in Musings

Your Passion vs Your Parents

We live in a more confusing time than ever today.

Entire industries have sprung up that never existed just one or two decades ago. The old way of doing things is often broken.

Because of this, much of the advice that was passed down through the generations has become obsolete. Conventional wisdom is sometimes no longer relevant.

Every day, we’re barraged with advice from other people about how to live our lives. Parents, siblings, teachers, friends, society at large all tell you how to live your life. Everyone imposes their will on you, whether they mean to or not.

As a result, young people are pushed into careers they never wanted. They choose their college majors based not on their interests but on what their parents think is best. (By the way, I think the whole idea of choosing a major at 18 is ridiculous to begin with)

They (or I should say, we, as I still identify as a young adult) seem to never cultivate a sense of identity, instead relying on the guidance of someone else to tell them what to do next. The concept of choosing their own life path is foreign to them.

It’s unfortunate, because those who listen too much build a habit of trusting others to make decisions for them. As time goes on, this habit only grows stronger, leading to a life of conformity and blind trust in authority figures.

I get it though. We’re all heavily influenced by our parents. We care about what they think and how they’ll react. We’re worried about disappointing them. We’re worried about disobeying them. We wonder if we’re doing them a disservice by not following their advice.

Deep down, they also probably just want us to have a better life than they did. Sometimes this relentless pressure only makes us more stressed and uncertain about our future.

However, I think there comes a time when it’s in our best interest, perhaps even our obligation, to cut the cord and become self-reliant. At the end of the day, you’re your own person. Regardless how important you value following your parents, you will never be fully satisfied living your life under someone else’s watchful eye.

In today’s world, it’s especially important to take responsibility for your own career. Your parents may have the best intentions for you, but their inherent conservatism and fear of uncertainty aren’t particularly suited to the world today.

Here are several reasons why you should be cautious about listening to your parents:

Outdated Information.

It goes without saying, but your parents grew up in a different time than you did. The system that worked thirty, forty, fifty years ago may be entirely obsolete today, particularly given the speed at which industries now change today. As Reid Hoffman, Founder of Linkedin, says, for the last sixty or so years, the career path for most adults looked like an escalator. You graduated from college, found an entry-level job at a big company, worked your way up the hierarchical ladder at the same company, and received greater pay and job security with every step. When you retired, you could expect to receive a comfortable company pension and Social Security.

For many adults, this vision held true. So they passed along this idea to their children, encouraging them to follow in their footsteps.

The problem is, what worked before doesn’t necessarily work today. With rising tuition costs and burgeoning student loans, it’s now debatable for certain people whether college is even necessary for their goals. The corporate escalator that once existed is more like a tar pit given the current climate. The push for students to then immediately find a corporate job also derails many from starting their own businesses or pursuing their creative talents or joining a start-up.

Many parents also push their kids into certain occupations, because traditionally they have always been in demand and paid well: lawyers, doctors, pharmacists, bankers, and so on. The problem again, however, is that such advice is based on prior, potentially outdated, information, and ignores prevailing trends in society at present.  For instance, one of the fastest growing sectors in today’s economy is digital marketing. You’ll never hear adults advise their kids to enter this industry simply because it did not exist until recently. A quick way to success is to ride the waves of upward momentum, and to ignore these kinds of trends would be a big mistake.

Many of my friends are currently in pharmacy school because their parents advised them it was a relatively easy and safe way to make a comfortable salary. For many decades, it was. But now insiders believe that the profession may be on a decline, driven in-part by advances in technology but also by consolidation of big pharmaceutical players and a growing supply of pharmacy graduates. The same is true for the law profession, where you see a huge imbalance of supply/demand causing many law grads to work at underpaid or low-tier jobs.

Many people seem trapped in the traditional way of thinking that there are only a handful of viable career options to choose from. I thought this way for a long time, as well, because my parents and classmates only ever talked about that handful. But the world is a massive place, and there are jobs and needs and gaps to fill that you or I couldn’t even possibly imagine. They’re out there though. It just takes additional effort to find them.

Different Risk Preferences.

Parents are much more risk averse when it comes to their children than they are with themselves, even if that risk comes with a chance of massive success (i.e. most parents would rather their child take a corporate job than start their own business). This isn’t necessarily a fault, it’s simply that most parents never want to see their kids in any sort of pain or discomfort. Under this light, it makes sense why parents push their children into jobs such as bankers, lawyers, doctors, etc. These are traditionally careers where there’s a clear roadmap to follow to get from A to Z, and typically reward aversion to risk. Do as you’re told, don’t step outside certain boundaries, and you’ll steadily receive increased power and income.

