I was nearing 40, had a caring husband, a precocious little boy, and a healthy, rotund  baby girl. I  lived in a new house in a cookie-cutter neighborhood and had plenty of happy mommy things — a nurturing local preschool, playdates at parks, plenty of  friends. But the world around me  darkened as I pondered my career prospects.

My thought process went something along the lines of this:  If only I had a well-paying job  we would not have to host international students in our home and we could afford childcare or someone to help me with chores. If only I had made better decisions in the past I would not be dealing with this. If I only I hadn’t gone into teaching and then quit and then marketing and then quit, and then started the wrong business and then quit,  I’d be somewhere by now. If only I could figure out what I want to with my life, at least I could move in the right direction. Why can’t I figure it out? And why had I been so unsuccessful at doing so? What can I do anyway at this age? It’s too late to go back to school and who would hire me?  But it is great I can stay home with the kids. I should be cherishing the time but I am wasting it worrying. What should I do? How did I get here? How will I ever get out of this mess? Why am I this way? Nothing I do ever helps. Why can’t I just enjoy this season of my life?

I was physically exhausted from having young children and mentally drained from those thoughts in my mind.  Sweet, nurturing mommy on the outside, darkened self in the head. Friends listened, sermons gave insight, and books advised, but the inner dissonance became so unbearable that I sought professional solace. Unfortunately,  the therapist I  decided to spill my guts out to turned out to be brash and insensitive, so that was the end of that.

Looking back, those early years of motherhood were somewhat of a mixed bag:  a good amount of loving moments with little ones juxtaposed alongside a dull undercurrent of self-loathing, confusion, and discontent.  I wish I could have fully enjoyed my time at home with my children, been more present with them, but then again, no one chooses to be depressed.

Questions for Discussion: What do you think about therapy and counseling?Have you seen a counselor before? If so,  what was your experience?






Teaching for a Baby

My decision to go back into elementary school teaching was a mathematical one. In 2005 it cost about $20,000 for one set of IVF treatments. It cost the same to adopt a baby from China. Either way, if we wanted a baby, we needed twenty grand. Problem was, we didn’t have $20,000. So I began looking for a job.  It was late spring. Steve and I were walking through a residential neighborhood in Mountain View one evening when I noticed a private elementary school on what looked like a nondescript former public school campus. The sign said Yew Chung International School. I had left teaching many years ago but the Chinese name immediately piqued my interest. As luck would have it, I looked online and discovered the school was hiring. I applied, interviewed, and was offered a job teaching second and third grade, all within a couple of weeks.

According to my fertility doctor, a number on my lab tests indicated that it would be unlikely for me to get pregnant. She urged me to start IVF immediately.  So Steve and I visited the best clinics in the Silicon Valley. Each center presented us with a sheet of paper with the percentage likelihood of getting pregnant broken down by age of parent and other indices. I was 33. We also visited several local adoption agencies. One agency told us that the chances of our being able to adopt from China were pretty high.  After months of researching, Steve and I decided that if I didn’t get pregnant by the end of the year, we would adopt. We concluded that if we were going to spend $20,000 we wanted a baby for sure, not the potential of getting pregnant through IVF.

We decided to try one last thing before starting the adoption process—Chinese herbs. Steve’s aunt told us about a Chinese herbalist in Los Angeles that had helped many women conceive. So we drove down from the Bay Area to visit this doctor. He took my pulse and looked at my tongue, told me that I had endometriosis, and stated matter-of-factly :  “You will get pregnant if you eat my herbs.” He scribbled some notes in my file and directed me to the nurse for the herbs. Hopeful, I looked at Steve with a “is this for real” expression and he seemed to be in agreement. The nurse (must’ve been his wife) told me the cost for three months would be $1500 and that they only took cash.

We left the office and withdrew  $500 from three separate bank ATMs within walking distance of the office. I watched with amazement as each of our pockets grew fuller and heavier with bills.  We returned to the office and the nurse ushered us into the dim corridor where she carefully counted each $20 bill on the counter. She nodded her head at the right amount, stuffed little ziploc bags of pills (thank God they were pills!) into a brown paper lunch bag and sent us on our way.

