What does it mean to be American?
To me, the most interesting thing about being in Washington DC (nation capital) is to reflect:
For myself, what does it mean to be an American?
My life story
I was born in San Francisco (both my parents are immigrants from South Korea). I was raised with Korean-Confucian values, yet, I embraced and loved the individualistic American ethos. I loved these values:
- If you work hard enough, you can become successful (the ultimate optimistic, empowering philosophy). The notion that merit (the effort you put in) is rewarded.
- You can create your own future and fate, through your own personal ingenuity, dedication, and hustle.
- The fate of your life is in your own hands. To take extreme responsibility for your own life. Not to blame anyone else for your misfortunes.
I was fortunate to have great role models, mentors, and teachers growing up. A lot of my friend succumbed to drugs, gangs, etc. My mom hustled hard (single mom, working minimum wage, just to pay rent and put food on the table). I still remember living in fear that my mom wouldn’t be able to pay the rent each month, because my dad would gamble it away.
I’m insanely grateful to the American government and system. I went to an excellent public school, I attended Boy Scouts (I achieved Eagle Scout), and I attended a great public university (UCLA, Sociology degree).
The reason why I’m grateful to the American public education system:
As long as I worked hard in school, and participated in enough extracurricular activities, I would gain admittance to an excellent public university, which could empower me, and give me the opportunity to climb the social ladder and jump social classes.
And I did. As a UCLA Sociology student, I had phenomenal teachers, who opened up my mind. I had work-study and scholarships and government grants for me to attend UCLA, so I pretty much graduated debt-free. The only debt I had was for a $5,000 loan I used to travel abroad my junior year summer.
Anyways, while as a student I was able to get an internship at a technology media company, which helped me eventually get a full-time job after I graduated. I learned tons of skills on digital media and marketing at my company, which helped me build this blog, and gave me all the marketing prowess which helped me succeed in life.
Long story short,
I wouldn’t have been able to achieve the height I am without empowerment from my mentors and the American government and system.
Of course there’s a lot of fucked up things about America, and in the government. But still, I consider all the upsides to vastly outweigh the downsides of America.
If I wasn’t born in America, and wasn’t raised on American values, I would never have built the self-esteem and self-confidence to become an entrepreneur, and start my own business. Korean-Confucian culture is very risk-averse; the key to becoming a “successful-respectable” person in life is to become a doctor, lawyer, or some other boring engineering job.
If I didn’t get government aid to attend college, I don’t think I would have attended college. And college was essential for me to open my mind, challenge my close-minded beliefs, and to grow intellectually, and also connect with other great human beings (I also met my wife Cindy while an undergraduate in college).
I don’t work in politics, but here are some basic proposals I have, which I think would empower more individuals in American society. I also believe these ideas can be imported to any other culture or society in the world:
1. More opportunities for hard workers:
I’m not as smart as others, but I have an insanely powerful work ethic and spirit of hustle. I believe in a merit-based society (meritocracy) in which the harder you work, the more you’re rewarded with opportunities.
These opportunities don’t necessarily need to be lucrative, they just need to be interesting, exciting, and challenging.
2. Focus on computer-science education in public schools:
A student who graduates with an undergraduate degree in Computer Science can earn around $80,000-$100,000 USD a year out of college.
I love humanities based education, but I would propose a “barbell” system in which there is a strong emphasis on mathematics, logic, and computer science in school, yet there is an extreme emphasis on creative free play for students in non-classroom hours.
That means no homework (home time should just be creative play time). Intense and extreme studying during school hours must be balanced out with intense and extreme play after school is out.
3. Focus on building up the individual self-esteem and courage in students
Every student needs to know that they’re capable of creating epic impact in their life.
Every child has the ability to be exceptional. Society generally thrives via the ideas, thoughts, and actions of great individuals. We must not let Americans just become obedient “sheeple”.
Let us all strive to become the greatest version of ourselves.
Let us keep pushing the bar higher, no fatigue and no tired.
How high can you soar? There’s no limit to the sky, keep flying high.
Here is a series of photographs I made while in Washington DC for a week:
Shot on Lumix G9, JPEG high contrast dynamic monochrome, Leica 12mm f/1.4 lens in program (p) mode.