Little Big Things

March 22, 2012

5 min read


Sometimes when you least expect it, you hit jackpot.

He was 28 years old and his biggest skill was what he was able to do with a bottle of spray paint. Ever since he was a kid growing up on the mean streets of South Central LA, David Choe wanted nothing else but to spray paint and color on walls, buses, bridges, train tracks, and anywhere else he could without getting locked up. To this day, he has no place he calls home (he likes to call himself homeless but that is a bit of a stretch as you will soon see), and he “wanders the world making good art and bad music.”

His signature art was a buck toothed whale saying words of pseudo wisdom such as “ride the bus,” “save your self,” or the simple yet profound, “uh….”

Slowly David’s fame began to spread. It might have been the inspiration people found in the sage advice to ride the bus, or the raw crude graffiti art that seemed to speak to people aged three to one hundred and three, but whatever it was, the name David Chloe started picking up chatter in the SoCal area.

He tried going to art school, but it was all about lines, form, and function, and he wasn’t into any of that. So he dropped out. He then had a string of run-ins with the law, as it seems no code in California law allows for people to spray paint colorful images on public buildings. But such is the life of the starving artist.

In early 2005 he was contacted by some small internet startup company that was looking to relocate to the Palo Alto area. Being a fresh and edgy company, they wanted to decorate their new offices with a bunch of murals going across entire walls. They were low on cash and all they could afford was a couple thousand dollars, but they were also willing to give stock if David was willing to forego the money. The whole concept of the startup seemed “Ridiculous and Pointless” to David, but being the artsy type who prefers to be homeless, he took the stock options. It fit well with another of his aphorisms “Always double down on 11.”

David came to the office and started with a few cans of spray paint, spraying some blue half-humans-half-gnomes, when he was joined by the CEO, some curly haired 20 year old named Mark. He gave Mark a can of spray paint, but Mark was more of a computer geek than an artist, and the best Mark could do was paint a stick figure. Being a very talented artist David was able to incorporate that stick figure into his mural, a mural that vaguely hinted to the concept of connecting people, which is what the company was all about.

As fate would have it, that company was Facebook, and the curly haired CEO was Mark Zuckerberg.

David Choe’s shares, his payment for an afternoon of having fun spray painting some walls, will be worth $200 million.

This April, Facebook will be making its Initial Public Offerings and its stock will put the value of Facebook at $100 billion, far more than any other tech IPO including Google, Amazon, and even Apple. David Choe’s shares, his payment for an afternoon of having fun spray painting some walls, will be worth $200 million. I guess David will be able to finally buy himself a house! Always double down on 11, you never know when you’re going to hit the big number.

We often walk through life feeling that no matter what we do, it won’t make a difference in the big picture anyway. We are just one more working stiff out of billions of other working stiffs, doing the daily grind, “different day, same old stuff.”

Me smiling at coworkers and saying hi to them in the hallway isn’t going to change their day. Visiting my sick neighbor isn’t going to make her get better. Going to one Jewish class a week isn’t exactly going to make me a Jewish Rhodes scholar; I haven’t studied since Hebrew school! Even if I take out the trash and do the dishes, my wife won’t notice it; she won’t care, so why bother?

David Choe shows us how things may turn out having a much bigger impact than we initially thought they would. Our Sages teach us in Ethics of Our Fathers (2:1), “Be careful with a light mitzvah like you would be careful with a serious one, for you never know the reward of a mitzvah.” When you double down on 11, you never know what you’re going to get, but you may just hit the jackpot.

When we decide to reserve our Friday nights for Shabbos dinner with our family, who knows if this will be the move that will bring our family closer emotionally, physically and spiritually? When we decide that we are going to walk down the halls at work with a smile for all our coworkers, who knows if that will make us happier at work, and more likeable as a person? A once a week Torah study may ignite our passion for Jewish learning, or it may just make us a more connected and knowledgeable Jew, but it may also be something that becomes a meaningful part of our lives.

You start out feeling like all you’re doing is spray painting a bunch of walls, and before you know it, you are buried in shovelfuls of money.

Walking through life is like panning for gold: sometimes you pan for hours and come up with nothing but dirt, and sometimes you just dip you pan in the riverbed and come up with a nugget the size of a fist.

When you walk through life with the awareness that your next move, small or big, may bring in the nugget of gold, every moment becomes a nugget of gold.

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