I think we all need a life mission in life— mine is peace, understanding, and love.
My life’s purpose
I’ve spent a long time in my life trying to figure out what ‘happiness’ was. I spent a lot of time dancing through the labyrinth of life— trying to find ‘enlightenment.’ I tried to find happiness through material things (cars, gadgets, money), and immaterial things like fame, power, and influence.
I finally feel self-enlightened. The answer is so easy.
My life’s mission statement is love.
Love— to love others, to love myself, and to help others love themselves.
To help spread positive vibes. To help spread understanding, ideas of equality, and compassion.
To find contentment in my own life, the contentment of being alive, and encouraging others to help find them find contentment in their lives.
To help others find their inner-child. To help others (like myself) erase negative pain, suffering, and loss from the past.
My near-death life experience
In Berkeley, 2016 — I accidentally ate some cashews, which I later found out I was allergic to. My throat closed up 85%, and I couldn’t breathe. I thought I was going to die.
The only thought I had in my mind was this:
I’m so sad that Cindy is no longer going to have me around— someone to love and support her. I wish I told her how much I loved her, and cared about her. I hope she won’t be sad and lonely without me anymore, and will find someone else.
No thoughts about my legacy, my money, or what others thought of me.
My thoughts were only directed towards love I had towards Cindy.
And to extrapolate that— I want to show my greater love for all of humanity.
I really think photography is less about making photos; but more about making personal meaning in life.
I see photography as a great tool to help us find our inner-gift, our inner-light, and to use photography as a tool to help enlighten others.
I know for myself, I have used photography as a form of escapism, but also self-therapy. There was nothing better than going on a brief 15 minute walk, camera-in-hand, and shooting street photography as a way to relieve my stress from my 9-5 office job.
I also think photography is a good tool to find appreciation for our loved ones. I think photography is a meditation on death and life. Whoever you photograph; they will die one day. You might die before them. But the photographs will live on.
So when I make photos of my loved ones, I think to myself: this might be the last time I ever see them. I try to spend time with my loved ones like it is their last day on earth; or my last day on earth.
And when I photograph Cindy, I want to show my soul through the photos I make of her. And encourage others to show their love for their loved ones.
Missing my loved ones
The biggest thing I miss living in Hanoi isn’t In-and-out, Mexican food, nor my American conveniences— but being with my loved ones. To be around my friends, and family. That is the only thing I miss.
So I want to tell others— happiness is already at home. Happiness is kissing your kid, happiness is hugging your mom, happiness is calling your friends. Happiness is finding contentment in your normal life, and finding appreciation in every moment of being alive. Happiness is kissing your partner to sleep at night, and telling them your love.
I also feel happiest when I am helping others be more happy. To help others know that they can make great photos on a shitty camera. To help others know that money won’t buy happiness. To help others to invest their money on experiences; not stuff.
To empower others to not fear. To not fear through using street photography as a tool — to approach strangers, and be okay getting rejected.
To know that the only fate we all share is death. We all are born the same, and die the same.
To share my life story— and to let you know that no matter how much shit you’ve encountered in the past— you can make yourself new. You can burn the devil of the past in the furnace; and appear re-born as a pure-white dove.
To pursue your dreams and passions. To not care what society, your parents, or your peers think. To know that happiness is to live for others. To know that happiness is to be creative, to actually create— not be passive consumers.
10 practical tips on how to be happier, and to open up your heart to more love
Some tips I have applied to my life to be more ‘happy’ and more appreciative, and creative. Might or might not work for you:
1. Vividly imagine like tonight were my last
I have ‘Memento Mori’ often as my wallpaper. I remember that I will die.
I vividly imagine like tonight I will go to sleep, and choke, and die. And I will not be awake tomorrow.
If that were the case, what would I do and not do today?
I wouldn’t care about money, fame, or my social media following. I would care about the kind deeds that I did, the creative work that I did, and hugging and kissing Cindy.
2. Not waste time
I often waste time. I spend too much time looking at random games, apps, and the like.
If today were my last— how would I not waste time?
I encourage myself to do more creative work by blocking distractions. To not check my email; and open up IA writer and do creative work instead. To not check my bank balance; but to check the notes I’ve written on a book I just read. To not check how many likes I get on social media; but to think — am I doing something meaningful with my life?
To not waste time caring about the food I eat, or the clothes I wear. To not waste time about gossip; to only think about the direction of my life— and the life of my loved ones, friends, and the people I’m trying to help.
3. Uplift myself
To uplift myself— by listening to empowering hip hop lyrics, to get my blood flowing by doing chin-ups or deadlifts, to read Stoic philosophy, or the teachings of Jesus to keep me on track— to keep myself from getting distracted.
To first empower myself; then knowing that I can empower others.
4. To not say anything hateful
If I want to make love my mission statement; I cannot say any evil out of my mouth.
I get angry, I get pissed off, I get petty. But my personal rule to myself: when I am angry, wait 24 hours before responding. 99% of the time, I forget what I was angry about.
I saw first hand how much pain can be inflicted through words; through the cursing of my father to my mother. He wounded her soul, like a silver blade going straight into her heart. I saw my mom bleed. It fucking hurt.
I will never do that to another human being— not to Cindy, not to anybody, and certainly not myself.
5. To keep it 100
I want to be 100% honest. To be 100% open with my thoughts, words, feelings, emotions, and ideas. To not be sinister, to not be crafty, or have hidden intentions.
I want to be transparent. I want to wear my heart on my sleeve. I want to share what is on my mind, without censoring myself.
