Had I followed every single wish that my parents wanted for me when I was studying my GCSE’s and A-Levels, there’s no way that I would be living in London and working in a creative role that I’m genuinely happy in. Fact.
Don’t get me wrong, both my mum and dad have given me other invaluable advice throughout my life (my particular favourite is to ALWAYS buy an ‘emergency pizza’ on your food shop). However, when it came to educational and professional choices, I knew I had to go with my gut instinct and convince them that my decision was the right one.
So, if you’re feeling the pressure from others to choose a path that you’re not comfortable with – be it your university (or choice to not go at all), your subject choice, or your career – here are a few things to help you gain some perspective.
Listen to other opinions
During my placement year, I spoke to a girl who was doing work experience with my company at the time. We chatted about university, and when I asked her what she wanted to study, she replied; “My parents want me to go to Oxbridge and study a science-based subject.”
I replied firmly, “That’s not what I asked. What do you want to study at university?”
Sure enough, I got a very different answer. She didn’t want to go to Oxbridge, and she didn’t want to study science. But she felt like she didn’t have a choice. Her institution was putting pressure on her to go an elite university, as were her parents. I did my best to instil some confidence in her, but I knew for a fact that her family and school would have far more sway.
But what we should remember is that our parents are from another generation. The career market was very different when they first started working to what it is now, and there are a multitude of opportunities out there for young people from all subject backgrounds and institutions. Even if you don’t want to go to university at all, apprenticeships and school-leaver jobs are still an alternative option. As for schools and colleges, many of them are concerned with their own reputation above your own happiness. It’s sad, but unfortunately true.
Our advice? Go elsewhere for true insights. Look at articles, contact professionals/students and speak to someone with a different perspective. For example; you may wish to pursue writing, but those around you may dismiss this as ‘too risky’. Well, why not send an email or tweet to a professional writer? Ask how they broke into the industry, and get an opinion from someone who’s actually been there and done it.
Show, don’t tell
It’s one thing saying that you want to do ‘something’, but physically demonstrating what that ‘something’ is can be far more powerful. For example; both my parents were hesitant about me going to university at all. I was the first in my generation, and the tuition fees had just recently been raised to the astronomical £9,000 a year (lucky me). But I managed to change their opinions when I took them on an open day with me.
By seeing the bustling university campus and talking to the professors, my family began to understand why this was the right decision for me; I wanted my independence and the chance to open more doors for my career. And showing them something tangible finally seemed to demonstrate exactly what I was talking about.
Now of course, we can’t all take our parents on a campus tour and say ‘job well done’. But there are other ways to get your point across besides just a conversation. If you want to perform, invite them along to a showcase and flaunt your talents. If your dream is to be an entrepreneur, create a portfolio of your ideas.
In short, show you’re committed. We can all dream about our ambitions, but not everyone follows through and backs it up with evidence. If you do that, it will show your confidence and enthusiasm for your chosen path.
I’m an advocate for taking risks. I chose Theatre and Performance as my subject because it was my passion, despite it being stereotyped as a ‘Mickey Mouse’ degree that won’t get you anywhere in life (thanks, Daily Mail). And frankly, my Dad had the same opinion. He’s an engineer, so he wanted me to study a STEM subject as it’s seen as a much more reliable choice.
But I was determined to prove him wrong. So I made choices throughout university that helped my employability. I picked Leeds in the first place because they were one of the few institutions to offer placement years with every subject. I chose that particular course because it offered electives like marketing and an internship. I got involved in societies for the transferable skills and responsibility. I worked a part-time job to demonstrate that I could balance my time. And sure enough, three days after I graduated I got offered a job in London.
So yes, it’s healthy to take a risk, but make it a calculated one. Our families only want what’s best for us at the end of the day. If you’re choosing a subject or career that’s not seen as ‘stable’, then think about everything else you can do to help broaden your CV – work experience, academics and societies/hobbies all factor into this.
In summary, be confident and firm, but look at your choices with the future in mind. You’re in the driver’s seat, no-one else. Work for that dream.