The Power Of Passion
Both of my parents grew up in Korea, and, like most people in East Asia during the 70's, they grew up extremely conservative. In the wake of the Fourth Republic, an authoritarian, militarized government was the 'norm', and challenging any societal or political precedents was often seen as wayward and radical. In addition to this, Korean culture is, and always has been, extremely centered around competition, appearance and reputation. This, as you might imagine, often lends women the short end of the stick - subjecting them to an unbelievably critical, competitive culture; unrealistic beauty standards (hence, Seoul being the plastic surgery capital of the world); and an exceptionally rigid mold of what a woman's place is in society.
In 1998, my parents moved to Anaheim, CA, then eventually (in 2003 or so), to Washington State. As many immigrants do, they came with an extreme determination to 'make it' - work impossibly hard, then inevitably enjoy the fruits of the American Dream. So, once both me and my brother were born, we were taught to do the same. In addition to this, we were also raised on the many hyper-conservative, "traditional" values that they inherited from their Korean backgrounds. And then, before we knew it, we were cheering after the pastor at our church announced that they were protesting against same-sex marriage equality laws in D.C, and while my brother dreamed of becoming a doctor, I believed that the pinnacle of my success, as a woman, would be the day I got married. When I look back on the time of my life where I truly believed and enforced these terrible things, it makes me sick to my stomach.
With this being said, I also can not even put into words all of the amazing things my parents have done for me. The main reason they moved to America in the first place was because they wanted to give my brother and I the best life possible, and to them, the opportunities and liberties that American culture boasted was the optimal way to do that. They have always done everything they could to make sure that my brother and I were always comfortable, happy, and educated, and I can't thank them enough for that. And they are NOT bad people. They simply grew up with values that were exclusive, and didn't have the resources or the opportunities to teach themselves otherwise.
Throughout my childhood - up until the end of middle school - I was trapped in a life that, looking back, was desaturated of any fulfillment. I was involved in activities that my family forced me into, and because of the makeup of my household, questioning these activities or even considering other options was seen as weak. Forever, I’ve been taught to put my head down and work as hard as I could: don’t let your happiness (or lack thereof) be a distraction. On top of this, I felt as if I was being crushed by a million other societal standards with impossible duality. Be curvy and tan to embody the American body standard, but also be stick thin and pale to embody the Korean one; wear the clothes that all of your friends at school are wearing to fit in, but also don’t or your family will look down on you; earn straight A’s because your parents expect nothing less (and all of your high achieving friends are doing so with ease) but don’t look like your trying too hard. These pressures, paired with the fact that in my household (and in Korean culture in general), emotional vulnerability is looked down upon, were extremely difficult for me to juggle - and before I knew it, my mental health had spiraled into an extremely precarious place.
As many people who struggle with mental health know, there is never one exact moment where everything gets better. It’s a long, arduous process that is extremely difficult to decide to embark on. What I did to begin was actually something my school counselor recommended to me (quick note: go utilize your school counselors/therapists if you are going through any struggles, big or small! They are often a great resource), which was to sit down and write down everything I was doing that made me happy, then do what I need to do to focus on those things. My list was embarrassingly short, and consisted only of ‘Student Government’ and ‘Volunteering’. Then, after weeks of accumulating encouragement from my counselor and psyching myself up, I told my parents that I wanted to quit all of the activities I was involved in that I didn’t like. They didn’t take it well, but after a lot of arguing, they eventually accepted it. Then, over the next year or so, I stopped attending my family’s problematic church, increased my involvement in community organizations, and started my Girl Up club (!!!). This was, by no means, a seamless process. In order to get rides from my parents to various community organizations, I had to exclude details of the social justice work I was doing because they disagreed with the majority of it. My parents don’t like to talk to their friends about my work because it's embarrassing to them, and since I refuse to go to church with them, I further isolated myself from my family, and spend Sundays completely alone in the house. However, overall, I am so much happier. Waking up in the morning with a passion and getting to completely immerse myself in it is the biggest privilege I have ever had. And because I am so passionate about all of the work I do, I work unbelievably hard at it. This has eventually translated into skill, and I now hold a leadership position in every organization I am involved in.
I guess if there is any moral to my story, it would be to never underestimate the power of passion for what you do. And, if you haven’t found the thing you love quite yet, that’s okay - but do whatever you can to actively try and find that thing. Working with organizations like Girl Up - that empower young people and provide resources for us to succeed - was a great way for me to do that. If you ever have any questions, comments or are seeking advice, please message me through the Community and I would love to help in whatever way I can.