“My life has not gone according to “The Plan.”
The Plan was for me to go to medical school and eventually pull down a respectable salary of about $150,000 a year.
Had I gone with The Plan, by this point in my life (I’m in my mid-forties) I probably would have just finished paying off my student loans and would be eyeing that thirty-two-foot Catalina sailboat with the FOR SALE sign that I passed every night on my way home from the clinic. I’d be settled into a comfortable home in the ‘burbs, with my wife of twenty years and me 2.3 kids, driving a Lexus sedan. And living the life of my dreams.
Well, my parents’ dreams.
Which I tried, for a time, to convince myself were my dreams too.
Following The Plan made me cry a lot. Eventually I found myself with a literal gun to my own head. That’s when I ran from The Plan and began an adventure into uncharted territory.
Uncharted territory goes completely against the grain of my upbringin.
My parents were first-generation Asian immigrants. Their lives’ territory was very well charted. And they’d charted mine too. My destiny was determined before I was born, and I had absolutely no say in it. My parents didn’t know (or particularly care) if I was going to be gay or blind or a violent psychopath. All they knew was that I was going to be a doctor. Secondarily to that, of course, I would be married at a young age to a nice Chinese girl whom my mother endorsed, and I would deliver my mother numerous grandchildren for her to spoil. ASAP.
While I was growing up, my family suffered through sobering bouts of poverty. My parents sacrificed everythign to ensure that I could get a good education. All they wanted was for me to not have to face the same financial struggles that they had. As a side benefit, they also weren’t going to mind the privilege of saying, “My son, the doctor.”
I didn’t want to live in poverty either, so I gave The Plan a go for ma ny years. I even got a degree in pharmacology in my attempt to become a physician.
And what did I do instead? I became a wedding photographer.
You can imagine the songs of joy this caused to leap from my parents’ hearts.
And yet, spring-boarding from that career, which began with moving back into my parents’ apartment and shooting weddings for $150 each, I became a multi-millionaire within a fairly short period of time. And it happened due to one improbably accident after another.”
Gary Fong vehemently stresses his new book, The Accidental Millionaire (Ben Bella Books), is not a ‘how to get rich book.’ When I first saw the book, that’s what I presumed. But, no…it’s a delightful twist on how to get rich accidentally of sorts. It’s truly the most wonderful memoir about someone who never set out to get rich but ended up rich nevertheless. If there’s such a thing as fate, this book would definitely fit the bill!
The Accidental Millionaire is the memoir of Gary Fong, would-be slacker who revolutionized wedding photography, inventor of popular photography aids, entrepreneur, contrarian, bon vivant and a man who really, really didn’t want to become a doctor. A first-generation Chinese-American, Gary was raised in one of Los Angeles’ least-desirable neighborhoods and was forced to deal—in his own quirky and often very funny way—with the burdens of poverty, crime and his parents’ relentless aspirations. These issues almost overwhelmed him until he had a dramatic epiphany. Spotting a bumper sticker that read “Since I gave up hope, I feel much better,” Gary promptly did just that.
He stopped trying and started succeeding. At turns hilarious, insightful and instructive, The Accidental Millionaire is Horatio Alger-meets-David Sedaris. Turning the traditional self-help principles upside down, The Accidental Millionaire disdains the goal-oriented approaches of traditional self-help philosophies. Sometimes not knowing where you are going is the best possible way to get there.
We interviewed Gary to find out more about his new book. Enjoy!
Thank you for this interview, Gary. What an exciting title – The Accidental Millionaire! Can you give us a brief rundown of what it’s about?
Gary: This book is a humorous memoir that describes what it’s like to be a Chinese boy of first-generation American parents, and the pressures the bouts of poverty that we went through, that go with having to be the typical dream of the immigrant family: a doctor with lots of children. Rebelling against such pressure from the folks, I discarded the idea of going to medical school to become of all things, a wedding photographer.
Starting out as the cheapest wedding photographer anywhere to be found, I eventually become one of the biggest figures in the industry, having had the goal to distance myself from poverty as much as possible. Though I did well, every goal that I had set for myself was a failure. Going through a big divorce, everything that I had built vanished suddenly and distraught with grief over my collapsed expectations by nearly rear end a car that has a bumper sticker that says, “since I gave up hope, I feel much better”. It was at that moment my life takes a drastic change.
