I used to think my Chinese American parents were perfect growing up.
They had come to the United States as immigrants with only a couple hundred dollars and worked their way up to a middle-class income. Plus, Asian students as a whole had great reputation for being doing well in school and getting into prestigious universities. In my eyes, they were successful. So how could they be wrong with any of their advice?
After contrasting how Asian immigrants parented with the hundreds of the world’s most successful people, I realized that they are doing fundamental things wrong.
Disclaimer: These are generalizations, which I must do — so of course, there are exceptions to the rule. Stereotypes exist because most of the people profiled fulfill them. I’ve had a first row seat to observing this first hand with many of my Asian peers.
1. They pressure their child into a profession that they’re not passionate about (doctor/lawyer/engineer)
The cliche from Middle Eastern, Indian, and Asian Americans you hear is that in this culture, if you’re not a doctor, lawyer, or engineer, you’re a failure to your parents.
These cultures do a fantastic job of creating children who work in these professions. I know a eerily large percentage of Asian peers who are in or finishing up med school, law school, or vet school. Or they’re an engineer.
The issue is how high this percentage is. I know deep down that there’s no way that so many of them are actually passionate about these careers.
I thought I was passionate about being a doctor but it was a lie that I had convinced myself to belief.
Part of me is proud that they’re all going to live well in a comfortable profession. But a larger part of me feels disappointed that many will fail to reach their potential in life because of the rigidity of these jobs. How many potential billionaire entrepreneurs, athletes, and world leaders were stifled away from that path?
2. They expect too much out of their children
Many successful people had parents that helped them believe that they could achieve anything.
While we can definitely do more than we think, it’s another thing entirely to burn out and traumatize your child by demanding and expecting too much constantly.
Only a fraction of children are genetically talented enough to succeed in the academic playing field Asian parents want. Even if these child prodigies succeed, they end up with psychological issues in adulthood because of their lack of a childhood (like Mozart or Michael Jackson).
Some Asian American children have developed a dislike for science, math, technology, and studying because it was forced upon them so harshly and was imprinted as a “chore.” They were never let be on their own to discover how these activities could be fun.
While other kids went on vacation, I got heaps of textbooks to go through in the Summer to get ahead every year. I did what I could, but it was usually unenjoyable.
Look at me now. I’m blossoming through books on history, science, and peak performance that I choose to read on my own accord. That’s only because I was given years of my own time later in life to do what I want and I stumbled across people who showed how they could be fun and useful.
The biggest problem with expecting too much from your kids is that it creates a hole that can never be filled. Children naturally want to make their parents proud, but many Asian American parents make it impossible. This can manifest into superficial validation-seeking behavior into adulthood. They can constantly seek more money, status, or success but never feel happy or fulfilled. They can have fragile self-esteem because their gratification is based entirely on the external.
3. They under-praise and under-reward
The billionaires, John Paul DeJoria (source: video interviews on YouTube) and Sam Walton (source: his book, Made in America), have credited a good portion of their success to praising their employees for their triumphs. Like flowers, when you water them, they bloom. If you cut them down, they wilt.
I’ve seen firsthand how a manager or parent can destroy motivation by withholding any praise or reward for someone who does something better than the others. Why would they go the extra mile if they’re not going to get any benefit?
I’ve lost motivation for getting Straight A’s a couple times when my parents stopped providing any reward or reaction for good grades. It’s common for Asian parents to freak out if you get anything other than an A on your grades but have no reaction if you get Straight A’s. Without a smile or celebratory look, it can make a child wonder, “That’s all there is to it?”
The emphasis on how a good university will affect the rest of their lives helps Asian students from losing all motivation. But there’s definitely room for improvement.
4. They over-criticize and over-punish
This is likely one of their biggest mistakes.
I’ve read books by world-famous successful people, like Michael Strahan (actor), Gary Vaynerchuk, Sara Blakely (billionaire), and Richard Branson. When they talk about how their parents approached life, it was always positive and optimistic.
Sara was celebrated every night at dinner when she mentioned all the ways she failed that day.
Richard’s mother instilled in him the idea that anything was possible if he put his mind to it.
Michael’s parents taught him that it wasn’t “If” but “When.”
Contrast this with the Asian Tiger parenting style where you are given little to no praise for achievement and sometimes severe punishment (physical or emotional) if you fail to deliver what’s expected.
If you check out the science of parenting or the most effective way to train animals, much more positive reinforcement is used than negative. Rather than hurting your pet if it does something wrong, you ignore it. But you feed it snacks when it does something good.
Think of it this way. When you study the world’s most successful athletes, like Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan, they didn’t get their because they were motivated by negative punishment from their parents. Instead, they were motivated by their own passion, competitive nature, work ethic, and drive to be a champion.
5. They don’t emphasize the value of rest and recovery( or give their children time for that)
For many immigrants in America, a strong work ethic is natural. Those who make it to the country have to hustle hard and that naturally gets passed to their child, which is awesome.
