Change your environment 改變你的環境
A thought popped up while I was doing research. What has sustained me for the past couple of decades? What am I still doing at school in my 40s? Is this what you would call success?
持續努力而成功的因素頗多。很多人會說個人才能（natural talent）或社經地位（socioeconomic status）。網路上也很常看到「要當人生勝利組重新投胎比較快，科科」。在某種程度上，我認同。如果有人說這些與生俱來而不可改的因素無關緊要，無疑是荒謬的。 但我認為一個不常被討論的「成功」因素，是大家可以創造的「成長環境」(an environment of growth)。
There are quite a few factors contributing to what I consider to be “success.” Generally speaking, many would say success depends mostly on one’s innate gifts, socioeconomic status, or just dumb luck. A common saying among Taiwanese netizens is “it’s easier to reincarnate than achieve success through one’s own efforts.” To an extent, I somewhat agree. However, I think one factor not often discussed is an “environment of growth” that we can all create for ourselves.
有些同學可能知道，我在一個遠低於貧窮線（well below the poverty line）的單親家庭中長大（沒錢吃海鮮）。但由於我當時住在美國，很多人便認為我很富裕。然而，對於不得不仰賴政府援助以獲得食物與學校教育的家庭來說，生活是如此地不同。我是學校裡唯二的東亞人 (East Asian)，而且一句英語也不會說。第一天，學校讓一位越南裔的孩子作為我的學伴，因為他們以為我們說的是同一種語言。
As some of my students know, I come from a single-parent family well below the poverty line. Because I had lived in the US, many in Taiwan would assume that my family was well off. Nevertheless, my childhood was quite different from imagined, considering that we qualified for federally assisted meal programs and aid. I was also one of the only two East Asian kids in my school and did not speak a word of English when I first arrived in the late 80s. The school brought a Vietnamese kid to mentor me on my first day because they thought we spoke the same language (cringe).
On a good month, my family survived on a household income of $400, leaving about a hundred to feed our family of four. This was rough even in the 80s. Fortunately, our rent was covered as we helped the owner manage a few of her apartments. School also came naturally to me, and I’ve always been at the top of my class. Barring the language barrier, American public schools probably seem relatively easy to the average Taiwanese student.
I started working at a young age and found my own success by working and putting myself through college. After graduation, I returned to Taiwan and worked for many years in the public and private sectors of education. I share my experiences here not to fish for compliments with a sob story, but to show you that we can all achieve our own brand of success.
I am already quite fortunate, considering I had a full scholarship, no student debt, and could easily find work in Taiwan due to my bilingualism. However, when reflecting back, it was in this period of complacency that I experienced the least amount of growth.
Complacency, I think, was the biggest impediment to growth at the time. I made about NT$80,000 as the senior chief editor of a publishing company. I held onto this job for eight years because, even today, a bachelor could live comfortably on that salary in Taipei. It was only after years of being on autopilot did I decide to pursue my first graduate degree and started to lecture in university.
I had been way too comfortable, way too long, in the same environment, with the same company, with the same colleagues, and same friends even. I did enjoy this period in my life, but I just did not grow in a way that I’d imagined. It was only after I got married did I leave this lifestyle behind and made an attempt to change my environment.
I changed my job, took on new ones, and met new people I could learn from. I started to lecture in universities, taught in and managed a private overseas study center, and consulted ed-tech organizations with my experience in curriculum writing and teaching. By achieving small micro-steps of success each day, I became more confident and took on more tasks. I created several e-courses and started a social media ecosystem, meeting amazing content creators and educators along the way.
Due to my experience and interest in education and (geo)politics, I aim to pursue a career in educational governance and policies. I returned to school for my doctorate, and started working with academics and top political advisors. Through my interaction with these highly accomplished experts, I was forced to move to another level. It was immensely challenging keeping up with them. These people are at the top of their respective fields–every word they say is nuanced yet implicitly packed with meaning. If you are not fully prepared or nod off for just a second, you might as well just pack up and go home. Being borderline clairvoyant, they think three steps ahead and know exactly what’s going on in your head the moment a word is uttered. In a world like this, I felt like an imposter.
我不像多數同儕那樣大學畢業於常春藤名校，也不是來自資源豐富的富裕家庭或官二代。 惟幾年後，跟這些專業人士互動變得更加容易，因為我也繼續學習並從他們的知識與經驗中獲益。回到家後，我會花時間梳理我的會議與討論記錄 (comb over my notes)，檢索我不理解的資訊，並與我理解的內容相連繫。然後我會試著使用它，直到我將新知識內化並成為反射動作。這包含了內容知識（content knowledge）以及和可以自動性應用該知識所需的特定語言 (domain specific language)。
I did not graduate from an Ivy League like many of my peers, nor did I come from a family of means. Yet, after a couple of years, interactions have become manageable as I continue to gain from these experts. I would go home after each meeting and comb over my notes, looking up information I did not understand and connecting it to what I did know. I would then use newly acquired information until it was fully internalized. This includes both content knowledge and the domain-specific language needed to communicate that knowledge.
I am now publishing more academic papers (working on another one now), corresponding with top political advisors, and working on a start-up and social justice projects. I am, I think, improving day by day. But, most importantly, I am content. Long gone is the “I could have done more” feeling plaguing me during periods of complacency.
然而，如果我沒有改變我的環境，沒有想出新的方法來解決人生帶來的新問題，沒有換工作，沒有回到學校，沒有結交新的朋友，這一切都不可能發生。改變一個人的環境、改變一切從來都不是件容易的事。離開自己的家——父母搭建的舒適圈 (comfort zone)——或已從事多年的工作，很是艱難。回到學校，或者在你三四十歲、四五十歲時結交新朋友，也是如此。
None of this would have been possible, however, if I had not changed my environment, if I had not challenged myself, if I had not found a new job, if I had not gone back to school, or if I had not met new people. It is never easy to change one’s environment, to change anything or everything. Leaving one’s home, the comfort zone our parents provided, or the job we’ve held for years is tough. And so is going back to school or even making new friends in our 30s, 40s, or 50s.
There are also financial risks involved, and we could end up in a far worse position. In the end, it’s a gamble we must take if we desire change. If we remain in our comfort zone, well, change will be nearly impossible, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s certainly not for everyone.
I am also aware of how very privileged and fortunate I am, seeing how change has brought more opportunities than challenges. Change may not be for everyone, but for me, changing my environment, achieving small objectives, and connecting with new people have made all the difference.
Rather than bemoaning the platitude, “it’s easier to reincarnate than achieve success through one’s own efforts,” give change a chance. It might just change your life for the better.
Motivation to Learn 學習的動力: http://bit.ly/2RjscPb
How to Set & Achieve Goals 如何制定短期目標: http://bit.ly/2Rdi0aU
10 Must-Knows for a Growth Mindset 成長心態的十大必知: https://bit.ly/3uBVrkE
Should learning always be fun 學習應該充滿樂趣嗎？https://bit.ly/3Bm4t7W
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