Why Youth is No Barrier to Greatness

once a child, always a child!

Do you consider yourself too old to succeed in life? Or too young?

Maybe you even think that you are too grown up to paint!

It’s a cliché but age is only in the mind – only last weekend Lydia Ko became the youngest player ever to win a professional golf tournament at the mere age of 14.

It was a stunning achievement by someone just starting out in life – she beat many players who were twice her age.

To me, age is no barrier to greatness. Only this afternoon I was interviewed by my friend, Kavit Haria who is an inspiration to me and so many others.

I have watched Kavit’s progress from a mere 17 year just a few years ago and he has now blossomed into one of the world’s top marketers, both online and offline.

Then recently I was contacted by Yongho Shin who just blew me away with his wisdom, focus and drive.

Yongho interviewed me for his blog which you can check out here.

Today, I am delighted to share with you Yongho’s inspiration and wisdom. Sit back, read and make some notes:-

1. Yongho Shin, you seem to have done so much personal development and self-growth as such a relatively young age. I wish I had the same awareness and wisdom when I was your age! How did this journey begin for you?

Haha, I wish I knew what I know now, five years ago. But I’m still very happy with where I am.

I grew up in Ridgewood, New York – a pretty ghetto small neighborhood on the border of Queens and Brooklyn. Between the time my family moved here when I was 1 year old, up until junior high school, I’d been mugged, seen my friends get shot, had bullets pierced our apartment windows, attacked on the street, had our car accessories stolen, doors broken into.

I just assumed this was how everyone’s life was, because it’s all I ever saw for 17 years. I lived pretty sheepish, angry, complained about a lot of things. I lived a “life of quiet desperation” I can honestly say, looking back.

My first biggest AHA! with personal development was with my weight loss. I used to be a fat Asian guy, 5’5″, 199 pounds. No muscle. Not the sexiest guy on the block. I used to sweat a lot, probably because I had to carry so much lard on my belly.

Do you know Nerds candy? The sugar coated little candy pebbles sold in the little boxes?

My parents would buy them not in boxes, but CASES! In bulk from Costco. There are 24 Nerds boxes per case, and I averaged eating 2 cases per week for nearly a year. It’s pretty crazy I managed to do that. I ate 50 Nerds boxes a week!

I was so embarrassed to visit my dentist every 6 months, because he would always shake his head in disapproval, telling me to take better care of my teeth. But I always gave in to the sugar addiction, and my teeth just got worse and weaker, and my belly got larger and wider.

I looked into how to lose weight, and I saw the usual nonsense: weight loss pills, surgery, miracle foods, yadda yadda. It all looked too dangerous and complicated, so I started with something really small. We had a treadmill at home, so I said “how about I just walk half a mile?” Half a mile was doable, even though I never exercised.

I did it! I think it took me about half an hour to finish, and it felt funny exercising for so long, but I was glad I did it. I kept at it and stopped eating so many Nerds and eating healthier. Fast forward 4 months, and I lost 35 pounds!

Pretty exciting and I was in my best shape that I’d ever been in.

(Secret tip – If you want to lose weight but can’t get yourself to eat right/exercise: START SMALL! Don’t try to change your life, just change one meal. Or walk half a mile. It’s small but it’s doable, and it’ll get you moving in the right direction)

2. I am particularly intrigued by your cultural background and family heritage. Please tell us more about your roots and your family.

I’m Korean. Whenever I say that to people I meet, 90% of them ask:

“North or South?”

It’s incredibly difficult to leave North Korea unless you have special permissions. I’ve only met one North Korean in my whole life, and his family left by sneaking onto a cargo ship from N Korea to China, then another cargo ship from China to US.

But I’m from South Korea – the land of high-density foot traffic, endless rounds of Soju (Korean alcohol). And inverted California rolls, which happen to be my favorite food – it’s called “kimbab” if you want to Google it to see how delicious it is. Born in Seoul, South Korea and moved to the US when I was 1 year old, so I’m pretty Americanized.

3. Your name is very symbolic. Please tell us more. In your culture, what’s the symbolism of a dragon? And a tiger?

My name is “Yongho.” I used to hate my name because so many people misspelled and mispronounced it. In high school, I hated it so much that I told everyone to call me David, a nickname I made up on the spot in Spanish class. I always wondered why I couldn’t get a name easier to pronounce, like John or Bob.

One day, my father explained to me why he named me Yongho. Here’s something very few people know:

If you travel to ancient temples in South Korea, you’ll often see “Yongho” written on their front doors. Why?

