The Success Frame

Growing up, my mother expected perfection from me. As a child, I found her constant evaluation hurtful and invalidating, especially when combined with her general emotional abuse. Even though I considered academics more as a ticket to escape my mother than as a metric of my self-worth, I think I internalized my mother’s voice a bit, like when I cried after getting a 4 instead of a perfect 5 on the AP Biology exam, even though I didn’t really care about biology at all.

A little while ago I read about the success frame, a concept created by sociologists Dr. Jennifer Lee and Dr. Min Zhou. A simplified version of their argument: Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants in the United States expect their children to graduate from an elite university with an advanced degree and a job that can net a sizable income; achieving this isn’t special, it’s expected. Reading about this framework helped me understand my mother’s view of me and how I consider my own accomplishments. I usually ignore my own accomplishments, not just because of the privilege I had that helped my success, rather, I think of being stellar in my field as the baseline. Of course I’m going to get a “prestigious” academic job and excel in clinical work as a PhD-level service provider, that’s just the standard. Even though I don’t condone my mother’s abuse or my father’s neglect, the success frame aspect of my mother’s parenting has benefitted me in some ways, such as empowering me to take the steps I need to get what I want and motivating me to work hard even when I encounter barriers and challenges along the way.

One of the drawbacks of the success frame is that it doesn’t include things like practicing self and community-care for your mental health or slowing down and feeling your feelings. I confided in one of my supervisors last week about how I’m staring down a big life shift – when I move to Philly over the summer, I may stay there forever, like until I die not to be a dramatic gaysian h*e for Twice lol , whereas for undergrad and grad school and residency I always anticipated having to move. Not only that, I’ll have to navigate the workforce as a queer Asian American, in which I’ve already received messages to do research on diversity issues while simultaneously keeping my head down and not being too disruptive to the status quo. As a first step to all of these other transitions, I’ll actually need to physically move again to a new city, like ugh I’m already attracted to men one of whom I’m currently pining over, don’t look at me why do I have to face more stress! All of this is to say that it feels comforting to give myself space to acknowledge all these upcoming transitions and the emotions they inspire.

I’m taking time to honor my successes too. With my upcoming PhD graduation I will have achieved my childhood goal of working as a psychologist. I have amazing friends who I love a lot and who love me. I engage in fun hobbies, like over-disclosing about my life on the internet, that help keep my life balanced and interesting so that I do not derive all my self-worth or self-efficacy from one domain.

About a week ago in the middle of a work day I checked in with myself and my feelings and thought: you know, I’m approaching tiredness and want a break. So I listened to that emotion and scheduled some time off in March to visit one of my best friends in New York City, yay! We’re going to celebrate our successes, both on the vocational front and on the personal front (e.g., maintaining our thriving friendship, not settling for mediocre m*n, etc.) When I last visited her in November I didn’t know how I’d fare on the job market so I didn’t want to spend any money on books; I don’t think we even set foot into a bookstore. Now that I know I’ll be privileged enough to make a living wage with some money left over unless I accidentally spend it all because of my inability to budget hashtag used all my brain cells stanning “OMG” by NewJeans, I’m excited to blow some funds on books and food, symbols of our beautiful friendship.

How do you remind yourself to slow down amidst the potential chaos of life? What messages did you receive from your parents or broader society that you either benefit from or try to move away from? How excited are you for Twice’s new title track “Set Me Free” and their mini-album Ready to Be coming out this Friday?? All of the teasers for “Set Me Free” sound promising so I’m tentatively excited. Hope you are all except for those who haven’t yet read and have no intention of reading Post-Traumatic by Chantal Johnson well and until next post!



Filed under Personal, Society

10 responses to “The Success Frame

  1. Kate Brandt

    I love this blog. I love this entry. The juxtaposition of opening up about your vulnerabilities and also being funny with the crossed out sentences really charms me. Thanks for writing it…courage on so many fronts.

    • Awwww thanks so much for this kind comment! I try to show my true personality so the crossed out sentences are a part of that. It’s a nice reminder that some of this sharing is courageous in a way.

  2. Chelsea Wang

    Set Me Free has been the main thing getting me through this week, honestly.
    Thank you for sharing your vulnerabilities. I have been/am going through very similar things and reading this helps me a lot. Looking back, all my personality traits were a reaction to my parents’ treatment, whether it was in a positive or negative direction. I countered my parents’ ferocity with calmness, for example.
    It’s awesome that you checked in with yourself and did something that would make you happy. I often find myself looking so far in the future I forget to listen to what I want in the moment, even if that thing seems a bit frivolous. If I’m feeling bad, I try to reward myself with that frivolousness Something that has helped me tremendously in the past year is learning about stoicism and realizing that there are so many things that I have a choice over. Some toxic people I don’t have a choice but to interact with, but some I do, even if there are societal pressures. Other people’s toxicity are also not my fault.

    • Yes thank you so much for this thoughtful sharing! The anticipation of Set Me Free also got me through a lot of last week. I appreciate you sharing about your self-awareness about your traits being a reaction to your parents, as well as how you try to reward yourself and set boundaries with toxic people. I agree that at times we may not have a choice (or have only a constrained choice based on things like finances, having to work, etc.) about who we can keep in and out of our lives, so navigating it like how you are makes a lot of sense to me. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment! (:

  3. I hope you will have a great time in NYC. Yes, do splurge a bit on yourself.

    I think one key traits my siblings and I share is working hard. None of us had easy 9 to 5 jobs. I think it’s something we inately learned from our parents. I have no idea how long you’ll stay in Philly. But I don’t think that will be your last move. I have a hunch you’ll have a few more moves as you get more recognition. When is your PhD graduation? But more importantly, who is this guy you’re pining over? 😉

    • I’m gonna do my best to splurge!! Thanks for sharing about the traits you and your siblings share. And haha I am keeping my fingers and legs and all other potential body parts crossed that I will not move again, though also who knows what the future will hold. (: My PhD graduation is actually in May on my birthday. I’m over the guy, thankfully, though maybe there will be another one in the future.

  4. Kartavya Ratate

    A thoughtful post! I admire how you value and seek intrinsic fulfillment in your professional sphere and also how you in general manage to align your ambitions and activities with your values. Although you describe here how your perception of success has evolved, I am curious to know what specifically has motivated you to question and/or reject the conventional messages (about work or the type of relationships you should be valuing) you received early on in life. Did this resolution take root naturally alongside your personality-building process? Or were there any specific experiences or moments of awareness and realization that made you want to carve your path?

    I hope you are well and taking care. 🙂

    • Thanks so much for this reflective comment Kartavya! I do my best with my actions and values. (: Hm that’s a great question, off the top of my head I think that some of it is personality and temperament, though I think reading writers like Caroline Knapp, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, and many others who question and reject societal norms related to gender, race, etc. has been instrumental. Also, having friends (both in real life and online such as yourself) who also push boundaries and don’t settle for the status quo has been immensely helpful. I hope you are also doing well and taking care!

  5. How lovely to plan your NYC trip, a good idea! I managed to escape the need to excel: I just did enough to get away and not getting into Cambridge (well, refusing to take a year out to be old enough to go) helped as I avoided that competitive environment. Also I didn’t have a cultural expectation as the child of immigrants, and could never have been good enough. I’ve turned down doing a PhD twice, and I’m pleased I did that. I am really excited about your move and hearing about how you settle in!

    • Thank you for your excitement about my NYC trip Liz, and I appreciate you sharing about not having the cultural expectation as the child of immigrants. You do you so well and I’ve always enjoyed reading about the comfort you have in your meaningful relationships, hobbies and work.

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