New Year’s (Not to Do) Resolutions

Costa Mesa, 2015 #cindyproject
Costa Mesa, 2015 #cindyproject

Happy 2016; goodbye 2015.

Every year, we are told what to do for a new year’s resolution.

I propose something opposite this year— let us try to propose things not to do this year.

It is kind of like a Lenten promise— for 40 days deciding something not to do anymore. I have tried Lenten promises in terms of things to do— but these never seem to work out. Figuring out what to not do (or abstain from) actually tends to be easier.

Abstinence is easier than forcing yourself to do something.

An unorthodox view of New Year’s

Every new year is the same— we pledge new things to do. We pledge to go to the gym, to eat healthier, to take more photos, to travel more.

Let’s take the opposite approach:

What will we decide not to do this year?

Some suggestions:

If you want to be healthier, decide what to remove or what not to eat (simple carbs, sugar, soda, etc) rather than to eat “healthy” foods (blueberries, kale, etc).

Also rather than seeking to be “happier” this year— seek to be less miserable. So avoid what makes you unhappy.

Does talking to your (overly dramatic) family bring you stress and anxiety? Slowly cut your ties with them. Does checking social media every 5 minutes cause envy and jealousy? Then spend less time on social media (or abstain for it).

Are you in a shitty relationship in which your partner abuses you (physically or mentally) — perhaps it is time to cut that relationship out in 2016.

Are you dissatisfied with your photography? Rather than seeking to make yourself “happier” in your photography— seek ways how you can make yourself less miserable. For example, rather than seeking to buy that new camera, see how you can find more contentment with the camera you already own (re-read old reviews of your camera, relive how excited you were when you bought it, and write down a list of what you love about your camera).

Do you have a long commute to work which brings you a lot of stress and misery? Then perhaps this year move closer to your work (even if rent is more expensive) to reduce your commute time— which will cause you less misery.

Have a shitty boss that causes you a lot of stress and anxiety? Try to get a different job, or talk to the person at H.R. and ask them (kindly) to put you into a different department. Apparently having a bad boss causes 80% of the stress in your life (I just made up that statistic).

And rather than trying to “self-improve” your character (being more “efficient” or “productive”) seek to become less jealous, less envious, less stressed & anxious.

I’m not telling you to just sit on the couch and vegging out to Netflix— but rather use your time and energy to be fully engaged with what makes you truly happy (photography, writing, reading, acting, dancing, singing, playing music, etc).

My personal (not to) do New Year’s Resolutions

For me, here are some of my personal not to do resolutions this year:

  1. Don’t complain (this never changes my external situations, only causes inner-frustration. Whenever I feel like I want to complain, I will try to use this time to be grateful of what I already have)
  2. Don’t buy new shit I don’t need (electronic devices, camera, car, clothes. I have realized that I actually have more than enough— which causes extra ‘decision paralysis’ in my life. I’m slowly trying to remove superfluous devices/clothes/stuff from my life everyday.)
  3. Don’t go on car websites, gear forums, tech websites, the Apple website, distracting social media websites, or any other sites that might stir cravings. As a solution (because I don’t trust myself), I have added all these sites to my “StayFocusd” Chrome plugin to block myself from visiting (Apple, TheVerge, Engadget, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Ford, Mazda, etc).
  4. Don’t be petty (a small little jab from Cindy can piss me off for hours on end, but I need to remind myself to “not sweat the small stuff”. Also to be “magnanimous” (an ancient virtue of grandeur that the ancients promoted)
  5. Don’t be hasty when making decisions (I need to let my ideas “marinate” longer before making decisions that I will regret)

Not buying stuff

I’m moving to Vietnam for a year (starting this summer in 2016), and might actually live somewhere else for a year (possibly France, because Cindy is doing research there).

I can’t bring all my stuff with my travels. I will try to only bring one backpack, and fit all the stuff I truly need in there— and travel as light as humanly possible.

So far I have found out this is what is superfluous:

  • iPad
  • Kindle (I can rather read on my smartphone)
  • More than 2x clothing items (boxers, shirts, pants)
  • More than 1x of shoes (just a pair of sneakers is fine)

So a list of what I currently plan on traveling with (and living with at home) include:

  • Laptop
  • Smartphone
  • Camera (Ricoh GR II)
  • Backpack
  • 2x clothes (all quick-dry)

The biggest difficulty I have— not buying new things before I travel. Everyday I am actually trying to get rid of one possession or donate it.

And man, as much as I preach about not buying cameras— I am always (unfortunately) afflicted with G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). There are still times that I fantasize about cameras I don’t need (Leica Monochrom, Pentax 645Z, Leica M-A). I currently am sticking with a digital Ricoh GR II, and I am going to lend my Leica MP to a friend for a while.

I fortunately linked my personal banking account with Cindy, so in-case I want to buy any shit I don’t need or is superfluous, Cindy will get pissed off— which is a good incentive not to be tempted to fall victim to G.A.S. And G.A.S. doesn’t just afflict me in terms of cameras— it includes clothes, cars, laptops, smartphones, headphones— anything electronic or with an on/off switch.

Another thing I plan on experimenting with— not using my credit card, and starting to use more cash— to incentivize myself to spend less money, in the hope to save more money.

It is hard to “save” money— much easier not to spend money (or at least in theory).

Advertisements are horrible

I just came back from Socal (southern california) and got back to Berkeley. Man, I am astonished by how many advertisements there are on TV, magazines, and the radio that are always telling you to buy the newest model of this car, the newest iPhone, whatever.

If you want to try to spend less money this year, don’t force yourself to be more frugal. Rather, just eliminate advertisements from your life (this means installing “AdBlock Plus” on your browser, not reading any magazines that have advertisements, not watching TV (if there are Ads on it), or visiting blogs that rely on advertising.

