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Chris Do

In this two part series, the roles are reversed. Our guest, and Futur Pro Group member Anneli Hannson, will interview Chris. Think of it like a deep dive into the mind of Mr. Do. The person, the businessman, and the educator.

Chris Do’s Origin Story — Part 1
Chris Do’s Origin Story — Part 1

Chris Do’s Origin Story — Part 1

Ep
117
Jan
20
With
Chris Do
Or Listen On:

How an introverted refugee became the confident teacher and YouTuber you admire today.

If you’re a regular listener of the show, then you know our format: Chris Do talks with an interesting guest while carefully poking and prodding them with questions. All in hopes of learning as much about their experience as humanly possible.

But today, we’re flipping everything on it’s head.

In this two part series, the roles are reversed. Our guest, and Futur Pro Group member Anneli Hansson, will interview Chris. Think of it like a deep dive into the mind of Mr. Do. The person, the businessman, and the educator.

In part one, we get to hear Chris’ origin story. About how an introverted refugee became the confident teacher and YouTuber you admire today.

It’s easy to make assumptions about people, especially when you haven’t walked in their shoes. And this is probably the closest you can get to wearing Chris’ sneakers.

He shares personal stories about his family fleeing Saigon, living life as a cultural outsider, and why it’s so important to have—and to follow—your own internal compass.

Thank you to Gusto for sponsoring this episode.

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Episode Transcript

Chris:
I take things to their extreme logical conclusion, and then it becomes very clear to me what has to happen. So, if I am sitting here sobbing like a child, if I give up on my dreams, if I don't get focused on my portfolio, I return home, totally defeated, mission unaccomplished, that work my way into getting a state school, I could be good, above average at a place where average people go, and then the rest of my life is written. And that's not a life I want to have.

Greg:
Welcome to The Futur Podcast, the show that explores the interesting overlap between creativity, business, and personal development. I'm Greg Gunn. If you're a regular listener of the show, then you know our format. Chris talks with an interesting guest while carefully poking and prodding them with questions, all in hopes of learning as much about their experience as humanly possible. But today, we're flipping everything on its head.

In this two part series, the roles are reversed. Our guest and Futur Program member, Anneli Hansson, will be interviewing Chris. So, think of it like a deep dive into the mind of Mr. Do, the person, the businessman, and the educator. In part one, we get to hear Chris's origin story about how an introverted refugee became the confident YouTuber that you admire today. You know, it's easy to make assumptions about people, especially when you haven't walked in their shoes. And this episode is probably the closest you can get to wearing Chris's sneakers.

Chris shares very personal stories about his family fleeing Saigon, living life as a cultural outsider, and why it's so important to have and to follow your own internal compass. Now, there are some violent moments in his story, so skip ahead if you think that stuff might bother you. And I have to say that Anneli does a wonderful job guiding this conversation. And Chris is incredibly vulnerable in his responses. So, as weird as this is to say, please enjoy our conversation with Chris Do.

Chris:
Today's podcast is going to be a little different. Usually, it's me asking my guest a bunch of different questions. But my friend, Anneli, who's been part of Pro Group, and somebody I've gotten to know over the last year, she really encouraged me to tell more of my story because I'm a very private person, and I generally don't feel like this is a story that people want to know. And it was during one of our live streams, and she really insisted, "Hey, you got to do this." Okay, enough excuses. I've told you all to go out of your comfort zone, share your story. But maybe this is one where the shoemaker's kids have no shoes. And so with that, Anneli, welcome to the show.

Anneli:
Thank you so much, Chris. Happy to be here.

Chris:
Now, for people who don't know who you are, can you introduce yourself, please?

Anneli:
Yeah, but you know what, maybe it's more interesting if you introduce me.

Chris:
I can't. This is not how the show works. This is not how the show works. You got to just introduce yourself.

Anneli:
Okay. I'm Anneli Hansson and I'm from Stockholm, Sweden. And I'm 46 years old. So, I'm not so new in this industry. And I've been working for like over 20 years with marketing, branding, and brand strategy. Yeah, and I'm part of the Pro Group. And yeah, here I am.

Chris:
Okay. It was beautiful. Thank you very much. That was a rather unusual, unconventional introduction. I like it. And I think that might be-

Anneli:
Okay.

Chris:
Yeah. I think that might be setting the tone for the conversation we're about to have. And there's not a giant structure or premeditated thing, it really is just about having a conversation with two people. So, maybe I can start by asking you, what do you want to know that you think maybe I haven't done a great job of sharing?

Anneli:
Okay. One thing that I'm really curious about is, when I see your website, it's really clear that you care about your mission because that is the first thing we see, but you're not talking so much about it. So, I want to hear more about the mission and what drives you.

Chris:
Okay, beautiful. So, you don't think we do a good job? [inaudible 00:04:56]. All right. Let me see how I process that. Okay. So, for people who aren't familiar, The Futur's mission is to teach one billion people how to make a living, doing what they love, without losing their soul in the process. And this comes from a very personal point of view, in that as a creative person who went to one of the finest design in art schools, at least in America, that I learned the craft, I learned the theory, I learned conceptual thinking. But I'm not sure it was because of me or not, that I didn't get a lot of business skills.
So, I had this false impression that all you needed to succeed in life was to go out into the world, and show your portfolio. And that expression the work will speak for itself was really something I held on to really tightly because of a lot of different reasons. But one of the main reasons is because I'm an introvert, I don't want to talk about myself, I don't want to talk about anything, I don't even want to talk about my work. I would just rather put all my energy into the work so that the work would speak for me. Then I quickly realize, I'm not going to get any business, I don't have any clients because I don't have any business skills, I don't have any marketing skills.
And so, this journey of self discovery, of learning about business and figuring out that part of it became my entire obsession. Because I felt like at that time, I understood the design parts, so I needed to learn that. And then I was able to achieve some level of success where I felt like, "I wonder how many other people are in this exact same situation as me." Not just in the United States, but all over the world. And it turns out quite a few. So, now, I've dedicated my life, my purpose, the thing that drives me is to teach as many people as I can before I expire.

