Thankfully 2022 has felt a bit more like a “normal” year. I saw slightly more people in person, got into a groove at work, and continued to play and have fun with my daughter. It’s not quite like it was before the pandemic but it doesn’t feel strange anymore. It’s not clear whether it’s because I’m getting used to this new environment, or if it is actually getting back to normal. Like most things, it’s probably a mix of both.
Pandemic notwithstanding, this year had fewer really big changes compared to the last couple of years, which is a really nice change. It feels good to get into a groove where I can start to feel productive in many different areas of my life. This is a lot harder when things are changing fast where I’m forced to constantly rebalance different parts of my life. A calm year, like this past one, gives me more time to think and reflect on things, two activities I really enjoy doing. I’ve included some of those reflections in this review for posterity. Enjoy!
Family: As anyone with young kids can attest, they take up lots of time. From those who haven’t experienced this joy, it may seem like a big loss. You have less time for everything. Friends, side projects, TV, going out, you name it. But on the other hand, the joy you get from playing with your child is infinitely better. Let me attempt to explain.
A good (math) metaphor I was thinking about: imagine your happiness can be modelled as a rectangle on a two dimensional plane. The area of the rectangle is your happiness from all your non-child activities e.g., friends, going out, etc. Once you have a child, this area shrinks. You no longer have much time for any of those things. No drinks with friends, no going out to the movies, drastically reduced TV time etc. BUT… what happens when you have a child is that a whole new dimension of happiness opens up with it being measured by the time spent with your child. Your happiness is no longer measured by area but by volume. So in some sense (projecting onto the two dimensional plane), your life is worse off. But when measuring using volume, your life is infinitely more rich. Not a perfect analogy but it gives you a sense of the phenomenon.
Other than the standard things one does with a toddler, not much has changed on the family side. Just enjoying all of it. We’ve been spending a bit more time with the extended family too as COVID worries wane and hope to do more of it next year.
Friends: I’ve been terrible at keeping in touch with my friends these past couple of years. I use the excuse of not being able to meet in-person combined with having a small child, but that’s a weak excuse. Recently, I’ve been trying to get in touch with some of my friends now that I’m more comfortable with limited in-person meetings. I hope I can do more of it next year.
Health & Fitness: On the health side, through the first half of the year, I continued to lose a bit of weight and in the last half of the year plateaued. To be honest, I’ve relaxed some of my weight loss efforts because I’m already at an acceptable weight (but who wouldn’t want to lose another 5 lbs?). The good thing is that I think I’ve successfully adopted a lot of habits that will keep the weight off, namely, eating a lot less per meal and little, if any, binge eating. We’ll see if it sticks when I (hopefully) start going out to eat at restaurants next year.
On the fitness side, I’ve done little to nothing. Even though I have a home gym downstairs, it has seen little use. The main problem is that with the little free time that I have (not playing with my daughter), I am just not prioritizing fitness (for example, I’d often rather be writing). Hopefully I’ll get some free time back as my daughter gets older.
Hobbies: On the hobby side, as with last year, not much progress on either music or Chinese. On the music side, my main practice has been playing and singing with my daughter, which is one of the main reasons why I learned to sing in the first place. It’s wonderful to be able to share it with my daughter, and she sings surprisingly well for a toddler. As for Chinese, I’m still doing biweekly lessons but progress is slow and proportional to how much I put in, which as you might guess is not much. Still, it helps to have a refresher periodically, which is at least some maintenance.
On the blogging side, I’ve written nothing on this site (except this post), but have published two posts on my technical blog. One of them was a monster post on stochastic calculus, which I’m quite proud of since it required a huge amount of learning on my part. I also have one in progress now that hopefully will go out soon, so maybe we can count that as two and a half.
Borealis: I’m roughly a year and a half into my tenure as a Research Director at Borealis and I’m enjoying it. The people are smart, I’m doing some interesting AI work, and the work-life balance is good. Not much more to say except that it reminds me of the Tolstoy quote: Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
Rotman: Similar situation at Rotman where I’m a Data Scientist in Residence and an Adjunct Professor. It’s not too different than the last few years. I recently realized that I’m into my fifth year with Rotman — how time flies! The biggest thing I’m looking forward to is the current revision of my course (Deep Learning with Applications in Marketing — not the actual title). I’m including some topics that I haven’t dug into much myself, so it gives me a chance to learn / review.
