Fast Track to Success

My parents immigrated to the US from Taiwan in the late sixties and eventually settled in Southern California.  My dad was an engineer and my mom was a nurse. They worked hard and saved money to invest in a small multi-family property that over time they would trade for more units. My parents also bought and flipped the homes we lived in which dictated where we lived and went to school.  By the time I was in junior high we had settled into a permanent home and my sisters and I into the Garden Grove Unified School District.

Freshman year of high school l I became ambitious. Nobody pushed me, it just happened. After a childhood of not fitting in and prejudiced taunting (Hey Chink, Jap, Slanty-Eyes, etc.), I finally found my groove in academics.  It was like a button was pressed and I just started to Go. I chose the hardest classes, piled on a wide-range of extra-curricular activities, furiously practiced the piano, and pushed myself to acquire leadership positions to assemble the strongest college application possible for admittance into a prestigious university.  Since my high school was not particularly competitive and my relentless effort not the norm, I was rewarded with straight A’s. And so I pushed myself more. I excelled academically and earned numerous department awards. I took the maximum number of A.P units. I placed in piano competitions and studied abroad. I lead community service projects and participated in academic competitions. I joined numerous clubs (many of which I had no interest in or talent for)  knowing it would look impressive on my college application. All my hard work culminated at the end of my senior year with one particularly thick envelope in the mailbox: I got into Stanford.

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

What do you want to be when you grow up? As I child I remember hearing this question and never knowing what to say. I could never wrap my mind around it. Was I supposed to know and why didn’t I? Was something wrong with me?  I remember once being excited about becoming an archeologist. My heart started beating quickly, when I thought I might have found an answer to the question. I could discover artifacts and learn about history of long ago and ancient things. Discover something, maybe. How mysterious and cool! But that little fire was quickly put out by the adults around me: “That is a terrible idea, you don’t want to do that.” I remember thinking I might want to be an astronaut. I could travel to distant planets, go up in a rocket, be really brave. I was not afraid. Then I read a book from the library about the discomforts of space travel, namely motion sickness and toileting. That interest, too, fizzled fast. But deep down in I knew the answer to the question.  I wanted to be a writer. But I didn’t think that was something I could do. It was not a job, like being an artist. And I wasn’t talented or famous. So I never shared that idea with anybody. It wasn’t worth sharing but at that same time it was a treasure so precious I didn’t want to risk losing it. Funny thing is, I hid it so long, like the Halloween and Valentine’s Day candy I never ate so as to not waste, that I had forgotten about it. Without realizing it, that desire had disappeared and would take years, decades to dig back up.


Questions for Parents:
How does your child respond when asked this question? Does it excite your child or stress him or her out? What is your child interested in? Is there something he or she is excited about? Have you ever unwittingly thrown water on that interest? Are your kids comfortable sharing their dreams with you?
Reflect and/or Discuss:
Sometimes after a season of unsatisfying work, lostness, or boredom we go back to this same question. No matter what your age is, it is not too late to answer this question. Had you once known but have now forgotten? Are you ready for a new dream?