eric kim portrait by cindy
Portrait by Cindy A. Nguyen

Dear friend,

I will teach you how to become more free in life — to not give one flying fuck about your reputation.

I. I used to give a fuck; now I give a fuck less

When I was 12-18 years old, I really didn’t care so much about what others thought of me. I grew up with the fear of not knowing whether my mom would be able to pay the rent, and we would be homeless. I remember hiding in my room as a kid, pretending like I didn’t hear my dad beat my mom.

I really didn’t care about other kids — I was focused on myself. I didn’t care for gossip, I just wanted to hustle, and improve my own existence. To hustle, to help out my family (my mom and sister), and I didn’t really give one fuck about nobody else— except me and my homies.

But now, after being put through the college/office world/‘real world’ — I’ve gone weak.

When I started this blog, I did it for fun. But as I got more famous, I got more haters. I got people shooting me with shotguns, and stabbing me in the back. Talking all nice in my face, but stabbing me in the back.

My only real friends in the photo world were Charlie Kirk (@twocutedogs), Josh White, and my friend Neil Ta. I didn’t trust nobody else.

And I especially respect my friend Charlie the most. He put his ‘reputation’ on the line when he defended me. Charlie, thank you for everything. You are the only one with balls out there. I consider you a real friend, even though I’m not a good friend.

Anyways, I started to care too much about YouTube anonymous comments. I cared too much about anonymous comments on this blog.

One day, I just realized:

Why am I a slave to the opinions of others?

I turned off comments. I went into Zen Monk meditation mode. I unfollowed everyone on social media, and spent about 6 months-1 year meditating, reflecting on life, and considering what my purpose in life was. I didn’t check my email inbox for about a year, and didn’t check any social media mentions or Facebook messages. My real friends thought I was dead or going crazy. But in real life, I was ZENNING out — finding more truth and purpose in my life.

II. More followers, more problems

I realized the negative thing about becoming more famous. You become more of a slave to the opinions of others. You start to care about your ‘reputation’ because when you are self-employed, you want people to attend your workshops, buy your products, and you don’t want to piss off people. Because if you piss off people, people might unfollow you, unlike you, and not buy your stuff. And then you will lose money, and you will become homeless one day.

The biggest fear I had was fear of losing money. Because I grew up with a dad who gambled away my mom’s money. I knew that if I had a single dollar, I had to spend it, or else someone might take it from me.

The biggest blessing I had was meeting Cindy and marrying her. She taught me the virtues of living below my means, and to not spend money like water.

III. Be like JAMES BOND

Anyways, the hardest thing about being true to myself was being afraid of not pissing off my ‘followers’, the ‘internet’ — but the fear of alienating myself from my friends, family, and also Cindy.

This is why James Bond is a permanent bachelor. This way, he cannot be coerced to doing something that he doesn’t ethically/morally believe in— because he has no family, kids, or college bills to pay. Of course though — the biggest weakness he has is when he falls in love, and the evil villain threatens to kill Bond’s lover.

For me, even now — my biggest fear is not losing my life, or fucking myself up — but what will happen to Cindy. And I know when I have kids with Cindy, I will fear for their future. And I will become more afraid of saying what I truly believe in— because what if Cindy and I go broke and then suddenly I can no longer save up for my kids’ college fund or whatever?

IV. Less self-censorship, more money

But the strange thing that happened when I stopped censoring myself and saying what was really on my mind — I lost a shitload of followers, but gained a few really strong followers. And these really strong followers knew that I wasn’t a fake person. And they invested a ton of their money to attend one of my workshops, to travel to have an experience with me, to buy HAPTIC INDUSTRIES products.

To me, I then realized:

It is better to have a few devoted followers, than to have millions of semi-interested followers.

So for example, let me give you an example:

In terms of my living expenses, I do not need more than $40,000 a year. But having more money is nice— because I can afford to let my family travel, to pay for my mom to go backpacking through Nepal for 21 days, to help support Cindy, and also my family back in Garden Grove. All I need is coffee, a wifi connection, and some eggs.

Anyways, for one of my workshops, I will charge 3500 USD for a week-long workshop. If I get 10 students to sign up, that is 35,000 USD income. After expenses, I might net 20,000 USD. And if I do a few of those a year, I will make a lot of money. And this is the strategy that has helped Cindy and I save more than 100,000 USD in our savings account.

But the thing is — I only need perhaps fewer than 20 ‘true followers’ — people who believe in the same mission in life as I do. It is better to have 20 dedicated followers or friends, than to have 1,000,000 Instagram followers. Because a true follower will buy your 1,000 USD products, or spend 5,000 USD to spend a week with you. An Instagram follower won’t do shit for you.

