"I'm good bro. I assume you're still killing it?" was the message I received at the end of November. It made me stop and pause.
My default response was to go on the defensive and point out that in fact my life is not all that great and the year had in fact been terrible. But.. really the true success of the year was honing my ability to check myself at the door. Yes there was an underlying meh-ness to the year but I didn't let that stop me - 2023 was an incredible year for me. I didn't consciously 'go after it' but at the end of last year a friend suggested that I try to execute at the boundaries and push in areas where there is a high chance of failure.. so I did.
As the John A. Shedd quote goes, "a ship in the harbor is safe, but that's not what ships are built for."
- I moved home...
- I updated my arm tattoo
The meaning still applies. Tough decision? Flip a coin, when it it's in the air you know what side you want it to land on.
- In January I went to Uganda to hang out with Tom2.
It was in Uganda that I conceptualised "Tom's Seven Wonders of the World" - the things/places that I have been/seen that I would (and will) visit on a single trip should I ever have a terminal diagnosis and/or want to show someone the world.
Murchison Falls makes the list - its such an awe inspiring site that demonstrates the power of nature and the insignificance of humanity. It's awe inspiring.
Uganda was also just a perspective shifting, humbling experience. It made me realise that happiness is about perception.
Tom2 demonstrated the value of good friendship - I love all the people that have my back and I'll always be on their team.
- In February it was my Dad's 70th birthday.
What a guy. My Dad is quite a quiet man - he keeps to himself, and does his own thing for the most part. I've never quite understood my Dad simply because we are quite different in that respect but this year I tried to see things from his perspective, and appreciate things for what they are.
Whilst I've sat there at times and thought "Why doesn't he support me with this..?" or "Why hasn't he filled in that notebook?" (it's a long story), I failed to see the subtleties of his love - the small stuff like the fact he's keeping track of my investment portfolio and is always backing me (without ever talking about it), and the fact that he humble brags about me with his brother (an accountant) about how proficient I am at corporate accounting. Plus.. when push comes to shove and I really need it.. he tries. I can't really ask for more.
Love you Dad ! Onwards to the next 70 years 😆
- In March I went to Denver for a work conference that changed my life.
Previously I hadn't embedded myself in the 'real world' side of my career. I was tied down by self imposed constraints as to what was/was not reasonable to do in terms of work related travel.
At some point during the year I found a note that I had previously written that detailed my acknowledgment of a core foible of mine - some people pleaser tendencies, namely my inability to do things that I want to do/to not do things that I don't want to do.
Perversely part of that self constraint was what I will refer to as 'constraint of privilege' whereby noting that not everybody has a cool job that allows this level of flexibility I should just have a more normal approach towards my work. The ridiculousness of it was that I was holding myself back.. massively.
My work (it turns out) is heavily influenced by connections. It makes sense. I am more inclined to work with people who I have met and who can coherently explain their skillset and experience. Not only that, there is a sixth sense that you can get about people that you simply cannot when interacting with them through a screen.
In Denver I met loads of people, and learned a lot. The most important part was connecting with ENS stakeholders and basically saying 'Hey, I'm Tom and I really like ENS'. In the process I met Premm who I immediately vibed with - I could tell that he was a super competent developer immediately and well.. 9 months later we run an ENS DAO funded service provider together (see below).
- In April I ran the Manchester Marathon and ripped apart my personal best.
I like the tagline of the race - "Impossible is nothing".
I had spent the first months of the year out on the roads running for headspace. I find that the counterbalance to long hours working on a computer is getting outside, and in the process I was aware that I had gotten significantly fitter.
I've yo-yo'd over my view point that when pushing towards goals should you (or should you not) have the all or nothing approach of 'No Plan B'.
I've concluded that 'No Plan B' is in fact the right way to go, and that the toxicity that sometimes arises is simply based on the thought processes that surround the approach.
"The first step before anybody else in the world believes it is you have to believe it - there is no reason to have a Plan B, because it distracts from Plan A." Will Smith
The photo below sums up the significance of this result for me. I had targeted a 2:41:19 as an A++ goal (as written on my arm). All I really wanted was a 2:45. But when the clouds align in your favour you have to take the opportunity.
