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So Your Parents Doubt Your Career Choice

Updated on April 2, 2013

Before graduating high school, we're expected to decide on a career path and apply to colleges. While some students begin college with an "undeclared" major, many have declared their major, either because they know exactly who they want to become, or they simply wanted to please their parents.

I'll admit, I had no idea what I wanted to go to college for when it was time for me to apply to schools. Surprisingly, my dad suggested I consider Graphic Design. After looking into the career, I agreed that it would be something I would enjoy, as I always worked extra hard on designing book covers for my high school reports. And I suppose my dad saw more in my creative abilities than I did.

And so I began my studies at the University of Montevallo in Alabama with a Graphic Design concentration. A year later, during a required painting course, I fell in love with what I could do with oil paint, and immediately changed my concentration to studio art even though I hadn't even taken a single graphic design course. Now I just had to tell my parents.

I was choosing a career that's admittedly unreliable. While I was nervous to tell my parents of my decision, I knew that at least my mom would be on my side, as she has always been my strongest supporter. My dad, on the other hand, I knew would be more challenging. To my shock, it was quite the opposite. While my mom immediately began questioning how I would make any money being an artist and why I even needed to go to college, my dad simply stated that I should do whatever I am passionate about. He felt that even if I was going to be a starving artist, I'd be happier than working a career I had no joy for. While I was ecstatic about my dad's surprising input, I was devastated that my mom wasn't happy with my choice.

So how should you rationalize and deal with your parents' concern? For starters, try seeing things from their perspective.

Your parents simply want the best for you.

Your parents love you. Probably more than anything else in the world. Parents want the best for their children, and are always thinking about how their children will best navigate the world and all its challenges. They have lived far longer than you, experienced exponentially more than you, and naturally will want better for you.

Neither of my parents went to college. My dad chose to join the Army, and proudly retired after 20 years. But he didn't follow his dream. He wanted to be a dentist. After retiring from the Army, he began a laborious, non-glamorous job, which took a great toll on his body. Similarly, my mom, who came to the United States eight years after my birth, without much more than high school education, spent the next 20 years of her life working a job that she hated. She was afraid to try new things and she felt her lack of education hindered her from beginning a career she would actually enjoy. Both of my parents stressed about money. Neither of my parents wanted me to have the lives they did. Getting a good education and having a successful, well-paying career would put my parents at ease.

Working in my studio at the University of Montevallo
Working in my studio at the University of Montevallo

They may not understand the career.

I'll be honest. I, myself, didn't even know one could go to school to get a degree for making art, before I started at the University. I mean, until recently, I had no idea you could get a Ph.D in Ethnomusicology or a Ph.D in Studio Art. In other words, artists can be doctors too! There's a good chance that your parents know even less of these degrees and career paths.

Like I mentioned earlier, my mom didn't understand why I even needed to go to school to be a visual artist. I literally had to describe the classes I've taken, what kind of things I've learned and how I would never have learned these things had I not taken these classes. Sure, I can pick up a paint brush, dip it in paint and go wild on the canvas. However, I most likely would not have known what mediums I can mix into oil paint to change their viscosity and their drying time, or how to properly dispose of hazardous chemicals. And without the practice and guidance I received in school...well, let's just say you can definitely tell the difference between the portraits I painted in 2005 versus 2012.

Simply put - the degrees and careers that are available to us today, may not have been 20 years ago. Just take some time to explain how your career is valid and necessary.

What's important to them, may not be important to you.

Just because your parents enjoyed a life of riches, or don't want you to "suffer" the way they had to, doesn't mean you aren't aware of the life you're choosing.

I have heard the term "starving artist" more times than I can count. While, naturally, I enjoy having money, I am totally ok with "getting by" as long as I'm not working some dreaded 9-5 job or being miserable with some job just so that I can have financial stability. And although my pockets may often be empty, my soul is always fed. I love what I do, and have found my career to be rewarding in so many different ways. I have inspired people, affected people emotionally and have made people think about things they most likely would not have - all because of the art I create.

You must find a way to put your parents' minds at ease. Tell them what is important to you, and ensure them that you will always survive. Show them what you are capable of; show them that you can support yourself on a small budget, or whatever the case may be for their concern. Your parents simply want you to become an independent, self-reliant individual - they won't always be able to be there for you. Yes, life will present its obstacles and you may need your parents help from time to time, but overall, you've got to ensure them that "you've got this."

Prove your parents wrong.

Anytime someone doubts us or our choices, our instinct is to prove them wrong. This should be the same for your parents.