Anneli:
Okay. I hear what you're saying, but it's like, why is it important for you? Because you do work a lot, and you're so passionate about what you do. And there must be a reason why you feel like you can put in so much effort and work. What do you want to accomplish?

Chris:
Okay. So, I think I understand the first part, and then let's see if I can tackle the second part. The first part is this, is why? Why even do this? Well, part of my story is that I'm a refugee. I'm a first generation immigrant. I was not born in the United States. I was born in Saigon, Vietnam. And my parents had to flee because of communism in 1975, April 30th 1975. That's the moment when our entire lives have changed very drastically.
Coming to America, we didn't have a whole lot. And I was very obsessed with trying to understand how we can move up the socio economic ladder. I really was because I would read in magazines and watching TV shows our life does not look like the lives that are being portrayed in these things that I'm staring at. And I wanted to achieve something with myself. And when I ultimately was able to find my creative voice and a career, I got way more than what I had bargained for. In orders of magnitude more, I was content on just living some modest life and having a small business, but I was able to get more. And so, I feel like now this country that's been so great to not just myself and my family, but immigrants from all over the world, especially from Vietnam, I just feel like there's a debt that I need to pay off.

Anneli:
Okay.

Chris:
So, that's the motivation, right?

Anneli:
Yeah. Yeah.

Chris:
I feel like the scales have been so far lopsided in my favor. I don't know how much I can do to bring balance to it. And I feel like I want to balance that scale.

Anneli:
Yeah. Okay. I see. How would your life look like if your parents didn't take that decision that day and you were still in Vietnam right now?

Chris:
Yeah. My life would be drastically different. My dad told me that and I'll try to tell the story without totally falling apart on you, okay? My dad was in the military. And the communists are not known to treat enemy combatants kindly. My mom would tell me stories about how as the Democratic Party in Vietnam was being driven to the south, that there were horrible stories of torture and all kinds of horrific things happening. And she had told me a story about some relatives that were buried neck deep in the sand, to be tortured and to die that way, with whatever creatures that can find them. And that's just one part.
And my dad knew, and he hated communism so much because of the atrocities of things that he had heard about and he had witnessed in his life, that for him, there was no option to stay. There were zero options. And he even told me that on that day, that window that was collapsing in 24 hours to get out of the country, he had told me that there were pirates, basically ship captains who were bringing people on their boat, collecting their money, and then taking them out to the sea and just pushing them off into the ocean, so they can go back and get more people.

Anneli:
Oh my God.

Chris:
Because there was nowhere for them to go.

Anneli:
Okay.

Chris:
Okay? And so, what he told me was, he says, even knowing that that was a high probability, if all the options that were available to him didn't materialize and many of them did not, he would have gladly taken us on that boat because he would choose death over living under communism. Because he also knew that's not a life for him, it's not a life for his kids. And he would probably be tortured and put into camp, which some of my relatives years or decades later, were released from those prisons and they're there physically. But that takes a toll on your psyche that I don't think you can ever recover from.

Anneli:
Oh, my God, what a story. Have you been back to Vietnam?

Chris:
I haven't. Ironically, for the first time, we had planned a trip to go back this year, booked the tickets, hotel, it was going to be our family and my parents were going to go with us, and then COVID hit and we had to make this decision. At that point, it wasn't clear yet how bad this was going to be, and we were still weighing our options because I was really looking forward to this trip, of course. So here's the thing, we canceled the trip. And it turns out Vietnam is one of the safer places to be, which is, what the heck, right? We're thinking to ourselves, "Third world country is not going to handle this." And that's probably one of the safer places we could have been, but whatever.

Anneli:
But your parents, did they go back?

Chris:
Yeah, they've been back several times. Yeah.

Anneli:
Okay. When you arrived to America, how did your life look like then?

Chris:
We arrived in 1975, and we landed in Kansas City, Missouri. And the reason why we're there is because that's where our sponsor host family was. And the way this worked, as far as I understand it, is there were large communities within the church were Catholic. And I'm sure what happened behind the scenes was they're saying like, "We need to find host families for these refugees that are also Catholics, they're God loving people. And we need volunteers to help them integrate into American society."
And so what happened was our families got split up into large chunks, right? Just so everybody can understand, both my mom and dad have about 10 brothers and sisters each. And then they have kids. And so, one host could not say, "Okay, I'm going to take 100 of you." Because I mean, it's not literally 100 but it's a lot. Okay?

Anneli:
Yeah.

Chris:
And so, we were broken up. And so, some went to Arkansas, some went to Kansas, and some went to San Jose. But they all knew like, "Okay, we need to stay in touch, we need to kind of reconnect." And eventually, we all kind of wound up mostly in the same place, which was San Jose, but we landed in Kansas City, Missouri, in a poor part of town, and we lived across the street from our sponsor.

Anneli:
And how old are you? Three, four? What is it?

Chris:
I'm three.