Rachel recounted to me afterwards that at mile 9 people supporting the race were of the view that I'd either fucked it or was going to absolutely nail it. Fortunately it was the latter.
Even if I never beat that PB, I will always have gotten to experience that feeling - the feeling of ultimate success. No-one can take that away from me, and I love that for myself XD
- I then followed it up by cycling 200km at the Tour de Manc.
That was a fun, character building experience. It got progressively colder and wetter as the day progressed. I had never ridden that far before and a lot of the latter stages were pretty lonely as Luke had unfortunately had a puncture and the cutoff timings were incredibly tight.
At the end of June I completed my first (and only) full distance triathlon - Challenge Roth,
I'm going to write nothing here because this was a small, insignificant event/achievement.
- After driving back from Roth I did the Dunwich Dynamo.
I'd said to Barney in the past that I'd do this with him, and never had. This year I said "if i'm still alive after Roth I'll come and do it". I was, so I did.
This was actually harder than Roth because all I had clothing wise was a tri-suit and the ride is through the night. I teetered on the edge of hypothermia for about 6 hours - would not reccomend.
That said, cycling with cool people is awesome. The concept of a ride through the night is also super unique and fun. I'll likely be back. I might to it there and back next year.
- In July I was in Paris for work.
Again, work conferences are fairly full on - lots of presentations and just generally trying to upskill/keep up with the industry but then a sense of obligation to network. It continues to amaze me the people you just randomly end up chatting to at a random side event in Paris.
I've never been to Paris and I thought it was a super cool place. People have differing views on how welcoming the French are.. I found them all to be incredibly friendly - the receptionist at my hotel was adamant that she was only going to speak to me in French to help me improve.
Given that we all work on computers it was also super cool to see NounsDAO put on a running event. Alternative networking :)
- In August I ran the Sandstone trail with Ian, and then ran the Hope Valley loop with George and Phil.
The former was again based on the fact that pre Roth I had promised that I would do it subject to my still being alive. I am a man of my word.
The route was beautiful and it was a good day out. Our (Ian's mainly) nutrition was terrible and we didn't really go past anywhere we could restock, so that was.. interesting. But.. all around great day.
The Hope Valley round was also a super fun 20 mile hilly day out in the peaks. Incentivised by free coffee/cake for everyone that completes it.
At one point I did twinge my ankle on a descent and end up on the floor in a bush but generally a great day.
- In September I went to the West coast of the USA with the family.
My parents basically never go on holiday - I can't recall when they last did, so my older brother Charles organised a big trip (thanks !) for us all to coincide with George's 21st.
We went to San Diego, Los Angeles (Disney, and Santa Monica), and Las Vegas and did all sorts of different things in various combinations.
Disney was surprisingly fun. I think my favourite bits were:
- Getting stuck on the river rapids for an hour when it broke down.
- Drunkenly rushing around all of the childrens rides at 10pm at night with George.
I did an awesome 20 mile run along the Santa Monica coastline. Unfortunately I think I might have had Covid (or got it shortly after) because the weeks that followed I was absolutely exhausted.
Vegas was really fun (although not in the same way I remember from 2015). The best bit for me was KA by Cirque de Soleil. It was just such an incredible performance - one of those where you can't keep your eyes off the stage for fear of missing something. Some of the things that they were doing were just unthathomably impressive physical feats.
I played some Blackjack. Lost about $300. Boo. But I think that was a fair price for the many hours of entertainment.
Ate some great food (although at times the heat made it hard). Dim sum and steak come to mind.
We also went to the Grand Canyon (a real Wonder) which was insanely impressive. It is absolutely a Wonder in the sense that your do wonder 'how on earth has this been formed'. The Hoover Dam was also incredibly impressive from the perspective of human engineering capability..
- In October I ran the Manchester half.
This was super fun. Running with friends (Matt and Max) and just enjoying the experience. We initially planned on running a 1:30 half, but after half way we decided to ramp up the pace for fun. Very enjoyable.
- In November I popped over to New York City and ran the marathon.
Back in 2016 I ran the Berlin marathon in 2:52 - I ran myself into the ground, but in the process got a ridiculous personal best (it was my second marathon). Unfortunately post-race it promptly fell apart. In the process of training for Berlin I had developed a binge eating disorder, and after achieving my goal it was very easy to go full 360 - I stopped running, and whilst I stopped binging (great !) I instead opted to just eat lots all of the time. I got fat, and lost all my fitness - it was a low time in my life.
