In Hong Kong, success is often defined as having ‘a car, a flat, and a wife’. Well, what if I have none of those? Now in my mid-20s, I reflect on what success has meant to me over the years.
With Hong Kong athletes winning medal after medal in the Olympics (hurray!), success has been a hot topic in the 852 these days. But sometimes, I find talking about success in Hong Kong even more daunting than talking about failure.
To me, discussing success leads to confronting what I haven’t yet accomplished, and worse, what I may never achieve. Where’s my dream car? When will I be able to own a property in Hong Kong – if ever? Why would anyone want to marry me? These are questions that many Hongkongers (including myself) think about all the time. Those of you who grew up here understand what I mean when I say we’ve been hard-wired to want these things – and we’ve been groomed since we were young to ensure that we’d have the ability to own them too, eventually.
Winning at the starting line
The idiom ‘winning at the starting line’ (贏在起跑線) emerged in Hong Kong around a decade ago, but the culture of tiger parents and their obsession with enrolling children in a multitude of extra-curricular activities wasn’t exactly new. I recall going to piano lessons, math tutorial groups, Mandarin classes, among a dozen others. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t blame my parents for sending me to these lessons. I actually enjoyed some of these activities, and I’m all for enabling kids to have skills outside the classroom. I understand every parent’s desire for their kids to excel so that they can get into a good school, a better university, and finally, secure a top-earning job.
In fact, I had followed this path to success in Hong Kong fairly well. I was in the elite students’ class in one of Hong Kong’s best private girls’ schools; I managed to obtain several music and academic scholarships during my boarding school days in the UK (at another famous private girls’ school, surprise surprise); I ended up majoring in music at the University of Oxford, with a choral scholarship on the side.
In search of perfection
However, I’m not happy. I don’t know whether it’s the media, people around me, or the voices in my head that’ve been condemning my every move and denouncing my every achievement – maybe it’s all three. I just know that I’m never good enough, because I’m not perfect. And while people say nobody’s perfect, the idea that someone can always be closer to perfection than I am eats away at my self-confidence. Yes, whatever perfection is, I’m not it. Every full mark I scored in my tests back at school, every competition I’ve won, my diplomas, my scholarships, my Oxford degree all pale in comparison with what I haven’t been able to achieve: a ‘perfect body’, with no signs of cellulite and such; my ambitions of becoming a world-famous musician; a dream home and a dream car, purchased with my six-figure salary. Without these, I’m simply not successful enough – not yet. So what’s the point of winning at the starting line when it doesn’t even count? And where, even, is the finish line?
Well, that’s what half of me believes. And the fact that I’m tearing myself down when only half of me believes in these crooked values makes me realise how agonising it must be for those who wholeheartedly take these principles as gospel. Fortunately, the other half of me has realised that this mindset is toxic. So I’m working on defining success in Hong Kong in other ways – ways that are healthier for me mentally and physically.
Epiphanies about success, by a mere 24-year-old
1. Success is not necessarily about career achievements and materialistic ownership
I mean, having a high-paying job is amazing, especially if it’s something you enjoy. But that’s not the be-all and end-all because, let’s face it, the wealthiest aren’t always the happiest in the world. Although we can’t survive without a bit of money in our pockets, morals, genuine relationships, knowledge, culture, experience, and other unquantifiable virtues are the things that truly matter. If you can hold on to your personal integrity in this chaotic society, I salute you and your success.
2. Celebrate small successes
Much like happiness, success doesn’t have to be a huge, unattainable thing. Success can mean mustering the strength to get out of bed today. Success can mean randomly winding up at a surprisingly nice spot for lunch. Success may be admitting to your own feelings. Success may be managing to forget about your ex for once. Allow yourself to feel contented, to feel successful, and acknowledge yourself – especially if no one is there to encourage you. You need to give yourself the strength to go on, and there’s no better way to do that than giving yourself a pat on the back.
3. Success is personal
We’re taught to compete with others, to compare ourselves with others, and to win against others. But there’s no end to this competition if you’re always comparing yourself to others; you’ll keep on feeling like a loser, just because you’re not at the top of the world – whatever that even means. For example, from my own life, most people may think Oxford students are super clever. Yet honestly, most of us there felt like imposters, because everyone else seemed even more clever. While it’s motivating to compare yourself with others, if you find yourself constantly belittling yourself against the world, it’s time to hit the pause button and take stock of what you have already achieved.
4. Success is shared
Some of us can be jealous b*tches sometimes. Yeah, I’ll admit to it too. But instead of scoffing at our friends’ gym selfies and disparaging ourselves for being potatoes, let’s learn to be happy for other people without putting ourselves down. If we can acknowledge our own successes, then that makes it easier to genuinely congratulate others on their success. Their joy adds to our joy, which creates the motivation we need to continue to succeed.
What do you think success is? Feel free to reach out to us on Instagram and share your thoughts!