Anneli:
Three. I can totally understand when you say that you can be a little bit upset when people have assumptions about you and you're sorry that you don't understand how people have it. You have been there, you're the first generation.

Chris:
Yeah.

Anneli:
You have seen everything?

Chris:
Yeah.

Anneli:
I mean, things like this happens all the time, over the world right now.

Chris:
So, I understand the story of people who struggle, people who have been marginalized. I understand what it's to be poor. I understand what it feels like to be an outsider, to be hated just because you're different. And I've lived with that for a really long time, actually.

Anneli:
But how was it when you came to the US? Were there a lot of people from Vietnam? Were you the first person from Vietnam people have met or?

Chris:
Yeah. I think so.

Anneli:
How many people were there?

Chris:
Now, I'm not saying that there have been zero people from Vietnam in the United States up until that point. I think there were some. But then all of a sudden, I'm not sure about this number. I think 200,000 people were able to escape with the help of the US government.

Greg:
A quick note here. According to Wikipedia, over 130,000 Vietnamese refugees were evacuated.

Chris:
Some went to Australia, some went to America, and some went to Canada, but a lot of us went to America. And I think, for a lot of small town, mostly white suburban communities, maybe this is the first time seeing an Asian person, most definitely the first time seeing a person from Vietnam. And so, when I was growing up, people had lumped us all together like if you looked Asian, you're Chinese. That was just assumption. Didn't matter if you're Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Laotian, Filipino, you're just Chinese.

Anneli:
And you know what? I haven't told you that, but I do have two siblings that are from South Korea. Of course, they're not my siblings like that. But they are but they're adopted. And adopted kids still have a lot of struggles when they come to a new country. So, I can just imagine how it must be like. So, how were you when you were a little child? How was your personality, were you shy or?

Chris:
Yeah. I'm still shy, so it's not drawing a big distinction between childhood and adulthood. Luckily, I have tools to cope and deal with interaction in social gatherings. But as a child, I was very quiet and sure of myself. My older brother is built differently than me. One day you when you meet him, you'll see like he's broader shoulders, and he's smarter than I am. Subjectively speaking, for point of contrast, my older brother is a four plus point, four plus .0 GPA student, right?

Anneli:
Okay.

Chris:
He goes to UC San Diego, he gets his master's degree from Stanford. He's in startups that get funded and then go public. That's my older brother. And he's physically just bigger, like bigger hands, bigger bones, just bigger. And then my younger brother, for a long time, was just the cute son in the family. And he got all the attention because he has big round eyes and curly hair, and he just got that. And here I am in the middle and the middle child syndrome, is that helping my introversion here at all, right?

Anneli:
Yeah.

Chris:
And I'm skinny. I'm relatively smart, but not as smart as my older brother. And I don't have the first son status because he's the oldest son from the oldest son kind of thing. So, I was struggling for most of my teenage years up until that point, like, "Who am I? How do I fit in this?" And I can't measure up to my older brother. I'm not as cute as my younger brother. I'll tell you a funny story here. I was looking at old photos, right? My mom, thankfully, had tons of photos from Vietnam, from Kansas, from wherever we were. They thankfully took a lot of pictures. And I would always look at the photos. And I would say which ones me. And it's always the ugly that was me. I was like, "No, I'm that one, mom."

Anneli:
No.

Chris:
"I'm that one right there." And she goes, "No, that's your brother." I'm like, "Shoot, I'm a little squinty eyes and crooked smile and the weird dimples in places." And I always thought the cute one should have been me, but it wasn't. And I just had to deal with that.

Anneli:
This is so strange because when people see you today, I just see the thing they see like this super successful person who knows it all, with really good self-confident. I think I totally like you transforming into this extrovert. So, it's a little bit strange to hear you talk about yourself like this because you often have this super self-confident. So when did this change? When did you transform into this, Chris Do we know about?

Chris:
My life story is about contrast. And so, it's actually very easy for me to pinpoint moments in my life where things changed.

Anneli:
Can you tell me about one?

Chris:
The stages, right? When I found graphic design as a thing that I could do and as a career, just the idea of it, that was the beginning of that change. It wasn't transformative in that moment, but for the first time in my life, I got clarity on the kind of person I could become and the things that I could do. And that happened when I was 17, 18 years old, as a senior in high school. Okay. So, that started me on this path. And then when I got into ArtCenter, and found people just like me, art nerds and weirdos and introverts, and we all love design. And I found that without a ton of effort, I was better than most people. And that gave me all kinds of confidence because for the first time in my life, I found something that I could do, that I have a natural proclivity for, that I'm good at, and people seem to acknowledge that like my teachers and my friends. And I found that almost immediately, but I wasn't sure.
So, I would play this very cruel game as my wife describes later. I asked everybody that would be willing to show me the portfolio.

Anneli:
Oh, okay.

Chris:
Because I was told that no matter how good you think you are, there are a ton of people there that are good, as good as you, or even better than you at the school. So, I had this assumption because I had seen the portfolio of one of the ArtCenter's graduates, his name is Luis Fitch. I looked at his work because he came by our college and showed us his work. I was blown away. It was so, so good.
So, the narrative in my mind was... And he said this, "I'm just one of many." And I think he was just being falsely humble at that point. And he's showed us his work and was the best portfolio I've ever seen in my life. I don't think everybody there is going to be like that. So, of course, when I get into school, as soon as I make a few friends, I ask people, "Hey, can I see your portfolio?" And they're really proud. They're like, "Yeah." And they don't even ask me to see mine. So, it's cool, right? So, I just get to see their work. You know those vinyl zipper bags?

