Ambition drives people forward; relationships and community, by imposing limits, hold people back. Which is more important?
I found this article intriguing. The article painted a picture of the conflict between nurturing relationships versus aspiring for our individual ambitions, in such a way that depicts the latter as maybe being a selfish pursuit. I agreed with a lot of what the article presented however, I still had my own qualms about it, especially in regards to the nature of ambition.
The article, I felt, failed to recognize those families or people that may have the lack of access to even be mobile in order to aspire for those ambitious careers in the first place. By that I mean, what about those who aren’t in a socioeconomic position to go away for university or just leave their community in general to chase a career, which translates to obtaining the American Dream? What does it say about those whom were raised in a collectivist culture that end up leaving the community?
I wasn’t able to leave Anaheim, until my early twenties and that was on a very minuscule budget that I was fortunate to be able to have access to. But after having accomplished my dream of making it “on my own” I was involuntarily sent back home after expenses ran out. The first year in Portland was spent with me finishing the last half of my undergraduate degree, on meager pay which led me to rely heavily on my uncle’s funds. Even after financial aid, my parents weren’t able to afford sending me to university and therefore had to look to family members to support me. When the money was cut off in the middle of the school year, because my uncle simply did not want to send me money anymore, I vowed to myself that I would never rely on family members to financially support my career and educational goals. I was miserable, upset, and angry at my foolishness for thinking I could actually pursue a career outside of my community, away from my family. I came home with my tail between my legs, head hanging down in shame, and with my dignity in my hands nearly in pieces.
This setback fueled more fire within me to aspire for my ambitions. I wanted more than ever to prove to my community, my family and especially to myself, that I could accomplish the goals I set. After 6 months of strategically planning my move back to Portland, I successfully found a way to move back and to never let the mistake of poor planning happen again.
My critique of this article stems from my passion to aspire for our individual ambitions in life. Being raised in a collectivist culture taught me to always seek support within the familial and community structures. However, just like this article states, sometimes that means that we are tied to certain obligations, leaving little room for individual pursuits. Because my uncle, for example, didn’t see value in what I was studying, he chose to cut me off financially. Being a professor in women’s studies, apparently, has no value and no income. Never mind that I was in the middle of working to get a research grant, or that my professors saw potential in me or that I actually was starting to grow more confidence in myself and in my intellectual abilities. No, being a professor of women’s studies, meant it was a waste of time and his money.
There’s also another conflicting perspective as well, that is prevalent in collectivist communities (I will use the Filipino community as an example since that is my own reality) which is that even though the community may have certain expectations placed on members to contribute back, there’s still an air of expectation to fulfill the American Dream by pursuing specific careers - which may or may not lead to those members needing to leave the community! Is it just me or does anyone not see the irony of that?? For Asian American families, the expectation often is that younger generations will aspire to be doctors, lawyers, business owners and any typical job that may translate to acquiring more amounts of money.
I do not believe I should be condemned or thought of as selfish, for wanting to chase after my dreams, if that means having to leave my community. In a lot of ways, I genuinely believe I left California in order to contribute back to my community. My interpretation is, “Hey, look at me, I made it out here and I did it the way I wanted to. I may not have pursued the job of being a lawyer or a medical doctor, but I am successful and I am educated. And I was smart enough to figure out how to financially support myself”. Isn’t that what the American dream is all about? Is that not something for a community to be proud of about their members accomplishments? Of course, I also found a community for myself here in Portland - among feminists, activists, and students - because I would not say that I completely reject the idea of working within communities and building relationships. But I believe that we need to be around those who aspire for the same goals and ambitions, who support each other in that quest and who understand what it means to be an outlier among our home communities. You can simultaneously build and nurture relationships in communities that thrive on ambition. How else would I have survived this long out here without that mentality?