Self-Doubt Stops Your Progress

In a cold winter day in 2011, I attended my first open mic at Broadway Comedy Club. An older gentleman came up to me after and said “hey, if I got half the applause you got today at MY first mic, I would have been ecstatic!”

A friend whom I met at that mic (Lawrence D) is still in the standup comedy community today and thriving. 99% of other people from that mic? Probably moved on with their lives.

That first night was my ray of hope. That night really started everything. Now 9 years later, I think about that 23 year-old kid going up on stage with a piece of paper, with a sense of pride. My jokes were horrible, and it was mostly attitude stuff (as most 20-something kids do) but once I got hooked, I couldn’t stop.

Over the past 9 years, I’ve stopped many times along the way, too many times. I’ve been moving at a snail’s pace, and my progress to be honest, sometimes, is laughable. I really attribute it to self-doubt. And once you let negative momentum creep in, it becomes that much harder to muster up the courage and inspiration to get back on stage, it’s weird. But once you are on that positive momentum going out to mics and getting up on stage, you get high from it whether you kill on stage or not. As long as you get one laugh and your ideas out there, it’s a win, and you feel good and alive. It’s that feeling of growth. My brain gets happy from it, doing it, being in it. And craves it afterwards.

I just get pissed off about how many times I’ve stopped in the past. Job issues. Job loss. Relationship breakup. Depression. Rent. All kinds of life stuff got in the way of me going out every night, while other comedy peers were doing just that: dedicating themselves to the journey and the craft no matter how lowly their position and status was.

If I had unwavering confidence in my own abilities, I wouldn’t be going back and forth between “should I be doing it?” vs “should I not be doing it?” Those who make it far in the business, and those who have made it since 2011, are those with a steel mind that doesn’t get easily shaken by doubt or even seeds of doubt from others. That firm belief in their own abilities: “I won’t let anybody talk me out of this. I won’t let anybody else stop me because they don’t know what I know. They haven’t seen what I can do. But I believe in myself and going to see this through.” Those kids have made it now into LA, Late Night, Jimmy Fallon, Colbert, Conan, major leagues, Hollywood.

I don’t want to be on the bench anymore. For most of my life, I’ve mostly been observing others who are more accomplished and doing better than I am and wishing “what if?” Option A, Option B, Option C … One day I was pursuing the creative freedom side and other day somebody (most often people closest to me like my mom) was talking me into settling down and playing it safe. More time I waste in that fence straddle back and forth, worse I get at standup comedy.

It doesn’t matter anymore. I am not getting any younger. Soon, people will call me that old guy who’s been hanging around comedy way too long. I gotta risk it.

That realization that I’m getting old is definitely lighting a fire under my butt, which was much needed. Otherwise, life will go on as usual and nothing will happen. I will probably turn into an old man filled with regret, talking about the glory days all the time, not having achieved anything creative in particular while envying the guys and girls whom I used to hit open mics with in the past and now thriving and still chasing their dreams.

One advice for all aspiring comics and artists out there, don’t let doubt creep into your head. Once you let it take hold, it becomes harder and harder. First a seed of doubt. Then it grows bigger into a force that stops you from taking action. And once you are blocked, you stop taking action toward positive progress and growth, and then you are at the losing end of the law of momentum: “Things in motion stay in motion, and things at rest stay at rest.” And you can’t afford to be blocked. You can’t afford to rest. Your brain needs to be ON at 100% if you want to kill it on stage, as you know. You need to be at that 100% for days, weeks, months and years until that right opportunity strikes.

Nobody said following your dream and passion is easy. It’s probably the hardest thing. You risk your whole life on it. Many do give up. Many don’t get it.

But what would you rather do? What is God telling you to do?

I choose the path of self-belief. I cannot afford to let other people make me doubt myself anymore. Any worse than I already have, I will have completely lost my opportunities to do anything with my life before I’m too old and tired.

If you keep wavering because person A is telling you A and you follow that, and then person B is telling you B so you get back to that, you won’t accomplish jack shit with your life. That’s not the life I want to live. I decide to choose a path, and believe in it wholeheartedly and no more second-guessing that objective until the miracle comes. If you want all the glory and rewards that comes from that path, you can’t fucking do it as a “hobby” and expect to rise above thousands and thousands of others who are chasing the same thing. That’s not good enough for me. You might as not well do it if you are going to half-ass something.

You put in the daily pain, the superhuman effort it takes to achieve that over days and days and days. You build up the wall one brick at a time. One brick at a time, one joke at a time, one mic a time every day as best as it can be laid. Once you have that wall, you become unstoppable. And boom, you strike an opportunity.

