Hey, 150 posts!
So yeah, I haven’t been writing much lately. I think I swing back and forth between like modes, between thinking about stuff and doing stuff.
Like you do stuff for a bit. And then you step back and reflect and think about stuff.
And then you try again.
And so I’ve been knee deep in doing, like, there’s just been no time for thinking.
And sometimes, not having time to think is therapeutic in its own way.
But I’ve been thinking a bunch this week, in part because we had this little get together on Sunday night, basically friends and family of Pawan.
Just to sort of touch base, re-connect, see how everyone is doing.
It was sort of like this group therapy session. With some people hanging out in person and some others tuning in via Google Hangout.
And yeah, IDK, that whole like, get together just triggered a lot of stuff I guess for me.
Like, I had trouble sleeping that night.
And Monday night, too.
I remember getting in bed Monday night at like 11PM, and like it was 230AM and I was still rolling around, trying to sleep, mind racing.
Laying in bed at night, trying to sleep is the worst, when you’re most vulnerable, nothing to distract you from the catacombs of your subconscious.
But confronting your thoughts and your emotions, stuff you’ve sort of pushed aside by sheer force of doing, can be therapeutic, too.
I mean, I’ve had a pretty good life. A boring and safe life.
I mean, for the first 30 years, literally nothing bad ever happened to me, which is sort of crazy thinking back on it all.
Like all the bad things that seemed so bad at the time were all like, piddly things.
Like, falling off my bike or something.
Losing a tennis match.
Or something, something with some girl.
Just stupid stuff, man, and it’s funny right because in that moment, all of that stuff seems SO REAL AND SO IMPORTANT.
Wow, even writing about it, I feel sort of nostalgic for those moments of delusional self-importance.
The self-concocted drama I’d create around the most useless predicaments.
Poor me. Why does my life suck so bad.
I mean, you think I’m joking, but I’m really not.
Because that’s pretty much how I felt in those moments.
You know, it didn’t help that I grew up with a big head.
People always telling me I was smart and talented and good looking (for an Asian guy, at least).
In the small pond where I grew up, I was kind of a big fish.
Man, I was so into myself. (You know, like I’d wear Abercrombie polos and check myself out in the mirror. It was bad.)
I was going to do important things, I told myself.
But that was in the future, which meant that in the present, nothing was really good enough for me.
Which is a horrible attitude to have.
So I just had a bad attitude.
And I think it’s with that sort of attitude that you make a big deal over nothing.
HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN TO ME.
But yeah, life has a way of humbling douchebags like that.
And, you know, like, some people believe in like singular moments that sort of define your life.
And I used to believe that actually.
And I actually remember having a chat about that with Praveen, sitting on the couch after work one day at the loft we lived in downtown. (This was our first year out of college, so I was like 23-ish?)
So actually the night before I had gotten just like, blackout bonkers drunk. My friend Mike was visiting from London so we had to do it real good, you know. And it was like a Tuesday.
I remember we finished up in K-town, and I was so drunk at that point, I fell into a mound of garbage, and because it was K-town, the garbage was full of like old food type stuff so I got soaked from like garbage water, like fish-smelling garbage water. It was gross.
Funny thing is, I had the sense to strip myself and start the laundry when I got home at like 430AM that night.
Now, mind you, I was working at a bank at the time, and we worked on the trading desk so we usually got in around 7AM.
But I mean, I’d gone hog wild on other nights, getting home at 4AM or whatever, sleep a couple hours and make it into work. To be 23 again.
And then you’d brag about it at work like, that was sort of the culture at these banks. Work hard, play hard. I mean I got so wasted with my boss one time, and he works in Connecticut, so after one too many shots of tequila, he heads back to Grand Central, but it was a bridge too far, he couldn’t make it or really find his train, in any case, and ends up sitting on those steps below the Apple store and just passing out.
Which, in Grand Central, isn’t kewl, you know, so the cops came by and they were like, dude you’re fked up. And my boss really was that messed up, lol. So they called an ambulance and had to take him to the hospital and get his stomach pumped, IV, all that jazz, lololol.
And then he came in the next morning straight from the hospital and we game-planned how we would keep the entire thing under wraps from his wife.
“She’d kill me! I’m a grown man! I have a kid! I can’t be doing this anymore!”
