Limiting Potential — The Problem with Collectivism Culture

The “because everyone think/said so” problem.

I still remember the first time someone proposed to me the idea of me becoming a writer. It was my Indonesian language teacher, who also happened to run the school magazine where I was a writer.

I froze for a few seconds at the suggestion, smiling shyly at the implied compliment and simply replied, “Maybe.” All the while thinking about the absurdity of the idea.

Writer is not a job.

No one had ever come out and said, I’m a writer” back then. I never saw nor met any writer till I was well into adulthood and up until a couple of years ago, the notion of writing to make a living was pretty farfetched in my mind.

“Yeah, right. I can support myself with writing. Pft,” a voice in my head would mock.

Years and years of conditioning finally came into fruition.

I learned about the cultures of collectivism and individualism when I was in high school. Asians, apparently, tend to lean towards collectivism culture rather than individualism. We were told in class that our Western counterpart, adopts more of an individualism culture rather than collectivism.

Of many core values that set apart the two cultures, standing out versus fitting in is the difference that affect my life the most.

In collective culture, fitting in is highly encouraged, while in the individualistic culture, the opposite applies.

While the individualistic culture highly encourages expressing one’s personal opinion and thoughts, it is the opposite in collective culture.

Photo by 浮萍 闪电 on Unsplash

In fact, being singled out and honored as an individual from the rest of the team may be embarrassing to the collectivistic person.

-Purdue University-

In collectivism culture, people generally find it hard to believe that something that has never done before can be done and because it is generally frowned upon to set oneself apart from the rest of the herd, only a handful of people are willing to try.

People belonging to collective culture, the society I grew up in, as an example, tend to stick on what is already known, the paths that have been forged. No one wanted to disrupt the status quo.

Now imagine raising a kid with this sort of mindset.

Writer/painter/artist/any creative job is not a job. It won’t put food on your plate nor roof above your head. Why? Because those who have made it to the top are the few chosen lucky ones. There are so many people trying to climb that mountain, you won’t make it.

Just opt for the normal jobs.

Now who define the normal jobs? Well of course, it’s none other than the members of the collective society. It’s actually quite funny. People of the collective society are encouraged to get a so called normal job by the very people who define a normal job, who think they know what a normal job is.

Is there even such thing as a NORMAL JOB?

Now here lies the problem.

The collective culture put a certain limitation to our capabilities, the things we can achieve.

There is a vast beautiful blue sky above our heads.
Collectivism puts a roof between our heads and the sky.

This whole piece is spurred by an article I chanced upon today:

It’s about a 9-year-old kid named Joe Whale who loves doodling.

Joe, loves doodling so much that he got into troubles with his teachers for doodling in class.

What did his parents do?

Instead of admonishing him for not paying attention in class, and asking him to study harder like all the other kids, his parents sent him to an after-school art class.

His parents. Sent him. To an after-school. Art class.

Let that sink in for a moment.

You won’t hear something like this happening in the society where I grew up in. (My mother would have grounded me if my teacher told her I was not paying attention in class). Or any collectivist culture for that matter. At least not very often. Fortunately for us, as more and more people have access to more information, openminded-ness is starting to spread like wildfire (my parents are a perfect example of this progress).

Still, I’ve heard so many of my friends telling me their parents want them to be a lawyer, a doctor, a scientist, etc. “Everyone is doing that and they’re successful. Just emulate them” is a mantra often heard spoken among the parents of a collectivist society.

Children are taught to blend in since day one.

Don’t stand out. Conform. Over and over again.

Authenticity is not something prized like what I’ve seen in the Western world, which is why I just can’t find it in myself to settle in my hometown. I like conforming as much as I like my hand being cut off with a hacksaw. Yep, no thank you very much.

I dislike being just like everybody else and I dislike being told what to do.

I was born different.
Why do I have to die the same?

Many, many years ago, a kind, inspiring teacher told me I should be a writer.

The society shook their heads in disagreement.

And I had blindly, stupidly followed the crowd.

Well, no more.

It’s a problem.
And solution begins with me.

It begins with one person setting example.

Sky is the limit.

It’s time to live up to the fullest potential.

It’s time to take the road less travelled,
and solve the damn problem.

Writer by heart. Teacher (English, Yoga, Pilates) by trade. Avid reader. World traveller. Model. You can reach me at

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store