My Berlin time had earned me qualifier entry to the NYC marathon in 2017. I went along anyway having not really trained and being significantly heavier than at any other point in my racing career. I ran in the vicinity of 3:30, felt like absolute shit, and just generally hated the experience.
This year I already had my entry for NYC yet post Roth was of the view that I didn't want to do it - I didn't want to do another training block, I wanted/needed an off season. I wanted to learn from my mistakes and not over-race.
But.. the place was already paid for so I planned an 'off season'. All (??) I want to do in NYC was a sub-3 noting that a friend had informed me that only around 500 people have completed all the world marathon majors in sub-3. Starting off at 2:38 fitness the goal of my off season was to lose no more than 22 minutes of fitness. So I came up with a meticulous plan - run when you feel like it, and just generally do what you want. Spoiler: it works.
In the months pre race I:
- Completed Yasso 800s for the first time in my life. After running 8 miles before hand with Matt.
- Ran sub 1:24 in the Manchester half marathon with pals living my post Roth mantra of 'running is meant to be fun'.
- Ran 10 miles in the Las Vegas desert for no obvious reason.
- Ran an abundance of 20 milers.
Before the race I wrote:
"The important bit is that coming up to the race I am super chill. I'm fit. Close to, but probably not Manchester fit. More importantly my mental health (at least in the context of running) is on point. I'm not overtrained, and I don't hate running. I'm looking forward to the race - it will be fun."
This is one of my favourite photos of all time. I was running down the finishing straight in Central Park and whilst I was exhausted (marathons are hard) I had so much mental energy from the whole experience. I had opted to slow down my race and go after the 'perfect negative split' - every mile quicker than the last. I very quickly realised that on the New York course that was nigh on impossible just because of the course profile so at mile two I adjusted to doing every 5k timing mat split faster than the last. I achieved that whilst in the process enjoying the location and acknowledging the crowds - it was one of the most life affirming experiences of my life.
At the start of the race I was chatting to a guy going after 2:50. I told him that If I overtook him something had gone wrong and I had failed my plan. I thought that in the process of doing constant negative splits one could surely not dip under 2:50. I did overtake him at mile 7/8 ish (as I recall), and even amongst the 50+ thousand runners we spotted each other. I wen't over, we joked about how I had fucked it and then I pushed on. I had not fucked it.
Not only were the crowds amazing.. but the people. On the bus I met an awesome local man who was a huge NY Nicks fan. He was doing his first ever marathon. At the start line the 2 hour wait felt like nothing - I spent the whole time chatting to a nurse from Manhattan about .. everything. Then at the finish I bumped into a guy from Knutsford (about 30 minutes away from where I live in Manchester - small world) who I chatted to as we traipsed through Manhattan.
New York really affirmed my mantra of recent times that "running is meant to be fun". As George Sheehan states in "Did I Win?", “It’s hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners.”
I saw the whole experience as somewhat of a poetic metaphor. Like.. over the year I'd actually learned something not only about myself and my motivations but about how to train effectively and efficiently.
"Yes, the man in the arena is admirable. As is the soldier and the politician and the businesswoman and all the other occupations. But, and this is a big but, only if we’re in the arena for the right reasons." Theodore Roosevelt
In the days that followed I hung out with my co-founder Premm who had come down to support (and chat work), and met up with some of the other ENS ecosystem people. I ate a lot of awesome food (the Banana pudding from Magnolia bakery really is great), saw some cool stuff, did some shakeout runs etc.
But.. Broadway. That was the best bit. I had planned to go and see Hamilton on Broadway but having seen it on Netflix (I know it's not the same), noting that its currently touring in Manchester, and noting that for the same money I could go and see 3 shows.. well.. I did exactly that.
I saw Hadestown which is just absolutely incredible. Probably the best piece of musical theatre I have ever seen, and if anything beats it I will be both surprised and impressed. It was just such an incredible story and performance - the vocalists were mind-blowingly talented and the small, intimate theatre meant you were right in the action.
