Reflections–the first 40 years

After nearly five years in Michigan, I moved to Indianapolis for a career promotion, staying in the field of philanthropy.  Kalamazoo was the complete antithesis of what NYC was like, and was a huge adjustment, culturally and socially; Indy seems to be a happy medium between the two, at least given the first five weeks here so far.  I celebrated my first 40 years of life’s journey this past July and wanted to take the time for some reflections, seems like the healthy thing to do every decade you complete.

Let’s start with accomplishments, since that’s how we often look at life:

  • Education — Finally got the MBA, 90% of it paid for by my last employer in 2013 (yay!), which was nice since it was $80K/year over two years.  Unfortunately STILL have not completed the CFA, given the hussle and bustle of life events, still stuck on the last level which I hope to complete in 2016.  All in all, getting a college degree was all I had as a goal when my parents and I first immigrated to the US, so at this stage, I think I can check this box off my list, especially considering my parents never got above a middle school level of education.
  • Career — Continuing to trek along and it’s interesting the pathway life has taken me.  As a child in elementary school, I used to think I would be an inventor because I love tinkering with things, then by high school I shifted to going into medicine since that was what the typical Asian parents expect their kids to do.  But graduating from college, I ended up going to Wall Street instead and now in the field of philanthropy because I knew I wanted to do something meaningful.  I can still remember playing basketball with a childhood friend and talking about what our dreams were, both of us coming from families that were still on welfare at the time: my dream was to make $50K a year no matter what I ended up doing and can help support my parents.  This too can be checked off my list of goals as I started sending money home to help my parents out since about three years ago as I progressed in my career and my income became more stable.
  • Home — Bought my first home out of foreclosure a couple years after moving to Michigan.  It isn’t anything fancy, just a simple 3 bedroom place on a small lake where I feel relaxed and at peace with nature (see the pics below taken with my iPhone!).  The neighbors are wonderful who keep a lookout on it for me when I traveled for work, no that doesn’t include the raccoons, geese, garden snakes, insects, muskrats, ground hogs, squirrels and chipmunks who seem to love my backyard!  It has turned out to be a great investment if I were to sell it today after less than three years, but I plan to rent it out and keep long term as a vacation home.  I suppose being a bachelor, home ownership is not ideal especially when you’re not as handy, but I even bought a small riding mower and weed wacker just to keep the lawn trimmed!

Then there are the goals yet to be achieved:

  • Starting a family — I had always imagined I’d be happily married with kids by now, but life happened.  Things don’t always pan out and relationships are no exceptions.  For now, I get to pamper my two nephews, my godson Edward (I’m sure one day he’ll wonder why his godfather is Chinese but he’s African American), and of course my friends’ kids whenever I see them.
  • Starting my own business — As a pragmatist, I see the world as it is and try to make it better.  I’ve come close to starting a few businesses and never did.  Fortunately there is a project now that I am finally making a strong effort towards that will be a social venture.

Things I’m grateful for:

  • My parents — I think as I get older, I become ever more aware of how lucky I am to have the parents I have, despite their quirkiness.  They’ve been married over 50 years, the perfect example of opposites attract.  I’m grateful they are still healthy despite the incredible hardships they have endured during their life time, the sacrifices they had to make to provide for the better future of their children.
  • My friends — Sometimes we forget that we are merely a reflection of those we surround ourselves with.  I’ve been very lucky to meet and make friends who I can rely on and willing to be there for me, just as I would for them.
  • Love — While I failed miserably on the starting a family goal, I am fortunate to have loved and been loved in three long term relationships, each ended for unique circumstances.
  • Memories — Collecting assets and having the comforts that money can buy are normal objectives, but what I value the most are the many memories I have had.  From the lows of surviving a concentration camp in Cambodia, a mugging in Madrid where I was knocked unconscious, and running from the Twin Towers during the Sept. 11 tragedy, to the highs of taking my parents on an Alaskan cruise for the first time, backpacking through parts of Asia, and falling in love more than once, these are invaluable experiences. Life really is about collecting memories because in the end, no one can take that away from you, and it doesn’t matter what amount of money you have, you still control the memories you want to make.


I don’t regret not starting a business idea that I had written a business plan for, which someone else started and ended up making $25 million…I may not have been as successful at it anyways.  I don’t regret being single because jumping into the wrong relationship would leave me in the same situations as some of my friends who have endured bitter divorces.  Mistakes are normal, the only regret I do have is not having my priorities right sooner, and maybe a few bad stock investments.  If you live life full of regrets, you might as well look forward to death.

Lessons learned:

  • At times, doing the right thing, isn’t the right thing.   Just because you do what’s right doesn’t mean someone else will in return; choose to do the right thing only if you genuinely want to and believe in it, not because you expect someone else to reciprocate because most times you will be sorely disappointed.
  • The hardest thing in life is true love, it seems to happen when you least want it to happen, but escapes when you are so ready for it.  It defies all senses of rationality.  All the stars have to align: meeting the right person at the right time at the right place for both you and the other person, that trifecta happens rarely.  I have met the right person at the right place, but wrong time, a number of times; I have met many wrong people at the right place and right time; and I have met the right person at the right time, but wrong place.  With all the relationship experience and lessons learned from them you would think that should make me smarter, but as I’ve learned, because love is so irrational, you don’t fall for who you should, you can’t control why you fall for someone, and even when you do, they don’t always feel the same way…heck 99.9% of the time they don’t.  That is a hard lesson and some people become jaded and bitter by it.  But for the 0.1% of the time that it does happen, it’s an amazing feeling that makes it all worth it, even if it only lasts a couple weeks.  The hopeless romantic in me expect love to last forever, the pragmatist in me would be thrilled if it lasts a lifetime, and the realist in me is grateful for any amount of time that it actually happens because it is such a rare event.
  • Priorities change, but people and values don’t.  This is one of the most painful lessons I’ve learned, I only wish I had learned it earlier.

Looking back over the past 40 years, I can say I have truly “lived” because I have had some interesting life experiences, both good and bad, that have shaped the person I am.  If I were to get hit by a bus tomorrow, I would have very few regrets and a very large collection of happy memories.  Spock would tell you to “live long and prosper”; I would rather live well and be happy…

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