Billy's Thoughts

2023: Year In Review

Posted on Jan 15, 2024 — 9 mins read

See my review of 2022 here.

I’m writing this in the early days of January 2024, and it feels… odd. The energy at the end of the year that I love so much, the kind that makes you want to hug your loved ones tight and reflect on life, that energy is dissipating. It’s almost all gone now, in favour of vivacity for the new year and new beginnings. But I really wanted to reflect on 2023, so in spite of the timing we’re doing this now.

2023 for me was largely about stopping and really listening to my motivations, and sifting out why I wanted to do what I was doing. Which parts of me were motivated out of abundance, and which parts out of insecurity? This year was about shifting to doing things first and foremost because they were Fun. Hand in hand, this year had its fair share of struggles, deconstruction, and character development. But I ended on a trajectory that I’m excited about for 2024.

Work, pre-sabbatical

I barely remember my life from the first half of 2023. Of course, I have records and lists and notes I can refer to โ€“ in gcal, in roam, in my monthly review tweets. But it all feels very far away and disembodied from the ‘me’ writing this review, like it was years ago instead of 12 months ago.

This was also when I was still working my software engineering job at Wish before I went on sabbatical. Work was where I spent much of my time and energy. But trying to remember what it was like working, now that I’ve been unemployed for 6+ months, it’s got that same feels-like-two-years-ago fuzziness about it. I have to sit down and really force my mind to make the trip back in time, and spell out “How did this year start? What was I doing at work in Jan? OK, and then what happened?”

I remember I was reaching the end of my rope. I wrote about feeling unfulfilled, burnt out, and done with software engineering as a career. I remember the desire to get away. That I wanted to rest, or something was going to snap. And it seemed like only an extended break (and a possible career switch) would do the trick. That the solution to all my problems lie outside of myself, as a thing I could attain, out somewhere on the horizon…

I remember I’d been thinking about taking a sabbatical since June 2022, but I’d put the actual execution of those plans on hold through early 2023 to try for a promotion first. (Conflicting interests, much? haha) Looking back, I think it was a matter of pride. Reaching L6 is considered a big achievement, and I wanted to prove to myself that I could actually do it. And maybe I also wanted final confirmation that, yep, I’m still unsatisfied after summiting this mountain. Again, my memory is fuzzy. Regardless, writing this today, I am proud that I went through with it.

I got promoted ๐ŸŽ‰, hammered out the logistics for a leave of absence (during which I eventually got laid off officially, but that’s a story for another post), and I was out the door by June. Right into the most disorienting and generative experience of my life.


Part 1 - Sike! That’s the wrong number

From July thru October, I went through a rollercoaster of ups and downs and twists and turns. I wrote about this experience at length here, but a super quick summary would be:

Part 2 - Setting a new course

After the dust settled, these two goals are what remained for me:

  1. Continue to do the creative work that I love, and do whatever I need to in order to sustain this (including even getting another software job); while in the background:

  2. Rewire myself away from grasping for external validation of my work as a necessary component of my worth, and toward cultivating an internal wellspring of self-worth

I wrote more about this here.

Will check back in at the end of Q1 2024 and see how things are going.


Surprisingly, this year I’ve been thinking a lot about death and my own mortality.

It could be that I turned 30, which I’ve started to view as the end of one’s adolescence in Being Agentic, in having agency. You’ve had your first ~10 years of making decisions for yourself โ€“ how are you doing?

It could be that I’m seeing the effects of my parents getting older, and my grandparents even more so.

Here are some pieces I really enjoyed this year, on death and life:

Doing Things

I also made a lot of stuff in 2023.


I published 13 blog posts this year, with a few more WIPs and abandoned drafts sitting in my gdocs.

Coming into 2023, I was excited to write at a much higher volume than the previous year, especially by making use of my sabbatical (I dreamt of publishing a new post every 1-2 weeks). But something shifted for me and now I’m recognizing how I like to write and how it fits with my current goals, and that’s allowed me to unclench and take a gentler approach to writing.

My writing goals have become something like:

In 2024, I’ll be keeping this theme of gentleness, reestablishing a steady writing cadence, and then seeing where I can challenge myself.


I finished 51 portrait studies over 145/365 days in 2023, and passed the 400-mark of studies completed since I started drawing 3 years ago, in May 2020.

I still like drawing! I realize I have something of an affinity toward it. It’s easy for me to sit down and do it. The feedback loop is near-immediate which feeds my engineering brain, and the finished product is sometimes profoundly beautiful which feeds my artist brain. (There’s something about constantly working at the edge of your ability, feeling the gap between your skill and your taste lessen even just by an infinitesimal amount, and then that process creating a piece of work. It makes the work beautiful.)

Across the spectrum of naive practice โ†’ purposeful practice โ†’ deliberate practice, I’ve been doing solely purposeful practice, and I’m looking to do more deliberate practice in 2024. (Things like drawing shapes in perspective, gesture drawing, studying some anatomy.)

Here’s me doing the “Art vs Artist” trend with some of my favourite drawings from the past year:

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A post shared by Billy Young (@billyy_art)


I recorded two drum covers this year: Mine (Taylor’s Version) and Red (Taylor’s Version), both by Taylor Swift.

“Learn the drums” was the Fun Project I decided on early into my sabbatical. And boy was it fun.

Similar to drawing, I think I have some affinity here. I like the rhythm, I like the physicality, I like the musicality. I like transcribing notes, even if it means listening to the same 2-second section over and over again at 0.25x speed to figure out what the drums are doing. And I like recording and editing A/V to make drum covers.

I want to play more drums in 2024, and record at least two more covers. Surprisingly, the main limiting factor is physical stamina (playing for one hour really works up a sweat!), especially after the gym or on rest days.

My current dream: get good enough to play Guitar, Loneliness and Blue Planet from the anime Bocchi the Rock!.


I wrote about volleyball in my 2022 review since it was a new and surprising thing that I committed a lot of time to. In 2023, volleyball settled into my routine, calcified, and looks like it’s here to stay.

H1 2023 was a mix of indoor volleyball rec leagues, and beach volleyball at SFBV. I got my first proper spike this year in indoor!
H2 2023 was exclusively beach volleyball, trying to skill up and one day make it past the first round of play-offs in a local tournament (2024 is our year).

Again, I feel some affinity here. Beach volleyball is fun, cerebral, and physical. You need to grind individual skill, and then you need to be able to put it together cohesively with your partner, with good teamwork and communication. An image just popped into my mind of a 2v2 MOBA, and yeah it is kind of like that.

Career Chats

I’d been thinking for months about how I might start some kind of coaching service. But in September I realized what I really wanted to do, at the core of this, was just chat with people and try to help out and answer any questions they might have. AND I realized that I could just go and try to do this as directly as possible, with as little overhead as possible.

So I did it, and over the course of two months I had 1-1s with 30 people of various backgrounds and levels of experience. You can read more about this in my October notes, but in short it was really fun!

I put this on pause after November because of my schedule, but I’m looking to do more of these chats once I’m back to my regular schedule in March 2024.


Notable books I read

Notable things I watched