March 16, 2024

“Fear’s a powerful thing. I mean, it’s got a lot of firepower. If you can figure out a way to wrestle that fear to push you from behind rather than to stand in front of you, that’s very powerful“
― Jimmy Iovine

“Fear is my friend. I love fear. Fear allows me to reach my highest potential. The fear of failing is an illusion. Fear is an illusion. But we have to have desire. We have to have something that pushes us. Fear pushes us “
― Mike Tyson

I’ve always felt life was a circumstance to escape from. At each stage, the world would present a golden ticket that, if I was smart - and lucky - enough to earn, would open a door to the next level and ticket - until one day, freedom awaited at some final escape. Coming of age, the sole golden ticket on offer was based on academics. Good grades gave me the freedom of parental approval and also promised a profession that would pay for freedom. As a young adult, academic achievement would become the ticket to college and the critical opportunity to move to Austin and set out on my own. Fear motivated me to get the grades, do the schoolwork and advance to an unknown and ill-defined future that promised… something. Luckily, I had the conviction and capacity for academic success that arose from a genuine intellectual curiosity. Still, the deadly fear that my whole worth and future were on the line added a certain pressure that took it some notches higher than a fun game to be played.

I remember the kernel from which sprouted the final escape and turning point of a new life - the changing of fear as the dominant driving force. I was meditating in my apartment on Rainey St in Austin, Texas with no job, no surplus money and no pending responsibilities. I had nowhere left to go and so I sat for hours. I became still. And within that stillness arose a deep well of energy that filled me completely. I felt I could run off that source of energy for centuries. Yet, as the circumstances of life returned to the fore, the feeling faded and in time proved only a glimpse of a potential. Over the next 8 years, I searched that feeling and worked through a lifetime of trauma.


Fear may be the most prevalent motivation growing up that pushed me to take life seriously. Failure was not an option and uncertainty on all fronts kept me on edge. To have let up would have opened the possibility of being stuck forever. Therefore, I played it safe and became risk-averse. The real beauty is that fear motivated me to deal even with the boring but necessary academic requirements that deterred other kids. Given the alternative paths that beset my adolescence, in all likelihood, fear saved my life.

On the one hand, fear motivated me to double down on the most reliable bet for progress and, on the other, fear restricted me to making only conservative bets. With my whole life potentially on the line, taking unnecessary risk was out of the question. Day to day, this crippled my ability to deal with youth in a fun and carefree way. The rebellious part of me suffered under the rule of the conservative law. I’ll share an example dear to me and the earliest example of entrepreneurship. 

I understood early on that money was important and not having it created problems. In doing my part to contribute, I would sell pictures of Pokémon in fourth grade class. It was a genius scheme. The production line included: a pencil drawing from my artist mother and the coloring by yours truly. After rolling up my sleeves in production, the businessman would emerge, selling them at 25 to 50 cents to peers. I don’t remember the teacher ever minding and so I would sell during class with reckless abandon. One day, a substitute teacher took it upon herself to enforce law and order in the classroom and threatened to send me to the principal’s office for disturbing the class. I couldn’t risk sabotaging the academic mission and closed shop. The experience branded the idea that the best approach at fulfilling my academic mission was to fly under the radar. I would be the perfect student and do everything in my power to meet requirements that were presented and stay out of trouble.


Around the age of thirteen, I had a dream turned nightmare that opened my mind to the infinity of space. I loved to read about space, the planets and stars, and absorbed the subject with joy. I must have been reading or learning about the subject at school because one night I had a vivid dream, not quite lucid but close. In first person but without incarnating in a physical body, I conceived of and “flew” through the reaches of the solar system and galaxy. It was like a spiritual journey. The joy of wrapping my mind around the cosmos turned darker and darker as the journey went further and further out into space. As I journeyed further into deep space and was increasingly less sure of what was out there, it occurred to me in the dream that there would be no end to this exploration. Only the big unknown inhabited there in the vastness of space. In the climactic moment of the dream, as the realization of the infinity of space hit me and the journey had taken me so far from the close comfort of earth and all of the feeling of safety, I awoke. The dream left me with the feeling exposed to the reality of life, to the realization of how small and unsafe everything was. I rushed to tell my parents but was unable to articulate the feeling or express the profundity of the dream.

Around that same age, social pressures were mounting at middle school with the exposure to kids from other elementary schools. As cliques formed around me so grew the feeling of estrangement catalyzed by speaking a foreign language and belonging to a foreign culture. Experiences like the aforementioned dream and the social pressures thus led me to realize I needed someone powerful on my side to help through life. So I turned to God. At first it was a personal conversation with God, through prayer. Over the subsequent years, and as an accident of geography, I would turn to the Catholic church and its teaching as a way to pursue favor and protection from an omniscient ally. The battle strategy in this case held that only divine support was mighty enough to handle the onslaught of adversity incoming. 

