4 Meaningful Things I Wish I Knew Before Growing Up

Me with Grandma in China.

The world is this big scary mega congregation of random events, unpredictable messes, and catastrophic meaningless nothings. I fear earthquakes, bed bugs, car accidents, identity theft, and under-cooked chicken.

All in all, I am a chicken.

I have to stop summarizing the things I’m afraid of; it’s giving me the creeps typing all this out at midnight. It’s whacky when a person is having one of the worst days of their life, someone not more than a few city blocks away is probably having one of the best days of their life.

My teenage years were rough because I dug out the misery for myself. I had a very negative and very fixed mindset. Back then, I didn’t know the definition of “keeping a positive attitude.” My life was tepid at best because my mindset was fixed. I know, I know, that is what being a teenager is all about. But I still hold regret that I couldn’t see these 4 simple yet profound things I learned about the world until well beyond my college years and onward until adulthood. I was definitely a late bloomer. These are the 4 things I wish I knew before growing up and reaching adulthood.


My bestie in college told me if I ever decided to drop out of school, she would hook me up with her rich heir of a cousin from the Philippines who has a thing for petite Chinese girls. Sorry for the brazen example but I merely wanted to illustrate the ridiculousness of that possibility as a reflection of the number of choices one has in this world.

Related: Don’t (Nicolas) Cage Yourself In Financially

Here another example: 

I’ve heard the stories of Internet entrepreneurs who run skimpily profitable online companies. But because they can operate from anywhere with a good Wi-Fi signal, they are considered well off in the country of their chosen operation. Very well off in fact since some of them are able to operate it completely tax-free.

When I got out of college and started working two jobs to make ends meet, I looked around and realized I was holding onto the shorter end of the stick. What was even more shocking to me was how complacent my co-workers were. My coworkers moved faster than me, they processed information faster than me and they were able to carry out tasks that I found more difficult. My coworkers made the same amount of money as I did. They were just as unhappy as I was with the organization’s lack of direction. They dreaded coming in every morning too. But they were not hatching escape plans like I was every day.

I asked my coworker friend one day:

“do you see yourself doing this in 10 years?”

“dunno.” (smile and shrug)

“right but you didn’t picture this as your job when you were a little girl right?”

“no but it works.” (another smile and shrug)

I was flabbergasted. How did she (or anyone else there) get past 8 hours of this every day, 6 days a week? Not dreaming or shooting for FIRE – not that it’s the end all or be all but just something! We had coworkers who were 10 to 20 years older than us and they have been there hating their jobs for decades. They have families now, locked in, and they have no choice but to keep working to keep afloat despite the fact that they were once brilliant and talented people.

Can’t she see the impending doom in her complacency? In a world so full of other possibilities?

I registered we had to be different creatures. They ate out more and did more “stuff” around town. They had social lives. My determined savings rate (40% at a $40k/year income) did not allow for a life and thankfully I’m an introvert so I never felt like I missed out on anything (I still don’t).

Just to be clear: my coworker friend was certainly smarter than me. She was more social, more lovable, and I admire her in a way that she could be so OK about her missed dreams when my dreams of anything more seemed more alien the further I floated from college.

Related: At What Age Does Being Broke Stop Being Cute?

There are no dead ends, the road can get rougher but there are no dead ends.

The one thing that kept me going was my unhappiness with complacency. I went through so many short-term “joe-jobs” ) and throwing resume after resume on anything that would reflect a sliver of a pride in my production.

I didn’t want to become my coworkers. They hated their job, although the money was fine enough. I suppose you can get the family bills paid and afford some dinners out which was A-OK for them. I didn’t dream much for life but I couldn’t shut off the internal scream that there had to be more than this. It couldn’t just be the money. I cared more about money than all of them. I run a personal finance blog for fruity shakes! But I keep thinking…there must be hundreds of opportunities we pass by every day that could change our lives for the better. I just have to hunt them down, keep my eyes open, always.

There are options and benefits to being in such a big wide world.

Life is wide enough to be anywhere, do anything else than settle. I was not expecting a miracle, but unlike them, I believe I fought things harder.


I have to disclaimer those with criminal records; that’s not the world though, that’s the deputy’s office. The world doesn’t remember mistakes. No one is keeping a tally of your failures.

Understanding this is another form of self-love. For that point, I didn’t stand a chance. Having confidence and pride was not my parent’s priority. Traditional Asian parents want obedience, humility, and standardization from their children.

I don’t remember my SAT score. I remember I wasn’t too happy with it after I put off registering…and then oversleeping on the day of the exam…and then forgetting to bring my calculator…

My life turned out a lot better than what my SAT score predicted.

