Attempting to capture a year's worth of experiences within a single post has, once again, proven to be a challenging undertaking. I was lucky to share a multitude of moments with family, friends, and colleagues I can’t begin to cover here. However, I've learned not to let the size of the task intimidate me, but embrace it and find joy in recounting a year well-lived. I hope that my efforts do justice to the richness of the experiences that shaped the past year.
In my 2022 in review, I wrote that it was a year ‘full of new beginnings, challenges, experiences, and lessons learned’ and truthfully—so was 2023. In many ways, I hope to say the same every year. But 2023 was very different than 2022.
Dana was pregnant this time last year but we hadn’t shared the news with anyone yet. The journey of becoming a parent and then assuming the role as Dad defined 2023. It forced me to challenge old habits, re-prioritize, focus on what’s most important, and be disciplined. I’m grateful for everything I’ve learned so far and who I’ve become in the process.
On August 14, Dana and I welcomed our first child, Mylo Charles Ballasy. It’s been nothing short of an amazing journey, from the moment we found out we were pregnant to where we are today.
Beyond witnessing Mylo's daily growth and development, some of the most treasured moments were those leading up to his arrival. Sharing the news with our parents, discovering that my brother Nick and sister-in-law Paola were expecting their second child just a month after Mylo, cutting into our ‘gender reveal’ cupcake around our kitchen table surrounded by our close family, and lazy Sunday mornings trying to catch a glimpse of baby kicks are all special memories in their own way.
Another memory that stands out is the weekend Dana went into labor. We decided to spend the day in Lambertville, NJ, visiting the Golden Nugget flea market, stopping by a local cafe, enjoying an impromptu brunch, and exploring the surrounding neighborhood. As we walked through the flea market, Dana's belly garnered attention from several strangers who showered us with enthusiasm for our upcoming arrival. The range of comments gave us a good laugh. Looking back, there was something special about that time together as a couple, knowing our family would be growing so soon.
As new parents, there was a lot that Dana and I didn’t know (we’re still learning). Rather than feeling overwhelmed, we embraced the excitement of embarking on this journey together. From shared audiobooks to attending birthing and parenting classes at our local hospital, we consciously prioritized our time, knowing our lives would change in ways we couldn’t imagine once Mylo arrived.
Now that Mylo is here, it’s hard to picture life without his little smile. Besides getting hangry or tired, he’s a happy baby who is always making us laugh. Whether it's demonstrating how I make coffee, watching him giggle at our dog Gizmo sniffing his feet, or opening gifts on Christmas morning, we relish sharing these new experiences with him. Imagining the world through his eyes has given us a fresh perspective on life and a renewed sense of wonder, even in the most mundane moments.
I’m continually in awe of Dana. I had no doubt she’d be an incredible mom, but it’s different to experience the transition to parenthood firsthand. As for me, Mylo has already taught me so much, about my relationships, myself, and life.
I’m heading into 2024 with nothing but gratitude for our little family, Gizmo included, and the life we’re building together. I look forward to the ride ahead.
It was a joy to catch up with a friend over the holidays who I hadn’t seen in some time. She asked me how I’ve been and what I’ve been up to—a loaded question when you haven’t seen each other in years! I ended up sharing my experiences at Barrel, expressing gratitude for the ongoing challenges that keep me growing and discovering new aspects of my capabilities.
In July, I celebrated 10 years with Barrel. At this point, Barrel has become a part of my life. I hadn’t thought much about the significance of the milestone until I was standing in a restaurant, staring at gold balloons shaped like the numbers one and zero.
Peter, Barrel CEO/Co-founder, and Dana secretly organized a surprise chef’s table dinner for me at Vetri Cucina in Philadelphia. I couldn’t have been more surprised and confused when I arrived. Having the Barrel partners, current/former colleagues, and family gathered in one room made it a truly special occasion.
The following week, Allison, Barrel Team Experience Coordinator, surprised me with a video of team members talking about their experiences working with me. Once again caught off guard, I found myself at a loss for words.
