How Much is Enough?

SF, 2014
SF, 2014

How much is enough?

How much is superfluous in life? What is excess baggage that holds you back?

What are some demons from your past and mental baggage that holds you back? What are physical possessions which hold you back?

What kinds of cameras and equipment hold you back? Which cameras are sitting on your shelf or drawer which you haven’t used for a few months, or even over a year? Why do you keep onto them? What do you fear? Do you worry about these “what if?” situations?

Why do you hold onto that DSLR? “What if I get a commercial client?” Then you can borrow a DSLR from the store or from a friend. “What if I need that macro lens?” For what, you don’t shoot bees or flowers anymore. “What if I need that Hasselblad?” You don’t even like carrying around that excess weight.

Why do you have all that stuff in your closet? You live in Berkeley, you don’t even wear that wool coat. “What if it gets really cold, and I need a jacket?” But you don’t even like carrying that heavy jacket, and it is itchy. “But it looks cool, and I spent a lot of money on it.” But you already have all these North Face Jackets, which are a lot lighter, and you wear those jackets 99% of the time anyways.

Don’t let the past hold you back. Everyday you are being reborn.

How much do you really need Eric?

Well to start off, you need money. Don’t be stupid– you’re not going to be like some homeless hobo Berkeley slacker where you sit on the side of the road and beg for money (while eating McDonalds and drinking Starbucks).

What do you need money for?

Well obviously, you need some sense of “security.” You need to pay your rent ($1300 a month for the university village 1-bedroom), and you don’t need to worry about your utilities (thank God electricity, internet, gas is included).

You need to pay for your food. But do you really need to go to all these fancy restaurants? You’ve already eaten all the good food all around the globe. Has there been any taste which hasn’t tickled your fancy or your palette yet? No.

And honestly at the end of the day, you’re going to poop out the food anyways (regardless of how expensive the food is). And that $100 steak– does it really bring you 10x the happiness of a $10 hamburger? No. Not only that, but to be honest, often the $10 burger tastes better than the $100 steak.

But you like fancy sushi. You love that soft, buttery, salmon sashimi. But it costs $2 for a tiny slice that doesn’t even fill you up– it just makes you more hungry. It isn’t even real food; it is “pseudo-food”. Why is it that you will spend $50 on a sushi dinner, and still be hungry after, go home, and cook some eggs, so you can go to sleep without feeling hunger?

You’re a coffee snob. Why be so snobby about it? When you started drinking coffee (thank Cindy) you hated the taste. It all tasted like crap. You put in so much sugar and cream to wash it down (kind of similar the first time you drank beer, it was so hard to get used to it).

But now, you are a snob. You like your single-origin espressos. You use pretentious words like “bright” and “fruity”, and you pretend to know what you’re talking about when you’re talking about espresso to sound cool in front of these hipster baristas. You want to get a tattoo and wear more flannel to “fit in”.

But at the end of the day, caffeine is caffeine. That’s the only reason you really drink coffee. Sure you like the taste, but would you drink decaf? You did for a while, and it was pointless. It was like you were drinking blackened water. Might as well drink water.

Why do you even order sparkling water at a restaurant? Why not just order tap water? Why do you need to feel fancy?

How much is enough for you Eric?

Okay you need to save up some money for Cindy and your future family. But what are you anxious about? You’re not planning to send your kids to some fancy private or Montessori school, are you? After all, you went through the public school system and ended up okay.

But who will pay for their student loans, and their college? You paid for your own education, and you were fine. And if anything, having to work part-time as a student taught you character, industriousness, a hard-working ethic, which helped you become the man you are now. You look at all your fellow classmates who just frittered away their free time playing video games, while you were hustling to make those dollars to pay your rent and your groceries. You don’t want to feed your children a silver spoon. Resist to spoil your kids at all costs.

“Hunger breeds sophistication.” Don’t forget that.

Okay, you want money to travel. But you’ve already traveled all around the world. Is there any part of the globe that you really need to see? Sure you haven’t been to Africa, Antarctica, or South America, or Greenland or some other random places like that. But honestly, heaven is in your own backyard in Berkeley. You have all the good hipster coffee shops closeby, you have your close friends family and loved ones, you have a Whole Foods in your backyard, and you have a Wifi connection to publish your work. Why travel anywhere else. You can honestly die tomorrow, and have no regrets not having traveled anywhere else.