When you’re on the last train out of the teenage years, looking back, the things that happen seem to get stupider and stupider. Smaller and smaller.

They say the world is an unforgiving place. It can be. But it’s not much forgiving but forgetting. Which is what a person should do as well. The world moves fast and yesterday’s mistakes are forgotten until they’re repeated again. There’s no audience for your mistakes. And no need to dwell or look back any more than for reflection. People make a big deal about having a fresh start, having a new year resolution – no need to announce it or wait for that once a year to come around. Just do it.

It took me 2 days of trying to write out what I thought would be an easy post of a few hours max but I had a little Devil on my shoulder deleting the 4 out of 5 words I wrote out here. I keep thinking of the mistakes in everything I’ve done here. It is the worst mental plague that could nip and has nipped me in the past.


Sometimes the punk rocker kid sitting next to you in advanced algebra decides to set his shoes on fire in class (true story by the way) and I suppose it would be a surprise if that idiot then later grew up to own a profitable fire damage insurance company (just making this part up, I don’t know what happened to him). Although more likely than not, the guy that set his shoes on fire had poor compulsion, you never know what a person can pull out of their hat. I don’t know why it took me so long to realize the world is not supposed to be a linear place.

On this kooky rock, don’t ever assume 1+1 equals 2.

I was brought up in a linear environment and taught events that are linear in nature. If you do well in school, then you can go to a nice college, get a nice job, be part of the white-collar middle class and raise a family. My parents made the American Dream into a one-size-fits-all formula. I inherited those expectations for myself and I imagined things to work out in a linear form, just like my parents. I was ushered in like a school of little fishes from school to college and beyond. Some breather for self-discovery would have been nice.

There’s no difference in my life than the same thing that happened with the millions of others. I always dreamt of doing things my way. That’s one reason why I wrote this. All I wanted to do my entire life was to try to succeed in doing something I want to do. I am willing to struggle for my path as long as I’m not being compared with my parent’s social circle of friends and their children.

Colonel Sanders slept in the back of his car at age 65 trying to sell his Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise across the country. A girl can admire that.

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Most people have linear modes of thinking because linear thoughts are safer. The linear thinking was a part of the fixed mindset I had. It took me a long time to realize these patterns are self-imposed. I had to do something shocking and twisted to move against my fate for the fate I wanted (more secrets on that next time). If I didn’t fight and complacency kept me at bay I wouldn’t have anything I have now. I would be stuck at my old job with my coworkers zonked out by routine despite dreading having to come in every day.

OK, my last mini-rant isn’t much of a meaningful thing but it is something that’s super obvious that I recently learned…in conclusion…


All throughout my life I just told myself to exist. If my father was having a bad day and I’m bound to get the short end of the stick when he came home the only thing I had to do was exist to endure. It’s this passive, apathetic, sleepy feeling where you can be somewhere else and someone else. Eventually, I became so good at it, it was hard for me to come back down to Earth. I am a master of passive existing. There was no end goal, I was just protecting myself.

I told myself when I’m older, I’ll find someplace where I’m happy.

I continued to muddle through the teenage years – young adulthood years. Then I slowly began to realize the lessons above. They made existence better so I came back to reality and tried to be productive with a passion. I started to believe in everything (above) and changed my perspective to something better.

There are days (like today) when I want to kiss the dog drooled carpet of our house. I happily kiss my smelly husband who hasn’t bathed in a few days. I can feel every bit of my happiness simmering and stewing inside my body cavity. Lookie here, I’ve slowly carved out a fitting little knuckerhole for myself that is far better than my childhood and my teenage years combined. This life of mine might not be perfect but it is far better than what I imagined.

I have zero doubt that I would be here without gathering the 4 lessons above first. Looking at these now and calling them profound seems silly. To me, they make more sense than anything else right now.

That’s it – thanks for reading. I think this is my favorite thing I’ve written so far. I’m very tired now so good night guys. Ciao ciao ciao ciao!

60 thoughts on “4 Meaningful Things I Wish I Knew Before Growing Up”

  • The options we have are indeed huge, and it’s very easy to get tunnel vision on what you’re “supposed to do” and not even see them.

    And the non-linearity shows up in many amazing ways. Well said!

  • I could totally relate to the bit about the “one size fit all” approach that Asian parents take. My parents STILL think that people who don’t go to college should, even if they’ve proven to be successful [case in point: family friend who dropped out of college and now has a successful IT consulting business. My parents are still convinced she could be MORE successful if she went back to college at the age of 30].

