzzis, and bath houses from Zurich to Budapest. They are relaxing and rejuvenating and a great place to read. I will share one story here. Several years ago, I was visiting a factory in Hungary. A coworker was picking me up from the airport in Budapest. Upon arriving another coworker, who I thought was in Boston, was there to greet me along with him. He asked me “do you have a swimsuit? We’re going to the bath house”. So straight from the airport we went to Rudas Baths. Once we were in, much to my surprise, I see another ten or so of my friends and coworkers. One of them was ending his bachelor party, where they journeyed from Bucharest to Budapest. I just so happened to show up on the last day when things were quite a bit tamer, or so I’m told. I enjoyed the bath house, dinner, and subsequent factory visit with them.
- In early 2018, I developed an alcohol intolerance. I remember clearly the night I noticed it first: Wednesday, March 21, 2018. I had gone to Café du Pays with a friend for two cocktails after dinner. I had something with gin and green chartreuse. On the walk home, feeling particularly buzzed, I listened to the Spongebob Musical soundtrack. I didn’t sleep that night. I just rolled around in bed, writhing with stomach pains and a headache. I felt like I’d been poisoned. The next morning I went to urgent care. What felt like a hangover lasted for weeks. I had always enjoyed making and drinking cocktails as well as enjoying a good scotch. By that point I had been a vegetarian for a few years, and I’d rarely felt social isolation from not eating meat. For this new restriction of not drinking alcohol, I had never felt so isolated or out of place when with friends or family who are drinking. Today, I can tolerate a little bit of alcohol—maybe one drink per 8 hours—but anything more than that makes me feel terrible. Sometimes just one drink gives me a headache and exhaustion immediately. It’s not that I don’t want to partake in celebratory imbibing; it’s just that my body doesn’t like it.
- I saw Taylor Swift and Billy Joel in concert. Not at the same time. Camila Cabello opened for Taylor Swift and no one opened for Billy Joel. I don’t remember who opened for The Neighbourhood when I went to see them.
- I also saw the Spongebob Musical. Twice.
- A friendly face can mean the world to someone. The morning after a big breakup a few years ago, I drove to Curio Cáfe to get coffee and a waffle because that seemed like a good idea. It usually is. My longest relationship, roughly two and a half years, had ended. At that point, we had lived together. I felt great uncertainty about the future. On the drive to get my waffle, I stopped for a pedestrian in the crosswalk and saw that it was one of my yoga instructors running with her dog. She gave me a big smile and wave and I returned the smile and wave. I knew then that everything was going to be okay.
- I battled weight issues in 2015. It was the generally uncommon weight issue of being rather underweight with little to no appetite most of the time. When my doctor raised the alarm (she was quite unhappy with me), I got a calorie tracker (which I promptly confused with my goal to gain weight) and steadily gained weight to a healthy amount. Fast forward to today and I am at my heaviest (healthy) weight and I am sometimes-to-often hungry.
- I ate a lot of ice cream and pesto. I have yet to make this pesto ice cream, but it is on my to do list.
- A couple years ago, a friend called me the most social person he knew. Never in my life would I expect anyone to say that about me.
- Over the last decade, I’ve seen three and a half therapists. Not at the same time. Usually with years in between any two. Each was different and helpful in different ways. Except for the half. That was a waste of time for both of us. Though a massive generalization, I will say the first helped me navigate anxiety in a world that appeared to be growing bigger and scarier, the second helped me deal with death and feeling lost, and the third helped me process sickness and frustration.
- Lost Michael. It’s hard for me to write much here. The few attempts I have given have been too much to share. Let me just say that his death and thinking back on it unleashes a lot of visceral memories and emotion. It has developed deep neural connections to so many different things in my mind—many bad, some good. I almost immediately have many flashbacks in rapid succession to all sorts of memories and emotions from all parts of my life.
- I learned that writing is good for me…as it is for most people. Several times over the past decade, when I was in a bad place, I would start a journal. It’s a clear way to describe and better understand what is going on. Reflecting back on the entries I could always see growth.
- I’ve been to rallies and protests. My first rally was Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity in D.C. in October 2010. I took a bus down with some college friend. The National Mall was overwhelmed with people and we had no cell service. Apart from voting, it was the first time I was active in politics in any way, shape, or form. A couple years later, shortly after graduating from college, a Black Lives Matter protest in downtown Boston became my first protest. I went with a some friends that I had met a few months earlier. The protest shut down many streets and marched to Charlestown. Shouting chants, not something I’m known to do, felt strangely freeing and empowering. Within the crowd I felt surprisingly safe and connected.
- I discovered podcasts. Very late to the game. I am often late to the game with audio. I moved from iTunes to Pandora and then to Spotify years after the rest of the world. Same with podcasts. I only discovered them within the past few years. They’re great. None are as great as The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Greene. Some come close. I like Hidden Brain, Philosophize This!, and Intercepted, among several others.
