Accepting Who We Are

Please note this is not something trying to convince or educate you – it’s more a very subjective self-reflection piece, which I hope could inspire some people to go through self-doubt and gain confidence.

I was watching TikTok on the train to my office today, and I saw some familiar TV program clips from 10+ years ago, when I was in my middle school. I actually never watched those TV shows after I left China as I feel no one knows them or is interested in them, and I have been trying to adapt to new cultures in the past ten years. Watching these clips again made me think about a topic that I’ve been reflecting on for a while – Identity (a.k.a. who we are).

It actually took me many years to recognize and accept who I am.

Race/Place of Origin. I was born and raised up in a small town in central China. Unlike my classmates from Beijing, Shanghai, or even New York, I never felt proud to say where I am from since nobody knows that city. After coming to the States, race becomes a thing (it is not as a thing in Asia), and for certain moments I wish I could’ve been born in the States so that I could access the tremendous opportunities in the States and enjoy the liberal environment here.

However, after many years, I realized that it’s not my fault to be born in a small town in China – I got no option, while where I was born does not define me as a person. Seeing the differences between different races, I recognized I gained some of my capabilities probably because I am an Asian (yes – the stereotypes people have) – good at math, hardworking, etc. Why should I feel ashamed for coming from a place where everyone is working hard? Why would I feel bad for something that was not my fault/choice – particularly when I have been working hard to achieve my dreams & creating value for the world?

It’s bad to have stereotypes about certain groups of people and apply those stereotypes to each individual. However, each culture still has its unique things – good and bad, and no culture is “better” than the other. Once I learned about this, I feel peace about my origin & culture – I appreciate being an Asian, and I also know where the Asians need to learn from the Americans (e.g. being more confident). I just need to learn and improve instead of feeling bad.

Language. Some people also judge the others based on the languages they speak. This happens everywhere – British accents v.s. American accents, Chinese v.s. English, Cantonese v.s. Mandarin, etc. For a long time, I tried to speak English as much as possible, then Cantonese, and then Mandarin. For a long time, I also felt bad about my English accents. However, after meeting many great founder friends with different English accents, I realized that what defines a person is never their accent or the language they speak. It is their capabilities & personalities that define them. I would consider myself stupid if I stay away from some smart people just because of the languages they speak. I would also just ignore people who do so to me for my accent or language.

Family. My parents divorced when I was 8? 9? I went to a boarding school after my elementary school and have been raised up/educated by many people other than my parents since then. I am not proud of my family – even today, and I always wish I could’ve been born in a better family, where my parents could be more patient, easier to communicate, showing more respect to me, etc. I feel jealous when seeing friends coming from a warm & close family, where they chat with & care about each other no matter how far they go. But is this something I should feel ashamed about or regret for? Probably not. I don’t blame my parents – they at least offered me a lot of help (financially), and my dad did his best to educate me. After losing hope for family for many years and then seeing some friends who came from a good family, I told myself – probably there’s a chance that I can build my own warm & close family.

Moreover, I also envied many of my friends for the families they have from not only a relationship perspective but also a wealth/capability perspective. I wish I could have been born in a family where my mom/dad was a successful businessman/woman, college professor, doctor, lawyer, etc. I was always wondering what if my parents could send me to an international school, what if my parents could help me to get a US green card… It’s hard to deny that I would have access to more opportunities and therefore be able to explore the world differently if I came from a wealthier family. However, after some years, I also learned that this is not something I should worry about or I could have changed. It’s not my fault to be born in a family that’s not rich, while I should appreciate all the opportunities that I’ve gotten and be proud for the ROI that I made based on the resources I have. From an ROI (Return of Investment = Outcome/Resources that I could leverage) perspective, I am confident that I’ve done a decent job compared to many of my peers.

