As a young adult still in her twenties and graduated from university only a year ago, I can say that I have not decided what the ‘end’ is going to be like – the end being a career. For the longest time in my life, I had been unconsciously living other people’s lives, dreams, and wants. And yes, I had operated like a twenty-four-seven ‘careerist’, and it took over so much of my life in ways I did not want. It took enrolling in a History graduate program last year at Simon Fraser University for me to figure out that I was not happy with the path I had chosen. Most importantly, it also took my dad’s current health problems for me to place things in my life into perspective.
Things did not feel right deep inside, and I intuitively had many doubts even before moving to Burnaby solely for the school. I thought that pursuing my graduate studies would be the next sensible, logical, and perhaps, safest thing to do. I mean, who would not be tempted to work toward a good future life, stability, and do what they love? (Or at least, what they think they love). Having a master degree, to me at the time, meant opening a door to more opportunities. The problem is that history was not the passion I thought I had. At high school and university, I had developed a high respect for historians and what they do. Their lives seem so romantic and fascinating to me: spending most of their time buried in books; going treasure hunting for artifacts and sources; and interpreting and telling stories to make sense of our world. However, all of that was not me. I am not my history teachers.My interest in history has simply been a manifestation of my drive to understand more about humanity so that someday I can better contribute my energy and wisdom to my community. While I was a student and a teaching assistant (to three wonderful tutorials, by the way), the voice within my heart was telling me that I was itching to get out there to do something in the community instead of sitting at the edge of my seat — deconstructing and debating other people’s thoughts. Yet, I pushed that voice aside, and ignored my intuition.
When I look back, enrolling in school again was an easy way out for me. It allowed me to stop feeling as though I did not know what to do next in my life. Like many people, I was not completely comfortable with uncertainties. I always needed to know the next step. Such a fear is learned in society.I remember that throughout grade school and high school, my teachers would often instruct us to draw or discuss what we want to be when we grow up. Are you going to be a doctor, Po-Yi? Maybe you can be a teacher like Mrs. W? And no, you cannot be a farmer but you can dream about it. Then in high school, my peers and I had to complete SLPs (Student Learning Plans), which had questions like, “what do you plan to do in five years?” and “what are your goals for the next ten years?” It was as though we had to decide our life path at the mere age of seventeen. Much anxiety was built around not knowing what we want to become. I had taken that very seriously because I had feared making the wrong decisions that might lead to more anxiety in the future. As a first-generation Chinese-Canadian whose parents were from a working-class background, I developed a strong work ethic and for better or worse, their immigrant-mentality of pursuing a better life somewhere, someday. So in many aspects, I was living their lives too. Obviously, I could not keep up that drive and ambition. Something had to change.
Near the end of August of last year, I received a phone call from my dad. He told me of the serious health problems he was experiencing; and he was scared. By that time, I had just returned to Canada for a week from an amazing volunteer trip to Costa Rica. So before school started in September, I took the time to fly back home to spend time with him and meet up with his family doctor. I found out later that the news was not ‘new’ at all. My dad had been in and out of the hospital since late spring and early summer. My parents held off telling me because they did not want to distract me from my overseas volunteer trip, something they knew that I had always wanted to do. I felt very grateful and loved knowing that, but I also felt very sad learning my dad’s condition. Career did not appear so important anymore. Watching my dad’s suffering made me realize how short life can be. It made me acknowledge humanity’s mortality.
With ongoing doubts about my path and thoughts of my dad’s health distracting me, I could no longer continue my graduate studies. I did not want to destroy myself in doing something that I continually resisted deep down inside. I did not want to talk myself into loving a career that does not suit my real passions and real self. I understood that my parents might want me to obtain a better life – a life that contains none of the hardships they have endured throughout their lives prior and after migrating to Canada. I also understood that they want me to study hard and respect my teachers and elders. However, they have not meant those things to be a means to an end. The day I decided to quit school, I apologized to my mom. Did you know what her response was? She replied, “You do not need to say sorry. You are unhappy, and we understand. Why do something that brings you so much pain? Your dad and I have worked so hard only for you to live a happy life. Nothing more or less.” We only want you to be happy. From that moment, I felt liberated from the ball-and-chain I had made myself wear for so long. I can finally breathe and live.
So I did it. I said ‘no’ to a path that did not work out for me, but doing so was not easy. Within the several weeks after quitting graduate school, that little voice in my head (not my heart) still wanted to cling onto History. I was so self-identified with it after all. But no was no, and there was no way I was going to put back on that ball-and-chain. As someone from the school shared with me, “you were not climbing the right mountain, that’s all”. So I have made a conscious decision – a decision to continue to follow my heart (as difficult as it is!) and to allow myself to live. I want to carve out my own path and climb my own mountain. As of last year, I am no longer a ‘careerist’; rather, I have become a lover of life and uncertainty. At the moment, I am doing something that I truly enjoy and that is, community involvement – what I have been doing for the last eight years of my young life! Additionally, I have enrolled myself in a local leadership program since leadership development is now one of my biggest priorities. My ‘yes’ to life has opened a door to further possibilities and growth. I have become more patient and loving to myself as a result. A wisdom I want to impart to anyone who might be struggling with something similar is to just live and love, and you will eventually find a way.
And my dad? He is doing fine and resting at home, taking the necessary medication and eating the right food. I am ever-so thankful for his love and care for me and my brother all of these years.