I also went and saw Sweeney Todd based on a recommendation. It had the full original cast (Josh Groban and Annaleigh Ashford) and whilst they were incredible performers, in a much bigger theatre.. it just was nowhere near as good as Hadestown.
Book of Mormon. Incredible. But I expect nothing else from Trey Parker and Matt Stone :)
- After spending a week in New York I flew back home, slept overnight and flew out to Istanbul for a work conference.
Istanbul is an amazing place (apart from the super sketchy taxi drivers) but sadly I didn't really get to experience it as it was full on work mode. Whilst also dealing with jet lag. I went on a few runs so got to see a general overview of the city, but there is so much more I'd like to do.
The food however was out of this world.
One of my favourite restaurants is Kassap Meathouse in Liverpool - they do great steak. So obviously I went to an authentic Turkish steakhouse. Most days I had pastries and Baklava for breakfast (as you do). Then on the last day the ENS team took us out for dinner and I have to say it was probably the best meal that I have ever had (thank you Muhammed/ENS Labs).
- I flew back and caught up with my uni pals in Daventry - a Christmas reunion of sorts. In November.
It's not that I didn't expect it, but simply that I hadn't seen a lot of these people in a long time but.. well.. everyone is killing it.
I look back to my time at university and I think of it in the context of myself. At university I was a bit of a reprobate - I drank too much and partied too much. It has always been somewhat of a joke when I reconnect with old friends the fact that I am now a marathon runner and don't drink.
It's just awesome to hang out with these people and see how far everyone has come. They are all lovely people, killing it in their careers, some with families/kids (Toby is my new best mate) etc.
We cooked a full on Christmas dinner (although Sam and Tash did most of the legwork), caught up, played some games (Telestrations - Existential Cow), and had some drinks. Most importantly we did a parkrun.
Whilst I was in Daventry, I gave Premm free reign of my home and then we headed to..
- The Isle of Wight
One of the reasons that I think Premm and I work so well together is that we both have the passion induced 'above and beyond' approach to work. I firmly believe that to succeed in a business context you have to do things differently and do the things that no-one else is prepared to do.
We went to the Isle of Wight for a business meeting for the same reason that conferences are good - in person communication is so much better and easier. Just things like intention, body language, and passion. It's much easier to demonstrate that you are serious sitting across a table from someone.
It also happens to be the case that the Isle of Wight is super beautiful. I found a running route on Komoot the evening we arrived. It didn't cross my mind that it might be a trail run - it very much was. I basically spent 6 miles running through fields and along the cliffs slipping over and rolling in mud. I concluded that when you don't get injured falling over is one of the most fun human experiences. Especially in nature. Its just so cathartic sliding down a hill in the pitch black in the middle of nowhere thinking 'how did I get here' XD.
- In December my co-founder Premm and I succeeded in getting funding for our ENS research and development product Unruggable.
"How much you’re actually achieving is pretty much irrelevant to your motivation: but if you feel like you’re getting somewhere, you’ll be driven to keep going."
My career path has been a really interesting one. I've basically worked in the domain name industry since graduating from university. Traversing that industry is what made me successful, and whilst at times it was stressful and hard work I always acknowledged that doing something really interesting that you enjoy is a privilege.
Working on the Ethereum Name Service was the logical progression - it has conceptual similarities to the domain name system (albeit with somewhat diverging use cases) and is cutting edge technology. It also happens to have a number of complicated behavioural/crypto economic considerations associated with its operation as a protocol. Having a background in Economics it is basically the holy grail of interest areas for me.
I was adamant after leaving my last corporate job that I would never work for another company unless it was something that I could passionately get behind and enjoy doing. As demonstrated by my approach to marathon running, my approach to most things in life is to not do something unless you are going to do to it properly.
My issue with my own projects previously has been that I am a developer through and through. I like to sit in a corner and solve hard problems. I'm not good at marketing, I have (had) little experience with networking, and I need other intelligent people to riff ideas off. Premm provided the yin to my yang, and I have found myself in a position where I'm working on hard problems (that fundamentally interest me) with an extremely competent co-founder and a number of incredibly passionate and talented people backing us. It is incredibly motivating. We are going to do this properly.
