It’s time for the next installment of Dear me, future psychologist, a gradPSYCH Blog exclusive in which a prominent psychologist writes a letter to his/her 16-year-old self. We hope you enjoy these letters and glean some invaluable wisdom and guidance as you decide whether to enter graduate school in psychology, as you navigate the challenges of graduate school, and as you make decisions about your career and life.
This letter is from Dr. Y. Barry Chung. Dr. Chung received his PhD in counseling psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1996. He was a faculty member at Georgia State University and Department Chair at Northeastern University, before joining the faculty at Indiana University Bloomington where he is currently Associate Dean for Graduate Studies. Dr. Chung is a past President of the National Career Development Association and Society of Counseling Psychology, and is President-Elect of the Council of Counseling Psychology Training Programs. He is known for his scholarly work on career development, multicultural counseling, and sexual orientation and gender identity issues. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association (Divisions 17, 44, and 45), Asian American Psychological Association, and National Career Development Association.
FROM THE DESK OF Y. Barry Chung:
Dear Me at 16,
This letter is from you when you are 53. I hope the letter reaches you alright via the time travel machine. I know you are still in high school in Hong Kong, and have no idea what your future may hold. But if you don’t mind knowing ahead of time, there will be lots of major changes in your life. You will live in a different country (USA), speak English daily (I know, trust me, you can!), and you will be a psychology professor, university administrator, and leader of several national associations. I know these may be too much to take in right now, when you are still struggling to grow up, living in poverty. But trust me, they will all happen. Well, I am writing today to give you some advice. You may not need it (evidently you have become me), but as your older self I would like to help.
First, I know you are struggling with that “odd” feeling that you are attracted to men. Don’t be afraid. It is only natural, and life gets better. You will come out as a gay man in your 20s, and ultimately find a loving life partner when you are 39 (yeah it takes time and be patient with all the heartbreaks). You will devote most of your career to researching on and advocating for LGBT issues. In fact, you are probably most known by your professional peers for your LGBT work, and eventually you decide to leave a bequest donation to support LGBT research when you leave this world. For now, just trust your feelings and don’t allow others and society to make you become someone else. Your experience with heterosexism will be a powerful motivation to pursue the kind of work that will benefit people like yourself.
Second, nothing will prepare you fully for the journey of becoming an immigrant. It is all very exciting, but your struggle will be lifelong. On a daily basis, I still deal with living a life as part of a marginalized group—immigrant and person of color in the United States. Your experience may not be fully understood by even domestic persons of color or White immigrants. But having lived as member of a dominant group and marginalized group, you will have a unique perspective about multicultural and cross-cultural issues. This perspective will enhance your scholarly and advocacy work in psychology. You will articulate on this perspective when you deliver your presidential address for the Society of Counseling Psychology.
Finally, it may be difficult to imagine your future when no one in your family tree has a college education, and you are growing up with very few resources. But looking back, I now understand that all of this experience is preparing you to be resilient, resourceful, independent, and self-motivated. Your future achievements are built on the foundation of those who have paved your way, as well as your future mentors. When in doubt of yourself, just trust others who see the potential in you, and say yes to them more often. You will find out that you can do more than you thought you could.
Be good to yourself and drink less coffee in the future,
You at 53, Barry
Editor’s Note: Dear Me, Future Psychologist is inspired by the Dear Me book series by Joseph Galliano. Special thanks to David A. Meyerson, Ph.D. for creating this series for the gradPSYCH Blog. Please check out other letters in this series:
- Dr. Howard Gardner,
- Dr. Robert Sternberg,
- Dr. Mitchell Prinstein
- Dr. Thomas Plante
- Dr. Phil Zimbardo
- Dr. Alan Kazdin