The Best Stuff from an Epic 2023

Highlights across creative work, books, life experiences, and products

Hello friends, and welcome back to Life Reimagined, a free weekly elixir designed to make your life more enjoyable.

Greetings from Nosara, Costa Rica. I’ve spent the last week with my laptop closed enjoying warm water surfing and sunshine ahead of the holidays.

With 2023 coming to an end, I wanted to share some of the highlights and best stuff I encountered this year across work, life, books, and more.

This will be the final newsletter of the year. I’ll be back in your inbox on January 7th. I hope you have an enjoyable and relaxing time over the holidays :).

✍️ The Blog, Essays, Podcasts, and Newsletters

I started and this newsletter 7 years ago as part of a mission to help 10 million people live a more fulfilling life. It still feels like the beginning days of what I hope to be a lifelong path of sharing ideas that nudge all of us toward more enjoyable lives. A few encouraging numbers from 2023:

  • 881,213 people read the blog this year (vs. 606,458 in 2022).

  • 7,500 people actively read this newsletter (vs 4,200 at the start of the year).

  • Since 2020, I’ve awarded scholarships to 50+ students and helped 200+ other people create scholarships for causes they care most about.

I published four new essays this year:

I also published dozens of newsletters and new podcasts this year.

  • You can browse an archive of the last 57 newsletters here.

  • You can find all of the Sh*t You Don’t Learn podcast episodes here.

The most rewarding part of the blog and newsletter continues to be the hundreds of kind emails I receive every year from people around the world who take the time to share their thoughts on my musings.

I’m still surprised and excited by how sharing thoughts on the internet can lead to exchanges with strangers that deepen my thinking, create new friendships, and highlight the kindness and generosity of the human spirit.

In 2024, I’m planning on writing more essays than I have in the past few years and sharpening my software development chops so that I can expand my work in useful (and hopefully) more interesting ways.

Finally, if you’ve ever considered sharing your work publicly via a blog, newsletter, or social media, I’d encourage you to do so. It leads you down many very interesting roads that can enrich your life, even if it remains a silly thing you do on nights and weekends.

As far as I know, the best way to get started is to simply start and see where your explorations and interests take you. Don’t overthink it or come up with grand plans. Creating online is not a linear or predictable path. If it was, it wouldn’t be all that fun.

And if you want more tactical advice, particularly about how to think about what to write and how to reach people, I recommend checking out Doing Content Right, a phenomenal book written by my wife Steph Smith.

🧑‍🎨 Other People’s Work


I finished 30 books this year and started but didn’t finish dozens more. Here are some of my favorite reads from this year.

  • Harry Potter Series: In 11 reading-packed days this April, I read the Harry Potter series. As a kid, I loved these books, but never made it to the seventh one. So I started from scratch this year and had a lot of fun getting to the epic conclusion.

  • Charles Bukowski’s work: The poet/writer Charles Bukowski captured my interest this year. I read Post Office in the spring, On Writing later in the year, then Ham on Rye, and concluded with a collection of his poetry. Bukowski is an odd and complicated character, but his work inspired me to get a typewriter and write the poetry that I’ve shared in this newsletter of late. Steph and I also recorded a podcast about Bukowski’s philosophy on writing and creativity.

  • I devoured many memoirs this year. A Year in Provence (Mayle), One Blade of Grass (Shukman), and Do Travel Writers Go to Hell? (Kohnstamm) were some of my favorites.

  • Shantaram (Roberts) was my top audiobook of the year. I also enjoyed Among the Thugs (Buford).

  • Quarantine (Egan) was a mind-bending and very enjoyable sci-fi book.

  • In the self-help domain, I enjoyed Wild Mind (Golberg), Tiny Beautiful Things (Strayed), and How to Get Rich (Dennis).


Movies and Series

New Podcasts

P.S. It’s rare that I find a tweet that I think could change someone’s life, but Erik Newton’s story about his wife’s death is a beautiful one that is a particularly helpful message ahead of the holidays.

The holidays can be complicated. You may see or be around friends and family with whom you have longstanding quibbles or frustrations. Or you may be around people you love but who you don’t always appreciate.

Either way, read Erik’s story. Don’t forget to savor the time you have with the people in your life. Life is short, death is certain, and as Erik shares so beautifully, learning to love more fully is the antidote to this human conundrum.

