I was thinking back to this time around 5 years ago, when I was writing my Common App essays for the first time. I borrowed some misinterpreted Nietzschean ideas to describe my desire for freedom from my Asian American identity, at least from the gaze under which I perceived my Asian American identity. Although I now see how cringey my Common App essay had been in retrospect, I do think I was onto something back then. It was a desire to shape the life that I wanted. Coming from a upbringing that was largely defined by a desire to win affection from my parents, it was initially challenging to pinpoint this desire for freedom. It was a counterintuitive principle, and it wasn’t until college, when I had significant time by myself to mull over how my past shaped me, that I was able to realize the contradictory desire to have freedom but also to not have freedom.
I wouldn’t characterize it like trauma, as Freud would, but there is a certain element of permanence that childhood experiences have on adulthood. Navigating these challenges, I have come to realize, amounts to a call for freedom. We want to escape our past because we want to be the force that shapes our future.
If the goal all along was for freedom, what constitutes achieving that freedom? There is an industry out there to making us feel like we have more freedom than we actually do. From mindfulness practitioners, self-help authors, and motivational speakers, there is so much in society created from this desire to feel like we have this freedom we don’t actually have, although I would question how little freedom we claim we have or don’t have.
So what constitutes achieving that freedom we claim to want but do not have? What is the actual will to live a free life? Is it “being water” like Laozi would want us to do, or is it some other Aristotelian virtues that are able to guide us to a good life?
I think there are two consistencies in my life that act as opposing forces: my interest in finance and my interest in writing. In Chinese dualism, these forces would be be diametrically opposite. Unlike Laozi, however, I don’t considered these forces within individuals to be necessary opposite and causing of each other. They are caused by external events that propel me in one direction or the other. I used to believe that I would have to choose one or the other eventually in my life; I could stay in finance all my life and try to become a portfolio manager, or I could risk it for the biscuit and shoot my shot as a writer. I think I now realize that there really isn’t a necessary conclusion to this dilemma. They can exist in harmony. Even more, it is probably necessary to have these forces acting in opposition to each other my life. First there was one, and then there was two.