Hanoi, 2017 (portrait by Cindy)

Dear friend,

Every day, we face fears of exile, war, political unrest, and death.

But no matter how bad shit may seem, know that everything will be alright.

I know this sounds all rosy, but I want to share some personal life stories of mine — of dealing with pain, hardship, and fear — and how I was able to find peace and serenity in knowing that ‘Everything will be alright.’

1. How will this negative experience make you a stronger person?

First of all, realize that no matter what happens in your life, there will always be a way it can make you a stronger person.

Let me give you an example from my personal story.

My parents immigrated from South Korea, met in SF, got married, and had me.

I had a pretty good childhood (up to when I was about 5-7 years old), but afterwards, life got a lot shittier.

For example, my dad never had a full-time job since I was 2 years old, which meant that my mom had to work part-time menial labor jobs just to pay rent and put food on the table. She worked as a dish-washer, waitress, nanny, and house cleaner.

Each month, I didn’t know if I would be homeless. I remember vividly my mom telling me how my dad gambled away the rent money, and how we might be homeless that month. Or might have to move into a shelter.

Growing up, I always had anxiety about money. My notions of ‘stability’ were pretty much non-existent. For most of my childhood, we moved every year or two. I never knew whether any place would be long-term, which made it hard for me at times to make friendships and connections, because I never knew if we would simply move away.

However, my tough childhood ended up being a blessing to me.

First of all, it taught me how to hustle. I knew that nothing would be handed to me on a silver-platter. My mom could barely pay rent, so I knew if I wanted to buy stuff, I had to work and earn it for myself. This helped me start tutoring, building and selling my own computers, and also doing some odd jobs here and there.

If it weren’t for a lack of money growing up, I wouldn’t have an entreprenurial drive.

In-fact, I am pretty convinced that if you grow up in poverty, you are more likely to be an entrepreneur. Many of my friends who grew up pretty well-off, never ended up starting their own companies, or freelancing— because they took the more traditional path in life (taught by their financially secure parents).

I wouldn’t have traded my childhood for anything.

Another point— if I didn’t grow up poor, I wouldn’t have built this personal philosophy of giving back, and contributing to society.

I learned everything I knew from my mom, my local church and community, my local boy scouts troop, my adult mentors, my tennis coach (Greg Lowe), my teachers, and friends and family. I knew that I had a debt to them — and if one day I became ‘successful’ — I would dedicate the rest of my life giving back to the community.

This is what drove me to really keeping the information I create ‘open source’ and free. Because I know what it was like having no money, no means, and no resources. For me, books were my savior. Books, information, education, and knowledge helped empower me. Also when I was younger and had no money, I pirated everything. Because what kind of 16 year old student could afford a copy of Photoshop?

2. Everything happens for a reason

What has helped me get through the dark times in life is remembering the saying:

Everything happens for a reason.

I’m not sure where I got this saying. Maybe from church, or some pop philosophy I heard on the streets.

Anyways, I remember constantly reminding myself this — even when I was around 14-16 years old, when a lot of bad shit was happening back at home, and I was having some personal issues with friends and girls I had crushes on.

I knew that no matter what bad thing happened to me — there would be a greater purpose. I knew that if bad shit happened to me, it would be because it would help me become a stronger person, and overcome adversity. I knew that when I got sick, it happened in order for me not to take my health for granted. I knew that if my family became homeless, it would teach me how to be more resourceful in life.

3. Vividly imagine the worst-case scenario

One technique which has also helped me is this:

Consider the thing you are the most afraid of, and vividly imagine the worst-case scenario. Then, imagine how you would respond to that situation. In your mind, then rate whether it is scarier than you think it will be, or whether it will be less scary.

For example, even today — my biggest fear is that I will write something controversial, or do something controversial, then everyone will stop reading my blog, nobody will sign up for my workshops or buy my products, I will become homeless and destitute, and I will die on the streets from starvation.

Even writing down my worst-case scenario — I realize how stupid it sounds.

I know that no matter what, I will not starve to death and die. The real worst-case scenario is that I move in back with my mom. Which is actually not horrible, because she has great cooking, and I love her company.

In terms of street photography, the worst fear that I have is that someone will punch me in the face. But then again, I have been punched in the face before, and it really isn’t that painful. So why do I fear getting punched? Because I’m afraid of pain, and perhaps getting stabbed or killed. But once again, psycho-analyzing myself— I know the pain won’t be so bad (even if I did get punched), and if I even got stabbed, I would probably not die (I read some literature saying that most people who get stabbed don’t die from it).

But anyways, the biggest reason why a lot of us fear is because we under-estimate how strong we are.

We’re a lot stronger than we imagine. Also having studied psychology, our brain and mind has a built in ‘psychological immune system’ — in which whenever bad things happen to us, we always adjust to it. (whether good or bad).

For example, let’s say you are a millionaire, and suddenly all of your investments and stocks go to 0%, and you become poor. Truth be told, after a month or so, your ‘happiness’ level would become normalized.

But on the flip side, let’s say you’re poor, and suddenly win the lottery. You think it might change your life and help you be happy for the rest of your life. But in reality, after a few months of being a (new) millionaire, your happiness will return to baseline. And you will find new found sources of stress in your life (being a new millionaire) — family members no longer talking to you, your friends begging you for money, dealing with taxes, and all these other headaches.

Psychologists call this ‘affective forecasting’ — that we (incorrectly) predict our future emotional states.

Which means, we imagine losing all our money and falling into poverty as something that will totally destroy us. But in reality, we will soon get used to it.

On the other hand, we also (incorrectly) assume that becoming a millionaire will bring us everlasting joy and happiness.

Sorry I digressed a bit, but the main point is this: vividly imagine the worst-case scenario, and realize that the worst-case scenario isn’t as bad as you might think it is.

Even if the worst-case scenario did indeed incur, you would be able to overcome that situation.

4. Have faith, hope, and love

All we have is faith, hope, and love.

Faith that the future will be better. Hope that we will be strong to face tragedies. And love from our loved ones, and the love we will give to others.

True happiness and well-being isn’t from your external situation. Happiness isn’t your material possessions (your car, your house, your smartphone, your camera, your clothes) nor is it your external situations (where you live, your health, the death of your loved ones).

True happiness is having mental fortitude, strength, courage, and devoting your life to helping serve others.

Regardless of how shitty of a situation we are in, or whatever we may fear — we were endowed with the gifts of strength, bravery, courage, resourcefulness, and economy.

So ultimately, know that whatever happens in your life, everything will be alright.

Have faith my friend and be strong.

Always,
Eric

Learn more: Stoicism >