By: Kristine Gerolaga
The older I get, the more I think about death, how finite and fragile humanity is, and how I constantly feel like time is running out. As a woman in my thirties, the societal pressure to get married and have children never ends. The nagging thought “I should’ve been successful by now” replays like a bad, catchy song that I can’t get out of my head. By now I’ve learned that ‘success’ is how we choose to define it and to enjoy the journey along the way, but the thing that occupies my mind the most is my fear of being unable to make my parents proud before they leave this world; The fear that I won’t be able to prove that their sacrifices for me and my family were not in vain. And as a result of these thoughts, I experience so much inner conflict. This, coupled with anxiety and depression often paralyzes me, making important life decisions almost impossible. This is the pressure I feel as a Filipino-American daughter of immigrants who have struggled for years to give me a chance at a better life.
Many children of immigrants, especially Asian immigrants, experience this guilt. Many of our parents left their homes, lives, and families to move thousands of miles away to foreign countries. Some were pursuing career opportunities in order to provide for their families back home. Some of them were escaping poverty and war. Their lives were about survival, not following their passions. Their dreams were for their children to never have to struggle the way that they have. For my parents, their dream for me is the definition of the model minority: to graduate from a top university, get a well-paying, practical and stable job, and marry someone who is equally, if not more successful than me. These wishes are unselfish and completely reasonable, given everything my parents went through. Instead, I got a degree that is basically considered “useless” and I chose a highly difficult career path – my passions – acting and filmmaking. In the entertainment industry, success can take many forms, but for scores of people it may never lead to their parents’ version of success. And although I manage to make great strides in my career every year, the journey up the ladder for a creator is extremely long. To be clear, my parents are loving and supportive in their own ways even if my chosen profession terrifies them. Any pressure I feel from them comes mostly in the form of concern. And it breaks my heart that I could possibly be a major source of stress for them well into the sunset of their lives. Will I ever be able to take care of them the way they’ve taken care of me? Will I ever be able to give back? When people ask them about me, what do they say? Are they ashamed? Are they embarrassed? Are they disappointed? Am I selfish for following my own dreams despite knowing all they have done to provide me with a privileged, comfortable life? I wrestle with these questions every day and my parents only continue to get older as I stubbornly pursue this life of uncertainty.
But recently, I came across a new podcast called Filipina on the Rise hosted by Krystl Fabella. In episode two, she interviews Nicole Cruz who left her prosperous corporate career to start a business as a life coach. She quickly found that most of her clientele ended up being first and second generation Americans so she made it her mission to “help immigrant descendants take center stage in their lives unapologetically.” I dropped everything to listen to their conversation and found it both validating and life changing. Here are the highlights and takeaways.
- Recognize and appreciate where you come from, but don’t let that dictate where you go. Look at things from your parents’ perspective to have a deeper understanding of the life they want for you. Because their economic circumstances were different, their priorities were food, water, shelter, and safety. And now that those things have been taken care of, how do we build upon it?
- Our parents survived so that we could thrive. As Cruz mentions on the podcast, we should “look at it as a privilege that we get to elevate our family beyond what our parents even anticipated for us.” They put us in a position where we could now make a name for ourselves and for our family.
- You can’t control your family’s opinions about your career and life choices and they can’t control you. But you can control what you make their opinions mean to you. We have the power to reframe the guilt we feel around disappointing our parents and turn it into productive thinking that inspires action toward the life we want for ourselves. But first, we should…
- Get clarity on what we really want. Dream big, not realistically. We have trained our brains to shut ourselves down when we want to do something that seems unrealistic. Allow yourself to dream big so that you have a chance at exceeding more than you think you are capable of. Before gaining clarity…
- Be aware of your limiting beliefs, then transform them. Cruz and Fabella give excellent examples of what limiting beliefs sound like. “I can only make this much money.” “I can’t do it because female minorities haven’t filled that role before.” Also, thinking in absolutes does not serve you. “No one will ever want to see my work.” Acknowledge the thought and understand that the thought is not you. Our brains default to these thoughts and we have to unlearn this behavior. Instead, reframe your thoughts so that they offer you productive
solutions. “I want to make this career change but I don’t have the skills to do it,” should lead to “How can I get those skills?” You are now in a position to take the necessary steps to achieving your goals.
- There is no such thing as wasted time. That degree you got that feels unrelated to your passion or the job you spent years working that left you unfulfilled. What have you learned along the way? What are the experiences you wouldn’t have if you didn’t do the things you did? Chances are your experiences are applicable to what you want to do now. There is no standard timeline or way of living. Comparing your timeline to someone else’s leads to taking action out of fear. Being secure with the pace of your own timeline leads you to taking action out of inspiration when you let other people’s success uplift and empower you.
- In our community, there is shame in our aspirations. We feel guilty asking for more. But ask yourself how following your dreams or changing your career would impact your life, the lives of the people around you, and the world? From Cruz, “Not pursuing your dreams is failing ahead of time.” From Fabella, “If you didn’t try, you wouldn’t be fulfilled, and you’d be missing out on serving people in a very unique way.”
If Krystl Fabella didn’t make the bold move to start her podcast or if Nicole Cruz didn’t quit her job to follow her passion as a life coach I wouldn’t have heard this incredible conversation at a time when I really needed it. This kind of work does not happen overnight, but I am excited to continue honoring my parents’ sacrifices by giving myself permission to pursue my passions and dream big.
You can subscribe to Krystl Fabella’s Filipina on the Rise wherever you listen to podcasts and follow the show on Instagram @filipinaontherise.
Kristine Gerolaga is a Filipina American actor and filmmaker, but her first love will always be color guard. You can see her latest work on Amazon Fire TV, Amazon Prime, and DIRECTV or at www.kristinegerolaga.com.