There’s been something in the air this past week, where I’ve either had conversations around being a second-generation child and how that affects one’s mindset as a creative, or I’ve come across articles on the topic, like this one.
As I’ve mentioned before, it took a while for me to consider myself a “creative” person and to embrace my own ambitions. What I didn’t realize this whole time was that much of this delayed process could be attributed to being second-generation Canadian and the child of immigrants.
The pattern goes like this: many immigrant parents make major financial and emotional sacrifices in order to set up their lives in a new country. They would like their children to avoid similar duress and to succeed. They encourage their children to work hard, obtain a good education, pursue stable employment and afford a middle class lifestyle or better. Nearly all parents, immigrants or not want their children to avoid undue hardship in life, so all of this makes perfect sense.
I do think there is an added pressure when your parents are immigrants, though. And it is so pervasive that you don’t realize how much it affects your thinking as an adult. The two creatives that I spoke to earlier this week both said that they ended up falling into a 9-5 lifestyle because their immigrant parents either encouraged it or pushed them towards it. They didn’t want to disappoint their parents and they saw how hard their parents worked their whole lives. So even though they may not be entirely happy in a 9-5 lifestyle, they are willing to tough it out, because that’s just what you’re “supposed to do” as an adult. They didn’t realize that there was even an option to make something of themselves in a creative industry, because there was no model for it growing up and frankly it didn’t seem like a realistic option.
If you are a creative and a second-generation child, the following are fears that can run through your head at times. Since these can debilitate the creative process, I’ve offered advice below on how to counteract them:
- Perfectionism – Your parents encouraged you to be the best in all your efforts (recall that classic line, “You got 99%? What happened to the other 1%?”), so you attack your creative projects with the same rigour and discipline. The trouble is, the creative process needs room to breathe and forcing it to be “perfect” doesn’t work. Instead, it’s best to simply move forward with creative projects to the best of your current abilities and to complete them. Reward yourself for each step that you move forward, because it’s certainly not easy.
- Making $$$ – Similar to the above, because your project is not “perfect”, you likely don’t consider it to be among the best out there. And if it’s not the best, then it means you don’t have any talent and you can’t make a decent living as a professional artist, right? (A side note: our society has a tendency to equate professionalism with an exchange of money, whereas I would argue it is more about your attitude and approach than anything else) . Here again, it is futile for your primary focus to be on whether your ideas can find a fit in the marketplace. The whole point of nurturing the creative inside of you is more about fulfilling an insatiable hunger than it is about paying the bills. Think instead about what got you excited about the idea in the first place and focus on turning your vision into a reality. Your unique contribution to the world is incredibly important. This is your purpose for existing – showcase your voice!
- Prestige – For all those times when you’re speaking to your parents and they comment on how so and so just bought a new house and a new sports car. You hear the admiration in their voice and even though you couldn’t possibly care much for either of those things, it still somehow worms its way into your brain. Because your creative goals and ambitions are not likely to bring you any form of prestige in the near future. There are going to be many years where no one will know of your name and where you won’t be appropriately compensated for your efforts. There will be moments where it will certainly feel harder than others, but continue to focus on the process. As you complete projects, you will look back on past ones and feel a lot of pride at how far you’ve come along and how much you’ve learned along the way. What’s more, you’re leading a life that is unique to you. Anyone can buy a new house or car. And frankly, what would you prefer to look back and remember about your life?
Your parents mean well and they always have, but this your life now. Your creative goals and ambitions are important and need to be heeded. Practice paying less attention to whether or not they bring your prestige or money and let go of the perfectionism. These thoughts may always dance in the back of your mind, but with practice you’ll grow more confident and be able to trust your own voice. I know I have.