After eating a couple days’ worth of pills, I discharged an ashy, black substance. Within a  month, just a few weeks into my my teaching job, I discovered I was pregnant. We were going to have a baby!

Author’s Reflections:  

Why did I go back into teaching, when I had decided to leave the career previously? At this point in my life, I didn’t really care if the job was the best fit for me. I just needed a job, and needed one fast.  Teaching at Yew Chung turned out to be a positive and memorable experience. In my previous position I had 30+ students and very little parental support. At Yew Chung I had just 12 students and plentiful support.  A dad who was an technology executive made copies for me each Monday. A mom with a PhD in science helped to teach math to small groups, and another mom helped with my computer rotations. Parents checked in with me regularly and made sure homework was turned in. My students had a Chinese teacher for about 1.5 hours a day so I also had extra time to plan and prepare.  Although the work was still exhausting, I did not struggle the way I had my first two years of teaching. Classroom management was no longer a main concern and I was able to focus on designing lessons, teaching, and building relationships. I could individualize instruction, build a warm and nurturing environment, and got to know my students well. My Chinese-American heritage  helped me connect culturally with the kids (many who were bi-cultural) and serve as a bridge between Chinese culture and American staff and parents. Looking back, this year of teaching at Yew Chung was quite special. I enjoyed my students’ “children-ness” and shared with them the joy of the expecting a baby. It was a wonderful, often magical context to be a teacher and soon-to-be mom.

As much as I enjoyed my students and working at Yew Chung, I knew that it would be my last year of classroom teaching. There was something else for me out there in terms of career, although I did not know what it was. Even amidst the joys of soon having a baby, the still unresolved unsettledness surrounding my  career saddened me. My last day of teaching before going on maternity leave was another gray Bay Area rainy day. It had rained every day the entire month of March that year and going into April the days were still drizzling. During my last afternoon recess duty that last day of teaching, the sun finally starting peeking through. The bell had just rung and my students had dashed off to wait in line for me in front of the classroom door.  In a brief rare moment of quiet aloneness, I looked up into sky and noticed a double rainbow. Two rainbows had formed a perfect circle above me. It was a promise of a new beginning.


Almost Perfect

A couple years after  leaving corporate high-tech marketing,  I began a business teaching Mandarin to young children though music, dance, stories, and play. In many ways it was the perfect job.  It involved everything I loved– children, the arts, literacy,  second-language acquisition, and Chinese language and culture. I travelled to Taiwan to painstakingly pick out just the right Chinese instruments, folk dance accessories, music, books, and posters for my students.  I designed fun-filled lessons using stuffed animals, balloons, scarves, ribbon sticks, drums, triangles, all manner of percussion instruments, fans, balls, books, puzzles, puppets, and gym mats.  My clients were adorable toddlers and pre-schoolers.  If there were any discipline problems,  parents stepped right in. I was the director and set my own hours. My ideas and the possibilities were endless. I was being paid for being creative!

The concept for this business came from my Stanford friend Sabrina’s sister Julie.  Julie had designed a program called Music Around the World,  a bilingual Mommy and Me music curriculum for children ages 1-4.  When she asked me if I wanted to teach one of  her Mandarin music classes, I  had been taking a break from work and following my dream of taking painting, ballet, modern dance, and Chinese dance classes.  My husband Steve was happy to support my exploring the arts since I had always seemed unsatisfied in my jobs.   I felt that I should at least make a little money part-time,  so I agreed. To my surprise,  I was very good at teaching music to young children. The classes involved singing songs, teaching rhythm and intonation, and creative movement. I began supplementing the curriculum with my own books, songs, and other materials and choreographing dances; and imagined branching off on my own and designing a music and dance-based Chinese as a Second Language program that was uniquely mine. Around  2004,  I founded Little Bamboo Chinese Language, Music, and Dance.

