With the racism and sexual assault allegations that have befallen the Governor of Virginia, the Attorney General of Virginia, and the Lt. Governor of Virginia, I was reminded of all the racist altercations I experienced growing up in Virginia for public high school and public university in the mid-to-late 90s.
Given the revelations at the senior levels of Virginia government today, you know racism in Virginia wasn’t unusual decades ago. Racism wasn’t a constant ubiquity, but I did experience some type of racist encounter about every 10th time I went out of the house.
One of the more milder examples was while waiting in line to go to the bathroom at a gas station off I-95 heading south. A white guy behind me said, “Hey, don’t you understand English? What are you waiting for? The bathroom is open!“
I turned around and said, “There’s actually someone in there. They just didn’t lock the door. Do you understand the English that’s coming out of my mouth?”
He backed down with an “Oh, never mind.” But I was ready to rumble.
The amazing thing about all these racial experiences is that it’s all I knew after coming to America for high school.
I thought it was normal to be on the receiving end of racial slurs or racial innuendos every so often. I just endured and fought back as hard as I could each time.
Yes, I got suspended from school multiple times for fighting, but it was worth it to defend my honor. Kids stopped messing with me once they felt my fists of fury.
After I got a job in 1999 in New York City and again when I moved out to San Francisco in 2001, I realized that being a minority in America felt so much more comfortable in a diverse city.
My racial conflicts dropped from every 10th time I went outside to maybe every 25th time I went outside in Manhattan. In San Francisco, I can’t remember my last racial conflict because we are a minority majority city.
The Positives Of Discomfort
Looking on the positive side of racism, I thank my past racial altercations for having given me the extra strength I needed to endure those long work hours in banking for so many years. Racism gave me tremendous motivation to prove that I could succeed in America.
Yes, it is harder in the workplace when so few in management look like you and no one wants to mentor you. But screw that, I always told myself. Being a minority working in a smaller business in a satellite office was simply a great challenge to get ahead by being more energetic and entrepreneurial.
When I got promoted to VP at age 27, it was one of the greatest feelings ever. All of my contemporary colleagues were still Associates, one level down, and would stay Associates usually until 30-32 years old.
Getting the promotion was when I first realized the allure of meritocracy. It was also my first taste of power. When you need consensus from a committee to get promoted, you don’t mess with your senior colleagues.
Despite being gone from the workforce since 2012, I still have the energy and motivation as I did when I was a teenager.
It’s like having Ironman’s arc reactor, pulsating in my chest, driving me to keep going no matter what thanks to all the hate I experienced growing up.
And to be honest, this energy feels wonderful! I remind myself every day that it is this energy that has enabled both my wife and me to leave work behind at age 34.
And it is this confidence that has fortified me to take big risks in my career, in my investments, and in our online business.
Without this energy, I would not have been able to regularly get up by 5am for the past two years to work on Financial Samurai for three hours to then get to work as a dad. Instead, I would have probably slept in until 7am because taking care of a toddler is exhausting.
Hardship makes us better appreciate the good times.
Let’s Move To Virginia Instead!
Given how much racism and bullying has given me, I think it’s best for us to move back to Virginia and rejoin a 5.5% minority.
To survive in a less comfortable situation forces you to adapt. Learning things like self-defense, conflict resolution, self-deprecation, positive thinking and humor are all useful skills through our adult lives. What wonderful skills to teach our son.
Hawaii just seems like too comfortable a lifestyle to get motivated to do more than the average. When it’s 79 degrees and sunny, only the most disciplined individual would stay inside and study for three hours instead of go to the beach and play.
Virginia, overall, is a wonderful state with a strong economy and good people. People are products of their time, and I don’t blame a minority of Virginians for thinking the way they do about minorities.
In general, I look back upon my eight years there with fondness. The good outweighed the bad. Virginia was my rite of passage into adulthood.
It’s just the recent racial incidents involving Virginia’s political elite that have triggered forgotten memories.
Norther Virginia is about 50% cheaper than San Francisco in terms of housing. Meanwhile, there are plenty of solid public schools, where we’d probably end up as opposed to southern Virginia, where I went to college.
