Me and Contax III, my grandfather's camera. 2009

5 Things I Wished I Knew When I Was 18 Years Old

Dear Eric,

You are 18 years old— here is some words of wisdom I would drop on you:

First of all, the world is a crazy-ass place. You are going to wonder in life— “Is the rest of the world crazy, or am I?”

The answer is the rest of the world is crazy.

Here are some things I’ve learned in the last 11 years of my life (I am 29 years old, so listen up) — here are some ideas to wipe away your false reality.

1. Imagine yourself on your deathbed at age 90

Okay, so one of the best ways to live life is to imagine yourself at age 90— thinking about your life. What are you going to regret doing, or not doing?

You’re going to die. I’m sorry but it is true. Your loved ones will die. The death of your grandfather is going to create a deep impression on you — the fleeting and emptiness of ‘fame’ and ‘wealth’ — you can’t take the dollar bills with you when you die.

Be like Benjamin button — live your life in reverse.

For example, you’re not going to care what care you drive. It is easier to just play video games, and much cheaper. It don’t matter what clothes you wear— just wear all black everything, it looks cooler anyways. It don’t matter how much money you have— all you need is a laptop, camera, enough food to feed yourself, to pay rent.

What will matter is your love for your future wife (Cindy). Your love for you mom, sister, family, and close friends. Nobody else matters.

And your creative work. Never let bullshit get in the way from you writing, thinking, meditating, designing, following your curiosity, and photographing.

And of course, share what you learn with others.

2. Don’t censor yourself

When you are 18— remember all that shit you used to say? All that politically-incorrect stuff you said?

You’re going to become softer the older you get. At age 29, I’m sorry to say — I’ve become a bit softer. Society, the company you worked for, college, ‘intellectuals’ have silenced you. Or muted you.

Don’t censor yourself. Stay true to yourself. Say what is really on your mind. Don’t care what others think of you — listen to your inner-voice. You’re actually pretty enlightened at 18.

3. Create and share

eric kim photography junku nishimura CONTAX T3
Portrait by Junku Nishimura

You are an artist. An artist of life. You love building your body, you love building your mind, and you’re going to spend the next 11 years of your life figuring out ‘What is the purpose of life?’

You’re going to find out the answer at age 29. It is easy: create art, information, and help empower others.

That means two things:
1. Create
2. Share

Don’t be afraid to create. And when you create something, don’t be afraid to share it.

If what you create can help at least 1 other human being— it is worth sharing.

4. Don’t live for yourself

Homies in London from your first backpacking trip

Love all, and live for others.

He who lives for himself is truly dead to others.

You’ve never really been greedy — but just as a reminder, don’t be greedy. Don’t just live for yourself. Live for others.

Be grateful to all those who taught and guided you. Be grateful for your mom, your family (DJ), your sister, your friends (your crew Justin, Robin, Isaac, Chang, Alan, Michael, Tae, Aaron, Dave, Jaeman, Grace), your church Sunday School teachers (Christina Kim, Linn Huang, Michael Kim), your Boy Scouts scoutmasters (Michael O Connor, Pat Ransil, David Dial) your tennis coach (Coach Lowe). Never forget how your mom cried when you became an Eagle scout, and how she thanked everyone.

You’re going to get hella help from the government. You are going to get scholarships, grants, and work-study loans at UCLA. You are going to hustle your ass through school, working 20-hour weeks at UCLA Undergraduate Admissions as Tech support. You’re going to meet other great minds, and other creatives. You’re going to co-start the UCLA Photography club with your buddies John Son and Daniel Jeong. You’re going to meet a great community through UCLA Kyrie (and meet your future wife, Cindy). You’re going to be active in the Sunday School program at St. Agnes— where you are going to learn to put your leadership skills to work.

You’re going to hustle, hard. You’re going to hustle through school, hustle to get your internship, and your job.

Jeroen Helmink eric kim street photography
Portrait by Jeroen Helmink

But somewhere along the way — you’re going to get a bit lost. A bit confused. Trying to impress others. This stupid thing called Facebook is going to kind of fuck up your life. You’re going to out-source or crowd-source your self-esteem.

One day you’re going to realize it is all bullshit. You’re going to go into Zen-monk mode, silence everything, and finally have time to think for yourself. It will be good for you.

And you will realize the truth: the purpose of your life is to empower others.


With your first Canon Rebel XT 350D

Never forget what your momma said— to be humble. No matter how successful you get, never forget where you came from. Never forget the days in high school and college where you pretended you weren’t hungry — just to save some money. Never forget how much joy you had modding your 1991 Sentra SE-R (and disdained those tools with BMW’s). Never forget how simple life was— playing Tekken with your homies, driving around bumping heavy beats in your car and free-styling with Justin, and the McDonald 1-dollar McChicken drive-throughs at 11pm after playing $5 buy-in Texas Holdem with your buddies.

Remember your humble beginnings. Don’t let money get to your head. Keep your car, clothes, and lifestyle simple and humble. Know all those other folks suffering and struggling. Be a shining paragon for them — that you can live an epic, noble life— without much money or resources.

Conclusion: You got this

Good times as kids: Anna, Hyunja, Me, DJ, Jaeman, Alan
Good times as kids: Anna, Hyunja, Me, DJ, Jaeman, Alan

Just have faith in yourself. You always had. Don’t get soft— stay strong.

Keep hustling, and keep that 18-year old hunger alive Eric.

Be strong,

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