The Big 2016 Entry: My Origin and My Destination

At 7600 words, this will be the longest entry I’ve ever written. Roughly 3 times longer than most of my already long entries.

One of my friends told me that she usually stops reading my entries half way because they’re too long. I wish I could shorten them but I just love meandering from one loosely connected tangent to the next. I also write so infrequently that when I do finally write, it’s a culmination of many different ideas that I’ve spent days of my life ruminating on.

According to a reading time estimator, it’ll take 35 minutes to read this entry. I’m pretty sure I’ve read through it faster than that, so your mileage may vary. However, we can both agree that’s a fucking long time to read for, considering the fact that the internet has shortened our attention span and the average blog reader only wants to spend 7 minutes reading. I wouldn’t even watch a YouTube video that’s 35 minutes long, so I won’t be surprised if you find it difficult to sit and read what I have to say for that long. I’ve divided it into handy sections so if you find yourself wanting to quit halfway, go do something else and come back and finish reading it when you’re bored as hell.

While it may take you 35 minutes to read, it took me over 15 hours to write. While it took me over 15 hours to write, it took me innumerable hours of life experience and introspection to write it. It’s not so much a blog entry as it is an excerpt of the memoir I’m probably gonna publish some day. So if you find it interesting enough to completely read, you can tell people you read my work before I was famous.

Prologue: Rags to riches

From a street rat to a prince
From a street rat to a prince

I’m 27 now, which is the first age I’ve turned where I actually thought “huh, I’ve actually come a really long way since childhood”. I feel that by your mid 20’s, all of your accumulated experiences have created the foundation that is essentially you. The bad news is that if you’re in your mid 20’s and you still haven’t figured out how to not be a stupid asshole, there’s a decent chance that you’re just gonna be a stupid asshole for most of your life (or at least, you’ve got a pretty steep hill to climb). The older you get, the harder it is to deviate from your core beliefs and values. Hope you didn’t miss the boat.

Most of your core beliefs and values are developed at an early age. To find out where my first core values came from, we have to go back to the beginning.

I was born in a fairly poor neighborhood in Chicago, IL to two immigrant parents who came to America by boat who didn’t speak English. They never taught me English so I went to my first day of Kindergarten only armed with what I picked up from watching Barney, Sesame Street, and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. Now I’m writing the engaging blog entry that you’re reading and will continue reading until the end (right? right.) I’ve come a long way.

My family wasn’t broke, but we also didn’t have money to spend frivolously. I remember thinking we were poor, mainly because my parents packed me lunch for school every day and because they didn’t give me an allowance. Turns out plenty of kids who ate school lunches would kill to have their parents pack them food every day. Thankfully a bunch of kids who got free lunch would leave the taco pockets and square pizzas I wanted on the sharing table. The grass is always greener on the other side, right?

Rectangular pizza was the shit in Elementary school
Rectangular pizza was the shit in Elementary school

I remember always asking for toys or games and being told that we didn’t have enough money for them. I also remember the pain on my mom’s face when she would bought me a budget version of a Power Rangers toy she saw that she thought I would enjoy and I wasn’t happy about it. I wanted legit, Bandai-licensed Power Rangers toys, not Chinese knockoffs. It wasn’t something I registered immediately, but it was something that I thought about many times, especially when she went out of her way to get me a gift she thought I would like.

Looking back, my childhood motivated me to become the person I am today. I wanted to have a life where I had enough money so I wouldn’t have to resort to buying lower quality things. I wanted enough money so that I could always get what I wanted.

I just made up that last paragraph. If you thought that was what I was gonna say, then you don’t know me well enough. I never have, and I probably never will care about money in that way. The biggest lesson I received from growing up frugal was to practice appreciation for the things that I have. It wasn’t about what gift my mom got me, but that she thought of me and bought me something because she thought I would like it. As I grew up, I practiced appreciating the stuff she bought for me, including wearing clothes she got for me that didn’t really fit my style.