Whereas Julie’s Music Around the World classes were located in the South Bay, (Cupertino, Palo Alto, Mountain View  etc.)  I started my classes across the Bay in Fremont and in Milpitas, further from the center of Silicon Valley where housing was cheaper and where lived. I didn’t want to compete with Julie and I also wanted to teach closer to home.

Sign ups for my  first classes were impressive. Classes were packed.   But there was a big difference between the students who signed up for my Little Bamboo classes and those in my previous classes: My students were almost all Chinese.  When I taught for Julie, my students were predominantly  non-Asian, mostly Caucasian, adopted from China, or mixed Chinese and Caucasian.  Now almost all of my students had Chinese parents who spoke Chinese at home. (I had recently moved to Milpitas from San Jose and was aware that there  were more Asians in our neighborhood, but I did not think native Chinese speakers would sign up for my class. ) I was an excellent Chinese teacher for students and parents learning Chinese as a second language, but my curriculum was not geared toward heritage Chinese speakers!  I became overly self-conscious that I was  not a native speaker. I  began preparing a script for my lessons so as to manage grammatical mistakes and was embarrassed by my American accent. My lessons that used to be free-flowing, creative and full of imagination became rigid, repetitive, and controlled Although my Chinese was probably fine for the young children, I did not have the fluency to explain and instruct a group of native Chinese parents.  And since my clients were Chinese, I felt that I should provide a 100% immersion environment and rarely spoke English.  Uncomfortable, robotic, and overly self-aware, I lost my hallmark joy and charisma, the qualities that  made me a good teacher.

After each class as I packed up bin and after bin of carefully selected instruments, toys, flashcards and puppets, I felt phonier and phonier. I had all the best materials and a research-based curriculum, but I was not qualified  to teach my own class.  My perfect business was not working out.

Reflections:  When I realized Little Bamboo was not working out,  I was pretty disappointed. I had poured my heart into my program and had no idea what to do next.  It was strike three. I was 0-3 in my finding a job that I was right not me.  Luckily, I  found a Chinese friend to teach my  classes for me and my business was sustained for about a year before I closed shop.  I did teach the class  a few times at Karis Academy  near my home in Irvine (my clients were about half Chinese). But being older and already a mom myself, I was no longer self-conscious and just focussed on creating fun experiences for the kids.  (I stopped teaching the that  time  because teaching toddlers is so exhausting! )A few  years ago I self- published my curriculum under the name Sing With Me in Mandarin so all is not lost. You can find it on Amazon (my daughter and son sang the songs for the CD and did the artwork.)  I hope parents and teachers  can find it helpful.   Here is the link : Sing With Me in Mandarin.

Teaching music and Mandarin to young children  had suddenly immersed me in a strange world of toddlers, cute babies, tired moms, strollers and diaper bags. Ironically, it became a world that I personally could not access.  Perhaps it was best that things did not pan out because I was soon to begin a season of infertility.

Questions For Discussion:  Have you ever started a business, big or small? How did it work out? When in your life has failure become a gift in disguise?


Good While It Lasted

In July of 2001 I joined a fiber-optics startup company as a sales and marketing assistant.  I reported  to the Vice President of Sales and Marketing which meant his job was to direct the company’s sales and marketing efforts, and, since we were a department of two, my job was to do all the work on the ground.  I found vendors to design our website, logo, flyers, and banners. I wrote website content, press releases, advertising copy, and data sheets.  I managed our first trade show and cold-called anyone who could remotely be a  potential customer.   It was satisfying to see our marketing programs come into fruition, and was convinced we had great technology, but unfortunately,  we weren’t getting any customers.

Shortly after our first product launch,  employees were told that all salaries were to be cut by 70%. ” Excuse me, did you say our salaries will be cut by 17%?” I asked  unbelieving.  “It’s 70%,” our president repeated.  Later that afternoon we were informed that since a 70% decrease would mean many of us, including myself, would be making less than minimum wage, we would be given the minimum wage salary instead.

Things went downhill from there. Meetings were hushed behind closed doors and politics was rampant.  I learned very quickly I was on the losing team.  “This ship is sinking,” my manager told me. ” He was right. Within a few months,  everyone in our office (except a few top executives) had been laid off.