Anneli:
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Chris:
They would unzip them and lay them out on the table with the acetate sheets and all that stuff and you'd flip through them. And they're mostly compositional exercises, life drawing, color studies, and a little bit of design. And in my mind, I was looking at this and I think, "This is so rudimentary. This is so basic. I can't even believe you got into the school." Because everything in my portfolio was photographed, it was laminated. It was all about design and packaging, menu design, editorial layouts, shopping bags. None of these foundational figure drawing, none of that. I thought I had a real portfolio and then I looked at their work. I'm like, "These aren't exercises, man. And you got into school?"
So, one portfolio after the other, it started to confirm something in me. It's like, "Oh, I got a scholarship for a reason."

Anneli:
Oh, yeah. They had to pay.

Chris:
They paid. For one different reasons, I mean, I got a scholarship because the portfolio that I presented, I think, was actually in alignment with the major that I was studying. And two, I had financial needs. So, those two things put together allowed me to get a scholarship. But I wasn't sure, so I needed to know. And there's not that many times in life where you have these kind of questions, where, "Am I just the average bear? Am I worse than everybody? Am I better than everybody else?" Where you can actually get confirmation?

Anneli:
Yeah. When did you get so competitive? Were you really competitive or did you just want to show your parents or yourself? Why was it so important to have that to compare yourself to others?

Chris:
I'm a super competitive person, Anneli, I think you know that. And I don't think that just happened overnight. So, when we're playing video games, as a kid, I wanted to be better. We would go to the arcade and I have very fond memories of the arcade. And for young people, there used to be these places inside the mall, where you can go and you would bring a pocketful of quarters, and then you would put them in there and you would play. And the goal was to play as long as possible because I don't have a lot of money.
And so, if you can hold your own, and people would enter into the... There was a game I think it's called the karate or Kung Fu or whatever. And you'd battle other people. And if you can hold that for a couple of games, you're doing pretty good. It's always competitive that way. I was even playing hide and seek. I didn't want to get caught. I wanted to win. So, it just translated into something I was actually good at because I'd tried my hand at sports, terrible. I'm not going to win that game. So, when I finally found design, of course, I'm competitive. I want to be the best.

Anneli:
Yeah. But what happened when you won? Did people compliment you or? What was the drive to win all the time?

Chris:
You mean, in games?

Anneli:
Yeah. But all in school, were they proud of you?

Chris:
Okay. Well, when you play a game, I try to be a gracious winner. I'm not a horrible person. I don't want people to think that. When I win I don't like, "No, you suck you. Do, get out of here." I'm not like that. It's just gratification. I want to just prove something to myself.

Anneli:
Okay. But that's what I wanted to hear is it for yourself or for somebody else because I-

Chris:
It's just for myself.

Anneli:
Yeah. Because I've been in that situation, and I became kind of competitive because I had a parent who were really competitive. So, that's why I wanted to ask you.

Chris:
Yeah. My parents are not competitive. And so, my dad is very conservative, and he's a very quiet human being. He has a quiet confidence. He's not out there trying to tell people, "This is what I've done." Not at all. So, when I asked people to see their portfolios, many of them never even asked me to show them mine, so I didn't even bother. I don't have anything to prove to them. And if people ask out of reciprocity, I'd show them, right? I'm just curious. I wanted to know where I stood in the game of design.
When I was performing at the top of my class, I would say top two, three students of my class, not number one, but just top three, I felt pretty good. I wasn't calling my mom like, "Mom, you won't believe I'm in the top percentage of my..." It didn't matter to me. It didn't matter to me that other people thought that or not. I started to know. And it's like, "Okay, let's keep building on this." And I was ultra competitive because I play a game with myself. The game was, can you be the best person in this class, in every single class?

Anneli:
It's really interesting how you actually got that. It's kind of a self confidence that you didn't need that confirmation from somebody else.

Chris:
Yeah. I talk about this a lot, which is, you need to have your own internal compass, right and wrong. And we talk about the moral compass, and there's ethics, and then there's design, there's all kinds of things and you need to be clear. So, what I would do is I'd walk around the room, and I will look at the work and I will know like, :Yeah, you did it this week." Or, "No, that person killed you." And it is a horrible feeling in my mind. And when this teacher said it, they were only confirming what I already knew to be true.

Anneli:
Okay.

Chris:
And that's a big difference, right?

Anneli:
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Chris:
So, some people would come to class, present their work and think this is great. Actually, most students thought that. And so, when the teachers said this was terrible, it created some kind of fracture inside their mind, the schism between what they thought they were and what they really were, was unbearable for them. So, they would leave the room and cry, or they would cry right on the spot. And I was sitting there thinking, "This is uncomfortable for all of us, but you must have known this sucked before you came here. You must have known." Right? Or maybe you were unsure. When I did work, and I wasn't sure, I knew I wasn't sure. So, the teacher's going to say, "This is actually really good. And these are the parts I like." Or, "This was terrible." I'm like, "Yep, it could have gone 50, 50."
But I didn't go into class thinking, "That's it, nailed it." And then them to turn my world upside down. So, we talk about this a lot, Anneli, which is to have this objective lens, to be the witness to your own life and your thoughts. I already developed this pre ArtCenter.

Greg:
Time for a quick break, but we'll be right back with more from Chris. Welcome back to our conversation with Chris Do.

Anneli:
When we go back to that moment, did you still feel like this outsider?