And, of course, a couple days later, we’d go out and rage at happy hour again, lol.
Well, on the topic of working at a bank and being humbled, I’ll tell you one more funny aside.
So I worked on the equity derivatives sales desk.
Which is basically just jargon for saying that we traded options with hedge funds, or whatever trading partners that wanted to trade options basically, or option type products, you get the gist.
So anyway, options are traded in lots of 100. Don’t ask me why, that’s just how it works.
And so on my FIRST DAY of work, my boss is showing me the ropes, you know.
And I’m a pretty fast learner or whatever, so like, we get our first order in, and he’s like, you wanna do it?
And I’m like, hell yeah!
And so the dude is like, yeah I want x lots of so-and-so.
And I’m like, kewl man, I gotchu.
But instead of putting in 50 lots, as in 5,000, I put in 50K into the system.
So rather than buying 5,000 lots, we traded on 50,000!!!! 10X more!!!!
By the time we unwound that trade and all the hedges and whatnot, we were down like $200,000. (I mean, I was unlucky, the trade could’ve moved my way and we could have made money!!!! Alas, it was not to be.)
All of which is to say, being a fast learner is pretty worthless when you’re a careless jackass no matter what.
But yeah, I literally lost $200K on my first day on the job.
What a newb.
(Everyone was super kewl about it though. The financial crisis hadn’t happened yet and the banks were just raking in the dough so people were super generous, lol.)
OK yeah, where was I.
So I get super plastered on a Tuesday night.
And whatever, even in my drunken stupor, I put my fish-smelling clothes in the laundry and I set my alarm like a true champion.
But yeah, it was one bridge too far. I was too far gone.
I slept through my alarm completely.
And so I wake up suddenly and it’s like 1130AM!!!
Just so many missed calls and texts and emails on my phone and Blackberry.
And man, if you only had any semblance of the instant fear and horror and dread I felt in that moment, still drunk, mind you.
I was sure I was gonna get fired.
Like, they were definitely going to fire me.
The culture of the bank is work hard play hard.
And so it’s kewl if you play hard, but if you’re not working hard, well dude, you’re out.
And so I get dressed like a madman; the dress code on the trading floor was suit and tie. And all the meanwhile, I’m just a total mess. A complete and utter mess.
IDK if you’ve ever taken a cab from downtown to midtown on a weekday during noon, but the traffic is insane.
And every second that ticks by, a little piece of me dies inside.
Finally roll into work.
And I’m like, DUDE, I’M SO SORRY, I’m like telling my boss.
And he’s like DUDE.
So apparently, Philip—we’ll call him Philip—who is like head of all Americas at the bank (I worked for a European bank), came by the desk at 715AM.
And he was like, WTF where’s Alec.
And my boss, having zero idea where I was, was like, oh yeah, I just sent him out to get coffee.
And Philip was like, hmmm, OK kewl.
And apparently Philip never came back after that!
SO I WAS SAVED.
Anyway, as I’m like sitting down, just sweating whiskey from every pore, gathering myself, still apologizing effusively to my boss, he like, puts up a hand, like, STFU, but in like a regal and respectful way.
And all he says is like, dude, you know you fked up. It’s kewl. As long as you know.
And that was that.
And so we went on with our day like nothing had happened.
(My boss was/is a kewl dude. I found out at one point that he hired me solely because I played tennis, lol. The world works in mysterious ways.)
Anyway, later that day, having experienced the most insane humbling—without even being yelled out, which made it all the more humbling—I’m sitting on the couch with Praveen and we’re just chatting about life.
And I don’t even remember what my thought process was in that moment, but I just remember like having this epiphany moment, like full-bodied, and I’m just like.
DUDE, I GET IT NOW.
(I was young and dumb and stupid and naive, OK, relax with your judgement.)
I GET IT NOW, as I tried to like extrapolate meaning from the day’s events. Funny because it wasn’t just about messing up, it was also about like the importance of CONFIDENCE.
Man, I was dumb.
And I was like, THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING. EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT NOW.
THIS IS THE MOMENT.
And Praveen, always the wiser man, was just like, yeah IDK. Life is really like, a series of such moments.
Which, of course, is so true.
To even think that one moment could change everything is an inherently arrogant perspective.