What else do you need in life?

You are hungry for a legacy. You want to be remembered, you want your work to be remembered, and you want to make a change in the world and in society.

But at the end of the day, nobody gives. Everyone is going to die sooner or later, and all these people who praise you today will be dead tomorrow. Even Cartier-Bresson is unknown by all the instagrammer kids of today.

So what are you trying to do?

Your life’s task is to dedicate every minute, every hour, every day of your life to produce information, knowledge, and education that will empower people. If you can even help out that one student who is broke and eating ramen, you are doing your life’s task.

Never forget where you came from.

Don’t forget those nights where you heard your Dad beating your Mom, and how afraid you were hiding under the sheets. Never forget the times that you were afraid of being homeless the next month, because your Dad gambled away the rent money. Never forget all those nights you heard your Mom silently sobbing because she was so overwhelmed and exhausted from working all those difficult part-time jobs. Never forget how you told yourself, “When I grow up, I will dedicate my life to serving others.”

So disregard all of your selfish greed. You don’t need a digital Leica. You don’t need a fancy car. You don’t need to live in a fancy house. You don’t need more money in your bank account. You don’t need to eat fancy food. You don’t need fancy coffee.

You came from a humble background. You scrambled. You hustled. You would go hungry when your friends would eat around the lunch table. You had to hustle; remember when you would take your lunch money and use that to actually go and watch a movie with your friends? Or how you used that $1 to buy a lunch ticket from your friend, so you could save another $2 that could go somewhere else?

You can’t take your money with you when you die. Who cares about leaving behind a legacy– when you die, you’re not going to be alive to enjoy people praising you. Who cares if you don’t get any “likes” on Instagram; do they pay the bills at the end of the month?

You have the perfect life. You have your good friend Neil helping you with business. You don’t have to stress about that (thanks Neil, you’re the best). You have good friends, and the only photographer you need feedback from is Josh White (he is not only a good friend, but a great human being, you guys have similar life philosophies, stresses, anxieties, insecurities, but you support each other like brothers). You have the love of your life– Cindy, who is the most incredible human being you have ever met. She can often give you “bitter medicine” (stuff you don’t like to listen to, but you know is good for you). She always pushes you to become the best possible version of yourself, she is the one who inspired you to pursue your photography more seriously, she is the one who encouraged you to co-found the photography club at UCLA with John Son and Daniel Jeong, she is the one who encouraged you to apply for that social media internship at Demand Media, which helped you get a full-time job at eHow as a Community Manager. She inspired you to start your street photography blog, and encouraged you when you lost your job to start pursuing street photography workshops full-time. Every step of the way she has helped you take it to the next level, so listen to her. Follow her with your heart, and don’t let your big ego get in the way.

Speak your mind. Don’t censor yourself. Don’t water down your message. Think of Diogenes who told you that there is nothing more valuable than the freedom of speech.

So brother, you lack nothing in your life. You have your Ricoh GR, you have your iPad, you have the clothes on your back, you have a roof over your head, you have your coffee, you have your loving friends and family, you have your health, you have all the little electronic gizmos you need, you have a beautiful society around you, you have the sun, the grass, the breeze, and legs which can walk you all around Berkeley.

You lack nothing.

So why do you keep complaining?

Avoid the media at all costs. You know that you’re a sucker for advertising.

You don’t need that new Subaru WRX. You don’t need a Lexus IS. You don’t need a new iPhone 6s, and you especially don’t need an iPad pro (that is seriously a monstrosity, Steve Jobs would be majorly pissed off if he was still alive, he would have never allowed that to be created, after all, the point of the iPad was to not have a keyboard or a stylus).

You can fit all of your life’s possessions into your little ThinkTank Perception 15. Getting your backpack stolen in Paris (along with your 11” Macbook Air) is the best thing that ever happened to you. You realize that you honestly don’t need a laptop at the end of the day, as 99% of your meaningful work is writing, which is sufficient on the iPad you’re writing it on (and also with the bluetooth Apple keyboard connected to it with that in-case folio stand).