Another thing— I have found that by installing “Facebook News Feed Eradicator” — I have fewer cravings to buy new stuff (I am no longer spammed in my newsfeed by a friend who has bought a new BMW, new camera, or that family friend who just bought his wife a new $3,000 Prada handbag).

Do you really need to change anything?

Another bone I have to pick with “New Year’s Resolutions” is that there is this inference (at least in America) that we always need to constantly “improve”, “optimize”, and “efficiency-ifize” our lives. New Year’s Resolutions infer that we are imperfect, and that in order for us to be happier and more “successful” people— we need to change ourselves.

But we will always be imperfect. And it is our “imperfetedness” which makes us beautiful.

In Japanese Zen philosophy, they call this “wabi-wabi” — the beauty of imperfection. For example, if you have an old film camera that is brass and painted black, with time it will start to “brass” beautifully and show nice patina from wear & tear. Or if you have a pair of raw denim which you’ve wore (and haven’t washed for 6 months) — you start to see lovely wear-and-tear which makes it more beautiful and conform to your body better.

Think about how imperfection makes things more beautiful. The Venus de Milo’s charm is that it is imperfect— the arms are missing, yet people still flock from all around the world to see it. I love Cindy with all my heart and soul, but honestly at times I easily lose my temper with her— I can sometimes perceive her as too bossy or controlling at times. But I know that all comes from a place of love, and if she was too perfect in all regards— she wouldn’t be a human. I love her for her entirety— for her strengths and weaknesses and imperfections. And I am imperfect and will never be perfect— so who am I to criticize or judge Cindy (or anyone else in the world?)

And is there anything “wrong” with you? No, you’re already perfect the way you are.

Simple joys

One of my problems is that I don’t reflect much. I don’t know why— I think it is just how my brain is wired. I am mostly “present-oriented”; yet at times I do have regrets about the past and anxieties about the future. Although I have money saved up in my savings account, I still am anxious that one day nobody will attend my workshops in the future, I will become a broke bum, and have to move in with my mom again. I fear at times that if I am too “outspoken” and speak my mind “too freely”— that people will hate me, judge me, leave me, or talk negatively about me.

However if I reflect on 2015, I think I have had a good year. My fondest memories include New Orleans (partly because it was the most recent trip I had, and also the amazing food I had there, the epic workshop, and the time I spent with Cindy and her younger sister).

I am also glad that I have stuck to my “open source” philosophy of keeping all the material on this blog open, free, in the hope that it is helpful to you. At times I forget where I came from (growing up working class where my mom often didn’t have enough money to pay the rent, dad gambling the rent money) and my savior was the great role models in my community (Korean community center, church Sunday School teachers, Boy Scout Scoutmasters, sports coaches), and also all the free information I got from my public school (middle school, high school, college) as well as information on the internet, and all the software I pirated when I was a high-schooler and college student (when I couldn’t afford it).

Cover-Learn From the Masters of Street Photography-resized

I am also very proud of my newest “Learn From the Masters” PDF book (Version 2), which you can download for free below:


iBooks (iPhone/iPad)


iBooks Author Source File

No more regrets

What do you regret about your 2015, and what do you want to do differently in 2016?

Friend, life is short.

If you regret not traveling, don’t stay at home so much. Invest your money and time to travel to that place you’ve always wanted to go.

Another solution— perhaps rather than hoping to travel more, figure out ways how you can enjoy your own city more (are there any un-discovered bars or cafes in your hometown that you can see more of? Or a nearby city or town you can visit in just a short car ride, instead of dropping $1000 on a flight ticket?)

If you are dissatisfied with your photography or feel you haven’t made enough progress— first of all ask yourself why you need to make “progress” in your photography. Are you shooting to fulfill your personal vision in your photography, or to just get more likes on social media? If you want to gain more insight, invest more in photography books and education (workshops, classes), and less time on gear sites.

Spending less time (or no time) on social media in 2016

During my trip in Socal, I’ve been experimenting doing complete abstinence on all social media (including email).

Oh man, I feel fantastic. No longer do I get the anxiety of wondering on the back of my head (what photo should I upload to Instagram today?) nor do I deal with the disappointment of not getting as many “likes” as I would hope.

So perhaps as an experiment for 2016, see if you can spend some time abstaining from not using social media.

Try an experiment. Uninstall Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and email from your phone just for a day. See how your day goes. Then maybe extend it to two days. Then three days, perhaps a week, even a month.

If you want to be happier this year and less anxious in terms of your photography, I can guarantee that spending less time on social media will make you less miserable, and therefore “more” happy.

And I’m not telling you not to share your photos with anyone— directly message them to friends you like. Print them, show them to friends on your iPad, or your phone via Dropbox, whatever. Or best of all, ask yourself, “Do I like my own photos?” and judge for yourself (rather than worrying what others think of your work).

And the less time you spend on social media, the more time you can spend with face-to-face interactions, and more in-depth and meaningful relationships.

Hustle hard

2016 is going to be a fantastic year, full of learning, less bullshit we need to worry about, and hopefully more joy and happiness, and less stress and anxiety.

This will be a fantastic year. You got this.

Love always,

Sat, 10:55am, Berkeley, Jan 2, 2016 (with 2 espressos, God— great coffee is proof that God exists).

2016 Street Photography Workshops

Tokyo, 2012
Tokyo, 2012

Oh yeah, and also have all my workshops for 2016 ready (thanks to Neil for helping me prepare everything) — so if you want to invest in an experience you will never forget, join me below!

For any questions regarding upcoming workshops, contact

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