Leveraging Your Luck, Dealing With Setbacks and #HoodieStory

Robert Vo - #HoodieStoryRobert Vo has a fascinating story of transformation with loads of insights on taking the leap into high-octane living. He is a world traveler, photographer, gallery curator at Market Street Gallery and marketing consultant and strategist in the technology industry. And now you can add Catalyst to the Force (more on that later) to that resume. Whew!

We caught up with Rob Vo to suck all the wisdom out of his brain and get the scoop on his latest project – #HoodieStory. Passion and high energy? Check. Lets do this!

Rob can you tell us your story about how you were able to make the shift in your life from working in an unsatisfying job to traveling and eventually finding a career that is more aligned with your core?

I was born in Vietnam and I went back 30 years later in 2005. The first day, I spent just sitting at this coffee shop in Ho Chi Minh, Saigon observing people and thinking about life. What if I grew up here instead of in California? What would that be like? What would I be doing?

The exchange rate from US to Vietnamese currency (Vietnamese Dong) was just phenomenal. I went for three weeks and spent less than a thousand bucks for room, board, food and travel, minus the round-trip tickets. I felt like I could do anything I wanted to there. I was just thinking of how many years I would have to work in Vietnam to go the other way to Silicon Valley. We’re talking about a $40 a month salary over there compared to what we are making here. Just do that calculation and you know a lot of people in Vietnam will never go the opposite way.

Robert Vo Travels VietnamThat gave me some perspective in a sense. I am in Silicon Valley. I am working in tech. I have options. I can make decisions. I removed all the stock options that I had and I asked myself, If I did not have all that stuff, would I still stay at my job? The answer was no. So a month later, I got back from Vietnam and I quit my job. I had no idea what I was going to do but I couldn’t just work then die. I had an opportunity. I was very lucky to be there. We are very lucky to live in Silicon Valley, so leverage that luck.

I didn’t know what I was going to do but I felt like I had to make a choice to really live life and not just work. So for six months I took some time off. I ran out of money a little bit and I think it took me about six jobs before I started to work for Marketo (a marketing automation software company), which I now feel is more aligned with who I am. I work with marketers and technology, which is more creative. It is a good balance of who I am: creative and also a strategist.

I can relate that to when I took photography in college. It just felt real. I didn’t even have to think about it. With my current job, when I’m talking to marketers, all these ideas are coming up and it just absolutely makes sense. Nothing is forced.

What advice can you give someone who is trying to make this change?

Step back. It’s really analyzing one self. What are your strengths? With every single artist that I’ve worked with at the gallery, it’s never just about the project itself. What is your core? What is your passion? What is your inspiration? What excites you about life? What do you do that’s really natural?

There are things that are forced and things that you do because you are meant to do.

I know that from school taking certain classes and trying to get into certain subjects where I tried so hard and my brain was just not handling it, I was having a hard time processing it. Whenever I ran into a wall, I tried to analyze why. There’s nothing wrong with trying things that are different but I think that it is just as important to understand that it’s not for you.

A good example would be one of the times I was in school in engineering, learning thermodynamics. I would spend so many hours on that. My brain just did not accept that — it is not my thing. Whatever it was, I had to accept it and move on.

So I’m more open to that at work, to try different things but when I recognize that it’s not working then I just say, Ok it’s not for me. With photography, and more of the art world, it’s not only fun but it’s natural. It just feels right. Ever since I took that first class in college, it just always felt natural, it just felt like there is something here that I never experienced before.

Doing stuff that you are trying to make real, it will never be real. Doing stuff that is real will always be real.

Do you find yourself recognizing this misalignment more quickly over time?

I think it really depends on what it is but there’s certain things that click right off the bat and you’ll know. When I’m helping my clients with marketing strategy and how to tie that into technology, it is just an easy flow conversation on many levels and, you know, you feel it.

Finding your core and leveraging your natural strengths is like letting the wind run for you.

My nieces (twin girls) and my nephew — they’re six and eleven years old — we went kite flying one day. They they took the kite and they ran back, they ran forth, they ran back, trying to get the kite up. Being Asian, I channeled my inner Mr. Miyagi and told my nephew, “You know you should let the wind run for you.”

It’s only when you see the wind that you understand it will fly the kite.

In this journey of self-exploration, how do you deal with setbacks and challenges?

I’ve run into that many times with certain jobs that I’ve had. I’ve had to identify challenges early on and make the hard decision to step away from the situation.

Fortunately I’m very good with my money, so I have the ability to do that. But I feel that if you plan right, you can do that. Even if you have to struggle, you still can do that. Because bottom line is it is your choice. Life is your choice. If you see it the other way around then you are not really living life, you are just letting life live you.

I make choices to either stay or go because I feel that you have to be able to identify that for yourself. It really comes down to your health too. At a security technology company where I worked for two years, the last six months was the hardest because I was trying to hang on to the money. But I just did not enjoy it. I did not enjoy the people. I did not enjoy the technology. It was zero enjoyment. I felt that in my body. I needed to step away from this for my health.

It was scary still. It’s not an easy decision to make but you have to think about it as an investment for you. For your life. Because you don’t want to work at a job where you’re on your deathbed and you go, What have I been doing all my life? You’re not going to say, I wish I was at work right now.

How do you think stories can change your perspective?

I went to a Chagall exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the first few times it didn’t really inspire me. I just walk through the art but on the fourth time I took the audio tour and that totally changed my experience. It’s about the story behind it, the life experience behind the artwork. The artist’s experience of where he was in life. All the icons that represented the people in his life. His struggles. To me that was the power behind the art and not just the physical and visual part of the art. I think the visual is your first connection but it’s the story. That is the keeper, the thing that keeps you coming back and keeps you thinking about it.

Tell us about your latest project. What is #HoodieStory?

I like digging into the passions of people because passionate people have this energy about them. I want to harness that energy and put it into a book. You read about passionate people and it makes you think about your own passions.

Hoodie Story - Friendz

I’m always curious about people, I’m always curious about subcultures. Wherever I have curiosity, I’m going to use that as a platform to get into learning about it. This is what it’s about for me. Learning about the world, learning about different subcultures that are interesting.

Debbie Jue - Hoodie Story

Debbie Jue – #HoodieStory

Every person has a unique story. I want to uncover the subtleties in the identities of the people that you don’t read about. I want to make it available for people to read. When you walk down the street you see people and you have already formulated an impression. Say this person wearing a hoodie, urban hipster style, you may be thinking he’s a coder or something like that but who knows, he may not be.

Hoodie Story - Postcard FrontThis is all about people. It is about people connecting and how people respond to passionate people. I’m sure you have curiosity about people in general and if you have a good collection of passionate people, hopefully it also inspires you to be passionate.

Hoodie Story - Postcard Back

Did you enjoy this article? Join us for the next installment. Yes there is a part 2, where we continue to grill Rob on his choice to live deliberately, his advice for artists, dealing with money concerns and more on being the catalyst to the FORCE. To be posted on Thursday Sept 4, 2014. That’s next week! Just a few days before Rob’s eBook release exhibit on Sept 6, 2014. 6 PM – 8 PM. Market Street Gallery. Keep an eye out for the next installment.

And a special thanks to Mei Li Ooi for being an awesome editor for this piece.

About Pablo Sanchez

Enjoys crafting simple animated business videos that get your big ideas across to a larger audience. Honey, I Can Explain! is the place to go.

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