It wasn’t until I asked my dad for his yearly income to fill out my FAFSA in my senior year of high school that I realized that not only were we not poor, we probably hadn’t been poor for a long time. We were actually comfortably upper middle class. Mother fucker (literally) tricked me into growing up without a video game system on the basis that we didn’t have enough money for it when we actually did. I wasn’t mad about it, and I actually was very thankful that I was raised to not lust or want for anything.

People often talk about those born privileged, and the default parameter for privilege is family income. While there’s no doubt that your family’s income during your childhood shapes your values, especially when it comes to money, there are many other privileges that I think are just as important. In recent news, the father of Stanford rapist Brock Turner wrote this tone-deaf letter, which sort of explains why his son is a rapist. His dad didn’t teach him any better. We learn so much from observing our parents’ actions and beliefs, including entitlement and morality. There’s probably a high correlation between income and entitlement though.

I feel the greatest privilege that I received from my family was not any monetary privilege, but more that I was born into a family which taught me strong core values. Since we just passed the 41st anniversary of the fall of Saigon, I’d be remiss if I neglected to mention that my parents, who escaped Vietnam’s communist regime by boat, have actively advocated for democracy and civil rights in Vietnam since they came to America. I was raised by people who devoted time to the pursuit of betterment of other people’s lives, not to the pursuit of wealth. I got into an argument with my mom recently because she said she feels some disappointment that she didn’t push us harder to become doctors or engineers because the kids we know who became doctors or engineers are making bank now. My parents are really to blame for that, because I never observed them placing any importance in the value of money.

That's my mom participating in some #activism
That’s my mom participating in some #activism

I don’t want to get into any disadvantages that I had growing up, because this isn’t an entry about privilege. However, I do feel like being born middle-class-ish allowed me to not develop a warped view of the value of money that often occurs in people who grow up poor or wealthy. You can’t pick your family so I’m thankful that I ended up in the hands of good people. If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t change a thing about my upbringing. I consider myself lucky because I’ve met many people who wouldn’t be able to make the same statement.

Middle School Cesspool

Because of my childhood, I think I had a very strong base to build upon. However, nothing could prepare me for middle school. Middle school is really a hellish microcosm where your values, your kindness, your talents, your intelligence, etc, all play second fiddle to your social standing and your hormones. I was bullied for the first two years of middle school. I was always confused about how everyone liked me in elementary school and then flipped the switch and suddenly thought that my hair and my clothes and the way I walked somehow were more important than who I was as a person. Apparently I dressed and looked and acted like a faggot, because I heard that word thrown at me a ton. The more people made fun of me, the more I felt like I was missing some quality that they had.

Your social standing was based on what other people thought about you and who girls and boys “liked” was usually based on social standing. Who was considered popular? Well, the good looking people mostly. Middle school is super fucked up because if you’re good looking, you’re basically guaranteed to have a high social standing. I mean, I guess real life is kind of like that too, but because kids have so little life experience, there’s nothing a middle schooler can have that really beats good looks (you can at least make up for being ugly when you’re older by being skilled or useful). Other than being good looking you could also become popular by hanging out with other popular people. Once you were considered popular, you had the power to make someone else popular by association. Hey when your hormones are raging, validation from the opposite sex is priority number one. Popularity is like an exclusive orgy and the good looking people get to decide who gets an invitation. Metaphorically speaking, of course. An actual orgy of middle schoolers would be horrific and just mentioning it has probably put me on a list somewhere.

I finally increased my social standing when I started talking to this popular girl who was kind of different from the others. She was good-looking, but also smart, so she kind of rebelled against her own popularity because she wanted to be judged for her intelligence instead of her looks. She was also a hipster before hipsters were even a thing. We just called them weirdos back then. We got along really well, which surprised middle school me since I was a nobody and she was widely regarded as one of the most popular girls in school. Simply by hanging out with her, that was enough for a lot of people to think I was cool.

To make a long story short, she gave me my first encounter with rejection and heartbreak. What’s a teenage boy supposed to do?

Well I dunno what most normal kids would have done, but I cranked up the Dashboard Confessional and then googled “how do you get girls to like you?” and delved into reading everything written about the so-called friend zone. Apparently there were a shitload of older guys who still had (I should say have, cause these people are still out there) the same fucking problems as middle schoolers and they loved sharing their theories for why being nice is the reason girls don’t like you on their Geocities pages in 2003.

