eric kim photography portrait13

Dear Eric,

You are 12 years old. Here is some advice I would give you.

1. Setting the stage

First of all, you’re in 6th grade (when you were 12). These are your formative years.

Remember: you are living in Bayside, Queens. Your best friends are Spencer, Aditya, Jonathan, Steven Pai/Chen, David, and Christian.

Me far left

Honestly, even though you’re only 12 — you know your shit. You already think/know that you’re smarter than your parents. Most of the morals you learned at this period of your life won’t change much — even me writing this as a 29 year old (17 years later, you’re still the same Eric).

2. Your mom is your hero

Let me set the stage for you some more: Your dad is pretty much a deadbeat dad. He sits at home all day, smokes (your hatred of your dad smoking disgusted you so much, you will never puff an entire cigarette in your entire life), watches movies (at least be a little appreciative he introduced you to Schindler’s List at age 12), and is pretty much a leech/parasite. He will teach you not to be a bum, and he will teach you to be the exact opposite— to learn how to hustle hard, and become the best version of yourself.

Your mom is your hero. She is 44 years old. She is the only bread-winner in the home. She cleans houses, waitresses, cashier, works 12 hour days (6 days a week), and you never see her. The good thing is she taught you good morals as a kid (the importance of self-reliance, faith, humility, and faith in God). She taught you everything you know — to become the man you will become one day.

3. You had an adventurous childhood

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Anyways, you have a great childhood at age 12. You’re on the cusp of puberty. You explore the city, like the world is yours. You walk probably 5-6 miles a day (not out of ‘exercise’ — but to explore the world). You walk with your buddies to the pier, and you go fishing with your friends, and catch crabs with Steven and his grandpa.

You are introduced to diversity. All your friends are the ‘rainbow crew’ — Spanish, Indian, Jewish, Brazilian, Black, Peurto-Rican, Chinese (you learn as a kid that there are than 1 type of ‘Chinese’ language), and Korean. You don’t see color. But you see class— you see your friends all working-class families, and there is tension towards the ‘rich spoiled’ kids.

You grow up playing N64, Dreamcast, and Playstation 2. You get your first computer (Pentium I MMX Processor, 1GB hard drive, 38.8k modem) and you figure out how to use the internet via AOL. You have all these free CD’s, and you figure out how to ‘Hack’ Netzero to essentially have ‘free’ internet (even though you racked up the phone bills, and the phone line was always busy).

4. Your early ‘hacker’ roots

You learned how to become a ‘pirate’ at age 12 — joining AOL ‘Server/Cerver’ chat rooms, getting Grand Theft Auto 1 emailed to you (as 20 .RAR files), and letting that shit download for 2 days straight (you would yell at your mom when she tried to make a phone call). You learned how to be resourceful— because you were poor.

You essentially had 100% freedom at age 12. It was kind of bad, but mostly good. You started to program on Visual Basic, to make your own ‘PUNTER’ tools (to kick people out of AOL chat rooms) or to create an ‘Email Bomb’ to send random folks random gibberish in code, to have their internet disconnect. It was fun, and exciting.

You learned how to code your own websites pretty early in HTML. You was the master of ‘Tetrinet’ (online Tetris). You were still well-balanced, you were a black/red belt in Tae Kwon Do, you started to lift dumbbell weights (because you were fat, eating all those hot pockets as a kid, because your parents were never home), and you walked around a lot, and played with your friends.

The world was your oyster.

5. Bankruptcy in New York, and moving back to California

Remember: your mom tries to borrow money from your grandpa to start a business in America. She and your dad buy a grocery store in the Bronx, and they do okay. But one day they figure out that they are being scammed— the Korean couple they bought it from had massive debt, and that debt was transferred to your parents. They went bankrupt. We had to move back to California, to start a new life.

We loaded our life’s belonging in the 1995 Nissan Maxima, with the peeling black paint and purple-tinted windows, and drove to California, leaving everything behind.

Remember, when you said your final farewell to your friends, and you thought to yourself: “I will never make as good friends.” But you promised your friends (and they promised you) to stay friends forever. 17 years later, Spencer Gallardo and Aditya Mahan come to your wedding with Cindy. Life is good.

6. Road trip through America in a 1995 Nissan Maxima

Your family barely has enough money for gas, or motels. I think I remember sleeping a few nights in the car— I can’t be too sure.

Your mom and dad get really tanned left arms (from driving), and you and your sister are fooling around in the back seat. You see America, and realize how big Texas is.

7. Life in Middle School

You restart your life in Alameda, California. You attend Lincoln Middle School, and you have family (DJ). You’re seen as a unique specimen— you are from New York. All of the kids in your school ask you, “Did you get shot or mugged in New York?” Also remember when you first moved from California to New York — all your classmates in 5th grade asked you, “Were there always earthquakes in California?”

Anyways, middle school life is good. You make some new friends. Your best friends are Aaron, and Dave. You build good friends at church at St. Agnes in Oakland, and also Grace Kang is one of your closest friends in middle school. You learn to over-come your ‘poorness’ by saving all your lunch money (not eating lunch) to buy ‘cool’ clothes, like $50 all-white K-SWISS shoes, and $25 t-shirts. Remember when you tried to buy that all-white oversized Russel Hoodie ($50), and your mom said no. You bought the cheaper $20 Champion version instead.

