I am the son of Shunfu Hu and Ning Yong, two Chinese immigrants that escaped the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution to the United States in the late 90’s. Before my brain became capable of making memories, my family relocated south from my birthplace in Oshkosh to Edwardsville, Illinois, where my father had landed a new teaching job at SIUe (Southern Illinois University of Edwardsville). My parents, my older sister, my younger brother and I lived comfortably in a two-story home, living the stereotypical suburbia life.
When I was about eight years old, the biggest change of my life as I knew it took place. I was picked up and thrown into a two-bedroom apartment in the wealthiest city outside of St. Louis. As our upper-middle-class family was moved two “class ranks” down, it suddenly became hard to fit in. The majority of people around me were filthy rich, and I wasn’t. Their parents were surgeons, lawyers, and high-ranking businessmen; my father was a professor and my mother a beauty technician at a small spa.
Fortunately, nobody really knew what money meant at the time. In the 2nd grade, all everyone cared about was candy, LEGOs and having playdates, not realizing that you needed green pieces of paper or plastic rectangles to get what you wanted.
Fast forward a couple of years, and suddenly, it’s the cool thing to have a cell phone. It didn’t matter which one — if you had an electronic thing you could call someone on and stuff in your pocket, you were the most popular. And, as someone who desperately wanted to fit in with everyone else, I cried over one. I begged and begged, but my parents never saw a reason to give me one. They were right, who was I going to call? Text? Including my parents, maybe four or five people at best. As annoying and bratty I imagine myself being, my sister eventually bought me one.
And that started the snowball effect.
In such a small community with a class size of about 150 people, middle school was a constant race to be the best, the smartest, the most popular. With our voices starting to drop, heights starting to rise and hormones riling us up, we didn’t think of it as a race anymore: it was life or death.
The snowball effect? You had to buy your way up. Who had the most brand name clothing? Who had the latest technology? I remember crying over the fact that my father wouldn’t buy me an iPhone 4 when it first came out.
“Everyone else has one, why don’t I?” I would often ask myself.
Kids back then were donning outfits easily over $200 while my brother and I were wearing hand-me-downs from family friends. Occasionally, my sister would take us out to Hollister or Abercrombie and get us a nice shirt or two, but that was it.
This kind of lifestyle never really died out for me until my first year in college. In my head, I still thought that to be attractive to girls, you had to have a lot of money and spoil them. I thought that in order to be academically successful, you needed the best computer, the most expensive education. My parents hammered over and over again into my brain that in order to become successful, you had to be rich. It was all about the money.
When I ended up with a full ride to the most affordable university in the Midwest and unpacked my bags at Truman State, I realized that it wasn’t material wealth that made you popular or likable. Nobody cared.
Tau Kappa Epsilon, the fraternity I ended up rushing the fall of my freshman year, had a motto that summed it up perfectly.
[People should be judged not by] wealth, rank or honor, but for personal worth and character.
As the statement slowly rubbed off on me, everything that I was taught by my parents slowly crumbled away. I realized that I was my own person, that even though my parents had supported and guided me in every way since my birth, I was given the opportunity to pave my own path, even if one was already set out for me.
The six-figure salaries, the mansions, and Ferraris — all of that slowly stopped mattering so much to me.
After reading dozens of those self-improvement guides, the books designed to improve the quality of your life, I decided to turn the last pages of them in the middle of freshman year of college. As someone who desperately wanted to live a better life and become a more improved version of myself every day, I sought help from the wiser individuals that had far more life experience under their wings than I did. Every book that they had bound together had effectively made me what I strived to become. I was thinking more critically, taking steps to evaluate my life more thoroughly, yet I still didn’t feel my goals becoming fulfilled.
As I finished reading Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life by world-renowned authors and bloggers Joshua Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, I still felt emptiness.
Although every value presented in the book was clearly developed, each story with a human presence, I only felt uneasy trying to follow their ideals word for word. I looked through all of the charts filled with relationships, diet changes and “must” lists I had strewn across my workspace and realized that each of these books was not a guide for leading a better life, but instead, it came to me that they were
ideal versions of other people’s lives
and not something for me to follow with detail. Instead, they were stories of how they improved their own lives, their discovery of the lifestyle that suited them best. It was more of a testimony, akin to one that often comes with religion, of how the shift in their lives benefitted them.
However, as much as I wanted to believe it, their “how-to’s” wasn’t for me. Hell, I didn’t think it was for anyone except for the authors who had been developing them through their entire lives and thought it worked so well they wrote a book on it.
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations. Such a large block of text of mundane details of my life and how I came to be writing here, that must have been hard to read. Yet, this is my “how-to” that you can follow me along for. Here, you will be asked to question your very essence in how you go about living life and ask yourself the following question:
Is my life perfect? If not, how can I get as close as possible to that state?
Here is my goal to develop the Perfect ideal. Thanks for reading.