Growing up as a 2nd generation Korean-American girl, I was taught that indolence (or laziness) was a crime. My siblings and I took Tae-Kwon Do lessons, violin/cello/saxophone lessons, and piano lessons during the school year. During the summer, we added gymnastics (for us girls) and sports (for my brother). My father held three jobs when he first immigrated to the United States and he still managed to earn a PhD. All of this was considered “the norm” for people who wanted to succeed. And if you didn’t succeed, well, then you were a loser, a dreg of society. If you didn’t get straight A’s, get a full scholarship to college and then make a ton of money, you were not special. You were “blah.” No one wants to be “blah,” right?
All the other 2nd Gen KA’s felt the pressure. When the Koreans got together for dinners at each others’ houses, the main conversation was which child was going to which Ivy League school.
As you can imagine, there was fallout. Someone got pregnant and dropped out of high school. Another dropped out of law school and became (gasp!) an artist.
I became an elementary school teacher and writer. This is maybe one rung above being an artist. Maybe. It could be one rung lower. I don’t know. Ask a Korean. Anyway…
I’ve known a few people who committed suicide because their outsides didn’t match or meet their inside expectations. These were really good people and it scared me, because I could relate. So I studied yoga and meditation. The idea of just “being” resonated deeply. Feeling calm and peaceful feel really good. Isn’t this why people work so hard to attain their goals? To feel good in the end?
Yet, I had this conflict: I still wanted to DO something. I wanted to be “successful” at what I pursued and I wanted to feel at peace at the same time. Is this possible? How do you simultaneously work really hard at something and feel that “just being” is enough?
I’ve come to realize that there is nothing wrong with ambition, as long as it aims to help others. And working really hard toward that aim provides all the contentment one could want in reaching one’s goals. The surrender part replaces the expectation part (of accolades, awards, bonuses, fame, etc.)
As one yogi says,
“We show up, burn brightly, live passionately, hold nothing back, and when the moment is over, when our work is done, we step back and let go.”
(Gates and Kenison, Meditations From the Mat).
So go ahead, burn brightly! But remember to surrender.