And things would play out as such as I would experience a series of further moments down the line, a series of new understandings and humblings.
Lol, even just thinking back to all that stuff, I’m like in awe of the fact that I even managed to survive, to make a living in New York. What an idiot.
All the people who put up with my newbness.
But the most recent humbling occurred when I was in San Francisco.
And it all started out so well, I mean SF was just a wonderful experience. Meeting so many kewl people, working at a company, being one of like the first 30 employees of a place that was just full of brilliance and financial support and long term vision.
At first, it felt like I had finally found a family, a home, a place where I felt like I really belonged, which, as a perennial outsider looking in, has always been the thing that I’ve always been looking for.
But as is often the case, it’s dangerous to try and fix internal issues with external solutions.
Because the problem is always you and no environment will fix that for you.
SF as an environment was particularly dangerous because it was kind of like living in this bubble.
And for like, 2 years, I lived in this bubble with this sense of purpose. Or I guess maybe it was a false sense of purpose.
I was doing really well, I mean, everyone loved me including the CEO. I got like 3 raises in the course of a year. Things were going so swimmingly. Anything I asked for, I got.
But there was always this nagging sense that it wasn’t enough.
There was always this nagging sense that it wasn’t who I really was.
It’s like I fell in love with this girl and who had a shotgun marriage a month later.
And then over time you start to wake up to this reality, but you’re in so deep, man that the only option now is to rationalize your current predicament. THIS IS AMAZING, I would tell everyone.
Deep down, though, you always know the truth.
It’s funny cuz there were hints of it all over the place. One of our company’s advisors and early investors was the editor-in-chief of the Observer at the time, and I worked closely with him on a project to help him out, and we exchanged all these emails and stuff.
And he was like, dude, what are you doing here. You should be writing. You should be doing stuff.
But by then, like I was in so deep. Everything was so cushy. So comfortable.
My big wake up call wouldn’t come for another few months, when a bunch of my close friends (who were all co-workers) decided to take this trip to NY.
Because I was always talking about NY and how great it was.
I was that guy.
You know, the dude from NY, the VICE guy. (VICE was still kinda kewl at that time!!!)
And so it was like me and Vahakn and ZZ and Kim and some others, and for whatever reason like, IDK. I remember like standing in line for security at the airport at the SF airport. And I was just not feeling it already.
I guess I knew that by like leaving my SF bubble with my friends and going back home I would sort of have to confront the truth.
And I felt it immediately as soon as we got there.
Like, all of the environmental features that allowed me to feel worthy and kewl and purposeful in my SF bubble were GONE.
I was stark naked in the jungle again.
I was stark naked, home again.
And we went to all these places, I showed them around, my old stomping grounds, got good food, went out to some clubs.
Checked out the museum.
But IDK, I just wasn’t feeling it. I felt so naked.
I was just like, who have I become? Who am I? Stark naked, back home, I was forced to confront the reality of who I was.
And I just like, IDK, I just didn’t feel proud of that person.
What were my ambitions? Who was I pretending to be? Who was I trying to be?
Looking at myself in the mirror finally after two years, this two year whirlwind shotgun marriage, I was just like, man. I don’t like what I see. Where did we go wrong?
What’s crazy is that it like hit me all at once, you know. In the drudgery, mind-numbing pace of day-to-day life, I never really took any time to really think about it.
And then, all of a sudden, you’re sort of woke and it’s terrifying.
So that trip was sort of the beginning of the end.
After I went back, nothing was the same anymore.
It’s like, suddenly, I saw everything with clear eyes.
I was no longer satisfied.
And so if I was sort of getting by before, I was now deeply depressed.
And thus began my most recent life humbling.
By the time I got back to NY, for good, this time, it was about 8 months later.
I had gained an enormous amount of weight, especially for me. At my peak, I was like 215. Which is crazy. I was probably around 165 the first time I set foot on the West Coast.
Not only was I fat—which, relax guys, is not to say that being fat is bad, but for me, it’s a pretty good barometer of how I’m doing in life cuz I’m usually not fat—I was just totally lost.
Like, career wise, I felt like I was starting back from square one. The last 2 years hadn’t led me toward where I wanted to go. So what was it for, anyway? (That’s what I was feeling at the time. In the grand scheme of things, my time in SF was actually exactly what I needed for a lot of reasons but that’s another story for another time.)