With each difficult encounter, his mother and I will mentor him by teaching him about hate and ignorance. And perhaps with each encounter, our boy will also develop a chip on his shoulder and a FIRE to prove the haters wrong that he cannot become somebody great.
By shunning a diverse environment for a more homogenous environment, my son will have a chance to experience more racial discrimination than if he were in San Francisco or Honolulu.
I fear that if we shelter our children too much, they’ll grow up to be ignorant, unmotivated individuals who will whine at the slightest of inconveniences.
I have three immediate neighborhood households that all have adult sons still living at home with their parents because life is too easy. When your parents pay for everything as an adult, there’s no longer an incentive to try.
Taking away a person’s ability to provide for themselves is so sad because it feels so amazing when you establish your independence.
My hope is that by putting our son in an environment where he will have to struggle more to get ahead, he’ll gain a tremendous amount of satisfaction and self-esteem as he grows older.
Besides, my mother-in-law lives in Virginia, my sister and nephew live in Manhattan, and my sister-in-law and family live in North Carolina.
Examples Of Uncomfortable Situations
When life becomes too easy, nothing really happens. Besides experiencing racism growing up, here are some personal examples of uncomfortable situations that helped me grow:
- Being the new kid at school all the time. I was the new kid every 2-4 years growing up and I hated it. But I grew to have no fear chatting up anybody in a new environment, which made a big difference in my professional growth.
- Having to get into the office at 5:30am. Getting in by 5:30am for two years at my first job, and then by 6am on average at my second job for 11 years, never felt natural. But after about 10 years, I no longer needed an alarm clock. I was conditioned to naturally wake up earlier than my peers to get things done. This productivity accelerated my path to financial freedom.
- Confronting my boss for a severance. Without a manual, not many people have the confidence to argue their case for a severance. But I knew my worth, and I knew what would happen to the business if I suddenly left, or worse, went to a competitor. This confidence came from having to repeatedly stand up for myself growing up.
- Writing mind-benders that may offend. I go through a process every six months which I call, “The Culling.” The Culling entails publishing an article that enrages a subset of undesirable readers who are unwilling to read beyond a headline or unable to understand the nuances of what I’m trying to say. My goal is to reduce the accumulation of easily triggered readers and grow a community of intelligent readers with well-argued rebuttals.
Now that I’ve shared such convincing arguments about the importance of consistently being uncomfortable for personal and professional growth, it’s clear that we should move to Virginia and not to Hawaii.
Oh, but wait. With important geoarbitrage moves, unless a divorce is what you want, it’s a good idea to have a consensus between spouses and partners.
Let’s see what my wife has to say. She spent 20 years growing up in Charlottesville, Richmond, and Williamsburg, Virginia.
The Choice Is Obvious
Hi everyone! Sam and I are fortunate to be quite a balanced couple. Opposites attract as they say.
He’s mostly an extrovert; I’m a total introvert. He’s very athletic; I’m a total klutz. He’s super efficient and fast at most things; I tend to be slow and cautious.
So what are my thoughts on Sam’s idea to move to Virginia? Absolutely not. My answer is, Hawaii of course!
Here are just a few of the reasons why.
1) I grew up in Virginia and although I agree that it is a beautiful state with plenty to offer, I booked a one way ticket out of there after college graduation faster than Quicksilver in X-Men: Days Of Future Past. Virginia: Been there, done that. I’ve never looked back.
2) Racism is terrible. Plain and simple. Does it exist more in less diverse places? Probably. But sadly it exists everywhere. Our son will likely experience some encounters of racism no matter where he grows up. I also do not want to intentionally expose our son to unnecessary negativity and hatred. I do plan to teach him to respect people of all sorts through travel, reading, volunteering, and having many open discussions wherever we live.
3) I do not believe our son needs to experience racism and be a minority in school in order to be a driven, hard working individual. His personality is unique and definitely a blend of both Sam and me, although I see Sam’s focus and determination in our son as clear as day. My motherly instinct already tells me our son is going to be a good student who wants to succeed. I know he will need coaching and a supportive environment to get past obstacles and we’ll be there for him.
For example, when our son can’t do something, like get a block to fit into his shape sorter toy, he yells out in frustration and throws the block to the ground. He has daddy’s fire.
