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Choosing a Career: When You and Your Parents Don't Agree
May 26, 2006

Are you pursuing a major or career field that your parents do not support? Do your parents want you to enter a career that will lead to financial success, but you know it won't make you happy? Parents usually want "the best" for their children, but how they perceive your future - and how you see your future - may be miles apart.

Communicating with your parents and understanding your choices are important as you make life-changing decisions. Here are some tips for talking to your parents about your plans.

Sometimes reassuring them that you have researched work opportunities, understand the requirements necessary to be competitive, and are making concrete plans to gain experience in your field helps your parents understand that you are taking responsibility for your future.
Steps to communicating with your parents
  • Talk with your parents about their hopes for your future. How do your parents define success? What experiences have shaped their perspectives? What job characteristics are important to them? Then, share your own definition of success and define the qualities in a job that are important to you.
  • What do your parents know about the work opportunities in your interest area? Tell them what you know about your potential opportunities based on your research. Consider taking assessments to further explore your interests and talents. Share your results with your parents. "Evidence" of your innate talents and interests may impress on them the importance of seeking work that fits with who you are.
  • Talk to friends who have experienced similar family pressures and discuss effective ways to communicate. You aren't the only one who has parents who want the best for their child.
  • Seek out mentors, people you know who may also have dealt with family pressures. How have they coped with these pressures? What advice do they have for you?
  • Even if your parents do not support your decisions, keep them informed of your plans. Let them know that you are networking, exploring internships, pursuing extracurricular activities, and creating a sound job-search strategy.
Understanding yourself and your choices

In addition to communicating with your parents, it is equally important to note your feelings when you consider your parents' reactions to your choices. By paying attention to those feelings in a caring way, new perspectives and new ways of communicating with your parents may unfold. A new perspective can change your entire outlook on the situation.

  • Pay attention to your feelings when you consider doing something other than what your parents want you to do. Do you feel like you are disappointing your parents? Do you feel like you are not fulfilling your obligations? Do you feel your parents are unfair?
  • Whatever feelings arise, allow yourself the time and space to notice them without judgment.
  • Ask yourself what you need to do to cope with your feelings.

Meet with a career counselor to further explore how to handle the conflict between your parents' desires for your future and your own aspirations. You don't have to arrive at career and job decisions that feel right for you alone!

This article was written by Elizabeth Thompson, the Assistant Director for Vocation Symposia at Santa Clara University's Career Center. It originally appeared in NACEWeb.

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