I was born into old money. I grew up with new money, and now I have no money.

I was born in a third world country, Vietnam. Many years ago, my family was very influential and wealthy. During the war, a lot of our properties were seized or some would call it ‘long term rented’. However, I was lucky because both my parents were entrepreneurs. They built successful businesses and were able to provide me a good life. When millions of kids did not have food to eat or clothes to wear, I had a maid at home, imported food and clothes, which at the time in Vietnam were very rare and expensive. I went to the best school in the city with other elite kids. Everyone loved and respected us. Life was good until the day my father was served a lawsuit.

When you have everything, your friends know who you are.

When you have nothing, you know who your friends are.

Years later, the judge proved that my father was innocent and had nothing to do with the financial scam in question. It was a mistake. A mistake that cost us a successful business and a happy family. But the saddest part of that story was not losing money or power, but our friends. People who used to come to ask for help didn’t even respond to our calls any longer. My mother decided it was time to go back to the Western world. We left Vietnam with nothing, hoping to rebuild our lives in Canada.

“If you love her, send her to New York, for there it is heaven; if you hate her, send her to New York, for there it is hell.”

– Beijinger In New York

In Vietnam, everyone thinks North America is heaven, but sadly in reality it’s the opposite.

Starting a life in a new country is hard, but starting a new life with nothing is much harder.

I was a spoiled brat who grew up with a maid and had never had to touch a single thing in my life. Instead of a big new house with a library and playroom, we lived in a 150 square foot room in a hundred year old home. I had to learn to take care of myself and help my mother raise my little sister. It was like Sara Crewe’s life in “The Little Princess.” This princess became a pauper overnight.

I went to school, but I could not understand a single word. None of the other kids wanted to have anything to do with me. Later on I found out they were making fun of me. I did not want to bother my mother with this because she had enough on her plate. I thought this cold land was better than my home, but nobody really wanted me.

On a cold day in the middle of February, I was on my way to class when a stranger looked at me and smiled. It was the first time I saw someone smiling at me in a long time. It felt genuine to me. It made me believe that my life will get better. I will never forget that lady and her smile. That moment changed my life.

The best things in life are free; the second best are expensive. — Coco Chanel

From that day on, I promised myself I would always smile and treat everyone I met like they were family.

A smile costs nothing, but it can mean the world to someone.

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About Cam Mi Pham

Cammi Pham (@cammipham) is a digital marketer by day at ThinkRenegade, blogger by night, unlearner 24/7.  Cammi is a Medium Top Contributor, Quora Top Writer and TEDx Speaker. Her work has reached millions of people and has been translated into many different languages. Cammi has been featured in the BBC, Business Insider, Adweek, Yahoo, Lifehacker and more. Cammi lives by her personal motto, “Learn, Unlearn, Relearn.”

Email: contact@cammipham.com