The long and short of what I read was that girls are attracted to confident guys and assholes tend to be confident while nice guys tend to not be confident. Then I googled “how do you become more confident?” The most common answer was to fake it till you make it. Act confident, and you become confident. That seemed simple enough. This is when I flipped the switch and decided to fake being more confident. It just so happened that it’s really easy to become an asshole when you do that. I talked to people like I was better than them and subconsciously they thought I knew some big secret that they didn’t. I kept doing this and all of a sudden I became popular. The story of how I stopped being an asshole and became the wonderful mother fucker you know today is too long for this already long entry, but you’ll be happy to know I ended up getting voted as class clown and as most outgoing that year.

The Three Pillars of My Self-Confidence

Why is the universal tip for gaining confidence to “fake it till you make it”? To gain confidence, you have to believe in yourself and your skills/abilities. If you don’t have any skills or abilities, faking that you believe you do will show you that most people judge you externally – they aren’t able to see whether you’re lacking in skill or ability; believing in yourself and your skills/abilities actually heavily influences people’s judgment of you. But wait… then you’re just tricking yourself and tricking people into thinking that you’re confident. If that seems unsustainable, that’s because it is. The word “fake” already has a horrible connotation that most people don’t want to be associated with, so you should be aiming for “making it” pretty soon after you start “faking it”. The longer you fake confidence for, the more people will realize that you’re just a big fat phony.

Confidence is the garnish that brings everything together. Your skills and abilities are the meat and potatoes. The substance of the dish. Given the option between a plate of just garnish or just meat and potatoes, I’d take the meat and potatoes every day. But if you want to take meat and potatoes to the next level, you ain’t doing it without the garnish. What faking confidence shows you is that confidence isn’t bestowed upon you from an external source. It isn’t something that you can attain through any specific regimen. Confidence is primarily generated from within. If you believe in yourself, then people will follow suit and believe in you.

I know a lot of people struggle with confidence. Even people who are way better than me at many things. What I gained from faking confidence went much further than just getting girls to like me. Self-confidence has become a key part of my life. I want to share with you what I’ve learned about developing/maintaining confidence over the past decade. Hopefully it helps someone or at least gives someone an interesting perspective.

1. Git gud and git butter (Get good and get better)

The backbone of building confidence and belief in yourself is by getting good at stuff. Confidence in a specific skill or ability builds over time from becoming better at that skill or ability. You’ll often hear people say that they started feeling more confident once they started working out. Working out is an easy way to build your confidence because there’s an easily quantifiable result. Your results give a clear indicator that you are improving as a person. When you started working out, you could only lift 100 pounds. A few weeks later 110. A few years, you’re lifting 250 pounds. You start at half a mile. Then one mile. Eventually you’re doing marathons. When you look back, you have empirical evidence that you are a better person after working out.

For a personal example, I started playing basketball at the end of high school and I can honestly say that most new players who I’ve watched since then have started off better than me. I couldn’t dribble the ball without turning it over. My shooting form involved chucking the ball at the hoop using both hands with no arc. I routinely missed wide open layups and shots. I asked for advice from the players who had actually been playing and they told me I needed to learn the fundamentals. They showed me what they learned when they started. Stand under the hoop. Shoot the ball. Repeat. Step a little further away. Shoot. Repeat. In game, I didn’t dribble. I didn’t shoot. I spent my time hustling for rebounds and trying to score off those. After we finished our games for the day, I would stand under the hoop and practice my shots. I went to the court to practice when we weren’t playing games. Eventually I could consistently get the ball into the basket while standing around the hoop.

I kept practicing my jumpshot for over a year with my disgusting form and I still could not make anything. I was actually pretty sure that I was never gonna be able to make a shot. I asked my friends who had better jumpshots for advice. I watched videos on improving jumpshooting. I finally decided to throw away everything I was doing and start from scratch. It wasn’t an easy decision to make because even if I didn’t have much to show for it, I had put in a bunch of work into working on my jumpshot already. I’m glad I did because after I changed my form, I went to the gym and I shot for an hour or two every week. After working on it for a few more years, I have a decent jumpshot that I would never have if i stuck with my old form.

