5 Things ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ Teaches Us About Pursuing Our Passions
I related to Rachel’s struggle to balance her American sensibilities with traditional Asian values.
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“Pursuing one’s passion … how American.”
As a first-generation Taiwanese American, this is the line in Crazy Rich Asians that stuck out the most for me. I remember back to my mother’s answer when I said I wanted to get an art degree when I graduated from high school: “No.”
I was expected to do something more practical, more useful and presumably better for my future and my family.
There seemed to always be a constant battle growing up between being the “good daughter” and wanting to let the real me out. At school, I was taught to think for myself, be independent and have an opinion. While at home, I was considered unmindful of the “best path” and advice that was laid out, and it was rarely about passion. It was about monetary success and climbing the corporate ladder.
I actually did try out that advice and went to a good college, got a good corporate job and became assistant vice president at a bank at age 26. But, all the while, I wasn’t happy. It felt like something was missing. There was no fulfillment. I wanted more excitement in my life. I wanted life to have meaning. I needed passion.
When I saw Crazy Rich Asians, I was excited to see Rachel play out the East-meets-West narrative. The movie teaches us much about pursuing our passions:
1. Sometimes you need a face-off to jolt you into deciding what’s true for you.
When Rachel is confronted at the top of the stairs by Eleanor saying, “You will never be enough,” it seems that this is a turning point for Rachel who has, up until this time, tried to win Eleanor over. This is when she evaluates if the traditional views of her worthiness apply to her and realizes she gets to define her own value.
So often we try to be something for other people. Maybe it’s to make them happy. Maybe it’s because we’re trying to live up to their expectations or familial obligations. Maybe it’s because we mistakenly think they know more about who we are than we do. But, the true source of confidence comes from knowing what’s true for you. Who are you in this world? Who do you want to be? Sometimes a face-off is exactly what you need to help you decide.
2. Pursuing what other people think you ought to do in your life leads to regrets.
Even though Eleanor proudly shares, “For me, it was a privilege, but for you, you may think it’s old-fashioned. But, all this doesn’t just happen. It’s because we know to put family first,” it’s pretty obvious that she wishes she had finished college.
She wants people to know she is an intelligent woman, having pursued a degree in law. She wants Rachel to see the sacrifice she made, doing what was expected of a dutiful wife and giving up her passion in order to raise her son. I personally think she could’ve had both.
Many of us have been given some sort of formula like get good grades, go to a good college, get a corporate job, get married, buy a house, have a family and voila! — fulfillment and happiness. For me, as a creative, trying to fit in this box didn’t work. Had I continued, I would likely have been dreadfully miserable, but making a choice to pursue a passion that fills my soul has helped create a life I love.
3. Part of living your most passionate life means acknowledging who you have always been.
Another couple in the story, Astrid and Michael, highlighted a very important point. Though Astrid was lavishly rich and successful, she was down-to-earth. She was Nick’s favorite cousin and the one who comforted Rachel when a bloody fish was left on her hotel bed. She is amazing just as she is and showed her true self in situations where she felt comfortable to do so.
But, I was sad for her when Michael’s affair was revealed because it was clear she cared for him deeply — so deeply that she didn’t want him to feel inferior, thus hiding her passion for fine jewelry.
When she realizes that all she’d done to lift up Michael and squelch who she was had led to his affair, she sees that dimming her light didn’t brighten Michael’s. She’d hidden herself away all that time, feeling ashamed and not living fully.
I wanted to stand up and applaud when she put on her new pearl earrings and boldly walked away, telling Michael that she’d spent their whole life together trying to not make him feel bad. The way she walked off showed she was ready to shine as herself without apology.
We can never control how much someone else shines and most definitely we will fail by trying to be less so they can be more. Just think of two candles. If one is a tall taper candle and another is a short, wide jar candle, both have their own flames. Both are beautiful in their own right. Blowing one out will never make the other brighter. It’s the same with people. Blowing out our flame only leads to a life unlived. Loving yourself and all that you are, shining brightly will allow you to live your most passionate life.
4. Just because you pursue your passions doesn’t mean you’ll forget where you came from.
Making dumplings was a family affair at our house, much like in the movie, except we didn’t have a lavish kitchen and table. My mother piled up flour, indented the top, cracked an egg in the middle and kneaded the dough by hand. We rolled out the dough in a hand-crank pasta roller attached to the side of the table and cut circles out with a tea tin lid. My mother filled those scrumptious dumplings with pork and shrimp, and I’ve never had anything quite like them.
Even though she was an American, Rachel was at home making dumplings from scratch. Her family traditions weren’t lost as she also pursued her passion of economics.
5. Be passionate about opportunities when they present themselves, even if it seems inconvenient at the time.
I imagine that many didn’t even notice the flower in the movie, but I did.
As a 10-year-old, I remember being woken up at 2 a.m. with my sister so that we could drive to an Auntie’s house to see the Queen of the Night, a.k.a Night Blooming Cereus, bloom. It was a rare opportunity because it’s a flower that blooms just once a year, at night.
I didn’t see the value as a child to wait for this flower to open up — it felt a bit like watching water boil. But, now I see it as a lesson in taking opportunities when they come.
As my friend June Kaewsith says, “The Queen of the Night appears in her crown and glory once in a lifetime after the sun sets. This flower blooms with care and patience. It is planted, grown, fed and cared for just this moment. You are, too. You’ve been pruned for the opportunities in front of you.”
In other words, take those opportunities even if they seem inconvenient.
Growing up Asian American wasn’t always hard but it wasn’t always easy. I identify so much with Rachel — not white enough to be American and not Asian enough to know all the cultural rules, like not to dress like a red envelope if you want to make a good impression. I didn’t fully fit into either world, but relate and love both.
Like Rachel, I’ve chosen to follow my passion, and I take along the parts of my upbringing and heritage that allow me to strive for excellence, value family, be bold and strong … and endeavor to live my life as regret-free as possible.