V. REAL FRIENDS

For me, I care more about the opinion of my real friends than the opinion of the masses. I care more about my friends Cindy, Neil Ta, Josh White, AG DEMESA, Brian Sparks, Mattias L, Charlie Kirk, Josh White, Sean Lotman, Junku Nishimura, Kaushal Parikh, Jano L, Jason from Brighton, and other real friends than random strangers on the internet (sorry if I forgot your name, you know I love you).

In terms of my non-photo friends, I care more about the opinion of Grace Kang, Justin Lee, Kevin McKenzie, Todd, Joel, Glen and Sharon Goh, and a few other friends, than random Facebook friends.

I couldn’t have made it this far in life without my friends. I owe you my life.

Who is in your ‘inner-circle’? I don’t think you need more than 5 ‘real friends.’ And ultimately, even if you don’t have any ‘real friends’ — you yourself are a real friend to yourself. What is your own opinion of yourself?

VI. Do everything openly in PUBLIC

For me, I try to act and do everything as if someone were watching me. Or if everyone on the internet were watching my actions.

For example, when I was a poor kid I pirated all my software. For example, I remember when I was 12 years old, I pirated my first version of Visual Basic 3.0 and learned how to program. When I was in college, I pirated Photoshop and Lightroom. Now I pay for that shit— and I have helped promote ADOBE and their products (because I was able to pirate it when I was a kid, and now I am a true ambassador for their products— their products are the best, period.) I was honored to do a live-stream street photography workshop with Adobe x Twitch — probably the coolest thing ever.

Anyways, I pay for my software, music, and products now — because I feel it is the ethical thing to do. I have money now, so I should put my money where my mouth is.

I’ve uninstalled Spotify from my laptop, because I prefer to pay for music I really like.

I’ve paid for THE LIFE OF PABLO by Kanye, DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar, COMPTON by Dr. Dre, and ‘U MAD’ by Vic Mensa and Kanye. To me, I just play these songs on loop. And I appreciate it more— because I have paid money for it.

Also if I am going to watch porn, I have to imagine watching it like Cindy were over my shoulder.

VII. Look at yourself in the mirror

Anyways, sorry friend I got distracted. I think when it comes to our lives, we should only look at ourselves in the mirror, and follow our own inner-ethics.

In this modern world, we confused the legal with the ethical.

Just because something is legal— it doesn’t mean it is ethical.

For example, if a Bank can scam 65-year old Americans for $1 trillion dollars (from retirement accounts) but do it ‘legally’ — is it still ethical? I don’t think so.

So for me, ETHICS is everything. ETHICS is what makes us human. If an AI (artificial intelligence) computer had ETHICS — who knows, maybe it can be considered ‘human.’

VIII. Personal ethics for myself

Other ethics I personally follow:

1. The silver rule

Don’t do unto others as you don’t want others to do unto you.

I don’t like it when people complain. So I don’t complain whenever something pisses me off.

Also I don’t like it when people use their smartphones when talking to me. So I don’t do the same to others.

Also, I don’t like advertisements in terms of pop ups and shit. So I don’t put ads on this blog or on my YouTube videos — even though I can probably make a few thousand bucks a month off it.

I also don’t like to pay for information. Therefore, I choose to give it all away open and freely. The funny thing — I don’t mind paying for the information of others, when I believe in their cause and I wanna support them.

2. The golden rule

Do unto others as you want others to do unto you.

My buddy Jesus — taught me the golden rule. And I try my best to follow it.

I think the golden rule is important because it focuses on ACTION.

For me, I am a Catholic because I believe not only in faith to God, but also in GOOD WORKS. Not to philosophize and pray in a cave, but to go out, to be brave, and do GOOD onto others.

That means, volunteering and teaching photography at an elderly people home. Or teaching photography to at-risk youth, to empower them through photography.

Or writing blog posts like this, which I hope will help and empower you.

Or writing books that are practical, open, and free— to empower all photographers regardless of age or background.

To give away all my Lightroom presets away for free, and to have open and free downloads without some bullshit newsletter submittal form.

I don’t think we should complain about the world. We can only go out and MAKE A POSITIVE DIFFERENCE. To be like Gandhi — be the change which we wish to see in the world.

IX. Be less shitty everyday

Ethics are morals are tricky. I am not a 100% morally ethical or good person. But I just strive to be a less shitty person everyday.

It is hard. I am selfish, self-centered, egoistic, and crude. But I try my best to temper my rude attitude, to practice more gratitude, and to expand my creative horizons and latitude.

X. Dedicate your life to empower others

I think the most important thing in life is to empower other human beings. And we can do that together— through making more art together.

Be strong friend.

Eric

Learn more: STOICISM >