All my life, I’ve struggled with the concept of achievement.
Growing up in a fresh-off-the-figurative-boat, Chinese immigrant family meant that achievement was always viewed as the final destination. My parents were part of the wave of immigrants who uprooted their lives in Hong Kong to flee the handover to China in 1997. They landed in Vancouver with bursting suitcases and broken English. They sought to provide a better life for me, in ways I couldn’t imagine. But at the same time, because of the painstaking process of building a better life, they were deathly afraid of me taking a wrong step. They did everything in their power to steer me into their idea of “right”.
As I matured from adolescence to young adulthood, my desire for achievement was fueled not only by my family, but by my peers. I attended one of the most prestigious all-girls private high schools in Vancouver – the kind where we had a Headmistress, Prefects, four “houses” and wore Gordon Tartan uniforms instead of jeans. Hermione Granger would have fit right in. While my parents scraped together every last penny to afford me this costly privilege, I knew we were the exception. Everyone else lived in what could only be described as estates, some with elevators and aquariums inside their house. Their parents were doctors, lawyers, engineers and executives who did pick-up and drop-off in fancy SUV’s and sports cars. All of my classmates were groomed at a young age to be extraordinary, elite people whose last names will probably end up on buildings. And through osmosis, I naturally wanted to keep up as well.
I became the very stereotypical Asian who would lament any test result below an A+. I took piano lessons, had several math tutors, went to Chinese class every Saturday, in addition to tennis and badminton lessons. Throughout university, I sought to maintain an A average (let’s be real…A+ was out of completely reach) while working several jobs to pay for tuition. At one point, I held 5 jobs at the same time, speeding across town in my trusty Toyota only to be late often because of my unrealistic schedule. I was irritable, self-centered, and every little trigger would cause a meltdown.
I was completely burnt out.
I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when a switch flipped, but it was after I moved to Toronto to be on my own for the first time. I started my first real world job, where the schedule was finally predictable. I lived with my best friend in a cozy 1 + den condo where we defined our own rules. I discovered that I now had time to make new friends, try new hobbies, or spontaneously take a trip somewhere just because. And I thrived. In doing so, I realized that I had to define achievement on my own terms.
I recently turned 30. While there was definitely a dash of dread as I counted down my days as a 20-something, I also felt incredibly lucky and grateful. I don’t live in a fancy house, drive a fancy car, and I did not attend an Ivy League university. But I am proud of the life I’ve lived so far, and grateful for the freedom I’ve been granted. Turning 30 was the reminder I needed to pause and reflect on everything I’ve “achieved” in the way I define that label.
- I learned to value health, above all (and continue to work on this every day)
- I deepened some relationships and let others go
- I marveled at the Teotihuacan ruins on a dreamy hot air balloon ride
- I honed my craft as a marketer and switched to Pepsi products for life
- I won texas hold’em on a cruise ship with my first and only royal flush
- I found the only pound cake recipe I will ever need (thanks Martha!)
- I met and married my life partner, Jon
- I embraced my dual identity as a Chinese Canadian
- I started this site in a year I themed “connection & creation”
- I voted
- I hiked a 3-day trek in Sapa, Vietnam, and lived to tell the story
- I supported my parents and embraced their support for me
- I befriended rats on the NYC subway
- I bought my first home and enjoyed living in solitude
- I kept up my skincare routine every night no matter how tired or drunk I was (do you really think Asians magically don’t raisin??)
- I overcame stage fright and performed in A Chorus Line, Murder Mysteries, and most recently as the Grease Gals belting “You’re the One that I Want” with some talented friends
- I mentored aspiring students at UBC and helped some land their dream jobs
- I bought my first Chanel and felt so fancy
- I made some horrible mistakes that I still learn from to this day
- I discovered my hidden talent for parking, obliterating stereotypes
- I ran a 10k (twice), when I never believed I could
- I witnessed many close friends begin new life stages, like launching businesses, buying homes, getting married, and having babies
- I shavasana’d my way into a love for yoga
- I made Central Park my backyard
- I learned to cook and found passion in recreating Asian recipes from childhood
- I volunteered for a month in Mexico City
- I witnessed my little brother grow up into a lovable, responsible adult and aspiring engineer
- I took control of my personal finances and set goals for the future
- I lived in 4 cities and counting
- I found belonging in some amazing people whose friendships I will cherish for life
- I learned to accept myself in all of the ways that I am imperfect