I don't think I am being hyperbolic when I say that I think we are going to change the world - I really do see ENS becoming a significant component of our technological future.
I am aware that many people that read these posts wont necessarily be interested in or understand the technicalities of my work, but if it is of interest here is a post that details our latest POC - 'ENS Chain'.
At the start of the year I was all for moving away from Manchester and running away from my problems. I opted not to noting that its not really in keeping with the revelations I claim to have had. This was one of the best decisions I've ever made.
"Changing your location as a way to start a new life can be helpful, but if you never address your mindset, old patterns ingrained in your mind can re-create the situations you were trying to remove yourself from." Lighter
I'm a ridiculous over-thinker, and the past few years have made me think of this as being a bad thing. I think when it comes to things like this you have to either find a way to cut it out or embrace it and go all in. More-so recently I have begun to lean towards the latter - I assign the majority of my successes to my overthinking even if it has contributed to my failures.
I think its simply the case that I need to be aware of how I think and work with it.
In This is water by David Foster Wallace he states:
"The point here is that I think this is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. I have learned this the hard way, as I predict you graduates will, too."
I agree with this whole heartedly.
The late Charlie Munger stated “I never allow myself to hold an opinion on anything that I don't know the other side's argument better than they do”.
I think its an incredibly important, and it is something that I have always attempted to do - see things from the perspective of the other.
Over the years I have seen a number of therapists purely as an exercise in getting objective unbiased opinion. I have always been of the view that everyone should see a therapist (if they are able to - I appreciate that the costs are often prohibitive). Whilst the therapists that I had previously seen were nice it was unclear to me that I was actually getting any value out of the whole process. I was having my feelings validated which is nice, but.. meh.
This year I found a therapist that made me cry in the first session. I walked out and thought to myself "this therapist is either the best therapist on the planet or a terrible human being". It took me a while to discern the answer.
In life you need Devil's advocates. You need people that will tell you the truth. And.. telling the truth doesn't mean being unnecessarily mean. They are not mutually exclusive concepts.
Pull up the blinds and I see that whilst I've always made the best decisions possible with the information available to me at the time, I am an imperfect and fallible person. I fuck up a lot, and I take accountability for that.
"If your happiness is dependent on accomplishing certain goals, what happens if fate intervenes? What if you’re snubbed? If outside events interrupt? What if you do achieve everything but find that nobody is impressed? That’s the problem with letting your happiness be determined by things you can’t control. It’s an insane risk."
- My training plans and race performances over the year have been an iterative process of learning and adapting. When training for Roth I had multiple three day forced rest periods and I really fell apart. Ironically dangerously overtraining had the potential to derail the goals, but regardless I was being controlled by things that I couldn't control.
- In relation to my work I noted that a lot of things are out of my control - our funding outcome was in the hands of other people, and I had to trust that (past a point) there was nothing that I/we could do but sit, wait, and let our work/track record do the talking.
- Similarly I got knocked off my bike a week before New York City and the insurers are being insanely slow and unhelpful. My natural tendency is to get stressed, sit on the phone/harangue them with emails and push to get it sorted as quickly as possible. Realistically they are going to take their sweet time either way and I am aware that my options are to wait and be stressed or to just wait.
- Solicitors. Ah.. I find dealing with solicitors to just be hilarious. Admittedly I have no context to their workloads and how complex their work is in reality. I give them the benefit of the doubt (which a year ago I would not have done). That said, most of the time I have absolutely no clue what is going on and well.. I just hear stuff when I hear stuff. But then.. thats really down to my choice of solicitors..
I feel like a review of my year would be incomplete without shoutouts to some of the people that made it a great year. This is a non-exhaustive list.
I have a 'whats mine is yours policy' towards good friends - live in my house, drive my car, steal my wife, whatever. I'm a good judge of character and I'm of the view that if I get it wrong you are a sufficiently convincing con-man/woman that you deserve the spoils of my generosity.
- Matt. Unreliable, but a great guy. Checked in pre-Roth, backed me, ran with me lots, listened to my shit chat.
I was in the Peak District with Matt a few weeks ago and he asked me about my work. Over the course of an hour he got all of the answers to all of the questions he asked. The reason? An obvious, tangible, and sincere interest in what I was sharing. You don't have to have all the same interests to be friends with someone but shrug I have all the time in the world for people that do, and sincerely care.
