Written on February 12, 2015
I was raised by a middle class family in suburbia.
Growing up, I was raised by my grandparents. My grandfather was a veteran who had earned retirement from the US Air Force and had a pension from Armco, the biggest steel manufacturer at the time. My mother was also earning a six figure income, as she had progressed from bartending and modeling to owning her own business. So we were living a pretty stable lifestyle.
As a child, I basically was able to have anything and everything I could ever want, from the newest PlayStation, X-Box, toys, food, and everything a kid could imagine. I suppose you can say that I was one of those spoiled kids who were showered with love and gifts.
Growing up, my grandfather used to volunteer at my school’s cafeteria in elementary school and would often bring me McDonald’s for lunch. Whenever I wanted to go somewhere, my grandfather would take me. I was showered with his unconditional love.
However, in eight grade, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
It was something that I couldn’t understand: the person who had loved me with all his heart started to forget who I was. He could no longer remember who he was, let alone me, and it cut straight through my heart.
My grandmother wanted to take care of him on her own, so she had moved us from our home in Buena Park to Fountain Valley. I had hard time making new friends.
Later that year, we ended up moving back to our original home in Buena Park, and I was able to attend the school that my Jr. High friends attended. Being lost and confused, not able to understand the emotions I was going through, I decided that I needed something to escape from the thoughts that were going through my head. Having a hero whom I loved with all my heart losing his memory and forgetting who I was… I couldn’t imagine something more painful.
I made a decision. I wanted to sell burnt CDs. So I went to Fry’s one day, and I bought an external burner for my computer. It was interesting, because at the age of fourteen, I was earning about $250 a week. For a kid, that is like earning a million dollars. When I was fifteen, CD sales started declining, and I got caught up with the wrong crowd. I started selling CD players I had stolen from local retailers.
That wasn’t too great of an idea. Being locked away in a holding cell, waiting for a grandmother to come pick me up was definitely not the best experience of my life.
Well, on one bright and sunny day when I was sixteen, on the world of the internet, I had met my first girlfriend, thanks to an AOL chat room.
It wasn’t a relationship that led to a happy ending like Jane Chin’s marriage with her husband, whom she also met on AOL. But it was fun.
Dialing up to get online with the 56.6k modems, listening to the buzzing and beeping for two to three minutes, trying to grasp the ability to get online, getting disconnected over and over again, and finally being able to successfully connect. Those were the days.
I met this girl, who lived in La Mirada, and we decided to go out. We did a lot of interesting and fun things, like smoke behind Toys ‘R’ Us and just talk about life. We were two damaged and lost kids trying to escape from the world we were placed into–trying to escape from the travesties of life.
Her father had just remarried another woman; she was disowned and sent to live with her grandmother. My grandfather had recently died, and I was left all alone in the world, clueless of what I was to do. Two tragic messes, trying to make it in the world, without a clue on what we wanted except for each other.
I was working at Knott’s Berry Farm at the time, my first real job, earning a measly $5.75 an hour, or $87 a week (the minimum wage was $6.50 at the time). Since my job required me to do park services, which meant that I had to pick up trash, clean bathrooms, and bus tables, it meant that I knew all the secret entrances into the theme park. On one occasion, we had snuck into the theme park and had a grand old time, doing what kids do. Public displays of affection. We rode the rides and had the time of our lives.
Another time, we went to the movies. I invited one of my friends. She invited one of hers. As we attempted to set them up on a date, my friend had walked into the wrong movie and watched it all alone. For some reason, our efforts in connecting these two people had failed miserably.
One time my girlfriend had told me that she wanted to see me. I asked my grandmother if she would be so kind as to let me borrow her car. She declined my request, so I did what any teenager who had all these repressed feelings would do. I decided that I would steal her car anyway. I decided to leave her home for three days. On the third day, I ended up crashing her 2000 Corolla straight into a tree.
It was quite a fortunate event, hitting that tree. If I were to have missed it, I would have taken myself, along with the three passengers in the vehicle, to their ultimate demise, as we would have fallen into a ditch and have died.
Outraged by the incident, my grandmother decided that she was done with me. She disowned me and sent me off to live with my mother in a dirty city called Los Angeles. On the drive over to my new home, I looked out the window of her Jeep Grand Cherokee and was unable to see an ounce of green grass. Instead, I saw a dirt ridden city of abuse and abandonment. I was scared.
