Anyone grown up in mainland China remembers a catchphrase: 好好學習, 天天向上 (“Study hard, and improve every day“). It’s a slogan in red-paper cutouts plastered to all elementary schoolrooms. The English translation may sound dull and banal, but the original Chinese rings to me still as perky as ever, after all the years. It strikes me that many ideas we adopt by choice later in life can be shifting and fleeting, but anything instilled in us by design from the beginning – they will stay and prevail. There’s probably no escape.
In Western way of pep talk, “You can be anything you want to be” has the same prevailing effect. Although it works only to certain extent, not all the way through. Sooner or later, you’d come to realize you can’t be anything you want to be. The only thing I can be is myself – this has become indubitable a long time ago.
You can change the location, but not the situation; you may change the object, but not the subject; you might even change what you are, but not who you are. I have been trying not to be like my parents, but I will most likely end up being like my parents.
The idea of “好好學習, 天天向上,” however, has a slight advantage over the belief of “You can be anything.” At least there’s no disheartening epiphany awaiting to strike, no glass ceiling to hit upon. You can simply carry on studying hard for as long as you want, trying to improve yourself, even if nothing has ever improved.
I don’t see much improvement occurred to me, after this forever strive to improve myself. I might have changed somewhat over time, but things fundamental always stick around. I am still the most solitary and seclusive person. I remain an overthinker and underachiever. I am not yet the lighthearted, carefree, loving type I would like to be.
In spite of all the inspirational quotes I immerse myself into, prepping myself every morning to be someone else – someone delightful and beautiful, or at least more likeable, I fall right back into my old self before the day is even half over. Steely resolve doesn’t have lasting influence on the innate character.
However, one of the small pleasures in my uneventful life, remains to be imagining that life has infinite possibilities. That the best is yet to come. “You can be anything you want to be,” this little piece of willful thinking conjures up a jolt of newfound interest in life, every time I try it. It infuses me with feel-good hormones. As it turns out, whether I can be anything I want to be doesn’t really matter. The pleasure lies in going about my day as though I could.
“You must know you are pathetic, clinging to such pompous ideas at this age,” I say to myself in amazement, whenever I catch myself thinking. It feels good to know that no amount of pomposity would dampen my faculty to remain reasonable. But you don’t want to go overboard being honest with yourself all the time, so I tell myself, “You can do anything you set your mind to.” The mere thought of it evokes ripples of delight in me, like the chirping of a bird outside the window – chin! chin! chin! video! video! video!
Perfect pieces of exotic fruit are dangling high up on wild vines, luscious and promising. In the end, life comes down to just thinking whatever makes you feel good.