Thank God you turned out okay. Aaron ends up joining a gang, and tries to get you to join. He slangs weed, and starts to get into selling coke. I think I remember a time when he was high on coke, and I was fucking scared. Weed wasn’t a big deal. I never touched it though, because I saw how weed fucked up all my friends (made them lazy and unambitious) and I just hated smoking (from my dad).

I remember one day when Aaron took off his shirt, and there were all these scars on his back. I asked him what happened— he told me the neighboring gang jumped them, and he got knifed up. Scary shit.

I remember my friend Tony coming over my house in 7th grade, and he offers me a pill of Ecstasy. I’m like, ‘I’m cool’ — I knew that E (Ecstasy) put holes in your brain. I knew some kids in 8th grade who became ‘E-heads’ and became brain-dead. Anyways, Tony takes the full pill, and he is touching the carpet and the wall for about 3 hours.

8. Trust yourself

You see the world around yourself, and shit is crazy. People joining gangs. Doing drugs. Fucking up their lives. Complaining about life, and how difficult it is. Getting depressed, and contemplating suicide. Becoming ‘EMO’ or ‘GOTH.’ Wearing all black.

Remember, your friend complained that his parents wouldn’t get him a new PS3. You remember the same night you lock yourself up in your room, hearing your Dad beat your mom. You remember thinking to yourself, “You don’t know what real pain and suffering is.”

9. Thank your mentors/guides

But the good thing is that all this tough shit made you stronger. You saw your friends go down the wrong path — which encouraged you to go the right path. Your mentors, and guides helped you every step of the way— illuminating the path for you. You local Boy Scouts troop scout-masters, your Sunday school teachers, and your mom.

10. Your belief in the American Dream

You grew up with the American dream. The American hustle is embedded in your DNA. You are the true ‘rags to riches’ story.

Do you remember when you were a kid— and you begged your dad to get a job at age 12? You saw how much your mom was suffering. Your dad would always make excuses. You learned to hate excuses. And you will never forget, the day your dad was sitting with you in his car, telling you outside of Sushi House: “Your mom deserves to suffer and work, because she is a bitch and deserves it.”

Your dad is the ultimate anti role-model. But that was good.

You learn that you can’t depend on nobody. Only yourself. You hustle at age 15 in high school, learn how to build computers, and you sell a few of them to kids in school and on eBay and make $1,000 on your own. You take that money, and your mom helps find a mechanic from Oakland (Kevin) who is selling a 1991 Nissan Sentra XE 4-door 5 speed, white, for only $1200. It is in good condition. Your mom gives you $200, and you have freedom at age 15.

You get your driver’s permit, by driving around with a Vietnamese guy for 1 hour, who signs off your paper. You pay him only $50 (instead of your sucker classmates who spend about $300 and have to train for a month).

11. Learning how to become resourceful

The fast and the furious just came out— and your dream is to have a cool car. But all you have is your 1991 Sentra. It is lame. But you make it cool. You learn how to buy primer, and through online forums, you spray paint your car. You fix your bumpers, and spray paint the entire interior black (remember how ugly the brown interior was?) You install an intake from eBay. You get your mechanic to install a 2’’ exhaust (mandrel bends) for your 1.6 liter engine (optimal) with a magnaflow muffler. It isn’t a rice-rocket or a ‘fart cannon.’ You learn how to install headers ($200) from eBay.

You learn how to tinker. You take apart your car, and strip it down. You take out the back seats, and roll around with Justin to save weight.

You get into audio. You get two 12’’ subwoofers in the trunk, 1000 Watt Amplifier from your buddy Paul, and Alpine speakers and head unit. You bump heavy hip hop with your rattling trunk. You think you’re pretty cool.

Your dream car is the 1991 Sentra SE-R (2-door, with SR20 140HP engine, instead of the weak 1.6 102 HP engine on your current car).

Your 4-door 1991 Sentra XE doesn’t pass smog. So you get a $1,000 rebate from the state of California to junk it. You use that money, and scrape another $500 to buy your dream 1991 Sentra SE-R (also white). You get it from a grandma who barely drove it. You love it, it is your dream car. You paint the rims bronze, and keep it ‘clean’ (your coach Lowe calls it a ‘Sleeper’).

You have pride in being an underdog. You have pride in building up your car (and yourself) — whereas all the spoiled kids in school with BMW’s are self-entitled. You learn to have extreme pride that you are self made— you work, you make your own money, and you create your own future and destiny.

12. Others have it worse than you

Never forget where you came from Eric. Do you remember when you first looked at your bank account, and you accrued your first $1,000 in your savings account? Then your first $10,000 in bank account? Then your first $100,000 in your savings? Never forget how proud you were of yourself.

Never forget when you worked at Sushi House at age 14 as a busboy, working 2 months, probably 10-12 hours a day, and that $3000 you saved up (in tip and wages) that you saved in your shoebox. Remember how hard the Mexicans in the back worked— and how impressed you were with their work ethic, and how you realized how privileged you were (even though your job was hard). You learned you can never complain.

