It’s certainly not done with any ill-intent. After all, as adults, we compare everything from our houses to our cars to how the guy across the road mowed his lawn (so I better do the same). Kids are a natural extension.
For most of my life, I’ve been hearing stories about all these other children around me. As we grew older, it evolved from how so-and-so was a charming, obedient kid; to how Cousin A got a full scholarship because she’s that smart and hardworking; to the family friend’s son who went into medicine; to another aunty’s son who kept changing degrees and “wasted” his time; to another one of us kids (now adults, really!) who’s working as an accountant and earning the big bucks while another is still dependent on his parents because they decided to forego a steady career and go into the notoriously fickle world of acting.
Each time I heard another story, I’d act pleased or shocked as expected, and think, Well, that’s another thing I should aspire to/avoid. I’ve written previously about how I wasn’t the nicest of children. You can add a disdainful kind of “at least I’m better than them” to that dirty pile of qualities.
As it turns out, that kind of attitude has a high price. Not only does the list of desirable and undesirable actions continue to increase over the years, there’s also the pressure to keep it up. Can’t slip up. Can’t be less than perfect. Can’t disappoint. It was never going to end well.
I can’t even blame my family for it–the desperation to be “good enough” was something I imposed on myself, because I knew what I should be (and, given enough time and discipline, could be) in everyone else’s eyes. Depending on who I was with, I’d change up my personality, actions and words to be who they wanted me to be. One aunt expected a responsible eldest child, ready to step up to my dad’s place. So I acted the part, talking future plans and finances and how of course I’d be a pillar of support. Grandma talking up how amazing one of her other grandkids was? Well then, time to take her to lunch, do my best to have a conversation with her (Chinese is not one of my strengths), and offer her my arm as we slowly shuffle our way through the shopping centre. You get the idea.
In the midst of all of that, I was beginning to lose sight of who I was. I desperately wanted to do a Creative Writing degree in university–but engineering was respectable, had actual job prospects, and my dad did it. Look at that, we can say it runs in the family. Won’t they be proud? (Incidentally, I haven’t done anything in engineering since I left with that piece of paper.) I need to be dependable, sacrificing whatever I need to for my family–otherwise, I’ll be one of those selfish brats, in stark contrast to the rock that is my sister. (In personality, I mean, not size or weight.) I should be graceful, not accident-prone with two left feet. I shouldn’t be excitable or childish in my exuberance, but calm and mature with full control of my emotions. Oh yes, I love writing with a passion–but of course, I wouldn’t dream of leaving my real job because that would be completely irresponsible.
It took an intervention from my family in the past month to make me realise this. I was going on my way, thinking that I’d finally found my own direction in pursuing my writing, but the whole time I was still trying to please those around me. In truth, I was ready to fall apart. I think they may have started to suspect something was wrong when noticing the tissues overflowing from my bin.
It’s a slow process, but I’m starting to learn to stop with the comparisons. I’m not going to keep feeling inferior because my strengths aren’t as obvious as others’, or because I have yet to discover what they are. I’m clumsy and have a tendency to run into things and break things, and that’s okay. I forget myself and squeal and jump up and down and race around the house like an idiot when I’m excited, and that’s okay too. I’m selfish with my time when it comes to writing, I can’t stay committed to anything unless I have a deep interest in it, and I experience high highs and low lows. That’s all okay. That’s all me.
I’m not perfect, and I will undoubtedly disappoint everyone at one point or another… but this is my path, my life, and my choices, for better or for worse.
This is Leanne Yong.
Leanne Yong is an aspiring author who is working on her second young adult novel. Check out her blog at Clouded Memories for more information and a journal chronicling her latest foray into novel writing.