This article is part of Mochi’s Summer 2022 issue, highlighting the Everyday Asian American. Media often covers Asian Americans who are exceptional and defying odds (hey Chloe Kim!) or, sadly, when tragedy strikes the Asian community. In this issue, Mochi is switching things up and celebrating what the everyday Asian American enjoys, what’s on our minds, and what life looks like for us. Check out the rest of our issue here! And if you like what you are reading, please support us by buying us a boba through Ko-fi.
Although our society pressures us to follow a traditional life path, the path can feel especially rigid for Asian Americans. There is no deviating from this path, set forth by our tiger moms and stoic dads and the generations before them. They didn’t immigrate to this country for us to become anything less than the expectations they held for us.
From early adolescence, we’re expected to move in a painstakingly specific linear pattern. The path set before us is straight and clear, and not taking it isn’t an option. And so we do all the things we’re supposed to, that are expected of us. We graduate from high school (with honors, of course), and go on to a UC or equally revered four-year college, which will help get that coveted white-collar, 9-to-5 job at a reputable company. From there, eventually we’ll get married and settle down with our 2.5 kids, and our family will maybe, hopefully, consider us a successful person in life.
This is what’s expected of us. Anything less is viewed as shameful, an embarrassment to our family and the sacrifices they made for us.
Although I deviated from this path pretty early on, I spent much of my adult life trying to right the “wrongs” as quickly as I could. Much to the chagrin of my mother, I went to community college. I tried to transfer out within two years to get back on track, but a year in, I accepted an entry-level position at a law firm even though I had a different idea of what I wanted to do with my life. But just like that, in accepting the job, it felt like I had returned to the correct path, the only one that would take me to success.
One year turned into three as I found myself rising through the ranks of the firm, from receptionist to office manager to paralegal. And although I had absolutely zero desire to continue with higher education, I contemplated going to law school. But I never envisioned or wanted any of this, so how did I find myself here?
I recently cleaned out some boxes from storage and I found a project I worked on when I was 12. The assignment was to write down our past, present, future in a timeline. I read what my 12-year-old self had predicted for me: “2017 — graduate from a UC. 2027 — get my first book published. 2030 — get married to a doctor or lawyer.”
What 12-year-old knows they want to graduate from a top college in California, or find a life partner in a doctor or a lawyer? No, these were the hopes and dreams of my mother, so perfectly regurgitated by me. Her hopes were so deeply ingrained into me during my formative years that I simply accepted them to be facts. This was how my life was supposed to play out.
I first felt that pull — the one that told me maybe I was somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be, that something wasn’t right — during the pandemic. Like so many others, I realized my job was not bringing me joy or fulfillment, and instead was sucking me dry. Yet, I tried to ignore that pull. Prior to the pandemic, it had never even occurred to me that I was free to change career paths, that I could walk away. Even the mere thought of leaving, especially without another opportunity lined up, was extremely daunting. I wanted to pursue my passion for writing, but I didn’t know what the context would be. I felt fresh excitement course through me when I imagined pursuing that dream, but still, my mother’s voice lived within me: “Do you know how many people wish they were in your position? Do you know how many people are jobless out there, how lucky you are?”
A common mindset amongst immigrants and children of immigrants is that you should be grateful for whatever you’re given. Denied the raise you asked for? You should be grateful you even have a job. Boss promoted someone less qualified over you? Keep your head down, don’t make waves, your time will come, eventually. That’s the immigrant mentality. And here I was, in a cushy job, making decent money, and I was ready to throw it all away. As a child of immigrants, it felt like the most irresponsible thing I could ever do. It felt like an act of blatant disrespect — after all, my mother didn’t come to the U.S. for me to be a struggling writer.
So how could I leave my job?
I grappled with the guilt and the weight of their expectations for longer than I’d like to admit. But at the end of the day, I had to ask myself who I was living for. Was I living for my family, or was I living for myself?
I had to intentionally remind myself that I wasn’t quitting because I was lazy or irresponsible or selfish. I was course-correcting. For so long, I believed I was on the right path, setting up the building blocks for the life I was supposed to live. And once I came to the realization that that simply wasn’t true, handing in that resignation letter became much easier to do.
For anyone thinking of making a career transition or even just wanting to quit their job to take an extended break from work because of burnout, the best advice I can give is to listen to that voice. You’re feeling that pull for a reason. If you’re conflicted, ask yourself, “Who am I living my life for?” Are you doing what you think you should be doing, or what you want to be doing? Because your parents and society may have dictated what you should be doing, but it isn’t a one-size-fits-all. It’s okay to deviate from the path that you were burdened with the expectation of taking, especially if you don’t think it was the one meant for you after all.
I found it helpful to have a minimum of six months’ salary saved up when I quit, so that my decisions going forward were less motivated by money. I knew if I was worried about my finances, it’d be easier for me to give in and return to an office job before giving writing a real chance. It was also helpful for me to have a support system in place, so every time I wondered why I left a respected job title and financial stability to be a “struggling creative,” they were there to remind me.
Most days, I feel more confident than ever that I am on the right path. Others, I’m less sure. But what I know for certain is that we are all free to forge our own paths.
Cover photo credit: Ketut Subiyanto/Pexels
Last modified: June 6, 2022