Don't get mad or discouraged. Instead, let your parents' concern be motivation for your success. Work harder and keep your parents informed of your progress and accomplishments. During my undergraduate studies, I would occasionally show my mom a picture of a painting I had just completed. After learning that it was a painting of mine, she would always lean in closer and exclaim "That's a painting?! I thought it was a photograph!" Needless-to-say, my mom was impressed and quickly became my biggest supporter again, bragging to all of her co-workers about my upcoming exhibitions.

My dad, on the other hand, began swaying from his original support, and was predicting that I'd eventually pursue separate degrees in a more profitable career. Now, after having my Master's degree, my everyday motivation is to prove to my dad that I will be a successful visual artist and won't need to get another degree.

In the end, your parents simply need to see that you are happy. And as long as you are doing what you are passionate about, you will be happy.

Where do you stand?

What do your parents think of your career choice?

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    • Life of an Artist profile image

      Corinna Nicole 2 years ago from Huntsville, AL

      @Aaron: glad this article was of help! I know this response is WAAAYYY late, but if you happen to read this, let me know if things are any better!

    • Life of an Artist profile image

      Corinna Nicole 2 years ago from Huntsville, AL

      @Aoife: Just remember, you are the only one living your life. Live for you. Your parents will not be "clocking in" at whatever career your choose.

      @Lani: great advice!!!

    • Life of an Artist profile image

      Corinna Nicole 2 years ago from Huntsville, AL

      @klin: Well, that was harsh of your parents! But that's the thing about the continuously learn and improve. You don't just learn it once and that be the highest skill level you'll ever attain. That's nonsense. I realize my response is SUPER late and you may not even read this, but I hope you continue to follow your passion!

    • Shivali Sharma profile image

      the vibe 2 years ago from Delhi, India

      Yes parents are afraid about their children's career. They are more conscious about their career.

    • profile image

      Lani 3 years ago

      @Aoife I felt the same way, but I found a way to do what I love. Combine art and psychology. I wanted to pursue my songwriting career, but I wanted to continue my education to find a sustainable career. My major is also psychology with an emphasis in social action. I've been able to combine my passion for the arts with a career in arts advocacy, nonprofit management, art/music therapy and many more interests. You can definitely combine your love for art into psychology. I suggest finding an internship at an art organization. It will help you network and explore different careers.

    • profile image

      Aoife 3 years ago

      I'm having this dilemma. I far more enjoy art in college, but my major is Psychology. I enjoy it, but not as much as I thought I would. My parents have made it clear that they do not want me to major in art at all. It irritates me, because I worked in high school, and got a complete full ride scholarship to University (They don't pay ANYTHING. I work to pay my own place and food and bills, I am pretty independent) only to be told I cannot do what I love. I worked for all of it, so I don't understand why they don't trust me. I've never been a stupid kid to them; on the contrary, they brag about "how smart their girl is" and what not. I just want some faith, but no one around me really supports this. Only my boyfriend and best friend do. It's hard.

    • profile image

      Justin 3 years ago

      My mother told me I ran away from home when I was 4 years old back in the year 1983 and to this day she has never forgiven me and has no faith or trust in me whatsoever. Because of that, my parents have been extremely over-controlling of me and never let me do anything I wanted and never for one minute ever consider my feelings on ANYTHING. I didn't want to go to college, I only did it to please my parents. I hated college because I couldn't make any friends. Nobody liked me, and some of the teachers went out of the way to make my education difficult for me. I chose oil painting for my bachelor's degree. And instead of meeting new people, I began to see less and less. I withdrew from classes, I failed some. I should have flunked out of college but some how squeaked through with the bare minimum grade to graduate.

      The paintings I made I didn't like and not until after working full-time for 7 years after did I realize my true passion is in horror and monster movies. I could have taken film classes. Once I told my parents what truly inspired me I suddenly felt even more disconnected with them. I have never felt so lousy in my entire life. The only friend I ever had in my life moved far away to Florida and I've never been with any women. All I have left is my full-time job at Walmart and living with my parents not being able to make enough to move out and live on my own. I feel like a loser and a failure. I can't stop feeling dead and empty on the inside like I made all the wrong life decisions and now I'm paying the price - utter complete isolation and loneliness.

    • profile image

      klin 4 years ago

      Well I want to go into film and am passionate about it. They said: there are going to be people better than you, pick something else. I still loved film, and my dad said don't come crying back if your homeless.

    • profile image

      Aaron 4 years ago

      That was some great advice, thanks. I'm going through this with film directing.

    • Life of an Artist profile image

      Corinna Nicole 4 years ago from Huntsville, AL

      @peachpurple : thank you for commenting on my blog! You should definitely let your husband read my blog! Hope your daughter follows her heart! :)

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 4 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      one thing i have to admit, my hubby wants my daughter to choose the path that he wants and not she wants. I can see that she prefers pharmacy line but he prefers engineering line. I prefer to see my daughter happy.