Sure, fine for some people. But your appetite for risk will invariably differ from that of your parents. What if you want to pursue your creative talents, or try your hand at entrepreneurship? The probabilities of success are lower, but if obtained could result in much greater financial returns. Some parents, however, can be unsupportive, and may try to deter you from doing so. They’re unwilling to see their children fail, because it’ll reflect badly on them.

My parents persuaded me to give up poker. I had to hide the fact that I played at all for a very long time – despite the fact that I had been consistently making 5-figures a month – because I knew what their reaction would be. When they did find out, they encouraged me to quit to focus on my studies, claiming that poker had led to a drop in my grades. But for me, poker was never meant to be a long-term, full-time job. I knew it would just be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Still, I eventually succumbed to their line of thinking. I would have loved to take a year off from school and traveled abroad while playing poker as a source of income, but I was too scared what my parents would think at the time.

Sometimes parental concern is warranted, of course. Maybe you’re not actually that great at your perceived talent, and need someone to truthfully guide you toward a better path. That’s what happened to Kevin O’Leary. He had aspirations of becoming a photographer, but his father pulled him aside one day and told him to get an MBA instead. Ultimately, it’s up to you to take your parents’ advice into consideration, but as I’ll elaborate later on, it should not be the sole guiding factor in your life.

Misalignment of Interests.

This one goes without saying, but your parents are going to have different interests than you. These conflicts of interest create a divide between the whys of what you do between you and your parents. If you never understand why you’re doing something, you’re going to feel empty eventually.

Sometimes this manifests by parents trying to live vicariously through kids’ achievements. These parents essentially use their children’s achievements to “one-up” their friends. “Your son got into Columbia Law? That’s great, but my son just got into Harvard!”

In fact, a study showed that the more parents see their child as an extension of themselves, the greater the likelihood of them wanting their offspring to fulfil their own failed dreams. “Parents then may bask in the reflected glory of their children, and lose some of the feelings of regret and disappointment that they couldn’t achieve these same goals,” Professor Brad Bushman, co-author of the study said.

A Life of “What If”

When asked what their biggest regret in life was on their deathbeds, the number one regret of the dying was that they wished they’d lived a life true to themselves, and not the life others expected of them. “When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled,” nurse Bronnie Ware writes.

Indeed, this is one of the consequences of following your parents’ life path without question. One day, whether in your 20s, 30s, 40s, or on, you may examine your life and the direction it took, and wonder how you ever got there. Many refer to this as the mid-life or quarter-life crisis.

If you want to avoid such a fate, you have to ask yourself what you really want out of life every so often, and if you’re happy with the way your life is. Are you willing to sacrifice your own life to please others, to seek approval from others who think they know best for you?

Forgoing current happiness in the hope it will arrive in the future has been proven to be a shoddy method of achieving happiness. Not to say you should avoid any kind of pain or struggle, but doing so based on your desires and not someone else’s is what brings meaning to life.

Neglect of Your Competitive Advantages

Following someone else’s life path ignores one of the most important aspects in finding fulfilling work: your strengths. While hard work cannot be understated, it’s almost impossible to be the best in a given field without a natural affinity for it. Millions of people overseas can now do many of the jobs today – what makes you so special? Just like being better than the competition is crucial to any business’s success, the same is true for our careers.

Discovering your competitive advantage is a necessary component to deciding which opportunities to pursue and which to forgo. The problem is, when was the last time a parent conducted an intensive investigation into their child’s strengths and weaknesses before pushing them onto a career path? The path you end up on may not align with what you’re naturally good at. This isn’t to say that your strengths and weaknesses are fixed, of course. You can develop and improve on the array of skills you have. But we’re all born with different capabilities in various abilities, and not taking advantage of these is short-sighted.

Personal Bias

Let’s say your parents grew up amidst a terrible recession, often going without food for days and largely strapped for money. Their views on money and work will always be tainted by this experience.

My parents, for instance, largely grew up without much money. To them, making a comfortable salary at a stable job without much variation day-to-day is their ideal life. They’ve both worked in corporate, bureaucratic jobs all their lives. I have to take all of this into consideration when they advise me to find a corporate job.

One thing I always advise when looking to take advice from anyone is to study the advice-giver. Is he or she living the type of life I’d want to live? What kind of job is he working in, how much money does he make, what are his aspirations and goals and values? If they largely align with yours, then his advice becomes that much stronger, and vice versa.