Jian Ping is the author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning documentary film. Ping was born and raised in China.
Her daughter, Lisa Xia is originally from Changchun, China, but was raised largely between cultures for more than 20 years in the United States. Xia graduated from the University of Illinois and now works in Edelman’s Business + Social Purpose practice, where she specializes in strategy and execution in corporate social responsibility and sustainability programs.
Today they’re tackling the issues of risk and happiness – ideas that are heavily influenced by culture and generation, and finding that they each share very different world views.
Lisa: At 27, I’ve started feeling stagnant, like somehow my energy for life has started to fall victim to the Second Law of Thermodynamics. I’ve always held it as a personal responsibility to live life fully, to experience everything—and I feel like the fight to be as happy as possible is starting to lose zest. Am I starting to settle? Losing energy? Giving up on what life could possibly be for fear of taking risk?
Jian: I think happiness means different things at different age. Now, happiness means inner peace, balance, and engagement to me. It’s a state of contentment that you’re doing meaningful and fulfilling things without seeking external recognition. You are young, so I feel your pursuit of happiness should have external goals. I’d like to see you go after ambitions. Not just look at what makes you happy at the moment.
Lisa: You are thinking about very specific ideas of what these ambitions and goals should be. Because in your mind, some goals count, some don’t.
Jian: Yes… In many ways, you are living the life of my dream—a good education, a free environment, and a job that challenges you and taps into your talent. I want you to take advantage of them and go places in life. You are intelligent, analytical, and creative. I want to see you utilize your talent to achieve something big. I know you don’t care about climbing the corporate ladder, but you should strive for a successful career.
Lisa: No, I didn’t say that, but I’m not interested in climbing a traditional corporate ladder. That framework doesn’t exist anymore.
Lisa: For me, it’s being as alive as I can possibly be. Exponential learning; feeling challenged; experiencing new things that continually push me to grow. Knowing that I’m going for my dreams. This is the time for me to take that risk—to see what it might be the happiest I could be—and if I fail, at least I’ll know that I gave it go.
Jian: Have you ever thought about this dream of yours—it’s alluring simply because you have not been there?
Lisa: But you left your job and life in China when you were 26, looking for your dream in America!
Jian: I was cornered in a dead end job, with no other option but to leave. You’re doing well at work. I’m not against you pursuing your passion. But life is about balance. It requires delayed gratification sometimes. Give it more time. Be patient.
Lisa: I’m going to be 70 in the blink of an eye, and I need to know I pursued every dream I could. I can’t tell if it’s maturity or weariness that’s making the fight for that seem to fade. And I’m scared that it will fade if I keep continuing on this path I’m on.