I was a pretty lucky kid. Why? Because I had two parents that showed me the secret to happiness – not in what they said, but in what they did. My dad wanted me to get an MBA so I would make a good living. My mom told me I could follow my heart if I wanted to (and go into theatre), but if I was poor and starving, would I truly be happy? Yet, the story of their lives taught me a very different lesson.
When my dad was growing up in Hong Kong, everyone was encouraged to become an engineer. They were told it was the surest way to a steady, stable career. He came to America to get his PhD in Civil Engineering and got his first job at the City of Seattle. But for him, it was just a job. His passion however, was collecting art. He loved Asian antiques in particular. On an engineering salary, we lived comfortably but definitely not extravagantly so he could only afford to collect a few pieces at a time. When he’d see another piece he wanted, he’d have to sell off some of his collection to get the new item. Eventually, he had built up quite a clientele of collectors who were purchasing from him regularly. When our house became too small to showcase all the artwork these clients bought from him, he eventually bought a warehouse, then a storefront, and the next thing you know, he was making more money from his passion of buying and selling Asian art than from engineering, so he quit his day job and did what he loved full time.
My mom adored plants and gardening. She had grown up wanting to be a botanist. But her dad told her botanists didn’t make any money and wanted all his kids to become doctors. She ended up getting her Masters in biochemistry to make him happy, and eventually worked as a biochemist on various research teams at the University of Washington Hospital. She hated her job. For her, it was literally something she did to help our family make ends meet. She couldn’t wait until the day she retired. But all throughout my childhood and to this day, my mom would spend all of her spare time out in her garden. Our house was filled with plants she had grown from cuttings. She finally retired a few years ago and she’s never been happier because now she can spend all day gardening.
So, despite what my parents told me to do, I decided to do what they taught me to do by their example. My dad was never more successful than when he was doing his self-created dream job. My mom was never happier than when she stopped doing what she thought she was supposed to do and started doing what she wanted to do. I followed my passion and went into theatre. And I have never regretted my choice. Thanks to my parents I didn’t have to waste forty years of my life doing a job I disliked and only really start living after I retire. I’ve been able to build a career for myself that excites me every day, where I feel like I am making a difference.
I know as parents, we want our children to be happy. Maybe the best way to do that is to give them the freedom to discover what that really is.
Kathy Hsieh is an award-winning actor, writer & director and is a Co-Founder of SIS Productions. Kathy also works for the Mayor’s Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs and you can catch her regularly on Seattle Channel’s Art Zone In Studio with Nancy Guppy plus the occasional film, commercial or TV guest spot.