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A Guide to Life for Asian-American Teens

July 20, 2007

I wrote this piece for the children of the people in my father’s “Successful Parenting” class at a local chinese school. My father, Anping Shen, graduated from Boston University with a Doctorate in Education (EDD). He has altered his views on parenting over the many years and promotes a CARE strategy. Communication, Appreciation, Respect and Education are his foundations for a good parent.

This was written to help those Chinese kids succeed in life, but really it is applicable to most young people. It’s a little cheesy, but here it .

Hello friend.

I wrote this for you. Even though I don’t know you, I know that we share some things in common.

We both come from an Asian background but have lived most of our lives in the U.S. We are both pretty young and we are trying to figure out what to do with our lives. And most importantly, we both have a very special chance to live a great life.

When I was 13, I read a book that changed my life forever. It was called 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The content of the book is stellar, and I highly recommend it. But besides what it said, it made me realize that there might be a better way to do things than the way I’m was doing it then.

I’ve spent nearly 10 years reading, discussing and thinking about what it means to do things better, to live a better life. I’ve read dozens of books and hundreds of articles on these subjects. And I’ve tried to live what I’ve learned.

Now, I want to share some of what I’ve learned with you. I can’t promise to know it all or to get it all right (honestly, who can say that?) but if you read something that you think make sense, then use it. That’s all I can ask.

When you’re ready, come join me as we learn how to seize this one chance we have.


  • You have one shot at this thing called life. The average life span is roughly 72 years. Let’s say you’ve got a good 40 or 50 more years before you check out, barring some horrible accident. How do you want to spend that time? Why not make the most of it by seeking to live a great life?
  • You define what a great life means. It’s ok if you don’t really know right now. There is no right or wrong. Realize that this is something you’ll be thinking about the rest of your life.
  • You are in charge. It’s your job to pursue your vision of a great life your life great. No one else can do it for you – not your parents, not your friends, not anyone else.
  • Take responsibility for your actions. This means you apologize when you screw up, you don’t blame others for things that happen to you. Complaining is a waste of time. Starting figuring out what to do about it.


Your family.

  • Understand your family’s culture. They grew up in a different time, a different place where children always respected and obeyed their parents, grades and standardized tests were the only way to a decent future and value was placed on “suffer now, enjoy later”. You’d be just like them if you went through what they did.
  • You are between worlds. You came from Asia, but you now live in America where some things are different. You will never be like some of your American friends, but why would you want to? However, you have to adapt yourself to thrive in American culture.
  • Families love each other. Understand that your family loves you and that deep down inside, you love them. But sometimes you might disagree. This is ok. Your family can still give you great advice about a lot of things, but perhaps not everything.


Planning for the future.

  • Don’t plan everything. Don’t let anyone make you plan out your whole life or commit to something before you’re ready. Life RARELY ever goes according to plan – everyone figures things out as they go along or they are just being blind.
  • Embrace change. In the 21st century, people go through an average of half a dozen careers. Things become obsolete fast. New knowledge accumulates quickly. Everything is moving faster. You have got to be able to change: your attitude, your skills, your knowledge.
  • Experiment to find passions. Try different things to find a few things (not just one) that you’re passionate about. Give a strong honest effort. There’s no point in half-assing it. When you are passionate about something you care about it, you learn about it, you talk about it, and you will be willing to invest the effort to get good at it.
  • Assess the market value. Consider whether your passions lead to something that people get paid to do if they are good enough. If you have to be very good, or it doesn’t pay very well, or the definition of “very good” is highly subjective, you might want to think about having some backups as well.
  • Don’t be afraid of failure. As long as you aren’t doing something illegal or highly dangerous, no failure is final. You can always, always bounce back – if you believe in yourself. This is completely a case of positive thinking saving the day.
  • Don’t fear success either. Everyone has the right to live the best life they can.


Necessary skills.

