075. Confucius gave me low self-esteem :(
trust no one, not even yourself
One fun fact that I’ve learned about myself during my sabbatical:
I don’t subconsciously believe I can succeed on my own terms.
It’s why I over-analyze and over-think: I need proof and certainty because I don’t trust my gut.
I realized recently that some of this self-doubt comes from the fact that the major life decisions I rebelled against were ones where my parents seemed to be right.
For example, I hated the SAT with a passion. It dictated my life before it even mattered – I was first forced to take the test in junior high as “practice” (i.e. before it would show up on my official record).
From my journal entry in junior high:
Oh, and a lovely four-hour SAT test is coming up tomorrow [a Saturday]! I get to wake up at 7 am to take a test at a random high school that won’t even count for anything because I’m in eighth grade. I sure am glad that I’m taking it before it counts for anything!
I was so mad at my mom for forcing me into this, I didn’t speak to her at all as she shuttled me to the testing location or… as we waited in line for the doors to open… or for the rest of the day after I took the test. But ultimately, I scored well, both on the practice and the actual SAT I took a few years later.
My SAT score helped me get into “good” colleges when I was finally a high school senior.
So subconsciously, I must have noted: My mom was justified, right? It was worth it, right? Where would I be if I hadn’t followed her demands?
Similarly, in my final year of college, I was planning on figuring out my own path through entrepreneurship or art after graduation. My mom was concerned, and after an emotional conversation with her, I decided to pivot to applying for full-time software engineering jobs instead.1 I got hired by a startup and moved to New York, something I couldn’t have imagined accomplishing otherwise.
Once again: I was wrong. Mom was right. Where would I be if I hadn’t listened to her?
I’ve written about immigrant parent beliefs before, and there’s an element of Confucian obedience/filial piety to this story too: your elders are wise and will prepare you for success as long as you listen to them.
But that well-intentioned “we know what’s best for you” approach has an undercurrent of mistrust. It can undercut any sense of agency for a child. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to try to reclaim it.
When I think about where to go from here, I’m reminded of a story:
A man passes by a circus. He notices a huge elephant and stops.
The creature is held captive by only a thin rope tied to its front leg. No chains. No cages. It’s obvious that the elephant could break free at any time.
He asks trainer why the elephant isn’t confined more securely.
“Well,” the trainer said, “when the elephant was young and much smaller, I tied it up with that same rope. Back then, it tried to escape but couldn’t. Eventually, it just stopped trying.
Even now, the elephant still believes the rope is indestructible. It never tries to break free.”
Won’t you join me in trying to break free?
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