Part of the reason depression took a hold of me in college was the cognitive dissonance in reasoning and justifying faith and identity as a believer. Deep down I felt there was a baby being thrown out with the bathwater of intellectual belief in the existence of God. I felt like the losing of a close friend, protector and of a spiritual self. I understand now the futility of forming an explanation to the question “does God exist”, yet I have felt a certain emptiness since I “gave up” that idea. In denying God there is a sense in which I deny my Self. I feel safer and more confident with the belief in a soul, in Atman, in the universe, something. Over the past decade thus, to fill that void, has ensued an exploration of Eastern philosophy and a comprehensive understanding of the universe and humanity. I believe in God in the same way I believe in my own existence. I do not exist as a separate entity from the universe. “I” is only a word and language is a tool that arbitrarily delineates one “thing” from another in navigating our human dimension. Explaining the existence of “I” however causes a psychological knot that produces insecurity, identity crisis, doubt, and a loss of confidence and makes engaging with the world unnecessary complicated. Practically, then, I act as if I believe in both my Self and God in navigating the world.


All circumstances since birth thus conspired to forge in me a character of independence. At first, I felt there simply wasn’t anyone that could help me. Family, teachers, peers, nobody could really be depended on to prepare me for the challenges that lay before me. I would no doubt have had an easier time had I learned to ask for help but that just didn’t happen. With a personality preference towards introversion, and a certain shyness at times, the natural recourse was to take it upon myself to figure problems out along the way. Over the years self-reliance would become a matter of pride and a closely held identity.

The downside of becoming a stubbornly independent minded person is missing out on the sense of belonging to a group. The exceptions were christian groups that got me through high-school. Beyond that, I have always felt an outsider. Its funny how life goes. What first was a fear of depending on others, now has shifted more to a fear of not belonging, for the following reason: I want a community to give back to. When thinking about being in service to others, politically or in business, there is a void for a pre-existing community, near and dear, to go all-in for. Still, it is with those that march to the beat of their own drum that I find kinship. The great writers, artists and entrepreneurs of past are a consistent source of inspiration. In turn this implies a long road ahead in what will be a lifelong contribution in giving back to these scattered masses of kindred spirits.


Financial insecurity is a really tough mental pitfall to overcome. If you’ve lived or are living in circumstances where making ends meet is a daily battle, it feels like money is the only solution to all your problems. The pursuit and attainment of financial resources becomes the highest priority, with the second highest trailing far behind, and remains there as a painful reminder every day. I personally don’t know of anyone who has struggled to provide for their families, lives in constant fear of failing to deliver, yet is able to keep the perspective that money doesn’t matter. That person, if they exist, must have a steely core of virtue, values and joie de vivre. I am not such a person. I am at least as fallible as the next person in this regard.

The idea that I needed money was inculcated though the same lived experience present in most immigrant stories. There is no more hard-working class than that of the first generation immigrants to America. The first book I write will likely be on the distinct aesthetic and fear of surviving in America with little more than your word and the clothes on your back. The resulting work-ethic is a crown jewel of virtues among the human experiences. Yet, there is a cost. I am a second generation immigrant. My part of the immigrant story involves fulfilling the hope of a better life for our family and overcoming the generational trauma of what it took to stay in the fight long enough to even have that hope. The fear of not making it in America has driven me through cycles of ecstasy and depression and the trauma of financial insecurity has been there to trip me up at every step along the way.


To this day the residual fear that motivated me to progress in life is still a powerful reminder that forces me out of lulls. After all, it built who I am. Now the active fear is wasting the talents and opportunities given to me. With the years rolling on, “now or never” is an increasingly poignant platitude. I am experiencing the highest standard of living of anytime in my life and the fear of getting comfortable and atrophying is ever-looming. An inner alignment for motivations other than fear have helped me find hobbies and pursue interests that seemed out of the question growing up. I’ve got to find the freedom in continually outdoing myself in all domains that matter to me, from music, to sports, to art and technology. I most fear never reaching the amazing life that could be, to have lived without manifesting the potential that laid latent.

“Imagine you’re on your deathbed—and standing around your bed are the ghosts representing your unfilled potential. The ghosts of the ideas you never acted on. The ghosts of the talents you didn’t use. And they’re standing around your bed. Angry. Disappointed. Upset. ‘We came to you because you could have brought us to life,’ they say. ‘And now we go to the grave together..” - Denzel Washington’s 2011 Penn Commencement speech