Living with my mother was an interesting new experience, as I never had really considered her family growing up.
She was just the woman who randomly arrived at my home, during the holidays, to drop off presents or money from her little black Camaro. So, having to live with someone I hardly knew was an interesting predicament I never thought I would encounter.
My mother was a very interesting parental figure. She had a unique theory on how to raise a child. Basically, she let me do whatever I wanted. It was as laissez-faire as it gets. I was expected to figure out the world on my own, through my personal experiences. She wasn’t there to tell me what to do or what not to do.
When we went out to eat, she would buy me alcohol. When I wanted cigarettes, she would get them for me. After being raised by a strict grandmother, I found this refreshing. At times, I even took advantage of the situation and bit off more than I could chew. Eventually, I came to find that it was a bad thing to do.
She bought me my first car that summer–a brand new 2001 Camry. I still had to go to school in Orange County. It was quite a blessing back in those days to have gas be 99 cents a gallon. I could go to all the places I could go, all the places I could see, for just a dollar, as opposed to the $4 (or more) we have to spend now.
Since I hadn’t made any friends in LA yet, I decided to hang out with my friends in Fullerton. We went to pools, stole alcohol from the grocery store, and just did reckless things. It didn’t really make sense why these rich privileged kids were doing these things, but I was doing it to escape from my reality. Then, one day, these kids who I had considered to be my friends teamed up and beat me to a pulp. I had a golf club and baseball bat swung at me so many times, my nose is still a little disfigured.
Then school started. While I was attending school, something that changed the world had happened. I arrived one morning and my teacher had turned on the news. The Twin Towers had fallen. Little did I know what impact this event would have on my life, or the world. My little young naive mind wasn’t able to process the event as it took place. It was just too surreal for me to understand.
Regardless, I went back to living my life. It was tough to get to school on time, as I had to deal with traffic and the other influences of my life. I usually ended up arriving late, so I was always booked with detention and Saturday school. Since I never made it to Saturday school due to the extra gas, I was eventually kicked out.
After I was kicked out, my mother enrolled me the LAUSD public school system. We had picked LA High. Attending LA High was one of the weirdest experiences of my life. The school had a fence that was at least twenty feet tall, preventing students or “prisoners” from ditching. The school curriculum was horrid, as I was learning what I had learned in eighth grade. Everything about the school made no sense.
Still being traumatized by my grandfather’s passing and being unable to understand how to cope with it, I ditched school on many occasions and just drank my life away. My friends and I went to PC cafes to play Counter-Strike, smoked weed, smoked cigarettes, met all the women we could, and just thought we were the cool kids.
We just partied hard and then eventually, things just fell apart.
There was a shift of economy due to the new state of war we were in. President Bush promoted a war on terrorism. Consumers were in fear. Consumers stopped spending. Eventually, my mother had lost her business.
When my mother lost her business, it was probably the first time I had actually experienced poverty. She had to close her business, we had to sell off all our furniture, our cars were repossessed, and we were left with absolutely nothing. To get by each day, we had one meal of rice, egg, and soy sauce or butter, just to keep ourselves barely nourished. We sat around at home with absolutely nothing to do. This lasted for months on end, and each tomorrow just seemed hopeless.
Eventually, my mother was able to slightly recover, but we were right back where we started. My mother’s boyfriend, who was 35 at the time (she was 50), started to help out with the overhead at home. My mother forced me to buy a Buick Century 2003 in my name for her to use. Then, as time progressed, I got involved in the multi-level marketing industry, as I saw it as a way to prevent another tragic event like this from ever occurring again for us in the future. I was able to attend college for a year, but then I decided to drop out.
I started working full time at Macy’s in the Beverly Center for about the next year and a half, until one day, my mother was just fed up with life. She decided that she wanted to run away from all the hell she was in. I mean, after losing a business, it can be quite a tragic event, so I understood completely.
So she looked at me and said, “You pay car, you pay apartment, I go Hawaii now, bye!”
I didn’t have the slightest clue what was going on. What did she mean she was going to Hawaii? What did she mean pay for the rent? The car? What? I have to pay for everything?
So, I didn’t have a clue on what to do. I was earning maybe $1,600 a month. That surely wasn’t enough to cover this new overhead I was given, so I figured it was time for me to make a career change. I sought out a friend of mine, who had told me he was earning $4,000 a month. He had helped me schedule an interview with his employer, Manhattan Beach Toyota.
