The Value of Family Heritage (Why I’m Inspired by My Grandma)

It was last Christmas when I traveled back to Guilin, a small city in the Guanxi province of China. I have an affinity for my grandma’s house here. A nicely sorted garden sits in the front yard, with planted flowers and surrounding trees. One sunny day, we were idly sitting in the garden having a nonchalant conversation about life.

“When I was younger than you are now, I was already working at the factory, devoted to earning a living for my family…” Like a tranquil flow of tides, her voice drifted into my senses as my mind wandered back in time to when my grandma was young.

Every life is a story. Whenever our parents or grandparents tell us about theirs, we can identify similarities between them and see certain patterns. There is always a glimpse of wisdom in these patterns, these stories. That’s why people say wisdom is like fine wine—it takes time to age.

I’m always so fascinated by the stories of my family members. Very much like the bedtime fairy tales from your childhood, family stories seem so unreal and far away. Yet as we mature, the authenticity of those stories emerges and manifests into something we can actually understand and hold on to. And that something is what we call our family heritage.

From birth, we have been molded by the culture of our family. The history, knowledge, values and traditions encompassed in our family heritage significantly influence us as individuals. The great Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “every man is a quotation from all his ancestors.” It’s never a coincidence that we can find parts of ourselves in our family’s narrative, for this narrative is also the story of where we come from.

My grandma has always been an inspiration to me. Straying from a sweet and soft-spoken “grandma” image, she is tough, strong, vibrant and audacious. From a very young age, she was determined to make her own way in life.

Her personal motto is “Always know what you want in life and what your goals are so that you can work your ass off to achieve them.”

The story of my grandma started out in a rather cliché way—she came from a poor family in my country. At the age of 16, she had already been working at a factory to help earn a living for her family. Before her high school graduation, she dropped out to work full-time at the national bookstore in Guilin.

After years of mettle and hard work, she rose to the management level and became the general manager of the store. Eventually, she wanted to provide an even better life for her children, so she left the job and started her own business. It was not without a struggle when she made this choice.

Bear in mind that her story takes place in the early 1980s. When my grandma started her business, it was a time when China was vastly different from its current, affluent state. In the eyes of others, my grandma’s decision to leave her job and start a brick factory with her partner was considered incredibly risky.

At the time, women were perceived to be demure and reserved, as their primary roles were caretakers of young children or stay-at-home housewives, whereas men were regarded as the primary breadwinner of a family. Though this view appears rather anachronistic, it was more or less the prevailing social convention in China during the 1980s. It was quite uncommon to see a woman like my grandma excel in her job let alone start her own business. As you can imagine, she faced much doubt and opposition over her decision.

“Oh, well…by that time, your mum and uncle were about 18 and 16. They were very independent and capable of taking care of themselves. For all my life, I’ve been a good wife, a good mother. Raising two incredible kids has been my biggest achievement so far. But at that period of my life, there was a sort of void…or emptiness, however you call it. It suddenly dawned on me that it’s time for a change,” my grandma explained to me with a sense of adamancy in her voice.

I glanced at her through blinding beams of sun. Even with all the marks of time on her face, she looked tenacious and solid, like a grand tower that never shakes.

And so, my grandma embraced uncertainty in her life, and she overcame the challenges and hardship of starting a company, creating a successful business and proving the naysayers wrong. It sounds too surreal to be a true story, doesn’t it? Well, it was only a few years ago that her story took on a whole new meaning once I visited the former site of her factory.

It was a moist and foggy day when I set off to the site. The factory was shut down during the early 2000s when the government tightened its regulation on environmental protection. What I found was merely the remains of the old days.

As I was standing on the bare sand of the countryside in China, I started to wonder how much blood and sweat was shed in building this mighty nation. Like constructing a house from the ground up, our ancestors strived to build a concrete foundation to support the new generations for centuries to come.

The hard work of generations before us has enabled us, the millennials, to explore immense opportunities within our society. Those captivating stories of diligence, strife and hard work, are what inspire us and propel us forward. The story of my grandma is just the tip of the generational iceberg. For that, I take pride in my family heritage and in what my ancestors were able to accomplish.

But, of course, success never comes without impediments. My grandma remarked how, when the company was still in its start-up stage, she would stay up late, selling bricks door to door, block after block. And when she needed to manage the delivery of coal ash (a material used in making bricks) at the site, she would be covered with dust all over and so grimy and grungy that she second-guessed the path she had chosen.

“After all, people are judging you by the results you reap from your business, seldom do they consider the hard work and determination you have dedicated to achieving all that,” she remarked, chuckling softly.

Her comment strikes me as some kind of epiphany—nothing worth achieving comes without a price.

Success is only reserved for those who persist in achieving their goals. Many of us have heard this, yet when it is illustrated by someone close to you, someone in your family, the message asserts itself in the most profound way.

This is the power of family heritage. The knowledge and values encapsulated in these stories become invaluable blueprints that we can use as a reference, so that when we face challenges or uncertainties in our lives, instead of panicking, we can understand and acknowledge them as a natural part of life.

In today’s era of speed and data, heritage has been relegated to mere footnotes in our family’s books. They are often watered down and forgotten through the eroding tides of time. We must remember that a part of us comes from our family heritage that we inherit, and that our heritage holds intangible values which cannot be demolished. We must remember and be willing to preserve our heritage to pass onto the next generation, and the next.

