I’m not sure if you’ve been told by your parents that “we’re glad that you’ve already surpassed us”, but I never buy into it. To some degree, I even hate those words. Don’t get me wrong in thinking that I don’t trust my parents, I’m merely disagree with the correctness of that statement. I thought about pretending to agree with it, but I’m also doubtful about if sharing my genuine thoughts about it may hurt anything at all.
First of all, it’s not really comparable. The world is changing rapidly although we might be bad at perceiving and appreciating it. Put it into perspective, a low-end smartphone accessible to most people today computes thousand times faster than those supercomputers NASA used to send astronauts to the moon in the 80s. Likewise, we can hardly predict a poor and closed country with a billion of population took a leap to open its border and suddenly rise as the top economic power of the world.
Society forces everyone to change and adapt, we won't be able to step into the same river twice and we can’t do anything other than riding the wave most of time. Although technology significantly increases the production in society and raises our living standards, unlike what Keynes guessed in 1930 that the working week would be drastically cut to perhaps 15 hours a week, we actually ended up working longer and craving more. Teenager and younger generations are suffering from mental disorders more than ever thanks to the flourishing of social media and meticulously crafted addictive algorithms behind it, the rates of obesity and health problems caused by it reaches historical highs thanks to the mass production of ultra-processed food and the popularization of fast food culture.
There seem to be little correlation between happiness and society wealth. Or by analogy, people who drives Mercedes today aren’t happier than emperor who rides carriage centuries ago. It’s not rational to appraise modernization and globalization by staying blind to all its tangible downsides or side effects.
No matter what I do I’m standing on parents shoulder. Einstein famously said that he stands on the giants shoulder. We’re all students of history. Plato was a student of Socrates, Warren Buffet was apprenticed under Graham, Charlie Munger never shies from admitting Benjamin Franklin as his role model.
In sports like NBA, while there’s incessant debate among media and fans about who is the G.O.A.T, it’s neglecting a simple fact that all players are students of the game and players before them. “I have stolen all of these moves from all these great players. I just try to do them proud, the guys who came before, because I learned so much from them. It’s all in the name of the game. It’s a lot bigger than me.”, as said by the hall of fame basketball player Kobe Bryant.
Our connection and tiers with parents goes beyond biological resemblance. The way we think and behave are all deeply influenced by the family in which we grow up. And because the impact is so tangible that it becomes part of our subconsciousness that we barely notice. Nothing comes out of thin air, it's both dishonest and ignorant to fail to admit the foundational stepping-stones that our parents have laid for us. Instead of starting from scarcity like our parents did, we start from abundance. It’s even harder or more subtle to tell how much of our education or career choices is a result of our parents or our own efforts.
It’s more important for me to pursue my own calling than to meet social expectations. In Chinese or many Asian culture, parents often set high expectations for their kids to achieve societal success. And the society status quo is a powerful force for regulating human behavior and establishing sovereignty among states. It boils down to the simple fact that we’re all social animals with fear of rejection and longing for social approvals.
As a result, one of the most common mistakes we all tend to make earlier in life and regret later is that we overvalue others opinions about us, “We all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own” as said by the great Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. But in reality, no one really cares about how you look, what car you drive or how smart you are, except yourself.
The biggest downside of over conforming to what the society values is that we lose touch with our inner selves. That sacred voices coming from deep in our heart or even soul. Self awareness is important, not only does it give me more objective view of my strengths and weaknesses, it also nudges me to embark on my own adventure. It reminds me to be authentic and to search for my own niches instead of settling with mediocrity that society wants from me.
We’re all unique in our own ways, besides it takes diligent effort and courage to find it and turn it into specific skills that are beneficial for the society so that we can get paid for them. And those skills should not be limited to a specific job role, as that is arguably a too narrow definition of human's potential. We're all multidisciplinary and good at multiple different things, while specialization is for insects. Be self accountable. You only live once, live it well.
However, comparing to our past self is meaningful because it helps us become the best version of what we can be. Lifting weight that our past self couldn't lift, cultivating good habits that our past self hesitated to build, conquering fears that our past self used to be dominated by, those little stretches we do are good examples of what self growth is about, it’s the confidence gained from experiences, resilience gained from adversities, antifragility gained from stressors. Those little success stories compound over time to reshape our character and tells us who we really are.
It’s understandable that it’s our parents wish for a better future. Hope is beautiful and probably the best of things in life. While it's important to be optimistic, you need down to earth discipline to make actual progress.
And reality is our best measurement of truth. I used to be head in the cloud till I hit the wall and saw the harsh truth that I barely do anything other than daydreaming. I'm not getting any close to the kind of person that I’m aspiring to be and I’m not acting in accordance with value or beliefs that I wanted to follow. In fact, I avoid defining them in the first place. I am drown in the mud of mundane as I avoid setting concrete goals with an excuse of like being casual.
No matter what stories we tell ourselves, it’s our actions that reveal our real values.