That’s my cue to pick up the block, put it back in his hand, help him wiggle it into the right spot, and then share in his excitement. Seeing the ear-to-ear grin on his face when he pushes the block in followed by him immediately try another shape by himself says it all.
Fight Or Flight
Growing up as a multiracial kid, I was at the top of the minority list in school. I was literally the only one of my “kind” – Japanese mother, Caucasian father. I didn’t look Asian; I didn’t look white. Our town was almost completely 50% white, 50% African American.
I looked “weird” as some girls said. “What ARE you?” was another question I’d often get. Fortunately, I had a few friends who looked past my appearance and the shock that I had an Asian mother.
I didn’t “belong” in Japan either. Everyone stared at me wherever I went in Japan. Some whispered look at the gaijin; this word for foreigner has a bit of a negative connotation.
Others said I was so lucky to be half because I had pale skin and big eyes. Thank you, I guess. But what are they saying about people who are tan with small eyes?
Fortunately, I didn’t experience frequent bulling or racist remarks, but I still had my share. That didn’t make me want to fight back like Sam though.
The hurtful comments made me want to leave. The rest were just annoying distractions. I knew they didn’t define who I was and that my racial background made me unique and wasn’t something anyone could take away.
I don’t like confrontation; I never have. When kids and adults have said mean things to me I don’t talk back; I usually stay silent and walk away. Sam sees this as letting them walk over me. Perhaps, but I don’t give people like that any power over me.
I’m just the type of person who doesn’t want to waste any energy or time on disrespectful people who just don’t get it.
That doesn’t mean I wasn’t hurt. I felt sadness, isolation, and frustration especially growing up. But, I really don’t like to dwell on negativity. I have so many better things to do!
Finding Motivation From Within
The one thing I’m certain of is that we are all motivated by different things. I remember someone telling me that during management training at work and it’s totally true.
You might be motivated by adversities, or discrimination, the desire to be the best, money, family, power, financial freedom, a better lifestyle, countless other things and likely a whole combination of things.
Growing up, I was self motivated to get good grades. Perhaps it was my perfectionist personality or the desire to be like my smarter sister. Who knows. What I don’t remember though is my parents ever pushing or telling me I had to get straight A’s.
In middle school and high school, I was motivated to be the best violinist in school and to get the lead part in every theater production. I think a combination of wanting recognition and enjoying those activities were my main motivators.
In my career, I was definitely motivated by power, gaining autonomy, earning money, and recognition for my niche skills and efforts.
As a parent, I’m motivated by an immeasurable amount of love, and wanting to see our son happy, develop and succeed.
Ultimately, I believe motivation is very personal and has to come from within. I think it blossoms in supportive environments.
Some people get motivated in harsh environments, but definitely not all. I probably would have been mentally crushed over time if I was in a worse situation growing up. So I’m thankful my experiences weren’t much worse.
Making The Right Choice
Now that you’ve heard from both sides, we’re curious to hear what you would do if you were us? Your vote will help determine our family’s future.
Would you move to warm and sunny Honolulu, where life is even more comfortable than it is in San Francisco? The majority of the Honolulu population will look like our boy, either Asian or multi-racial. He’ll grow up in an environment that is much more chill because most people in Hawaii are working to live, not living to work.
Or, would you move to somewhere in Virginia, where it is very hot or very cold for half the year. Such temperature will help him appreciate the other half of the year better. Our boy will feel the discomfort of being a 5.5% minority. As a result, he’ll better learn how to deal with difficult situations like racism and bullying. He’ll also get a quicker taste of how cruel the real world is so he can hopefully be more motivated to study and work hard.
In conclusion, what a blessing it is to grow up as a minority in Virginia. If all I experienced was love and acceptance, I’d probably still be working at my soul-sucking job wondering what else is there to life. There would be no Financial Samurai and no financial freedom.
Experiencing the bad has helped me appreciate the good. As a result, I believe I’ve reached a higher steady state of happiness as well.
I hope we can all have sand kicked in our face one day. Overcoming adversity is a gift.
Readers, what were some uncomfortable situations you experienced growing up that helped make you stronger? How much real world hardship should we subject our children to before they enter the real world? Are people simply a product of their times, and as times change, people change?