Then remember that your dad said he had an ‘opportunity’ in LA to make money. But he needed money (he always did). You gave him your $3,000 — tears in your eyes, telling your dad, ‘I believe in you.’ He betrays you. He actually never went to LA. He disappears for a month, and apparently he gambled it all away (probably in Reno). Remember when your mom used to track the mileage in his red 1995 Acura Integra, and how he would disappear randomly in the middle of the night, gambling away our rent money.

Remember how your dad would threaten your mom— that he wanted the rent money (to ‘pay it himself.’). Remember, how your mom had to file bankruptcy. How your dad treated your mom like a slave. You learned to respect women, especially hardworking single moms. You knew that age 16, the day you would become ‘successful’ you would devote your life helping others — especially those in need like yourself.

13. Why were you so lucky?

Eric — why were you so lucky? How come you didn’t end up joining a gang, getting addicted to weed and ecstasy, getting thrown in juvie, and stayed clear of all these negative influences— when your best friends were gang-affiliated?

One thing to be grateful for your Dad and Mom: they knew that Alameda was becoming ‘bad’ (all these gang-banging kids moving in from Oakland), and we decided to move to Castro Valley. You no longer saw your friend Aaron. That ended up being good for me.

Castro Valley (my high school from 9th grade to 12th grade) was a good school. Good teachers, good AP classes, and no ‘bad influences.’ Your freshman year, the school was 80% white. No gangs, only fake gang-bangers (remember how lame Roger was?) You ended up building a crew of your homies, and you were a trouble-maker (spray-painting graffiti at school), but mostly good.

You knew that education was the answer. You hustled hard to get into a good college. You were mostly self-driven. You wanted to make your momma proud. You saw how hard she suffered (how much she sacrificed, she only lived for you and your sister) — she was like Mother Mary.

14. Advice to you

Sorry I got a bit detracted, and jumped around in time a bit.

But I just want to encourage you. To give you advice, that you are 12 years old — don’t let nobody tell you that you’re too young. You already know your shit. Have faith in yourself, your morals, and your world-view.

You’re lucky to have got good morals from your family, church, and mentors.

You know all those who got fucked over in life weren’t because they were ‘lazy’ — they just didn’t have the same opportunities you did. Not only that, but some of them had parents that didn’t care about them. Even Aaron’s mom — she didn’t care about Aaron. At least you had a mom that loved you and cared about you.

But you never complained about your disadvantaged background. You started your RPG (role playing game, like Diablo II) at Level 0. Or maybe Level -10. While others started at Level 10, Level 20, or Level 50. But the goal is to become Level 99. And you were able to hustle, grind hard, and make it to Level 99.

15. Helping others level-up

Know that life isn’t a competition. Everyone can become Level 99. You don’t need to tear others down, to become the ultimate level.

Not only that, but know that not having money is never an excuse. You have to use it to your advantage— get a job. Hustle, start teaching English on the side, learn how to program, and get a job programming (the future is in Computer Science).

Be practical— be an idealist, but get a job that pays the bills. Pursue your passion on the side, and maybe one day you can do it full-time.

Know that you can be rich and do social good. At age 29, you are rich. You never need to worry about money no more. You have enough in your savings to live for a full 2 years in America. In theory, you can live the rest of your life in Saigon and never ‘work’ another day in your life.

You do social good by empowering others. Giving free ebooks, articles, and videos. The purpose of your life is to help empower others. You have enough to be happy in life— you got your laptop, camera, and brain. You have loved ones— you got the most beautiful and amazing wife (Cindy), you have your family (and a new family from Cindy), and you got strength, power, and many hours to devote yourself to helping others.

Also realize how technology has empowered you so much. From the early days of AOL 3.0 and your 38.8k modem, to teaching yourself programming, how to build computers (which helped you get a work-study job at UCLA at Undergraduate Admission earning a good $12 an hour, which helped you buy your first $600 Canon Rebel XT 350D DSLR). You hustled hard, but you also got lucky — and got the right opportunities. But you had confidence, no fear, and took those opportunities.

But what also helped you was having faith in God — and knowing that ‘everything happened for a reason.’ Be humble. Don’t think that your hard work alone got you to where you are. God not as a dude in a cloud with a white beard. But the spirit of ‘God’ manifested through your mom, through your mentors, your teachers, and your own inner-spirit that led you down the right path.

16. I’m fucking proud of you

Never forget where you came from Eric.

Also 12 year old Eric — know that I’m fucking proud of you. You went through so much suffering, yet it helped you build a thicker skin. Instead of having ‘post-traumatic harm’ — you gained ‘post-traumatic GROWTH’. You didn’t let all this bullshit and suffering in life tear you down. Rather, it helped you ‘level up’ to level 99.

In life, if you want to become Level 99 in Diablo II — you need to fight bosses, and keep grinding, and risk death. You cannot just keep killing little low-level orcs.

And the day you’re level 99 — don’t despair. There is still a reason to live. To devote the rest of your life helping others become level 99.

Be strong Eric,

Always,
(29 year old) Eric

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