How I'm Changing Asian Stereotype Parent Career Expectations (4 minute read)

"Doctor or Lawyer. Anything else is not good enough"

Ok so my parents have never said that to me and generally, they've been pretty good about respecting my career decisions. 

They've never forced me to go into a specific profession or forbid me from following my dreams (ie. "I'll disown you if..."). It's not like they're unsupportive. Rather, they're apathetic

For instance, they were like "meh" when I shared with them my dreams of being a bestselling author one day. (Yes, they know about this blog and no, they don't read it or care too much except that one time I had coffee with Mary Ng, someone they saw in the local Chinese newspaper).

Perhaps their reaction would have been stronger if I were a man? That, I will never know. 

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Despite their indifference, they've frequently implied that those 2 career paths are the epitomes of success.

As mentioned in previous posts, my oldest sister is a doctor. And there have been multiple instances where my parents have unknowingly put her on a pedestal. They're not upfront about it and when confronted, they always deny being more proud of one daughter over another, saying in unison:

"All my daughters are successful."

Instead, they do it in a subtle way:

"Mom, I got a promotion!"

"Great, did you get a raise? Your sister makes 6 figures."

My parents talking about their daughters to a friend/neighbour/random stranger: 

"My eldest is a doctor. The others also have degrees."

My dad responding to my decision to work in the public sector:
"Even though you won't make as much as your sister, you will have a pension when you retire like me."

Eye roll...

Even though I've told them that these indirect burns are hurtful, they don't get it. And I honestly believe that my parents are limited in their ability to understand why these comments annoy me. 

Difference In Our Upbringings 

My parents grew up in Hong Kong with humble beginnings where education was perceived as a privilege. University was reserved for the rich kids since their parents (my grandparents) could not afford it. 
They were raised with the mindset that the more schooling someone had meant the more successful they will be since they believed going to school is the only option for success.

So in my parents' eyes, all of their children met this expectation and one of them exceeded it. I know they really are proud of us.   

My grandparents did the best they could with my parents, instilling the ultimate goal: to provide their children with the opportunity to have what they could not achieve. 

And they absolutely did that. My paternal grandmother was illiterate. However, her son (my dad) had the opportunity to immigrate to Canada with basic English skills, navigating some racist moments in 1970's British Columbia, successfully landing a government job and now living the life, collecting a healthy pension every month.  

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My family's history of how I became who I am sits close to my heart and it deeply influences the way I parent. I share my parents' (and grandparents') vision of ensuring the next generation has it better than the previous. 

However, "better" does not necessarily mean more school. It does not mean more money or assets. It does not mean more status or power.

See related: Why I'm Raising My Daughter To Break The Materialistic Asian Stereotype (And How I'm Doing It)

Let's be honest here. My daughter doesn't need to worry about survival like her grandparents. Her parents are white collar, English-fluent, working professionals with graduate degrees. She's had assets to her name even before she was born. Financially speaking, she has it better already.

With a more accepting generation coming into the workforce, she most likely won't experience the same cultural (ie. bamboo ceiling) and gender barriers (ie. how many female CEOs are there nowadays?) her mom and dad did in the workplace.  

Does that mean she can sit back and relax like a "trust fund baby"? Of course not!

So what does "better" mean to me?

Finding Fulfillment

What I want is for my daughter to find a career that fulfills her needs, aligning with the moral and ethical values in which my husband and I will have hopefully instilled. 

I want her to have a career that is something that she loves doing, letting her be her authentic self; something that allows her to contribute to society in a positive way, giving her a sense of self-worth; something that challenges her, testing her work ethic, making her learn and grow.  

I don't want her to view her career as a series of transactions (ie. effort in, money out) but as an ongoing journey in pursuit of serving those who need her unique skills, abilities and experience. 

Building Resilience

And during this ongoing journey, there will be twists and turns. I want her to feel confident taking risks, to confront her fears and build her resilience.

I want her to draw from her failures and have the autonomy to course correct, applying the lessons learned along the way. 

Struggling Less Than Her Mom

I chose these 2 things because I have personally struggled with them.   

Growing up, I had this clear vision of how my career would look like. I would visualize myself climbing that corporate ladder, making lots of money, growing my status and managing tons of staff. 
I honestly believed that if I followed the rules, excelled academically, filled my CV to the brim, I would be successful and then I would be happy. 

Interestingly, I was voted most likely to get a Ph.D. in my high school graduating class. I wonder if this expectation was externally (ie. influenced by the stereotype that Asian kids are smart and will go to school forever) or internally set (ie. Katharine's one of the smartest kids in the class so she should pursue postgraduate education)? I digress. 

Anyway, I thought a career was linear, a single path in which the efforts of each step needed to be cumulative, leading to bigger and better things. 

I had this narrow view of what success meant and it wasn't until I entered my 30's that I figured out this isn't necessarily what gives me fulfillment in life. 

See related: Why I'm Raising My Daughter To Break The Materialistic Asian Stereotype (And How I'm Doing It)

Now I view a career as a web where every point is interrelated and the essence of who I am is the glue that holds it all together. And the stronger my sense of self is, the stronger the web becomes. 

I thought I was pretty resilient having overcome some major struggles in my childhood; however, becoming a mom and putting myself out there by starting this blog has made me realize how small my comfort zone really is. 

Over the last 2 years, my capacity to roll with the punches has been challenged significantly, making me less risk averse and more fearless every day. And this is something my parents never prepared me for. 

Therefore, I'm hoping to raise my daughter so she is better than me, not by setting unattainable expectations, not by overcriticizing her or comparing her to others, not by emphasizing on grades, salary, wealth or status.

Instead, I will give her courage when she is scared, support when she feels unsure, hope when she's disappointed and provide her opportunities to find fulfillment and build resilience.  

So Readers, what were your parents' career expectations? Did you meet them? Are you following your dreams?

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  1. My parents had high expectations for me...pushing me to go to med school...I dropped out without telling them and got an art degree instead 😁

    1. I admire your courage and thanks for sharing. I'm glad you followed your dreams :)


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