The Traps of Tradition: The Struggle to Break Free

Up until I hit that tender age of 21, this was the plan I had laid out for my twenties:

  • Graduate college by age 22
  • Get married by age 25
  • Stable career by age 26
  • Have kids by age 27
  • Own a house surrounded by white picket fence by age 30

This was the short version of it anyway. Little did I know my plan for a traditional life would go to shit. And in many ways, I am so relieved that it did. I graduated college at 25, went on hiatus with my dating life (thus no husband), and I am 27 with no desire to pop out any babies anytime soon. It would still be nice to own a house but I’ve made it pretty evident that I’d much rather leave home than be tied down to a mortgage.

All of the plans that I had laid out for myself in the naivety of my youth have now fully evaporated. Commitment, stability, and monotony used to seem like all the necessary ingredients for a satisfying life. All of that now scares the living shit out of me. The idea of a traditional life has lost almost all of its appeal and it took me this long to come to terms with it.

Besides being pressured by our own societal standards of what one is supposed to be doing by a certain age, many of us have to deal with the traps of tradition from our families. I know this personally, growing up as an Asian-American second-generation kid in a modestly traditional Vietnamese household. I’m sure many of you share similar frustrations and pains if you ever had moments where the “American way” of thinking or doing things just isn’t acceptable to your loved ones. Some people have overcome it, simply because they have mastered the “Idgaf” (aka “I don’t give a F*CK) mentality. And others, like myself, may experience this constant inner conflict of trying to do what’s right by your family and for yourself. The two can never exist in harmony! Or so it feels like anyway…

Genetically-Engineered-Goldfish

I am, by no means, a traditional Vietnamese woman but I am still trapped by the traditional ideals of Vietnamese culture. Family is important. Family is above all. This is true not only for Vietnamese people, but you know Asian families are all about respect and harmony. The idea of collectivism isn’t as prevalent as it used to be, especially now that the dynamic of Asian-American families are changing as they have started to assimilate to American culture. But there’s still remnants of that ideal lingering around.

I am constantly walking the line between Asian and American ways of thinking. On one hand, I feel that I need to be there for my family in every way that I can. On the other hand, I know that feeling of obligation will hinder me from broadening my horizons and experiencing life the way I want to. It’s a never-ending battle of trying to always do what is best for everyone and myself.

My most recent exciting plans of moving abroad have devastated those closest to me. My mother, more specifically, has expressed constant disapproval of my plans.

“Why can’t you just find a stable job here and settle down?” She’s asked me once.

Because I’m not happy here Mom. I have to go. Please don’t make this harder than it is.

She’s begged me not to go. She’s reminded me of all the worst-case scenarios. She’s expresses her concerns frequently, even when she’s not saying anything…I can see the worry in her eyes when she looks at me. Often times, it’s too much for me to bear.

The night that I told her I booked my flight to Korea, her whole body slumped. She could hardly hold herself together. I was so excited that my plans are starting to solidify but my excitement is overcome with guilt. That which makes me happy and gives me life brings great sorrow to a woman who means so much to me. I told her to talk to me and she simply dismissed me from her presence. So I hugged her, and left knowing that this would only be the beginning to endless worrisome nights for her.

Mothers will always be mothers. They have a right to worry, to be concerned, and to want to shield us from the ugliness of the world. I just wish that she could see that she has prepared me well. I don’t know what else to do to reassure her more. I’m struggling to break free from the traps of tradition, but I’m slowly learning that doing what’s right for me doesn’t always have to be right for everyone. Mastering that delicate balance is nearing impossible. Sometimes you just have to choose you and for me, that means starting this journey of life abroad.

Do you ever feel trapped by tradition and expectations? What do you to overcome it? Please share!


 “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” -Steve Jobs


22 days until departure!

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2 thoughts on “The Traps of Tradition: The Struggle to Break Free

  1. I feel to combat the things everyone else wants from you, you first have to realize that everyone is living their own life they chose to live, so why can’t you? They will be happy for you when “the smoke clears” and they are with you again. They will long to hug you again and won’t worry about any of the things that have transpired. The feelings your mom has, have not come stay, but they have come to pass. Make sure you are doing the things that make you happy and once everyone sees the joys fullfilling your life gives you they will feel that Joy too.

    Liked by 1 person

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