Your parents expect you to put that law degree to good use, but designing women’s clothes is where your heart is. Your grandparents brag about their super successful engineer grandbaby, but you go home every night drained, unhappy and without the time to pursue what you think your true calling is.
Sound familiar? The pressure to pursue the “right” career—when your true passion lies elsewhere—can be a dream crusher. Whether the pressure is coming from your doctor dad and your lawyer mom or your struggling single mother who wants you to do better, the well-intentioned, but dispiriting expectations must be addressed.
“Balancing your family’s dreams and your own is a major hallmark of adulthood,” says S. Tia Brown, licensed therapist and founder of Do Better, Be Better, L.L.C. “Parents have many reasons — which may range from living vicariously through them to simply genuinely wanting what they perceive to be best for the child— for setting career aspirations for their kids. Defying parents’ wishes can have emotional and financial consequences, so individuals should be well-prepared for both.”
Brown offers seven tips for how to do just that, to move past the pressure to pursue profit over passion. Use them to get beyond your family’s expectations for you and earn a comfortable living doing what you love.
Make sure you are moving toward a desired goal and not just away from what’s expected of you. Are you not choosing a particular career path just to be rebellious? Are you actually interested in the “family business,” but you are just afraid of failure or being compared to successful relatives? These are questions you must ask yourself and have the courage to give honest answers.
Practice due diligence, Brown says. “Take an aptitude test to determine what areas you excel. Don’t pick something just because you simply like it.”
Get a mentor. Mentors are important no matter what the career is, but a mentor is especially important when it’s a non-traditional career that you seek. Get advice and guidance from someone who has achieved your goal.
Make long- and short-term financial plans. Beyond just the obvious need to pay your rent and cover your household bills, you must also consider other costs such as health insurance and future security in the form of retirement funds and savings. Create realistic financial goals and be aggressive about pursuing grants, loans and other available financial options.
Find creative ways to boost your income within your chosen field. Let’s say your family wants you to be a doctor, but your dream job is to be a magazine editor. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for a primary care physician is $186,000 while the median annual salary for an editor is approximately $50,000.
Monetization matters, Brown says. “You may want to be a DJ, but can it pay the bills? Don’t ditch a steady career for a dream and expect others to finance your choice. Make sure you have a way to thrive — sans a parental stipend.”
You likely won’t climb to $186,000 (unless you snag a top spot at a major publication), but you can get closer to that by supplementing your income with freelance writing assignments for other publications and non-byline services such as writing press releases for companies. Be creative, and get paid for practicing. The more you practice your craft, the better you become.
Get professional help. If the career you love involves you working for yourself, you must be especially diligent about your business affairs. Consult experts in finance, law and business management. Do you need to form an L.L.C? What can you write off on your taxes? Paying for advice from professionals may hurt the wallet up front, but that advice can save you from future financial and legal troubles.
Become a pro with credentials. If being taken seriously in your dream job means obtaining a particular degree or license, go for it. Also, consider the time and money it will take to obtain those credentials. Be open to paying the bills with that traditional job as you prepare for your new career.
Speak affirmatively when you talk to your family about your career decision. Explain to your family that you are being practical as you pursue your passion. Don’t just bash the career they want for you, instead anticipate the questions they will undoubtedly come and have solid answers ready.
“Once you have a firm plan in place let your family know your goals, why you choose to change course and that you appreciate their support—but are not seeking their approval,” Brown says. “Young adults should remember that elders often have foresight due to experience. It is important be able to differentiate between constructive criticism and negativity.”