Dear Diary – I Dare You to Be You

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Dear Diary,

It has been a long time since we last corresponded. In fact, I don’t believe that I have written to you since 2005-2007, you know, way back during those dark days, perhaps the most depressing years of my life. Well, a lot has changed since then… In fact, I don’t even know if you would recognize me anymore…

But before we get started, perhaps it would be appropriate if we looped the following audio track, which I’m sure you’ll recall was sort of our theme song from back in the day…

After all, who doesn’t like rooting for the underdog?

Ok, that’s better… I don’t think I’d be able to write this post without having the right ambiance in place…

So, let’s get started…

The Early Years

Like most everyone else, I came into this world not knowing much. And it wasn’t until I was about 7-8 years old that I realized that life wasn’t always going to be smooth sailing for someone like me. I forget exactly when it happened, but I’ll always remember what was said to me… I believe it was during little league baseball practice when a kid on my own team shouted to me, “You’re too Chinese to be any good at sports…

Welcome to reality.

Looking back, what was expressed to me was nothing more than trivial, but as a young, impressionable kid just getting started in the Game of Life, I dunno what it was about that encounter, but I was just never able to forget it… To this day, I’d say that was probably the first gut check that I received in life… I mean, I can still hear the voice of the little kid who muttered those words at me…

Anyway, when it comes down to it, I think it’s just my own personality more than anything else… I’ve always embraced critics, naysayers, doubters, haters, and everyone else who has ever told me why I can’t do something… Some people say that they like to live life “with a chip on their shoulders.” For me, I’ve always proceeded with the mindset that there’s “a big ass boulder riding on top of me.”

Right or wrong, that’s what has always been the spark that has driven me in my life.

High School

Moving along, I guess the first bouts of real adversity that I faced in life manifested during the good ol’ high school years. At 14 years old, I started bagging groceries on the weekends so that I could have some spending money. It wasn’t long after I first started working at The Commissary when one of my fellow co-workers tried to pull a fast one on me… I walked into work one Sunday morning and my manager quickly grabbed me by the arm and said, “We need to talk. You’re in big trouble…

As it turns out, the person who I had worked with the day before (they used to assign two baggers/workers to a line) accused me of stealing her wages (we got paid by customer tips only, no salary). Coincidentally, since this person just so happened to be the daughter of the store manager, you could say that the odds were already stacked up against me. Since I knew that I had done nothing wrong, I defended myself vehemently, but to no avail… My accuser was !#@*!!! with rage, verbally assaulting me right in front of customers and other co-workers. She even went as far as to say, “If you weren’t just some young punk kid, I’d knock your ass out right now.

My manager settled the dispute by declaring that neither one of us should be allowed to work with one another again… This girl thought that I had gotten off on “easy street”. Unfortunately for me, I had to work under constant scrutiny, which came with the territory of being labeled as “someone you need to keep a close eye on.” Granted, I had a good amount of support from some of the older co-workers who knew that I was a good kid (and did nothing wrong), but when someone attempts to stigmatize you, people are gonna be inclined to believe the things that they hear…

Whether true or not.

Yup, chalk it up as another life lesson on the intricacies of human behavior and human psychology…

I was guilty until proven innocent…

Well, in all honesty, this little ordeal with this co-worker was no big deal… Looking back, I can see why she behaved the way that she did… This girl was a few years older than me, maybe 17, and she already had a kid that she had to support… Life couldn’t have been easy for her…

I guess you could just say that I learned to be empathetic towards people at a very young age… Learning to take the high road…

And I used to be naive enough to think that if you treated people the right way, they would extend the same level of courtesy and respect towards you…


I don’t believe in that kind of nonsense no more… But I still try my best.