Also, you only need a few books to survive the rest of your life. “Letters from a Stoic” from Seneca, “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius, “The Shortness of Time” by Seneca, the Tao Te Ching (Stephen Mitchell translation), and that’s pretty much it. Oh yeah, and don’t forget “Antifragile” by Nassim Taleb. You don’t need no Kindle or ebook reader– just live with these paperback books, take them with you to Vietnam. And just bring a simple notebook to write down your ideas in.

Another thing you should do; spend less time on the internet. Do more writing without wifi. Like you’re doing now. If anything, the best thing about writing at the “Free Speech Movement” cafe is that you don’t have access to the wifi network. So you have no distractions, you can write via a stream-of-consciousness like you are now. Don’t let anything hold you back. Keep your smartphone turned OFF (completely off), so you don’t get distracted.

Remember you have enough. You don’t need anything more. You don’t need any more followers on social media (it is a massive distraction anyway, and who cares how many followers you have on Instagram after you’re dead). You don’t need any more viewers on the blog (quality over quantity). You don’t need any more money (remember, “More money, more problems.”) You don’t need any new friends (you already have close friends you can bear your heart and soul to, like Grace and Justin in the Bay Area). Even if God forbid; all your friends, family, and Cindy died tomorrow– you’d be devestated, but you would survive– and carry on. And the truth is, all of your loved ones will (eventually) die. And because you live so health-consciously, you will probably outlive all of them. So be prepared for their death, and whenever you talk with them, imagine it is the last time you talk to them. So never forget to tell them how much you love and appreciate them, give them a warm hug, kiss, and value them with every fiber of your being.

So what is left for you?

Continue producing free information and knowledge for society. Don’t charge money for it, if it prevents somebody from accessing the information. All your basic needs are met; and you have enough money in your savings to survive you for at least 2 years. You have nothing to worry about. Worst case-scenario, you go bankrupt, you can always move in back with your mom, who has the most amazing Korean food (win/win scenario).

You spend all this time worrying about your future children and family, but it isn’t even certain that you will or can have children. Sure you would prefer to have kids, but who knows if you will just end up shooting blanks, or if Cindy can’t conceive? Then you will adopt, but what if Cindy suddenly passes away before then? What if she gets hit by a motorbike in Saigon, or even by some drunk driver in Berkeley while she’s biking around? You never know. Never take her for granted, never be angry at her, and never hold any resentment. It would feel horrible if you felt some sort of negative emotion to her, said something nasty to her, and it is the last thing you said to her before she died. Don’t forget.

Also Eric, remember to practice what you preach. You need to eat your own cooking. Don’t talk about “buy books, not gear” when secretly you want to buy that new Monochrom. Don’t tell people to not be materialistic when you want to “upgrade” your Nike Free shoes. Don’t be afraid to approach strangers and take photos of them, as you always tell your students not to be afraid to ask for permission. Never say anything negative about somebody behind their back, especially about other photographers when people ask you. Imagine like that photographer is sitting next to you; would you really talk negative things about them to their face? If not, keep your mouth shut– only say what is good. And what is the point of negatively criticizing others? You are a slave and a whore to camera companies too– think about all the free cameras and equipment you’ve accepted. You’ve sold your opinion and your freedom by accepting free stuff. All the negative things you criticize others for doing; you’ve done it yourself. So before you criticize anybody else, fix your own faults. And you will never be perfect anyways, so you should NEVER say a negative thing about any other fellow human being. Fix your own faults and problems, and disregard the issues of others.

Also Eric, don’t feel offended or upset, or sad if you accidentally hurt the feelings of others. After all, you have only the right intentions in your heart. No matter what you say, you will piss somebody off. It is part of the game. No need for you to complain or be afraid. After all, at the end of the day– it is better to help that 1 individual and alienate 99 others, if it will change that 1 individual’s life. Remember Jesus who left the 99 sheep to attend to that 1 lost sheep.

You’re not the same Eric as you are today as you were a month ago, a year ago, 5 years ago, 10 years ago, or when you were a child. So kill your ego, be reborn.

You talk about renaming yourself to “Seneca”. So “Seneca Kim” — how will you start living your life differently now that you’re back in Berkeley?

