I was supposed to be a lawyer. Instead, I’m currently the deputy editor at Who What Wear. Funny how things work out, isn’t it?
While my current position is a dream job, it’s the polar opposite of the life I once envisioned. Up until I was 17, I never questioned the idea of going to law school. The career path was drilled into my head—despite my ambivalence—largely because of my parents. Like many other first-generation Asian-Americans who grew up in traditional households, I was urged to work in a financially stable, respectable field like medicine, law, or finance. My well-intentioned parents had a number of complex reasons behind this mindset, believing that as an Asian-American, I’d experience discrimination and difficulty getting ahead in a creative field that required subjective criticism.
Unfortunately for them, I’ve always been drawn to the liberal arts and have loved to read and write since a young age. It became strikingly clear over the years that I had an affinity for writing, and when I chose to major in English and Literary Journalism in college, it was less of a choice than a necessity: I felt that writing was the one area in which I truly excelled, and I was determined to improve my skills.
While my mum and dad never gave me an ultimatum or had a soap opera-level showdown with me about my choice, I constantly felt the absence of their support in small, subtle ways. There was the occasional dig disguised as casual commentary from my mum. “Wow, Aunty May’s daughter is so smart about planning ahead for her career. She’s studying biology to go to medical school,” she cut in as I tried to tell her about Gay Talese teaching my journalism workshop. “Uncle Tim’s son is getting a six-figure salary right out of college!” she said years later, as I debated moving to New York for an editorial assistant position that would require living in a shoebox. But by that time, my mind was made up: I wanted to pursue a career in journalism, no matter what. I also had a deep love and appreciation for fashion, and hoped to combine my two great passions, work with fellow creative minds, and be a part of an exciting, constantly evolving industry.
Compounding the lack of familial support was the fact that, at the time, I wasn’t aware of many Asians in the field. Today, however, there are so many prolific writers and editors, like Eva Chen, the editor-in-chief at Lucky; Michelle Lee, recently appointed to the same title at Nylon; and other successful role models, like Mary H.K. Choi. I hope that young Asian-Americans who might be caught in a struggle similar to mine will see these women impacting the industry in a powerful, positive way and feel encouraged to pursue their dreams. After all, I truly believe that you have a better chance at a fulfilling and lucrative career if you’re doing something you love.
Does my story have a happy ending for my parents? Somewhat. Over the years, as I’ve worked my way from an entry-level position at a magazine, freelanced during my spare time, and eventually come to work at Who What Wear, I’ve proved to my parents that I’m financially stable, independent, and love what I do. Every so often, however, my mum will mention I should think about business or law school, that it’s never too late to consider an alternate career. But I’ve also overheard her chatting on the phone with a friend about my work, and—dare I say it?—detecting a trace of pride in her voice as she describes a career milestone or simply mentions how much I look forward to going to work every day.
Your turn to spill: Did you choose a different career path than the one your parents wanted for you? Tell me all about your experiences in the comments below!