As I grew up, I found that Asian students are some of the hardest working ever. There’s a reason they do so well. It’s not because they’re just genetically smarter. It’s because they outwork you 2 or 3 times when they get home. Parents make sure that they study like crazy when they get home.
At my peak in high school, I was waking up at 6AM, going to school until 2PM, running Track until 4PM, doing home work until dinner, practicing piano for 1 to 2 hours, and studying for the SAT and tests until 1 or 2 AM.
Weekends weren’t a break either. I had piano lessons, state piano competitions, extra time to study SAT’s, and so on.
To be fair, a good portion of this was through my own work ethic and volition. But still, it’s common for Asian millennial children to take the most advanced courses, while juggling Chinese school and musical instrument private tutoring.
Not exclusive to Asians, no one taught me the value of sleep when I was young. One of my white female classmates joked once that old people were making up for all the sleep that they missed as high school students. After studying the scientific literature on sleep, the hours invested are generally worth it even when controlling for the extra time you get by sacrificing sleep. Make sure you get at least 8 hours a night.
When I would get fed up with all the work out, I’d burn out with a binge on video games. A sustainable work schedule would’ve been better in the long run. I needed more consistent free time to relax and more healthy activities that I enjoyed. Ask yourself if you have these right now — if not, red flag.
6. They overvalue the academic education system and see it as the key to wealth
This is a huge one. For Asian immigrant parents, getting a child into an Ivy league school is the equivalent of winning the Oscars, Grammy’s, Nobel Peace Prize, and Academy Awards.
Getting into Harvard University is like winning the World Series, Super Bowl, World Cup, or Olympics.
You probably already know this as there have been plenty of jokes and memes about this on the Internet.
Obviously, they care about this so much because theoretically, getting into such a competitive, top school means that their child is set for life financially due to the school’s reputation.
But is this still true? And will wealth really bring happiness?
Not necessarily. Auther of the best-selling book The Four Hour Work Week, Tim Ferriss, mentioned how he worked at a start-up for a couple years out of Princeton barely making any money. He met a guy there who went to Harvard and had worked there for many more years than him, still barely scraping by.
Or take the book, ReWork, written by the co-founder of the multi-million dollar company Basecamp. One of the chapters mentions how you shouldn’t over-value an Ivy league diploma. More of the Fortune 500 CEO’s came from state universities.
Eventual Millionaire is a podcast that has interviewed hundreds of millionaires. There are a plenty of stories on there about how the millionaires know someone who went to a fancy Ivy League school and yet he makes much more.
50 or 100 years ago, a college degree meant something huge. Not many people made it to college. The networking connections and education were rare and valuable. Now, almost all of that information is readily available. Unless your goal is to have a highly specialized job, like doctor or lawyer, or you want the networking connections of a top 5 business school, it isn’t necessary. It’s more for the life experience.
7. They care more about what others think of them
Warren Buffett has a concept he calls the “inner versus outer score card.” Having an inner score card means that you care more about what you achieve yourself whether or not others are there to praise you for it. Having an outer score card means that your entire self-worth is dependent on what others think of you regardless if that’s true.
How do you know which one you are? He has a test:
Ask yourself, “Would you rather be the world’s best lover and have everyone think you’re the worst lover or be the world’s worst lover and have everyone think you’re the best?”
Having an inner score card is more enduring, sustainable, and healthy because life is uncontrollable. It will deal you tough, unfair blows. It’s unpredictable and constantly changing. Money, relationships, and success may come and go at the worst time. And if you’re dependent on the superficial, you’re going to collapse like pillars of sand.
Unfortunately, many Asian parents care too much about what their friends think of their child. They have an outer score card.
They’d rather bend the truth and exaggerate how great their child is, how easy it was for their child to get into an Ivy league, and all their achievements. Some will do whatever it takes to get their child to succeed so they can show off to their friends at the cost of building resentment in the child or burn out from stress.
They want to show off how accomplished their child is. And it’s ironic since most of them are low to middle-income themselves.
8. They have fixed mindsets
Dr. Carol Dweck wrote a fantastic book on her years of research on fixed versus growth mindset children. It was so good that even Bill Gates recommended and reviewed the book on social media.
The main idea is that children and adults with a growth mindset are the ones who succeed in life. But the beauty is that anyone can change their mindset from fixed to growth once they learn how.
Sadly, most Asian parents and their children have rigid perspectives of what is success, an indication of a fixed mindset.
Specifically, there’s an unconscious belief that’s infused into the culture that your child must be genetically gifted in mathematics and verbal reasoning (what schools test on), then you force them to work and study harder. And if that doesn’t work, they’re screwed and you should be disappointed in him or her because he or she is a failure.
Unfortunately, that’s not how real success works.
Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers and Dan Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence profile perfectly a few scientific studies that follow children into adulthood. Surprisingly, there is little to no correlation between IQ and success. In fact, some of the highest IQ individuals end up in low-class jobs, like as a janitor.