First of all, never sell your opinion or your freedom. Never accept any products for free, even though you love free stuff. You need to own your opinion; never review a piece of camera or equipment if you wouldn’t be willing to purchase it yourself. The only other camera you would consider buying is the new Ricoh GR Mark II, so if you’re going to get it, don’t ask Ricoh to give you a free one. Pay with it with your own money; put your money where your mouth is.

Secondly, don’t buy anything new. Continue that challenge with Cindy, don’t accrue anything new until you leave to Vietnam. It is hard, but stick to it. By not buying anything new, you’ve learned how to be more clever with the things you already own now. And know that if you really need to buy something, you can always buy it before you leave to Vietnam (like a laptop or whatever).

Thirdly, try to say “me”, “I”, “mine” as little as possible. Kill your ego. You are nothing but a sack of bones, some flesh, and some molecules. You are just a machine that runs on coffee and eggs, and out comes articles and information. Even your concept of “consciousness” is just electricity running around in your brain. Reality doesn’t exist outside of your brain or your body. You don’t really believe in a “soul” as some sort of spiritual concept. Once you’re dead, you’re dead. You don’t believe in an afterlife (at the moment) — so don’t waste a minute of your life. What is good for society is good for you. Forget that; what is good for society is good for society. Disregard yourself and your selfish needs, devote every fiber of your being to helping humanity and mankind while you’re still alive.

Fourthly, don’t take yourself too seriously. You’re just another ant in the anthill. Zoom out to Mars. If you’re looking at Earth from Mars, realize how tiny the Earth is, and think about how tiny Berkeley is, and how tiny you are as a human being. You are nothing but a grain of sand at the beach. And you will die soon; you’re probably not going to live for longer than 55 years old (imagine how Steve Jobs died from cancer at age 55). Your dad probably has dementia; you heard it is genetic. So who knows, you might not be mentally “all there” after age 50 either. So don’t waste a minute of your time, but know that at the end of the day, just enjoy yourself. Try to help yourself and a few others, but know if you die and you are forgotten, it is fine. You have done your life’s task of helping a few fellow human beings while you were alive. You can go to sleep at peace.

Fifth, learn how to practice “voluntary poverty” or “voluntary simplicity.” You fear poverty– what do you have to fear? Try to practice having fewer spices on your food (stick to just salt), have fewer variety in your food (just eat ground beef, grass-fed organic preferably), don’t see your friends (Cindy is sufficient). Don’t feel that you have to go to the cafe, do your work at home (you have “free” coffee and wifi at home). Don’t take a nap on your couch; sleep on the ground. Don’t wear anything but black shirts, your blue jeans, and your black shoes. Don’t drink anything besides coffee and water. Don’t eat dessert, don’t eat sugar, don’t eat carbs, don’t eat gluten, don’t eat dairy, don’t even eat vegetables (you can survive without them). You don’t need luxuries like avocados, bacon, or all the fancy oils you have. Don’t buy new books, you already have the best library in the world in your closet. Don’t travel to places outside of your neighborhood; do all of your photography inside Berkeley, and make work which is personally meaningful to you.

Sixth, don’t expect to live another day. Today is a full day, which has been allotted to you. Don’t expect to wake up tomorrow. If you knew that today was your last day on earth, how would you live life differently? What would you not do? You wouldn’t waste time or energy worrying about earning more money. You wouldn’t stress about finances. You wouldn’t answer emails. You wouldn’t turn on your smartphone and get distracted. You wouldn’t “network” with people you don’t really care about. You wouldn’t care about the opinion of others. You wouldn’t feel anxious, stressed, or worried about the future. What you would do is call your loving friends, tell them how much you appreciate them, you would enjoy walks outside, you would enjoy your coffee, cook a nice meal with Cindy, and express your gratitude of being alive. You would also be pretty sad if you didn’t have a chance to read philosophy or do some writing or meaningful work. And by the way, you don’t want to let your “Learn From the Masters” series be unpublished before you die, so get hustling, drink more coffee, and get that published. Oh yeah that is another thing; you wouldn’t care if others criticized you for cursing so much, haha– never forget all the “hood” friends you grew up with, all that rap music which influenced you, and where you came from. Thank God you never got addicted to drugs, alcohol, joined a gang like your friends. You dodged a bullet there; be grateful.

