This past weekend I saw an incredible play at the Berkeley Repertory Theater, Chinglish-- David Hwang’s mind-bending play about cross-cultural miscommunication-- and I couldn’t stop talking about it for hours afterwards! Since I’ve been writing an ebook this year about transitions to work you love that expresses your own authenticity, I particularly resonated with aspects of Chinglish that moved in this direction.
We first meet Daniel-- the American protagonist and owner of a small family sign-making business-- as he is acquiring a personal translator to help him in his business negotiations with local Chinese politicians and government bureaucrats. What the audience gradually learns is that Daniel desperately needs a contract with the Chinese in order to support his business and, thereby, redeem his self-esteem, which was mangled from a disastrous ending to his former career.
In the chapter in my book called “Defining Success in Your Own Terms,” I note that:
“Often, a successful career or other life transition depends on your choosing a perspective to live with that gives light and meaning to your new direction. You may possibly not get the job you most wanted, but staying open to the possibilities of another one that you do get can bring unexpected rewards, such as new learning and new directions you might not have dreamed of. Or you may meet someone who helps change your life.”
This is what Daniel experiences as he moves out of both linguistic and cultural ignorance in China to the new understanding that what he knows and expects is heard and understood entirely differently by the local government officials he needs to convince to buy his services. He moves in “new directions” he would never have dreamed of by allowing himself to be guided by an initially hostile woman, Xi Yan, the Vice Minister for Culture. For reasons only gradually explained, she becomes an ally, helping him redefine success for himself. In the process, he becomes a person with far more understanding of the bewildering wonderland of cross-cultural and woman-man miscommunications.
I wonder what Daniel would say if I asked him (as I do the readers of my book), “What did you need to change in your attitude or perspective to feel successful in your work and your life as a whole?” I suspect he might say “letting myself stay open to possibilities in the face of complete misunderstanding of my words, my intentions, and my culturally shaped expectations.” For it was only in this way that his shame could transform into unexpected redemption for his work, and for his whole life.
When have you made a change in your attitude or perspective so that you felt successful in your work and your life as a whole?
Some Action Steps for You!
1) If you’re planning to be in the San Francisco Bay Area, get tickets for Chinglish at Berkeley Repertory Theater-- until October 22nd!
2) If you, or people you know, are interested in finding work you love with a life in balance, keep reading my blog posts this fall for previews from my forthcoming book, Success with Soul-- Loving Your Livelihood, Living in Balance.