- I have some patents. That’s cool. I usually find out about them by Googling myself. Probably not the best process, but it works. I’ve found I google quite well.
- Professionally, I grew a lot. With the end of the decade, I’ve seen a few people throwing around the Bill Gates quote “most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years”. While it’s terribly annoying, it’s also true. Shortly after starting at Formlabs, I asked a mentor what he saw in my future. Part of his response was not too far off from the reality that became. At the time, it felt out of reach in such a timespan.
- I shipped three products: the Form 1, Form 2, and Form 3. I developed tons of design skills and learned about many manufacturing processes. I’ve worn many hats at formlabs in all departments over the years. Before formlabs, I also built a lot of robots, many of which were desk lamps.
- I am in a movie on Netflix. My claim to fame is credited in a documentary at the intersection of 3D printing and cake. Check out one of my scenes at 1:18:18.
- For three years I lived in the Formpad, an apartment in East Cambridge. I moved in there with two coworkers and our company rented the fourth bedroom as a guest room for consultants, interviewees, and remote workers. It was my first time living with roommates—previously I’d been in studios or one bedroom apartments. During our time there, we threw many a great party into the wee hours of the morning. The three of us did were inseparable for a time and I consider them some of my closest friends to this day.
- I married my cousin in New Hampshire. That is technically correct, the best kind of correct. I officiated my cousin’s wedding. Growing up, we saw each other all the time and played in the pool, on the GameCube, in the basement box fort, and so on. During high school and college and after that we drifted apart (much to our grandmother’s chagrin) for all the unremarkable reasons one might expect. The process of officiating his wedding has brought us back together, and now I look forward to seeing him and his wife and their corgi more frequently. I also think I make a pretty good officiant, so hit me up if you require those services.
- A student program, the Science and Technology Leadership Association (STeLA), brought me to Japan, the Netherlands, and Stanford. Through the program I have found lifelong friends. I always know I have a place to stay in those places. In Japan I hiked Mount Fuji overnight—seven hours up, five hours down. We got to the top just before sunrise. The sunrise looked just like the Imperial Japanese flag. I was completely unprepared for the hike, packing all the wrong clothes and not enough food. We went down the wrong side of the mountain (where I fell and hurt my hip) and had to take a taxi back to our bus stop. Most of my time, though, was in Tokyo, taking in such a big city before mobile data roaming was a thing. It was very much a happy-go-lucky, barely-planned trip of exploring.
- To celebrate friends’ weddings, I’ve traveled to India, Hungary, New Mexico, Toronto, Montreal, the UK. Next summer: Italy. I’ve been lucky to participate in some of these wedding—officiant, groomsman, best man. The interesting thing about weddings, I’ve found, is that they bring people together in unexpected ways. In the few weddings I have been in, and even those that I have just been to, I developed a more profound sense of admiration for the couples and as a result felt closer to them. You really see their love on display for all to see. Perhaps that is not so remarkable, as I guess that is kind of the point of weddings, but I certainly like that effect.
- With family I’ve traveled near and far to Jamaica, Iceland with my cousin, France, Italy, and St Martin for a surprise for my aunt’s birthday. More recently, I’ve learned to appreciate travel within the US: the Great Smoky Mountains, Zion, Sedona, Palm Springs, Portland (both east and west coast). There’s still plenty more to see. Next up: Montana.
- My work has taken me all over the world: China, San Diego, Las Vegas, New York, North Carolina, Hungary, and Germany to set up factories, go to trade shows, or visit remote offices.
- After seven years of working at formlabs, I took an eight week sabbatical, skiing in Tahoe, hiking in Joshua Tree, and driving up the west coast from San Diego to Seattle. I’d started planning the summer before, around the time a friend took a similar trip. The trip inspired me to start this blog, where I wrote nearly daily during my time away.
- I stayed at the Lotus Blossom cabin at the Jewel in the Forest. Just north of Big Sur and just south of Carmel-by-the-Sea. Driving up the coastal roads through Big Sur, alternating between listening to John Williams’ Star Wars soundtracks and Jon Ronson’s Last Days of August podcast, the view is absolutely breathtaking. As sunset approaches I’m zooming around the curving roads, alternating between the shade of the mountain forest and the open expanse of the coastline. Each view is better than the last, as I am mouthing “oh my god” over and over to myself after each turn. Eventually I turn off the road and drive several miles into the forest. The cabin is a 1/4 mile hike up a steep path. There is no internet or cell service. The toilet and shower are outside. Heat is limited to an indoor propane heater. The two nights I am there sandwich the launch of the Form 3. Though I had spent years working on the program, I needed a break from society for its launch. My time at the cabin was peaceful. I read, listened to music, wrote, and made scrambled eggs for breakfast.
