Are you a doctor yet? – The Asian pressure of success

“Are you a doctor yet?”

Everyone knows that joke and meme right? – So, what’s behind it?

For the past months, I got in touch more often with people who feel the pressure of succeeding in their career, studies or family planning. Sometimes they feel that way because it is to “pay back” the efforts of their family or, on the other hand, their family makes them feel the pressure. Either way, it’s something I thought about a lot. I wrote this article when I first came to Taiwan and decided to post it before I leave this beautiful country in 3 days.

Growing up in Europe but with Vietnamese parents and friends with the same cultural background, I remember that grades were very important to many Asian parents. Succeeding in school was always a given. My parents actually stood out because they never cared, as long as I and my siblings passed our classes. They never put me under any pressure to get a driver license before 18 or learn the piano either. However, that was an exception and my (Asian) friends sure as hell told me every time they came over to visit, that my parents aren’t really “typical Asian”.

Now that we all grown up, handling the struggles of a mid-20s and early 30-year-old (more or less) adult, it doesn’t seem to have changed much. Living in Scandinavia, I didn’t feel that any of my (Danish) friends have the need to succeed because of their family. They do their own thing, for themselves and no one else. Here in Asia the lifestyle might be the same in regards to the nightlife, going out and having a great weekend to relax from the stress on the other days but yet it is still different.
Actually “paying back” is such a harsh description, but somehow it seems fitting for what I try to describe now. And of course, in Asian families, there is a feeling of ‘not letting the family down’ as a characteristic of a collectivistic culture (Thank you Simone for this wonderfully fitting sentence). So that would explain this feeling to a certain degree.
To begin with, in a way we, the abroad born Asians, feel that our families have sacrificed so much and our parents have worked hard jobs, so we can’t just let them down.

Let them down or let ourselves down?
I wouldn’t know how to answer this question. My dad will read this (he is learning English for as long as I have been living abroad because he wants to read and follow whatever I do. He surely is the best dad anyone could wish for). Anyway, my dad will read this and will disagree because he raised me very liberal and independent and doesn’t want to put any pressure or dreams he has on myself. According to him, I could do whatever, I can be a 9 to 5 office worker, truck driver or cashier or maybe stripper. Naw.. not stripper. But most jobs, as long as I tried my very best and – as long as I am happy with myself. That is all he always asked from me. I should find happiness for myself – not with anyone, not with a lot of money, not with a top position job. I should be able to look at myself and say: I did my best, I saw and did everything I could do to get where I am now. I feel at ease and happy with what I am doing, who I am spending or not spending my life with.
But for me, this would never be enough. My parents gave up so, so much and sacrificed their own dreams, so my siblings and I can pursue ours. They put their own desires behind and worked hard, so we can have a decent life in Germany and so I can go wherever I want to study. And they never, for once, asked anything in return. Never have my mom or dad asked me to become a doctor, or lawyer or manager of what-ever-kind-of company or get a certain degree. Whatever I felt was the right choice for me, they supported it.

What about dating?
Again, my dad raised me so liberal and wants me to be free. That is why I never felt the pressure or stress some (Asian) friends have around me. Especially now in our mid-20s, some Asian parents want my friends to be in something serious. My mom and dad want to see me walking down the airplane aisle instead of a wedding aisle. I should rather get to my next destination and cross of another place from my bucket list. Except North Korea, we had a heated discussion about that 😀
Anyway, I can have a boyfriend, or not, I can also focus on chasing dreams, flights or something other. My parents supported me with every decision, whether it’s wanting to be with someone while being abroad (and obviously getting heartbroken.. ah man to be 19 again), or moving in with someone after living in Copenhagen for just a few months, moving out when it didn’t work out, or the nationality of the guys I dated, or whether I dated at all. They were happy with everything, even if I didn’t bring anyone home for years or like now, I am not coming home myself for almost a year. No pressure at all, I don’t need to get married. In China, they would say I end up as a left-over woman because I sure as hell won’t be married by 25.

Some of my friends, on the other hand, feel the direct family pressure right about now. Mid 20s, it’s time to have a serious boyfriend/girlfriend or well, get married, with a person that the parents approve of. And if not, then they should at least have a solid degree and get a good job after they graduated. Or another scenario, they have to help and, at one point, take over the family business. Pressure, pressure.
I understand the thought behind it, every parent wants the best for their child, undeniable. And giving them these options and the pressure of fulfilling certain roles (in society or culture) seems like guiding them. But what if they aren’t happy with the choices that get forced on them?

So, what’s the point? There is pressure either way. On one hand, either the family makes you do and fulfill certain things. On the other hand, like me, my parents don’t force me to do or become anything, yet I feel a huge pressure on making their sacrifices worth it. It is definitely one of the driving things in my life to be a goal oriented person and also, to chase after whatever dreams I have.
But I don’t even know a clear answer to that feeling of pressure. For now, I just do what makes me happy. I am trying to learn another language now and some days, I am proud I managed to be so multilingual, some days I feel like I should stop and set a solid and “real” career goal. Also, I try to find out what fulfills me and also at the same times, makes my parents proud and giving them the feeling that they did everything right and the sacrifices were worth it.

So, what’s my thought? At this point, my mom and dad would say that they are proud I turned into such an independent and confident person that takes life as it comes. But for me, I am just at the beginning of my journey. To put it into words is so difficult and explaining it to someone who isn’t familiar with the Asian culture is not easy as well.

But it helps that I wrote it down and asked myself “Hej, so what do you want to do to make everyone happy – your parents and yourself”? The answer for my parents would be my own happiness. To be happy with what I do and did with my chances in life, who I became and maybe who I am with and how I raised my children. That probably is what I should want as well but it feels like something is still missing with that answer. So, what is it?

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My latest article which was also shared on the Huffington Post : Friendships and relationships with a due date ❤️



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