I feel incredibly fortunate to be on this journey with Barrel and to have the ongoing love, support, and appreciation from the Barrel team and my family.
Dana signed us up for a local archery class earlier last year. We had no idea what to expect but thought it would be a nice way to break up the week and try something new.
The class welcomed a diverse mix of participants, ranging from spirited kids as young as five to adults in their 50s and 60s. Witnessing the younger generation fearlessly taking on the challenge, side by side with adults still fueled by a desire to learn and explore, proved truly inspiring. As the years pass, it requires a deliberate effort to push boundaries and rediscover the curiosity that accompanies becoming a student again. Yet, I find the impact of such endeavors is immeasurable.
This archery experience was a good reminder to stay open to new lessons, continue evolving and willingly embrace new experiences. Not to mention, it was really nice to spend time disconnecting with Dana and navigating uncharted territories together.
As a coincidence, I started reading a book called With Winning In Mind by an Olympic shooter Lanny Bassham while we were taking the classes. It helped with honing my archery skills, but also took on new meaning in different aspects of my life.
Having met in the design program at Tyler School of Art, Dana and I share a love for art of all kinds. We both admire the work of Frank Lloyd Wright so when it came time to find a home, he was a big inspiration. Luckily, we found our version of it here in PA.
Knowing Mylo’s arrival was around the corner, Dana decided to plan a trip with friends early last year. In June, we visited Fallingwater, Wright's renowned masterpiece, and Polymath Park, a unique destination featuring homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and his apprentices, Peter Berndtson and John Rattenbury.
We stayed in a cabin deep in the woods. All you could see at night were stars. Our Honda Pilot was in the shop for a cracked windshield, so we were driving a rental. Navigating the rocky, dirt roads leading up to our Airbnb was an experience in and of itself and unlike anything I’d ever experienced.
Dana and I didn’t end up going on a trip together before Mylo was born, so we like to think this was our “baby moon.” It was a great time with friends and left me feeling inspired. I’m excited to see more of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work in the future and to go on future trips with our friends and their kids, although I know those trips will be quite different!
The home projects continued this year, but unfortunately, most of them were not planned. We made several small improvements to make our space work better for us, but I won’t list all of those here. Instead, I’ll focus on the key highlights.
I didn’t participate in any athletic events in 2023 as I thought I might. With a baby on the way, I decided that making time to properly train would take away time from preparing for the real event with Dana. But that didn’t mean I stopped pursuing fitness. I just felt a little lost!
I started the year intermittent fasting, strength training, and doing some conditioning. Mid-year, feeling stagnant, I decided to enter a bulking phase. I ran a hypertrophy program, started tracking calories, ate in a surplus. I gained around 8 lbs and got stronger. By the time Mylo was born in August, I had run the hypertrophy program 3 times, wasn’t motivated by it, didn’t feel great, and overall, needed another change.
Looking back on my fitness journey, I felt at my best in mid to late 2020, during the pandemic. My gym had shut down and started doing Zoom classes. I was working out 4-5 times/week consistently in my small Brooklyn apartment and my in-law’s sun room at their house in Delaware. Glamorous, I know. We didn't have access to heavy weights, so the programming included a lot of HIIT and high volume sets. Given everything we didn’t know about COVID, I was extra conscious about how I ate.
I wanted to get back to a similar regimen, but include strength training. By November, I started working with Ashley, an online trainer, who worked with me to create a program that met my specific needs. It’s been positive so far and feel better than ever.
I’m currently working out 5-6 times/week with a mix of strength training, HIIT, and running workouts. I hadn’t gone out for a run in a long time, but I’m enjoying the change of pace. I’m also prioritizing 10k+ steps per day.
At this point, I’ve experimented with several different training regimens, diets, and fitness pursuits and I don’t regret embarking on any of them. Each has taught me something new and shown me what’s possible when you put in the work. I’ve had a lot of fun and believe they’re the reason I’ve been able to keep up with the new programming, stay disciplined, and make progress.
