In American culture, people’s careers are an extremely important part of who they are as a person in society. People often define themselves and others by their career. When someone meets a new person, one of the first questions they will usually ask is, “What do you do?” Many Americans will spend most of their lives chasing their career goals. They dream of reaching higher positions in their company and gaining a well deserved reputation as one of the best in their fields. For many Americans, their job is their life.
Vietnamese culture is quite different. Here people tend not to define themselves by their careers. There could be a number of reasons for this difference. One such reason is that Vietnam is still 80% a rural society. Many people are born into their family business, be it a family owned food stand, or a family owned farm. Even in the city, it is extremely common to walk into local stares and find multiple generations of the same family running the shop. Of course as Vietnam develops, more and more people are getting “urban jobs” in fields of their interest. But even in such cases, people tend to see their jobs as a way to pay for their life, and less as actual an goal in their life. This is one of the difference I associate most with in Vietnamese society.
I recently was talking to someone back in the US, and they asked why I seem to not have a goal, or a passion driving my life. They asked me, “don’t you want to build a successful business like your father? Don’t you have something you want to achieve, something to drive you?” I assured them that I do have passions and goals, but that I wasn’t going to explain it to them, because I knew they wouldn’t understand. But, I will attempt to explain it now.
My passion in life is to travel. One of my goals in life is to travel to, and experience as many different places as possible. Too many people this sounds “childish” and “immature”. But I disagree. Life is to be experienced. While some might dream of one day being 70 years old and telling people how they were a CEO of a company, I dream of being 70 years old and telling people how I visited 200 countries. Some want to be able to show others the awards they won for being top of their field. I want to be able to share thousands of pictures, of hundreds of places that I have been.
Others see travel as something to do later in life, when one has finished their career and retired. I often hear, “one day, when I am retired, I want to see the world”. My response to them would be, what if tomorrow never comes? I have learned the hard way that life can suddenly come to a halt at any moment. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. So what are we waiting for?
Of course I also must live in reality. There are bills to pay and responsibilities that need to be taken care of. And of course, travel cost money. So obviously I need to work. In fact, I will start training for a new job as an English teacher in the next couple of months. Some have told me, “oh that is such a boring, and common job. So many expats here work in that field. It isn’t interesting.” But I see it differently. It is a good job, that I will be qualified to do, and it pays well. For me, my job isn’t what makes my life interesting, it is the tool to pay for the experiences that makes my life interesting.
I know there are people that will read this post and think to themselves that I am wasting my life. I understand where they are coming from, because I used to think the same way. I used to dream of a lofty career in academia, or the foreign service and couldn’t understand people with different objectives. I used to think that people that think like I currently do, were flakes. But my experiences have taken me in a different direction. And there are people that will read this post and think that I am saying one way is better than the other. That is not at all what I am saying. I strongly believe that every person should pursue their own unique path to happiness, because no two people are the same.
One goal of this blog is to share stories from my travels, and to share the happiness that travel brings me. I hope this post helps my readers understand where I am coming from, and will entice you all to keep on reading.
Writers note: I am aware that my descriptions of American and Vietnamese society are generalisations. If you are an American or Vietnamese person reading this, and you feel differently, please don’t be offended. Sometimes when writing, a writer must generalise. Thanks for being mature adults and understanding.
(What countries have I traveled to so far? Can’t wait for future posts to find out? Click this link, or the link at the bottom of this page for a complete map)