The Quarter-Life Crisis of a First Generation Immigrant Part III: Breaking Free

One of my biggest fears in life is to miss an opportunity. I hate the emptiness of “never knowing” that accompanies regret. It’s like a big, black hole that sucks the optimism out of me, and leaves me deep in self-loathing.

As I grow older, I couldn’t help but wonder if adults have a good reason for being cynical. I didn’t want to believe it–and I still don’t–but could it be possible that for some things in life, once you get past a certain time frame, it is indeed “too late”?

Things like, a career, for example. Not just any career–a career that you love, a career that you are passionate about, a career that makes you want to get up in the morning. I’ve always wondered what I’d do if, by either fear of the unknown or sheer ignorance, in a decade’s time I end up like one of those empty souls who routinely complain about their jobs but stick with it nevertheless–”I am in blood / Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, / Returning were as tedious as go o’er” (Macbeth). These people have all once been at a crossroad. Perhaps they’d chosen the road less travelled and never reached the end. Perhaps they’d chosen the road most travelled because it seemed like the easiest way out. Either way, you look at these Epic Fails and know that somewhere down the path of life, they got lost.

Being the melodramatic person that I am, I’ve always wished for a life that is highly romanticized. According to that story, I would live up to my outrageous ideals despite parental and societal opposition, crawl through the confusing youth while being utterly broke, then one day discovers THE opportunity that lifts me out of my hell hole, allowing me to become a writer of influence (fall in love, marry, become a mother) and live through my old age telling autobiographical stories highlighting the importance of persistence.

But seriously, we’ve got to be realistic here. For one thing, I’m nowhere near broke because I am a first generation immigrant and most parents of this genre selflessly fund their children’s post-secondary education. While in many ways I can’t be more grateful, I dislike how this gives them the power to have plenty of say in how my life is run–i.e. what discipline I should study, where to live, how to live…you name it, my parents are probably affiliated with it in some way or other. I know they love me and want to make life as easy for me as possible, but the problem is that I need to know who I am and be who I am, not who my parents are or what they want me to be. For as long as I remember, I’ve been longing for a sense of independence and freedom that means more to me than anything else in life. I want to be able to think for myself, not have them think with me such that I carry a part of my parents’ desires in every decision I make. I want to be able to actually make mistakes, to realize that I’ve made mistakes, and be reassured that no matter who I end up becoming, at the end of the day they’ll love me anyway. I want to have the freedom to live life for me, and to give back to them because I love them, not because I owe them for everything they’ve done for me.

Breaking free is so hard, especially for those who are first-generation immigrants who might carry more than just the dream of finding a stable job, live in a big house, have a family and own a few cars (errr, wait, this is what our parents want). For a lot of us, just having it all is no longer enough–we want it to be meaningful, something our parents just can’t seem to grasp given the lack of security that accompanies the experience of moving to a new country. This is why Asian students are usually pressured to enter programs like Life Science, Engineering, Computer Science and Commerce: their parents want for them the one thing they’ve been seeking all their lives–stability. And they would rather pay $800 for their kids to learn “real skills” (like how to operate a pipette) than the ability to effectively critique Faulkner. Their thoughts on this are innocently linear:

Learn “hard skills” and do well in school –> settle early into a predictable career with “excellent job prospects”–> begin a life blessed by stability –> Holy Happiness

Being fully aware that I’m at one of life’s biggest crossroads right now, I often feel lost when I become unable to distinguish between my own hopes and dreams with those that my parents have for me. But it doesn’t mean that all hope is lost. After all, I’ve come to realize that being twenty-something in itself is like a quarter-life crisis. This entire decade of your life is dedicated almost exclusively to soul-searching and finding the right path, which of course involves much turbulence.  Surprisingly, writing this post has given me courage. It’s convinced me that clichés, sometimes so elementary that they are absurd, actually might hold true to their values: It really is never too late. After all, had Macbeth believed this, Shakespeare’s play might’ve turned out to be a comedy instead.

When I watched the Road Trip Nation videos a while ago, one of the things that was said really stuck with me: “Life is a trapeze: it exists at the moment you release from one bar and reach for the next”. Break free, from expectations, pressure, and stereotypes, but most importantly, break free from your own self-limiting beliefs. Don’t let people discourage you, because they are wrong. The secret that nobody dares to believe is that we never actually know if we’ve made the “right” choice–rather, we can only take our choices, and make it as good as possible. Thus I have amazing faith that whatever you choose to embark on next, you will not only be successful–you’ll have a blast, too.

