1-Sentence-Summary: Dear Girls is a collection of letters written by comedian Ali Wong to her two daughters, recounting tales from her youth and life in an attempt to pass on some hard-earned wisdom to them and anyone willing to listen to her story.
Read in: 4 minutes
Favorite quote from the author:
I recently read an essay about life, grief, and making changes. It’s a story about someone losing a dear friend, but in the midst of all the heavy emotions, he connects with a stranger over a shared memory. It’s a memory that makes both of them laugh, and laughter is, of course, the best medicine.
But comedy and tragedy go hand in hand. No one knows that better than Ali Wong. The rebellious Asian-American teenager went to college as her parents desired, but soon after that, she was in New York City performing stand-up comedy up to nine times in a single night.
It’s a tough gig to begin with. You have to read an entire room in real-time and make strangers laugh on command. On top of that, Wong had to defy racism and sexism in the industry. After years of practice, however, she made it. Her Netflix specials were roaring successes, and so were the movie Always Be My Maybe and hit show Beef.
In Dear Girls, the now-divorced mom of two shares valuable life advice in the form of letters to her daughters. It’s a memoir turned advice column full of personal stories with useful lessons. Here are the 3 that stood out to me the most:
- Nothing will change your perspective like traveling the world.
- Don’t focus on your race and gender; focus on what you can give to the world.
- To stay consistently motivated, always remember where you came from.
Let’s dive in!
Lesson 1: Traveling abroad is one of the most valuable things you’ll ever do.
If you’re born in a village, live in a village, and die in a village, a village perspective is all you’ll ever have. My college friends and I often talk about how different we have become from the people we used to know back home, and for most of us, travel played a large role in that transformation.
Spending some time abroad — and I’m not just talking about a holiday — forces you to be self-sufficient, to deal with a new reality and culture, and might open your eyes to life in the real world outside of your usual local bubble.
When Wong studied at UCLA, she first spent two months in Hawaii. Besides taking different classes, making new friends, and gaining ten pounds because the food was so delicious, she also attended an inspiring talk. Haunani-Kay Trask, a Native Hawaiian leader and professor, spoke with confidence and authority while taking pride in her womanhood.
Motivated by her first experience, she dared travel a little bigger: to Vietnam, her mother’s country. While studying abroad there, she had a crush on a fellow student named Hai. Unfortunately, he never reciprocated her feelings because, as she learned from secretly reading his diary, she was “too hairy to be sexy.” Ouch! Instead of wallowing in self-pity, however, Wong remembered Trask’s talk — and decided to just not waste any more time on guys like Hai.
From confidence to inspiration to love, there are a million treasures on the road of travel. Dare to take it and see what you find!
Lesson 2: You are more than your race and gender, and the sooner you see yourself beyond those labels, the better.
The stand-up comedy industry is dominated by men, white men in particular. Plus, since comedy is full of irony, snark, and dark humor, a lot of sexism and misogyny hides behind the veneer of laughter. From being booed before she even began her set to being patronized by fellow comedians, Wong has witnessed no shortage of “-isms.”
There’s no perfect recipe to deal with prejudice, Wong admits. Mean comments always hurt, and the best you can do is remember that other people’s opinions of you don’t matter. That said, she does have a strategy for rising above criticism of all kinds: Look at yourself beyond labels of race and gender, and focus on your contribution.
For Wong, that means obsessing over the jokes she makes, not the comments she receives. Her value as a comedian comes from how good her sets are, not what clothes she wears, or what her skin color is. Now that she is more seasoned and respected, a lot of the criticism has died down, but early on, one tactic that helped her focus on her work was to dress in baggy clothes and downplay her femininity.
Little tricks like this can help you weather early storms, but remember: In the long run, it’s about what you do, not how you are perceived.
Lesson 3: Remembering your roots can be one of the greatest sources of motivation in your life.
When Wong started hitting the comedy scene of New York City, she could only afford to live in a crappy apartment with six other people. Her living situation was anything but ideal, and she couldn’t wait to get out of there. Whenever she felt like complaining, however, she remembered the sacrifices her family had made for her to be where she was, especially her grandfather.
Having arrived in the US from China all by himself at just eight years old, he lived with a family as their personal cook. His employers didn’t treat him very nicely. He slept in the basement on nothing but a sheet of newspaper. Even later in life, he and his wife slept on the floor because they only had enough beds for their children.
Remembering her roots and what her grandfather endured made Wong feel a lot better about her situation. It gave her courage, inspiration, and the determination to earn more from her craft until she could move out and get her own place.
No one is born from thin air. We all have someone in life who sacrificed so we may succeed. Remember those people, and you’ll have a source of inspiration you can always draw on.
Dear Girls Review
If you like Ali Wong‘s shows, style, and don’t mind a swear word or two, you’ll also enjoy Dear Girls. The stories are interesting, the delivery is funny, and the life advice is sound. Given her recent divorce, some of it is to be taken with a grain of salt, but it is a cool concept for a memoir/self-help crossover nonetheless. A book I’d recommend to men just as much as women.
Who would I recommend our Dear Girls summary to?
The 15-year-old rebellious teenager who needs to learn that bucking trends can be exciting but also get one into trouble, the 29-year-old single woman who’s desperate to find a partner and settle down, and anyone who feels like their life is a comedy of errors.