I am a Chinese-Canadian Actress currently based in New York. But just three years ago, I ran a global business operations team for one of the biggest tech companies in Silicon Valley, and under my leadership, my team grew to process millions of dollars in revenue each quarter. I was very successful on paper, but I was miserable. I’ve known my passion is in acting since I was little, but I never dared to pursue it.
I am a first generation immigrant; I’m sure my immigrant story is similar to most. I have wonderful parents who gave up everything they knew in China to come to this continent so that I could have a better future. Even though I had a passion in acting, I never even questioned that I was going to do the ‘right thing’.
I got a Bachelor Degree in Economics from the University of British Columbia and after graduation, I found work in the Silicon Valley. I worked hard and was promoted to management in less than 3 years, and I doubled my income in less than 5.
But none of it felt right, I felt trapped. I was extremely unhappy, but I’ve always believed that anyone can achieve anything in life as long as they set your mind to it. I began taking acting classes at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco after work. After a full day’s work I’d taken an hour and a half to two hours getting up to San Francisco, take a 3 hour class, then take another hour and a half commute back home.
I would always be so exhausted during the commute but all the exhaustion would immediately go away soon as I arrived in class. My acting got better and I began applying to Master programs in acting. The first year I applied I didn’t get in anywhere. I was incredibly disappointed but I didn’t give up. I tried again the following year and this time I got accepted into the American Repertory Theater at Harvard University. I quit my job, moved across the country to pursue my dreams and haven’t looked back since.
As the supposed ‘model minority’ of this county, we want to do well and be extraordinary, but we don’t want to cause waves. We tend to passively accept our stereotype, and as a result, we limit ourselves in envisioning what our future could be. We have a very narrow concept of what’s realistic and possible, and we often end up choosing a field of prestige instead of pursing our passion.
Prestige and Passion certainly aren’t mutually exclusive. However, in the Asian culture, pursuing a field of prestige is much more encouraged than pursuing our passion, so we tend to be modest in our dreams. But life itself is a rare opportunity, think of how many millions of scenarios had to happen, and how many thousands of people had to come together for you to be brought into this world. A rare opportunity like that is not meant to be taken modestly, it’s meant to be taken fearlessly.
Expand your life by first expanding your mind. Dare to dream big. Dare to envision a future so outrageously grand that people will ridicule you for it. If no one laughs at your dreams, your dreams aren’t big enough. Let your natural curiosity about the world guide you to discover your passion in life. Do you want to cure cancer? Do you want to be a professional athlete? Do you want your designs be featured in Vogue? Do you want to go to Mars? Do you want to win a Grammy? What legacy do you want to leave behind in your life? In order to do great things, you first have to dream them.
Once you find your passion, get to work. Work backwards, if that marvelous future you’ve envisioned for yourself is 20 years from now, cut that in half, where are you in 10 years? Where are you in 5? Do this until you have a plan for the next year, then break it down even further, figure out what do you need to do right in this moment to set your life on that track. Is it to take some biology classes? Play more basketball? Cut up old t-shirts to try out your designs? Learn everything you can about Mars? Pick up a musical instrument? Translate your dreams into what you can do today, then aim for the Moon (or Mars).
I can hear your doubt and your dismissal of yourself bubbling up as you’re reading this. You’re saying that you’re too old, that you don’t have the talent, or that your circumstance doesn’t allow you to pursue your ridiculous dreams. I won’t deny that there will be a tremendous amount of seemingly impossible obstacles you’d need to face, but the biggest obstacle of all is yourself. Your mind is your only limiting factor.
You’re never too old to do anything; Diana Nyad, at age 64, became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida. Talent can be learned; Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team and is now considered the greatest basketball player of all time. You can always break through your life’s circumstances; J.K Rowling was a single mother on welfare, the poorest you can be without being homeless, before she published Harry Potter.
These are just a few examples of people who have proven that your wildest dreams is within reach. You just have to work hard for it. Don’t compare yourself to others, stay true to yourself and continue to learn with all your might.
Know that the only thing that sets Nyad, Jordan, and Rowling apart from the rest is that they made a decision to realize their life’s full potential no matter what. Whatever their dreams were, they made a decision to go for it. And when the times got tough, they made that same decision again and again. Whatever obstacles that came through in their way, they made a decision to be determined to overcome it, and win in the end. That’s real courage. You can do it also, make that decision.
You’re still hesitant, it’s a big leap of faith, I understand. But it’s a leap of faith in yourself and you are absolutely capable. Know that when you decide to make a huge change in your life, you will be met with an incredible amount of difficulties, and you will inevitably hit a wall. But the exciting part about hitting a wall is that there’s always something on the other side. It means you’re getting closer to something great.
More than ever in those times you need to fight harder, a harsh winter is always followed by spring. That’s the rule of the universe. Life will knock you off course a thousand times, but know that you will always have the power to choose to get back up, and if you get back up enough times, you will inevitably win in the end. Nyad, Jordan, and Rowling continuously made the decision to get back up and try again.
Nyad failed 4 times attempting that swim from Cuba to Florida before finally succeeding in 2013. Jordan once said that he has missed over 9,000 shots in his career and have lost almost 300 games. J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter was rejected by 12 publishers. Every time you’re knocked down, you will have that same choice of giving up or getting up and do it again.
It’s not going to be easy, but nothing in life that’s worth of any value is. You have the power to change your life and achieve your dreams. You only live once (as far as science can prove), and life really, truly, is what you make of it. So charge forward fearlessly, and make your dreams a reality.