–Lucy

10 thoughts on “The Quarter-Life Crisis of a First Generation Immigrant Part III: Breaking Free

  1. Lucy, you are a beautiful writer! I work at Roadtrip Nation, and it is so neat to hear the views of students and know that we are relevant, (hopefully helpful too). I can definitely relate to the wavering confidence in finding a career that you can be passionate about, as I’m still learning about myself and where, at age 25, life will be leading me in the near future.
    Good luck to you in your journey, and don’t feel guilty for choosing your life..you’ll be a better person for it.

  2. Hi Kelli! Thank you for your comment!! It’s amazing how the Internet connects people these days!! I actually heard about Roadtrip Nation through UofT’s Career Centre. I think about a month ago there was a Career Exploration Week on our campus, and they decided to play some of the Roadtrip Nation videos. It was my first time watching them and I sat through 3 of those sessions in a row because they were so inspiring. So thank you!

  3. Yeah! And not just Asian kids. That was my parents (post-WWII, ex-pat Brits) 50 years ago.

  4. Lucy… I just happened to come across this post, but was captured by the first few lines. I can understand your sentiment of having caring, yet overbearing parents who truly care for your well-being, but from the lens of people who came to a country and had to focus on survival before success. Having just moved on from my mid-late 20s, I can now see why that period is so tumultuous – finishing education, finding a partner, getting a job, paying off debts, finding meaning in work/life, trying to settle down – and all that added to just living your life. But, as is evident in your writing, keep your passion because it will lead you (or at least nag at you if you’re off track). Your work doesn’t have to be the kind of job where you can’t wait to get up in the morning. It would be ideal to love your career, but your job isn’t your life (as you already know)… and I think many people make it their life. Plus, I think the average number of times that people change their jobs is about 9 times – so one of them has to be the right match. As I was reading this post, I thought of two things that have helped me: opportunity and balance. If I feel that I’m out of balance in terms of my social/work/physical/etc. self, then I make a change. And I make sure to create opportunities, so at least I have a choice. Anyway, I should get back to work, but great post and thanks for the thoughts that have inspired my own thoughts!

  5. Thank you guys for your comments!

    David, I really appreciated what you said about opportunity and balance, and I agree 100%. Especially what you said about creating opportunities, so thank you!

  6. Hi! I just came across your post, and I wholeheartly agree with pretty much everything you’ve said! The one thing that helps me through my quarter life crisis is the idea that people like us going through it are not alone.

    I do think that we have to create our own opportunities in life-it’s just hard and can be super-scary! There’s actually a book I just read that really helped me to push through the walls I had up, called “The Quarter-Life Opportunity” by Jody Aberdeen. Its a book where the author, along with six people he interviews, talk about their quarter life crisis, and what they’re trying to do to break out of it.

    It’s interesting because he talks to them several months later to see where they are-not everyone is better off, but it makes you feel a lot better after reading it. Check it out!

  7. Hi Leah! I’m very glad that you liked my post :) I was actually thinking about this the other day: when we were in grade 8/9, we used to think peer pressure was the end of the world (or at least I did haha). I actually used to think that it was the one big challenging period of my life that I just had to “get through”, and that was when I started reading books like Chicken Soup and Chocolate for the Soul and things like that–it was very comforting to know that teenagers everywhere were experiencing the same thing. It’s funny because I didn’t actually expect any more “bumps” in my life when I’m 20-something. I thought after high school, somehow I would just smooth-sail through university and then find a comfy job LOL. Looking back, I couldn’t have been more wrong. That’s why I’ve started to look into books similar to the one you’ve recommended. I think they are a great reassurance and personally, I think they do end up making me wiser as well.

    Here are some other ones I’ve heard good reviews about:

    Christine Hassler:

    20-Something, 20-Everything: A Quarter-life Woman’s Guide to Balance and Direction

    20 Something Manifesto: Quarter-Lifers Speak Out About Who They Are, What They Want, and How to Get It

    Cheers!

  8. “For a lot of us, just having it all is no longer enough–we want it to be meaningful, something our parents just can’t seem to grasp given the lack of security that accompanies the experience of moving to a new country. This is why Asian students are usually pressured to enter programs like Life Science, Engineering, Computer Science and Commerce: their parents want for them the one thing they’ve been seeking all their lives–stability.”

    There it is: the gist. The generation gap. Our parents have provided a lot, including opportunities that they never could consider before. They have the best of intentions, and we owe them so much for what we have. Of what we have, however, includes the freedom to develop our own values in life. Some will mirror those of our parents, but others will not. All one can do is try to stress this.

    If it doesn’t transmit, the game plan must remain the same. We must still follow our own hearts, whatever the cost. Sooner or later, we will be forced to face decisions on our own. Sooner rather than later, we must be allowed to make our mistakes and learn from them.

    Great post, Lucy!

Comments are closed.