On my return flight home from San Francisco a few days ago, I chatted with a young man sitting next to me. We talked nearly the entire flight, from take-off to landing, only stopping to take sips from our drinks. I don’t usually chat with strangers on flights since I value that precious alone time. Plus, it’s usually the only time I can actually read a book. But this young man was very friendly, obviously kind, and clearly wanted to chat. So I took out my earphones and put my book down.
He had spent a weekend at home and was headed back to college, where he is a pre-med student. It was obvious that he is very passionate about his studies and career choice and had already decided on what field of medicine he wanted to study (cardiology). I was intrigued by this 20 year old man because he seemed so confident and self-aware. He told me that he has known he wanted to be a doctor since he was very young and had been preparing himself his whole life for the challenge. The sacrifices, the studying, the long hours, and lack of social life…he said he was ready for all of it. I believed him. But I was curious. Where did his drive come from? Who or what inspired him? And did he feel any pressure to become a doctor? His Asian ethnicity made me immediately think of the recent Wall Street Journal article about Chinese Mothers and I could not help but ask questions about the mother who raised him.
His mother was an immigrant from Vietnam and, although she encouraged him and his brother to do their best, there was never any pressure to study for a certain career. While he is studying to be a doctor, his brother is studying to be a filmmaker at a local art school, something that their mother supports and encourages equally. They were allowed to play sports, play any instrument of their choice, spend plenty of time with friends, and pursue whatever interested them. I said that his mother must be so proud of him and his accomplishments and goals, to which he replied with a modest shrug. His mother worries, he told me. She worries that he works too hard and encourages him to spend more time with his girlfriend, friends, and to enjoy his college years. He brushes off her concerns, saying that if he doesn’t work hard enough, he will not achieve his goals. She certainly didn’t sound like a “Chinese Mother” to me. (continues…)