    I’ve learned that we remember our own mistakes FAR longer than other people do. It’s ok to cut yourself some slack!
    Ying-Navigatingadulthood recently posted…Saying Goodbye- Why I’m Giving Up Blogging [For Now]

  • <33

    I've had the same realization, looking around and seeing every long-term employee trying to do the bare minimum every day and hate their job. I get that there are responsibilities that sometimes force you to do these things (I'm working a "joe-job" 😉 right now, just so I can save the money I make from it!) – but so many people are just content to stay in a job they hate, that doesn't do anything for them. It's depressing. I'm glad you used that as a motivating force.

    I'm so happy to have the time to read your stuff again!!!!

  • “All I wanted to do my entire life was to try to succeed in doing something I want to do. I am willing to struggle for my path as long as I’m not being compared with my parent’s social circle of friends and their children.” Hehe, we’re the same there. I crave financial freedom so badly because I just want to do what I want to do when I want to do it. I used to think I was a bum if I didn’t have those external drivers pushing me onto the next thing…a thing I wasn’t even sure I wanted! But I have enough confidence now that I have so many diverse interests I could dedicate myself to if only I didn’t have to keep on keeping on with the 9 to 5. And yeah, family pressure and the comparison circle is a real thing! I don’t like it one bit.
    Jing recently posted…3 Times My Savings Saved Me

      • I would LOVE to work on a novel, create more art, make editorial style websites in MY style with no one else’s agenda but mine! I’m still thinking on all the other stuff 😛 I don’t have a FIRE number yet because I don’t have kids and that’s just a giant red question mark for how much I’ll need to account for them + college + house? if I stay in the bay area. If I could be a hermit, 1.5 million would be more than safe in my mind.
        Jing recently posted…Money Diaries: August Week 4

    • 😳 Ahhh Amy! I’m not worthy but omg you’re so sweet. It totally made my day thank yous!!! 😆 I try to be a nice member in the PF community because well, our community is so awesome. 😳

  • Ok. So I thoroughly enjoyed this post. And I’m not just saying that. Nor did I skim through, which I do quite often because of the lack of time I have. I’m taking a dump right now so I had a good 5 minutes to read through. Lol sorry for the imagery. Anyways, I was always a dreamer but like you, I think especially Asians grow up with very linear thinking. You get good grades, you go to a good college, and get the degrees and licenses and certifications, you marry well, and you get an established 9-5 career with a fortune 500 type company. Like Samsung or something. And that’s what success is. But in America, people dream a lot more I realized. I guess it makes sense. America is very independent-minded no wonder there are more entrepreneurs here. I was always super aggressive though with my ambitions. Because I was always ambitious. To a fault. Like you, when I looked around, I didn’t want to just merely eke out an existence. I’m always asking myself WHY NOT ME. WHY NOT? I think my anthem is Katy Perry’s song called Rise. Not sure if you’ve heard of it but I love it. Every time I listen to it it gives me chills. “I won’t just survive. You will see me thrive!” And “victory is in my veins.” I don’t want to merely exist…I refuse to do that. Thanks for sharing such a personal story!

    • It’s not so much the imagery Tim *Pat pat* but it’s that I now know how long you take to poop. LOL! 😆😆😆

      Of course I’ve heard of that song 👏 and yes I feel the exact same. I don’t even like Perry but that’s a great song, whoever wrote it for her. It’s exactly how I feel. I wish you mucho more success and I’ll keep pushing for mine. My biggest fear is having my children someday grow up and I have done nothing in life for them to be proud of me…

      I believe in entrepreneurship and fighting my own path. Maybe because I was never good at the traditional path. I was a good student but not a top studious student.

  • Beautiful, Lily. One of the best posts I’ve read this week. And it really hit home. For 20 years I allowed complacency to chain me to a job I hated. Thankfully, Mrs Groovy came along and provided the spur I needed to do something with my life. You are so fortunate to have learned the dangers of complacency at a young age. I hope this post reaches a large number of work zombies out there and they heed your wisdom.

    • Thank you Mr G!!! I just assumed something was wrong with me for a while. I just knew the picture wasn’t right, I’m still confused how they do it day in and day out and spend the way they do. You mention Mrs. G as the catalyst for your FIRE, bravo on fetching that bird hehe 🐦 💓

  • These are some great tips, Lily. As I’ve transitioned from college to the “real world”, I’ve felt lost at times. I can relate to a lot of what you’ve written and its really helped me put things into perspective. I’m bookmarking this post because I love it so much so thank you! 🙂

  • You are so correct. It matters little where you start the journey. I know people from high school who were in AP and did not complete college. I also know someone who was bottom of his class in high school who went on to earn an advanced degree and reach a $1M net worth by age 40. It is a long life with many opportunities to change and succeed.
    Dave recently posted…Next Steps to Take After Paying Down Student Debt

  • Exuberance makes an incredible difference in my life. I’m a temp but I have used the money to start a business and am learning another skill to double my gig income. My coworkers complain about our job, but do nothing to change their situation.

