I grew up in an Asian immigrant family with a Tiger mom. And this is my story taken from my own mother’s Tiger mom playbook. As a Mommy now, I think that her play was artful, crafty and quite brilliant actually – and I look back to those memories with fond amusement and often teased my mom for being so “manipulative” then.
She, of course, now denies everything!
♠ ♣ ♥ ♦
When I was 14, we were living in a small regional city called Toowoomba, around 2 hours west of Brisbane, Australia. I had just started my first year of high school.
Towards the end of Grade 8, we had to decide on elective subjects for Grade 9 and 10. The subject choices would impact the elective subjects available to me for my last 2 years of schooling, and ultimately, my university degree and my career. It was serious stuff, well, at least that’s how I saw it!
At the time, as a teenager, I was very much influenced by the things I read, or things that I loved doing.
The first notion came whilst I was enjoying many criminal mystery stories, the likes of Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes. So I excitedly announced to my mom proudly:
“Mom, what do you think about me being a criminal detective?”
She looked seriously at me, pondered my question and replied (probably trying not to react too abruptly!): “Being a detective is a noble profession, and our society needs such people to weed out the criminals of this world. BUT………besides being quite dangerous, you will be dealing with homicides, rapes, heinous crimes; witnessing horrific crime scenes and being in the contact with the victims of the crimes as well as criminals, drug dealers and the underworld. Do you really want to be doing that?”
In my 14-year-old mind, I was thinking “Oh my, now that she puts it that way……it sounds dark, sinister and dangerous, and it may not be as cool and alluring as they make it out to be in my books! Hummm…maybe I need to give this a bit more thought!”
A few weeks after my dream of being a criminal detective died its slow death, I was doing a school graphics design project where we had to design a floor plan of a home, and sketch its outer facade. Our family had in fact built our home in Toowoomba so the process of finalizing the designs and plans; picking out the materials and fixtures were fascinating to me!
A thought then came to me and I shared it with my mom: “Mom, what do you think about me being an architect?”
Mom looked over to me and said: “Oh good! I can see that you like to draw and enjoy your graphics design class; and you were so involved when we built our house. BUT……being an architect, you will be on construction sites a lot, wearing those yellow hard hats. The construction sites usually have lots of dust and earth everywhere, noise, large machinery, trucks, equipment and tough workmen shouting and screaming profanities. The construction industry is quite male dominated – Do you really want to be doing that?”
I then realized that being an architect may not be all about drawing and I wasn’t fond of all the mess and dangers on a construction site. In fact, I remembered how my sister had fallen on a pile of bricks when we were building our house and her deep cut needed a hospital visit and a number of stitches! After taking those points into consideration and thinking it through, my architectural aspirations became buried under a pile of concrete.
Still, I was not discouraged and was open to ideas.
A while later, on one of our bookstore visits, my mom picked up a copy of “The Firm” by John Grisham. She passed it to me suggesting that maybe I’d be interested. The Tom Cruise cover was intriguing enough and I delve right into it as soon as we got home. After I put down “The Firm”, I picked up “A time to Kill”. By the time I finished “Pelican Brief”, I was downright set on being a lawyer!!
“Mom, I know, I want to be a lawyer!”
Mom smiled: “Ah a lawyer!! That’s a good choice! Law is one of the oldest and most respectable professions. You will become a professional; you will work in an office, comfortable and air-conditioned, be able to go to work in beautiful suits and clothes, walk around in high heels. Can you see yourself doing that?”
To a teenage girl who had just been mesmerized by John Grisham’s sensational stories about lawyers at prestigious wall street law firms, my mom surely played on a young girl’s vanity.
Funny how my mom never mentioned about the boring law lectures, the hours of reading and memorizing case law names; the treatment of a lowly graduate; recording time sheets; long working hours; stressful days and demanding clients.
Oblivious to all of the above, and the fact that I walked straight into my mom’s carefully crafted play, that’s how I made my career choice!
♠ ♣ ♥ ♦
In retrospect, I think that my Tiger mom (like all Asian parents), had preconceived aspirations or ideas as to the profession she wanted her children to pursue.
My own Tiger’s mom’s smart play was that she never disclosed to me directly which profession she wanted or expected me to pursue. It was never ever forced upon me. I was never pressured. The play gave me the sense that I had all the freedoms in the world to make my own decision. I embraced the decision I made, because, it was mine. She supported it all the way but it was clear that I owned my decision and I had to take up the responsibility to making sure I worked hard and got there in the end.
I have not regretted my decision to take on the law professional path, and have not looked back.
In fact, I am grateful for this brilliant play my Tiger mom made. At a time when all my other teenage friends were unsure about what they wanted to do, the decision I made gave me focus, it gave me direction, it gave me confidence and it gave me the basis of a goal that set me up for my career.
This is a play I have not forgotten, and will not forget – In fact, I might put this play in my arsenal and see if I need to use it when my own boys are old enough!