But it wasn’t just my career, I was starting over with basically everything. I mean, I had to lose a lot of weight before I could even start to feel like myself. I thought it would take me like two months. I remember having this goal of losing it all by my birthday. It ultimately took me about two years.
And because of the crazy, shotgun marriage I had just been in like, I was starting over, too with just like, IDK, my friends and my old connections, and my relationships.
I had left everything and everyone on a dime.
Rebuilding those relationships would take plenty of time, too.
And I mean, even my parents were kind of like WTF, you know. I had to re-convince them of my vision for my life. Which is hard to do when you have no idea what you’re going to do with your life.
And so I was basically started everything over again. Everything. My friends, my family, my career. But mostly, myself.
It’s funny because two weeks before I would leave SF for good, I was sitting on my friend Vahe’s couch, who I’m about to see in two weeks in LA.
And I was just like, man I’m going to turn 30 in two months and I’ve never been more lost.
And he was like, dude, you’re going to look back, and you’re gonna be like, when you write the blog post about this whole time, like, two months before you turned 30, you lost everything, and it will be the best thing that ever happened to you.
Well, I don’t wanna be cliche, so I won’t say that.
But you know what I mean.
And so at 30, I started over. At 30, I started rebuilding everything that I spent my entire life building. At 30, I had nothing all over again.
And everything I thought that would come quickly and come easily during that rebuilding process took way longer than I ever thought it would.
But eventually, it started to come, in fits and bursts. There were plenty of setbacks. Plenty of wrong turns and dead ends.
It was also around then that the bad things started to happen.
The first time in my life that I experienced truly bad things.
There’s this one celebrity gossip site that I read. It’s one of my guilty pleasures. Don’t tell anyone. But anyway, one of the writers on the site recently watched the Amy Winehouse documentary, Amy, which is great, you should check it out. (I watched it with Vahe, actually.)
And she made the comment like, man, just watching it like, there are so many “what ifs.” Like what if Amy had checked into rehab before she made that album that shot her to superstardom. You know, would things be different?
And just reading that this week made me think about my own life like, what if. What if all those bad things had started BEFORE I started rebuilding my life.
And I wonder how dark things could have gotten for me.
But in a sense, I was blessed because the rebuilding process had already started. I was already checked into life rehab.
So it was around 7 months after my 30th birthday that I found out my friend Pawan had leukemia. I remember getting a call from Praveen, which is weird cuz Praveen never calls me like that.
His voice was so chill and calm, now that I think about it. He’s like, yeah dude, how are you doing? And we exchanged quick pleasantries. And then he was just like, so yeah man, Pawan has leukemia.
And I remember just not knowing what to say. The call was short though. Praveen presumably had a bunch of other people he needed to call.
And I mean I was super shook, but honestly like, at the time, I was still in denial about it. I remember the first thing I did was Google leukemia, AML, specifically. And I remember seeing that the 5-year survival rate was 30 percent.
But even then, I was like, well Pawan is young and strong, we literally just played tennis the other month and he was killing it. He’s obviously in the 30 percent.
And so I was super shook but it obviously hadn’t really hit me yet.
It was crazy but like, I was so unabashedly hopeful at the time that everything would be OK. And I think that’s sort of the naive attitude you bring with you as someone who has never experienced anything bad in your life.
How could anything bad happen in MY LIFE. It’s impossible.
So that was the first bad thing that happened.
A couple months after that, like around January, I just remember like my mom had this chest cold that she couldn’t seem to shake.
And we had just gotten back from China the month before so we just sort of assumed she had got a bug there and you know, it was taking its time to fully relieve itself from her system.
It was like later January when my mom started to mention the possibility of cancer.
And I was just like, MOM, CHILL. YOU ALWAYS DO THIS.
And I was like pretty stern in reprimanding her, like, my mom has always been a worrier. She always, in her mind, imagines the worst possible outcome and sort of staying in that zone and fretting about it. I guess that’s sort of what moms do, you know. As natural nurturers, they constantly fear the worst because they care so much.
And I just remember being super annoyed at her.
I was just getting into a groove at that point. I was running every day. I was writing ever day. I was starting to build some momentum in my life with my routine and my sense of purpose. My rebuilding efforts were finally coming to fore.