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The Value of Family Heritage (Why I’m Inspired by My Grandma)

It was last Christmas when I traveled back to Guilin, a small city in the Guanxi province of China. I have an affinity for my grandma’s house here. A nicely sorted garden sits in the front yard, with planted flowers and surrounding trees. One sunny day, we were idly sitting in the garden having a nonchalant conversation about life.

“When I was younger than you are now, I was already working at the factory, devoted to earning a living for my family…” Like a tranquil flow of tides, her voice drifted into my senses as my mind wandered back in time to when my grandma was young.

Every life is a story. Whenever our parents or grandparents tell us about theirs, we can identify similarities between them and see certain patterns. There is always a glimpse of wisdom in these patterns, these stories. That’s why people say wisdom is like fine wine—it takes time to age.

I’m always so fascinated by the stories of my family members. Very much like the bedtime fairy tales from your childhood, family stories seem so unreal and far away. Yet as we mature, the authenticity of those stories emerges and manifests into something we can actually understand and hold on to. And that something is what we call our family heritage.

From birth, we have been molded by the culture of our family. The history, knowledge, values and traditions encompassed in our family heritage significantly influence us as individuals. The great Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “every man is a quotation from all his ancestors.” It’s never a coincidence that we can find parts of ourselves in our family’s narrative, for this narrative is also the story of where we come from.

My grandma has always been an inspiration to me. Straying from a sweet and soft-spoken “grandma” image, she is tough, strong, vibrant and audacious. From a very young age, she was determined to make her own way in life.

Her personal motto is “Always know what you want in life and what your goals are so that you can work your ass off to achieve them.”

The story of my grandma started out in a rather cliché way—she came from a poor family in my country. At the age of 16, she had already been working at a factory to help earn a living for her family. Before her high school graduation, she dropped out to work full-time at the national bookstore in Guilin.

After years of mettle and hard work, she rose to the management level and became the general manager of the store. Eventually, she wanted to provide an even better life for her children, so she left the job and started her own business. It was not without a struggle when she made this choice.

Bear in mind that her story takes place in the early 1980s. When my grandma started her business, it was a time when China was vastly different from its current, affluent state. In the eyes of others, my grandma’s decision to leave her job and start a brick factory with her partner was considered incredibly risky.

At the time, women were perceived to be demure and reserved, as their primary roles were caretakers of young children or stay-at-home housewives, whereas men were regarded as the primary breadwinner of a family. Though this view appears rather anachronistic, it was more or less the prevailing social convention in China during the 1980s. It was quite uncommon to see a woman like my grandma excel in her job let alone start her own business. As you can imagine, she faced much doubt and opposition over her decision.

“Oh, well…by that time, your mum and uncle were about 18 and 16. They were very independent and capable of taking care of themselves. For all my life, I’ve been a good wife, a good mother. Raising two incredible kids has been my biggest achievement so far. But at that period of my life, there was a sort of void…or emptiness, however you call it. It suddenly dawned on me that it’s time for a change,” my grandma explained to me with a sense of adamancy in her voice.

I glanced at her through blinding beams of sun. Even with all the marks of time on her face, she looked tenacious and solid, like a grand tower that never shakes.

And so, my grandma embraced uncertainty in her life, and she overcame the challenges and hardship of starting a company, creating a successful business and proving the naysayers wrong. It sounds too surreal to be a true story, doesn’t it? Well, it was only a few years ago that her story took on a whole new meaning once I visited the former site of her factory.

It was a moist and foggy day when I set off to the site. The factory was shut down during the early 2000s when the government tightened its regulation on environmental protection. What I found was merely the remains of the old days.

As I was standing on the bare sand of the countryside in China, I started to wonder how much blood and sweat was shed in building this mighty nation. Like constructing a house from the ground up, our ancestors strived to build a concrete foundation to support the new generations for centuries to come.

The hard work of generations before us has enabled us, the millennials, to explore immense opportunities within our society. Those captivating stories of diligence, strife and hard work, are what inspire us and propel us forward. The story of my grandma is just the tip of the generational iceberg. For that, I take pride in my family heritage and in what my ancestors were able to accomplish.

But, of course, success never comes without impediments. My grandma remarked how, when the company was still in its start-up stage, she would stay up late, selling bricks door to door, block after block. And when she needed to manage the delivery of coal ash (a material used in making bricks) at the site, she would be covered with dust all over and so grimy and grungy that she second-guessed the path she had chosen.

“After all, people are judging you by the results you reap from your business, seldom do they consider the hard work and determination you have dedicated to achieving all that,” she remarked, chuckling softly.

Her comment strikes me as some kind of epiphany—nothing worth achieving comes without a price.

Success is only reserved for those who persist in achieving their goals. Many of us have heard this, yet when it is illustrated by someone close to you, someone in your family, the message asserts itself in the most profound way.

This is the power of family heritage. The knowledge and values encapsulated in these stories become invaluable blueprints that we can use as a reference, so that when we face challenges or uncertainties in our lives, instead of panicking, we can understand and acknowledge them as a natural part of life.

In today’s era of speed and data, heritage has been relegated to mere footnotes in our family’s books. They are often watered down and forgotten through the eroding tides of time. We must remember that a part of us comes from our family heritage that we inherit, and that our heritage holds intangible values which cannot be demolished. We must remember and be willing to preserve our heritage to pass onto the next generation, and the next.

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