What is your most haunting memory?
It was probably November of 1999. On a very chilly night, a group of 8-12 church people teamed up with a visiting college group to make some delicious meals for the homeless people of downtown Toronto. While walking through the back streets and alleyways of downtown, I wandered away from my group and I came across a lot of people of different ages and backgrounds, but the memory is burned into my mind to this day – a young female child, maybe 7 years old, but possibly as old as 11, sleeping on the streets in a sleeping bag with her mom and one other female. Her hair was blonde, she had very fair skin and blueish eyes. I asked her if she wanted food, and the look of fear that she had in her eyes changed me. This didn’t happen in a 3rd world country, this happened in Canada, one of the richest countries in the world. I was young and inexperienced so I didn’t even think of doing anything more than giving her food and drink that night, and after I did I walked away in a daze. Later that night I wandered away from my group once more and got surrounded by some drug dealers in the middle of an exchange and almost got stabbed but that didn’t bother me nearly as much as seeing that young girl, it changed my life.
It also wouldn’t be the last time I encountered children on the streets, even mothers with infant babies. If you want to learn more about children on the streets, I recommend reading a book called “Sometimes God has a Kid’s Face” by Bruce Ritter, a former pastor.
How did you get started investing?
I used to deliver the Toronto Sun when I was around 11 years old and I would read the stock reports which got me very interested. I couldn’t convince my parents to invest in Microsoft or Dell or Intel (apparently there are people who don’t want 10,000% returns on their investments).
When I was a teen, age 16 I approached a major bank where I had my savings account and tried to setup an investment account, but was declined because you have to be over the age of 18 to invest, in Canada. The banker gave me so much of a lecture about how I shouldn’t get involved in investing and the dangers and how it’s illegal to give an account to a 16 year old. She went on and on about how stupid I was being. I was irritated because just earlier that day I was listening to some Canadian radio and a health educator was telling a teen the proper way to put peanut butter on his wiener so he could have safer sexual relations with his dog, because his dog had previously bitten and punctured his wiener. That kid didn’t receive a lecture for what he was doing but I was receiving a lecture for what I was doing.
Anyway, my venting aside, one of the young bankers, a black man, heard me complaining about this very thing to the manager after the lecture and so he approached me outside of the branch when I left in a huff. I mention that he’s black because when I would visit the branch, I would hear the white women saying inappropriate jokes to him about his penis and things like that that I thought were in poor taste at the bank in front of customers.
We struck up a mutual deal where he would provide me an account in his name, and I would provide the money and make the investments / stock trades. This worked out EXTREMELY well for the both of us (he received a 20-30% commission on the profits just for letting me use his account.). The first investments were in mining companies and we did some very obvious tech investments (hey it was the 90’s).
Anyway, when I turned 18 we both knew what would happen. He was sorry to lose a partner, but it was time to move on. I went to the bank and opened my own investors account. He applied for, and achieved a really great promotion.
Why is it important to give as much as you can today instead of later?
If you’re one of those people who are always waiting for life to become perfect before you start giving, you’ll never end up giving. Life has ups and downs, so it’s important to give while you can (meaning today). You’ve probably heard people say “If I won the lottery, I would give so much to charity.” Those same people won’t give a penny to charity right now, let alone later on if they ever get rich.
What do you think about photo-shopping models?
It’s evil. They make a human being look completely fake, and because of this millions of girls have a warped sense of what normal is.
Give me some good business advise
Part 1. Don’t ever co-sign for someone. I’ve learned many hard life lessons, and this was one of the hardest. Co-signing has once put me into almost $750,000 in debt. In Canada (and probably other places) if you co-sign and the other person defaults you are on the hook. I’ve co-signed for cars, apartments, houses and large loans. Don’t do it.
Part 2. Don’t put your name alongside business ventures unless you can bear the possible consequences if that business or your partners fail to perform. Most of my business projects have worked out nicely, but it only takes one negative experience, such as an irresponsible partner, to ruin your name. It leaves you with hurt feelings, hurt credit and a bad reputation.
What was your favorite subject in school?