🌊 Experiences

San Francisco. My wife and I moved from Encinitas to San Francisco this year. We talk about why we moved and how we chose SF here. Despite being uncertain about whether we would like SF, the move had a profoundly positive impact on our daily satisfaction. The main boon to happiness came from a wider and deeper community of friends in the city, and one of the key (and obvious) learnings from 2023 is that living near a higher density of friends makes everything in life better. As someone who spent most of his 20s as a nomad bopping around the world, this lesson was not yet obvious to me. But now I believe that it’s worthwhile to trade on surface-level things like climate, taxes, and so on to be near people who you want to be around.

Surfing. Surfing has been the primary domain for my ambition over the last few years, and this year, my interest in the sport deepened even more. I surfed 160+ times and took trips to France, Spain, Tofino, Mexico, and Costa Rica to explore new waves. Nomading in my 20s had burned me out on travel, but taking trips around the world to explore waves and new areas has reawakened my desire to continue exploring the world through this new lens. I can’t wait to see where this silly sport takes me next year.

David Whyte walking tour: David Whyte is one of my favorite poet/writers, and this year, I joined him and 30 other people on a week-long walking tour in the English Lakes District. The theme of the trip was “setting direction for a future life.” We explored that theme via daily poetry teachings, beautiful hikes, and conversation over good food with an impressively thoughtful group of people. Outside of being a fulfilling direct experience that birthed new friendships, the trip led to a creative spark that resulted in new essays and poetry.

Spas. I enjoy finding new ways to heal and nurture the body. This year, that interest took me to many spas, which included Ojo Caliente in Taos, Russian baths in New York, and Japanese spas in SF. I’m now visiting baths and doing cycles of sauna and cold therapy once a week. It’s particularly helpful on weeks when I’m doing heavy amounts of surfing.

Used bookstores: I experimented with buying only used books for 3 months this year. That experiment led me to explore and get hooked on the many wonderful used bookstores around the world. I’m now pretty much only shopping at these stores.

🎧 Products, Services, and Routines

Foundations training: This 12-minute routine, done twice a week, has helped me alleviate the acute and chronic back pain that has plagued me since my late teens. It’s been life-changing for helping my body manage all that I ask of it.

Typewriter: After immersing myself in the world of Charles Bukowski, I sought out a typewriter. I ended up finding a kind man in Oakland who spent 6 hours with me over two sessions to find a typewriter I enjoyed. And that typewriter has allowed me to explore new ways of creating, including poetry, letters to friends, and more. I love it and already feel like my 1945 Smith Corona is one of those possessions that I’ll want to hold onto forever.

Slim profile pillow. I got rid of all sleeping-related neck pain by shifting to this slim pillow. I tried a dozen pillows, and this was one of the cheapest and least fancy ones, but for some reason, it worked for the shape of my neck and sleeping posture. I like it so much that I bring it on travels or send one to wherever I’m going.

Butcher Box: Butcher Box is a meat subscription service that sends you a big box of various cuts of meat. I get a box every 2 months and put most of the meat in my freezer. And instead of having to go to the grocery store for meat, I can just pull something out of the freezer. Alongside using ChatGPT as a sous-chef, it’s encouraged me to cook more and order out less.

Balance pad: I have tight hip flexors that cause my lower back to seize up if I don’t stretch them daily. So a couple of times a day, I do the Couch Stretch on a wall while placing my knee on this balance pad. I think you can use the pad for other things, but I love it for this daily stretch. You can also use a pillow instead of the pad.

Bose 700 Headphones: I’m enjoying these Bose noise-canceling headphones. If I want to grind, they help me dive into my inner world with some chill indie rock music. They’re also nice on planes and if I want to go deep into a nap with binaural beats. I’m sure there are “better” headphones, but these are perfect for me. I’m using them now as I write this!

That's it for this year. See you in 2024! 🥳

— Cal

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🌎 Three other things you might enjoy

1. Doing Time Right: Everyone wants to get more done in less time. This course will show you exactly how to do that with the eliminate, automate, delegate, and iterate framework.

2. Foundations Looking for good books to read? Check out Foundations, a growing digital notebook with notes & lessons from 100+ timeless books.

3. Listen to the Podcast: Feel like school didn't prepare you for adulthood? The Sh*t You Don't Learn in School podcast exists to help make up for this societal failure.

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