This I Believe

Michelle - Oakland, California
Entered on October 15, 2007

My family doesn’t know what to do with one of my cousins. He immigrated to the United States as a student but never received his AA. He rents a room, works a minimum-wage job at a pharmacy, and plays video games. He has, in short, no ambition, and this drives my relatives–all first-generation immigrants–crazy.

“He could at least go to school and become an actual pharmacist,” says my uncle, who started his own business ten years ago, selling doors and windows. Now he and my aunt are semi-retired. My aunt buys chandeliers of varying shapes and sizes to decorate their huge home in the hills, and they just redid the pool last winter. They returned from a cruise to Alaska last week, and next week they’re going to Vegas.

“He could at least get a job playtesting or designing video games or something, if he loves them so much,” grumbles my other cousin, who is senior partner in an accounting firm. She has a corner office on the eighth floor of a high-rise, downtown, and just bought a new car.

“It’s like he’s okay with mediocrity,” complains my precocious nine-year-old niece. When she grows up, she wants to be president of the United States or a movie star. Mostly, she told me with the frankness of the young, she wants to be famous and make lots of money.

“But think about it this way,” my father said last year, during my last visit to China, “he seems happy, doesn’t he?”

I believe he is.

Some of us are happy working as line cooks and writing music on the side. Some of us are happy as hair dressers, giving people new personalities to go with their new haircuts. Some of us are happy as teachers, watching our students go on to achieve greater and better things than we ever did. Some of us are happy as housewives, experimenting with that perfect roast. And some of us are happy just to go to work, come home, and play World of Warcraft.

We’re told to keep climbing, and that someday we’ll achieve the American Dream: a house, a career, affordable health insurance, a 401K, a stock portfolio, power lunches, a corner office. We’re told we won’t ever, ever be happy otherwise. I believe that some of us can be. I believe that some of us are.