Life and the path one takes is never crystal clear. The road to success and fulfillment is sometimes a long journey of self discovery and self improvement. Read more about Viet Nguyen’s journey to finding his path in life and share the struggles that accompanied him along the way.
In elementary school, I was often asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. An engineer was somehow my automatic answer, even though I had no idea what the career entails. Growing up in an Asian family, we were conditioned to pursue one of the following professions: engineer, doctor, pharmacist, or something in corporate business. This idea was backed by your parents’ constant comparison of you to your successful cousins and other children of family friends that also had or were actively pursuing careers within those fields. When an elder family member asked you what you wanted to be, it was more of a multiple choice question than a fill in the blank. Before you could even answer, they named you the only options they wanted you to be.
In middle school and high school, instead of heading towards the STEM track, I gravitated towards the arts and spent numerous hours online, learning graphic design tutorials, doing graphic battles on forums, and competing in a student organization called Technology Student Association for various design competitions. Though it was something I enjoyed, graphic design didn’t feel like my true passion or a career I could pursue as it did not seem like a plausible or successful enough profession. Even in college, I remained undecided until I was forced to declare a major with my University. What I eventually chose was more so a placeholder until I decided what I wanted to do, but after 5 years of college I never really found what I wanted to pursue and eventually graduated without switching majors. What I chose to major in college definitely did not fit the criteria as “successful” or even logical: history. I guess graphic design doesn’t sound too bad now in hindsight.
Someone should’ve told me that it would be difficult to find a job with this degree (just kidding; I recall getting several looks of confusion and “are you stupid” when I told my friends what my major was). At times, it seemed like I was alone in this idea that I wasted several years of college and money towards a degree that would not amount to anything while everyone else was headed towards a stable career after graduation. Constantly torn between the idea of filial piety and personal happiness, I never knew what path I should have taken: to follow the same path of my successful cousins and peers so that I can make my parents proud or try to follow my passion, if I even knew what that passion was. If you’ve seen the recently released film based on a novel, “Crazy Rich Asians”, you’ll recognize this common struggle (spoiler alert if you have not seen the film), more so theme of fulfilling filial piety. One of the reasons for Eleanor’s disapproval of Rachel, her son’s love interest, was because she chose to chase her dreams instead of fulfilling her duties of being a “good daughter”. Eleanor blamed this on the ideology that Americans spent too much time pursuing passion instead of putting the family above all else and sacrificing everything for the family.
The feelings of accomplishment and relief after graduating seems to be a fleeting moment and quickly replaced with pressure and anxiety. So what do you do now? Have you found a job yet? Those were your typical questions asked when bumping into old friends or colleagues that quickly reminded you how crummy your life is and maybe you were better off back in school. That was when I decided to be more active in the community and became more involved in VSA again. I then realize I wasn’t alone in this limbo through open testimonies with others at conferences and events. There were students that also had a hard time living up to their parents expectations, or struggle continuing a career path because it’s what their parents want of them, but it wasn’t what they wanted for themselves. Being in an organization with so many talented and accomplished individuals, it can also feel intimidating at times, especially when you’re still trying to find your own way.
There was an assigned reading during one of my history courses that helped to put things in better perspective for myself. In the novel “All I Asking for is My Body” by Milton Murayama, Tosh, a second generation Japanese American, dreams of being a boxer but is socially crippled by his family’s debt and is forced to give up his dreams in order to maintain a stable job to support his family. His younger brother, Kiyoshi, is aware of the cultural difference between the older generation’s idea of filial piety and the second generation’s desire to live out their dreams, but has less of a burden than his older brother so is capable of deciding his own fate. An important factor in Kiyoshi’s internal struggle to choose between the two paths is that whatever he decides to do will ultimately outlive his parents, so he must be able to live with the outcome.
This story took place in Hawaii in the 1930s, a time when modern colonialism and systematic oppression largely impacted the lives of these brothers, but most of us are fortunate now to live in a time where our environment does not hinder us from progressing towards our goals. We should take this opportunity to truly explore our passion and chase our dreams. For those that are still trying to find your own path, you are not alone in this uncertainty and you should not guilt yourself into thinking that you should have everything figured out or compare your life to someone else’s timeline. Use this time to explore, volunteer, and help others. There’s a saying, “if you can’t do well, at least do good.” We’re not all meant to follow the same path. Let’s start paving new paths for the next generation so that the next time someone asks them what they want to be, the answer can be open ended and not a from preselected choices.
Viet Nguyen is a History graduate from GSU turned IT analyst. He likes to spend his days off enjoying the outdoors. He is more likely to use a light pollution map to plan out his next trip to catch the best view of the stars than to walk around in crowded streets looking at tourist attractions.