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Letter to 18-Year-Old Kenneth

Dear 18-year-old Kenneth,

I see you sitting in your dorm room pouring over stacks of biology textbooks by the light of your desk lamp in Stone Mountain (20 miles from Atlanta). It’s been half a year since you moved from Kansas and 18 months since you left Hong Kong. You love to bike, but you never dreamed that one day you’d be a national and world champ, ever. That experience in itself will teach you to never underestimate what you could do with the power of your determination.

I have three takeaways I want to gift to you. They will be the difference between happiness and sadness, gain and loss, success and failure. You’ll always circle back to these three qualities. Be aware of them, use them and don’t lose sight of them. They’ll get us to where we want to be.

1. Resourcefulness

The first is resourcefulness. Everyone quotes Tony Robbins, so much so, it’s trite. But I do want you to know and take in deep, like a big breath of fresh air, that you always have resources at your disposal. When you don’t have money, you can have optimism, creativity, and excitement.

There’s an infinite abundance inside you, and there will be times when you’ll be alone and feel like you have nothing. It’s in those times that you need to remember to take that deep breath and know the fundamental difference between having resources and being resourceful, just like Tony Robbins says.

When you start out, you won’t have resources. You have to dig deep into your resourcefulness. So what does that mean? It could mean that you have to hustle. That you wake up every day for 5 years and ask yourself “what can I possibly do today to help me create the opportunity that will lead me to the place I want to be?”

That’s exactly what resourcefulness is: it’s having the will to create the opportunity that doesn’t exist. You understand that the statistical odds are against you, but you know to bank on the miracle made possible by your will and your perseverance. This brings us to grit.

2. Grit

Kiddo, you gotta have grit. By now, you’ve already had a taste of grit. Especially in those first few months you moved from Hong Kong to the US. It felt utterly strange at first, like no one understood you. A bright and chirpy lad you were, it didn’t take you long to become all stars and stripes. It took grit to keep alienation at bay. And you’ll need it again.

Grit means you gotta have the willingness to fail, and to fail spectacularly, knowing full well that it’s not a failure. It’s exactly what needed to happen to get you to learn what you needed to learn and to be where you needed to be.

Grit means hitting the gym even when you don’t feel like it, taking another deep breath and re-assessing your options even in the face of having no options. Grit means letting the vision lead, no matter how defeated you might feel in the moment.

3. Resilience

And finally, resilience. Resilience is simple, Kenneth. Life is full of ups and downs. Deaths of a love one, loss of a job, serious illness and other traumatic events are bound to happen over the course of your life. Don’t be paralyzed with emotions and uncertainty. Come back stronger; rise from ashes. Treat failures and heartbreaks as a form of helpful feedback.

In simple Darwinian terms: adapt or die. And to adapt, your eyes have to be open to what’s around you, what’s possible and what’s the best fit for you. This is resilience, it’s the willingness to shape-shift to fit the circumstances, and to change yourself if you can’t change your environment. Environmental threats come in various guises. Master these three gifts in this letter, you will be well-equipped for the voyage ahead.

Lots of love,