What basketball taught me is that there are two parts to getting good at something.

“The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me is I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill. I will not be out-worked, period. You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me, you might be sexier than me, you might be all of those things you got it on me in nine categories. But if we get on the treadmill together, there’s two things: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die. It’s really that simple, right?

You’re not going to out-work me. It’s such a simple, basic concept. The guy who is willing to hustle the most is going to be the guy that just gets that loose ball. The majority of people who aren’t getting the places they want or aren’t achieving the things that they want in this business is strictly based on hustle. It’s strictly based on being out-worked; it’s strictly based on missing crucial opportunities. – Will Smith

1. Working hard

Working hard is something that everyone can do. I think it’s one of the best skills that anyone could develop. I’ve never been much of a hard worker because I’ve never really had to work that hard. Most things that I attempt come fairly easy to me. Basketball was one of the first things where I actually was shitty enough to start with that I got to see my hard work translate directly into success. What I realized is that the harder you work, the harder you’re able to work.

To discover your true threshold for hard work, you have to keep pushing yourself to the limit of what you consider hard work. Only once you work harder than you believe you can will you realize that there’s another level that you can reach that’s just past that limit. If you just started working out and the heaviest you can bench is 45 pounds, I’ve got a proven way for you to bench 95 pounds. Keep benching 45 pounds until your muscles grow and all of a sudden you can bench 55 pounds with the same difficulty that you benched 45 pounds. Keep lifting what’s just at your limit and your limit actually changes. Over time, what was once considered impossible will become your baseline.

This came up when I was talking to a friend about our study habits in high school. He said that he regretted not trying harder in high school. He thought that the main difference between us was that I tried hard and he didn’t. The thing is, I feel that I went through high school without breaking a sweat because I never worked harder than 70% of what I was capable of. I always believed that if you can get decent results without breaking a sweat, why bother wasting energy going all out? We reached a crossroads where he said that I was lying when I said I didn’t try hard because I surely tried harder than he did. The take-home message is that different people have different thresholds for what they consider “working hard”. However, I don’t think it’s ever too late to push yourself to work harder (unless you’re one of those weirdos who works so hard that they destroy relationships with their friends and family. Don’t do that.)

What I would call “barely working” is more work than what some people consider “working hard”. Woody Allen once said that 80% of success is just showing up. What I’ve realized is that most people can’t even be bothered to show up. Show up. Do work. Get better. At the end of the day, having the ability to work hard will carry you through most things.

2. Working smart

People who work hard are rare already, but people who work smart are rarer still. To work smart, you have to spend time understanding what needs to be done to get good. I think I’m much better at working smart than working hard. Working smart means you need to start by building your fundamentals. It means that if something isn’t giving you the results you want, you change it and you do something else. You can go to the gym and shoot jumpshots 3 hours a day, but if your shooting form is bad, you’ll be wasting your time. Working smart involves properly assessing what you can currently do and what you want to be able to do in the future. Then you set realistic, achievable goals that push you towards that future. Apply hard work on those achievable goals and before you know it, you’re in the future.

The reason I mention this is because I have a bad habit of trying to help bad players improve their basketball skills. That’s probably the future coach in my speaking, but if I see ways for people to improve, I always have to point it out. There are a lot of stubborn people who would rather ignore my insight and do things their way. If you want to get good at stuff, you gotta be coachable. You gotta learn the shortcuts from people who have made the mistakes for you.

You see people who go to the gym for months or years and never see results. People who diet or try to lose weight and never see results. Are these things impossible? No. I wouldn’t expect you to be able to lose weight if it wasn’t scientifically proven that weight loss is simply based on burning more calories than you consume. There are people who go to college for years but can’t graduate. A lot of these people don’t work hard OR smart, but some of them do work hard. If you work hard but not smart, you’re making life harder for yourself. If you don’t work hard or smart, you’re basically working for no reason. If you work smart but not hard, you’ll never be able to access your full potential.