So I was just annoyed like, MOM, EVERYTHING IS GOING GOOD NOW WHY YOU GOTTA MAKE ME THINK ABOUT THIS STUFF, IT’S NOTHING.
IT’S ALWAYS NOTHING.
YOU ALWAYS DO THIS.
I was such a brat.
So they took some scans or whatever and they saw some stuff, but they weren’t really sure still.
They had to do a biopsy.
The first one was inconclusive.
So they had to do another one.
By then it was March, and we finally got the result back.
It was cancer.
Still, based on the pictures or whatever, they guessed like stage one. They would just go in and cut it out or whatever.
And so a couple weeks later, we’re all at the hospital for what, in my mind was going to be a relatively routine procedure. I mean super invasive surgery that would require a lot of recovery time, but it was straightforward enough.
Go in, cut it out, heal, normal life resumes.
Anyway, I remember them calling us into the meeting room like an hour into the surgery, which immediately sent our Spidey senses spiking.
There was no way that was good.
And the doctor comes in and tells us that the cancer has spread. It’s stage 4. It’s inoperable.
Worst case, she had a couple of months.
He wanted our permission to do this procedure on her that basically glues her lungs to her chest cavity because once the cancer gets worse, a lot of fluid will build up otherwise.
And I mean we weren’t prepared for any of that like we were in total shock.
And so we’re just like yeah OK, I mean, my mom was sitting there with her body opened up and they needed an immediate answer. All we could do was just trust this doctor guy. I mean, he was a nice guy. He lost his dad to lung cancer. And that was how he ended up being a lung cancer surgeon.
So we give him the OK.
And basically the second he leaves the room, it’s this like little private meeting room, I just burst into tears, like my whole body is convulsing, I just completely lose it.
I mean, I can’t even like describe the drowning sense of despair in that moment. Just like, you go your entire life with this picture of how things are going to play out and never in my wildest imagination did I ever think I would lose my mom.
You know, like, for her not to be able to see the man I’ve always wanted to be. For her not to meet her future daughter-in-law.
For her not to be able to see her grandkids grow up.
The truth of that moment was so soul-crushing I just completely lost it. I’ve never lost it like that in my entire life. Never. I mean, I’ve cried when I was a kid, but even that was like stupid and pointless.
But this was real. The sadness and fear and hopelessness was so deep quaking every molecule in my body.
For like 10 or so seconds anyway, because my dad finally looks over and he’s just like, STOP.
Do that at home, he calmly commands.
And so I stop.
My sister, the mature, strong child in the family, scolds him and she’s like LET HIM BE.
But at that point, I’ve already stopped.
Later, me and Nina will go to this Vietnamese restaurant to get some food cuz we hadn’t eaten all day and also just to escape the hospital vibes, and we end up just both crying uncontrollably in a restaurant full of people having lunch.
I mean I can’t really describe what goes on in your head in those moments.
But you think about the past.
You think about the future.
And it’s like, the present doesn’t matter anymore.
You’re just lost in the past and the future. Which means you’re the most lost because it’s the two timeframes you have absolutely zero control of.
In a sense you’re completely helpless.
And if it’s one thing that bad things teach you, it’s that you’re completely helpless.
I remember later that night, I was sleeping on the couch at our apt in the LES, well trying to sleep anyway. And I was still in the past, still in the future, so I was overwhelmed by my helplessness again, just crying uncontrollably.
And Victor, who was subletting my bedroom at the time, comes out to go to the bathroom, and he’s like dude man, what’s up. Because he had no idea.
I just kept crying.
That was my last big cry about that.
Because once that moment is over, you’re back in the present. And it’s the present that you have control over of. That you can affect and impact. And when I was back in the present, I had nothing to cry about. There was too much to do. In the present, I had to be strong.
I had my big cry for Pawan, too, except it didn’t happen until after he passed away. I think in part because I just never believed or accepted that he would ever die.
He fought until the bitter end, and I believed in him the entire way. I just refused to believe that he wouldn’t make it despite the odds. I mean there were moments. Like his second relapse where I was just sort of like, oh man, this is sort of it isn’t it. But then I’d see Pawan. And he still believed.
And so I believed, too.
So it was a few days after he passed away that the big cry hit me. I was sort of out of it. In a daze for a bit. Going through the motions.
