Filial Piety & Overcompensation • Why Skyholders, Money Trees and Immigrant Children Are Burnt Out
Ever since I was little, my granddad and dad would call me 心肝寶貝搖錢樹, as a term of endearment. It translates from Chinese to “sweetheart money tree.”
I had no idea what those words meant until my first burnout at 18, from working quadruple overtime to earn scholarships and internships so that I could attend university (first woman in both my maternal and paternal lineages to ever go to college, woot!), while financially supporting my family.
Overcompensation for Being Born Not Enough
You see, I was born the eldest, but I came out as the culturally disappointing, lesser and wrong gender. Even though I was born in Canada (thank f*ck!) and not dumped in a river somewhere under the Chinese One-Child Policy, I was not relieved of my “eldest son” duties. I had to over-compensate for my existence, which was "not enough" and lacking from day 1.
So I became:
- My parents’ retirement savings account, their “money tree" (you shake it and money falls out) 🎩
- My mom’s emotional rock and the best husband she never had at age 3 🎩
- A free nanny at age 5 🎩
- A marriage counsellor, family mediator, French-English / French-Chinese translator of legal documents at age 6 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩
- A co-parent (when I was still a child myself), early childhood educator, the best wife my dad never had, check writer, dishwasher, housekeeper, washer / dryer, lawn mower, leaf raker, snow shoveler, errand boy, mold scrubber, pack rat house organizer, by age 9 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩
- A mental health therapist, communication coach, handyman, power tool user, home renovator, car tire changer, VCR fixer, by age 12 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩
- Straight-A student, perfect daughter, role model student who swept all the first place awards so that her parents wouldn't be ashamed in front of their friends, family banker, computer teacher, math tutor, English tutor, French tutor, tech support, social event organizer (with no budget), and travel agent, by age 14 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩
- Power of attorney, legal representative, tuition savings fund for my younger siblings, chauffeur, “soccer mom,” plumber, electrician, by the time I legally turned 18 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩
- Tax accountant, financial advisor, real estate investor, estate manager, prosperity consciousness teacher, having funded my entire post-secondary education by myself, put $10,000 toward buying a family car (because the old one didn't have heat in -35C Canadian winters), put $25,000 toward the down-payment of a new family home, won so many national and international awards for community leadership and women in STEM that I made it to the Top 20 under 20 list, by age 24, all before even turning a quarter century old. 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩
- I even bought my dream home by the beach out of my own pocket, a few months after my 29th birthday. 🎩
But even so, I was still not enough. I was constantly told that I wasn't enough. So living in over-compensation mode was all I ever knew.
Have you allowed yourself to notice how you’ve been over-compensating for your existence?
becoming a parent before Ever Being a child
On top of wearing all those hats and holding up all those skies, I also became:
- the best mom I never had (I was the giver of maternal love, not the receiver. I role modeled to my mom what self-worth, courage and sovereignty look like.) 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩
- the best dad I never had (I was the provider and protector, not the receiver. I role modeled to my dad what consciousness, emotional intelligence and leadership look like.) 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩
- the wisest grandmother and most awakened grandfather I never had 🎩 🎩
- My own best protective husband that I never had 🎩
- My own best nurturing wife that I never had 🎩
- My own best teacher, healer, guide, coach and mentor that I never had 🎩
During that first burnout, I was admitted to the paediatric wing, since I hadn’t yet turned 19.
I remember the sorrow and compassion on the faces of the paediatric nurses, as they watched me set my red Snoopy watch to 5:30AM every morning to cram for midterms, while barely able to lift my arms, with my IV drip tangled in mountains of advanced calculus, honours science and organic chemistry notes and books.
After a swarm of tests, doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong. It’d be another 12 years before I'd learn about somatic symptoms and how emotional turmoil often manifests through the body. It wasn't random coincidence that a teenage girl was admitted to the ER with paralyzed arms... which gave out from holding up all the skies.
For a teeny tiny nano-second, I could tell that the paediatric nurses’ hearts were breaking for me with a look of, “She became a parent before she ever got to be a child.” But I had no time for “feelings” since I had 5 mouths to feed, 3 tuitions to fund (mine and my younger siblings’), 3 sets of retirement funds to fund (mine and my parents’). And I only had a six year shrinking window to accomplish aaaaaall of that, by my dad’s retirement.
