I watched an episode of Fresh Off the Boat I missed last week, the one where Jessica freaks out when Michelle Kwan misses out on the gold medal. It was really interesting, she was so worried that her kids would lose motivation if they realized this: even if you work hard and you do everything right…you still might come in second. You might not succeed. And that’s terrifying. It makes you think, why bother trying anymore if there’s a potential for failure?
As Asian-Americans, we’ve been told by generations that hard work will make you succeed. Especially for first-generation kids because it’s how our parents have seen success. But I’m sure you don’t see the hard stuff your parents go through when you’re a young child, mainly because it’s so common in the Asian community to hide ANY sign of failure. You have to really put on a show and I think it’s extremely detrimental to anyone’s mental health. But anyway, so many first-generation kids have skewed world views. They come to believe that if they work hard, they can achieve anything they dream (I’m not knocking this. Keep reading).
A lot of times, it’s very possible to achieve things with hard work. Obviously, it happens more often than not, and even if you have incredible goals but no work ethic…nothing happens. So hard work really matters, for sure. But there are times when things are simply not possible, and when Asian-Americans are faced with those types of situations where they worked hard yet…failed so miserably, they don’t know how to handle it. That’s exactly what happened to me, which is why I feel like I really can speak about this kind of stuff. I want to show everyone that accepting failure is healthy. I don’t mean to just admit you failed, but to accept it deep down and run with it the other direction — and do better the next time.
My parents never put much pressure on me (not sure if other Asian-Americans can speak to this — I will say I am one of the lucky ones). However, I put a lot of pressure on myself, and when I failed miserably last year, I was devastated. I kept telling myself, this doesn’t make sense! I put in the work! I made it through my program, I applied to graduate schools, I did it right. But I started thinking more about why I was rejected. Maybe I didn’t have the best grades. Maybe I didn’t have the best experiences to boost my resume. Of course, I took it a little too far and used these two thoughts to tear myself down, instead of facing actual reality. The actual reality was that I had little direction in my life. I wanted to further my education because it’s just what you did after undergrad (meaning: I just wanted to do what was “right” based on what everyone else in my class was doing), but I didn’t crave the type of challenges and learning I do now. But I learned. Boy, did I LEARN.
I don’t mean that you shouldn’t work hard. I will never say that. What I mean is that failures WILL happen and you won’t always get everything you want in life, even if you work really hard for them. Sometimes it just happens. It’s pretty hard to prepare for failure, mainly because it can hit you out of nowhere and the possibilities are endless. You’ll drive yourself crazy if you try to think about all the ways you could fail.
Instead, prepare for reality, and give yourself room and grace to learn when things don’t go well. The way you prepare for future failure is by…failing. And the way you fail is by…trying new things, asking questions, asking for help, asking for criticism and advice, finding mentors, etc. This is the only thing I regret about college — that I didn’t try enough new things professionally. In other facets of life, I was fine — I really put myself out there, made friends, became comfortable with myself. But when it came to my future career, I was terrified about messing up, so I didn’t push myself to try new things or be bold. I missed out on so much. But it’s okay because I’m learning now!
I Wanted Perfection and the “Ideal” Path
The second thing I regret about college is that I tried harder to do everything “right” — I wanted perfection, I wanted to be able to do what most of my classmates did. I wanted to be the best but I was also scared to put myself out there. I wanted to do the normal thing like everyone else — go to grad school, get married eventually, somehow have kids and have a very busy schedule. I knew it would be considered “right” by Asian-American standards to pick a career that makes more money and has easier hours…but I didn’t do that, so I figured I’d be perfect at this job to make up for that. But all that did was stress me out and drive me crazy. So…find your path. If it feels like success to you, even if some people don’t agree, love your decision and yourself.
You can do every single thing “right”, you can give it your all, you can do your best — but sometimes it might not work out. Maybe it was actually too advanced for you, and that’s okay, because you can get there later on. Maybe someone really wanted to give you a chance, but there just wasn’t room. Just because you want something, doesn’t mean it’s right for you in the current time and place. It took me so long to understand that. It’s this way when you’re dealing with any type of decision — grad school, dating, etc. Another opportunity may give you something even better, even when it really really hurts at first. There should be a mutual connection between the goals you want to achieve and what you might receive from “the universe”.
Basically, life is unexpected.
It can change so quickly, so I just find it extremely important to be able to face the music. Be resilient. Learn about yourself, understand your tendencies and aspects of your personality — and learn how to use them to your advantage. Set goals. Make them happen. And if they don’t happen the first time, try again or reassess your goals. Do what’s right for you, and be patient with yourself because there’s no “right way” you need to do things. You’ll be okay.