Kim’s Convenience was the inception of my obsession with Simu Liu, only to be amplified by Marvel’s Shang-Chi movie in 2021. Kicking ass while over-accessorizing bracelets might not have been the life that his immigrant parents hoped for him, but somehow he pulled it off. I was inspired to read his book, We Were Dreamers after my sister generously offered it to me as a justification for calling me an “ungrateful toad” during a recent fight. After reading it, the realization that she might be right makes me wonder if Simu is a psychological genius fabricated to help us all understand how to lead a more grateful, fulfilling, and happy life. This announcement of Simu’s role hosting the 2023 Junos for the 2nd consecutive year feels perfectly timed to my takeaways from his memoir as it details the development of his charismatic personality and magnetic charm—the qualities that make him such a good host, to begin with.
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Although we can’t all be Hollywood superheroes, his journey towards a triumphant acting career mirrors a challenge most often understood by first and second-generation immigrants: the struggle to be worthy of our parents’ sacrifices and hard work. Many of us—living in a capitalist society—become victims of a value system ingraining false definitions of success in which we sacrifice our happiness. Simu shares his relatable journey of spending years dedicating effort to pursuing top grades and a six-figure salary, despite his misery, and he dives deep into his childhood, his parents’ childhood, his relationship with his parents, and how the curse of the American Dream befell him. I’m not kidding when I say that this book encouraged a breakthrough in my most recent therapy session. Simu’s willingness to share his healing journey helped me grasp the notion of gratitude, forgiveness, and understanding. Particularly in relation to my own dysfunctional family dynamics. Until you have your own family member call you an ungrateful toad, allow me to share the three breakthroughs I made thanks to my new life coach, Simu Liu.
If you complain about taking the bus, your immigrant parents will remind you that they once faced far worse and climbed mountains more treacherous than Everest to get to school. In an attempt to enlighten us and our lack of gratitude, our parents transform into award-winning soap opera actors. Getting to know the difficulties of their childhood seems to require a humiliating comparison to ours which usually results in making ours seem like a poorly made and disappointing sequel. Simu bravely gathered seven chapters worth of information concerning his parents’ journey, prior to his upbringing. It was riddled with excruciatingly hard work, improbable high risks, a tad bit of opportunity, and copious amounts of determination. By “paying special attention to how they came to view the world as they did,” Simu demonstrates the benefits of finding gratitude towards his parents’ differences, instead of holding on to feelings of resentment. Before you rage exit the page, practicing gratitude doesn’t mean disregarding every mistake your parents made and how it affected you. Rather, gratitude encourages us to no longer focus on the unattainable and to instead reflect on what gives us joy and promotes our psychological healing. Simu opens up about his childhood trauma by highlighting his parents’ harsh, invasive and drastic methods of punishment but never fails to remind us that he still appreciates them.
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So before you go on your next Tinder date to trauma dump over a free meal, ask your parents about their childhood. Then, maybe you’ll find a healthy way to share your story while getting to know someone else. After sitting with his parents, Simu makes sure to let us know that it made him, “infinitely more appreciative of all that they endured just to be able to raise me in Canada.” Going back to those earlier chapters in the book and seeing him refer to his upbringing with such gratitude is as heartwarming as watching Shang-Chi face the past he was running from, ultimately overcoming his grief and finding the courage to forgive his father. In later chapters, Simu prompts us to reflect on our angsty teenage years, as he takes us through his resentment towards himself and his parents. The years he spent feeling both unworthy and cursed by his parents’ sacrifices are all too familiar. If I cannot convince you to read this book, I implore you to at least read these seven chapters, keeping in mind that their journey reflects that of many immigrants.
This section is for anyone whose personality can be defined as “the overachieving gifted kid always on the verge of burnout”. If you just laughed or rolled your eyes because this landed for you, Simu openly admits to being an overachiever who longed for his parents’ validation in his youth. Naturally, no one is born with the longing to work or study 70 hours a week and the threshold to keep going when your body is telling you to stop—you’re molded into this. Take Simu as an example, his parents’ expectations were set to unattainable heights making the pursuit of their validation an impossible feat. When a child is taught that they need to “earn” their parents’ approval, love, validation…etc it’s teaching the child that they are inherently unworthy and can produce feelings of guilt or shame. If this childhood wound remains unhealed, it can manifest in overachiever and workaholic tendencies which are rooted in an effort to constantly prove your worth and receive validation from adult relationships that mirror the one you had with your parents.
To add insult to injury, as Simu incessantly tried to fulfill his parents’ expectations he was bombarded with their propensity to compare his success to others. Some immigrants come to Canada after leaving countries with limited opportunities which makes competition an essential skill for survival. Consequently, children of immigrant families are raised with an unhealthy competitive mindset. Does the tendency to be hard and unforgiving of yourself when you procrastinate sound familiar? How about constantly comparing yourself to others evoking feelings of not doing and being enough? Do you fail to understand the abundance and variety of opportunities that can lead to personal success because they differ from your parents’ opinion? Then Simu has a solution for you! As cliché as it sounds, forgiveness is essential to healing—not only forgiveness to your parents but yourself. Forgive yourself for procrastinating, forgive yourself for not being superhuman, and forgive yourself for not having everything figured out because the secret is: no one does.
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In Simu’s case, the lack of validation for his academic success hit him like a bus to a Mean Girl. No matter what he did, he was never going to get praise or validation from his parents. His bookworm habits led him to feel uncool at school until he eventually realized he could quench his thirst for validation through his peers. Unhealed wounds are never one-and-done so the occasional validation led to wanting it more often which led to the pursuit of popularity and a never-ending spotlight. How did he rise to the challenge? By developing showmanship skills and a whole lot of charisma. It took him years to realize these skills did not align with his fastidious career as an accountant.
Instead of resenting his upbringing, he acknowledges that, no matter how tough it was, it led him to where he is now. Of course, being a child burying your life in books to seek parental approval doesn’t sound very appealing, but his passion to learn from books is what spiraled him into a more creativity-based career path. And probably helped him to write this book. Simu looks at his past, not as wasted time or opportunity, but with forgiveness and gratitude.
It was a long journey for Simu Liu to reach Marvel superhero status. Simu was well off into his career as an accountant before he decided to give it up and started picking up craigslist ads for film extras. In the words of no nepotism industry baby ever, Simu states “There was no shame in doing what you had to in order to make ends meet; it was just life.” This book defines what it means to feel fulfilled. His success didn’t fulfill him, he was happy to simply be able to do what he loved. Simu shines a light on what it means to live to work instead of work to live. So if you’re wondering what to get your friend who replies to emails at 9 pm on a weekend, they’d probably find this book beneficial.
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Despite Simu Liu being a celebrity, many people can relate to his story—celebrities, they’re just like us! His journey and reckoning can be understood by anyone, as we all relentlessly search for validation and fulfillment. The book has many opportunities for connection, it can give you a deeper understanding of those who grew up as a first or second-generation immigrant, those who’ve changed career paths “late” in life, or those who are workaholics desperately searching for their parent’s approval. I vouch, as a second-generation immigrant who resonates with the quintessential gifted-child-burnout syndrome, this book made me feel seen and helped facilitate a meaningful dialogue with my inner voice to do some reckoning of my own.
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