- Becqui, Chlo, Rachel, and Adam.
Just great people. Straight talking, kind hearted. I totally accept that the business model of co-working space is not provision of therapy, but its great to be around great people.
In the context of our grant funding, the stress and anxiety of it all had been somewhat overwhelming. Becqui and Adam made a conscious point of noting how I was underselling my achievement. I really appreciated it ❤️
- Eloise, Tash, Nell, and Martha.
Its totally unfair to group these four together but in the interest of brevity. So many hours spent shooting the shit and chatting about everything under the sun.
Just all round cool people who are open, honest, and have my back.
Always say it how it is.
El got me through Roth and pointed out the obscenity of driving oneself across Europe and casually doing an iron distance Triathlon. I try to stay humble but I accept that it is also important to celebrate achievement. I think if people didn't point out the magnitude of things it would oftentimes pass me by.
Nell proof read this, has a heart of gold and has always given sound insightful advice.
A great guy with a great heart. Also happens to be a great developer. I recall at one point during the year saying something that amounted to "I'm taking the week off, my mental health is in the dumps". The response:
"Take your time. It's hard to imagine now, but everything will be alright. Also if you need a setting change please come and visit here in Maine. It is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and very relaxing"
I wrote that out and it made me tear up a little. I'd give a kidney to the guy. Maine, 2024.
He's also the only one who took advantage the aforementioned 'whats mine is yours policy' towards good friends XD.
She can have her own section.
Over this year I have had many a deep chat with my mother. We don't see eye to eye on everything but she is honest and fair, and over the year she has made a lot of time for me. She has been humble enough to concede on some of our historical disagreements and has opened up about a lot of stuff. I feel like my struggles at the start of 2023 have drastically improved my relationship with both my parents.
She has also always backed me. I recall at the end of last year sanity checking an idea that I'd had with her. She knows the way that I think, and gave it an instant thumbs up. That play alone, yeh that was a good play.
She pulled me up by the braces when I was slipping. I couldn't have killed 2023 like I did without her support and I am endlessly appreciative of that ❤️
One of my 'things' at the start of the year was a desire to get some more hobbies, try new things and develop independent friendships. It wasn't really a case of doing things for the sake of doing things but rather doing things that interested me that previously I hadn't because of my own co-dependent character flaws.
Over the year I ended up focussing on three things:
- Yoga. I would put a lot of my running success down to my Yoga routine. I do Hot Yoga and alongside being a super challenging form of cardio it is essentially forced suppleness.
- Salsa. I have zero rhythm. I like the concept of dance, and would like to be good at Salsa. I've tried very hard but I still have no rhythm and am clearly not a natural.
- Calisthenics. Extrapolating from the Yoga. Calisthenics looks cool. It's vanity yes, but I'm pretty fond of the old 6 pack (currently on holiday due to my love of food). It also just trains and hones all of the important muscle groups without being as boring as a formalised gym session.
Whilst I have done all of these things part of my intention was to diversify away from running and focus significant energy into getting proficient at other things. Running however keeps pulling me back and realistically it is hard to seriously pursue other hobbies alongside. That said, I'm going to continue to try.
I also said I'd learn French, learn guitar, and start singing lessons. I've failed on those three (although I guess I still have 2 weeks to start). Again, 2024.
It seems ridiculous to say but a huge issue in my life is still my phone - I've spent so many hours mindlessly doom scrolling. Obviously phones/apps are designed to be addictive but its insane to me that whilst I can be incredibly disciplined as regards my training I seemingly have zero discipline when it comes to putting my phone down.
One thing that irritates me reflecting back on 2023 is the revelation that a lot of the 'bad' habits that I have in my life I have had for a number of years and have noticed but continued to fail to change. I'm so very aware that a lack of presence and intentional action (often induced by technology) has been the cause of a number of the problems in my life. I'm going to sort this - better late than never.
In my 2022 year in review I wrote "I'm hopeful that in 2023 I can use my experiences as motivation to throw the kitchen sink at my problems such that I can look back at this post in a year knowing that I am a much better man."
I'm looking back at that post and thinking.. yup.
Onwards to 2024.