Be the Turtle

As I mentioned in another article about my father, he is full Chinese and was born in Mainland China. As a younger man, my father was the charismatic, handsome, and high achieving academic that had graduated from the top University of Taiwan and had then come to the United States in order to pursue his PhD. He grew up in a very strict household where academic achievement and honor to the family were top priorities.

My parents divorced when I was 8 years old and the court gave my father custody of me every summer until I graduated from High School. Every summer my father would drive from Indiana to Upstate New York to pick me up for the two months. We made that two day drive every summer for 10 years. At night he would pull over to a highway rest stop, and he would sleep in the front seat and me in the back seat. I hated those long boring drives.

One of the first things my dad would ask when we reunited was for me to give him my final report card for the year. If he saw that I got a B or a C he would yell at me and ask why I didn’t get an A? And then the long silence would begin where he would look at me in disgust for what seemed to be an eternity. It was years before I knew what he was saying to me in Chinese, but I was later told that he was saying “as slow as a turtle.” He meant those words towards me in the most hurtful condescending way possible. My father was an academic and performing well in school meant everything to him. The problem during those early years was that I was a troubled and angry young man without a father figure for most of my growing years, and it was a miracle that I even stayed in school.

My father’s insistence eventually rubbed off on me and I did become a conscientious student who tried to do my best in school, but those words “as slow as a turtle” haunted my thoughts for many years when I felt I wasn’t doing as well in school as I wanted to. It was as if I was trying to run away from the negative label that my father had branded me with and it was my destiny to be “slow.”

Many years later as an adult I had an epiphany. Looking back on all the noteworthy things that I had set out to accomplish, I realized that they might not have come to pass when I wanted them to, but almost each goal had been completed, and sometimes even better than I had originally imagined. I then remembered the story of the Tortoise and the Hare from my childhood. I thought, yes, it’s true that the rabbit was inherently faster than the turtle, but in the end it was the turtle who took home the prize. And that’s when I realized it wasn’t a weakness to be the turtle, but rather a strength! I now wanted to be the turtle! Yes, I might take more time to graduate from college, or to recover from this illness or that injury, or to get married, or to make my fortune, or whatever other meaningful end result lay ahead of me in my life, but it was definitely going to happen, and in many cased has already happened because of one simple “turtle” attribute...persistence. Don’t stop moving towards your goal. Don’t stop believing in yourself, your purpose, and the gifts and talents that you were born with and to which you are given the responsivity to develop. Don’t worry about your speed; let the others run while you steadily walk. You are in a race against no one but yourself. Don’t look behind you and become distracted by your past mistakes and regrets. Keep moving forward, even if your progress sometimes seems imperceptible; know that you are on target to arriving at your ultimate destination. Promise yourself that no matter what, you won’t despair and stop moving. Keep moving. Be the turtle.
John Teng

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