I had applied, and miraculously, I got the job. I had a brand new position at a brand new company, my mother was gone, and it was my duty to cover all the bills. It was May of 2005 and my new career had started.
I was excited. I had gotten the opportunity to be a man. No longer did I have to have my mother drive me to the San Gabriel Valley so I could meet Chinese and Vietnamese women to date. I had a car, my own home, and my own income. I could just take people back to my new place, as a bachelor!
That excitement soon faded away, as I came to realize how hard automobile sales really was. The first two months, I had not earned a single penny more than the state minimum wage and was forced to eat free popcorn out of the popcorn maker for our customers, just to survive. Eventually, on my third month, things clicked for me. I understood what was going on and finally figured out how to properly sell a vehicle. My income had skyrocketed up to $50k a year, then $100k the following.
In the interim, I ended up having a casual relationship with my best friend, then my ex came into my life. We got together.
I felt like I was rich. I was in love. We discussed our thoughts about getting married and having children. We were going out and spending thousands a month on food.
I had everything that I could have ever imagined in life.
Then one day, I thought hard about life. I thought to myself, is this really all life has to offer? I achieved everything I set my heart out to achieve, yet at the end of the day… I felt completely unfulfilled.
So I did what any other person in my situation would do. Just like the celebrities, instead of trying to find some magical meaning to life, I turned to drugs. My ex and I divulged ourselves into drugs, until we lost each other. I remember back in December of 2006, I was going through the ATM withdrawals I was pulling. I calculated it up… I had to be spending $1,800 a month, because what else is there to use cash for in a world filled with credit cards?
After she was gone, that August of 2006, just a week or two before her birthday, I was lost. I realized, that I had lost everything I had wanted in my life. I had lost everything that had ever meant anything to me. I just broke down and cried. I begged for her to get back with me. I went to the mall and bought her birthday gifts, in the hope that she would accept me back. I went to her parent’s home. They let me in. I woke up my ex and had told her I loved her. Then I gave her the gifts, a Dior necklace inclusive.
She rejected the gifts, and rejected me as well. I told her, that since the gifts were nonrefundable, to just keep them. Then, I was off. Back onto the 110 freeway, heading northbound to my home. I was crying on the whole trip back, without a clue as to what was going on. On the drive home, I didn’t care about a single thing. I was hopeless, so I cried with my eyes closed. I’m certain I had my eyes shut for at least ten minutes as the tears poured out. Something had overcome my body and moved my foot from the accelerator to the brake, and when I had opened my eyes, I saw that I was just a matter of inches away from slamming into the vehicle ahead of me. That was my fourth encounter with near-death.
I didn’t have a clue on how to deal with all the emotion I was feeling. I had everything I wanted, I took it for granted, and let it all slip out of my hands. Outraged, I went on a rampage. I had so much anger towards myself, I lashed out everywhere I could. I stuck every single customer I could into a loan they could barely afford. I went out and seduced all the women I could. I just was a complete mess, acting out because I lost everything that had any value to me.
Eventually, one day, I had decided to meet my friend.
He was working at a Cafe called Modena at the time, and I haven’t seen him for years. I ordered shaved ice, which came out to $12. I decided to leave a $100 tip. Shocked as my friend was, he implied that I could come by any time I wanted, and everything would be on the house.
One day, when I had visited my friend at the cafe, he was sitting next to quite a peculiar fellow. This person had a tablet PC in 2006, when these things were unheard of. He was going over games and exercises, to increase the cognitive abilities of my friend.
I walked up and interrupted them. I said, “Hey, what’s up!” This guy who I had never met before, put his hand up to his lips, and I shut up and waited. Eventually, I got to know him better, and he soon became my mentor.
He helped me in my recovery process by helping me get in tune with myself, understanding life from a different perspective, and worked on my charisma. One day I had so much charisma that I had exited the door to my building at work, turned left to go smoke a cigarette, and everyone in the service bay moved to allow me to walk by, simultaneously. It was unreal.
He had decided that he wanted me to work with him. He told me that I would be earning an income that I couldn’t even fathom, then told me I would be drug tested. I was high as a kite every single day of my life, so I started to distance myself. Eventually, I just disappeared out of his life and succumbed into a pit of depression. In December, during that pit of depression, I had looked over my bank statements, and saw how much money I was spending on these drugs, did the math, and realized that I could have been driving a S-Class Benz.