- Upon returning from my sabbatical, I got a snail tattoo. It looks great and serves as a wonderful anchor to that time in my life. The actual process was an adrenaline rush followed by a massive crash.
- In 2016, I had a bunch of stomach issues. At one point I went to the ER in the middle of the night with terrible stomach pains. The next week, a specialist diagnosed me with irritable bowel syndrome. I told him that it’s not a particularly helpful medical diagnosis, since it just means that I am a stressed twenty-something. After a battery of invasive and expensive procedures I didn’t want to do, he did not change his diagnosis. Over many months, I eliminated stressors and the stomach issues went away.
- People age in ways that they should expect but never do. This applies to me as well. A younger me saw behaviors in older people that I said “no, I will never be that way”, but, lo and behold, now I am. Pick anything cliche and it probably applied to me. I guess the lesson here is not to fight the future. Anticipate that you will change as you grow and age. Learn to embrace the entirely predictable change. Just because it happens to everyone doesn’t mean it’s unremarkable.
- The mind has a lot of control over the body. It’s taken me a long time to learn this one, and I think I still am learning it. Stress, anxiety, loss, depression, elation, exercise, novelty, they all impact us physiologically more than makes sense to the human brain. Who thought that hidden stress could manifest in a way that feels like intense chest pain? I certainly didn’t. I fought against the notion for months. I definitely didn’t believe the doctors in the ER who looked upon me with genuine concern and pity as they gave their best explanation. I didn’t believe that anxiety could cause stomach cramps so severe that it’s hard to focus on anything for more than a few minutes at a time, but it was hard to deny that reducing anxiety eliminated the issues. Of course it’s easy to believe that happy experiences cause me to feel healthier and better all around. To some surprise for me, I learned that exercise can do more for mental health than almost anything else, though it sometimes takes days or weeks to kick in. So when you’re feeling at your absolute lowest, unable to comprehend how you’ll ever not feel this way, I find it’s helpful to think and to know that in a few weeks or a few months you’ll be feeling good and looking back just as unable to comprehend how you could ever feel that bad.
- You’ll always miss something. I’ve written more than 4000 words here over the past few days, but I have probably missed something big. I could feel really bad about it, but I am not going to. If it’s related to you, sorry, I have a bad memory. I, like everyone else, am also biased about what has happened more recently and what is at the front of my mind. It’s ok to miss some things. But don’t dwell on them. Value the things you didn’t miss.
- Empathize when you can; sympathize when you can’t. You’ll often never know what people are thinking but assume they are acting in good faith. The best way to understand someone’s behavior is to put yourself in their shoes and try to think how they are thinking. I consider empathy to be one of my most cherished traits, as it opens many doors and many worlds.
- Everyone is acted on more than they act. We like to think that we control our destiny, that our choices and efforts result in our successes and failures. That’s true up to a point, but luck plays a much bigger role than people are generally willing to admit—or even consider. We don’t control where we are born, to whom we are born to, when we are born, and that makes a huge difference in so many ways. Every day we are acted on by our environment and our circumstances. We make choices within the constraints of these environments. We are biased to think our choices have an outsize impact because we usually only hear about exceptions to the rule—we often won’t see a news story about someone who worked really hard and invested his entire life savings his work only to fail massively. Understanding that everyone is acted on more than they act helps a lot with empathy. “Bad guys”, the “other”, “adversaries” no longer seem as scary or foreign or not relatable. Everyone is closer than we think in this regard.
- No one waves; everyone waves back. I read this line just a few months ago in Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come: An Introvert’s Year of Living Dangerously, a delightful book by Jessica Pan. It’s generally true except sometimes in Hungary.
- Always give constructive feedback when you can. Sometimes, very rarely, you do need to give feedback but can’t find a way to make it constructive. Give it anyway, even if it’s hard. And preface all the feedback with that face.
- If you don’t know what you’re eating and you are in the US, it’s probably corn or soy. Sorry, Brooks.
- Don’t machine wash cashmere. Similarly, don’t put a wool hat in the dryer with velcro unless you want it ruined.
- Cast iron pan care is difficult but well worth it. Don’t give up if you turn a pan or two rusty. Just try again.
Wow, you made it this far?! Congratulations!
I found this exercise—looking back and thinking hard about the past 10 years— to be extremely rewarding and emotional. I recommend it, even if you don’t plan to share it.
So how are the 2020’s going for me so far? I was awoken at 8am on New Year’s Day, massively hungover, by the sound of my cat vomiting on the floor. About 50% of the times that I have turned off the gas burners, it’s been because I forgot they were on and I smelled something burning. I’ve been to yoga twice. I’ve seen two movies—one good, one terrible. I made mushroom soup and skillet cookies. I won $21 at poker. A mixed bag, so far. We’re in for an adventure 🙂