26 Lessons Every South Asian Kid Learns While Crossing Into Adulthood
As another year around the sun swings by, part of me feels like the size of the shift I’ve been feeling lately wouldn’t have happened in “normal times.” I don’t know about you, but this pandemic has aged me mentally.
For reference, lockdown started when I was 24. Last week, I turned 26 (and I live in Canada, so things aren’t exactly “back to normal” yet). Maybe I’m just being dramatic, and everyone actually grows this much in their mid-20s. But when I think about it, nobody’s talking much about the significant changes in these transition years.
While some say your 30s are the new 20s, defining adulthood looks different to everyone. As South Asian diaspora kids, our fight to claim adulthood is uniquely shaped by the struggle to balance our collectivist community with our individualistic society. Adulthood is about more than just making round roti’s, buying a house, getting married and having kids.
Personally, many South Asian cultural markers of adulthood feel disconnected from how I’ve come to define growth (especially as a woman). So, I thought it would be nice to write a new list of the realizations and experiences that have made me feel like I’m #adulting.
First things first, I’ve realized that our cultural identities are just as fluid as any other identity we claim. We live in a globalized world. Being half South Asian or fresh from the motherland doesn’t give anyone quantitative leverage over others regarding just how South Asian they are. Colonization happened to all of us — no matter where on Earth we reside.
Just like your thoughts and opinions, style is something you own. This one is for everyone who struggles with any kind of body dysmorphia that leaves you dressing like a box you can hide in. I see you. I was you. ‘Finding clothes you like that fit you, not clothes you have to fit in to’ is a saying that I think should apply to both traditional and western apparel.
You can talk to strangers...just don’t give your data to them. Social media has become a giant shopping mall, and every app is a terrible but sometimes useful personal shopper. If you wouldn’t want your personal life on display at your local retail mall (unless you’re a model or something), why would you let your unique identifiers run loose online?
Every picture from every event is NOT meant to live on social media. I love cataloging significant life events online as much as the next person. Still, unless you’re super famous and everyone’s asking for more photos, your followers will thank you for photo dumping the key images and videos into a carousel that everyone (including yourself) can go back to.
The best memories happen when you’re not looking at the camera. If you’re ever at a concert again, spend some time admiring the crowd in those moments where everyone’s singing in unison. I know they say photos and videos from incredible experiences last a lifetime, but so do the goosebumps you get from staying present and actively capturing memories with your senses.
You define what quality looks, sounds, smells, tastes and feels like. I recently read that your 20s are about quantity while your 30s are about quality. As South Asian diaspora, I think our path to finding quality is often hindered by people-pleasing and imposter syndrome, especially because our parents tend to spend so much of their time investing in what our image looks like to everyone else. But how you individually define quality and move away from doing what others expect of you is another thing therapy can help you figure out. What do quality friendships, relationships, food, experiences, apparel and everything in between look like to you?
At some point, you’ll realize that we all need therapy. Including yourself. Controversial opinion, but it needs to be said: this message is especially for straight brown men. Therapy isn’t paying someone to listen to your problems. It’s a space where the side of you that feels forced to hide can come to life for you to see its worth. It’s an investment that gives you what no university degree can: identity. I’ve seen many brown women and members of the LGBTQI+ community investing in their self-worth... but in a society built for couples to thrive, we need to encourage more brown men to do the same.
Observing your emotions is a habit worth cultivating. I’ve been through periods of my life where I impulsively acted on my emotions, and I’ve been through periods where I’ve felt nothing for years. Only when I stopped to ask what my rather ‘difficult’ feelings of anger, sadness, frustration, anxiety, and stress were trying to tell me did I see how the answers were so obviously glaring back at me.
In South Asian homes, independence is usually never a handout. Actively facing your fears helps. This one is for all my brown girls who feel stuck and waiting for their REAL lives to begin. Newsflash: your real life is already happening before your eyes! There’s power in making the first move, and honestly, the climb isn’t always as scary as you think it’s going to be. Disclaimer: I’m also 100% still working on this myself right now.
Your parents likely still don’t know what they’re doing, and you have to come to terms with that. It’s been years, and you’d think they’d have finally figured things out but NOPE. Just the fact that you’re reading this lets me know that you’re actively trying to figure out how not to become this way, so kudos to you!
Your parents’ cooking also won’t be here forever. ~ Don’t let outdated gender stereotypes get in the way of you making food that tastes like home. ~ Garlic, ginger, onion, chilli, turmeric, cloves, jeera, rose scent etc. Stock your pantries and write down the recipes that have never been written down before. You’ll desperately need them one day.
Cutting off access to you doesn’t make you a bad person. If you’re thinking about someone particular while reading this, just know that sometimes it’s the best thing you can do for them too, no matter how much it hurts.
Trying to learn about your parents’ past can help you understand their decisions and behaviours when you were a child. This also applies to other relationships, but I wouldn’t recommend going around and dissecting everything and everyone in the conversation. People don’t really like that.