By adopting a growth mindset for you and your child, you can improve your success and wealth by realizing that there is always something in your control that you can learn to improve. This could be improving your work ethic, emotional intelligence, social intelligence, grit, focus, willpower, and so on.
9. They’re too risk-averse
This is true for immigrants and native parents who still live in Asia.
The culture focuses severely on making sure their child gets a job that is stable, pays well, and long-lasting with little chance of it going a way. Also, there is an emphasis to make sure the child’s adult life has minimal risk too. This means everything from making sure his or her spouse checks all the metrics they care about (good job, listens to directions, etc.) to making sure they don’t try anything crazy on the side (no entrepreneurial ventures or gambling).
On the surface this seems like a good thing, but it’s actually damaging to the child’s success and potential. The world is rarely a problem-free place and there are many factors out of your control that can destroy a seemingly “stable” job.
Moreover, when you’re encouraged to chase a limited set of low-risk high-income jobs, you’re limiting yourself from achieving greater levels of wealth and enjoyment (e.g. as an A-list actor, billionaire CEO, or world-famous rapper).
Asian parents run away from these entertainment-based jobs and love to cite the stats of how few of these people make it big and how unreliable that career pathway is. There’s nothing wrong with that, but what shouldn’t be accepted is when they prevent their child from pursuing this passion or skill set on the side.
But for some odd reason, that’s exactly what they do.
I’ve even heard a few stories of Asian American children who grew up to become rich with a job that wasn’t under the expected realm of doctor, lawyer, or engineer. Despite this, their parents still weren’t happy and still encouraged them to become doctors.
This is a common theme for Indians, Asians, and even Middle Eastern parents. It’s ridiculous and illogical how much they cling to these jobs as if they’re holy grails even when their child has achieved the money and status these jobs give in some other way.
At the end of the day, they’re pretty superficial and money and status is truly what they’re after, right? So why do they still cling to these job titles?
My theory is that it’s the third metric they care about: risk-averseness. They worship these jobs because they believe (even if that belief is flawed) that these jobs are the best for maintaining your income and not losing it for the longest time.
Why can’t a man pursue his dreams of becoming a comedian on the side while he maintains his full-time job as a doctor? Ken Jeong refused to conform to the comments of his coworkers and others when they told him it was too risky to do stand-up comedy on the side even though he was already a full-time doctor.
He ignored them and years later, he transitioned his success as a comedian into a role as a profitable full-time actor. Now, he has his own TV show called Dr. Ken.
I’ve found that most of successful people are not so petrified of risk. They embrace failure and learn from their mistakes.
“Fail Early. Fail Often. Fail Forward. -Will Smith”
Now, you may naturally swing to the other extreme and ask, “Are you saying I should go crazy and do the most risky things I can?”
Not at all. There is a spectrum of different levels of risk-taking and blindly taking all high-level risks is one of the most stupidest things you can do.
What I am saying is that you want to consider changing your Asian parent thinking from, “All risk is bad.” to “Some risks are worth the potential reward.”
Charlie Munger explained this well in the 2017 Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting. Charlie explained how ridiculous it would be if we chose not to invent airplanes or start the airline business because we feared that someone may die.
Statistically, you have a much higher chance of death driving a car than riding an airplane. That’s how low airplane death percentages are.
As Charlie perfectly summed up, “The risk is worth the return.”
Not all risks are worth pursuing. What successful people often look for are disproportionate opportunities where the risk is low but the reward is huge if it succeeds. (Tony Robbins’s book Money: Master the Game has a few great case studies of wealthy people who explain how they do this in their lives.)
The billionaire, Richard Branson, may seem like a crazy risk-taker on the surface based on his personality and news-worthy adventures. However, I’ve read some of his books and watched countless interviews and I discovered that in reality, he takes calculated risks with little downside and massive upside.
For example, when he tested out if the airline business was worth getting into, he struck a deal with Boeing to be able to return all his planes for free if his business failed, thereby eliminating a majority of the investment cost.
Robert Greene wrote in his book Mastery that we tend to glorify or demonize our parents as naive children growing up. But as we grow to adulthood, we realize that they had good parts and bad parts.
Asian first-generation immigrant parents aren’t some godly super-race. Nor are they horrible, abusive demons.
Instead, they’re low to middle-class immigrants trying to do their best with the limited knowledge they have to achieve the most happiness and pleasure for themselves and their children.
But good intentions don’t always result in great results.
Asian parents are great at instilling strong work ethic, encouraging a high performance in school, and making sure their child achieves a middle-class first world income with a stable job — something other cultures struggle with.
What they get wrong is severely influencing their child to pursue money over passion, using way too much negative reinforcement to parent, and limiting their child’s potential by encouraging only a limited set of lower-risk career paths.
Obviously, not all Asian parents are alike and some of them have redeeming qualities that are the opposite of what I’ve listed here. These are just generalizations to keep in mind to prepare for your own success.
How have your parents benefitted and hurt you? Let me know in the comments.
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