Adapting to my new routine has been a project on its own, though—I’m getting up much earlier, cooking every meal at home (besides special occasions), and getting out of my comfort zone weekly. I know I’ll need to continue to adapt as Mylo grows up and my schedule changes.
For now, my focus is on building endurance and improving my cardiovascular fitness. Long term, what I’m really after is a long and healthy life—feeling good and staying active as I get older. The way I see it is some things are out of our control, but I’ll do my best to control what I can.
I introduced a few new habits last year to help improve my sleep. When I think about my overall well-being, good sleep is at the core. Without it, I can’t think clearly, have less energy, and tend to make poor decisions as a result.
Since I recently wrote about the steps I’ve taken to improve sleep, I won’t go into too much detail here. My main focus was more consistency in when I go to bed and wake up, even on weekends. In addition, I shifted my mindset from trying to get as many hours of sleep as possible to making sure I got the most restful sleep possible.
Beyond sleep, there were some other changes and experiments I tracked. More details on those below.
I continued with my writing practice this year but honed in on my weekly newsletter vs. separate posts on my website. As usual, I published my newsletter content on my website which equated to 90 posts (38 of which were separate posts derived from newsletter content, mostly around e-commerce). Given the focus on newsletter content, my total posts published is down from 104 posts last year. I plan to continue with this cadence for the foreseeable future.
In late 2021, I launched The E-Commerce Corner as a dedicated section to my newsletter to keep myself accountable for staying on top of industry trends as well as sharing the work we’re doing for our clients. I kept this going all year long and last month, decided to launch it as its own newsletter, sent on Fridays.
Here are some other highlights from my newsletter in 2023:
Beyond my writing my newsletter, I also started posting more on my social channels, particularly LinkedIn. I started doing this on my own, but now engage with Deal Bridge Media (along with Barrel CEO Peter). Their model is pretty simple—we do an hour-long interview each month and from there, they draft a pool of social posts.
Since both Peter and I have published so much content to date, we’re unique clients for Deal Bridge. Beyond the monthly interviews, Deal Bridge has access to a wealth of content on my website. Although it would be more simple to approve everything they draft, I invest several days reworking each post. I consider this process an extension of my writing practice and appreciate the diverse topics it’s inspired me to explore.
I didn’t commit to posting on social until the summer, but overall, reached nearly a quarter million impressions last year. I expect to see this grow in 2024 as I build my audience and further refine my content. Some of my most popular posts were around e-commerce, like 5 reasons you should NOT migrate to Shopify Plus and a breakdown of Recharge’s platform. But my post about becoming a dad was the biggest hit.
Between my weekly e-commerce content and Linkedin activity, it’s been cool to see positive impact on various fronts, whether it’s reconnecting with folks, getting new business leads for Barrel, or opening the doors to new opportunities.
In 2023, I contributed to the Wonderment blog and was featured in the Crossing Minds Black Friday guide. I’ll talk more about other opportunities in the next section.
I planned to do outreach last year to create more opportunities for speaking engagements and podcasts, but decided to focus my attention on other initiatives. Regardless, I was happy to take part in some events and podcasts throughout the year.
I read 23 books, up from 17 books last year. The biggest unlock for me was leaning into audiobooks. I wasn’t diligent about making time to sit down and read for 30 minutes every day, but turned to audiobooks for long car rides, walks with my dog Gizmo, and even working out.
I still use Readwise to review a digest of highlights every morning from books I’ve read. The only downside of audiobooks is that I’m not able to highlight passages that resonate. I tried to select books that I didn’t expect to highlight much but I was constantly finding myself wanting to pause and take notes. I may end up buying those books on Kindle to highlight down the line.
