When I was growing up, my parents were your typical strict Asian parents. Failure was unacceptable, piano lessons were mandatory, and dating was out of the question. The last two met with great resistance on my part, but the one thing that stuck with me was the firm belief that I can do anything.
Maybe it is arrogance. But I would rather be arrogant than complacent. I’ve really noticed, especially in my generation, that there is a level of complacency amongst my peers. There is the attitude that things are “good enough” and the acceptance that “not everyone is good at Subject X and that’s okay”. It is the attitude that gives losers ribbons for participation and congratulates people for “trying” their best. Then we wonder why we are unemployed or stuck in a rut – but of course we can always blame the economy, or the “system” or the dude next door.
I say bullshit. If you succeed, your success is your own. If you fail, you have no one to blame but yourself.
For example, if you are not good at science, it is not because you are lacking in ability. It is because you are lacking in motivation and interest. If you are messy, it is not because you are naturally messy, it is because you choose to not think about your tidiness, perhaps because it does not occur to you or perhaps because you don’t care.
We are not automatons. Baring physical or mental disability, we all have the ability to succeed.
I am terrible at math. It makes my head hurt. I used to fly through high school math, but once I got to calculus, my eyes glazed over and I would faint dead away. Well, almost.
But when I decided to pursue computer science, I knew I would have to tackle some math. And indeed, I had to take three gut wrenching courses in linear algebra, three dimensional calculus, and probability theory. And you know what? I did well. Not because I am good at math, not because I even like math, but because I put in 5 freaking hours a day studying, learning and practicing. And anyone can do that.
I did not learn how to swim as a child. My parents never taught me and a near drowning experience during a school-sponsored swimming lesson terrified me from going back into a pool for the remainder of grade school. Curiously, I was “sick” every time swimming lessons came around. But eventually, I learned. At age 18, I dragged myself to swimming lessons every day from 7:30am to 8:30am. I learned to blow bubbles. I forced myself to put my head under water. And eventually, I learned how to swim. I have no athletic ability nor any natural talent for activities which require coordination. All it took was the dedication to drag myself into the pool for one hour every day for four weeks.
So, parents, friends, spouses – why are we not encouraging our loved ones to succeed? Why do we implicitly support mediocrity? Let them know that they can do anything they put their mind to. Let them know that not only they can succeed, they should succeed. “Good enough” doesn’t have to exist – we can all be better, only if we are willing to put in the time and effort.