When I was young and restless about my future after high school in Hong Kong, I leaned into the headwinds and dropped the "A-bomb" on my mom one night after dinner.
"Mommy, I want to go to America."
I was 14 going on 15 at the time.
"America? Well...your aunt is in California, your uncles are in Michigan. But I don't know anything about America. I don't think I can help you. How are you going to...."
I began to recoil, fearing my big idea was heading downhill fast.
"Ah-mei -- (my nickname) -- why don't you figure it out yourself?"
My father cut in -- sensing that mother was freaking out, hyperventilating more than helping at this point.
"Really? You approve?" I almost jumped out of my chair, I couldn't believe it -- how can it be so easy? -- I thought to myself.
"Go find out. Show me where you want to go, how much it'll cost."
Speaking in Chinese (Cantonese dialect), he put that question to me in a straightforward manner, sounding more like a no-nonsense businessman (which he was) than a protective father that one might expect.
Unlike my mother, my father did not react emotionally but cut to the chase framing my proposition rationally as if it were a business problem that just needed a little research, and some careful calculation about cost and benefit.
He made it look simple, I became hopeful.
Our family is not rich, but my parents would not hesitate to invest their savings in the future of their children. They are strong believers in the value of a good education.
My mother was a schoolteacher, my father did not go to college. But both realized that the choices of universities at home were limited. They agreed with me that early exposure overseas could open up unpredictable opportunities for me. They supported my dream to get out and see the world.
Our conversation that evening was critical in molding my mindset long into my adult life.
It didn't matter at the time that I had yet to finish high school, my father talked to me as if I were a grown-up. He talked with me as if I were smart and responsible enough to plan my future.
His assumption of strength convinced me that I could do this.
And I did -- one step at a time.
I reached out to friends and relatives in America for information.
I reached out to teachers, counselors for inspiration.
I immersed in quiet reading and positive thinking that would sustain my drive to succeed.
Most important of all, I prayed for faith.
My story is not unique.
Many friends I grew up with had also come to America for higher education. Some had to wash dishes and wait tables to help pay for school as soon as they arrived. They too had to lean into the headwinds of adjusting to a different culture and language, working hard to graduate from college, face uncertainty, overcome social stigma and legal obstacles against non U.S. citizens trying to get a job in the new world.
Everything was harder for the outsiders seeking leads and guidance to establish a new life after college -- especially when there was no Internet before the turn of the century.
Now, the Internet has empowered and emboldened a new way of thinking about possibilities.
Technology enables easier and faster communication of information.
Social media enables closer and stronger connection between people of all ethnic and racial backgrounds -- especially among the digital natives.
And so it seems that fortune would favor the bold -- especially the young and the connected, right?
Well, not so fast.
When I saw Katherine Schwarzenegger -- the 24 year-old daughter of Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzengger -- on the NBC "Today Show" last week, promoting her new book "I've graduated, now what?" I was impressed by her unreserved candid confession. She told Matt Lauer that this survival guide was in fact inspired by her own personal experience of fear about uncertainty in life after college.
Her fear is certainly understandable.
The latest jobless data confirm that this generation of millennials have it worse than any generation in 50 years.
But I'm struck by her repeated admission of confusion and anxiety when bombarded by questions like "What are you going to do now?" "Do you have a job yet?" "Are you going to New York?"
Questions like these, while common for anyone at any stage of transition, can compound the social and peer pressure the millennials already face in today's hyper-connected, highly-wired world.
They feel more vulnerable, more accountable, more responsible for each move they make, that might define their future, or their worth.
I certainly remember I had feared that I would be judged by the size of my paycheck or the brand of my employer.
But I didn't have the 24/7 social media to contend with.
Now, from the instant messaging tools such as "WhatsApp" and "WeChat," to the constant sharing of "What's on your Mind?" on Facebook and Twitter, everyone's efforts to find a job, find a date, or find themselves, inevitably inextricably become everybody else's business. Sharing good stories, good photos make you look successful. Silence implies bad news.
Doesn't this make it harder for you when you're young and restless, trying to go figure things out on your own?
In my experience, starting out is always the hardest.
But over the years since my father let me go find my way to America, I've learned a lot of hard lessons. Here are a few:
1) Embrace Uncertainty
Uncertainty is the gateway to discover unpredictable possibilities. Navigate it with a compass that starts with a clear life or career goal at least one year before leaving your comfort zone -- home or college.
Knowing where you want to land -- a faraway place, or a professional field -- makes it easier for you to focus and endure the arduous search process.
2) Befriend Hardship
Hardship for any job searcher, newcomer or outsider is often worst when one fears failure or discomfort. No pain, no gain may sound trite, but so true.
Pain has dragged me deeper into myself, discovering hidden resources of resolve and resilience.
I used to fear failure, but once I decided to befriend it -- it opens my eyes to my limitations, my weaknesses. It forces me to focus on my strength.
3) Cultivate Faith
I embrace uncertainty and befriend hardship after I believe in the power of faith. Faith fuels courage. I see my life as a journey of faith. Every step into the unknown is an adventure to experience the world of possibilities, the wonder of creation, the divinity in humanity.
Faith keeps me humble, and gives me hope.
Faith keeps me going -- every time I take a leap, a net appears.