Have you ever been spewed out into the cold, harsh, lonely world, forced to become a parent (or your own parent) before you ever got to be a child?
What would it be like to allowed yourself to feel that?
These mountains that you are carrying, you were only supposed to climb.
― Najwa Zebian
Money Tree, Golden Goose and Grapes
When that six year window shrunk and my dad retired, though I bought the family a car, contributed $20,000 toward the downpayment of a new home, and thousands more to manage a bi-coastal relocation and comfortable snow-free retirement for my parents, it was still faaaaaar from good enough. I was never once given a “thank you” or pat on the head.
One night, as I stared at the family financial spreadsheets, that nano-second of heartbreak on the paediatric nurses faces unleashed itself, full force, blasting out of my own heart. I couldn't outrun feeling the truth and damage of living as a “money tree” anymore.
It shattered me to realize that I was nothing more than the goose that laid the golden eggs. I traded in my childhood only to live as a "money tree" that you shake so that money would fall out. The more vigorously you shake it, the more money is supposed to fall out.
It was such a viscerally painful and rude awakening to the marionette show that was my life. And it plunged me into a deep, almost year-long, depression.
The greatest burden a child must bear is the unlived life of its parents.
― Carl Jung
It turns out, all this has a name. On one level, it's called “eldest daughter syndrome,” where you’re conditioned to be everything, to everyone, every second of every day, or you have no worth.
On a more insidious and punishing level, especially if you are of immigrant descent, it's called "filial piety," where you're unconsciously conditioned to over-compensate for the unlived life of our parents, community, country and/or culture at large, to actualize their every dream and make up for their every lack.
Filial Piety dictates that unless we show material, financial and statuary proof that over-compensates for our predecessors' lack in skin color, language fluency, degree equivalency, financial assets, and/or citizenship, we have no worth.
Filial Piety sounds like a very unconscious collective parent that finger wags, “You must make our immigration worthwhile, and then some, or you are less than nothing!”
Add to that list all additional skies that your holding up, such as:
- parenting your kids, siblings, even spouse
- elderly care duties,
- intergenerational trauma,
- Mercury retrogrades, Dark Nights of the Soul, Kundalini rising, and
- tigers and lions and bears, oh my!
For me, add to that list all my business hats (which at the peak of my over-compensation conditioning, included 4 simultaneous businesses):
- Business no. 1 • ELLANYLEA.COM Coaching: CEO, COO, CFO, CMO, CTO, CHRO, CPO 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩
- Business no. 2 • Antigravity Yoga Studio: CEO, COO, CFO, CMO, CTO, CHRO, CPO🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩
- Business no. 3 • Inner Outer Wealth Mentoring: CEO, COO, CFO, CMO, CTO, CHRO, CPO🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩
- Business no. 4 • Digital Design Consultancy: CEO, COO, CFO, CMO, CTO, CHRO, CPO🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩 🎩
… no wonder women, descendants of immigrants, children of single parents are so f*cking exhausted or burnt out!!! No wonder our necks, shoulders and backs ache and are about to snap, under crushing weight.
(I still remember the juvenile eye roll I'd make, tired of hearing my paediatrician alarmingly scold me about the severity of my scoliosis. I shed tears of sorrow for that 14 year old whose spine was crushingly curved under 10,000 skies.)
It’s a f*cking miracle that any of us is still alive, no less happy or thriving.
Do you wonder, "How am I even still alive?" If so, what is this question opening your eyes to?
Reclaiming the 4 Types of Knowing
While others played with kids, I raised kids… and adults… and myself.
While teenagers whined about their math homework, I dutifully optimized my family’s taxes.
While my university peers carried lipsticks and condoms, I carried first aid kits, Power of Attorney forms and research white papers.
Despite it all, I remained kind, bright and smiling. How?!?
After writing my memoir for 6 years, I now know that every time I reclaimed that which was lost, a sky was put down. I look forward to sharing these reclamations with you!
- The Intervention Story • Reclaiming truth from illusion (thanks to Ge)
- The Ocean Grave Story • Reclaiming love and miracles (thanks to Ma)
- The Chest Lean Story • Reclaiming safety and support (thanks to Al)
- The Wooden Bench Story • Reclaiming surrender and mercy (thanks to Mo)
All these stories and many more to come!
What are some (or all) of the skies that you need to put down?
Live fierce and free,
(First Published Jul 24, 2019)