I think the two things holding us back in life include fear and distractions.
What if we totally eradicated these two things from our life?
I. KILL FEAR
The first step to living an epic life is to kill fear. To eradicate it 100%.
For me, I am (in the process) of conquering my fear of death. Because ultimately, we all fear death. That is what causes us to be slaves in life.
For example, we still toil at that shitty 9-5 office job, because we are afraid if we cannot make a living, we will go homeless, and die.
We are afraid of offending our loved ones, our family, and community members— because they will ostracize and kick us out of the social circle/community. Then nobody will love us. Then we will want to kill ourselves, because our lives will be ‘meaningless’ without love.
Why do we care about what others think of us?
I think in today’s world, we are more afraid of being judged negatively. Not even a fear of death. Which is dumb.
If you upload a photo, do you really care what others think about your photo? Why? Is it because you put your own ego and self-worth through the images you make? That is silly. If you upload a photo and only get a few likes, does that mean that you are a lesser human being?
I know for me, I have irrational fears. I fear that people will stop liking me — and by having people not like me, nobody will buy my products or attend my workshops, and then Cindy will leave me, and I will die on the streets.
When it comes to street photography, I often hesitate before making a photo because I am afraid of getting a knuckle-sandwich to the mouth. Or I am afraid of upsetting the other person — and ‘feeling bad’.
When it comes to business, the most irrational fear is this imaginary sense of ‘failure.’ For example, if I raise my week-long workshop price to $1995 (I did) — what if nobody attends, and I go broke? Even ‘worse’ — I am afraid that by nobody attending the workshop, it will signal me as a ‘failure’ (in the eyes of society). But what is my own opinion of myself? If I had only 1 person attend, would that mean I am a success or failure? If the workshop sells out, does that mean I am a ‘success’?
Don’t out-source or crowd-source your self-esteem in terms of your social media followers/likes/comments/page views/etc:
If I am getting more followers on social media, does that mean I am ‘winning’ in life? Or if I am losing followers— does that mean I am ‘winning’ in life (If I end up losing followers, it might mean that I am innovating, and therefore it is natural that people will unfollow me).
So my new lesson in life is this:
If people start unfollowing you, you are doing something right.
II: Distractions are killing us
For me, I think distraction is what is killing us, emotionally, spiritually, and creatively.
We are constantly stimulated by bright screens, by vibrations in the air hitting our ear drums, and constantly stimulated by the endless stream of information which is the internet.
I remember when I was a kid, I got bored. When I was bored, I would draw and paint. This helped me become ‘creative’ — I CREATED paintings and drawings as a way to remedy my own boredom.
But now, I am a slave to convenience, entertainment, and external consumption of information. I am made passive by distractions— by emails, phone calls, text messages, random celebrity gossip online, social media, blogs, and pointless media and websites.
Shutting out the world
I realized if I wanted to become the best version of myself, I needed to shut out the world. I needed to be an asshole. I needed to close forms of contact to me. For my close friends (you guys know), I went into this weird ‘monk’ mode. I kept my phone 100% OFF for two weeks. I didn’t check my email for 6 months. I blocked all social media sites and blogs by using with the ‘WasteNotime’ extension.
I pissed off a lot of people — including friends, family, and Cindy. But, during this techno-zen meditation period of shutting out the world, I was finally able to focus. FOCUS. Like deep focus, for the first time in my life in perhaps 7-8 years (I don’t remember being able to focus— the last time was when I was 21 in college, before I had a smartphone).
At this point, I am genuinely convinced that (for me) the smartphone is a negative drug. I would check my phone incessantly, without any need. I also think that if I were born today, some pseudo-Psychologist would diagnose me with “ADD” (attention deficit disorder). But in reality, I think ADD is just a made up modern concept— I think as humans we all naturally have ADD, and of course this addictive crack-cocaine technology ain’t helping us.
I still love technology, and I think smartphones empower a lot of people. But for me, the only ‘tech’ I really need is my laptop. I have been able to contact friends and family via KakaoTalk on my laptop. I can do my creative work on my laptop. I only like having a smartphone for Google Maps and Uber. But at least for now living abroad— I don’t need it. I go to the same coffee shops, and I can always jump in a taxi (still cheap).
Perhaps even in America when I move back — I wanna see if I can ‘survive’ without a smartphone. Maybe buy a ‘dumb’ flip-phone, so I can still keep in touch with close friends and family.