  • Learn how to learn. The way things are going, you’ll need to be learning something everyday for the rest of your life. Enjoy it; get good at it.
  • Learn how to be social. Learn how to meet new people, to strike up conversation, make someone laugh, ATTRACT somebody.
  • Learn where to find resources. Knowledge resources, material resources, and especially human resources. The final one is so important for Asian Americans – having mentors who can help you is critical and building a “network” for the future is so key. You can only work with what you’ve got, but the more you can get, better off you are.
  • Learn how to use and take care of your body. It’s the one you’re stuck with for the rest of your life; it can either help you or hold you back. Pick up a sport or at least stay active. Try to eat well and get enough sleep. It’s worth it. You’ll feel a lot better.
  • Learn how to get organized. Unless you become a hermit, you’re life will get crazy. You will have many things on your plate and be expected to handle them all. I’m not saying you have to be a neat freak but you do have to
  • Master those five and you are good to go. Once you have those skills, you’ll be able to figure out what you need to do in most situations. Usually it involves learning about your situation, figuring out what the best thing to do is, and then doing it.


Final thoughts.

  • You have it so good. You are richer, healthier, and better off than 90% of the world. If you consider past people, you’re better off than 99.9% of all the people that ever lived. Ancient kings had to ride horses, couldn’t watch movies, use working toilets and only got servants fanning them when they were hot. Everyone else’s life was even worse.
  • Luck plays a big part in everyone’s life. Be humble about your success, and don’t get too down about your failures. Just do your best and that’s all you can do.
  • Be kind. Every person, every living being is connected through a special bond. Try to avoid doing harm whenever you can and help out whenever possible.
  • Live in the moment. Life happens in everyday moments. By all means reflect on the past and think about the future. But life is lived in the here and now.
6 Comments leave one →
  1. Bing Guan permalink
    September 10, 2007 5:32 am

    Hi, Jason,

    Thank you very much for investing time to your father’s class. I am a father of three your children and a graduate from your father’s class which is much rewarded. I will introduce your article to my daughters when they getting older.

    I am glad to see you yesterday with a very good recovery from your recent injury.

    You did an excellent job in presentation and answering all the related questions. Would you mind answer one more question?

    Your father mentioned that you did not like learning Chinese when you was in Newton, but took a Chinese class in Stanford. What made you change so much? What would you like to say to your sister Amy (as well as other Chinese kids) regarding learning Chinese? What would you like to say to those parents like your father and myself who want their kids learning more Chinese?

    Thank and wish you the best in all your endeavors.


  2. September 18, 2007 12:18 pm

    First – thanks for the kind words, I really want to make a difference and I’m glad my father and I have been helpful.
    To answer your question – I didn’t really like going to Chinese school as a kid, but I still went anyways, because my parents really wanted me to and because in the back of my mind I knew it was good thing. I also did enjoy it and had some friends in my class, so it wasn’t so unpleasant. I stopped taking classes at Chinese school after my freshman year in high school, but then I was taking Chinese at my high school. I still wanted to stay a part of the community so became a teacher assistant for 2nd graders.
    When I went to college, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to major in freshman year so I took classes in a wide variety of subjects, including Chinese. The class only met 2x a week and was pretty low-key, but it forced me to do character sheets again, and read chinese characters. I don’t keep up with it anymore, but I think my Chinese speaking skills are good enough that if I spent a month in China, they would improve significantly.
    What I would tell Amy is that it is important to speak Chinese simply because it is very useful (and cool) to speak another language, especially the language of your nationality. However, this is not much of a motivator. I think the best way to keep kids learning is to make sure they are enjoying the process, because it’s hard for kids to work towards a distant reward if every Sunday is a very unpleasant day. Allow them to make friends with their classmates and make an effort to help them get together. Class doesn’t seem as bad when you have friends with you, and the kids will be more willing to do the work.

  3. Michelle permalink
    December 6, 2012 6:06 am

    thanks but i still think that i’ll die in middle school especially history class

  4. Going to get through this permalink
    May 28, 2015 12:13 pm

    Hey Jason – don’t even know if you still check this website, but I just wanted to this is the most compact list of all the life lessons I’ve learned so far (as an Asian-American in her early 20s). It’s exactly the reminder I needed as I deal with an unsupportive and angry Chinese dad. Thank you.


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