Author’s Reflections
Leaving the teaching profession was strike one for me. After this job, I was sure I didn’t want a career in sales and marketing, so that was strike two. Although I enjoyed creating glossy materials and overseeing marketing projects from beginning to end,  I needed something meaningful, an ideal,  to motivate me. I was in the “real world” of business and discovered I did not fit in.  This meant I would have to start all over again in my search for career.
I did not want a strike three.

Questions  for Reflection or Discussion
Have you ever found yourself  in the wrong job? Have you ever quit a job to start something new, only to find that your new career path was not a good fit either? Do you have a  story about starting over?




Why Do I Feel Like I’m in High School?

If you look at the picture, that’s me in the middle, but Asian and a little younger. The co-workers, cubicles, haircut, simple black sweater and coffee mug are on the mark.   I had transitioned out of education to work in what I thought would be a nice office job. I would to sit at a desk, answer emails, design marketing material about technology and its uses in education, and have meetings with adults. No more lesson plans and disciplining children. What I didn’t expect was a different type of disorderly behavior…

As soon as I was hired on, my co-workers hated me. They spread rumors, whispered and laughed behind my back. One man (they were all in their late twenties to early thirties) taunted me constantly for working so hard.  Then he’d share stories, many disgusting, about how great he was.  When he discovered I was Christian, he’d tell me repeatedly that he was the devil. He was trying to scare me.  My co-workers even  convinced our director that I should trade cubicles with the printer because my cubicle was bigger and the printer needed more space and was presumably more valuable.  (It was a $10,000 printer.)  A couple of months ago in graduate school,  I had been engaged in intellectual and ideals-driven conversations about standards-based reform and educational policy for language minority students. Now my deepest questions were how to how to deal with a bully and navigate office politics.

I eventually figured out why they hated me. One of the men in our group was a contractor. He had been wanting employee status for quite some time and had been denied it over and gain. Meanwhile, right out of school, single with little corporate experience, I was hired with employee status and full benefits.  (My husband has been contracting for two years hoping to be hired as a regular employee so I can understand how he felt.)  They hated that I was from Stanford, seemingly privileged,  and so overly industrious and eager. They loathed our director and organized against her.  I soon realized that the environment had been toxic for quite some time.

Eventually, this dysfunctional group tried to pull me into their cabal.  Each Friday at lunch, they’d  ask me what I wanted from Fry’s Electronics.  Each week I said I didn’t need anything. The co-worker who called himself the devil started telling me that there was  money in our budget to “try out” technology and  that I could get anything I wanted. Unbelieving, I asked for a keyboard to use with my Palm Pilot (a smart phone precursor) and less than an hour later I received it on my desk. I had no idea who was signing off on these purchases.

When they needed me to cover for them, these coworkers became very friendly and nice. I became their backup for arriving late to appointments with customers or partners. I held down the fort and filled in when needed. I became useful and used.

Then one day this group of coworkers asked me to meet them in one of the rooms. “Come on, Tina. Join us. ” Something secretive and exciting was going on. Still unsure why I was invited to join the party, I found out that they were stealing technology–computers, software, cameras, etc. Layoffs were imminent and all the equipment would soon be useless. Someone drove up to the door leading outside in a van and someone else had turned off the video cameras. I walked out of that room quickly. I could not believe what was happening.

As for my actual work, I created some very shiny marketing material about the use of technology in educational settings and gave input (that no one ever listened to) which questioned the efficacy of their multi-million dollar marketing campaign for schools. The company I worked for wanted to sell its networking hardware to school districts and universities and its marketing program touted the benefits of technology in classrooms in a way that never described exactly how this technology would be applied practically. The videos were gorgeous, but it wasn’t going to work.

Within nine months, the company had begun the process of laying off almost all of its employees, including me. I was relieved.