Immediately, I became drug free. I quit the next day. Math is a very huge motivator to quit any type of drug, especially when you can see what you could have been doing with your life.
Well, I had become tired of my job and I wanted a change.
If this mentor had believed in me, I thought I could believe in myself. So I started up a business of my own. This was the first business I had ever established. I had absolutely no clue what I was doing. I had no clue that places like Kinkos over charged. I just decided to go out there and try to build a business, with what I was given.
Eventually, I ended up piling myself into debt, maxing out my credit cards, I lost my home, and I was left all alone, with absolutely nothing. It was like a blast to the past, when I had sat there with my mother in an empty home, eating nothing but rice and egg. I didn’t have any energy and I just wanted to hide under the cover each and every day, hoping that tomorrow would never come. However, I had a certain belief that came with succeeding before. I did it once before, so I could do it again. Around the end of the year, I finally had the motivation to go out and try to work again.
I succeeded for a short while, then I switched industries. I felt that I could get rich in the housing industry, as my friends were driving Lamborghinis and Porsches. I signed 25 purchase agreements for $250,000 homes and was on track to earning $600,000 in 2008. Then, Bear Stearns went down in a fire sale. I spent months trying to get my loans pushed through, but to no avail.
Eventually, I gave up and moved into working at an investment fund. I was in charge of raising money as a broker, then was promoted to investor relations. Shortly afterwards, the stock market had crashed. My employer had lost the majority of his working capital in AIG and our company had to file bankruptcy.
In the interim, I was out partying with models, popping bottles, and just having the time of my life in Hollywood.
Then again, that was short lived. I was back on the ground, feeling absolutely defeated, without a clue what to do.
Something new and unique came my way. Panic attacks. Anxiety. Feelings of death. No longer did those feelings of I could do it again come through my mind. Instead, I had reflected back upon how much I had lost, and how painful the experience was. I was so scared to relive the experience that my body just went of whack on me.
A friend of mine, who had worked at the investment fund I was employed at had decided to start a lead generation firm with a few other partners. He had brought me on board.
After about three months, I helped take that startup from $0 in revenue to $50,000 a month in revenue. However, the founder had decided that he wanted to change directions, and the company slowly collapsed. Before the collapse of the company, the founder of the company had said that he would help pay to fix my car, as the rear control arm had snapped. He decided to back out of that deal, and I was left holding a bill for a repair that I couldn’t afford, without a source of income, and without a clue what to do with my life.
I was at the bottom again.
I just wanted to bury myself six feet under, because life just sucked. I didn’t know what to do, so I stayed home and in bed until my money and financial resources were gone. I eventually decided to find a job, and was hired at AXA Equitable. There was a catch, I had to pass the life insurance test.
Since I didn’t have the resources to cover the cost of the training or test material, I had to find another job. I found anything I could, which was a minimum wage part time job, raising money for the Democratic National Committee. I looked rock bottom in the eye and saw that I was selling my soul. I wasn’t selling this soul of mine to become rich, famous, or even successful. I sold my soul to survive.
I’m not as bold as Ellen Vrana is, in stating that I’m a Republican in public, so I decided to hide this piece of information way down below in this story here. However, being a Republican and having to work for a cause that I had absolutely no belief in, was like having to live each and every day as a complete and utter lie. I was raising money for a cause that went against all of my natural beliefs. I had become a professional liar, all for a measly wage of $8 an hour.
I never hit rock bottom before.
However, when I looked in the mirror each morning, I realized that I wasn’t me any longer. I was just this lost soul who had absolutely no clue what happened. I was a liar, who put on a mask, and lied to the entire world. Someone who couldn’t even look at himself in the mirror, let alone get himself out of bed to face another day. One day, things were so bad, that the electricity shut off in my place. I never knew I could rack up an electricity bill to $400 before it was disconnected, but I guess I learn something new every day.
I needed to escape, so I played hooky each chance I could. My friend was a sous chef at the time, so I escaped work to go with him to help him in the kitchen. Eventually, I learned how to cook. Then, my other friend had found an investor for his business and he brought me in. I started working with him, and then… On one random day, I had met someone at a bar. He was drinking blue label by himself in the corner, and I sat next to him. I inquired if it was his birthday, he looked at me with a weird stare. I advised him in this town, people only drink blue on two occasions, their birthday or a special occasion. I asked him which it was. He told me every day was his birthday.
