The Gift of Perspective

“If I had received an education,” my mother would often begin, followed by suggestions that she would excel at math (she is indeed very quick at arithmetic in her head) or understand how to use a computer and email. But the truth is, I do not know if my mother ever graduated high school, only that she emigrated from South Korea to the United States in her early twenties and worked to give my brother and me the opportunities she never had.

In my freshman year, I was able to attend a local private school because my mother took a job in the cafeteria, affording my family not only additional income we sorely needed, but discounted tuition. As a shy 15-year-old, I would ask her to meet me in the back employee parking lot when school let out rather than bring her car to the front where my friends all met their parents. With the hindsight of adulthood, I now realize I felt ashamed that my mother was the school lunch lady, when I should have been proud that my mother loved me enough to work at the cafeteria during the day and as a waitress at night just so I could receive the best education she could give me.

Throughout my early career and even now, when others comment on my work ethic, I have always shrugged at the notion. After all, how could anything I did in front of a computer compare to busing tables or lifting heavy boxes of frozen foods for $6 an hour?

My mother gave me a gift—not just the gift of education, shelter, food, and love as I grew up; she gave me the gift of perspective. Although I now navigate this world with a college degree, polished English, and career accolades, I am also keenly aware that there is someone out there now working much harder than I for far less, just like my mother did. I am aware that often this disparity has nothing to do with talent or intelligence, but rather, the fickleness of opportunity in this world, and how and when it presents itself.

With this perspective comes great responsibility, but also a desire to help build a world in which opportunity is less an unseen foe, and more a beloved and reliable friend. I believe in a world of equitable opportunity because I have experienced how transformational this has been to my own family in one short generation. I believe this transformation has the power to shape entire societies to become more loving, happier, and healthier.