Although Singapore is a much Westernized country, most of us are brought up with strong Asian values. Our teens may wear skimpy denim shorts that barely cover their butt cheeks and hum to the tune of Despacito (my 10 months old daughter’s current favourite song) but they’ll refrain as much as their teenage hormones allow from talking back to their elders and respectfully remember traditions like to be home on time for family round table dinners and exchange their usual streetwear for something formal during Chinese New Year.

That being said, sometimes I wish I can resist the Asian values in me. As a manager in a multinational company, I was required to mingle and network with plenty of folks from different backgrounds and cultures. As an Asian, we are taught to respect hierarchy and never raise our opinions in a public situation.

That has become many demises of my ex-colleagues’ careers.

It seems to the Western world if you don’t stand up for what you believe in, you have no principles and if you don’t voice out your thoughts, you are a doormat. I survived to see the daylight because I was lucky enough to have a mentor who advised me to forget my roots, abandoned my hesitation and debate with my heart.

With that valuable experience, it was easier to transit to freelancing. Because as a noobie freelancer, I couldn’t choose my clients. I couldn’t choose to work only with people I am comfortable with. And because of my exposure to working with different cultures, I wasn’t unfamiliar with different slangs and working habits. Like working with the Texan client, I’m used to his brash and loud instructions, understanding that it is the way he is used to doing business in his culture, nothing against me. I love working with Australian clients as they hate to micro manage and love it when you step out of your comfort zone to do more. With the mainland Chinese, I need to listen more, ask less and produce as exactly as what they wanted, no additional creativity.

However, as much as I am transformed into someone who has no qualms in pushing forward my ideas, debate you to death when I know I am right and not afraid to call out bullying at my workplace, I still have an Asian value that I can’t shake it off.

That is being the ever perfection in me.

As an Asian child, I was taught to only submit work that is 100% perfect in the least amount of time. It’s easy to submit perfect work when it doesn’t require any creativity hence when it comes to writing, it is in the eyes of the beholder. Just like a painting, words are a form of art when it is string beautifully and provoke the emotions of the reader. When it comes to the eyes of the reader, it can be an interesting, meaningful article or it can be a total waste of time.

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Despite knowing that, the perfection Asian me still get upset when my work is rejected and spend numerous of hours perfecting my work. All this under a fixed tight deadlines. The ‘never lose never give up’ mentality in Asian is not at all a good thing. While it encourages us to push forward in life and not to give up easily, it also blinded us from learning to let go and that sometimes things are meant to be the way they are. It’s all about striking a balance.

Being persistent is not a virtue when you don’t know when to stop pursuing or when pursuing becomes an obsession. This is why you see Asians take it upon themselves personally when they have a setback at work. They become stressed, depressed and even suicidal that they are not good enough for the society, as evident in the ongoing work suicides in Japan.

And as for me, learning to let go is the first step to freedom.

I know some of you are perfectionists like me. So how do you suppress the urge to go about seeking perfection? Please share your tips with me right in the comments below.


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18 replies on “Iron Cast Asian Values In My Career

  1. “Asian” values have their strong points and weaknesses, and you’ve described them well here. Discipline and persistence are important, but so are open-mindedness, creativity and trying different ways. I’m not a perfectionist by any means but I hope I can be more disciplined.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes, that’s right. A lot of Asian places, like Hong Kong, like to talk about being innovative and creative, but as long as the society retains a top-down, hierarchical culture like in schools and the workplace, I don’t think that can really happen. I’m not saying Asians as individuals can’t be creative (of course they can), but as a society as a whole, I don’t think they can emulate the West.

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        1. That’s a good observation. Tied down by invisible values, we can never feel free to explore our own limitations. The Asians reach for the stars but the westerns conquer the space. I never felt so free to do what I want until I started working under a Western management and I was told the first day “we didn’t hire a robot so don’t think and act like one.” It was liberating!

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          1. That’s a good analogy about the stars and space. and Asians and the West and I agree with that. I have heard other Asians say similar things about their work experience, even to the point of saying they would never work anywhere but in a Western firm or multinational!

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          2. I wouldn’t say I won’t work anywhere else. You always learn something in a different company. It’s a refreshing challenge as well to see if you can impart a little of yourself to influence the culture in the workplace.

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          3. True, being able to learn and to make an impact would make for a rewarding experience, regardless of the type of workplace. For me, I’ve worked mostly in multicultural workplaces and I prefer those by far, since the one “local” workplace experience I had, which I wrote about a couple of months ago, did not turn out to be very good.

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          4. Can you please give me the link to the piece you wrote about? Can’t seem to locate it on your blog. I would love to read about your experience and perhaps gain a different insight from yours. 🙂

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    1. Thank you. In a way, we push ourselves hard but if we do it in a positive competitive spirit, we grow and improve. The other way around, we will spiral into depression because we are always doing the chasing.

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  2. I am by no means a perfectionist! In fact, I am scorned by my ”kiasu” friends whether I effortlessly beat them in exams or when I am at the bottom of class. I suppress the urge to be a perfectionist by telling jokes. I appease them by saying, “you won’t have the chance to showcase your glory as a top student if I put my mind to work hard!” (^.^)V

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