Hard-won Strength and the Pain of Sacrifice

There’s a mantra that has been stuck in my head since my mother’s birthday this year: I am made up of strong women that came before me; their courage and strength have brought me to where I am today.

I come from an immigrant family, and as with all families that have been uprooted from their place of origin and transplanted into a new environment, struggles and sacrifices have all been part of the experience. I don’t know if there are other situations that can compare to the immigrant experience– it’s a rollercoaster ride of extremes, of starting from scratch for a non-guaranteed reward of abundance, of leaving everything you know but also holding on tight to who you are, of being open to change but making sure assimilation does not carry you away, of the desire to make new friends but also getting accustomed to rejection.

Even before we became a family, my mother and father had their individual dreams that led them both to a point where their lives intersected. We heard their stories as independent beings driven by ambition that had taken them to different parts of the world. They would retell stories of their shared dreams for the benefit of our family. We experienced the pain of distance, and saw how that fueled their drive to persist even higher. Sometimes when I think about my parents’ journey, I cannot even fathom the kind of courage required to get through to leap to the levels they have achieved. I sometimes doubt that I have the same courage within me to match the leaps they have made.

Growing up, I experienced my own small sacrifices, such as the customary requirement to bring good grades from school: it is an almost unbearable feeling to push oneself towards the A all the time. While this seems innocuous now, those moments were very difficult times, moments that we wished would have gone away. But looking back, I understand now that all that pain was due to the unawareness of the meaning of the work.

Then came adulthood. Moments of growth– of something out of one’s comfort zone– were not without blood, sweat and tears. There were plenty of tears: buckets, really. Sometimes I wonder if other people had these moments, too. And I think life is a continuous period of growing up; I don’t think the hard moments have stopped or will ever stop completely. That’s part of the process. What 10 years ago was all about the anxiety of cracking math books open to finish algebra drills, is now all about opening up decks to review presentations over and over again. Sometimes I still ask about the meaning of all of this, like a child who would rather not do any of the boring work so she can play outside. But before I continue on to that kind of thinking, I always remind myself that the point was exactly where I was at that moment, with a ton of papers to go through and revisions to make. The point was exactly the fact that I’m sitting in a desk with the deafeaning silence, and staying put to carry on to the next slide. The point is to stay the course, even when it’s not fun, because the pain now will translate into benefits later that will be exponential.

This is where I derive all my strength. This is why I have to learn how to stand up straight in the midst of experiencing the world’s negativity. It is hard, and it is easier to buckle down from the pressure. But I remember this mantra and I am reminded that this is how I am able to brush away the tears when it gets really, really difficult. All because I am made up of strong women and I will do everything I can to do justice to the greater sacrifices they had offered in order to give me the opportunity I have now. There is a well of courage to tap into, and everyday is a step toward seeking that well and drawing the abundance of strength contained therein.

Film Discussions Doesn’t Happen Enough in Chicago

I haven’t written a lot about what it’s like to be an Angeleno in Chicago, although I’ve thought about writing a dedicated blog just on this topic. I think it will be an interesting exercise, so I have a collection to look back to later, and realize how I’ve changed, how much of a Chicagoan I’ve become. Perhaps I will write more about this on this blog.

This evening, I went to the movies in Streeterville with my friend Julie. The movie we saw had a clever plot, and we had a few minutes to discuss it before we went to our separate ways as we boarded different buses to go back home. I realize that in L.A., since we mostly drive, our movie experiences are extended into lengthier conversations, in which we examine films more deeply. I remember late night drives with my siblings or friends, discussing a movie down to its last details. Dinners usually precede or follow these movie nights. In Chicago, I see less of this. Unless it’s a blockbuster, I usually don’t hear people talk about movies, and I’m surrounded by the types of people who would be more likely to talk about movies. If they don’t talk about them, then I don’t think the larger Chicago population does.

While we despise the car culture in LA most of the time, it does bring some value in terms of opening up the space for conversations. My bestfriend and I would always coordinate rides so we’re going to the restaurant or movie theater together, even when our homes are on separate sides of town. We value these “car conversations” enough that we would forego the convenience of driving our own cars for these moments.

It could also be an influence of the strong presence of the film industry in LA, but I get the sense that the average Angeleno is much more interested in discussing movies after watching them, than the average Chicagoan.

Realizations This Week

This week, I realized a few things:

1. My behavior influences people who may be looking up to me. As the middle child, I always look up to my sister as we were growing up. I never really thought of myself as a role model to my younger brother. I saw us as both looking up to whatever my older sister did. And at a young age, she definitely considered herself a role model for us; who always leaned toward what’s right rather than be swayed by whims, who made sacrifices for the benefit of the larger group.

It was my brother’s birthday this week, and I realized that I do have the responsibility of being a role model for others. There are so many things I can improve on: eliminating complaints, accepting that my behavior (the good and the bad) has a ripple effect, and tapping into courage in the face of fear (big or small). To be the first line of defense and being accountable for opening up opportunities not only for myself but for my family… that’s huge.

2. I am intrinsically a creative and a scientist. The drive to create is too great to ignore. When I’m surrounded by other creative minds, I feel home, as though I’m in the right place in this world, regardless of how foreign the environment is. The pursuit for knowledge is also inescapable, as I am impelled to discover new insights. I think the common denominator for these two is curiosity.

3. Everything I want to do professionally, I have the power to do. Many people do not have opportunities due to circumstances outside of their control- whether it’s political, familial, socio-economic, or personal. The distance they have to leap is huge. I am fortunate to be halfway there. What may seem insurmountable (getting past office politics, budget cuts, dealing with bosses, etc) is, in reality, achievable.