The birth of my son, Mylo, prompted an exploration into parenting books, one of which I listened to with Dana. This proved to be meaningful time contemplating and preparing for the joys and challenges of parenthood. I finally picked up a piece of fiction with Exhalation and thoroughly enjoyed it, but stopped there. I plan to read at least another fiction book or two in 2024. Beyond that, I enjoyed a mix of personal growth and business books along with memoirs, a favorite of mine.
Here’s a list of everything I read in 2023 with links to relevant posts. If I could go back, I wouldn’t take any of these books off the list. They each impacted me in different ways. I only wish I made time to share thoughts on all of them.
See the Reading section of my website for a full list of book I’ve read since 2017.
It was surreal for Dana and I to finally open a 529 account for Mylo since we’d been talking about it for awhile. Pennsylvania allows for 529s from any state, so we went with one from California, known for solid returns and low fees.
Similar to 2022, I didn’t make any major investments in tech stocks, but did invest in a couple of opportunities via Barrel Venture Partners. Outside of that, I continued to put money in my high yield savings account and index funds. I also opened a high yield savings account that’s linked to my Apple card. It offered a competitive interest rate and used cash back from credit card transactions to grow the account. I thought it was interesting so I gave it a go.
I’m less and less inclined to take bets these days, so I’m continuing to lean into high yield savings and index funds as safe ways to grow my money.
In terms of performance, it was a good year on paper.
I don’t see myself making many changes to this approach in 2024, especially with new expenses like daycare. If anything, I may look at moving money into a 6-month CD to get a better interest rate.
Most of my travel in 2023 was spent for conferences and work events. Luckily, Dana got to join me a few times before it was too close to her due date. While we didn’t make it anywhere special last year, I enjoyed the time we spent exploring our area and attending local events.
Here are the places I visited, not including local travel like NYC or seeing family in Delaware and Virginia. However, I was back and forth to New York on numerous occasions for meetings and events.
Dana and I plan to get more travel in this year, with and without Mylo. We’re not sure where yet, though!
Summing up an entire year is one thing, summing up an entire year at Barrel is another. Every year, it feels like we’ve come so far and yet, we’re just getting started. I’ll keep this section light, though, because I cover a lot of what we’re up to in my weekly newsletter (read posts) as does Barrel CEO Peter in his Agency Journey series.
My role changed quite a bit in 2023. I took on a more active role in our new business efforts and started managing our tech partnerships. We decided to invest more in attending conferences, which meant I was on the road quite a bit.
It became increasingly difficult to be away from home while Dana was pregnant, but I enjoyed immersing myself into the community and met some amazing people in the process. It’s hard to believe that I met so many of them just last year.
Here’s a list of some key conferences and industry events I attended, including relevant writing.
While it’s hard to gauge the impact of attending these events, I do think the time spent strengthening our partnerships was worthwhile. We’ve made a lot of progress in how we collaborate with our partners and leverage their platforms, which has only served to bring more value to our clients.
In 2024, I plan to spend less time traveling. I’ll be more selective about what events are worth attending and if anything, will look to get more in-person time with our clients.
Beyond all of the travel, last year was a rollercoaster. We saw new business slow down and conversations with prospective clients move at a snail’s pace. Luckily, we saw growth with existing clients and continued to provide add-on services throughout the year. I’m proud of how we managed our way through and grateful for the lessons we learned, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t extremely difficult and frustrating at times.
Early last year, Peter started working with Gerry, a CEO coach from CEO Coaching International. Eventually, Barrel COO/President Sei-Wook and I joined these sessions. Gerry has been helpful in understanding our business at a deeper level, asking difficult questions, and overall, keeping us accountable for taking action and making decisions.
We’re heading into 2024 feeling optimistic but know we have our work cut out for us. There’s a lot we’re looking to accomplish but starting in Q1, some initiatives I’m working on are launching our new website, consolidating new business with Client Services, and experimenting with a few new marketing campaigns.
Related: BL&T No. 126: Narrowing Our E-Commerce Stack Partnerships, BL&T No. 133: Lessons from Attending Conferences
Read my 2022 In Review.