So did becoming good at basketball make me confident? No. Understanding how I became good at basketball made me confident. Following that same formula for everything I’ve done has shown me that I can succeed at almost anything I try if I do two things: work hard and work smart. It’s that simple.

You can gain confidence from getting better at things, but there are some things in life where hard work and smart work have zero effect. What do you do then?

2. Own it, don’t bemoan it

The situation you are born into determines the difficulty or ease of your path to success. The reality is that not everyone is on a level playing field. [I’m disregarding privilege, which involves invisible systems in society that benefit different types of people. If you want to read more about that, I found Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” interesting.]

I’m talking solely about the advantages and disadvantages that we have as unique human beings. Early in life, I recognized that there were certain things about myself that, regardless of effort on my part, would be impossible to change. Later in life, I realized that many people spend a good deal of their time and energy bemoaning stuff that’s out of their control instead of working on stuff that is in their control. It becomes an easy crutch to use when you can blame some circumstance out of your control for your own shortcomings.

The most common things that guys feel insecure about are their height, their face, and their penis size – all things that don’t actually change much once you’re past 16. People usually feel insecure about these things when they feel they’re below average, because there’s also a helplessness in knowing that there is nothing you can do to change them. You’re stuck with what was given to you. The amount of societal pressure regarding physical appearance is minuscule for men compared to women, and still, there is still one insecurity that plagues so many guys. I’m talking about dick size.

Just checking for growth. Yup. Still the same size.
Just checking for growth. Yup. Still the same size.

There are so many guys in this world who feel insecure about the size of their penis but yet don’t feel insecure about how stupid they are. The thing is, you can beat yourself up over being cursed with a 4 inch dick but your penis will stay the same exact size. Whereas, there are a lot of things you can do to make yourself less stupid. Any time spent not thinking about your penis could theoretically be used on becoming less stupid. For those who actually worry about it, I’m just gonna go out on a limb and say that if you’re at the point with someone where your dick is out, regardless of how many inches it is, your odds of having sex are pretty high. However, if you’re a shitty person, your odds of having sex are probably pretty low even if you got a king kong dick. Prioritize things you can change.

Height is another big one. If you have time, give this video a quick watch. The interesting part is at 5:32. It shows women not choosing to date a short guy who’s a way better person than any of the taller guys around him. At 7:00, they pretty much all say they wouldn’t date a 5’0 millionaire actor unless the other guys available were convicted felons.

Short guys use stuff like this to beat themselves up when they can’t get dates. Yes, if you’re short, it might be really hard to find someone who’s attracted to you. But “really hard” is better than “impossible”, and changing your height is definitely impossible.

In the previous section I said confidence comes from getting better at things. The inverse of that is that you lose or fail to develop confidence when you’re unable to get better at something. The more you beat yourself up over something that you can’t change, the less confidence you’ll have. In my case, I spend almost none of my time thinking about things out of my control.

While browsing random Tinder profiles I’ll find it funny to see girls the size of roller coasters who list a minimum height requirement to ride them. A few years ago, I had an OKCupid dating profile and I put “I’m not trying to be rude, but I just want to say that I’m not attracted to fat chicks.” Some people consider what I said to be shallow. Let’s just be clear. If I disqualify you from the pool of people I’m willing to date because you’re fat, you can nullify that disqualification by losing the weight. That’s in the realm of possibility. It might be “really hard” but it’s not “impossible”. When you disqualify someone from your dating pool based on height or for their race or for some other reason that’s not changeable, that’s way more shallow.

What I’m trying to say is that the second pillar of my confidence stems from not wasting my time worrying about impossibilities and focusing on possibilities. I own all of my flaws that I can’t change and focus on gitting gud at the parts of myself that I can change.

Now that I’ve bashed fat people a bit, I hope you can see that I wasn’t lying when I said I used to be an asshole.

The third pillar of my confidence really stems from the way an asshole thinks. I just care more about what I think about myself than what you think about me.