The only thing I’ll say about having another half job with Rotman is that it is hard to balance my time (now that I have a toddler). With so little time available, I really have to find time to fit in the Rotman work. Right now I’m at my limit — I am unlikely to take on additional side work for now. Another way to put it is the marginal cost of my time is very high at this point. The relevant question is: how much would someone have to pay me to spend ten less hours per week with my daughter? It’s pretty high.
As with everyone else in the market, this year has been quite interesting to say the least. My investments (beside my house, which I don’t really consider as an investment) are almost all in stocks. I run a relatively concentrated portfolio with between 5-10 long term holdings where my largest holding is more than 25% (Berkshire Hathaway if you were wondering). I would say I’m an intermediate level value investor, not really that sophisticated but learning. I’ll just rattle off a few thoughts, mainly for myself, but may be interesting to others:
- A downmarket humbles you. Some of my investments have gone down more than 50% (thankfully my whole portfolio hasn’t suffered as much). The two holdings that are down more than 50% had already dropped 25% from their all time high when I bought them! It gives a lot of perspective to how overvalued (or undervalued) a company can be. Markets are definitely not efficient (in the short term).
- Interestingly I had 30+% of my portfolio in cash leading up to 2020. In 2020, I got lucky and picked up a bit during the big drop after lock downs, allocated a bit more to a couple of stocks that dropped in 2021 (which subsequently dropped a lot more in 2022), then did the same thing in the first half of 2022, finally, deploying most of the rest at the tail end of 2022. Sitting at the end of year, almost all of those positions are down (except one or two of the most recent purchases). We’ll see if it’s a slow or fast recovery, but that just goes to show you how hard it is to time the market.
- Despite the large paper losses, I’m not too worried. The one big advantage I have is that I’m a patient investor. I don’t get too jittered when things go up or down. I’m happy to sit on my butt for a long time. I will say it’s a lot easier for me though because I have a good emergency fund, a steady job, and I’m still in the accumulating phase. It probably would be a lot harder if I was trying to live off my portfolio.
- I recently started listening to more business podcasts (which are generally easier to find time for compared to books). The one realization that became extremely clear is that I don’t really know that much about business, strategy etc. An example of this is that when I read conference call transcripts, I understand (mostly) the detailed points but have trouble putting them together into a bigger picture. I’m learning slowly but the first step is acknowledging that I don’t know.
- Along these lines, I’ve historically eschewed investing in fast growth companies with little or no profit. The tough part is that most of the value is derived from very optimistic future growth, which is inherently difficult to predict. Still, there is good money to be made in this area. Most folks in technology are a lot more comfortable investing in these companies (although I have my doubts on how successful they are overall). There’s always talk about how investing in Amazon in the 2000s would have net you a gigantic win (but you would’ve had a couple of lost decades investing in some of the other hot companies like Cisco). So to this end, this year is the first time I’ve invested in a high growth company that is barely profitable. The margin of safety here is that it’s 75% off its all time high, has a huge total addressable market, has amazing execution and culture, and should benefit from some secular trends. Time will tell if this is the right call.
Here are a bunch of things that I’ve collected over the year that probably could be blog posts on their own, but I don’t really have time to write. Instead, I’m just going to jot them down here for posterity.
- On Quality Time: On one of the podcasts I was listening to (forgot which one), I heard a really insightful comment that I had to write down (paraphrasing): There is no quality time without spending lots of time. You can only get quality if you spend lots of time. This was in the context of kids and family (but probably applies to other relationships). You need to spend a lot of time to be able to establish a relationship where you can actually get to “quality time” (however you define it). You can’t just spend an hour of “quality time” with your kid a week and expect it to be good enough. Quality time implies lots of time. Something I’m trying to live by with my daughter.