Author’s Reflections:  My biggest lesson looking back was that I should trust more in my abilities. I thought that because I didn’t have business experience that my co-workers were all better than I was. They were more experienced, but I still had much to offer and my experience and education was specialized and something none of them had. I had reason to be confident and did not need to doubt myself.  I used to send my marketing brochures to the editing department and they’d come back with with grammatical errors and awkward wording. How could that be? I now know that sometimes people are hired for positions they are not qualified for.  I learned quickly that working with good people, not an impressive building to work in,  is key to enjoying a job.





How I Decided to Become a Teacher

My stay in Taiwan ended with a telephone call. My dad let me know the bad news that my grandfather was sick and that he may not have much more time to live. My Chinese program was over so I quickly packed my bags, said my goodbyes and headed back to the States.

When I returned home I discovered that my grandfather’s kidneys had stopped working and that he was on dialysis.  His life would be prolonged although he would slowly weaken. I spent much time fussing over his treatments.

On a personal level, I had classic reverse culture shock. Everything at home was the same and yet I had changed.  No one could relate to me. Everyone was happy to see me and I was happy to reconnect,  but each interaction increased my anxiety.  What was I going to do with my life now that I had returned from Taiwan?  What would I tell my family and friends when they asked what my plans were? My peers had gone on to jobs, grad school and  adulthood, and I was directionless and broke. I had a car to drive but didn’t have money for gas.

My parents wanted to have the “what are you going to do now” talk and I knew I needed an answer. I didn’t know what I wanted, so I made myself make a decision. I said I wanted to become an elementary school teacher and pretended it was what I wanted to do. I convinced myself it was a noble profession.  I reasoned to myself that if I were to go back to Taiwan or live overseas again, teaching experience would be beneficial.  Kids are cute and I could help disadvantaged children develop literacy.  I could get my credential in one year and escape my state of limbo. I’d have a focus for the next couple of years. I’d have a stable job. So that is how the decision was made.

Questions for Discussion: How did you decide on your career? Have you ever made a decision that you knew was a wrong one? If yes, why? What was the result?

Author’s Reflections: Looking back, I wish I had looked for a full-time job and spent more time considering options before rushing into making such an important decision. I could have worked as a substitute teacher first. Or asked for counsel from mentors or wise peers instead of making the decision entirely on my own. (Proverbs 15:22 in the Bible says “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”) I was still young and had many opportunities to choose from,  but I rushed into the decision. Scared, I became overly practical. I didn’t ask for help. I lost hope in myself.

Unexpected Direction

By spring of 1994 my time in Taiwan was drawing to a close. I had almost finished my second year of Chinese studies and began asking myself what I was going to do when I returned to the States.  I thought I might pursue graduate studies in comparative literature but knew my Chinese was not good enough.  I was afraid to pursue journalism in Taiwan even though I had some contacts and it was something I really wanted.  Aside from keeping a journal,  I stopped writing because I doubted my ability.  I considered law school. Three years of professional school with a clear career objective and good income was attractive. But I couldn’t see myself  a lawyer. The uncertainty of the future and my inability to chose a profession ripped me  up inside.

I remember angrily screaming at the bathroom mirror one night. My roommates weren’t  home so I let myself cry.  The window was open but I wasn’t worried about alarming my neighbors. Domestic abuse was common in our apartment building. I loathed my inability to make a decision. I was so frustrated.  I hated my life.

One day not too long after this incident I had stayed home from classes because I was not feeling well.  It was particularly hot that day and my apartment did not have air conditioning. Having woken up from my nap sweaty and weak with flu symptoms,  I walked over to the pharmacy to get some medicine. The woman there gave me several packets of pills wrapped in paper and I took them when I got home.

The next thing I knew I was on the bathroom floor. I must’ve overdosed on the pills. As I was getting up, I knocked the back of my head hard on the bathroom sink and slammed back onto the ground. Lying supine, I discovered I could not breathe nor  move my limbs. I was paralyzed.  Since I could not breathe, I was probably going to die.