In Korean, “Yong” means dragon and “ho” means tiger. Dragon and tiger represent the ultimate combination of offence and defence, a team so strong that people believed any temple protected by these two creatures was impossible to break into.

…and just like that, I went from hating my name to loving my name.

I have the most badass name on the planet! Who else has a name so powerful ancient Korean emperors pasted them on their castle doors?

Do you think a name like “Arvind” would protect you from hordes of soldiers?

Don’t think so.

Just kidding, Arvind!

4. You have been exposed to the work of some of the world’s top personal development experts. Can you please share some of their wisdom? (How about one piece of life-changing advice from say 12 different teachers?)

My library is overflowing with books on personal development, marketing, entrepreneurship, social psychology, leadership, and just kicking ass in general. I’ve learned from so many great teachers who’ve made a huge impact in my life, from Tony Robbins to Jim Rohn to Brian Tracy and Stephen Covey.

I’d love to share all I know, but from speaking and promoting seminars for over 35,000 people now, I know that dumping information will only confuse you. There’s so much clutter and nonsense and spam going on today, so I’m not going to give you 12 pieces of advice, because it’ll just add to your confusion.

Instead, I’ll share what I’m pretty confident is most helpful for 99% of the people reading this, and probably you:

Decide what you’re NOT going to do.

Consciously take time aside and decide what goals you won’t do, what relationships you won’t keep up, what dreams you won’t pursue, what projects you won’t invest time in. When you decide what is NOT on your list, it frees your time to work on what’s most important for you.

It’s why I don’t have a Twitter or Facebook account, and check email rarely. Having an extra 1000 casual Twitter followers is not as valuable (for me) as meeting someone face to face and building a true, deep relationship.

I’m also a pretty ruthless minimalist, and I’m down to a record low number. Some people are proud to only own 50 things, some are even lower, and Gandhi had less than ten. I won’t say what my number is now, but if you’re a minimalist, come to my website and subscribe, because I’m going to share what number I’m at and how I reached it.

5. So what’s next for you? When do we get to attend YOUR lectures and workshops?

I’ve spent the past 2 years promoting seminars and events for other experts, from Chris Guillebeau to Jonathan Fields to Chase Jarvis and Jenny Blake, and it’s been awesome – I loved attending each one. I’ve also been on the official TEDx Team for TED Conferences, where I helped manage over 4000 TEDx events in the world.

The biggest piece I see for opportunity (and this is the space I’m going to fill) is live interaction with the audience. So many seminars are about pushing one way from speaker to audience, but the real magic happens when the audience participates.

I’m grateful to have sold out every event I promoted in the last two years, and for 2011 and beyond, I’ll be coming out from behind the scenes. I’ve already got a hot interactive training program in the works now about being productive, performing at your best, and boosting your physical, mental, and emotional energy to live your best life, so you can look forward to that program! (If you’re lucky enough to sign up before it’s full)

6. If you had some final words of wisdom for us what would that be? If you could change the world in a big way in 2012, how would you do it?

I’d love to get to know you personally (yes, YOU, the person reading this right now) because with just a blog post, I’m forced to give general advice that hopefully helps everyone reading. But I can’t touch on a lot of specific things that would really make a difference in your life.

So I’ll share something personal, and an issue that people tend to not reveal about themselves.

In the past, I would go in and out of episodes of strong depression. It was pretty bad, from “eh, there’s not much living for” to “I’m causing shame for everyone”. I won’t go into details, but if you ever find yourself in a similar situation, I just want you to know that I can relate to that, and know what that feels like.

Here is one incredibly valuable tool that’s helped me get out of depression and give a new sense of purpose in my life, in a pretty weird but exciting way:

“Everything that happens to you is neutral and meaningless. The human brain gives meaning to meaningless events. If something is making you happy, excited, angry or depressed, it has nothing to do with the event itself. It’s an emotional response that your brain creates.”

If you feel angry, sad, disappointed, or any negative emotion right now, please read the sentence above again.

Here’s what I mean by that statement, and no it’s not just some airy-fairy positive thinking:

Let’s say I tell you right now “You are the most disgusting person I’ve met.”

What does that mean to you?

• If you view it as a personal attack, you may become angry and defensive. (because someone is criticizing your identity)

• If you view it as a statement of who you honestly are, you may become sad. (because you don’t want to be disgusting, yet you feel powerless to change it)

• If you view it as a regular sentence that has no meaning, then you might not be affected by it at all. (because it’s like staring at a piece of dust on the floor)

• If you view it as a joke, then you may laugh. (because you see it as a playful banter)

The words themselves have no objective meaning, it’s the MEANING your brain subconsciously give them that makes you feel depressed or excited or sad or happy.

