Who I’ve Become

by Jane Moneypenny

I was a shy child. Passive, quiet, a wallflower. I got good grades, played the piano, had friends, but my overall demeanor was not of an aggressive go-get-’em kinda girl.

Fast forward to adulthood and I’ve somehow morphed into the opposite. While I still have a very strong feelings of social anxiety and shyness within, it’s apparently manifested in this strange form of constantly speaking up and fighting for what I believe in. Maybe that’s partly due to my career as a graphic/web designer and feeling physical pain when seeing ugly things in the world. Maybe it was my stint as president in a few college organizations that forced me to grow a spine. Or leftover remnants of an abusive relationship.

Whatever it is, I’m on the fence if I like this version of myself. I wonder if it’s really me, especially when Catholic Guilt manifests itself after a particularly gritty battle of words. When over analyzing (because this is what I do) if I regret fighting a particular battle, I know I would have regretted not saying something, but then why this guilt?

Much of this thinking has surfaced after the controversial article on WSJ by Amy Chua on raising kids the “Chinese mother” way (since then, Amy’s post-interview has quieted the haters). My parents, especially my mother, were never that strict with my social life; if anything, they encouraged it. Perhaps, it was because they had a larger understanding of integrating into America as immigrants.

But everything else in the article about piano and grades was on point. While the rest of my friends, ironically, had the opposite problem (strict social lives and encouraging/do-your-best attitude with school), I was consistently pushed to be better. In the words of Chua, “It’s about believing in your child more than anyone else—even more than they believe in themselves. And this principle can be applied to any child, of any level of ability.” And my parents believed. Maybe that’s how I keep pushing myself to try hobbies I find terrifying – rock climbing, swimming, running.

One thing that Asian parents are known for is the lack of giving compliments. Due to a mixture of that and Catholic guilt, I don’t do well with them. They make me uncomfortable, as much as I like them (who doesn’t?). After a grueling week of doing a ridiculous amount of free work for a non-profit committee I’m on, I got a very happy group reaction filled with appreciation and compliments. I felt a strange mixture of guilt/awkwardness/shyness/anxiety. Just the art of saying, “you’re welcome” pains me!

Whatever the case, I’m grateful they pushed me; blessed that I know a second language after more than a decade of Chinese School every Sunday growing up. In anything, I wished I had understood that then; maybe I would have stuck through piano after high school (this is after already playing 13 years) and would be able to perform on spot when asked. My parents never pushed me to med school or engineering (although I’m sure they would have loved it), but ultimately, just wanted me to be happy.

Nowadays, they encourage me to travel and see the world and even ask me to relax more, not work so hard and enjoy life. Ironic.

I am who I am today because of all those years of strictness. Is that good or bad? That’s still up in the air.