Being a Nguyener: Why Asians need to celebrate success

When I was in the third grade, my now best friend (back then he was just another 80s baby with a mullet) invited me to play on his soccer team; his dad was the coach. Soccer provided a wonderful and much needed escape from the rigors of school and homework. Even though I was only in third grade, my parents already had me doing calculus, performing surgeries, coining their backs, and giving them their annual dental exams—my tiny fingers gave me a competitive advantage in oral health.

I loved playing soccer. But it was never a passion or excitement that my parents shared. I remember one game in particular. During the game, I scored my first goal ever and became rabid with excitement. Yes, rabid. My first goal! Who knew when the next goal would ever come (answer: 9 years later in a high school JV game).

Afterward, when my teammates and other parents came up to congratulate me, my mom was there and she replied “He’s so proud. He’s so excited.” As a kid, that stuck with me vividly because I wanted my mom to share that pride and excitement too. I wanted her to feel like it was her goal, even though, let’s be real, I did all of the work.

This has been one of the ongoing challenges of growing up Asian; feeling like your hard work goes unnoticed. Can anyone else relate to this? Or is it just me? I’m not talking about the big stuff like graduations or birthdays, but little things like soccer games and winning Halo deathmatches. I’ve also been in situations where other people diminish my successes. How many of us Asians have had a parent tell us a B+ isn’t good enough? Or even an A-? Or that we will never succeed if we don’t go to med school?

Anyways, curious about how other people celebrate success, I googled it. A lot of the results that came back gave advice like:

  • Buy yourself a banana split from your favorite ice cream store.
  • Give yourself permission to take a day off and relax.
  • Go to lunch with your best friend.
  • Buy yourself a new shirt.
  • Get yourself an iPod.
  • Whistle.

I spent a good 15 minutes browsing through the list and thought “This is the worst advice ever.” First off, I wouldn’t even know what to do with 1000 iPods (Get it? I’m saying I succeed a lot. 1000 times a lot!) And whistle? Really? Some people actually whistle to celebrate success? My problem with this sort of advice is that it doesn’t actually celebrate success, but turns it into a series of rewards. If you read my post on success vs failure, you’ll understand why I can’t stand this. And seriously, I don’t need to give myself permission to take a day off and relax; my boss does.

Celebrate everything

I think we have become paralyzed with waiting for “the right time” to celebrate success: waiting for the weekend, combining it with another occasion because it’s more efficient, etc. I’m of the mindset that we should celebrate everything…immediately. Big things and small things. Success and failure. Perfection and mediocrity. B+’s and A-‘s. Why put off a good thing?

Share appreciation

The second thing we should start doing in regards to success is share appreciation. Basically, don’t keep good thoughts to yourself. If someone did something remarkable, you should tell them! “Way to get into grad school Susan! Just steer clear of predatory lenders and you’ll be just fine.” Even if someone did something mediocre, you should still affirm them. “Way to get into grad school Susan! Just steer clear of other Asian students and you’ll be just fine.” I don’t know how we’ve come to this point in society, but we rarely share our positive thoughts directly to our friends, family and colleagues; choosing to silently post updates on Facebook instead. Look, if someone did something awesome, you should let them know.

As a quick reference, here are a few scenarios you and your friends may have encountered in life and the appropriate responses for each.

A Beginners Guide to Celebrating Success

Scenario Appropriate response
Got a B on your O-Chem test? High five!!!
Applied to ten different jobs and only one called you back. You are deserving of a gold star.
Talked to a random stranger in the bar because you can tell from across the room that they are glimmering with inner beauty and has a 75% chance of sharing your passion for social justice and racial equity? Next round is on me, champ 😉
Started a career in community development. Here’s a lucky red envelope full of money. You’ll need it!
30 years old and still unmarried? I know someone. They’re an artist, will make your life beautiful.
Recently discovered that you want to marry an artist? More red envelopes!!!
Failed your first driving test? Don’t worry, paralleling parking got me too.
Your Executive Director just left to start a new organization. Karaoke party!!!
Never mastered the piano? Here’s a subscription to Pandora!
Scored a goal in soccer? Aww, so proud of you! Now you must practice 10 hours a day and score every time.
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