You always have the power to change that meaning (“reframe”), and so you always have control for how you feel about anything “negative” or “positive” someone says.

You can choose to hate when someone hugs you, or choose to love when someone hurts you.

It’s up to you, not outside circumstances.

Isn’t that awesome? It’s like you’ve discovered a superpower to never be sad or upset, no matter what happens.

7. Finally share with us something you have never told anyone else?

You’re pushing the envelope here, Arvind! But I want to taste your fine Indian cooking one day, so I’ll let you (and your readers) in on a secret:

(I’m telling this in public for the first time, and I’ll probably mention it nowhere else so read this while it’s hot!)

Freezing-cold rain. Hurricane-worthy winds. Darkness.

I’m wearing a razor-thin shirt so drenched I can’t stop my body from shivering. My goosebumps look like peas. I’m not alone – more than a hundred people are with me, wondering when this torture will be over.

What am I doing here?

It’s 2009, and I was representing Carnegie Mellon University’s varsity rowing team in a national rowing competition in the United States. Rowing races are usually done in the mornings, and that day just happened to be unusually cold.

But here’s my secret:

I was never supposed to be part of that race because I failed the test to get into the team.

Every member of the rowing team is required to know how to swim, so just in case a boat flips over in the middle of rowing, we don’t drown.

I failed the swim test, so technically I couldn’t join the team at all. But nobody brought it up during training, so I continued training and kept quiet about the swim test, and eventually was invited to join the varsity rowing team for my school.

(I still don’t know how to swim.)

Remember the reframing tool I mentioned earlier? I used the same thing here. After I failed the test, I could’ve become sad and interpreted that event as “I’m not good enough to be on my school’s rowing team. I should just give up”.

But the meaning I gave that event was “This test is meaningless. I can become a great rower even if I don’t know how to swim.” And I felt empowered to challenge and grow myself, rather than cry and complain about the swim test requirement.

So there it is: I joined my school’s varsity rowing team even though I didn’t even qualify to train.

I also didn’t qualify to work at a rather well-known organization that I mentioned somewhere in this post, but… I’ll save that secret for a future time. I’ll let my subscribers know about it, so if you’re curious, hop on over to my website and subscribe to my newsletter.

Thanks Yongho for a great interview! I wish you well on your journey and we look forward to hearing more about your adventures and projects.

Please click here to learn more about Yongho. And be sure to also check out my interview with him.

And as I said at the beginning of this post, youth is no barrier to success – and neither is “old age”!

From today onwards, put your age out of your mind and go for your dreams – you know it makes sense.

Top Image courtesy of iotae


  1. Thank you for sharing this with your audience!

  2. What a great story Yongho!
    It’s a pleasure to meet you.
    I think your name is totally cool too~!
    You are definitely a positive role model for people of all ages.

    • Thank you Angela, I’ve visited your website and look forward to reading more from you!

      (I’ve been interested in intuition for a few months now, from learning about Erin Pavlina and Silva)

  3. Thanks for the mention, Arvind. I had a great time interviewing you and can’t wait to get the interview up in a few weeks. You are great.


  4. Wow, what a great interview. You have just shone light on an issue that has been plaguing me for a while. Sometimes, when you are young, the expectations of the society can be downright limiting. It’s encouraging to see that it all depends with how I react not what is said out there. Thanks for sharing.

    • Veeh – This was one of the most difficult things for me to understand. When I first got mugged in the street when I was in junior high school, I spent the entire week after that complaining about how unsafe my neighborhood is, and how that person was a knucklehead. I blamed my parents, my neighborhood, other people because I thought they were the problem.

      It makes sense, right? If a stranger started frisking you and threatening to take your money, it’s tempting to rationalize feeling angry by saying “well, it’s HIS fault.”

      Okay, it might be. But here’s the most important question:

      What are you going to do about it?

      You can either complain about the situation, or choose to give it an empowering meaning. At the time, I interpreted the situation as “I need to learn self-defense” and enrolled in Taekwondo classes.

      Life became so much more fun and peaceful once I realized that I always had (and have!) the power to react to a situation the way I want.

  5. Fabulous post! Inspiring to stay the way I was in passion when I was young.

    I’m always struck by how when we are young we are so gung ho, and how sad it is to lose that because of age. Gung ho is cool. Gung ho gets to aspirations. Gung ho had little fear.

    Livin like I am young! 🙂

    Aloha wags!

    • Hey JT – from your website, it seems you’re living life as an adventure! I love the spirit of “creating your own paradise”.

  6. 🙂 Very inspiring. I am fully with you on age being just a statistic.