3. Only god I can judge me

Because of my experience with people validating my social standing in middle school, once I started working, I thought it was going to be the same there. There was a defining moment during one of my first week working with a new team when I was 19. I heard Natasha Bedingfield’s Pocketful of Sunshine on the radio on my way into work. I got out of the car while the song was still playing and the damn song was stuck in my head. Emma Stone went through the same dilemma in Easy A.

I decided the best way to relieve myself of the earworm was to put on my headphones and listen to it on YouTube. All of a sudden, the lead on my team came over and asked me what I was listening to. I panicked and I quickly paused the song. I just looked at him nervously and said “uh… nothing”. He asked “what? what is it?” I truthfully said “Uh I don’t want to tell you. It’s kind of embarrassing”. He relented and I finally showed him what I was listening to. “Oh. I like that song.” he said.

That wasn’t the response I was expecting from him, but I’ll never forget that moment. See, that hipster girl I liked in middle school had very hipster taste in music and I pretty much adopted her favorite bands to impress her. Doing that took a lot of research and if there’s one things hipsters love doing, it’s denouncing things that don’t fit their taste profile. I was listening to Modest Mouse, Pink Floyd, and Radiohead, not the stuff on the radio that was popular at the time. There are so many insufferable fans of these good bands who believe that it’s not just enough to enjoy a band, you have to also not enjoy other specific bands. You couldn’t be a Radiohead fan AND like Yellowcard. So I developed this hipster attitude about music which lasted a long time. I did register during the beta and use it as my primary email. Yea. I’m totally a g-mail hipster. I used it before it was cool.

It’s been years since that happened, but that moment where my lead didn’t judge my taste in music helped me start down this path of not caring about people’s judgment and in reverse, not judging anyone, myself. People often refer to a list of guilty pleasures they have when it comes to music. Artists who they consider too unrefined for their tastes that they still enjoy. That comes from society perpetuating this notion that you have to feel bad about what you like if other people don’t like it. It started with me disregarding what people thought about the music I listened to, but it’s permeated into how I view all the pleasures of life. I no longer have “guilty pleasures” because I don’t think you should feel guilty for enjoying something. Well unless you enjoy jerking off while staring at people on public transit. That’s kind of fucked up. I should say, I don’t think you should feel guilty about enjoying something as long as your enjoyment doesn’t negatively affect anyone else.

I recently went to see Beyonce in concert with one of my friends and two of her friends. Her friends asked me how my friend convinced me to go. Um… I don’t need anyone to convince me to go see Beyonce. They don’t call her Queen Bey for no reason. I thought that comment was funny though because there’s this pre-conceived idea that certain artists should be enjoyed by certain sexes or certain ages. I listen to and enjoy music from every genre (yea, yea, everyone says they listen to “everything”). The first artists I ever listened to back in elementary school were the Spice Girls, Backstreet Boys, N*Sync, and Britney Spears. My taste in music changed a lot since then but it seems to have come around full circle because I started listening to a lot of pop music against in the past few years. My list of teenybopper artists I’ve seen live would put most high school girls to shame. Though, I’m not sure that’s an accomplish considering high schoolers don’t have money to go to concerts. The thing is, I don’t feel any type of shame or embarrassment for saying that I enjoy Demi Lovato or Selena Gomez or Ariana Grande’s music. When I listen to their music, I think it sounds good. There’s really nothing you can say or think about me that will change my mind about their music sounding good when I listen to it.

Nothing weird about my number one most streamed album last year
Nothing weird about my number one most streamed album last year

This is the most important pillar of my self-confidence. I simply don’t care about your judgment. Of course, another major part of it is that I also don’t waste any of my time or energy judging you or what you like.

Why I decided to write this entry open a restaurant

My mantra
My mantra

When I was younger I believed that I could do and become anything I wanted to. The more I’ve pushed myself to my limits, the more confidence I’ve built in that belief. I’ve proven to myself many times that I can do anything that I set my mind to if I want it badly enough and if I’m willing to work for it. People often gave me this piece of advice when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to study and which career path I wanted to follow. “Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life”.

