There is not one single moment where I just knew what I “wanted to be when I grew up,” or even more significantly, who I wanted to be. Unlike some people (e.g., my husband who had already decided back in high school that he was going to be a patent attorney with a chemical engineering degree), I never had such a detailed plan in life. Instead, my growth as a person has been quite organic, largely shaped by my upbringing and my unique background of being raised in a bicultural environment.
I grew up as a daughter of immigrants from Taiwan. Back in the 1960’s in Taiwan, going to school in America was the “in” thing to do. If you were smart enough, successful enough, if you could get into some college or graduate program in the U.S., you would just go. Parents encouraged their children to go to America because they saw more opportunities for the future.
My dad did OK in school but he was never a top student. He was lucky enough to get accepted to a program in Kansas, so he moved to the Midwest to study linguistics.
Eventually, he married my mom, who gave up her career teaching English in Taiwan to start a new life in a new country. Without any U.S. education, my mom – ever the natural entrepreneur – became resourceful in other ways.
She started selling shoes at the local department store. She hooked up with a travel agency and sold airline tickets. She organized and led cooking tours to Taiwan. Her English was excellent, so she was drafted to translate – first documents, but eventually medical visits and live court cases. After sponsoring her extended family from Taiwan over to the States, she started businesses with both of her siblings: a sushi catering business with her sister and a high-end audio manufacturing company with her brother.
Instead, they let us explore hobbies (like many Asians, I took piano lessons, violin lessons, and competed in Science Olympiad), but never pressured us to excel. Piano competitions (and even daily practicing) were optional. When my interest waned in violin, my mom was totally fine with letting me quit.
The first time I got a “B” on a test (this was in grade school, mind you), I nearly cried my eyeballs out. My dad actually hugged me, smiled (sort of laughing inside is more like it), and told me it was totally OK. “Mei guan xi, mei guan xi” he said in his soothing voice as he hugged me tightly.
Most importantly, my parents never compared us to other kids and never derided us in a way that affected our self-worth. If anything, my dad poured out his praises on his kids, telling us how talented, smart, and obedient (“guai”) we were. He felt so lucky to have kids like my sister and me, and he told us so all the time.
I am who I am today largely because of my parents.
They taught me the values of working hard but at the same time seeing the bigger picture. Don’t get upset about the minutia in life. Instead, enjoy life for what it is. Most importantly, don’t get hung up on comparing yourself to others. “Ren bi ren, qi si ren” my Dad used to say all the time, which roughly translates to “when people compare themselves to other people, they will anger themselves to death.”
As a result of this upbringing, I entered adulthood with a curious and adventurous mind for exploration. Becoming a Christian in college, my values were further shaped to appreciate the bigger picture of what’s really important. I worked hard, but never so hard that I didn’t have fun.
Yes, I went to MIT and pursued a career as a patent attorney, but I also lead music in my church praise band, volunteer regularly at a shelter, spend countless hours on this blog, and make it a priority to see the world. I fully appreciate what it means to have a balanced and enriched life. I also fully appreciate how hard my parents worked to enable us to be who we are today.
Thanks Mama and Baba!
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