Which brings me to my first real heartbreak… Growing up as a kid, I had many best friends… However, around 4th grade, I finally found someone who I thought would be my best friend for life… I mean, we just clicked so well, and treated each other like family… We did everything together — homework assignments, sports, videogames, you know, all the things that kids like to do… But by freshmen year in high school, everything changed… I think probably due to the fact that I was no longer around during the weekends (due to work), our friendship slowly disintegrated, unbeknownst to me… And by the end of the year, I had a falling out with somebody else over some pretty petty shit… Ultimately, however, when it came time to choose sides, my “best friend” completely ditched me and sided with the other person… I was not good enough…


Such is life…


Again, I realize this is all stupid adolescent drama… but the pain inflicted was real, and those wounds… I guess they never truly healed for me… The scars never faded away, even with time…

I guess more than anything else, once you have a string of events like the aforementioned happen to you over and over again, I dunno, you start to lose hope, and you start doubting things more and more… Like, what is it about me? What am I doing wrong? Why can I never measure up to other people’s standards?

But as tough as things might have been for me in high school, deep down I thought that I would always be alright, because no matter what happened, at least I knew that I could count on my other half, my other best friend, my girlfriend, who would always have my back and stay by my side…


College Years


My other “best friend” also chose to desert me shortly before I was able to transfer to UC Berkeley to finish up my undergraduate career. Up until college (since the 8th grade), we were always kind of each other’s “rock”, two peas in a pod, but things started to change once high school ended. You see, she was a direct admit into UC Berkeley, and she had BIG dreams for her future. She wanted to study business, get her MBA, and climb up the corporate ladder, so that perhaps one day she could become a Vice President or CEO of MegaCorp… On one hand, you’ve got this up and coming big shot, and attached to her is this loafer kid who was beginning his college years trying to grasp the basic concepts of Pre-Calculus… A “remedial” math course, if you will, for all those high-achieving advanced placement (AP) whizz kids, like my girlfriend…

I was this degenerate who barely graduated high school… I don’t even think I was able to maintain above a 3.0 GPA during those 4 years… Yup, I’ll never forget when the days of high school were wrapping up and another good buddy of mine asked me, “So, what do you want to do with your life?” I replied with confidence, “Engineering.” His response? “Bro, you’re too dumb to be an engineer…

Heh, I never forgot that “burn” either…

Anyway, most anyone could see the incompatibility that was growing day-by-day… Well, everyone except for my own dumbass… I thought we were fine and happier than ever… What a naive little kid I really was…

Yes, I even once believed we would one day grow old together…

As was the case before with the bagging groceries gig, I became consumed with my studies, determined to succeed with engineering, despite all the haters telling me that I was destined to fail… Meanwhile, my girlfriend had landed a sweet internship in San Francisco, and was busy mixing it up with “working professionals.” Before long, she had established rapport with many of her colleagues, and looking back, I should have been able to see all the signs quickly emerging… She used to beam when she talked about a certain co-worker… How this guy had his life all together, and was mentoring her, and teaching her so much about life and business…

Yes, he was just this totally awesome, upstanding guy who had no hidden agenda…

Of course… NOT

Well, as luck fate would have it, my world fell apart once again when one morning, my girlfriend called me up and said, “We need to talk… I did something last night that you should know about…

My entire universe came crumbling down, yet again… 🙁

The people you love most can indeed hurt you the most… by far, the most…

Initially, we tried to work things out… But I could never get over the betrayal… I was just unable to ever look at her the same way again… Everytime I looked into her eyes, I saw a person staring back at me who thought, “You are no longer good enough for me… I’m an aspiring MBA who is going to graduate from Cal-Berkeley… I’m going places… I’m a rising star in this world… I’m moving on to bigger and better things… You’re just a community college bum who is still taking remedial math classes…

And no, it definitely did not help matters any when she admitted to me that she had growing feelings for this new guy in her life!!

I don’t remember the last thing she ever said to me, but I do remember the following remarks she left me with, which are now forever etched into my soul… On many occasions, I have used them as fuel to propel me forward…


You’re like a blade of grass… You don’t know what you want out of life… You’re so passive and weak… You just drift about aimlessly, letting the wind take you wherever it wants.


Fare thee well, my Mercedes…


But life goes on.


Next chapter.


A blade of grass…


Those are the words that I used to motivate me to bust my ass 24/7 while at UC Berkeley… I went into my junior year with such a massive boulder on my shoulder…

  • You’re not good enough.
  • You can’t hack it here.
  • You don’t belong here.
  • You’ll never be one of us…

It wasn’t easy by any means, but through sheer will and perseverance, I was able to make it and accomplish the first real dream I ever had for myself… I graduated Cal with two engineering degrees, in Mechanical and Materials Science Engineering.

