My mother is Chinese. American-born Chinese, but Chinese nonetheless. This means that she’s inherited some (though thankfully not all) of the stereotypical push, push, push for achievement. She loves to boast about her children’s accomplishments.
On the back of one of her children’s books she lists her qualifications: “…is the mother of three National Science Fellows…” Yeah, Mom, and what are your other four children? Chopped liver?
I can’t say how frustrating this makes life sometimes. For example, when I took the GRE I was pretty darn impressed with my score: 800 Q, 790 V. Who wouldn’t be happy with that? But then my mom called to ask what I got–and her reply was something like, “Only ONE 800? Chrissy and Jim both got two.” (Note: they took the test back before the analytical writing section, so they got to do the old analytical section instead.) Then she added, parenthetically, “Courtney won’t tell me what she got for some strange reason.” Ummm, yeah. I can guess. Maybe she got “only one” 800!
It seems like whatever I do in my professional life, it will never be good enough for my mom. After all, what can I do that will make me stand out? If I do something great, one of my siblings has already done it. Get a PhD from well-known institution? (Jim, Harvard) Become a tenured professor at a top-10 ranked school in my field? (Chrissy just got tenure at the #3 school in her field last year.) Work for a famous person? (Courtney clerked at the Supreme Court.)
I have to admit that, when considering fellowships, I *almost* chose NOT to apply for the NSF–because I knew that, if I got it, I would just be “National Science Fellow #4” to my mom.
But then I mentioned my feelings to SL. He’s a very outspoken guy, so I fully expected him to say, “What a BS reason not to apply!!” But instead he said: “UnlikelyGrad, you of all people should know how much work and grief goes into raising a child. Your mom worked her butt off to get you to turn out the way you did. If you can do something that gives her a little bit of pleasure, do it. She deserves it.”
Needless to say, I felt a bit petty. And I applied for the NSF.