The Asian American Myth: Effort Leads to Outcomes

Dave Lu
11 min readOct 12, 2021
Working hard is not enough.

Growing up as a child of Asian immigrants, I was raised to believe that if you work hard in America, you can succeed. That this country is all about “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” and “keeping your nose to the grindstone” because anything is possible. Our parents came here thinking that this was a meritocracy and that if you put in the effort, you will reap the rewards. Now I’m old enough to recognize that all of that is bullshit. Those of us who see it, are well aware of the systemic racism in this country that prevents people of color from ever reaching the top. Others will continue to push the lie that anyone can make it in this country and point to the one or two statistical outliers of success. Immigrants have to work harder than anyone in this country, because they start off with a huge disadvantage of not speaking the right language, being the right skin color, understanding mainstream culture and most likely not having very much money. Plenty of people steal credit for the work of immigrants, because they are easy targets and they don’t know how the game is played. I saw this myself when my dad would continue to get passed over for promotions even when his ideas were being touted by his managers as their own. I still hear about this phenomenon happening every day to many Asian Americans in their places of work. But crying or complaining about it isn’t going to change anything, because if you don’t stand up and advocate for yourself, why should anyone else? This essay isn’t about how to level the playing field, it’s about how you can win in spite of the field being uneven to begin with.

Assuming you will be successful because you are smart or because you put in the hours at work is a fool’s game.

When it comes to success, Asians suffer from two sides of the same coin. On the one side, we are too proud to ask for help. On the other side, we are too humble to promote ourselves. In order to get ahead, you need be willing to ask for help and to leverage your network to find allies. You also need to advocate for yourself and make sure others know what you’ve been doing. It doesn’t matter how hard you work if no one ever knows about it. When it comes to successful outcomes, there are many things that are out of your control. If…

Dave Lu

Managing Partner @ Hyphen Capital. Proud Taiwanese-American dad. Passionate about marketplaces and communities.