Monday 28 April 2014

Time out from tigerish endeavours

About ten days ago, I was stood on a ferry in Hong Kong's Discovery Bay, wondering what my kitchen looked like. For a few seconds (shock, horror) I struggled to recall the exact positioning of my sofa and the layout of our cupboards. As I stared out at the twinkling lights of Lantau Island in the dusk, life back home felt like million miles away.

Discovery Bay, Hong Kong
Lantau Island: living in the moment
I put my temporary memory loss down to a strange condition: living in the present tense. To exist purely in the moment, without reflecting on the past or worrying about the future is very rare state for me. The only time I ever manage to blinker myself in this way is when I am on holiday.

So while I was gorging on dim sum, haggling in Temple Street market or even practising handstands in the swimming pool, all my usual hang-ups and busy thoughts were put on hold. For a couple of weeks, I was like Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love (with less of the praying and a lot more steamed dumplings).

Reading Red magazine on the long flight home, I stumbled across an article that examined this tension between living for the moment and planning for the future. It was an interview with Amy Chua, the apocryphal Tiger Mother who pushed her kids to extreme levels of self-betterment. 

Happy vs. meaningful

Amy and her husband, Jed Rubenfeld, have written a new book, entitled The Triple Package, which seeks to explain the success/failure of various minority groups in America. One component of the 'Triple Package' (a set of values geared towards success) is impulse control: the ability to resist temptation, or instant gratification, and persevere towards a greater end goal.

"At the moment there seems to be a cultural shift where everyone just wants to live in the moment," Jed told Red magazine, "and you can be very happy doing that. But if you just live in the moment, you can't achieve, because everything valuable takes time. So you have to make a choice between living a meaningful life or a happy one."

There you have it. I may have enjoyed my little vacation from reality, but if I want to achieve a meaningful life, it seems I have to resist the charms of carefree dim sum and aquatic headstands. 

So here I am back in the UK, re-acquainted with my kitchen cupboards, writing a blog post and planning out my work diary for the next week. However, I don't really need Tiger Mother et al to call me to task. My need to achieve is deeply ingrained, but THANK GOD for holidays because just occasionally we all need a diversion from the path of perseverance.

The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain The Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld was published by Bloomsbury earlier this year.

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