the 2023 retro

on self-fulfillment, functional anxiety & mediocrity

Rachael Annabelle
4 min readJan 4, 2024
looking back at my year

2023 is ending very differently from what I expected at the start of this year. Like everyone else, I had a list of things that I wanted to achieve on January 1st. Along the way, that list evolved in ways that continued to shape me as the person I am. So here are some of the realizations I had from my 2023 introspection. Self-awareness first — I will decide what to make of it these realizations later.

2023 moments worth mentioning:

  • For my startup Gullie — Focused on the Middle East, spent a ton of time there, 10+ community events in multiple cities, 20+ new partnerships, shipped our new product, billed our first B2B customer and grew my team. hurrah!
  • Pivoted into the fintech & AI space
  • Picked up a new language — Korean
  • Grew closer to friends that support me in various ways while supporting my startup — people who build with me, and people who host me in the different cities I travel to
  • My top podcast: Founders, by David Senra
  • My top read: Scaling People, a book on Stripe by Claire Hughes Johnson
  • Took my first proper vacation (no work done while travelling) in 3+ years, and spent some quality time with family
  • Travelled — 26 places? (Dubai, Riyadh, Paris, Nice, Monaco, Cannes, Eze, St Tropez, Florence, Rome, Pisa, Napoli, Portofino, Positano, Capri, Amalfi, Brussels, Seoul, Jeju, Tokyo, Dallas, New York, San Francisco, Kuala Lumpur, Kuching & Singapore)

things that excite me in 2024:

  • Less travel & more routines
  • Being more fluent in Korean 2024
  • Got a new coach — something new I am trying out, and will update you guys on how it goes!

Fulfillment comes from betting on yourself

One of the most enormous joys is building something of your own and seeing it through. It applies to people who have started their own company, those who have picked up a new skill, or those who have overcome a challenge.

Often times, we embark on the journey of being a founder or pursuing some lofty goal we set out to achieve.

But along the way, the bumps in the road make us doubt ourselves, and make us wonder if we were too ambitious in the first place. Failure is normal of course, but I’ve learnt that the greatest fulfillments come from being able to betting on yourself, taking that risk and growing from the experience.

This year, I explored the Middle East market and had a variety of experiences while I travelled and did business alone in Dubai and Saudi Arabia. As challenging as it was to ramp up and launch into a foreign market alone, we managed to make some moves there and I’m excited for the year ahead.

So, here’s a reminder to those who took the path less travelled — you did it because at the start, you believed that you are better, can out-execute the norm, and can create an exceptional life that’s worth living. Don’t let the setbacks stop you.

Functional anxiety — or maybe I’m just asian

I’ve realized that it wildly difficult to keep my mind off work, especially as a founder. No shocker there, but it was something I’ve been thinking about since I lived with friends who mentioned that (almost) everything I talk about or do is somewhat related to work — my brain doesn’t ever switch off.

I hold myself to a pretty high bar in terms of goals I want to hit and things I want to achieve in life. And while this creates a load of anxiety, it also manifests in a way that makes me exceptionally productive and effective with my time. Waves of anxiety tend to also be the most productive periods of focus work for me.

I must say being anxious isn’t always the most pleasant feeling, but the fulfillment I get from achieving what I aimed to do feels pretty good. I don’t see the anxiety being too excessive at the moment, so I perhaps I found the perfect level of obsessiveness to drive me forward. Or, maybe I’m just asian.

Whatever it is, I’m pretty happy with where I am at the moment.

Work-life balance (at the start) = mediocrity

I’ve spent a good amount of time thinking about whether I should strive for better work life balance — something a lot of my friends tell me to try achieve. My conclusion is that everything you do takes practice. If you want to be great at something, I really don’t see you can have work life balance (at least at the start).

Everyone who has told me they found work-life balance while making a decent living has usually done their fair share of 100 hour work weeks, and have now reached a point where they are expert enough in their own field to take it slightly easier.

Simply put, you don’t become the best in your field unless you’ve been obsessive about it (to a certain extent). The more you practice the better you’ll be.

That said, I do believe mental separation is the key to staying sane and having good mental health. Do activities that can force yourself into a completely different headspace from work. For me, that’s going for an intense workout or spin class so I reset my brain and come back to whatever I am working on.

People will tell you the best way of doing and managing things, but we forget that the person who knows our situation best is ourselves.



Rachael Annabelle | googler. founder photographer. creative consultant. pasta fanatic & occasional nerd.