In 1984, a woman gave her husband an incredible gift. Unbeknownst to her, this simple, free act of unwavering love that took less than a minute to deliver would not just change their lives but would make history. In the years to come, this gift would touch the lives of many around the world — definitely mine — and perhaps yours, too.
You see, this man had given up on himself. He had fought long and hard for his dream and he had given it everything. The battle had begun in 1978 when he had applied for film school against his father’s wishes — a choice that strained his relationship with his father for over two decades.
He defied his father, bet everything on his dream, and flew to America only to discover that his father had been right. It wasn’t the menial jobs he had to do that broke his soul, it was the harsh rejection over and over again. Hollywood was simply not ready to welcome an unknown Chinese immigrant with open arms.
His battle continued when his in-laws — worried about his wife’s financial future — wanted to gift them with a sum of money to open a Chinese restaurant. When he found out that his wife had refused the money, he realized the burden that his dream had placed on his wife. Not only was she the main breadwinner for him and their young son, but she also had to endure the humiliation of her family thinking her husband could not provide for them. After many years of failure and rejection, he finally decided to face reality and give up on his dream.
So, he quietly enrolled in a computer course at a local community college. He sank into a depressive state after that decision. His wife soon discovered his schedule of classes and understood why. That is when she gave him a gift of love that really changed his life. In his own words,
The next morning, right before she got in her car to head off to work, my wife turned back and — standing there on our front steps — said, ‘Ang, don’t forget your dream.’
And that dream of mine — drowned by demands of reality — came back to life. As my wife drove off, I took the class schedule out of my bag and slowly, deliberately tore it to pieces. And tossed it in the trash.
That man is Ang Lee and he went on to make history by becoming the first Asian to ever win an Oscar for Best Director at the Academy Awards in 2006. Boosted by his wife Jane’s unwavering support, Ang Lee directed iconic films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain, and the Life of Pi. His work in the last few decades has enjoyed global success earning him dozens more nominations and a few more Oscar wins. The rest of the world has benefited greatly because of his wife’s loving belief in him. More importantly, he has gone on to live his purpose. Ang Lee recalls his wife saying to him,
“Your gift is making films. There are so many people studying computers already, they don’t need an Ang Lee to do that.”
Ang Lee was driven and self-motivated. He had tried his best and he put everything he had into his dream, but he couldn’t have done it without his wife, Jane. She not only supported him financially in the years that he struggled to get his big break, but she also refused to let him give up on it when he lost confidence in himself.
However, the real beauty of her gift is this — she did not want him to be the person she wanted, she wanted him to be the person he wanted to be.
Give your partner the gift of fulfilling their dream
When I was younger, I used to believe that love ties you down. It limits your freedom to be yourself and you always have to compromise your dreams. Years later, I had the good fortune to live with a couple who remain my role models for a relationship to this day.
The wife said something I’ll never forget, “You’ve got it wrong, May. True love allows you to pursue your dreams with more courage. You are more willing to take risks because you know that someone will always be there if you fail. You have a safety net and fuel to be bolder.”
They had shown me that the difference is whether you love someone for who you want them to be or who they want to be. Selfish love shackles, unselfish love provides freedom.
Very few of us can do what Ang Lee’s wife did. We all enter into relationships with expectations of what our partner should provide for us and we regularly succumb to the pressures of everyday life. Sometimes, we even care a little too much about what other people think of our partner’s success. Her gift to him is rare, which is what makes it so valuable.
This Valentine’s Day, when your options are limited anyway, don’t look to express your love by buying a gift or going out for a fancy dinner. Instead, think about your partner’s dreams and how you have been reacting to them. Have they been wanting to start a side hustle or quit their job to pursue a business? Maybe they’ve always wanted to play the guitar, to put on a local play, or to conquer a 14,000 ft peak. Have you been critical, unbelieving, or disinterested?
Now maybe the time to find ways to express your support of their dreams, or better yet — to help them take concrete action towards them. Buy them lessons, or equipment, or offer to look after the kids at set times to enable them to pursue their dream. If they’ve forgotten what their dreams are, help them to discover them again.
Not everyone can be Ang Lee, but everyone deserves a Jane Lee.
Perhaps love is the process of my leading you gently back to yourself. —Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Reference: The personal information about Ang Lee used in this article was sourced from an essay written by Ang Lee and translated by Irene Shih.