I learned many life lessons from my Korean mother which were instrumental to me as a child and continue to shape my every decision today. I wanted to highlight these 5 life lessons from a woman who, though she wasn’t college educated, was still very wise. She spoke with much wisdom and grace, born of decades of her life in Korea. Having been born after the Korean War, she has experienced the post war struggles and poverty. She saw a Korea that was in its prime as it grew into the country that is today, and also a country that was struggling from the effects of war and the Japanese occupation. Even after she moved to the United States, she spoke often and frequently of Korea. Even though she didn’t speak much English, she was very aware of America’s attitude to people of Asian descent. But despite all of this, she endured and shared her wisdom. Here are 5 life lessons from my Korean mother.
Good health is the most important thing.
My mother often told me Good health is the most important thing. She said that without good health, we can’t do anything we want to do. Without good health, we find ourselves stuck aimlessly in the hospital bed, watching the world pass us by. Whenever I get sick from the cold, I end up confined to my bed, not wanting to work, to write, or to do anything. When I am sick, all that I want to do is to just sleep in the hope that when I wake up I will feel refreshed and rejuvenated. Needless to say, I don’t like being sick. Therefore, we must eat healthy and exercise to make sure that we have the good health to be able to pursue our dreams.
There is pain in growing up.
Do you remember watching the show Growing Pains? Well, it was one of my favorites growing up. I loved watching the mischievous and funny antics of the oldest child. I felt pained watching the middle child, and only girl, get teased by her brothers for being too smart. But despite the show’s hilarious moments, there were real life lessons to be learned. The biggest one, one which coincides with what my mother used to say, is that there is pain in growing up. I used to think that it would be all sunshine and rainbows to grow up to be an adult. I used to think that being a kid was the worst thing ever. But then I grew up, and realized that I was wrong. I realized that being an adult is the hardest adventure of them all. It is the hardest because of the pain that is often unavoidable and also significant in shaping who we ultimately become. Whether it be due to loss or failure, pain will be there, but as long as we have a strong support system we can get through the pain.
Studying can get you far, but also is not the most important thing.
One of the stereotypes of having an Asian parent is the obsessive interest in school and studying. My mother was no different in that she realized the value of school, books, and knowledge. She knew that studying can get you far. But she also knew that it is not the most important thing. She often said that we can have all of the knowledge of the world at our fingertips, but it wouldn’t matter, if we didn’t have the necessary interpersonal skills. Books are there to guide us, but ultimately we must work to shape our characters. It is not how much we know that matters but rather how we treat people that matters the most.
Don’t do too much of anything.
The older I get, the more I realize that this lesson in particular is true in more ways than one. My mother often said Don’t do too much of anything. What she meant was the key is moderation. We must work to put limits and boundaries on even the things that we enjoy doing. If we do too much of anything, we run the risk of obsession. When we are obsessed with something or someone, it becomes the very meaning of our existence. So, if that obsession were to disappear then we would basically lose ourselves. The key is to diversify the interests so that we are not doing too much, but instead the right amount.
Being too kind can be a liability.
My mother used to scorn people who were too kind. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that she detested people who were genuinely nice. What she meant was that sometimes people can take advantage of someone who is too kind. Therefore, being kind can be a liability. Of course, we should open the door for someone, smile at random strangers, give up our seat for an elderly person, or offer services for free. While doing these things definitely gives us good karma points, and we should do them. But we should also be smart and be wary of those who will use kindness toward their advantage. There are those who would pretend that they are something in order to elicit services and gifts for free. There are those who would cheat and lie in order to get what they want. So, we should be kind, but we should be careful with our kindness. We should make sure that when we are being kind, we are setting the appropriate boundaries. By setting the boundaries, we are also ultimately being kind to ourselves.
Today, I continue to be shaped by the life lessons that were reiterated again and again by my Korean mother. I share them here because I want to spread kindness and love especially during a time when hate and prejudice seems to be the driving force sometimes. I share them here in the hope that people can learn from this so that we can all be better people together. Only by working together in mutual respect and kindness can we work to eliminate racism.
What is one life lesson that you learned from your parents?
See also: Life Lessons From My Korean Grandma