Seventh, be grateful for what you have. Be grateful that you were born in America. As much as you complain about America, if you weren’t an American, you wouldn’t have lived the life you did. You wouldn’t have concepts of freedom, free speech, and individualism running through your blood and veins. You wouldn’t speak your mind like you do. Rather; you would be a pacified Korean kid, sitting in some office cubicle, and doing work that you don’t want to do. You would eat your little kimchi and fish lunch, drink with your mates after work, and live like a slave until you died. Even in Europe, think about how looked down upon being an entrepreneur is. Argh, your right thumb just cramped up, writing on a keyboard is a pain in the ass. Okay switching back to touchscreen, perhaps this is a better idea for not owning a keyboard? Anyways, be grateful of all your teachers growing up, your mentors in Boy Scouts, your guides at church, your tennis coach, your mother, and American society that told me to hustle hard, how you could achieve anything you wanted to (if you worked hard enough), and how you shouldn’t ever complain. You still know so many other Americans who complain that they don’t have the life that they want. Sure those living in poverty, they can’t help it. But your friends who work 9-5 jobs, they honestly have nothing to complain about. They can control their destiny, they just waste too much time drinking, taking drugs, partying, watching Netflix, and wasting their time. But don’t disdain them for it; once again, stick to your own life’s purpose. But Eric, being an American helped you start your own business. There is no social stigma for failing. You are told to “fail forward.” Of course there are a lot of negative things, like keeping up with the joneses. But all of your friends live modestly, thank God. You have nobody to be jealous of. And remind yourself not to flaunt your wealth or lifestyle to others; the secret is to not have your good friends to be jealous of you. Live modestly, simply, be plain like a rock.

Eight, never make excuses. There is nobody holding you back. All the limits you have in your life are self imposed. The only limits you have perhaps is not enough sleep, and not enough caffeine. But at the same time, don’t force it. Sometimes you need time to relax, to take a nap, to exercise, to eat. Let the muse, let God fill your soul with inspiration before you decide to produce anything. Don’t half ass it. Full ass it. Put your entire heart into the work you produce.

Ninth, ignore everybody else. Think to yourself; when is the last time you listened to yourself, your own opinion? Know that you’re not a normal human being. Your studies in sociology helped you “desocialize” to all the “rules” of society. So why live a life according to the rules and constraints of others? You know that everybody means you well. But at the end of the day, listen to your own inner voice. Even Cindy, she “knows” what is best for you according to her own inner voice and beliefs. But you need to even ignore her for the really important things in your own heart. Don’t compromise. Maybe just experiment, try a month where you literally ignore everybody else. What is the worst that will happen? People will stop attending your workshops, and you will be bankrupt, homeless, forgotten, hated, despised, and dead? Well you won’t die. So what do you have to worry about? Don’t censor yourself, only listen to yourself. Ignore the positive feedback of others too, it simply distracts you.

Tenth, try to embrace “Wu-Wei”. Don’t force things. Go with the flow. Don’t try to force the square pegs into the circular holes. Let God guide me. Don’t fight reality or fate. Be like a shadow, find the freedom of following the path destiny leads me along. Never make plans, as nothing ever goes according to plan. Be a “rational flaneur”, and change your schedule every minute of the day, according to the new information you receive. Don’t feel guilty for doing the work you’re doing at the moment. Don’t force yourself to write, only write when you want to. Otherwise take a nap, workout, eat, sleep, or read.

So Eric, that is all I want to tell you for now. Stay strong, stay true to your inner voice and vision, never forget to show appreciation, to love, to listen, to not speak as much, to take photos that are meaningful to you (not others), don’t become a slave to the opinions of others, don’t worry about money, don’t feel anxious about the future, and live today like it were your last. Memento mori, remember you must die.

Love always,

11:23am, at free speech movement cafe on UC Berkeley campus with an espresso (nice Italian roast, which first taste a bit burnt, but was actually really dark and smooth), Tuesday, September 22, 2015. Good old Kanye West jamming in the background, “Late Registration”.

Looking forward to a nice picnic today, some yoga with Cindy, and some delicious cauliflower and pork belly for dinner. Life is good :)