This year was not the year I expected. It was a year of darkness and doubt, a year of light and love, a year of self-discovery and community. I usually start my annual reviews with a few bullet points listing my proudest accomplishments, but it feels wrong this time. Instead, I’ll describe some of the ebbs and flows I went through and why this year has been a pivotal one.
The year started great. A smart team at Ness Labs, two wonderful PhD supervisors, a research project I cared about, a comfortable home in a neighborhood I liked.
But it also started the same way every year, every week, and every day of my life had started as far as I could remember: with a sense of emptiness, as if my mind was a dissociated observer watching the movie of my life from the outside.
I had become used to the familiar claws of depression. It was like a shadow following me everywhere. Some weeks were worse than others, but I always found enough interesting questions and met enough interesting people to keep on playing the game.
As a silver lining, struggling with my own mental health allowed me to bring a more nuanced perspective to conversations around personal growth. Following my curiosity as a way to make a living and to persist on living — that was winning enough.
Fortunately, 2022 had some surprises in store for me. Through a series of unexpected events, I experienced what I can only call a renaissance (“rebirth” in French, my native language).
The first jolt happened in the Spring. I was visiting a friend in a coliving community in the French countryside, and was about to help prepare lunch for everyone when said friend gave me a piece of chocolate. An hour later, I was cutting vegetables while high on psilocybin, which gave me a newfound appreciation for food as fuel for my body.
I’ve always been intellectually interested in nutrition — I even ran a startup in that space — but never before had I felt like I did that afternoon, staring at the dancing patterns on a beet while thanking my luck to have access to such nice food. This moment unlocked a little spark somewhere in me, something that said: life can feel good.
A few days later, I went to Italy for the Indie Founders Conference organized by Rand Fishkin and Peldi Guilizzoni. The conference felt more like an intimate retreat, where it was safe to be vulnerable and to openly share our challenges. No facades, just friends. We laughed, we cried, and we bonded. I didn’t know it then, but this would be the second event of the year to significantly affect my trajectory.
There, I met an amazing woman (whose name I won’t share for privacy reasons) who I connected with over many different topics, including neuroscience and neurodiversity research. She told me she had signed up for an Ayahuasca retreat.
Ayahuasca is a potent psychedelic brew which originated from the Amazon basin. Reports written by early Christian missionaries described it as “the work of the devil”. Today, researchers around the world are investigating its therapeutic potential as an antidepressant, antianxiolytic, and anti-addiction medication. It knew it wasn’t the miracle cure-all some people touted it to be, but it certainly felt worth exploring.
That night, as soon as I got back to my hotel room, I looked up the retreat center she had mentioned, and I booked my spot for a month later. Working with Ayahuasca was my third life-altering experience of the year.
You can read a full account of my journey with Ayahuasca here. If you’re in a rush, here’s the TL;DR. I’m not depressed anymore, I quit drinking… And, for the first time ever, I’m truly happy to be alive.
I could stop this annual review right here. There was no bigger accomplishment this year than breaking free from the dark companionship of depression. But I write these reviews as a record of my progress, so I can later look back and remember how it felt to be where I was.
So, a few more things. While I’ve been reading papers and writing about what I learn for a little while now, this was my first year conducting my own scientific research. As a complete newbie, there was only one milestone I wanted to attain: successfully passing my PhD upgrade viva.
Some context: after performing a review of the existing literature and running some initial studies, PhD candidates are required to go through an oral exam where they present their early findings and a detailed plan for the rest of the research project.
I thought it would be a terrifying affair, but the examiners at my university were friendly and provided lots of useful suggestions. I passed without any corrections.
After the upgrade viva, I spent three weeks at St Andrews University in Scotland to study diverse forms of intelligence across human, animal, plant, and even fungal species; I gave my first academic presentations, wrote a book chapter, and got a paper accepted for publication in a journal.
I’m currently typing these words from the Netherlands, where I just completed an intensive eye-tracking training at Utrecht University. Next year, I will teach my first class to the Neuroscience & Psychology BSc students of the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience. It will be about neuroscience and the digital world.
Academia is such a strange microcosm. I love being surrounded by friendly nerds asking big questions, but I don’t know if I’d enjoy spending 100% of my time there. Things are painfully slow, there’s a lot of admin, and people are overworked.
I feel privileged to have one foot in academic research and one foot in entrepreneurship. It makes my work more interesting, and the space between the two is fun to explore.
Three years ago, I sent the first edition of my newsletter. I had no idea I was laying the foundations for a sustainable community-based business. Today, the newsletter is read by 55,000 subscribers, and thousands of people have completed one of the online courses we offer in the learning community.
In November, I hosted the Mindful Productivity Masterclass, a four-week cohort-based course which received fantastic feedback. Students of all ages and all professions joined from everywhere in the world. This experience was a powerful reminder of how the Internet enables lifelong learning and collective intelligence.
I’m grateful for the team at Ness Labs: Joe, Haikal, and Melanie, and all of the writers who contribute fantastic content to share with our readers. You all teach me so much and I could not imagine doing the work I do without you.
I’m grateful for my family and for my friends, whether online or offline, whether we talk everyday or once a year. You feed my sense of wonder and support my courage to wander — sometimes losing my way and finding myself in the process.
Next year, I want to reach even more curious minds and spread the message that we don’t need rigid productivity frameworks to succeed. We don’t need to be in control of everything.
In any case, the economic, political and humanitarian crises of the past few years were a brutal reminder that we really cannot predict what life will throw at us. Our visibility is limited. Control is overrated.
Instead, we need curiosity, consistency, and a community. In the sea of chaos, these act as a discovery engine: they help steer our boat in a direction that maximizes personal growth. Sure, we don’t know where we’re going, but we can have fun while we roam this turbulent planet of ours. We can still be active participants and shape the world around us.
That’s why I want to keep on learning, feeling, and exploring everything life has to offer — making friends, connecting ideas, co-creating spaces for play and inquiry. I know things won’t go to plan. I don’t have a map. But I’m excited to play. Who knows, maybe there will be more surprises along the way.
Thank you for being part of my journey! I wish you a restful and reflective end of the year.