Unsolicited advice #1: My parents want me to pick a boring, stable career

July 12, 2017

I've been reading advice columns online for quite a long time now. I find them to be a fascinating peek into other people's lives and dilemmas and I've learned a lot from reading about other people's situations and the advice that's given. Of course, sometimes I find myself disagreeing with the advice, or I feel that the advice is from too different a worldview to be as useful as it could be. So, I'm going to try occasionally responding to those letters here instead. This one is from awhile ago that I felt strongly enough about to leave it as a comment.

The original letter is #4 on this Ask A Manager post: "How do I convince my mom to let me pursue the career I want?"

As a first generation Asian-American, and the oldest kid to boot, I feel you. My mom really wanted me to be a doctor and still nags me about going to grad school every so often.

The first thing is, you should accept that it’s unlikely you’ll get your mom to the point of actively supporting and approving of a career in fashion design, “to let you be what you want.” Not saying it’s impossible, just unlikely, and you’ll be better off accepting it straight off rather than having that wishfulness guide your decisions. Spend some time grieving for the movie-perfect family resolution that you’d love to have, and then move on.

The second thing is, as long as you are financially dependent on your parents and/or living with them, your options can be restricted by that. So start earning money to be able to support yourself and move out, and overall it should become easier to arrange your life as you want it, though visits homes can become rather fraught (Captain Awkward’s archives probably have good advice on handling those visits).

Third, if you want to try to set the stage for eventually having a better relationship with your parents, it will help to take a look at the situation from their point of view. Many parents are most motivated by avoiding pain and fear for their children, since that will hit them harder than feeling the benefits from if you succeed and are happy. And they aren’t wrong that with more experience in “the real world,” salary and lifestyle often become more important than trying to get paid for your creative interests. Can you really know that you don’t want to live like your family does now? You may not know until you try it yourself (and I fully support your right to learn that for yourself!), but your mom isn’t wrong for wanting to spare you that, in case it goes poorly. If you can recognize and demonstrate your appreciation for your parents having your best interests at heart, you’ll be able to act more compassionately–even while disagreeing with their worldview and making decisions that they don’t approve of.

Some of your mom’s motivation may be because she wants to be able to brag about your accomplishments to her friends, and they’ll be more impressed by an engineer than a fashion designer. Giving her the benefit of the doubt though, I’d bet that the fundamental thing is that she’s worried about what will happen to you when she’s gone and you don’t have a safety net anymore. Parents generally want their kids to be self-sufficient and independent too!

So, the best strategy imo is to demonstrate how you will in fact be self-sufficient and independent and have thought through the practicalities of your choices, like applying for scholarships, doing research on cost of living, saving every penny you ever earn, working really really hard on your portfolio, talking to them about how you’re demonstrating responsibility, etc. It’s not a bad idea to compromise slightly and double major so you can cover something “practical” and something “for passion” at the same time. You want her to listen to you, but that’s what she’s wanting as well, isn’t it?

Good luck!

(fwiw, my background is that I ended up double majoring in Biology & Psychology and taking extra classes so I could both fulfill my parents’ requirements to continue getting my room & board paid for at college and still taking the “fun” art and psychology classes that I wanted to. Now I work as a software engineer, in a cubicle, and it’s a ton of fun for me, even if my mom still thinks all of our jobs are going to be outsourced some day and that being a doctor is the only real secure job “because people are always going to get sick”–can’t fault her logic there, really. She’s an engineer herself, after all!)