    • I love this ZJ! Thank you for sharing, I love your energy.

      (Not loving my comment system though, I dug this out of the spam box, I’m sorry!!! Crazy tech.)

  • “The world is not always linear” phrase struck a chord with me as well. There have been so many times I’ve stumbled along the way, where I felt like the train had derailed. Then through some perseverance & luck, I ended up on a better path with a better trajectory. I think it’s hard for people who have always just excelled (like my wife) to understand, but sometimes stumbling is the best thing that can happen to you. Hopefully, I’ll be able to teach my kids this very lesson…
    Passive Income, M.D. recently posted…For a Long Happy Career, Make Medicine a Hobby

    • I love this Mr. PMD! Whenever I stumble (and I’m high strung) I have to tell myself it’s alright – in the grand scheme of things, it’s alright to fall.

  • You may wish you knew these things before adulthood, but some people never learn them at all! I think it took me far too long to realize all the options that are out there, all the non-linear paths I could take. It’s always better to fight for the life you want, even if there’s failure along the way, than to complacently accept the one you don’t.
    Gary @ Super Saving Tips recently posted…What the Inflation Rate Means for You

    • “It’s always better to fight for the life you want, even if there’s failure along the way, than to complacently accept the one you don’t.”

      Almost brought a tear in my eye – it’s very true and I fight everyday for my dream, even if it’s weird…uncommon and probably unachievable, I’m not going down without a fight.

  • Great post – life has an interesting way of teaching lessons that make you better in the long run, only if you listen and change from them :).

    I moved away from my family and friends for my first job, and like you I’m a pretty introverted person and find that it is not such a bad thing. It means I develop relationships with people I truly care about and have more time to do things I love, while they are out partying or drinking every weekend, I read books or write blogs. Eh, boring life but enjoyable :D.

    Thanks for sharing your story with us.
    Chris @ Duke of Dollars recently posted…Free Warren Buffet HBO Documentary On Youtube!

    • “Only if you listen and change from them :)”

      Yes my Duke! And that doesn’t sound boring! I take reading at home over an outing any day (unless there’s a sushi buffet involved.)

  • My direct has a story about a friend of hers who entered the public service after years of working in private industry. She was super excited to embark on a new path in her career and on her first day she encountered one of her new colleagues in the kitchen. He turned to her, sighed, and said, “God, I can’t believe I still have 15 more years until I can take my full pension. How many years do you have left?” It completely deflated her to know that this person was just going through the motions biding their time until they could stop working. Conversely, she was passionate about her new adventure and looking forward to doing something new.

    It’s so sad when people get stuck and don’t realize that there are other options. I am in the public service but I have no intention of waiting another 22 years until I can leave. We get stuck in our lives because we believe the narratives of others and forget that we can forge our own paths! Nothing is forever.

    • Wow Tucker that was so powerful!!! I love love love what you just said. What is your plan to skip the rest of the 22 years? Sounds like you got a deal coming?!

  • Great post! This post reminds me of a book I read as a kid, called Obasan by Joy Kogawa. In it there was a quote (but I can’t seem to find the exact quote) that each decision in life represents a dot. With time, these seemingly insignificant dots combine to form a picture that represents your life.

    We only have one life and we don’t know how long we have or how long we have to live, so it makes sense to not simply ‘exist’ 🙂

  • Being complacent can be an easy trap to fall into especially for a job. Once you get comfortable with your job tasks and feel that you don’t want to move up because you have to learn new tasks then you’ll start getting too complacent and complain about your superiors and the job sucks. You have to know that their are better opportunities out there and if you really want it, you just have to go for it it and have no fear of the pitfalls. Just keep pushing yourself!!

  • The idea that “the world doesn’t remember mistakes” is sooo true. It’s easy to think of few people who made suuuch bad mistakes that they ended up in jail or completely ruined their credibility in very public ways (the book “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” goes over some big ones).

    For me, it’s just little things that we remember despite no one else caring. I was in a chat with some other leaders at the company I was working at, and we were talking about mistakes people have made. One other person said, “I can’t think of anything Adam’s ever done wrong”. That was both a wakeup call to share my failures publicly much more, and validating that I must not have messed up as much as I thought. 🙂

  • Wow! Double wow!! This is my new favorite post of all time. I think I may just print this out and post it on our chalkboard to remind myself just how far I’ve come, and how little any of the stuff that happened before mattered. Thanks Lily!

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