Art. Actually, I was well known in school for my love of art, and I had an opportunity to go to a specialty art high school, but as usual, my family couldn’t afford it, and my dreams of doing art full time were dashed. Probably for the best. I still get to participate in art projects today, but always as a consultant and never as an artist. I still went to a high school that I really liked with great teachers, and I took art there, and after high school I took community art classes which were a lot of fun. My high school art class was pretty much my favorite time of day, and one of the most enriching experiences of my time in high school.
What are some of your favorite books?
The Bible is my favorite. I read a lot of books, non-fiction mostly and a little bit of fiction. When I was in grade school my reading was poor and I was usually several grade-levels behind in reading. I was placed in ESL, and then a dreaded special needs class for a long time until my parents made one of the best decisions they ever made (and believe me, they didn’t make tons of great decisions back then). They took me to the library, got me my own library card, and forced me to read at least 1 full book each week. If I failed to read – there would be consequences. My teachers applauded the measure, to my initial dismay. I read just about every subject imaginable. These days it seems that if a child has a reading problem, the solution is to classify the child with a disability and put him or her on medications, give them no reading related homework, thus allowing the child to grow up lacking skills they need. I’m so grateful my teachers didn’t do that to me, and that I had great teachers who encouraged me to practice and get better at reading. I ended up getting out of the special needs class, and out of ESL (English as a second language) and ended up excelling far beyond my peers at reading, even with dyslexia.
What do you think about music?
I’m into almost any music from the 80s and 90s because I grew up with that stuff. I think that much (not all) of today’s pop-music is mindless filth that turns good children into directionless, selfish pigs. I also think that parents need to take an active role in what their children listen to (among other things), and stop allowing pop stars to raise their children. Music programs the brain, and parents shouldn’t want their children to be programmed by the wrong people.
What’s one of the scariest things you’ve ever done?
Taking chances on opportunities that were way out of my league.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Who are some fictional people you’d like to be friends with?
Dexter Morgan. Jon Snow.
If someone asked you to give them a random piece of advice, what would you say?
Learn to say yes and no at the right times. People (myself included) tend to say yes and no at the wrong times, get into situations they shouldn’t, and shy away from great opportunities when they should have jumped right in. This skill starts when we are babies, it’s one of the first things we learn to do. And I think babies do it better than adults. My biggest regrets in life could have been avoided with a simple, well placed, yes or no.
What is one of your favorite habits you have?
I start each day with bible, worship and prayer.
What are some things that make you really happy?
A good dinner after a good day of work.
What are some things that make you really sad?
A bad dinner after a bad day of work.
What are some things that scare you?
Series finale of Walking Dead! Seriously though, the scariest thing to me is a life completely wasted.
What inspires you?
Since 1999 I’ve been taking teams of people, young and old, to downtown Toronto and handing out little notes of encouragement and delicious meals to the homeless. Sometimes sandwiches, other times burgers or full, sumptuous Christmas meals. Clothing and hygiene supplies depending on the budget. This started out as a 6 time per year event, then 12 times then 52 times at its pinnacle. We really connected with a lot of street people, from real crackheads and lazy people to good, honest, hardworking, everyday people and families who simply fell on hard times. Street people have handed over drugs, handguns, and dedicated their life to Jesus.
A quick story of encouragement: one day while walking towards our key location, a Scottish man jumped in front of us, smiling and babbling about how we helped him many years ago. As proof, he pulled out a note I had personally given to him years ago. He had kept it in his pocket every day since receiving it. I was floored.
There was a family of homeless people who lived at Nathan Phillips Square. I took special requests such as buying women’s underwear, deodorant, and other supplies, and bringing them with my team on a weekly basis. One day this French family, whom I had known for years, was waiting for me as I entered the Square, smiling, looking good. Actually, they were better dressed than I was (most people are), and were standing there to let me know that they had gotten into an apartment, and one of them had gotten a good job after years of trying. “Pastor Asif Pastor Asif, you won’t believe what’s happened” they exclaimed as they ran towards me. We exchanged hugs and well wishes, and of course, prayers (some of them gave their life to Jesus). These things keep me inspired to press on.