Choices. For many times, I was asking myself if I made the right choice to do this and that. For example, should I really go to serve the Army? Should I choose a different major such as Computer Science in college if I were given a second chance? Should I do my master degree in architecture in Hong Kong? When I asked myself those questions, I didn’t have a clear answer as I also benefited from those choices – the military training has made me a strong person who cares about the team/others, the architecture journey has introduced me to many social challenges and inspired me to solve those problems, and the experience in Hong Kong has enabled me to rethink about the relationship between a nation/group and individuals as well as human rights. Therefore, even with a second chance, I might not be a better person. Instead of looking back and asking those hypothetical questions, I told myself – it’s your choices that define who you are today, and if anything, you should look forward and just learn from others and be better.

Sex Orientation. I knew I am probably a gay or bi in the last few years of my college. However, for a long time, I feel a bit hard to accept it. Yes, it was a lengthy period (probably longer than a decade) of self-doubt and self-reflection. Why am I different from the other people? Why couldn’t I have a “normal” relationship just like what my friends have? After many many many years, I finally realized a few things – (1) Life is short – what other people say about you doesn’t matter at all. (2) Nothing is wrong – loving a man is not wrong, and love is about finding the best person to grow together, enjoy life and/or conquer the challenges together. This person doesn’t have to be a man/woman. (3) It’s a personal choice – just like I like eating pho – which I don’t need to get approved by anyone. I even don’t need to share with everyone – I won’t tell everyone that I love pho & love Canton Pop right? Instead of trying to hide the fact that I am a gay & like men, I believe I will be very proud to introduce my lover to my friends & family – why would I feel ashamed for loving someone who grows with me & helps me? Love should never be a shame. If I love someone, I will do my best to show my respect (by proudly including him in every moment of my life & introducing him to everyone I know) and make sure he will be the happiest person in the world by doing whatever I can.

Body. I am definitely not from the good-looking group among my peers. I also broke my fingers, my throat, and my feet in the last few years when playing basketball – so technically I am a disabled person now. For many times, I wish I could have avoided those accidents and still have a healthy body. However, wishing won’t help in this case, and the only option I got is – accepting the fact that I already broke my body and being more cautious in the future. I am not sure how I would feel if I really get seriously disabled (hope not), but I would still tell myself to accept the “imperfect” body I have and appreciate it not being worse.

It’s always easier to say than done. Accepting who we are is not an easy job and will only happen when you can see your value. That’s why I think I only did this after coming to the States and gained self-confidence – my friends & colleagues have been encouraging me and recognizing my achievement all the time. I know what I do good & how I am creating value for the world – I work efficiently/hard, I am creative/open-minded & willing to take risks, I have strong curiosity, I treat people authentically, and I am usually emotionally stable & can bring positive vibes/impacts to the others, etc. Once I know the value I have, I believe it makes zero sense for people to judge me based on my race, accent, family background, grown-up experiences, sex orientation, and/or external appearance. If they do, it’s their loss but not mine. At the end of the day, none of those defines who we are – it’s how we treat/help others & how we contribute to the world that defines who we are.

That’s also why I have been doing the same thing to my friends – recognizing what they do well, appreciating the good things/vibes they bring to my life, and encouraging them to explore the world with me confidently.

On top of that, accepting ourselves for being who we are today also helps us to respect others. When we feel easy for all the uniquenesses (good and bad) we have, we will also respect the unique choices/backgrounds that the other people have – no matter where they come from, what accent they have, gay or straight, pho or rice cake, Canton Pop or jazz, etc.

If I need to summarize the learnings here, it will be – we need to learn how to love ourselves by recognizing/accepting who we are, and then how to love others by respecting who they are. Gaining the capabilities to love/respect oneself (愛自己的能力) and love/respect the other people (愛他人的能力) is something rarely taught in Asia due to the traditional collectivism culture there (more about sacrificing oneself for the greater good instead of recognizing individual value), while knowing how to love & respect is really important as that’s how we can make ourselves/our friends happier.


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