On startups, anxieties, and dreams. My 2018 year in review.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

– Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

This is my third consecutive year-in-review. (Previous years: 2017, 2016.) This year was the toughest year in terms of figuring out whether I wanted to present this retrospective.

A reversal occurs where the more you share things on a personal level, the more you wonder if it is worth it.

Part of growing older is understanding one’s own frailties, insecurities, and fears. I am not sure if I am in a great position to dispense ‘advice’ that is universally applicable. What does one really know about the world, and how to operate, anyway?

In the end, though, I soldiered on and put this together. It is motivated by two parts.

One part is self-serving in the sense that I wanted to write about myself. I wanted this to be a way to share with friends what really happened to me this year, and not the everything-is-sunny-on-the-outside bullshit thing that we project on social media.

We all think that other people are doing awesome and great. That might be what it seems on the surface, but it is not reality. Let my ramblings be a case study in that.

The other part of the equation is that I wanted to spread some realistically positive energy around. I am not suggesting that there is something that you must take away from this writing. That is far too audacious.

But maybe one small part of it will inspire you to grow closer to your family member or loved one. Perhaps it will allow you to take action and find the inner peace within yourself.

I do not know what exactly that thing is, but I sincerely wish you the best in your journey to get there. My story can serve as a point of reference.

I had written and re-written this retrospective several times, both in my mind and on paper. I had outlined this thing in several directions. I am still unsure if it “works.” Hence, I greatly welcome your feedback.

I am going to divide my year-in-review into several sections:

  1. Mind
  2. Body
  3. Work
  4. Relationships
  5. Regrets

Part 1 – Mind

There are several factors at play when I think about my mental state:

  • Am I at peace with myself?
  • Am I developing my capabilities, and learning in the right ways?
  • Am I happy? If not, what am I doing about it?

Let’s go through them one at a time.

“Am I at peace with myself?”

The first question is a combination of the spiritual, emotional, and logical. For the most part, I would say that I felt good about the year.

My existential crisis from two years ago has largely been put to rest. I still feel episodes of anxiety that stem from the inability to stay still, and the lingering doubt of whether I will ever amount to my textbook standards of “success.”

It sounds ridiculous. After all, what is success? I am operating from pre-conceived notions of what that means. Even understanding that on an intellectual level, however, does not make things better.

Certainly, diving into a startup company full-time, and at the ground level, has allowed me to channel my frustrations and anxieties in a productive way.

I’d like to think that things happen for a reason. Keeping up with a game like Magic has given me the opportunity to give back to this space. There is a sense of focus.

That helps minimize the self-doubt on the good days.

On the bad days, I still feel like a complete fraud.

Such is the battle with oneself.

“Am I developing my capabilities, and learning in the right ways?”

The second question is a mixed bag. I squandered a ton of time this year in a corporate role that I felt neither engaged nor excited about. Towards the end of my tenure there, I was driven more by my need for security and/or routine than any tangible sense of reward or challenge.

I should have gotten out of the role much earlier. But I was afraid of change.

But I got out, even if it took time.

Now I am back on the self-development path. I am learning by doing. I am undoing the bad habits that I picked up from years of corporate life.

What do I mean by this? Garry Tan eloquently summarizes it here.

I am thankful for being self-aware enough to start developing the right muscles.

So what about traditional forms of learning?

I took some online learning courses early in the year. Not nearly enough.

I read two dozen books and over two hundred articles on various subjects. I’m fairly happy with the books I selected.

I spent way too much time obsessing over the Chicago Bulls. That subscription to The Athletic is definitely paying off.

I am not happy with my overall rate of learning. Less social media and more focused learning is a priority for next year.

I also need to improve my communication skills. In my startup role, there is a lot of verbal and written communication. I noticed how bad I was at actually conveying information in a brief and concise way.

Clarity is important, and I did not live up to my own standards. This needs to change, and I will be working on this for 2019.

“Am I happy? If not, what am I doing about it?”

Despite my own frustrations, the answer is a clear YES.

It comes from a combination of being with the people I love, feeling a sense of improvement, and managing the anxieties in my head.

It is being able to work with people and in some cases, giving them opportunities to contribute in their own meaningful ways.

It is making my passion in Magic: The Gathering a full-time endeavor, and continuing my side projects with ample encouragement from friends.

