in Life

2023 Retrospective

A year ago, I concluded a chapter on what was, arguably, one of the most perplexing years of my life. 2022 was a slow and lonely burn. As the year drew to a close, I predicted that 2023 would be equally as challenging, albeit in new forms and yielding different outcomes. Most notably, I believed that 2023 would culminate as a net positive—contrasting the emptiness I felt in 2022.

Looking back now, it feels as though the last two years have been a period of profound metamorphosis. 2022 kicked off the process when I grappled with the disintegration of my identity and willpower. 2023 continued the journey when I embarked to reclaim my sense of self and reignite my desire to dream and push past tomorrow.

This year, much like its predecessor, tested the bounds of my resilience. Growth often felt laborious when I was constantly flying perilously close to the sun. Each obstacle presented a lesson, each hardship a spark of insight. But compounding rewards over time: I’m firmly convinced that 2023 has been a stronger year for me than 2022—both professionally and personally.

With that, below are my highlights of 2023.

The bad:

  • Work was substantially more arduous than I had anticipated, due to unforeseen circumstances that I can’t discuss here. Let’s just say I was handed my fair share of plot twists this year. Nevertheless, I survived the trials and am now grateful to find myself in a startup again.
  • 26 consecutive weeks of travel. Eventually I adapted and became really efficient, but the novelty wore thin.
  • I struggled a ton this year with avarice. I’ll admit it’s probably my dominant vice of the year. Money is a drug and I’ve been trying to come down from the high. The concept of the hedonic treadmill became a palpable reality in my life.
  • I was constantly anxious about what my next endeavor would entail. I’m not the best ideas person (I’m better at execution), so it felt superficial for me to nonchalantly say “Yeah I’ll just start another company.” Yes, execution is paramount, but compelling ideas are tougher to generate than people realize. And in my experience, brainstorming the right idea is a creative research process that can’t be rushed.

The good:

  • I started a real estate portfolio with 4 rental properties in Texas and Montana. The Montana property, in particular, has been a whirlwind to set up, but it’s a special story that I’ve come to cherish. And it’s a 15-minute drive from breathtaking views in Yellowstone National Park!
  • I fulfilled my childhood dream of buying a house for my grandparents. Growing up, I didn’t know anything about fancy cars or other luxuries, so helping my grandparents retire was the extent of my youthful ambitions. To contextualize this: they lived 6 hours away, spoke limited English, and faced health challenges. This year, after a few years of convincing, they finally agreed to relocate to Dallas. I closed on a spacious home in a new development amidst a large Vietnamese community to help them feel at home. We moved in together, and my parents conveniently live nearby so they’re able to visit and help often. While I occasionally miss my former city and the privacy of living alone, the sacrifice is unquestionably worth it. I ultimately did right by the former kid in me.
  • I became an adjunct professor for my alma mater’s business school, teaching a course called “Startup Launch I.” It’s an advanced entrepreneurship course that emphasizes real-world market validation and critical analysis of student ideas. The first semester was successful overall, despite some expected turbulence from revamping the course so quickly. Growing alongside my students was a privilege, and I’m super excited for the next semester.
  • I’ve completed my estate planning, after much procrastination. Now, at least from a logistical standpoint, I’m prepared for the inevitable.
  • My second startup is in full force. This time, I’ve added a new co-founder as CTO while my returning co-founder is CPO. And wow—I’m amazed by the synergy and efficiency of our trio. I won’t divulge details yet since our startup is still in stealth, but I can confirm that we’ve progressed much faster than planned. Work is as demanding as ever, but returning to the startup world makes me feel alive again.

The interesting:

  • After my first international (not counting resorts in Mexico) and solo trip to Japan in 2022, I continued my travel pursuits this year with South Korea and Taiwan. All three were unique experiences that further opened my eyes to the world and myself. I constantly yearn for returning to Japan, but new countries will take priority for next year. So many places to see and cultures to immerse myself in.
  • Concluding my entrepreneurship class this semester felt more bittersweet than anticipated. While I was moping about it, my co-founder eloquently expressed: “Tough love is still love.” Sighing, I realized how much I miss my students. It made me wonder, is this what it feels like for a parent to watch their children grow up and move on?
  • Recently, I find myself frequently daydreaming about watering plants in my retirement.
  •  I’ve started my half-body suit tattoo in Los Angeles. With about 65 hours of excruciating pain endured so far, I think I’m just over halfway done. The artwork itself isn’t inherently meaningful—I just like the aesthetic. Think Japanese, grayscale, abstract, and floral. The true significance for me lies in the deliberate decision to get a tattoo, which also happens to envelop half of my body. Choosing to get a large tattoo represents an open statement of my defiance against societal norms. And designing it to encompass specifically half of my body symbolizes the balance between my rebellion and upbringing. Plus, it’s interesting to face a trial of physical pain for once as opposed to a purely mental tribulation. Oh, and neither my artist nor I knew what the final result would look like (we still don’t). We winged it by picking and piecing together various elements one by one. That required a huge leap of faith to surrender to my artist and her creative process. But we’re enamored with the progress so far.
  • I’ve started exploring my relationship with spirituality, which ironically started because of capitalism. It’s through my entrepreneurial journey that I’ve experienced my most profound hardships, emotions, epiphanies, and growth. To the extent that it unironically feels as though I was born to be a founder. After reflecting on patterns throughout the years, I’ve become more receptive to the notion of a higher entity. I don’t know what that entails yet, but I’ve begun to dabble in religions from Christianity to Hinduism. No rush—I may not have an answer for years.

As predicted, 2023 aggressively challenged my limits, but I overcame the trials and turned the year into a net positive. While I wouldn’t call it an extraordinary year, it feels like a pivotal stepping stone towards one. As though the purpose of this year was to set the stage for 2024.

Looking forward, I predict that 2024 will conclude this metamorphosis. 2022 shattered me to pieces, and then 2023 started to pick them up and establish a new foundation. 2024 will be my time to launch from it and soar once again. I’ve never been more optimistic for a new year.

Cheers to whatever comes next. I’m ready for it.

My first class after they finished their final presentations. Onto the next!