I suddenly abandon trying to accomplish anything. And one unlikely accident after another, with the most bizarre path, leads me to a self built fortune. And I discover that it was giving up on goal setting that gave me the freedom to truly achieve much greater things than I ever would’ve imagined.
You made the decision to leave behind your goal-oriented life to become a multi-millionaire. What prompted that decision?
Gary: this happened but not exactly in that order. What happens is, in the first part of the book, I’m completely goal oriented. At first, I’ll go sit in front of me to please my parents. Then I discard my parents goals for my own dreams, and become of all things, a wedding photographer. That goes okay for about 12 years until all of a sudden boom, everything in my life that ever strived for vanished in an instant.
One day, while I was completely immersed in the disappointment of a life that didn’t meet my expectations, that I nearly rear-ended a car. It was a close call, and I stared at the bumper sticker which said, “since I gave up hope, I feel much better”. It was at that moment I decided that I didn’t care anymore about pretty much anything. And the moment that I gave up, my business life took so many amazing twists and turns on my way to making myself a fortune.
The book illustrates that for me, everything that I planned I failed that, and all of my amazing successes were totally unplanned. And that lies the message that high expectations has a repulsive effect on success.
You are a man of many inventions. Would you like to tell us about them?
Gary: the thing that turned me into an inventor was one awesome invention that I completely missed out on. I had met this famous inventor who told me that the secret to his success is looking at anything, the most mundane items, and asking yourself, “how can this be improved?” He then made the address my old-fashioned Samsonite luggage and asked me what I would do to improve it. I responded that it would be nice if it had wheels and a telescoping handle so that the luggage wouldn’t have to be carried around all the time. He said there you go, run with it, it’s all yours. And I completely let that one go because I was focused on my silly little goal of booking seven weddings at July, and I had only three booked. I swore to myself that if I ever came up with another invention idea, I would pursue it to market.
Probably my most successful invention is called the “Lightsphere”. When digital photography first came out, I realized that because of the higher contrast flash photography needed to change. The regular flash unit is shaped like a flashlight, and therefore photos had a “deer in headlights” look. The light sphere has a shape much like a table lamp, and this gives much softer illumination and is much more flattering than direct flash. And the results are amazing, and a major retailer recently said that this accessory changed digital photography.
There is a bumper sticker that you bought which helped change your life. Would you like to tell us about that?
Gary: answered above.
What do you feel stops people from pursuing “bright ideas” that could turn them into multi-millionaires, also?
Gary: same thing that stopped me. The silly idea that, “if it’s such a great idea someone would’ve done that by now”. And especially this goal driven life that we have been trained as the step to success. I think it’s, in my experience, silly to have a life pursuing one goal after the other. When one accomplishes the goal, they’re merely relieved or satisfied. They’re not amazed, and this detaching ourselves from this narrow vision that comes from goal setting gives us an open window to possibilities that we would’ve dismissed before as being “unrealistic”.
As you read the stories in my book, everything I did was so obvious, so simple, but had I been focused on doing “realistic” things, I would’ve missed all of them.
Is this a “how to get rich” book per say?
Gary: no. And this is why. If I were to say that by reading this book, you would have insider secrets to “getting rich”, then I would be giving you expectations. It’s having expectations that are dead set in stone that closes our minds to all the opportunities
Finally, do you have any advice you’d like to share with new entrepreneurs?
Gary: Build and maintain a cash cushion. Running low on cash gives you an air of desperation, and this has a repulsive effect on your success. If you’re desperate for liquid cash, your desperation, fear, insecurity sound an alarm to everybody in your path. And don’t have huge expectations. Expect nothing, It’s impossible to be disappointed if you have no expectations. And anybody who is pitching a product or idea who is disappointed inside will repel people.
If you would like to purchase your copy of Gary Fong’s new book, The Accidental Millionaire, Amazon or Barnes & Noble are the best ways to obtain your copies, although it can be bought or ordered in most Virginia Beach bookstores.