More than ever, people are depending on me. And I want to continue to make things happen — for myself, and for them.

It is a net positive feeling, and gives me purpose.

Part 2 – Body

This was definitely a year that I felt myself getting older.

Sleep has become a definite must, and skimping on it has been punishing.

I battled through physical problems and ailments. My recovery time from physical exercise has noticeably increased.

If I was a professional athlete, now would be the time to retire from competition.

That’s a joke, by the way. I am not a professional athlete. I am just referring to the concept of reaching a certain peak in one’s own individual performance, and feeling the uneasy mortality of it all.

One day you’re young. And one day, you’re not. Such is life.

But not all is lost. I set a goal this year to exercise three times a week, and I’ve largely maintained that goal.

I’ve been averaging about 8,000 steps a day, and that has been a good tracking mechanism for staying active.

I still struggle a lot with disciplined eating, because I really enjoy the pleasures of food. I find that when I exercise more frequently, the cravings for junk foods are minimized and I feel the need to not “waste” my burned calories. That goes a long way.

I have just re-applied for a gym membership and personal trainer this month. The past few months have been chaotic with the startup company and lots of traveling.

The right time is now to get more disciplined about things.

If anything, the frailties of my body have reminded me that prevention is the best medicine. I can’t guarantee anything about my future, but I want to be healthier tomorrow than I am today.

Part 3 – Work


There is so much to say about my startup endeavor, CardBoard Live. But I will break it down in simple terms.

If you ever get the chance to work with an exceptional human being who shares your values AND you get to solve a real problem that exists in the market AND you are valued for what you bring to the table…

You go for it.

It’s been a great inaugural year for CardBoard Live. I have Wilson to thank for this.

No matter what happens in the future, I will cherish everything that has already happened. Every conversation, every interaction, and every funny / outrageous / crazy incident. They are all great.

I am truly grateful and count my blessings here.

Part 4 – Relationships

On Twitter, someone asked a general question.

It took me less than a second to figure out what my answer was.

It is absolutely true. This year I felt good about spending quality time with family. That was my goal from last year, and I stuck to it. I made the deliberate effort to do so, and it has worked out.

I grew closer to my mom and dad. I grew closer to my in-laws. I hung out with my brother in Japan.

I spent more time with my immediate family this year than in the past six years combined.

Also meaningful — I spent real quality time with my wife this year, and developed a healthier mindset about what I wanted out of the marriage. I am slowly but surely stepping away from the feelings of entitlement that plagued my mind early on. She’s been super supportive. I love you, Donna.

On the friends front, I did my best to completely cut out the crappy people from my life. I maintained contact with good friends from all over the world.

As introverted as I am, I made time for the good friends who cared about me.

I met a lot of great people from the Humans of Magic project.

I tried to listen more and talk less.

All of it is a never-ending process, and I am enjoying it.

The Magic community is awesome. We ran an amazing Magic tournament in China that I’m proud to be associated with. The Beijing Orlov Legacy tournament has been running annually, and this year was our biggest turnout yet. I cover it in detail here. For the Magic diehards, my friend Julian Knab wrote an amazing tournament recap here.

To all my friends in the Magic community — you guys are great. I am happy to play my part in this wonderful environment.

Part 5 – Regrets


There are several things that I want to state on the record for accountability reasons. If it’s publicly stated, then I am more likely to do something about it.

  • I did not live up to my potential as a leader and manager. I let people down and I did not always inspire them to be at their best. This continues to be a work-in-progress. Nonetheless, I am optimistic. A few positive things happened towards the end of the year that I’m quite happy about.
  • I failed to improve dramatically as a Magic player. I stuck to play patterns and formats that were in my comfort zone. I have yet to Day 2 a Grand Prix. None of these were direct goals to hit, and maybe that was the problem in the first place. If I make it a clear goal for 2019, it might bring me the clarity I need.
  • I spent way too much time on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Way too much. I know this and it pisses me off. There is nothing to say other than — be better.
  • I neglected my overall finances. Keeping a chunk of cash in the bank is not the best long-term strategy. I had read the literature and grasped the concepts, but was lazy in applying them. I resolve to change this for next year.

Alright! That’s it for me.

How about you? Let me know how your year was.




Add yours →

  1. All the very best James.


  2. Read about in 2017, love more about 2018 one coz felt a kinda of same way about JR himself


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