- Tradeoffs: Life is about trade offs — especially with time. This is something that I learned early on in my engineering education. There’s rarely a right or wrong direction, just trade offs (although there are often obviously better choices along a certain axis). We shouldn’t lament that we cannot do everything we would like, rather be happy with the choices we made to prioritize the most important things in our lives, which will be different for everyone.
- Rich Life: I started to listen to the “I Will Teach You To Be Rich” podcast by Ramit Sethi. It sounds a bit like a scam, but his material is pretty good (for beginners) in personal finance, and his insight into personal finance problems is deep. I think he hits the nail on the head when he consistently emphasizes that most money problems are psychological (strongly held beliefs about money that we learned growing up), and not necessarily strategic nor tactical. The one thing that struck a chord with me is how he challenges his wealthy listeners on what their rich life looks like. Most people who are saving a lot, even those in the top 1%, can’t describe what they would do with money to live a happier or more fulfilling life (aka a “rich life”). This resonated with me because that’s pretty close to my mindset. Always focused on savings or investing, but for what? To retire early and do nothing all day? It made me realize that I have so many good things going on for me right now and that I should really just enjoy the ride. Hitting some artificial date for financial independence isn’t going to help if I don’t already know how to be happy with the extremely fortunate position I’m currently in now. So while I’m still going to invest prudently, I’m also going to make sure that I’m living a “rich life” for both today and tomorrow.
- Bias: I would generally consider myself in the top decile or so in terms of being rational. But it’s so hard to avoid bias. One case in point is that I invested a little into Meta (Facebook’s parent) on a dip, and my view on Facebook has totally changed. Previously, I had a minor disgust for what they do, their non-ethical use of data, and the negative effects it has on society (note: I don’t use Facebook). After investing (and doing a bit more research), I now see it as a slight positive to society. I can see how valuable some of its services are, and how hard some of the problems they work on are (e.g. filtering hate speech etc.). My previous ideas were probably too negative, and my current ideas are probably too positive. But it’s amazing how much of a swing I can have in bias just by having a minor stake in it. A lesson for all of us on the inescapable effects of bias.
- Networking: Networking, both professionally and even socially, has been something that I’ve not done much of. I’m probably below average to those who are at equivalent place in their career. One good short course that I found was Jordan Harbinger’s 6 Minute Networking, which provided a step-by-step way to reconnect within my network. The way that I’m thinking about it now is that I just need to get into the habit of connecting with people. It’s always something I wanted to do, and I often do enjoy seeing what folks are up to, but I just never really knew how to do it. This course is good because it clearly lays out how to do (and explains the reasoning). It’s free and easy to start (more difficult to keep up though, as with any habit), so it’s definitely something I recommend.
- Key choices: I came across an idea that I’ve seen multiple times: there are only a handful of key choices that can explain the bulk of your career / life trajectory. A few that were incredibly impactful for me on the career side: attending University of Waterloo (versus University of Toronto), choosing my graduate school supervisor, and joining Rubikloud. These were all really big forks in the road that led me to where I am. Most of the other decisions I made along the way were not that impactful (although cumulatively probably important). Interesting to reflect on these big decisions and imagine what other paths my life could have taken.
- Diet: Something that I learned about myself is that how well I eat depends so much on how well I’m feeling, which includes sleep and mood. Eating junk food is definitely one of the ways I comfort myself and the best thing I can do to lose weight is to make sure that I’m feeling physically and mentally well. Easier said then done, but it does give me another mental model to think about how to adjust my lifestyle to achieve my health goals.
The Next Year
Despite all the craziness going on in the world, I’m actually feeling optimistic about 2023. I can see a path towards more “normal” interactions where I can sit down with friends and extended family to eat a meal, have my daughter play with other kids, and do most of the things that I was doing pre-pandemic. Beyond this, all of the main parts of my life are pretty stable (after a couple year of upheaval), which will allow me to better optimize for some of my goals (e.g., learning, healthy, happiness etc.). Of course I’m sure 2023 will throw some curve balls my way, but it’s a nice feeling to be looking to the new year with a renewed sense of optimism. It’s been a tough couple of years for everyone and I know not everyone has come out as well as I have, but I truly hope that 2023 will be brighter and more joyful for both you and me.