My problem with that was, there was nothing that I really loved doing. I got a BS in Zoology because I liked learning about animals. I got a job in the gaming industry because I like games. I’ve been a gamer most of my life. However, I wouldn’t say that I love learning about animals or that I love gaming. When you’re able to successfully do a lot of things, it’s hard to figure out what you actually really love doing.

What I can confirm I do love is eating. I spend thousands of dollars a year going out to eat. I love trying new restaurants. I love eating all kinds of food. I’ve flooded people’s Facebook feeds for years with pictures of food but the first time in my life I was really hit with inspiration was when I started thinking about the Vietnamese food available to me in college vs. here in San Jose. Isla Vista, the college town I lived in, was full of taquerias, pizza places, and burger joints. There was a pho restaurant that made a killing serving terrible pho for $11. I wanted to improve on that. Bringing Vietnamese food that was hip, healthy, and new to people who love to eat (like me) seemed like something worth pursuing. However, I was working in a completely unrelated field. My parents wrote it off and thought I was just sharing a random thought with them when I told them that a Vietnamese fast-casual restaurant would do well. Over time, small thoughts would drift into my head while trying to sleep. We could have these items on the menu, and we could market ourselves in this way. The restaurant would look like that. We could have these specials. Over time the idea built and built until I had to share it with other people. I started sharing the inklings of my restaurant concept and they gave me feedback that helped me build upon it more. It wasn’t until a year and half ago when I really thought “I have to do this.”

Eventually it wasn’t just me wanting to open a restaurant because I thought the concept would do well. The decision to undertake something so difficult wasn’t made lightly. It wasn’t a romanticized idea born from me getting tired of working my job. I actually enjoyed working in the industry I was working in and I enjoyed the work I was doing.

The decision came from the fact that for the first time in my life, I felt like there was something that I wanted to do that resonated within me. I’ve been successful at a lot of things I’ve done, including things I’ve half-assed. For the first time in my life I felt this inkling of passion in a goal and it was super refreshing to be able to yearn to commit to something.

When I think about how much I enjoy eating, I actually feel this desire to share that enjoyment with other people. The reason that I’m opening a restaurant is simple and the passion behind it is even simpler. I enjoy food, and people enjoy food, and I believe that people will enjoy the food that I enjoy.

Haters gon hate

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Most successful people recommend working towards your goals without telling other people about them. You can accept praise once people see your success and you can sweep away failure without anyone knowing what you were trying to do in the first place. This is generally really sound advice. This all comes back to people validating you.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life it’s that everyone loves having opinions and everyone loves sharing their opinions. I accept that everybody is entitled to having an opinion, but they’re not entitled to their opinion carrying any weight. The power behind someone’s opinion of anything is given to them by how much you value their opinion. It’s impossible to become confident if your confidence is based on other people’s validation. I work really hard to not give power to anyone’s opinion of me or of what I do or like. I have to balance that by disregarding both the negative opinions and the positive opinions. Disregarding people with negative opinions and accepting people with positive opinions is a surefire way to distort your reality by putting yourself in an echo chamber. Something that I constantly remind myself is that someone’s assessment of my chance of success or failure has no actual bearing on my chance of success or failure. At the end of the day, my chance of success or failure has more to do with my own beliefs and my own actions than with anyone else’s.

Since telling people about the restaurant that I’m opening, people at opposite ends of the spectrum have shared their opinions with me or with people who have relayed their message. There are those who have expressed concern over my chances of success. After all, someone told them that restaurants are some of the highest-failing businesses. They’ve also known a family member or two who have tried and failed. I usually smile and thank these people for their warnings because I know that they mostly have good intentions. The restaurant failure rate isn’t as high as the oft-quoted 90%, but it’s close. Within 5 years of opening, 70% of restaurants will no longer be in operation or will no longer be owned by the same owner. It takes a certain amount of confidence (or insanity) to enter an industry with high failure rate and declare that you will be successful.

When people question how I can be successful when others have failed, I could answer with a complex list of things that I’ve done that others probably haven’t done or haven’t done as well as I can. I can also answer with things I’m doing that successful people have done in the past. If I want to answer with a less technical answer, it’s that I simply don’t consider beating 70% of the field to be impossible (or improbable).