Chris:
No, I was feeling like I'm on the inside now. There was still a little sense, okay? Because the way I describe it is this, our school like this is broken up into many groups of people. Most of it is the affluent, like there's levels of wealth there. And there's a joke, right? The joke goes something like this. And I heard the teacher say this, "How do you know you're going to a public school versus a private school?"
Well, the nice cars are in the teachers' lot. That's the public school. The nice cars in the student lot, that's the private school. It was very much true. So, I was driving a Nissan 200SX, which was a hand me down car from my brother, who bought the car used and it had a slipped timing belt. So, sometimes, when you drive around the corner and starts to whine, so you can hear me coming around the corner. Super embarrassing, right? It's like, there comes Chris. And my brother, he had put a little love in his car and he put up tinted windows, but he did it himself. And of course, he didn't do it right, so it was bubbling.
So, I just want to be very clear with everybody what's going on. So, I'm driving a secondhand use car. I was getting me to and from home in school, while some of my friends were driving Beamers or Mercedes, and Porsches, and things like that. I'm like, "Dang." So there is that class in terms of wealth. And I was not at the bottom, but I was pretty close to it. I only knew a handful of people who were poorer than me. One of my friends Jorge's, from Tijuana, and he was just basically on his own.

Anneli:
Oh.

Chris:
Whereas my parents were able to pay some of the tuition and the rest was done in loans and scholarships. So, there was that part. And then you could tell the high society people. Not only do they drive fancy cars, they dress differently. Everything they have is different. I'm bit of a... I don't want to say a scrub, but I'm just like, sometimes I shower, sometimes I don't. I wear clothes, mostly out of utility and what I can afford. So, oftentimes, this is my in my hip hop days, I'd wear this burgundy colored trench coat and made of denim with my Doc Martens. And I wore that mostly because I could sleep in it.

Anneli:
Oh, me. Sleep in it?

Chris:
Yeah, I'd sleep in it because-

Anneli:
What?

Chris:
Yeah, because at school, I would work all day and night at school.

Anneli:
And you went to bed in your clothes and just went off-

Chris:
Literally, I slept on the table,

Anneli:
Oh, my God.

Chris:
I would go into a classroom where I thought there's not going to be a lot of noise or distraction at work there 2:00, 3:00 in the morning. And I'd classes at 8:00 or 9:00. And then I would just sleep there. And then I would go to the bathroom in the morning to brush my teeth and wash my face. And that was it. So, I literally slept in my clothes on top of these hard wood tables. And that was my life.

Anneli:
Okay. I mean, didn't you have... It doesn't sound like a life to me more than going to school? How WEre your social skills? Did you interact with people at all?

Chris:
I did interact with people. But I made a lot of conscientious decisions to not participate in anything that I dint's is productive or helping me to grow. I had this very real feeling in my heart, in my mind, that I have one shot to make it. A lot of these people, they're going to have a job that someone's going to hand them, a wealthy relative who's going to hire them or their network was so strong. I didn't have that. And I knew this is it. And I didn't even know, to be honest, maybe something would happen, maybe I get kicked out. I don't know. So, I was not looking there's tomorrow, there's only today. So, I had friends, and one of them I married, but I would just talk to them. And then they would say, "Hey, do you want to go to this party or hang out?" And I said, "No, you guys go do that. I'm going to go to the library. I'm going to stay in the computer lab. This is where I'll be." And I did this for the first two years.
I didn't date anybody. I was living this life of celibacy. I was a design monk, mostly because prior to getting into ArtCenter, I had just gotten out of a really bad relationship. It was toxic for years. And finally, I just couldn't handle any more. It was just so much heartache that I said, "I'm done with girls for a while." I'm not saying I'm not attracted to girls, but I'm just like, "You know what, I'm going to focus on this typography."

Anneli:
Yeah. And wasn't that break up another transformative moment for you in your life?

Chris:
It was, it was. I mean, like I said, I had arrived already at school a certain way. And school just helped me to resolve a few things. But this breakup, this girlfriend that I had was the first person I ever fell in love with, that I dated for years in high school, and we had a really tight but toxic relationship. It was not built up of honesty. There was a lot of manipulation going on. Even though we're the same age, she was a lot more mentally mature than I was, and she had many suitors, right?

Anneli:
Okay.

Chris:
She controlled me and made me basically just looking for those little scraps of validation or affection. And it was rough. And she played that game really well. And my friends were like, "What are you doing? What are you doing? Why would you do that?" I literally would get on a bus because I didn't have a car in high school. I would get on a bus, and I think it took two bus stops or two, not two bus stops, to transfer. I had to take two different buses on two different lines to go see her. And sometimes I'd go see her because she's like, "I need help in packing." And that's all we would do. I just come there, just be manual labor to help her. And then I'd get back on the bus and go home. And that's how I spent my weekends.

Anneli:
But there's a reason why you did it.

Chris:
I loved her.

Anneli:
Yeah, exactly.

Chris:
I mean, I wanted to show and to prove to her and to her parents that I'm a good kid, that I am worthy of being a part of this family, and they were wealthy. They were actually very wealthy. Both her parents drove Mercedes, and they owned multiple supermarkets. And so, it's kind of funny because it's like one of those teenage romance movies that you see where the boy's nerd is this poor person. And-

Anneli:
Yeah, I know.