I know I can come off as too raw, and crude at times. But I’m just keeping it 100 with you — 100% honest, and 100% unfiltered.
So friend, I want to always be honest with you — and I’m not right in my thoughts or personal philosophy. But I’m fucking honest with you.
6. To treat everyone like my superior
I remember one good thing I learned growing up: call anyone who might be your equal, or even ‘inferior’ as “Boss.”
Something I learned from the black community and hip hop culture.
When I get on the bus in Berkeley, I say ‘Hows it going boss?’ to the bus driver. I fist-bump whenever I have the chance. I also call other people (especially if they’re black) as ‘Chief.’
To treat everyone with dignity and respect. To look at waiters and coffee shop baristas in the eye, with a smile, and ask them how their day is going. To compliment people when I see something they are wearing or doing that I like. To be generous with compliments, and not pretentious.
To look at my superiors like normal human beings— like little children. To look at my equals as superior. To look at my ‘inferiors’ as superiors.
That helps me stay grounded. Not to aspire to be ‘greater’ than I am. But to aspire to be more humble, and to stay grounded. And appreciative of others.
7. Learning from anti-role models
The best place to learn love: from anti-role models. For me, that was my dad.
The way he cursed my mom, inflicted physical and emotional pain on her fucking broke my heart. I swore to myself, when I become a man or a father— to be the exact opposite of my dad. I still love you dad and forgive you, and I appreciate what you taught me about arts, cinema, and music. I know you went through hard shit, and I forgive you and love you. So no worries.
But honestly, you taught me what not to do as a man. To not be a bum, and sit at home, and just smoke, read books, watch movies, and listen to music. To be a man— to work hard, to hustle, to provide for my family.
To not complain, and to not be petty. To not bring up things from the past. To be self-sufficient, and to have confidence and courage.
So friend, think about those people whose character you detested growing up. Who do you not want to be when you grow up? You learn most from anti-role models.
8. To not be afraid
To love others, I am not afraid to look dumb, to say something stupid, or look like a kid. I think there isn’t enough love in the world; or a child-like sense of play.
I’m like a 29-year old grown-ass kid. I learn this from my mom— she’s always so curious about everything. She asks questions that others think is ‘dumb’ — but are actually really deep.
So I am always questioning. Always asking ‘why?’ Why do you study history? Why do you work as an accountant? Why do you live in California, or Vietnam? Why is family important to you? Why do you make photos? Why do you live?
Don’t be afraid to be a kid, and tap into that inner-childlike genius you have.
And kids do what they love. And they show love to their parents. They kiss indiscriminately, and hug everything.
One thing I learned from my buddy Jesus: to forgive others 70×7 times. Also to turn the other cheek.
I heard that holding resentment or anger towards others is like drinking poison, and hoping the other person dies.
The easiest solution to any negativity from the past is forgiveness. To forgive those who have wronged you. And honestly, all your negative feelings and emotions are in your brain. If you just forgive others (who are either dead or living) — you liberate yourself. You let your soul open up to healing, and understanding, and love. It is like you burn away the impurities of your heart, and all you have left is gold.
Forgiveness is hard. The way I forgive others is this: I ask myself, “Am I guilty of that?” 99% of the time it is yes.
I also think of others like children. We forgive children for acting dumb. But we don’t treat adults the same. Now, I see adults like sad, lost, uneducated children. It is easier to forgive them.
I also forgive by thinking of people as sick. I think my dad has some mental problems— (actually I am very sure) so it has been easy to forgive him. Like a doctor, you aren’t angry with your brain-sick patients. Rather, you are patient with them— because you are trying to heal them. Be the good doctor.
10. Fill your heart with love
To fill my heart with love, I read lots of literature, poetry, and have positive thoughts on love. I think a lot about the life of Jesus— how selfless he was. I think of Gandhi, and what he did for humanity, as well as Martin Luther King Jr, and all the great humanists in history.
I try to lead by example. I try to stop being hateful in my heart. I am in the process of trying to curb my personal anger, and hatred. I try to see everyone like my brother and sister; and every woman as my mother. I try to open up my heart to infinite compassion and love.
Of course, I am a selfish human being at the end of the day. I get distracted. I want stupid superficial shit. I know it won’t make me happy, but I want it anyways.
I am not perfect; and never will be. But I want to at least burn away some of my impurities— day by day. I want to be like a gold miner, digging for gold. To wash away some of the dirt in the ocean, and to find that little bit of gold within.
It is fucking hard; I know, but we’re on this path together.
Be strong friend, and never let your heart fail.
If you’re seeking more happiness and tranquility in your photography, read the articles below:
- 10 Tips to Be Happier and More Loving in Life
- How to Find Happiness in Your Photography
- How to Find Satisfaction in Your Photography
- 30 Tips to Conquer G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome)
- 55 Tips to Be Happier in Life
- On the Shortness of Life
- Small is Beautiful
- Photography (and Life) is About Subtraction, Not Addition
- Why Envy Any Other Photographer?
- How to Be Happy in All Circumstances
- Desire the Life You Already Have
- Should You Shoot if You Don’t Want To?
- Live a Life of Leisure
- Good Enough
- 28 Lessons I’ve Learned From Life
- 27 Lessons I’ve Learned About Photography and Life
- 26 Lessons Life Has Taught Me About Street Photography
- Good Enough
- Things I Am Grateful For
- How to Die Without Regrets
- 12 Scientifically Proven Ways to Have More Happiness in Street Photography
- Having No Choices is the Ultimate Freedom
- How to Be Grateful For What You Have