No matter what people say, or naysayers or over-worried parents who want you to play safe, you have to block it out. It’s your life. And nobody can stop you, as long as you believe in yourself 100%. Because at the end of the day, people who love you the most and care about you will be very happy when you achieve your biggest dream. And they will be just as sad if you end up doing nothing with your life and sit home as a man full of regrets. They just can’t imagine you being something bigger than you because they are not you, and lack vision and imagination. Say “This is who I’m meant to be.” And put up a big “Fuck you” to everything else, and everybody else who refuses to let you. You prove all those other motherfuckers wrong. That’s the real prize. And once you do that, nobody can take that away from you.

I believe in God. He will lead me the right way, and not lead me astray. He won’t lead you astray either.

Being Proud of your Immigrant Multi-Identity

Koreans are known for being patriotic and nationalistic. I myself was a big a Red Devil myself rooting for the red uniformed South Korean soccer teams when I was a kid. Generations and history of fighting against oppression and fighting for freedom remain in my blood. I love Korean culture, the people and the amazing recent explosion of its potential. Who knew our culture and our unique fusion of fashion, music, dance and entertainment would become a global export loved by so many?

In a way, what people see in Korean fashion, music and entertainment is a delicate fusion of East and West. We’ve learned a lot from Japan’s once dominant music and entertainment industry that came long before us as well as hip-hop, R&B, rap and dance from the U.S. Fashion from Europe. Philosophy and literature from China. Food culture that’s a fusion of many neighboring Asian nations that’s also distinctively our own. I’m proud of all of that.

What I want to write about is the delicate confidence that you must have as a multi-identity individual if you are an immigrant in another country.

I’ve wondered about this for a long time. It’s rarely discussed but it’s very important. The problem is this. If you were born in another country but currently live in another, your sense of your self-identity will be challenged from different conflicts that can happen: both in yourself and with other people. And the challenge actually has more to do with other people’s acceptance and “view” of you.

For example, I traveled to Israel recently and had the opportunity to interact with Israeli locals. I actually didn’t know that K-pop was a huge hit among Israeli girls, and many locals asked me questions. But the nuisance I got from these people, when I told them that I was Korean-American, was a weird, mixed confusion. Granted, Israel itself is a country formed by the idea that all Jews share the same blood so I can understand how they will be black-and-white about having a “pure identity” but they just seemed utterly confused that a person who looks completely Asian and Korean on the outside can call himself an American instead. They started asking me factual questions like “When’s the independence day of South Korea” just to test me, which I thought was freaking stupid. I barely remember the exact day of Chinese new year. Or my mom’s birthday.

I actually think I must have been a novelty to them. That an Asian person who looks Asian on the outside can actually be different in their life experience and mentality and can speak perfect English. Outside of multiethnic countries like the U.S, Canada, Australia, and certain nations in Europe, I can see how it’s an uncommon thing.

As Korean-Americans and Asian-Americans, we are always walking a delicate balance. We want to be accepted by society but not everybody will accept us because of who we are. We can often cause confusion in other people (especially those who tout that they are valuable for being “pure” culturally or ethnically, having spent their entire lives in one country or only one culture). When I go back to Korea or interact with die-hard Koreans, some Koreans make fun of me for not being able to remember Korean words proficiently. When I live in the States, some people make fun of the Korean accent in my English. Sometimes I feel like I don’t belong anywhere. Completely non-lingual lol.

In that way, the U.S. really is a blessing despite the existence of racism. Equality not based on bloodline or ethnicity or religion but equality as a basic, god-given right for all.

Being Korean-American is actually a 3-step process. First you realize that you are Korean and will always look Korean to people no matter how much you try to fit in with American society. Second, you realize that real Koreans won’t accept you fully because you think and speak differently from them, and have totally un-relatable experiences, that you’ve actually outgrown your motherland. Last but not least, third, you come to grips with all this non-sense and accept yourself just as you are. Both the good and the bad of being Korean-American. Holding onto the positiveness that comes with being Korean AND American, and also the negativeness that comes from both as well. People will ask you about both BTS AND Miley Cyrus’s latest meltdown.

That’s why I am the most comfortable with other misfits in society. I don’t believe in being a “pure Korean” or a “pure American” or any of that nationalistic non-sense. I’m proud of all things but I also don’t like to hold on to any of those things. Being multi-ethnic is the quintessential American identity. In this country, there’s people who are 1/8 Navajo Native-American and 1/16 Irish-Italian and 1/64 Japanese. Who cares.

I no longer let anybody make me feel bad by saying I’m not Korean enough or I’m not American enough. I’m me. We are our own group. We are ethnically Korean, legally American, and the ultimate magical balance that holds both of those things in one scale. Nobody else does that balance as well as us. The identity we have to own is the Middle path. Realizing That the Middle path is just as valuable as any pure path, perhaps even 100x more difficult. Being unbiased toward either but knowing both of those worlds fully. Embracing and criticizing them at the same time. That unique perspective is the unique power that we have.

In that mindset, there is no shame. There is pride. For being the rare, unique product that we are. Don’t let anybody tell you “you are not enough.” You were born enough.

Sometimes I like to eat French Fries with a little bit of kimchi and miso soup that’s all I’m saying.