30 years: A reflection

Ivan Hong
4 min readMar 19, 2023

Three decades. Not even a blink of an eye on the cosmic scale of time. Yet it feels like so much has happened since I entered this game of life.

I recall a memory in my first year in primary school, seeing the numbers “1999” spelling out the date in blue marker ink at the top right hand corner of the whiteboard.

Back then, it seemed to me like such a momentous time, filled with all the anticipation of crossing a threshold. Like the minute before midnight, or a countdown to a new year. And now, here I am, crossing thirty years of life on this pale blue dot.

I don’t know what the next thirty years will look like. Heck, I don’t even know what next year will bring.

We went from chalkboards to whiteboards, then from transparency projectors to digital ones. From pagers, Pentium 1 personal computers and dial-up modems, to the first iPhone. From MSN message chats and SMS messaging, to our new networked age.

I recall watching Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Pocahontas, and Bambi on VCR. In my lifetime, we went from inserting cassette tapes into music players, to floppy disks, and shiny CDs, and now cloud storage and YouTube.

As the world around me changed dramatically, I too, with it. Technological advancements have allowed me to live a life, and accomplish things that I never coul have done in any other era.

It used to be the case that to earn a living, you had to show up in an office, grinding away at a gray cubicle, from nine to five, every day for fifty years at a single company. If you wanted to advance your career, you had to work for a large, foreign multinational corporation in your country, or have the money to to fly overseas to do so.

My life and career over the last decade could not be more different.

The internet has transformed access to economic opportunities. In previous generations, you needed a decent capital base to start a business. At seventeen, I started my first side business on a local online marketplace, selling props to cosplayers. I started with $50 and ended with about $3,000 two years later. Not bad for a student’s side hustle.

The internet has liberated access to knowledge. When I was eighteen, I wrote a paper on criminal law that would become the start of a ten-year career as a ghostwriter. I’ve written academic papers for researchers, IPO prospectuses for publicly-traded companies, white papers for cryptocurrency token sales, and pitched fund house analysts and journalists on everything rating from medical device manufacturing, to material science.

My grandmother sailed to Singapore from China to seek a better life and refuge from the war. She scarcely could have imagined that her grandson would have been able to earn a decent living, working from anywhere, and having learnt so much of the world through the window of a laptop screen.

Like many kids who grew up in this transitory phase in the 1990s, I am deeply convinced that technology — despite all its dangers — is a net driver of human progress.

So whenever people rail against artificial intelligence, mock the failures of self-driving cars, or call cryptocurrency “rat poison” — I can only see a better future.

Today I spend most of my time working at a startup that helps over 2,000 remote teams manage nearly $300 million in cryptocurrency invoices, payroll and expenses.

I do it because I am fighting for a world where a graphic designer from Nairobi can work for a large coffee franchise in America. Where people don’t have to choose between childcare or their careers. A world where borders and birthplaces don’t matter for economic progress. A world where talent and enterprise is unconstrained by the failures of a dated system of money and finance.

We are the first generation of humans to taste this way of life. I intend to ensure that we are not the last. That is a legacy I think is worth living for.

Meaning, purpose, ikigai — whatever you call it — is the framework that helps us make sense of the things that have happened to us. The highs and the lows, the pain and the pleasure, the joys and the grief.

When I was fifteen, I battled suicidality and anxiety from the pressures of academic excellence, and the crushing contradictions of a crumbling religion I devoted my life to.

Realizing that my life’s purpose since I was a boy turned out to be no more real than Harry Potter’s destiny to become a wizard, nearly broke me. “Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does”, wrote Jean-Paul Sartre.

The idea that my life’s purpose is some long-lost object that I must scour the world to find like in an Indiana Jones flick is nonsense. Meaning, as I have come to learn, must be made.

The future is unwritten, and we hold the pen.

How we write our stories is entirely up to us. All that matters is how we use the lessons of the past to shape the future.