Omar, early 30s
My parents came to this country with a few dollars in their pockets and a big dream: that their kids would have a bright future — that we’d go to school, make something of ourselves, and make them proud. With every step that I take, I feel the weight of their sacrifice. I feel their eyes, watching me, compelling me not to let them down.
The thing is, from day one, I felt like I didn’t have a say in my future. It was a foregone conclusion that I’d go to medical school. It was drilled in my head from when I was a little boy. My parents would tell me, “when people ask what you want to be when you grow up, tell them you want to be a doctor.” And of course I didn’t know better, so I did. And this became a story that I told so many times that eventually it became an unquestioned reality.
The pressure I felt in high school and college to succeed and meet their expectations was so extreme. My father, especially, acted like a drill sergeant. I remember that I’d have this extreme anxiety every time I had a test because if I got anything less than an A, there would be hell to pay. If I tried to unwind by watching TV or going out with my friends, I was “setting myself up for a life of failure.” If I dared tell them I wanted to play a sport or get involved in some sort of extracurricular activity, I was wasting my time. If they didn’t see me studying or reading or asking people for advice on how to get into medical school, I was a disappointment.
Nothing I ever did was good enough. I constantly gave maximum effort, and yet they never once praised me or told me that they were proud of me. I was always being compared to so-and-so’s kid, the Harvard-trained lawyer, or so-and-so’s kid, the finance wiz making bank on Wall Street. And most of it wasn’t direct conversation but rather this tediously underhanded running commentary that pointedly highlighted other people’s accomplishments, I suppose to put a fire under me to do better, to exceed them.
To read the rest of Omar’s story, head on over here, to The Outline!