In a span of 4 years, I was able transform myself from someone who was barely able to graduate high school into someone who was “destined to change the world“… Or at least that’s what the Commencement Speaker told us we would all do…

Finally, I was now a part of the “we”…

Post-College Years

But as usual, it wouldn’t take long before the odds stacked up against me again. During my final semester at Cal, I had decided that I didn’t want to pursue a career in either Mechanical Engineering or Materials Science…

No, I wanted to pursue Electrical Engineering (EE), my true passion.

There was only one minor “inconvenient truth”…

Nobody hires electrical engineers who didn’t study EE as undergrads… Especially, NOT in Silicon Valley… Seriously, who the hell is going to hire YOU when they have access to the brightest and best minds in the entire world? Don’t be naive, you’re NOT that good…

Against all odds, I chose not to listen… I’m hard-headed like that.

I’ll prove you all wrong yet again, I told myself… I will make this happen, or die trying…

Well, as has been well documented on my blog, I have struggled with burn out and adrenal fatigue thanks to my Type A personality, which was on full display during those first few years post-college… Yup, somehow I thought it would be a good idea to work 40 hour weeks, and in addition take 3 full-time graduate level EE courses concurrently during weeknights. Yes, I even volunteered to work weekends on many occasions too…

But slowly but surely, year after year, I was able to improve my skills and build up my knowledge base. I started off my electrical engineering career in Silicon Valley as an intern (you might as well have called me Janitor since I did take out the trash on many occasions).

Humble Beginnings.

The story of my life.

Working hard, pushing myself to the MAX, trying to so desperately convince everyone else around me (including myself) that I was good enough to make it here… The uphill battle continued… Just like community college and UC Berkeley before it, succeeding in high-tech was not easy… All around me were PhD’s from MIT, Caltech, Stanford, etc.


What could I possibly do to gain an edge?


First one in the office and last one out the door… I did all that shit with unwavering regularity…

Along the way, eventually, I did finish off that Master’s Degree in EE as well.


“This is how I did it Anton… I never saved anything for the swim back…” -Vincent Freeman, Gattaca


During the early years, I dealt with a lot of abuse… Many of the senior engineers didn’t want to work with a green rookie such as myself… When they found out my background was in Mechanical and Materials Science Engineering, they scoffed at me… I was looked upon as a liability by a few peers… One senior designer even had a one-on-one meeting with my boss, probably begging my boss to re-assign me to another project, he was so scared I would end up costing him his job… I won’t lie, it was another tough pill for me to have to swallow…

To make a long story short, over time, I not only found a way to become a competent electrical engineer, but somehow in the process, I taught myself software engineering as well… I got so good at a certain skillset that I once demo’d my software platform for a Director and Senior Principal Engineer, and their remarks were, “This is incredible work… What you have demonstrated here, I don’t think any other group in the entire company has this kind of capability…

I’m not bragging…

Eventually, word got around and more and more people were taking notice of my software program. When I moved to Orange County, I was even tasked with training up the engineering team, many members who were more senior than me… Some of these co-workers were not pleased, to say the least… But like I said, I am daring enough to just be myself, regardless of whatever curveballs life decides to throw at me… So, I did my best to be patient with these people… I would work with certain engineers, trying to explain the same concepts 10+ times (over and over and over again), never losing my way with any of them… At one point, one co-worker got so frustrated with their lack of progress that they lashed out at me, making sure to emphasize how “stupid” they thought my software program was…

Nevertheless, I took everything bad that was said about me in stride… I didn’t fight fire back with fire… As usual, I took the high road, which can be a damn lonely road at times…


Throughout my entire journey in life (not just engineering), I’ve simply had the audacity to ALWAYS be me… I never knew if I was breaking any rules because I never played by any rules… When you’re designing something from the ground up with no instruction manual, there’s no one to tell you why something can’t work… You fuckin find a way to make it work…


The Sky CAN Be the Limit, if you never set boundaries for yourself…

From We Follow Pics.