We stopped talking and continued to drink. I was on my last $20, sipping the one and only drink I could afford, then he turned to me and asked if I would like a shot. I agreed, then we talked. We connected at an intellectual level, and he decided to employ me. Suddenly, I had the money to do whatever I wanted. If I wanted to eat at Boa Steakhouse, no problem. If I wanted a limo, it was mine. If I wanted to spend a whole month drinking two bottles of blue label every night, no one was going to stop me. So I did it all.
Then, unfortunate circumstances came my way once again.
I was dismissed and left to go figure out life on my own. This time, I just froze. I was stuck. All I could think of doing was buying a bottle of Jameson every day, and drank my life away as I watched movies. I didn’t get up, I didn’t go out, I didn’t do anything.
Deep in my heart, I understood exactly where I was. I was a nobody, with nothing, and in a matter of months, I would be homeless and on the streets, to live my life forever as a permanent transient. This was my destiny, to become one with the world, living under a bridge, burning trash cans on fire and hoping to roast meals. This was the last time I would ever experience any type of happiness, and I would be forever placed into a life of despair.
Little did I know, that this would be the day where my grandmother showed me her true love for me. She didn’t let me fall to my demise, and instead, she took me back into her home and let me recover at her place. No longer was I disowned. I spent the next 24 days, detoxing from all the alcohol and nicotine from my body. The panic attacks came back and my body flushed out all the toxins– I felt like I was going to die.
I stayed at home, doing nothing but playing video games. My grandmother was always cooking for me. Eventually, we reestablished our once loving relationship, after almost a decade of being apart. As time progressed, she got fed up with me leeching off of her, so she told me that I needed to find a job.
I didn’t want to work, but I didn’t want to be yelled at either.
I decided that I would hate being yelled at more than being unemployed, so I went on Craigslist. I applied to about twenty jobs. I took the first job that called me back. The whole motivation behind finding a job wasn’t to find something that I wanted to do, but to not be yelled at, so I didn’t thoroughly research the company I had worked for.
He had hired twenty people initially to do outside sales with the easiest task in the world. Within the first month, everyone, aside from me and two other people had quit. I hit my quota so I thought I would be getting my free iPad bonus that had been promised to me. Yet, that wasn’t delivered. Then my cash payment plan was changed out to equity. I technically started working for free, he tried to make me feel better by giving me a ton of responsibilities, a VP of Marketing position, and handed me over a ton of worthless stock, that accounted for 5% of the company’s worth.
Eventually, I was fed up, so I left.
I decided that I could no longer work in Orange County, nor freeload off my grandmother, so I decided it was time to move back to LA. I borrowed a few hundred dollars from my friend, which I have paid back, lived on a sofa and recovered. Eventually, I found the job I am at today.
In the interim, I tried to do a few things. However, much like my other ventures, they all led to a failure. Now, I’ve been working here for the last two and a half years, in the exact same position, without moving up or down. I have had plenty of time to reflect back and figure out all the lessons that this life gave me.
Through my personal time of reflection, I came to realize that most of the decisions I made throughout my life were made because I didn’t understand my grandfather’s death. Ultimately, I forgot who he was, and locked away the memories of how much he had loved me deep underneath my subconscious mind, and tossed away the key. This ended up being the underlying issue that has held me back and forced me to be a trapped victim of my own life, failing consistently.
There are times when I can do nothing but think of how much my grandfather had loved me. What he had done to make me smile. How genuine and sincere he was. How unconditional the love he was which shared with me. I reflect back and look at how much of a disappointment I have been, since I didn’t grow up to be like his image. I didn’t grow up to be the man that he had raised me to become.
I try my best, to live up to his image. To be like him. To help others. To smile. To share my love. Deep down inside my heart, I hope he is looking down on me and guiding me through life. One day, I hope that I can even make him proud, for the person I become.
However, at the end of the day, sometimes all I can do is wonder, what in the world have I been doing with my life?
Originally posted on Quora.
Leonard Kim is Managing Partner at InfluenceTree. At InfluenceTree, Leonard and his team teach you how to build your (personal or business) brand, get featured in publications and growth hack your social media following.