Chris:
... this girl that he falls in love with is wealthy, comes from different society. I'm not saying we were poor at this point. But like I said, there's just different class. So, we would go to a place like Angus Steakhouse or something like that. And she would say, "You order the prime rib." And then she adds the extras like the mushrooms. And I'm like, "My parents and I we've never even eaten that. We just don't go to these kind of places, the Steakhouse." So, I'm getting this whole world of education from her, and we would go to the Boucherie. And she would order this kind of bread with a pesto. She's like, "I'm very specific, and must be this always." And she made it very clear to me what she wanted in life, and told me, "Go get it." That was our relationship.

Anneli:
So, what happened? What happened because we were into this transformative moments in your life, and you said you had a few of them?

Chris:
Yeah.

Anneli:
What happened after that?

Chris:
Well, okay, so years of dating her, just years of being tortured, and just craving some semblance of a normal relationship, I was living in San Diego with my older brother in La Jolla. And I was trying to get my portfolio together, so I can go to art school. And in one of these conversations I had with her, she had in the past, told me to give her my credit card so that she can buy this dress. And she had told me-

Anneli:
[inaudible 00:37:06].

Chris:
Yeah. She had told me that it was a loan. I'm like, "Great." Because his name's in my credit card. My older brother got me a credit card because he saw that I was hustling. I was starting to do business, and he's like, "You need to establish credit. You need to pay these things off." And I had a job, but I didn't make that much money. So I'm like, "Okay, you promise to pay me back because I don't have this kind of money." And she uses the credit card to buy a dress. And then I'm like, "Can you pay me back?" And she has money. She just doesn't want to pay me back.

Anneli:
Oh.

Chris:
And it created a whole situation for me, right? And so, put a pause on that. So now, I'm living in San Diego. And we have a code. For example, she wasn't supposedly allowed to have calls from boys, especially at a certain time. Proper family and all. So, we have code, I would call and hang up.

Anneli:
Oh.

Chris:
And then she would know it's me, and she would take the call. She'd intercept it so that she didn't get in trouble with her parents. So, I think on one night, it's like eight o'clock, I think it's a Thursday or Friday. I call, hang up. I wait, I call again, her mom picks up. So, I hang up. I wait another 20 minutes, I call, hang up. I call again, her mom picks up. And I'm like, "Oh my god, it's a Thursday or Friday night. It's pretty late." I want to tell you how I did this twice. But maybe I do three times, I don't know. And so, now, I'm starting to feel horrible. I'm like, "Where would she be?" Right? And I'm just turned upside down, all the worst jealous thoughts in my mind, I was like, "Oh my God, she's out partying, whatever, I don't know."
And the next morning, we talk and then she's going out. And I'm like, "So, did you make it home or not?" And she's making some cockamamie story. I knew is super not legitimate, but I couldn't articulate it. And she was just very good at manipulating my words and feelings, so I just felt horrible. And I was just telling her, "You know what? You don't know how much that dress kind of has become a problem for me. And my brother is pissed off at me because he had to then use his own money to buy a dress for a girl he is younger." It was just a messy situation, and it created all kinds of friction between my brother and then my mom because they all know about this debt and this very toxic relationship I have.
And so, finally, I just told her like this, "I just can't stand this. I don't want to be with you anymore. I know you went out with other people. I know that I paid for a dress that I'll never see, and you just lied to me all the time." And she goes, Whatever." And she says, "Well, if you don't trust me." I said, "Okay. I guess I'm not being rational, but I don't trust you. And so, this is over." And that day, I just felt horrible. I was angry. I can tell you right now that I can tell it with some objective distance, but I was crying, I was angry, I wanted to put my fist through the wall. It was like, "This sucked." And she was my entire life at that point. So, that began this whole transformative process. And there's a lot of things that were happening at that same time that compounded the problem.
One was, I had promised my parents and my brother that I wasn't going to be entangled with this girl, and that I was going to be focused on my portfolio. And so, they saw me just throwing my life away. And they couldn't handle it anymore, either. We talk about this story arc and the dark night of the soul. I had that night like two days after we broke up, where I really did feel like life wasn't worth living. That night, I cried like I've never cried before. And I felt like I hated my brother, I hated this girlfriend. My mom just gave up on me, and my dad was probably sitting there. I didn't talk to my dad, but I was probably thinking my dad's nodding his head like, "I knew it. I knew this was a dumb idea."
And in that moment, I had to make a really big adult decision as an 18-year-old kid would, which was, "Do I want to continue living or do I want to do something with my life even though nobody believes in me?" And maybe this is where the lack of validation thing begins, which was, I was just going to do this for me. Because at this point, I had nobody that was in my corner. I remember this one thing, I don't share this all that often. But I remember after talking to my mom, and my mom had said, "Forget about going to ArtCenter. Just go to State School, it'll be fine." And that was code word for me, she's giving up, right? And I was crying. And I have a younger brother, he's only a year younger. But he and I, for most of our life, did not get along very well.
And I remember that he had loaned me some money. And so, I asked my mom like, "I want to talk to him." And in that moment, I had said to him like, "I love you, and I appreciate you helping me. And there's a lot of stuff that's going on right now." And I'm crying when I'm saying this, and he's probably sitting like, "What the heck is going on?" Right? Because he and I don't have that kind of relationship where we're having these kinds of conversations. I said, "You know what? I'll always be there for you. Because right now, you're the only person I think I can count on." And this is a person I don't have a great relationship with, just keep that in mind, okay? We fought like cats and dogs.
I think he was just super confused. Sometimes when people get drunk, and they get really emotional, and you're like, "Whoa." I've had this happen to me from the other point of view. I think for him, maybe he was thinking, "What is going on?

