Balancing Filial Expectations and Personal Passions

Monday, January 7, 2019

Tl; dr - stop being a f*cking subtle asian traits cliche and have a real conversation with your parents.

My parents and I don't see eye-to-eye on my intended major in college. Now what? 

I am of the *personal* opinion that if your parents are paying for your college tuition (no small sum, as you know), it's deeply unfair to restrict them from any sort of decision-making. That being said, I realize there are some parents who have no boundaries, whose chief desire is to manufacture offspring from some blueprint of success (career prestige, stability, etc. I'm not saying that these are invalid or unimportant metrics of success, but they're not the only ones). I'm just so over this whole narrative -- both the parents' neuroses and that of their distressed kids. As a side note, I'm also *so over* having to repair traumatized sons of parents who didn't love their children in the ways they needed. Our entire culture reads like a bad love story. Just f*cking communicate better. (I know it's not that simple, but it also sort of is, and I don't believe the onus is entirely on our generation.)

Anyways, I wish our families were more mindful and open about the college process. I wish we actually talked about why we were making this investment because (1) You'll write more meaningful application essays. If y'all could see my/my peers' UPenn essays... what a shit show. You cannot mask wanting something for the prestige alone. You cannot write away the simple fact of your own disinterest. There is a lot at stake. Go in with a clear vision. (2) If you expect your parents to write the check or take out a loan, then I hope all parties involved want to be on the same page. I've heard a lot of people say that they let their parents fork over tens of thousands of dollars a year, thinking their kid's going to bring home a bachelor's in Biology, and they spend the entire semester stressing about hiding their actual work in Fashion/Literature/Philosophy/etc. Yeah, let's not do that. Defying your parents will not hurt them nearly as much as deceiving them will.

For me, it was always clear that there were four primary reasons to attend college, in this order of importance:
(1) Upwards socioeconomic mobility
My parents are working class, and I'm of the strange "child-of-immigrants" camp who will find themselves out-earning their parents within months/a few years of graduating. It's a surreal and troubling experience -- might write more on this later. But above everything else, I needed college to set me on a career path that would not only ensure personal economic stability, but safely provide for my parents as well -- both immediately and in retirement. Not every young person feels this way or has these responsibilities. Talk to your family about what they'll expect from you after graduation. If you have a real financial obligation to your family that you intend to honor, I'm sorry, but there are a lot of amazing careers that just aren't going to safely cut it. Think about the industries that, with few exceptions, require you to "pay your dues" via low-paying internships and entry-level jobs: politics, public relations, fashion, philanthropy, publishing. Can you afford those sacrifices? Your roommate with the trust fund can probably swing the first few postgraduate years in an amazing role on Capitol Hill for a next-to-nothing salary, but you might not. Is it fair? Absolutely not. Is it still your reality? Lol yeah.

On that note, stop shaming people for pursuing careers they aren't passionate about! Stop shaming people for doing what they love! We are all just trying to protect ourselves and our people! Some of us have choices! Some of us don't! We're all doing great!

(2) Social awareness & bias towards action
Going to copy below an excerpt of a speech I've given a few times on behalf of my university's fundraising efforts. I know it's a bit cheesy, but keep in mind its purpose. I've since renounced a few things I've said and done on behalf of scholarships (namely, throwing my parents under the bus to play the poor immigrant card), but this, I still stand by.
What if our time at WashU isn't just to bring out the good in us, but to enable us to act upon our goodness?
Take, for example, our university motto: strength through truth. What if it's not just about the linear pursuit of truth? What if it's also about the imbued imperative that we then defend each other's truths? Because what is the purpose of learning so much about this world's histories and legacies if we do not also develop the compassion and wisdom to be there for the people who suffer because of them?

Because of our education, my classmates and I have been able to channel visceral frustrations into genuine resolve. We take the anger and suffering of systemic injustices, and become lawyers. We see how poverty disproportionately affects healthcare, and become doctors where we are needed most. We watch the news, and we let our hearts break for a divided nation in pain, and then we walk into our classrooms asking, what can we learn today to reform a better state tomorrow? We see what matters, and then we do what makes a difference.  Because of our education, we no longer feel so helpless. Because of our education, we give each other hope.
As an aside, my first year of college was the year Michael Brown was murdered in Ferguson, just a few miles away from my fancy private school campus. I'm sorry to minimize or appropriate his death as a "teachable moment" and don't mean to do so, but to experience the community outrage and heightened discourse on race relations with that urgency and momentum-- it changed my life.

(3) Personal growth
People who aren't interested in becoming well-rounded, well-read, compassionate, thoughtful people need to make room for the ones who are. thank u, next. 

(4) Meaningful social networks and experiences
Obligatory because this is probably the biggest differentiator between a prestigious, well-regarded university and a lesser-known one. Alumni networks are helpful in a world that is not particularly meritocratic. That is all.

So here's a fun Jimmy Kimmel-type experiment: ask your parents, why do you want me to go to college? What do you want me to get out of it? And then answer these questions for yourself. If you seem to disagree fundamentally, have a reasonable conversation about it. (Short piece on navigating cultural/generational differences within Asian American families forthcoming, hopefully. Here's a related one.)

For now, assume that everything -- no matter how badly phrased, no matter how accidentally cruel - must come from a place of fierce love and concern. What are their fears? How do these affect their hopes and limitations for you? What are your dreams? What do you believe will help you achieve them? Is there a compromise? Are there any north stars you can agree on?

Some cute little phrases to try that sound extremely tacky, but only because we're so used to suffering in silence:
  • "I want you to understand why I am passionate about..." 
  • "I understand that you are concerned about x. Here's my proposed solution..." 
  • "I researched this program, and though I know our aunties in Taiwan will not have heard of it, here's why I think it's a good fit for me..."
  • "Thank you for wanting the best for me. Would you consider..." 
Remember that the goal is not a perfect understanding of each other's viewpoints, because you have opportunities they don't, and they have traumas you were spared. For many of us, our parents were ruled by the laws of sacrifice and survival; that we may pursue self-actualization is uncharted territory. Make the decision: if they will not meet you there, are you willing to go alone?

Take care of yourself.

With love,

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