Youth: My Personal Definition of Success
A college sophomore on what the great immigrant drive for success has meant to him.
Trying to retain the traditions that my parents have continuously instilled into my brain ever since their rupees became dollars has created a confusing existence. In an attempt to be a model child in the eyes of my parents, I have attempted to adequately juggle the social pressures and traditions of two different cultures.
Surprisingly, however, there are benefits to this juggling act. The internal seesaw of adapting to the successes and struggles of my bicultural identity has illuminated corners of my life to which I would have been blind otherwise. Mainly, I have developed confidence in my views because of my increased understanding of commonalities and distinctions in Indian-American culture.
Living in the Modern World
My sentiments match those shown in Master of None, a Netflix series by Aziz Ansari, where he exposes the subtle and overt racist idiosyncrasies that modern society places on Indian-Americans. Aziz admits that he, along with immigrant children who have developed their own American identities, do not truly deserve all the luxuries for which their parents toiled heavily. For this reason, he and his friends work hard to feel less guilty. Dr. Min Zhou, a sociology professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, states this notion well: “With so many educated, skilled, and ambitious members, the [Asian immigrant] group provides role models and creates ethnic capital...With all this commitment behind them, the children of Asian immigrants are expected to perform exceptionally and to work twice as hard as other Americans.”
As a student, I have always thought that my efforts in gaining wisdom from my educational experiences would demonstrate the largest “thank you” to my parents. After all, any parent who sees the success of their children would be proud of not only their child’s tenacity, but also their own. My parents never truly expressed any grief about the difficulties of pursuing higher education in America, and adapting to a new lifestyle in a new country. So, I feel the need to make the most of my education—to show them that what they endured is worth my endurance.
Ignitable phrases of success have been ingrained into me before I was even born. This mindset seems to add fuel to the driving force of Asian Americans excelling in education today. When I was in high school, many students stressed over “major failures,” or menial losses—like getting the A but not the A+. Playing on the team, but not being the captain. Advancing to the next round in an academic competition, but not winning first place. Although I was guilty of this mindset, it seemed justifiable. After all, that’s what colleges were looking for—the ability to stretch beyond mediocrity.
In order to cater to colleges, we transformed into individuals who absorbed every opportunity for service, leadership, and uniqueness. Fortunately, I realized early that I would have to play the college game well in order to be fulfilled. Come senior year, I unexpectedly changed: even though I joined these activities for my leisure and résumé, I ended up gaining self-confidence and wisdom as byproducts.
Defining Success in College
What does that say about the college admissions process transforming students into powerhouses of the stereotypical idea of success? Are Indian-Americans taking baby steps to reach the minimal standard that society deems adequate, or are they willingly struggling to take large strides and reach goals larger than they can imagine?
Such a nebulous definition of success has a special place in my conscience. If I had narrow goals as a student heavily involved in STEM, I would have only focused on getting a 4.0 GPA in chemical engineering. Furthermore, my contributions, such as this writing, would not help me reach the grand, conventional view of success. However, exploring this passion will teach me how to balance personal and professional growth, which will always be more important to me.
These ideas can be reflected onto anyone of our ethnicity, as the generational gap in culture automatically makes the topic of academic success ubiquitous. Is our lifelong dedication to achieve partially derived from a need to support our hardworking parents? I believe so.
If we view our duties and responsibilities as motivators rather than requirements, we can achieve our goals. We can seize every opportunity. We can challenge the world.
Marianne Williamson once said, “Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”
Sumit Pareek is a sophomore studying chemical engineering at Penn State University. A version of this article was first published in India Currents.
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