My dad growing up told me that you know work hard, get a good job, you know, make money. Nobody has fun working and then you can have fun with the money you make. That’s a very Chinese mentality. And he straight told me, he was like, pursue the dreams, that’s like, that’s for homeless people. Artists? You want to be an artist or you want to be homeless? You know, like, that’s the same thing. Artistry and homelessness is like the same word to him.
You might know Jimmy O. Yang as a stand-up comedian or, more likely, you recognize him as Jian-Yang on the HBO series Silicon Valley. I didn’t really know him as either until about a week ago, since I’ve never watched the show. Instead, I discovered him via YouTube. Go figure. Because apparently that’s how the world works now.
And while I found myself nodding my head to what he had to say above, I don’t think it’s really fair to say it’s exclusively “a very Chinese mentality.” I’d argue it’s much more of a generational thing. This idea of “pursuing your passions” or “doing what you love” for a living is a relatively modern invention. For nearly every generation that came before us, a job was simply a means of putting food on the table. And for so many people all around the world for so many years, that job was probably that of a farmer.
In a slightly more contemporary context, it’s not really about finding what you enjoy doing as much as it is about finding what you’re good at doing. And then, as Jimmy O. Yang puts it above, you can “have fun with the money you make.” Or use it to support your family. Whatever. As I said last week, my parents got into the restaurant business because my dad was a cook and that’s what he knew how to do.
This put a roof over our heads, food on the table (sometimes from the restaurant), and a Nintendo in the living room.
Doing what you love doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy or you’re going to love every minute of it. Dealing with all the logistics and administration of running a small business like mine is not fun. I don’t particularly enjoy the sales and marketing aspect of it either, though that certainly can appeal to other people. But I work through it, because I genuinely enjoy writing.
For “artists” like Jimmy O. Yang, I’m sure that bombing on stage is not at all an enjoyable experience, nor is facing a never-ending sea of rejection as you hop from audition to audition. It’s not easy.
I don’t fault people for taking on jobs and pursuing careers as a means to pay the bills. Indeed, that’s what the vast majority of people do. You leverage what you know and what you’re good at into a reasonable comfortable living. If you were to take a page out of Mark Cuban’s book, you should then follow your effort first, because “when you become good at doing something, you will enjoy it more.” Maybe.
Here’s where I stand. You need to do what you love, even if it’s something you do on the side. Even if it’s for no money. You owe that to yourself. Work your regular 9-to-5 during the week, whatever that may be, and then hit up the stand-up comic scene on the weekends. Or join a band. Or start a vlog on YouTube. Pursue your passion.
Follow Jimmy O. Yang on Twitter where he’s @FunnyAsianDude. He’s also got a new book out called How to American: An Immigrant’s Guide to Disappointing Your Parents; the foreword is by Mike Judge of King of the Hill and Beavis and Butthead fame, so you know it’s good. And here’s Jimmy in his recent guest appearance with the Fung brothers on YouTube, the video from which the quote at the top was taken. I love Hong Kong style breakfast too.