I looked around, praying there were no cockroaches on the floor near me.  Thankfully, there were none.  I did not want to die with cockroaches around me. (Surprisingly I feared cockroaches but  was not afraid of death. ) My life flashed before my eyes.  I remember praying that my parents would know God, feeling sorry I was upset at one of my friends for not offering to pay for her meals,  and regretting all the time I wasted worrying about my future.  In a moment of clarity I heard the words:    “Give, you must give. This is the meaning of your life.”  My mind was clear and I felt peace. Albeit a little late, finally I had direction.

Author’s Reflections:
After receiving the revelation (which I believe was from God),  I was able to breathe. I crawled back to my bedroom and passed out on my bed. One of my roommates found me and called over a doctor friend who diagnosed me with a concussion. The words “Give, you must give” have never left me.  I have not always liked those words, but I know they are to guide my life. In giving I will find meaning.  I’m still not sure exactly how.





Summer in Taiwan

My mom flew with me to Taiwan. It was sweltering hot. She settled me in with some relatives and made sure I was in good hands. Her brother worked not far from my teaching assignment in Taipei. I stayed with my my grandfather’s brother and his wife in a nearby suburb. Before returning home my mom took me to Taiwan University Hospital to meet up with a nursing school classmate who worked there and ask if she could arrange for me to volunteer (candy stripe). The hospital was old, walls were cement, and stainless steel carts of instruments and food containers squeaked through the halls. I was repulsed by the smell of the hospital chemicals and had an overwhelming desire to bolt. I can’t remember the conversation, just that I never followed up on that suggestion.  This hospital encounter was followed by a magical summer. I found it deeply meaningful to connect with relatives I had grown up hearing stories about and to carve out a place for myself in my family history where strangely, I belonged. I developed rapport with the university students I taught. We were the same age, so different culturally, yet so alike. I enrolled myself in a Chinese class for foreigners. I loved studying Chinese and once completely missed my bus stop having found myself at the end of the route at a remote part of town entirely engrossed in a book about the meaning of individual Chinese radicals and characters. I was fascinated.


That summer, like the last, ended bittersweet. I had a wonderful time in Taiwan. My heart felt full and happy. I felt alive, true to myself, able to thrive. At the same time I was saddened to realize that as much as I wished I could please my parents and continue down the pre-med track, it wasn’t going to work out. I was trying my best to be mature and obedient about my future. Figure out a practical career and major to pursue in place of medicine. At the same time I was passionate and full of dreams. This split mind was tearing me apart.


Upon my return to the States I told my dad I couldn’t study medicine and was ready to withdraw from Stanford and transfer to a less expensive school.

Questions for Discussion: Was I being rebellious? Was changing schools the right thing to do? What do you think?

Freshman Year at Stanford

Stanford was an overachiever’s paradise. I was sure to flourish in the environment of excellence, intellectualism, learning, activism, clubs, dorms, and new friends. The campus was tranquil and conducive to dreaming.

At the same time, starting day one, an undercurrent of anxiety about my major began gnawing at my mind. When someone would ask, “So what are you going to major in?” I’d tentatively say “Biological Sciences” or respond apologetically that I wasn’t sure. The second day of school I found myself in the Career Center searching for answers. I had developed a weekly ritual of stopping by the center, flipping through internship and job binders; scanning through books about careers (this was pre-internet) and collecting flyers. Some days I was hopeful, other days painfully aware of just going through the motions of a desperate routine.

Fall quarter my schedule was packed with general requirements. My first pre-med course was not offered until winter. I took Chinese as an elective, and began exploring my nascent Asian-American identity.

Winter quarter I took my first Chemistry course. The seriousness and anticipation in the lecture hall among the future doctors ready to prove themselves was palpable. Although I had done well in high school chemistry and taken a community college course that previous summer, the course was difficult. The professor’s response to my request to explain a concept I had read but could not understand was “it’s in the book”. I went to every office hour and review session for help and earned my first B.

Spring quarter I took Organic Chemistry. Went to every review and office hour, got a tutor. Another B. I guessed and memorized my way through the class. I couldn’t understand why the answers on problem sets and tests were incorrect or correct. I disliked the subject matter. How could I tell my parents? How could I waste their money? If I wasn’t pre-med what would I study?

