"My mom said I should be a librarian because she knows someone whose daughter is a librarian and said that's a good option," my student told me.
"Do you want to be a librarian?" I asked.
"I don't know...", she broke eye contact.
At least it's obvious that she's pursuing Mom's goal instead of her own. Some of us are working on a far more insidious type of career choice....the one made through more subtle clues about what our parents or family members want of us. It's more common that I work with a student who says, "My parents are worried about what kind of internship I'll have this summer." Or, when I ask "How did you decide you wanted to be a doctor?" the answer is "My dad is a Neurologist," which, I have to remind the person, is not actually answering the question.
It's not actually dysfunctional for our parents' professional example to have an impact on our own career choices. Many times, we are inspired by watching others pursue careers that they love or are successful at. And oftentimes our parents are a source of relationship capital, which increases the likelihood that we'll follow in their footsteps, because they've paved the way for us with relationships. These are not bad things.
But what's tricky is when a desire to please our parents, or be like them to avoid disapproval, or to gain validation from them, gets in the way of making a career choice that is truly right for us. From what I see in my work and even in my personal relationships, this happens A LOT.
What do you Want?
It's a noble thing to want to make your family happy. In my own life, my parents have provided a lot of support, and without that I would have a much more difficult time of it. But this means that it's important to remain very aware of how I am reacting to and responding to their feedback. Because it's easy to fall into the trap of doing what they think might be right, and because our family loves and is invested in us, they just can't help but leak suggestions either overtly or subconsciously. And the problem with that is, what THEY think is right for us, or what they want for us, might not actually be what you want for yourself. And it might in fact even be clouding your own ability to determine what you want for yourself, that's how strong our family influence often is.
Own Your Self
So if you can imagine removing your parents from the picture, their reactions to you and the influence or opinions that they cast on your life, what would you do with your career? Where does your passion and skill lie? What difference do you want to make, what are you good at, or not good at, and what do you enjoy? What do you want your whole life to look like?
"Do you, Boo-Boo"
My best career advice, the one thing that I would say is most important, is to trust yourself. Do you. Be you. Pursue the career options and ideas that resonate for you, we'll deal with the parental fall out next. But if you live someone else's life and not your own, you will regret it, I promise you. Or, you may fail to experience the success that they and you want, because you're not in a path that aligns with who you really are. And you will be giving less than your best to this world that so desperately needs passionate, committed people to solve the problems that you care about and that only you can solve.
Back to the Parents...
I was at an event a couple of weeks ago where the opening speaker was given an award for her contributions to innovation and entrepreneurship in the statewide economy. She's a very accomplished and established professional, and received a standing ovation. In her speech afterwards, she joked "Maybe now my mom will think some of my career choices are better than she once did!". A lot of us have lived with the subtle pressure or not-so-subtle feedback of our parents weighing in on our career goals and choices. But let her be your example. It takes courage to identify your skills and desires, to pursue your own path, but there is no other way to the rewarding, impactful career and sense of satisfaction and accomplishment you seek. So whose career goal are you pursuing?