Anneli:
Yeah, maybe afraid of somebody who's really suicidal.

Chris:
I don't know. I don't think people think that.

Anneli:
Oh.

Chris:
But as a kid, I had fantasized about suicide multiple times. And I wanted it to be painful for everybody. I really did. So, this is not a new thought for me. I'm sharing this with you because I'm just trying to be as real as possible.

Anneli:
You will make me cry now, you know that. But-

Chris:
Yeah. So, that was just my road back. Like, "I'm not going to do this for anybody, I have to do it for me. And I'm going to do it no matter what." And I had made a promise to myself that I'm going to get into ArtCenter, I'm going to finish my portfolio, obviously, first, get into ArtCenter. And if zero people supported me, even though it was a super expensive school, I will do whatever I can. If it takes me 10 years to finish school, it will take me 10 years. If I have to work a semester and then go to school a semester or two, whatever needed to happen. So, that was when in the art, the character becomes super resolved like this is it. You go down to the depths, and then you must... Like Batman climbs out of the Lazarus Pit with his back broken, that was me. And I'm being very dramatic about it.
But I want to share something here. I don't want to tell you the story because I don't want giant amount of pity from anybody. But one of the reasons why I think I'm as successful as I am, is because of this trait, which is, I take things to their extreme logical conclusion.

Anneli:
Yeah, you do.

Chris:
And then it becomes very clear to me what has to happen. So, if I am sitting here sobbing like a child, if I give up on my dreams, if I don't get focused on my portfolio, I return home totally defeated, mission unaccomplished. Now, I work my way into getting a state school. I could be good, above average at a place where average people go, and then the rest of my life is written. And that's not the life I want to have.

Anneli:
Yeah. But did you feel like it's almost when you describe it, you were this super sensitive, and then this happened and then you almost put on a mask? It's like a superhero thing because how could you handle it? I mean, it's not that you change overnight as a person or your personality, you needed to do something drastical or how do you describe that?

Chris:
I actually do look at it like something happened. So, I don't know a person can change it 24 hours, but I think if a person can, I did that night. So, the switch was flipped because it was so dire, so extreme in my mind, that basically just go die or rely on yourself and prove to every single person that you have what it takes, that you're going to do this thing. So, then I describe it to people as, and that night the child died and the man appeared. And I'm a completely different person after that point.
So, for context, prior to that day, I would wait to the last minute to do my homework. So, if the assignment was due on Monday, I would literally be at Kinko's, Sunday night, all night working on it. And I was totally unfocused because I was basically watching late night shows. Back then it was Arsenio Hall, and then C&C Music Factory with Paula Abdul, and things that I'm like, "I don't even know why I'm watching this." Right? And so, I put in the minimum effort that I needed to be successful, and that was pretty consistent with me throughout high school.
And after that day, stopped watching the TV. For obvious reasons, because of the breakup, I stopped calling my ex girlfriend. I was just like, "what kind of projects do I need to finish so that my portfolio can be at a point in which I can get into school?" That's all I was thinking about. So, in a period of about, I must say like 45 days, maybe a little bit more than that, I finished all my portfolio pieces, and I even drove with my friend Jorge to Tijuana, had a professional photographer shoot the packages for me, and I was ready. I was ready to get into school.

Anneli:
I just feel when I hear that it's a little bit sad that... I mean, I know you were really successful, but what happened with that? When you say you totally changed as a person, and I know, I told you this before, but I'm often kind of good at reading people. And I do see that boy in you so many times and also really, really sensitive person. And I asked you a couple of days ago, can I read you at all? Because if you're so objective, and sometimes you just described yourself as this logical, cold person. And I'm like, "No, that's not you." Did I totally misunderstand you or misread your personality?

Chris:
No, I don't think you misread my personality. There is a joyful, whimsical, boyish person inside this almost 50-year-old body. He really is. And he gets to come out to play from time to time. But when it comes to making hard decisions about business or accomplishing some kind of objective, that person has to wait.

Anneli:
Okay.

Chris:
So, when you see me giddy and laughing like a schoolgirl, when you see me be so excited to talk to a guest or an idea or concept and I'm very animated, and I let some of the antics go, did I miss that person? That person has been there and that person hasn't gone away. It's just I'm better at regulating who gets to speak and when.

Anneli:
Yeah, okay.

Chris:
Yeah.

Anneli:
So, you don't have that reactions to your emotions at all? You can't control how you react all the time?

Chris:
Most of the time, yeah.

Anneli:
Yeah. Okay.

Chris:
I've been in situations before where I felt like punching somebody in the face as an adult. As a kid, I had this feeling all the time. But I didn't act on that. I'll share an example with you. There's one time, I think I'm maybe eight or nine years into the business and things are going really well, we're successful, big clients, and I have a whole team of people. And there was an art director who worked for me on staff and he was talking about something. He's got a dark personality, like he complains a lot. And I was in the other room and I could hear him talking. I have very sensitive hearing. And he said something like, "Yeah, they just make stuff up here."
And I dropped what I was doing, I went out into the room. I said, "Hey, what are you saying? And there's a lot of things you can say about me that I'm going to be totally okay with. The one thing that you do that I lose my cool is you attack my integrity." I can't remember the specifics. But he had basically said, "You lie."

Anneli:
Oh, okay.

