My sister, Helen, and I are bad daughters. No, not really. Maybe.
Let me explain.
My sister and I are first-generation Chinese, meaning we were born in the United States but our parents were not. We grew up in a small suburban town in the Denver metro area. My childhood was confusing, to say the least. We were raised on values that told us to put our head down and work, work, work so someday we could take the conventional path to security and predictability.
Our parents lived a rocky path as immigrants in the States and they wanted our lives to be better, easier. They wanted us to have lives that would guarantee us a steady paycheck, un-riddled with worry. The phrase “If you have security, you will have an easier life” was uttered many times in our household. It was also demonstrated by the way our parents saved every nickel and dime fervently.
They urged us to excel in subjects like science and math so we could someday find work in an industry that would provide safety and routine. We were discouraged from participating in activities like the arts and other creative subjects, because it wouldn’t do us any good to expel unnecessary energy that would only lead to an uncertain life.
Breaking Out Of The Mold.
I didn’t fit my parents’ mold of an ideal child. I was the one who sang at the top of my lungs around the house, daydreamed and couldn’t sit still. I did fine in school, but didn’t find much interest in any particular subject, and most definitely not in math and science. I had dreams of stardom and while I felt like I had an artist inside me, I felt discouraged to express and explore that side of myself. So I didn’t.
My sister, on the other hand, was more of the model child. She excelled at school and while she felt the same discouragement from our parents to be creative, she earned a spot on our high school dance squad. Against their wishes, she worked and paid the fees and costumes on her own. She loved dance but focused on academics so she could still someday live that conventional life our parents so wished for us. She graduated Cum Laude from her university and seemingly had the world in front of her.
She moved to New York City and expected life to fall into place. After trying jobs in the media and production industry, she was miserable, stuck and had no idea what she wanted to do with her life. Her picking the conventional path had not brought her happiness, so what was she doing wrong? She didn’t have the answer but she was certain of one thing: she loved dance. After much resistance from herself and the expectations that had been placed on her, she decided she would focus on the one thing that she knew brought her happiness.
The Present Day.
My sister’s job title is best described right now as Dancer. Yes, as in someone that performs dance in live productions. Since she has embarked on this journey, she’s been cast in a couple off-Broadway productions and is auditioning for bigger roles every week. She takes some temp jobs here and there to give herself flexibility to pursue dance while still having the ability to pay the bills. She has no idea where this period in her life could lead or how long it will last, but she knows she is happy and she is also giving herself the space and time to sort through her next step, rather than what she is “supposed” to be doing.
As for me, I am a contractor for an event and conference production firm. I’ve been a contractor for the firm on and off for almost two years. I’ve had other jobs in between and also at the same time. Each time my contract ended, I was lucky enough to be asked to stay on and extend my time. And I prefer it this way. I like being open to possibilities and having the ability to re-evaluate my options at the end of each contract. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some amazing organizations and public figures, but our parents are still afraid that my future is unsteady and unpredictable.
Only in the past few of years have I given myself permission to explore and rifle through what makes me truly come alive and more aligned with who I am. I’ve dabbled in some martial arts and dance classes (my sister and I both got bit by the dancing bug somehow). I dream up my own projects and wonder what it would be like to be living a life that is truly in line with who I am. Disclaimer: I’m still figuring out what that means.
So…my sister and I are bad daughters. Bad daughters because we are following unconventionals paths and figuring out our own definitions of success and happiness; Bad daughters because we haven’t found jobs that pay off all our student loan debt yet; Bad daughters because we would rather spend money to travel the world than to put a down payment on a house.
I know we are on the right track because we are on our own track. And I know that our parents will understand that someday as well. We aren’t the only first generation kids to forge our own paths, right?