The Two Types Of Success In Asian Cultures

How do Asians define success? What does success mean to an Asian person?

For different Asians living in different parts of the world, success crops up in various forms.

Success in general is hard to define. For some, success is coming in first in class or landing that dream job. For others, it is finishing an entire 12-inch pizza by themselves. But to put it simply, success is considered personal achievements, achievements sometimes influenced by society’s expectations .

Asians living in Asia and Asians living in Western countries usually define success differently. Drawing: Mabel Kwong

Asians living in Asia and Asians living in Western countries usually define success differently. Drawing: Mabel Kwong

Long-held Asian beliefs and customs are at very the heart of livelihoods in many parts of Asia. The mentality of success here, also usually shared by the older Asian generation, tends to be steeped in Asian traditions.

Success for many Asians in Asia often means finishing that law, medicine, business or science degree.

Getting a job in one of these fields. Or a job in an air-conditioned, sky-high office building.

Getting hitched at a certain age. With someone of the same race.

Completing a recreational qualification such as a Grade 8 piano certificate.

This “traditional Asian success” in this sense is about gaining formal qualifications, attaining status recognition signified by a signed piece of paper, and in essence is quite self-attention grabbing.

Spending time doing something that does not guarantee an official statement of some sort in return is often looked down upon in Asia and by many Asian baby boomers. When I was hosting radio programs on SYN 90.7FM, my mum always asked me, “Does anyone tune in? Are you hosting next week? You have a Maths exam next week, you really should stay home. Stay home.”

Perhaps many Asians in Asia are pressured by the older generation to uphold typical Asian ideals, to make the family proud, and so that is how they think of success. Perhaps many just go along with the flow.

On the flipside, success for Asians living in Western countries can deviate quite a bit from the ideas of “traditional Asian success”. Many Asians in the West, especially those born here and/or who have lived here for an extended period of time, carry on their shoulders conflicted Asian-Western identities and rarely feel a sense of belonging wherever they are. Asians in this part of the world are also exposed to diverse, non-Asian perspectives which might very well influence their definition of success, “modern Asian success.”

Success for Asians in Western countries can mean having the chance to pursue creative artsy pursuits and passions.

Being single for as long as they want to.

Helping the less fortunate for nothing in return.

At least that is how I measure success as an Asian Australian living in Melbourne. Other Asian Australians might very well think otherwise and favour “traditional Asian success”. Who is to say this cannot be so?

“Modern Asian success” manifests ambiguously in ways almost naked to the eye; for Asians in Western countries it may be about finding personal self-assurance and not finally having that particular formal qualification bestowed upon you. Personally, as a Chinese person living in a predominantly Western-centric Australia, I see success as recognising my heritage. A process of self-acceptance, one of self-belief while looking out for the best in others.

Success to me is recognising that I have dual identities – I take pride in upholding Asian values such as not talking over my elders while at the same time supporting the “Aussie” Australian way of life.

Coming to terms that I neither completely agree with the typical traditional Asian mentality nor the Western mindset. And that I am not banana either.

Confidently identifying myself as Asian Australian.

Finally being able to proudly call myself Australian.

Talking to, and perhaps becoming friends with, Australians of different races.

Helping these people whenever I can.

Above all having the courage to break away from the Asian stereotype no matter what those close to me say and just be who I want to be.

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10 thoughts on “The Two Types Of Success In Asian Cultures

  1. Amen. What a wonderful post. And so true. I’m not Asian (obviously), but having lived there for three years and dated a local Hong Kong guy, I know that what you say is true. It is good to have tradition, but good to see that some from the younger generation are beginning to not stick to tradition for tradition’s sake. A balance is needed for relevance in this ever-changing world.


    • I agree. In this changing, capitalist, fast-paced and above all crazy world that we live in today that balance is the key to staying sane and living a life with purpose. Balancing tradition and modern ideas/beliefs is no easy feat. Sometime, someplace, somehow, in some situation, tradition and the modern will be at loggerheads with each other. But when that happens, I guess it’s best to roll with the punches and look at what lies ahead.

      Thanks for reading Jess!


  2. I’ve been conforming all my life and I hate it. My goal now is to isolate myself from society and live by myself in rural Victoria.


    • Conforming to stereotypes and striving towards being brainy in Asian cultures is still very much prided upon today (within Asian families). But that’s not to say Asians can’t be proactive and step out of the typical stereotypical mould and chase their dreams. Sometimes, traditional Asian values do have their benefits – e.g. studying hard, because studying hard will almost certainly guarantee us a livelihood. Perhaps it’s about finding a balance between believing in tradition and having faith in new ideas. Both have benefits in different contexts.


  3. Re: Your above comment… Nah. That’s not true! You write really well. Your articles just tend to be a of a different nature than mine. I find them fascinating due to my experiences in Asia. Write on!


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