Chris:
And you could say like, "We're cheap, we're not good designers, we have bad taste." You can say all those kinds of things, it's not going to hurt me. And I got this from my dad. Because my dad, throughout all the many lectures and conversations we had when I was growing up, he said, "A man is only as good as a sport." That's the contracts on. And I always kept that. I only have my honesty and my integrity. Everything else, I don't know who I am. But I have that. And that's the reason why my relationship hurts so much with this girl that I fell in love with, is because I didn't know what was real anymore, what was true because she just made up stories all the time.
And so, when this employee had said this about me, specifically, not just broadly, and I said, "Tell me one time when I've said something not to be true." And my voice, I could feel it, it was coming out, right? If this person was going to do a little character assassination because he was feeling grumpy, and if you wanted to go down this road, I was prepared to go to whatever extreme that was going to be. And I could feel it. I was like, "I said you better take that back right now because that is not true what you said." And luckily, he could see what's going on. He said, "Okay, I misspoke." I'm like, "Okay." And then I'm cool again.

Anneli:
Yeah. But you not so often lose your temper, right?

Chris:
No.

Anneli:
Not now.

Chris:
Not now. And there's a couple of times, I can remember the times, which I was ready to fight. And I think women and men deal with this a little differently. When men are ready to fight, we're talking about exchange blows and punch each other in the face, right?

Anneli:
Yeah.

Chris:
It's not just verbally saying, "You're stupid," or something. So-

Anneli:
Okay. Yeah.

Chris:
There's a story here. I was running two offices, we had bi-coastal situation where we're in Santa Monica in New York, and-

Anneli:
Oh, really?

Chris:
Yeah. One of my executive producers had said something to me. I was like, "I can't believe my employee is talking to me like this right now." So, this idea of integrity and respect is really big for me. You attack those two things, and we're going to have a problem. And my blood was boiling. And he was yelling at me at this point, saying all kinds of stupid stuff. And I said to him, and I said it very calm, almost like cold assassin way, even though inside I was feeling very different. I said, "Look, I don't think this conversation is productive. My concern is if we continue down this path, you will say something and I will say something that we can't come back from. And I think we're really close to that point right now. My suggestion is we end this call and reconvene tomorrow when we're both cooler." I said it just like that, right?
And he said, "I will not end this call now. We will talk about it right now." I said, "Okay, if that's your choice, let's get into it." And then I think his heart and his mind, the timing was a little off. And then his mind caught up with his heart which was like, "Wait a minute, I think I'm going to get into a situation where I'm going to get myself fired." So, he's like, "No, no, you're right. Let's talk about this tomorrow." So, here's what I did. My blood is boiling because I wanted to tell him right then and there, "You're fired, get out, don't ever come." I wanted to say whatever I wanted to say at that point. And we held the phone, and I give it a minute.
And I'm thinking, if he's smart, he would send me a text message apologizing saying, "I was out of line. I'm sorry, I've been under a lot of stress." And that's all I need. I don't need a giant mea culpa here. Nothing came through. I checked my emails. I'm like, okay, 10, 20 minutes. I'm like, "Okay, this guy-"

Anneli:
No apology.

Chris:
No.

Anneli:
No.

Chris:
No, he's not retracting anything. So, I call up my business coach, Keir. And Keir knows I never call him. And now when I'm talking to Keir, I'm telling you my true emotion right now, which is like, "Keir, I'm ready to fire this person. He's done. He crossed the line." And Keir's like talking me through the whole bit. He's like, "Chris, I can feel that you're really upset right now, and you have a right to be. No employee should ever talk to his boss the way that person talked to you." Right? "And they crossed the line, no doubt about it. And I would advise you to fire him. But let's be prudent about this. Let's set up a plan as he's going to disrupt your office operations and the people that work in that office."

Anneli:
Yeah, yeah.

Chris:
So, this was one of those moments where I'm like, "Okay, Keir, that's why I have you because I'm ready to move." And so, next day came around, no email, no nothing. I went to office and I told my other executive producer in my office, I said, "Hey, this happened last night, and somebody crossed the line." And he said, "You have a right to fire this person." I said, "Okay, it's sad." I could feel it, and see myself feeling it. And say like, "How do I want to react in this situation? I wanted to react this way." But it doesn't mean I don't have those feelings. I do have those feelings.

Anneli:
Yeah, that's what I wondered. But then I was like, I can see you have those feelings, and I can feel you have those feelings. So, if you were saying something else, I would really question myself, seriously, if I lose my superpower, but, okay. I'm glad that you have those feelings, but you can control them. And that's what I try to do.

Chris:
Yeah. I witness the feelings and I interpret what they mean, and then I decide how I want to react or respond. Yeah.

Greg:
And that's the first half of the story. Next week, we continue the conversation, going deep into Chris's personal mission, life philosophies, and the story of how The Futur came to be. See you then.


Thanks for joining us this time. If you haven't already, subscribe to our show on your favorite podcasting app and get a new insightful episode from us every week. The Futur Podcast is hosted by Chris Do, and produced by me, Greg Gunn. Thank you to Anthony Barro for editing and mixing this episode, and thank you to Adam Sanborne for our intro music.


If you enjoyed this episode, then do us a favor by rating and reviewing our show on Apple Podcasts. It'll help us grow the show and make Futur episodes that much better. Have a question for Chris or me, head over to thefutur.com/achris and ask away. We read every submission and we just might answer yours in a later episode. If you'd like to support the show, and invest in yourself while you're at it, visit thefutur.com. You'll find video courses, digital products, and a bunch of helpful resources about design and creative business. Thanks again for listening, and we'll see you next time.

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