A letter to my 15-year-old daughter:
For a girl who reads at the speed of one book a week, what advice would I give you? Well, at least I will try:
1. Life is not ALL about work, mission, and changing the world. Life is about living your passion.
Many years ago, driving on the highway to a clinic two hours from our city, my boss asked me how old I was.
I didn’t know what she meant by that but after one look at my face, she continued: “I meant you have accomplished so much and you are only 27?”
Just as I was exhaling with relief, maybe even a little pride, she added, “You need to get a life”.
What? I didn’t actually say it aloud, but my eyebrow must have raised that question!
“I mean you work all the time.”
Now, it really didn’t sound like a compliment anymore. I was frankly surprised, disappointed and a little lost. Working hard is a virtue that was instilled in my blood.
In the same week, a senior coworker told me to “slow down and smell the roses.”
At that time, I thought it was easy for them to say because they have the means. They can afford to slow down. Now I have the same means, yet I find myself working even harder.
Before, work was for survival. Now, work is for a purpose.
Work has become a passion, not an obligation.
When I get up at 5 am to write, I AM smelling my morning roses.
Make your passion the fragrance of your roses. Your passion could change over time and it is completely okay. Who said your rose garden is limited to a certain size, shape, color, or fragrance?
2. The secret of living is giving. Give to yourself first.
You are a giver but remember to give to yourself first. When you are giving from an empty cup, resentment can grow like poison. As women, we often give, feed, and nurture others first and keep on giving until we are empty. I have seen that in my own mother, your grandmother. When she starts to allow herself to receive, she becomes a much happier person and everyone around her benefits. The transformation is beautiful to see.
3. Don’t try to please people.
You want everyone to be happy but you can never please everyone. In the end, you are exhausted and people still feel hurt. It is never your duty to make anyone other than yourself happy. Not everyone thinks like you, so don’t judge them. Don’t try to change them. Just let it be. I was a people pleaser myself. Though I am strong and independent, I wanted everyone to like me. But I learned it was an impossible task.
4. Date, have fun and learn about boys.
I can’t believe that I am saying this. When you were 5, I asked advice from other Asian mothers and they told me: “No dating in high school”, “Too much drama”, “Studying is the primary role of a student”. I was concerned too but my view now has changed. As a mature young lady, who says you can’t do both?
When I was 15, by the administrative ruling, kids were not permitted to date in China. Brave highschoolers dated underground and risked the consequence of being expelled.
You are blessed to be born in this free country. So have fun being 15.
Just remember to be yourself when you are with boys. They are just as nervous and trying to figure out their path as well. Be kind to them even if you think they don’t know what the hell they are doing.
Speak your desires clearly. Tell them what you want and what makes you happy. Don’t make them guess. It is too much work and a waste of energy.
Don’t try to change them. You are a girlfriend, not his mother.
5. Take pictures everywhere you go. And journal. A life worth living is worth writing.
As I am writing my memoir now, I wish that I had journaled more in my earlier years.
Luckily I posted lots of photos on WeChat, Chinese social media, while I was there for the past few years.
You are a writer. It will be helpful with dates and events when you are trying to recall those magical moments. Social media doesn’t have to consume us. It can serve as a place for recording events.
6. Stay true to yourself.
You are aware in this day and time, everything is filtered and brightened. It is more important than ever to stay true and authentic — be COURAGEOUS! And I know that you have it within you.
We are souls having an earthly experience. Your soul has chosen us to be your family in this lifetime. Our family’s love will be your strongest backbone. You know that you can always count on us for anything.
I love you, Serena. Happy Birthday to the most awesome 15-year-old on the planet!