It’s okay to grieve the expectations of others you had that will likely never come to life. As relationships with friends, family and romantic partners evolve, some of them force you to take off your rose-tinted glasses. People aren’t always who we thought they are, and sometimes we just have to let them be a letdown. It is what it is.
Your inner child needs playtime. Which means you, the adult, need to make time for play. If you grew up in western school systems, let’s just say there’s a reason they used to break our days up into chunks of learning and chunks of playtime in school. Also, if you’re not in touch with your inner child, you know who can help? A therapist! ;)
Cultivate a nutritious diet that works for you now and will likely work when you’re 40. Also, get your blood work done if you can. It’s only when I completely ignored North American diet trends and started focusing on my actual body and what I eat in a day that I realized what I needed to work on to make myself healthier. Now it’s just about being consistent.
Everyone talks about growth, but no one talks about maintenance. When your parents tell you to eat kerela and drink milk so you’ll become strong and healthy...but now you’re finished growing, and you’re not even sure if those things helped. Yeah, that means it’s time for you to do routine maintenance... in every aspect of your life.
Escapism begets answering one question: what are you trying to escape? Hmm...
Listening to people who have studied where you are in life can ease a bit of the overwhelm. Though Meg Jay is not South Asian, I think her TED Talk regarding the best way to spend your 20s is relevant to South Asian diaspora millennials. I found this when I became obsessed with self-help books and articles because I was so consumed in my anxiety around not doing enough to get to where I wanted to be in the future. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still obsessed with my personal growth, but I try not to display it because literally, nobody but me (and my amazing therapist) cares.
Your relationship with your chosen family will ebb and flow. That doesn’t mean they’re dead and gone. Everyone is on their own path. And each of our paths has little side paths that run alongside the main track. Some people stay on the main path overall, while others cross paths on the side now and then.
The right chosen family will never punish you for leaning on them (as long as you’re available to do the same when they need you). As well, learning to give a genuine compliment that’s not about how your friend’s existence benefits you is crucial to repairing any rifts. Especially if you’ve recently let a situation get the best of you and affect your friend in the process.
Main character plots are only linear in fictional stories. You are also a side character in everyone else’s story. With that in mind, what softer qualities should your main character energy have when interacting as a side character?
There’s no such thing as ‘the one.’ Every romantic relationship takes persistent effort. Nothing forces you to realize that love requires humility, compromise, and the ability to let go of control the way genuine romantic love does. Sometimes we find our person before we find ourselves. Sometimes we find ourselves and realize it’s time to leave the person we thought was ‘the one.’ There’s no right way to be in a relationship, and there’s no wrong time to start a new relationship. Everyone is a work in progress.
You don’t have to want the same kind of relationship or lifestyle your parents had. We live in a completely different time where, unfortunately, many of the idealized luxuries of the past are no longer available to our generation. Plus, whether or not your relationship is #goals is between what you and your partner decide the goalposts look like anyway.
When you finally get to a stable enough place in life, the real joy comes from helping others. I love helping people solve problems, but I wasn’t really in a space to utilize my skills and resources fully until now. The great thing is, you don’t have to be donating to charity to help someone or make their day. Sometimes it’s just about encouraging someone to keep going when they’re stuck or showing them a tool they didn’t know about before. Every single one of us has a curated feed of information based on our likes, needs, wants desires. There’s tons of helpful information waiting to be exchanged.
Lastly, people are too busy dealing with (or running away from) their own problems. Don't let anybody shame you into thinking people care THAT much. I’ve had my fair share of really shameless behaviour that I thought everyone would remember forever, to the point where I’ve even shamed myself (what a vicious cycle our cultural norms have set us up for, eh?). But at 26, shamelessness is something I have greater control over after experiencing extreme emotional highs and lows. Plus, I’ve got a wide range of stories to tell now and an idea of how modestly shameless I want my future memories to be. The moral of the story is, do your best AND your worst (without intentionally hurting others in the process).
Sometimes being a child of immigrants forces us into stressful behavioral patterns that deplete us, and we forget that our parents struggled so that we could take pause to enjoy life without always being in a haste.
Despite all the hardship of the last year and a half, this pandemic happened at a time when I was already internally begging the universe to slow down so I could pause from the productivity machine to acknowledge how quickly, painfully and beautifully my life has transitioned thus far.
Looking back on the last near-decade of my life, I’ve deduced that every year in your 20s is just the wild wild west of mental stability with no universally defined start or endpoint.
In the span of three years alone, I’ve seen people around me go from partying like a frat kid to having plants as pets and pets as children (lol imagine affording to take care of a human child). Some friends went from having four roommates to living entirely on their own. Others left school to start their new jobs and are now leaving their jobs to go back to school.
There are no actual rules to aging other than being kind to yourself and others.
You become an adult just as quickly as you became a teenager, and if you’re vulnerable and lucky enough to reminisce while you’re still in your 20s, you get to see the beauty of being healthy enough to feel alive.
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Tags: Diaspora, Adulting, 20s, Life Lessons, Relationships, Opinion