There is no doubt that it won’t be easy, but I believe that if I work hard and smart, I have the potential to surpass 7 of the 10 people trying the same thing in any given field. I’m aiming to surpass them all, actually, and I’ve proven that to myself by being in the 90th percentile in many things I’ve done. My simple answer is that I’m going to work as hard and as smart as I can. That’s not going to convince many people, because many who have failed also worked as hard and as smart as they could. The only problem was that they hadn’t pushed their threshold for hard work and smart work as much as necessary to succeed. I’m willing to bet that I’ve spent more hours running projections, building my concept, and thinking about every aspect from operations to marketing to design than the majority of owners of failed restaurants.

While I can’t guarantee success, I can guarantee that I will maximize my chance of success and minimize my chance of failure. That’s all anyone can really do. They say that doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will. At some point, I had to silence the doubt in my head and believe in my own potential success.

The problem with announcing all of these intentions to the world is that we live in a society where the majority of people say they’re going to do something and never end up doing them. Most people just aren’t willing to put in the work necessary to get things done.

If there’s one thing people love, it’s being right. People love saying “I told you so” because it feels amazing to be right about something. Because of this standard that’s been set, the safe bet when someone tells you about a goal is actually believing that they’re going to fail. Haters feel vindicated by going with the easy prediction. When someone actually succeeds, haters will write off their success as “good luck”. Most people would rather believe you’re successful because you’re lucky than believe you’re successful because you worked hard. That takes the burden of their own success or failure off of themselves and the amount of work they’re willing to do.

People were really mad when Lebron James gave this “arrogant” answer during a press conference after his team lost in the NBA Finals to the Dallas Mavericks.

“All the people that were rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today. They have the same personal problems they had today. I’m going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things that I want to do with me and my family and be happy with that. So they can get a few days or a few months or whatever the case may be on being happy about not only myself, but the Miami Heat not accomplishing their goal. But they got to get back to the real world at some point.” – Lebron James

What do I think Lebron James means? I think he means that he’s set goals for himself and he’s accomplished many of those goals. He’s the best basketball player on the planet. Yet people will relish in his failure to complete one of his goals. There are sad people who feel satisfaction that he’s failed at something, when they’ve never come close to being successful in achieving as many goals as he has.

I don’t feel like he was in the wrong at all. His answer was just too real for people to understand. The same people who are making fun of him for failing will never push themselves to their own limits in the way that he has.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Derrick Rose when asked about the goals he’s set for himself.

Why not?

The way I look at it within myself, why not? Why can’t I be the MVP of the League? Why can’t I be the best player in the League? I don’t see why. Why can’t I do that? I think I work hard, I think I dedicate myself to the game and sacrifice a lot of things at a young age and I know if I continue to do good, what I can get out of it and if that’s me going out or doing whatever, I’m willing to do it because I know in the long run, it’s going to help me. – Derrick Rose

The way I look at it within myself, why not? Why can’t I achieve as much as Steve Ells. As Elon Musk. As Kanye West. I’m not saying that I will ever reach their level, but I am saying that I strongly believe that I can change and impact the world as they have. Hell, after this presidential election, I haven’t ruled out becoming president someday.

When I look at successful people, many of them entrepreneurs, the question I ask myself is: “Were they born with something that I wasn’t or is the effort they put into their work impossible for me to reach?” I’ll unequivocally answer no. No one was born a CEO. No one was born an icon. No one was born the best at anything. People often look up to influential people for the wrong reasons. They desire the power, the influence, the money, or the girls, and they fail to understand that those are just by-products of being successful. I simply want to achieve as much as I can in life.

Everything I’ve experienced in life has given me the confidence to believe that I can do all things. It’s given me the confidence to believe in myself and to disregard what anyone else thinks about my actions. It’s given me the confidence to walk the unknown path without fear of failure or unhealthy lust for success. It may start with a restaurant, but it won’t end with a restaurant. The success or failure of my restaurant will not determine the end of my career path.

I won’t be able to tell you what I will end up accomplishing or not accomplishing in the next 40 years. However, I do know that it will all have started with pushing myself past my current limits.

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