By Armine Hovhannissian
I admire successful people. They inspire me. Everyone has their own definition of “success.” I define success as someone who has reached their full potential, or at least uncovered the need towards progress. Someone, who at the end of the day, feels gratified and content with what they were able to accomplish and contribute to making the world a better place.
I often ask myself how we, as immigrant Armenians, define success when we establish ourselves in a new host country. Is it only a roof over our heads, luxury cars, material possessions, or pursuing the profession and goals we left behind, discovering a new path, a dream unfulfilled, that perhaps could now be accomplished in this new land of opportunities? I hope through sharing my story, I will be able to inspire others who are embarking on their own journey or are on a path to self-discovery. I know that within each one of us, there are unique and hidden talents to be brought to life. I believe having a positive attitude, open mindset, and surrounding ourselves with likeminded people, will create an abundance of opportunities to bring those to life.
I grew up in the capital of Armenia, Yerevan, in a family of engineers. I am the youngest of three sisters, and often was referred to as being the son to my parents. I was definitely a tomboy; coming home with scratches, bloody knees and dirt all over me. It seemed as if I was always up for a challenge by speaking the truth, standing up for my friends, and organizing street game contests and events. My parents gave me an amazing childhood, spending summers on the shores of the Black Sea, or at our summer house just outside of Spitak. I remember helping my grandparents make homemade butter and cheese, planting cabbage and potatoes for the fall harvest, and often found myself in the midst of the bees’ nest. These were true memories of childhood fun. It gave me insight into real life lessons on how people earn their daily bread to provide for their families. Seeing the tangible rewards of my own labor during harvest, cemented the foundation for me to value and appreciate hard work. My parents instilled in me the importance of education and staying true to values such as respecting the elderly, honesty and integrity, and the gratitude in helping others.
However, back in the 1990s growing up in Yerevan, I recall my teen years in the dark, as many refer to as “the dark years of Armenia’s independence.” Armenia was recovering and still is, from the 1988 devastating earthquake that took the lives of thousands of innocent people, and left cities and hundreds of villages destroyed. It had a direct impact on my family, as I had witnessed the unimaginable that I would not wish for any 11-year-old to experience. The collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenia’s independence in 1991, and the Artsakh Liberation War, had created a distressing economic state of hardship where basic daily needs such as food and electricity were scarce. I remember studying for college exams under an oil lamp. When the electricity would come back on for only two hours, on a good day, suddenly the entire building would come to life, and you would hear people running around frantically to accomplish as much as possible. The times were arduous, but we were creative and resourceful, finding ways to come up with games to keep ourselves entertained. For one thing, I learned how to run a small television off a car battery! Even standing in long lines fighting for limited amounts of bread and butter was entertaining. I recall helping my dad chop wood and dragging it from the nearby woods, on a sleigh, to burn for warmth in the old-fashioned wood stove on the third floor of a five-story apartment building, in the city, with the pipe coming straight out from the brick wall. Not to mention, we also used it for cooking, and I enjoyed roasting potatoes on the hot surface of the stove. We were forced to survive the harsh winters, with very limited resources, which also meant not attending high school for a period of time due to the cold and lack of heat.
It has now been almost 20 years since I moved to the United States. It is still a learning experience for me as I continue to discover my purpose and what I am capable of achieving. I embrace the lessons I have learned, and the challenges I encounter on a daily basis; always opting for challenge over comfort. I believe that the greatest things in life don’t come easy, at least for me, as a 20-year-old trying to process leaving a large family behind, especially my mother, who is my best friend, and starting a new life abroad. I know I am not alone. Not only was marriage already a life-changing event, but it was also the new language, and the adaptation to the new and diverse culture of America. The most challenging of all, that was also a wakeup call for me, was the fact that I had just graduated with my bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in Armenia, and had no idea how I would pursue it with my broken English and lack of background of the field in America. I must admit that I was never really passionate about engineering, as it was arbitrarily chosen for you back in those days growing up in a family of engineers, especially when your father is the dean of the department, and following in the footsteps of my two older sisters. Although at that time my diploma was my pride, I felt lost and frightened.