Summer was approaching and I needed to make the most of it. Do something that would contribute to my future. Get a job to alleviate the stress of college tuition. Figure out a Plan B. When discussing this issue with my roommate Julie I confessed that what I really wanted to do was go to Taiwan. I could learn about my family history. I could support myself teaching English and learn Chinese. But this wasn’t impossible. How could I line up a position overseas in a few short weeks? The following Sunday Julie shared my desire with the pastor of her Taiwanese church and within a couple of weeks I received a written offer for a well-paying job teaching English that summer from the pastor’s brother, Director of the Taipei YMCA.

I finished my freshman year confused and discouraged about academics and career, yet excited about my new adventure.

Author’s Reflections:

I knew my pre-med classes were not working out and that I couldn’t sustain an interest in the sciences. . The only class I fully enjoyed was Chinese, which I could take cheaply at a state or community college. Each class at Stanford translated to thousands of dollars. My parents were toiling away at the motel they had bought and managed and I was flushing their money down a toilet at a fancy private school. I felt anguished, stressed, guilty, terrible. Should I have gone to college without knowing what I would major in? Should I have gone to Stanford? Should I have taken some time off to refocus, work, or take transferable units at a community college in light of how expensive tuition was?

Looking back I can see how incredibly alone I was when it came to deciding on my major. I was ashamed that I didn’t know what I wanted. It was difficult to explain to my peers who seemed focused and prepared. I couldn’t ask my parents for help because the least I could do was tell them what I did want to do if I didn’t want to go to medical school. I had good friends I could talk to from home but nobody, no counselor, could give me the magical answer I desired.

I did not understand then that sometimes in life we can’t find the answers we are looking for, that sometimes direction is found step by step, and that some things take a long time, a lifetime to make sense. Sometimes we can’t see the wisdom in a circuitous path and what we we think we have to have is not really what we need most. We must often settle for imperfect plans. We all make mistakes, but there are second chances. I did not know then that even if I chose a “wrong” major that I had a lifetime to discover what I wanted to do.

I had implored God to speak to me, tell me what to major in and what career would be best for me. I prayed my entire freshman year and heard nothing. Yet I asked briefly for God to provide a way for me to go to Taiwan and that prayer was answered immediately. So I had to start learning to live with the dichotomy of a God who is close and miraculous but at the same time often silent. I would later learn that God was working out a plan completely different from the type I was pleading for.

Lostness at the Top

Declaring my major for the newspaper is a disturbing memory. What if I had written undeclared? Would I have been better off exploring my interests in high school than stacking up achievements? If not afraid to disappoint my parents, what major would I have written down? My interests then were languages, travel, psychology, and activism. I wanted to help people. But I could not connect my interests with careers, majors, or potential “jobs out there.” What types of a careers were out there? What could I possibly be or do? I wish I had more insight back then.  Could someone have helped me? I don’t know. I didn’t have the resources within myself to figure these things out.
It is not that I hadn’t put any previous thought into it. I remember coming upon a brochure about an Asian American mental health/counseling clinic. (Rare at that time.) I could feel my heart beat faster as I picked it up. It resonated with me. I could picture myself working in that field. I showed it to my parents in a courageous moment of vulnerability. They responded  something along the lines of “you don’t want to go into psychology or you will go crazy.” After that conversation I folded up the brochure and tucked it away. Looked at it once or twice and then never again.
There was another moment in high school when I thought I had moved closer to finding direction. I had taken a personality/skills inventory which was supposed to match students’ personalities and talents with potential future careers. I remember the hopeful suspense of waiting for test results and the disappointing reveal: Iron Welder. Iron welder? A door opening to a brick wall.
So as a graduating senior I had four pieces of information when it came to deciding on a major and  a future career:
  1. My parents want me to be a doctor and I needed to be obedient.
  2. Counseling or mental health was not an option.
  3. What I am interested in does not translate into jobs.
  4. Interest and personality inventories are seriously flawed.

Questions for Parents: What information do your teens have when it comes to deciding on a major or contemplating a future career?