And then I remember going to the bathroom to pee. And I flushed the toilet and I’m just standing there, hands clasped on the sink, staring at the drain. And it just hit me, that same overwhelming, body convulsing cry. My mind again in the past, in the future, thinking about what I had, thinking about what would no longer be.
And I just stood there over the sink and I cried it all out until there was nothing left.
And I came back to my desk and sat there and just felt this like deep sense of emptiness. Just sitting there, not really thinking about anything, body kind of limp, staring at nothing in particular.
Isn’t that the main difference between like bad things and BAD THINGS?
Like a girl dumps you, and sure, it sucks, but then, you’re like, kewl, whatever, and you hit the gym, and you go out and find a new girl.
Bad things happen, and it’s OK because there’s always more you can do.
But when _bad_ things happen, you’re just helpless.
Utterly and hopelessly helpless.
The most humbling feeling in the world.
There is nothing you can do to fix it.
There is nothing you can do to make the pain go away.
There is nothing you can do.
Besides accept the cold hard truth.
The universe doesn’t care.
It doesn’t matter what you want or what you need.
Good things happen.
Bad things happen.
All we can do is accept God’s plan.
With Pawan, although things have gotten easier, it’s still so fresh. The road ahead, remains long and uncertain.
And really, there’s not been much time to process.
You just keep dealing with what’s in front of you.
First, there was the memorial service in Poughkeepsie.
After that, I still had some Pawan-related video stuff I had to finish.
And so while I still had that to focus on, still new, fresh Pawan experiences yet unexperienced, it was like he was still there with me, like he wasn’t yet gone.
I finished that last video a couple of weeks ago.
My emotions were mixed.
On one hand, it was like, a huge weight off my shoulders just to get through it. On the other, it was sort of like, well this is it, isn’t it?
And then last week—and this was a story I shared on Sunday—I was driving to the gym, and I was driving down the street not for from my house, and I saw Chris Yun’s dad walking down the street, with his sort of trademark waddle. You could tell it was his dad. Cuz that’s how Chris walks, too. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and all that jazz.
IDK, it’s always those like seemingly innocuous moments that sort of just hit you.
But it was the kind of scene that I would text Pawan about.
“LOL just saw Chris Yun’s dad, that walk, OMG.”
The kind of stupid texts that we used to share.
Just one of those stupid, nothing moments.
Something about nothing.
An excuse to say hi, what’s up.
Barely worth sharing, but with only one person that I could ever share such a moment with.
And it just sort of hit me, you know, how all of that is gone forever.
That whole part of my life is gone.
Pawan was the only guy who’s known me since day one. He knows ever part of my story. Who I was. Who I am. Who I was going to be.
Someone I could share achievements with because he knew exactly what it took to get there because he’s seen it all. He just knows. He got me. And we didn’t even have to talk about it. No need to dig into the details. It was already understood.
Just like with my mom, I was excited to show Pawan the man I was going to be. Because there are few people in the world who could give me that sense of validation. No one else had seen the journey that far and that deep.
And so there is no one else who I can share that feeling with. That sense of connection from my childhood, from where I came from to where I’m going.
Who else could I jokingly text about Chris Yun’s dad.
To share that moment.
There was no one.
And so it hit me and it just hit me really hard.
I turned into the first gas station along the way and just sat there for a bit and let that feeling wash over me.
I just, IDK, I felt it.
I can’t even describe that feeling, IDK.
It’s not like it was pain, exactly.
It was just this deep, complicated emotion that swelled up inside of me.
And just as it swelled and peaked, it started to dissipate.
And as the future and the past started to fade away, the present returned to focus.
So I started the car back up and I got back on the road.
Just like that, life went on.
I think stoicism is all about like, not giving a fk about stuff you can’t control and only worrying about what you can.
Which sounds nice on paper, but is humanly impossible in practice, at least for me.
Because those feelings of pain, that sense of loss, it’s inescapable.
And because I’m not sure that the pain ever goes away, the consequences of the deepest kind of love, no doubt.
You can’t have one without the other.
And what is life without love?
And so what is life without pain, without helplessness.
Because here we all are.
Totally and utterly helpless.
And that’s OK.
Top photo: The photo series my mom took in the last scene during DONUTS EPISODE 16.