Parent-College Scandal, part two: Why your career decisions are too important for others to make

Part 1 of this blog encouraged readers to ponder:

  • How are messages from your parents playing out in your career today?

Part 2 of this blog focuses on:

  • Why is career choice so hard, and why do parents want to help?

Like the parents in the scandal, I have some clients whose parents felt they were simply doing what was best for their child. In reality, they either were:

  • Protecting children they felt couldn’t make important decisions and follow through on their own, or
  • Seeking their own status through the accomplishments of their children.

This is the very opposite of what parents should be doing, which is helping the child separate from the parent. Instead, the parents in the scandal “glommed” themselves to the child even further, caretaking them or living vicariously through them to attain a pathologically warped sense of esteem.

As you read this blog, I encourage you to ponder:

  • What was hard for you when considering a career?
  • Why is it helpful to understand the role your parents may have played?
  • What could have made your decision easier?
  • How might this benefit the way you make decisions today?

Why career choice feels so hard

We are at such a tender age when we are asked to choose careers. Most of us make our first stab at career choice in our late teens – when we are still strongly influenced by our parents’ reactions to our decisions. We may be trying to please, rebelling outright, completely ignoring our parents, and often some combination of the three!

We’re at an important developmental stage where we are individuating from our parents and moving towards independence. So in the middle of this push/pull, which can often lead to overcautious or impulsive behavior or both, we are being asked to make decisions that can have a profound impact on our careers for decades to come.

When our parents make strong suggestions, or when we make choices to try to please them, or when we rebel solely for the sake of rebelling, it keeps us from learning to hear our own voice and make our own choices. And if our voice is tamped down in those formative years, it can be extremely challenging to resuscitate it years later when we really realize that not only aren’t we happy in our current roles, but we can’t even articulate what makes us happy or what our interests are.

How school can further “mess up” our career decisions

Ironically, many of us make career decisions when we are in high school or college. In school, there’s usually a right answer. We become conditioned to perform as expected.

But choosing a career is the opposite: there’s no right answer, there’s not enough information, and there’s no rubric for grading the assignment.

Yet we need to make these tough decisions so we can learn to trust our voice: to see if we like something “enough,” and also to figure out what “enough” is. We need to try and experiment and see what happens. With the ups and downs, we learn what we like and what we don’t. And we learn that we can make mistakes and still be okay. Ultimately, we get closer and closer to finding out who we are and what we like and what matters to us.

No one can do that for us except ourselves.

So what could helpful parental involvement look like?

It’s hard for parents to see us struggle – but that’s how we learn. The best thing that parents can do is to not overly influence our decisions, but help us learn how to make our own choices. Imagine how empowering it would be if parents were to tell us:

  • There’s no such thing as a “perfect” choice. It’s not as though one choice will lead to happiness, fulfillment and wealth, and all the others will lead to anything from a ho-hum existence to despair and ruin. There are likely many alternative choices we could make that would suit us just fine. Instead of asking, “is this THE one?” we might ask, “is this good enough?”
  • For many important choices we will make in our lives, we will not have all the information on hand we’d like to have and we will not know what the future will bring. Articulating that can help ease the pressure of making the decision.
  • There will be plenty of opportunity down the road to re-evaluate what we’re learning from the decisions we’ve made. Are things going well? Then continue. Are there slight modifications to be made? Then modify. Are things not going well? Time to make a course correction, remembering: there’s no “perfect” choice, and we won’t have all the information we’d like, but we’ll incorporate what we’ve learned then try again.

Is my relationship with my parents affecting my career today?

Your answers to the following could be highly colored by your relationship with your parents:

  • How clear are you on what you want and don’t want from your career?
  • How easy is it for you to make decisions where there are lots of unknowns?
  • How confident are you in tackling a new assignment?
  • What role does perfectionism play in your work?
  • What fears arise for you when you receive negative feedback?

Bottom line:

  • How do you sort out all the career influences and suggestions you’ve received?
  • How do you decide what you do and don’t want to incorporate?
  • And, if your choice is different from one that someone is strongly suggesting for you, how do you manage that conflict while standing up for what feels right for you?

Want help from someone objective, non-judgmental, and experienced — one who will help you claim a decision that’s rightfully yours? Send me an email or give me a call at 612-922-4952!

career coaching with Freda Marver

  Parents & Career Implications
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