Because I ALWAYS believed in myself, despite all the haters and naysayers who tried to get in my way, I was able to beat the odds and fulfill another dream of mine; the epitome of my engineering career arrived when I was hired by Apple Inc. in 2014. In a span of 11 years, I went from being a high school NOBODY to being qualified enough to work at the greatest engineering firm on the planet…


Welcome to Gattaca.

AAPL - 1 (1)


And so it has been the story of my life… Trying to beat the odds, again and again…


“You can not time the market. Its impossible. FI Fighter, you have simply fell prey to the same emotional response so many people have during volatilty. If you would relax and stayed in the market you would be fine.”


“Your strategies are starting to become pretty out there.. I am more reading for entertainment now than anything else.”


“I don’t see why you think you are special and will succeed with the timing aspect when most people fail.”


“Folks will be thinking how long till he changes his tune again.”


Rock on, haters…


It is NEVER popular to go against the grain! Challenge the mainstream and you will be shitted on… Repeatedly… But why should I care? I have been unpopular my entire life, going all the way back to grade school, to middle school, to high school, to college, to my entire engineering career. Why would I expect anything different for my blog and post-FI life?

Whatever… I’m used to it and I accept it as fact.

People can rip on me all they want… I know that I’m not that smart… But throughout my entire life I have NEVER been afraid to be myself. I would rather march alongside an empty road than to join ranks with the rest of the pack, if they’re doing something that I don’t agree with; I don’t mind being one with the crowds, but everything must first go through my own internal filter… I refuse to follow others blindly just because I fear going at things alone!

When I first started blogging in 2012, I had the initial goal of retiring by 37.5. I didn’t know if that goal was realistic, but I decided to “shoot for the stars”, anyway.

With some luck, I was able to retire from engineering at the age of 31.

I’m not sure how many people actually thought that I would be able to achieve this… But then again, I live my own life without restriction… I couldn’t care less what conventional wisdom thinks I should be or shouldn’t be doing.

For awhile, there were readers who expected me to become a pure dividend growth investor (DGI). And then, real estate investing (REI) came along… Nowadays, it’s gold, silver, and lithium… But you know what? I can NEVER be just one thing or another…

That’s just not how I live my life, and I’m sorry if I’m disappointing anyone out there who expects that of me, but I’m not about to change anytime soon. As a matter of fact, as the years go on, I’m just becoming more and more assertive with my conviction to live life on my own terms.

  • I ain’t a dividend growth investor.
  • I ain’t a real estate investor.
  • I ain’t a goldbug or silverbug.
  • I ain’t taking no lithium pills…

I am a financial freedom fighter.

I’m just being me.

That’s it!

I am a human being, first and foremost.

At the end of the day, when the lights finally go out, all I want is to be able to say:

“I gave life everything I had. I did my absolute best to do as much good as I possibly could. I was a kind, patient person. Most importantly, I was a genuine human being.”


And let me be crystal clear — Although I’m most proud of my accomplishments, nothing that I’ve achieved up to now was anything special. I simply believed in myself and kept on going.


I never felt sorry for myself.

I never settled for less than I deserved.

I never gave up and quit.


Whenever I was dealt negativity, I did my absolute best to try and harness it so that I could turn it into something more positive and constructive. I knew that I wanted more out of life and it made no sense for me to indulge in self-pity (as much as I wanted to, and believe me I wanted to!), constantly walking around dejected, feeling hopeless and defeated.

That’s what losers do… I wasn’t gonna have none of that; in my heart of hearts I’ve ALWAYS believed that I possessed the heart of a champion.

So, like the Energizer Bunny, I kept on going and I’m going to keep on going, going, and going, regardless…


Bottom line, it’s my life, and I ONLY get one crack at it… Why concede control of your destiny to someone else? Why let other people make you feel powerless? If I’m going to go out, I’m going to go out swinging and with guns blazing!


Now, as one chapter ends and another one begins, I’m once again preparing myself mentally for the challenges that await me.


