Question: My parents are immigrants and pressured me to be a lawyer. I hate practicing and want to do something I enjoy, but I’m conflicted because I don’t want to disappoint them. What do I do?
Expectations. We all have them. We all set them. We all manage them. And we all receive them from others. From bosses, friends, spouses…and parents. Perhaps the most difficult expectations to live up to are those imposed on us by our parents. Throughout our lives-at some core level-we all seek a level of approval from our parents and want to live up to their expectations. It’s human nature. And it’s what drives some of our decisions, including career decisions.
In the United States, lawyers are near the top of the food chain in the professional world. It is a profession…despite the jokes, which embodies the mark of intelligence, power, achievement and status in our society. It can also provide financial “security” and the opportunity to make a more than a good living. While the status of being a lawyer is still fairly high in this country, its prestige is not what it used to be and its rank among the elite of elite has slipped.
In contrast, there are cultures in different countries that regard the legal profession as one of, if not the most honorable, noble and important of professions. It is the mark of the upper class-the highest echelon in society. Not just for the individual, but for his/her family as well. Consequently, there can be tremendous pressure placed on children to attain this professional achievement. Pressure that can reach epic proportions.
I have special insight on this issue because I’ve lived it. My father immigrated to the US in 1965. He was a doctor who greatly valued “the professions” (doctor, lawyer, engineer) and rigidly viewed them as the only options to ensure professional “success”. Hence, there was expectation. And there was pressure. So I understand and appreciate your predicament and inner conflict.
When assessing your feelings and your situation, the most important thing for you to remember is that this is your life. You can’t live it for anyone else or to please anyone else at the expense of your own happiness. You’ve been a dutiful child and there is great honor in that. But now it’s time to exercise your wishes as an adult and claim your true path. It will probably be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. But if you want to be happy, there is simply no other option.
Given your cultural influences and out of respect, it’s important to speak with your parents about your decision to leave the law. But before you do, I recommend that you write down what you’d like to say to your parents. Rehearse it and get comfortable. If you don’t know where to start, below is some recommended messaging:
“Mom and Dad, I wanted to talk to you about something that is very important to me and I know is important to you: my happiness. For the last few years I’ve been working as an attorney and I have been terribly unhappy. I know that my becoming a lawyer has been important to you and you are proud of my accomplishments. But what I have learned throughout this journey is that this is not my dream, it has always been yours. And now I need to pursue a career path that will give me enjoyment, a sense of purpose and happiness. I know that you love me and want those things for me too. So I hope you will support me as I explore my different career options and create a happy life for myself. I am and always will be a lawyer. No one can take that away from me. But I now want to go in a different direction and use my skills in a different way.”
It may take a little time, but eventually your parents will come to grip with your decision. You will grow as a person from the experience as well. And realize that sometimes throughout our lives we are not meant to live up to every expectation.