Nothing Changes Unless You Change Yourself

I recently had a conversation with therapist who was interested in findings from The Asian American Man Study because many of the people she works with come from that demographic. She observed that her clients often feel like they aren’t fairly recognized in the workplace or have a difficult time with dating but they also aren’t willing to admit that there’s something about them (their attitude, their demeanor, their appearance, or their cultural values) that might be contributing to this issue.

Here’s the big question we were getting at: how do you get people to recognize they need to change?

The truth is, life is inherently unfair. The children of wealthy parents are far more likely to be wealthy than the children of poor parents. The right connection often matters more than talent or skill. The raise or new opportunity often goes to the person who asks for it the quickest and the loudest.

If you grow up in a household where you are taught to be humble and expect that your hard work will naturally be recognized and rewarded, you may find the pace of your career advancement to be slower than you’d like. If you’ve not spent much time in casual, open ended social settings, you may find it more difficult to date. If physical activity was not emphasized in your childhood, you might find your current fitness levels lacking.

The question then becomes: will you change yourself, and how?

The life you have today is a result of past habits, actions, attitudes, and decisions. And while you’ll certainly continue to achieve things with your current system, you are unlikely to accelerate your growth in any area of your life (health, finances, career, dating) without making changes.

Sometimes this means changing tactics: going on group hikes instead of going to happy hour to meet people. Or it could mean changing habits: eating less processed foods and getting into a workout routine. Or it could mean changing strategies: making a leap into a new job function or industry.

But perhaps the hardest and most subtle changes are changes in mindset and long-standing beliefs. If you believe “it is wrong to promote yourself too much and people like me don’t do that”, you have struggle for a long time to be recognized in your field. If you believe “talking to women (or men) is something I should just naturally know how to do and trying to get better is useless”, you will be unlikely to invest the time, effort, money, and risk of embarrassment necessary to have a truly fruitful dating life.

In my twenties, I was often less successful in my dating life than I wanted to be. Don’t get me wrong, I still met women, went on dates, and had girlfriends. But I also went through long periods without much success, sent tons of messages that never got responses, and had awkward encounters I still cringe about today. It was frustrating, but I tried to focus on what I could change about myself to get better results. I read books, dressed better, went out with friends, told better stories, kept a running list of good date ideas, and even hired a dating coach to refine my approach. Part of my move to the East Coast was motivated by dating!

Making all those changes wasn’t fun or comfortable, but today, I’m in a fulfilling relationship with someone I truly love. Certainly luck played a role in meeting the right person, but I know all the change efforts I put in played a role as well.

At the end of the day, hoping your life will change without you needing to change yourself is like answer “C” on every answer of a multiple choice test: you might get a few answers right, but you’re leaving it up to chance. Nothing changes unless you change yourself.


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Jason Shen

Jason is a tech entrepreneur and advocate for Asian American men. He's written extensively and spoken all over the world about how individuals and organizations develop their competitive advantage. Follow him at @jasonshen.

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