Photos by David Hajoo Choi

In honor of my 26th birthday, here are ten things I’ve learned by the time I passed the quarter century mark.

1 - A lot of people will tell you NO. My high school art teacher told me I wasn’t going to go anywhere (I don’t think she liked me very much). When I told my mother I was going to forgo being a lawyer to be an artist, she shook her head. The first proper photography course I ever took told me not to square crop my photos. My point is – there will be a lot of NO’s and a lot of people who will tell you, you can’t. It’s up to you whether or not they’re right. Go ahead, prove them wrong.

2 - The things that make you uncomfortable – the things that push you out of your comfort zones, will be the things that help you grow. When I was 18, I tore out of my parents’ house like I had something to prove. I did. I still do.

3 - Your first love might not be your last. If you’re lucky like my best friend – you’ll meet your soulmate at 16 and you’ll be set. If you’re me, you’re still trying to figure things out. And that’s okay.

4 - Failure does not define you. It doesn’t matter that you fell. It matters whether or not you’re willing to come back swinging. FUN FACT: I failed math in high school. There’s a nice, beautiful D sitting on my report card if anyone would ever bother to dig that up. 

5 - Art is not a luxury. To an artist, it is a necessity. It’s as vital as the air we breathe and the food we eat. It may not nourish our bodies, but it nourishes our souls.

6 - The only thing you should chase are vodka and dreams.

7 - You should see the world. I mean, really see it. Forgo the five-star hotels and the guided tours. Be a lone traveler. Carry only what you need. Spend nights making new friends in new cities. When I was 20, I left for Paris with a small suitcase. I slept in airports, on parks benches, in run-down hostels that looked like new horror movie sets, and would go days eating only bread because I was so broke. But I was pretty happy.

8 - Take a risk. Dive headfirst into something if it makes you feel anything. Whether it’s a new hobby, a new adventure, or a new love. When I was 21, I moved in with someone I was dating only a few months after we had met. Maybe I was young, maybe I was foolish. Probably both. But in hindsight, I’ve never regretted it. Forget the naysayers. Do what you want.

9 - Be the bigger person. It’s taken me a long time to come to this point and on some days I still struggle, but this has been vital to my peace of mind. You cannot hold yourself responsible for the actions of other people, but you are held responsible for your own actions. You can choose to hold grudges, you can choose to be angry, or you can choose to forgive. You can choose to move on.

10 - Hard work trumps talent if talent doesn’t work. I’ve been incredibly lucky my entire life and I used to coast by on that. But the older I get, the more I press myself to the grind, the more results I see. And suddenly this statement has never been clearer.  

So goodbye 25. And here’s to year 26!

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