III: I think I am enlightened
While I write these lines in 2017 (in Hanoi), I think I achieved ‘enlightenment.’ I don’t know an ultimate ‘truth’ about the universe. It is easier— I know what I want to do in life, and what I do not want to do in life. I have become ‘enlightened’ — because the light of what is important to me is very clear.
To me the only important things include my time, attention, focus, and health. Then my close friends and family and loved ones. Also my creative work, whether that means making photos, writing, drawing, coming up with ideas, and sharing them — empowering others through art and information.
Don’t label yourself
Another thing that has helped me flourish creatively — I no longer see myself as a photographer or even an ‘artist.’ I just see myself as a big ass kid. I want to live life like Benjamin Button — age in reverse. When I am age 99 on my death bed, I want to be mentally 1 year old. And when I die at age 100, I want to die at age 0 (mentally).
When I go to dinner with friends, I prefer to hang out with their kids and talk with them. Adults are boring. There are only rules, restrictions, and walls. Kids are all about opportunities, openness, and curiosity.
Modern society has kind of fucked us up. Rather than caring to paint our own masterpieces, we would rather buy the art of others. Rather than following our own curiosity, we follow self-help books and advice-blogs which tell us what to do. Rather than photographing whatever interests us on the streets, we masturbate to sharpness tests of different cameras and lenses on brick walls.
Rather than having sex with our partner, we would rather masturbate to porn. Rather than learning how to cook, we would rather become Yelp ‘foodies’ and rate the cooking and restaurants of others. Rather than making our own photos, we seek to copy the work of other photographers. Rather than designing our own clothes and style, we would rather spend $100 on a T-Shirt or some designer clothes.
IV: Produce more than you consume
I dream of a world with more producers, not consumers.
I still love to consume. It is part of being human. If I did not consume food, external information, and the philosophy of others— I would die.
But, I think most of us spend 90% of our days consuming, and only 10% of our day producing.
What if we made that opposite? What if we spend 90% of our day producing/creating, and only 10% of our day consuming?
I think life is about production. We admire trees when they produce a lot of fruit. We admire bees when they produce a lot of honey. We admire companies when they produce a lot of money.
We hate parasites. We hate mosquitos that suck our blood and give us nothing in return. For me, I would have no moral qualms if we killed 100% of the mosquitos in the world. We also hate leeches, which make their livelihood by sucking our blood. In real life— avoid these leeches (you know who they are).
We die from cancer. But some people, communities, and groups can be like cancer. They slowly eat away at you, make you weak, and passive.
Everyone has a different form of cancer. For me, that was my dad— who constantly was a black cloud in my life. He essentially was a chronic gambler, who leeched off my mom. My mom would hustle 6-7 days a week, working 12-14 hour days, working menial jobs (waiting tables, cashier, cleaning houses, taking care of kids) while my dad sat at home, smoking cigarettes, watching movies, and reading (ironically enough) philosophy books.
I had to cut my dad out of my life, or else I knew his negative influence would fuck up my life, and also the life of Cindy and our future kids.
It was hard, it was selfish— but it was selfish for the greater good. Now I feel fantastic. And I still have a lot of love for my dad (I love everyone), and forgiven him for all his ‘sins’ — yet I don’t need to have him in my life.
I think a real human being must give more than they take. It is very simple ethics.
The only way to become ‘rich’ by having a lot of money is to create more value than you take.
The only way to be ‘loved’ is to love others more than you take.
The only way to be liked as a human is to like others more than you like yourself.
V: Trust yourself
You know yourself better than anybody else.
My buddy Nassim Taleb told me the only way to measure ‘success’ in life is to imagine talking to your 18-year-old self. What would your 18-year old self tell you? Would your 18-year old self be proud of you? What advice would your 18 year old self give you — in terms of what to do and what not to do?
For me, I think my 18 year old self would be pretty proud of me. But he would encourage me to go harder— to hustle harder, to quit wasting money, to quit chasing bullshit, to not care about what others think about me, and just to trust myself and my own intuition.
So friend— don’t let nobody control you. Don’t let your boss, company, religious community, partner, kids, friends, or family control you.
That don’t mean just go out and do whatever you want. It means to be a decent human being— but to not let anybody take control of your steering wheel in life.
Your life is like a boundless sea. Imagine you are in the middle of the Pacific ocean, with a small ship. You are the only one who can steer this ship. There is no ultimate ‘destination’ — but you can control what direction you take your life.
Do what is purposeful, meaningful, and important to you — and dedicate your life learning, growing, creating art, and helping empower others.
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