I can already hear the whispers coming out out of Hong Kong now:


Don’t come here, you’re not good enough…


Well, as of right now, no, my Cantonese is not good enough…


But let me get to work, yet again… and I’ll prove you wrong! 🙂


“For someone who was never meant for this world, I must confess I’m suddenly having a hard time leaving it. Of course, they say every atom in our bodies was once part of a star. Maybe I’m not leaving… maybe I’m going home.” -Vincent Freeman, Gattaca


And now, I will leave here with the words that have served as my guiding light for so many years…


(The source of the Mercedes reference I made earlier):


“There is neither happiness nor unhappiness in this world; there is only the comparison of one state with another. Only someone who has experienced the depths of despair is capable of feeling ultimate bliss. It is necessary to have wished for death in order to know how good it is to live.” -Edmond Dantes, The Count of Monte Cristo


(Now, I’m on a quest to find my life partner and best friend, knowing that):


“The sum of all human wisdom is contained in these two words: Wait and Hope.” -Edmond Dantes, The Count of Monte Cristo

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4 years ago

I love this! It’s pretty amazing that you continuously reject everyone’s BS and keep killin’ it. That’s so rare to see! Keep at it, and I will have to get on your level soon 🙂

4 years ago

Enjoy the next journey! I look forward to your updates!

“Don’t come here, you’re not good enough…“
haha. Coming from HK, I can tell you that some people in Hong Kong are pretty snobbish. We judge everything. Don’t let it get to you. I will be visiting HK next year

4 years ago

You’re great!
One of my favourite movies …Gattaca

4 years ago

I like what Arnold Schwarzenegger said:

“I’m not a quitter.

It’s like a dog. You can kick a dog so long and it will do one of two things

It’s either gonna roll over and die…

or it’s gonna bite you and attack you.

And I’m the type of a dog who will bite back.

I wasn’t gonna roll over and quit.”

You need to watch this:

4 years ago

Keep fighting J! I’ve been following all your posts and have enjoyed them all. Hope you enjoy HK and don’t forget to check out all the neighboring sites as well.

4 years ago

Keep fighting the good fight, I think I graduated 65th in my class from HS. Went to college with no clear direction of what I wanted to do but knowing that I would never make it in the corporate world. I am semi retired in my late 20s so I think I did alright 🙂

4 years ago

Really inspiring story, J! Keep on fighting and I hope you all the success in HK and wherever life takes you after.

Love the Gattaca references 🙂


Midwestern Landlord
Midwestern Landlord
4 years ago

Thanks for sharing Jay. A couple of songs I like that follow the independence theme of not following the herd. “Sheep” by Pink Floyd and “Drive” by Incubus. I like the thought process of just wanting to be yourself wherever that takes you. That is one of the main reasons that working for corporate america was not really a gig that I liked. I want to think for myself and do things the way I see fit. In a hierarchy you just don’t get that flexibility unless you are in a special situation or are the boss. And even then,… Read more »

4 years ago

wow, congrats FIFighter for your relentless fight against haters and people who spend their miserable lives to pull other down!

I stopped fighting them long ago, I’m just sad when this happens among people I like or people I have to spend time with.

In the end, a hater is just someone who’s scared to face the fact that actions could change their life. If you succeed, they too have to try something. If you fail… “Told ya if was stupid! Do you think you’re better than me now that you tried??”

Scared people.

4 years ago

You are only one of very few people that do things after said. The results really proved that you are making things happen.

All the naysayer and haters are just noises of our lives.

Great to see your face and enjoying Gundam. Haha I was a big fan when I was growing up.



Aaron @IncomeHoncho
4 years ago

I started my original blog around 2012 too, wish i could’ve kept it. Congrats to you for sticking with it all these years. Hard work do pay off.

4 years ago

Starting over in a new country is never easy but enjoy the journey. Looking forward to reading the updates as they come.

Eric Bowlin
4 years ago

I understand your story well. It’s quite a journey. The fact is, most people will do everything they can to completely crap on everyone around them…even their own friends and family. When I was getting started in real estate, everybody said what I wanted to do was impossible. I think only my parents supported me, and even then they would caveat “well…isn’t that really risky?”… Then I grew and other people would tell me it’s impossible (even though I was already succeeding). People still tell me that what I do is impossible…even though it’s clearly not. Retiring young, being independent… Read more »

No Nonsense Landlord
4 years ago

You have done well. Now, you will have to go the route of keeping it. Will your investment strategy change? Will you go to preservation mode, or keep swinging for the fences?

Keep going strong, there is more to life than work.