I never thought about what my personal values and principles were, at least, not explicitly.
On that topic, after a deeper dive, I realized mine have varied a fair bit in the past 3.5 years since I got to Hong Kong.
Most of you know I grew up in a dual East Asian and Western environment. The East Asian influence coming from my parents and the Western influence coming from traditional Canadian values which include freedom, integrity, acceptance and diversity. There are more, but those were the ones that spoke to me.
The only principle I follow at the moment.
But what does freedom mean to you? It’s quite subjective, isn’t it?
For me, freedom has many fronts.
I took this concept of freedom for granted prior to moving to Hong Kong. The only worry I had was financial freedom and sustainability, but that is another topic in itself.
Chalk it up to the loneliness of being here alone.
Chalk it up to self-doubt.
Chalk it up to fear.
Chalk it up to wanting to be accepted.
I didn’t realize I put myself in an imaginary cage trying to conform to everyone’s expectations. For the past three years, my values became engrained on being the perfect Asian girl and girlfriend.
Be the good Asian girl.
Don’t talk back.
Don’t think, just do.
Be the good girlfriend.
Be as stick skinny as possible.
Shut up, sit still and look pretty.
Being a trophy wife was the ultimate goal.
That combined with an inferiority complex and perfectionism nearly destroyed me, mentally and physically.
You see, I’ve had to earn respect from others throughout my youth, proving that my background did not, would not, and should not hinder me. And often, respect is earned by being at the top. So I strived to be the best, or in my mind, to be perfect.
I was the girl who would never go to class yet ace the exams, making top grades look easy.
I was the girl who earned a coveted Investment Banking internship in first year without the help of family connections.
I was the girl who was in all the best parties and events.
I was the girl who would party nights on end, while looking fresh as a daisy come Monday.
I was the girl who took the maximum course load while balancing writing for a magazine, being in the business school fashion show, and teaching underprivileged students.
I was the girl who lived in the posh neighborhood in Downtown Toronto.
I was the girl who hosted house parties.
I was the girl who downed half a large Pepperoni pizza and still wore size 00.
I was the girl who made life look easy and effortless.
Life was good, I was supposed to be happy.
Behind the scenes, I always felt inferior.
I was never good enough.
And that manifested itself into a cycle of continually striving to do more, be more, make it look even more effortless.
And then I came to Hong Kong.
I quickly realized the values people held here were vastly different than the ones in Canada.
Naively, I conformed to fit in.
I became obsessed with being the perfect everything. And I quickly realized it was unsustainable, and more importantly, unrealistic.
Prior to coming to Hong Kong, I never had a problem with my previous relationship in Canada, there was respect, mutual understanding and acceptance. It ended when our future goals no longer aligned with each other, mine being to move to Asia whereas he wanted to stay in Canada.
There were multiple red flags I purposely chose to ignore when I entered my previous relationship in Hong Kong.
There was respect in the beginning, which quickly dissipated and I was pushed to being the Perfect Asian Girlfriend.
Shut up, sit still and look pretty.
I say, you do.
The friendships I made in Hong Kong deteriorated.
I was no longer part of the tech startup scene that I was a fan of.
The worst part, I was fully in control of the situation.
I could have left at any moment.
But I didn’t.
I put myself in that cage.
And when I finally found the courage to leave, I opened the flood gates.
I went 150% into everything, from overbooking social events to attending every tech meet-up to mentoring multiple students to traveling solo.
It was too much, too soon.
And that’s when my body rebelled against me, hard.
My digestive system shut down completely.
I was out of commission for three months, on traditional Chinese medicine and attending weekly acupuncture sessions to stimulate the muscles to function again.
I learned a very valuable lesson.
So what does freedom mean to me?
To be free from the trap of perfectionism.
To be free from harsh self-judgement.
To be free from self-doubt.
To be free from unnecessary guilt.
To be free from forced conformity.
To be free from feeling inferior.
To be at peace with myself.