    In 2010, the “International Congress of Mathematicians” which takes place every four years, and where the Fields’ Medal is awarded (the highest honor in the field) – they had invited Vishwanathan Anand, Indian chess grandmaster and current world chess champion, who played with 40 chosen chess enthusiasts. Of these 40, one participant, Srikar, was 14 years old (he is a student of Sury’s in the Math Olympiad circuit). Well, Anand almost lost the game with Srikar and somehow managed to steer it to a draw.

    🙂 Age certainly does not matter. This is a great interview with Yongho – there is some wonderful wisdom tucked in there! And I wish him the very best!

    With love, Vidya

    • Thank you Vidya!

      I played a lot of chess when I was younger. I thought I was hot stuff because I won almost all tournaments in my school, but lost to kids younger than me once i got to the city/state level.

  7. thanks – loved that. esp when he talked about depression. what i’m suffering now. helps to know there’s hope

    Noch Noch

    • Noch Noch,

      I just visited your website – I admire that you gave your past an EMPOWERING meaning and a way to learn. Most people never reach this stage.

      I just want you to know, that as someone who went in and out of that state for months at a time, you have the ability to “snap” out of that state immediately.

      Tony Robbins explains it much better than I can:


  8. Yongho and Arvind,

    Thanks for the interview! Some great inspiration to start my day!

    Yongho it’s nice learning more about you and seeing you from the other side of an interview! Great job!

    Have a great rest of your week guys!

    • Hey Joe – thanks for your comment. I’m excited that all 3 of us are part of the “life purpose” program coming up!

  9. Cathy | Treatment Talk says

    Hi Arvind and Yongho,

    This was a wonderful interview to read as did not know about Yongho and it was great to learn more about him. I love your answer about how words can just be dust on the floor and do not necessarily have any meaning, unless we choose to give them meaning. Life is short and it is enlightening to be aware that we have power over our emotions and our reactions. Thanks for sharing this interview!

    • Cathy, I am glad you enjoyed the interview with Yongho – he sure is a remarkable young man.

      Life is so short – and it is up to us to make the most of it:-)

  10. What an amazing story! I love reading about younger people who “get it” and do all they can to help others of all ages. I always wonder if these are the “old souls” who have been around long enough to understand the Universe sooner than others. Bravo Yongho!!

    • HA! I laughed out loud when I read the part about “old soul”.

      Everything I see is because I’ve “stood on the shoulders of giants” and people who’ve been generous enough to teach what they know.

      Paige – it’s great to see people like you helping others live their best life!

  11. Arvind, Thank you for this introduction to Yongho.
    Lots of inspiration packed into these words. I love his kaizen style advice os small improvements – “START SMALL! Don’t try to change your life, just change one meal. Or walk half a mile. It’s small but it’s doable, and it’ll get you moving in the right direction)”

    Also loved the story of the rowing team! Sometimes we see an end, when there’s a pathway to continue forward. He saw the pathway – keep training and no one stopped him. Many people would have assumed that was the end.
    LOVE it when people go beyond limitations.

    Thank you both Arvid & Yongho 🙂 loved reading this

    • I’m a big fan of Kaizen – inspiring to see that Kaizen is built into the name of your blog!

      I always used to seek out the anti-Kaizen, the magic bullet or fantasy that would solve everything, but I find it’s so much easier (and more satisfying) to improve one step at a time.

      Thanks for your comment, Aileen!

  12. Hi Yongho and Arvind,

    Thank you for the excellent interview.

    Yongho, you shared such great words of wisdom regarding how we can change the meaning of anyting we experience. Thank you so much.

    The story about your beginnings and your journey to change reminded me of mine. It’s like we reach a desperate point and life just doesn’t seem right. Then a powerful, conscious decision is made that we just have to do something about it.

    • I’m glad it resonated with you Hiten. Changing the meaning of words is something I never would’ve agreed with, 5 years ago. I thought I had to feel angry or sad when certain things happened because… everyone else responded the same way. But change the meaning, and you change how you respond to it!

  13. Hi Yongho & Arvind,

    Thanks for the great interview! I am so inspired and feel so empowered!

    Yongho, I love what you said about how we give meaning to everything that happens to us. If WE are the ones giving meaning to everything, well then we have the power to create whatever we want! I am pumped with energy!!
    And oh yeah, your name is badass 🙂


  14. Hey Claire! I’m glad Arvind and I inspired you.

    I’m looking forward to the posts on your blog. 🙂

  15. Quiet a nice read and an inspiring and enjoyable interview with the dragon and tiger personified. And yes love the small but valuable tip “Decide what you are NOT going to do”


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