Ask Dr. P. | My parents disagree with my major and career plans

 
Ask Dr. P.

[Q]

My parents want me to be a doctor but I have no interest in the medical field. What should I do?


[A]

Your parents have their dreams for you, and you have your own. Sometimes both sets of dreams coincide or overlap, but more frequently, they go off in separate directions. Their dreams for you may be the result of unfilled desires they had for themselves and/or their hopes that you will have a rewarding and prestigious occupation. Or they may truly believe that you would be happiest in the medical field rather than somewhere else. Regardless of their motives, you can’t live your life constantly trying to meet their expectations.

While you are a product of your parents’ or caretakers’ upbringing, you are a unique person with values, interests, and aptitudes of your own. Your unique characteristics were acquired biologically (you are not a biological carbon copy of either parent), in schools, and in partnership with your peers, among other places. You are different from your caretakers and often these differences are substantial, that is, they affect the kind of career you would be ideally suited for.

 

What can you do about career conflicts with your parents/caregivers?

 

1. SEEK CAREER COUNSELING

One of the first things you can do is get some career counseling at your college or university to discover what your career-related interests are. The information you will learn about yourself will be helpful in talking with your parents about your choices of a college major and/or career.

Generally, as part of career counseling, you will take at least one paper-and-pencil test. The most frequently-used career test is the Strong Interest Inventory, which is composed of 291 questions, and takes about 35 to 40 minutes to complete. Following the scoring, you will receive a profile that compares your answers with successful people in over 260 occupations. That way you will have an opportunity to see how your interests fit in with theirs.


Are you most like a DOER, A THINKER, A CREATOR, A HELPER, A PERSUADER OR AN ORGANIZER?

The Strong Inventory assesses which of these career types you most resemble.

Doers are active, hands-on, adventurous people who like to be outdoors. Civil engineers, veterinarians, and firefighters fall into this category.

Thinkers, on the other hand, are analytical, theoretical, and inquisitive people interested in research. As you might expect, scientists, professors, and police detectives are among the Thinkers.

Creators have a strong need to express themselves in some way and are often found in the Arts, e.g. actors, artists, musicians, and architects. They are artistic, imaginative, and free-spirited.

Helpers are caring, supportive, and collaborative people who gravitate to people-oriented professions, such as teaching, medicine, psychology, and social work.

Persuaders are influential, ambitious, and enterprising people who run business organizations (lawyers, school principals, and police officers are also in this category).

Organizers are usually the behind-the-scenes workers who handle all the details. They are practical, orderly, and efficient, such as accountants, computer programmers, bankers, and librarians. Ordinarily, Organizers prefer to stay out of the limelight.

 

2. TALK WITH YOUR PARENTS/CAREGIVERS ABOUT YOUR CAREER INTERESTS

The next thing you can do is talk with your parents about your career interests. Schedule a time and place away from your house, such as a restaurant or park, where reason and calm can prevail. If you are correct about having no interest in the medical field, your Career Profile from the testing will be useful ammunition in defending your position. As you talk with them, it will be helpful to have an alternate career or two in mind. That way they will be reassured that you are behaving in a reasonable and mature way about your future.

In any event, you can use this opportunity to talk with your parents or caretakers about yourself and what your interests and values are. Be prepared to handle any objections they might raise about your preferred path (e.g., you won’t make a lot of money or you won’t have any job security). Parents tend to worry about their children’s safety and financial security before they think about job satisfaction, especially if they themselves had a rough time making it, that is, they didn’t have a lot of money and worked hard for the little they had.

While there is no guarantee that your first discussion with them will be successful, it will at least open the door to future talks, provided the first meeting didn’t generate a lot of bitterness. Remember that your parents had very different experiences than you have had, and as a result, see the world much differently than you do!


Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you won’t be able to convince them of your perspective. And that is okay, just as long as you try to maintain respect and affection for them while pursuing your own dreams!
 

I'm Dr. Geraldine K. Piorkowski, a clinical psychologist with many years of experience working with college students. I was the Director of two University Counseling Centers in Chicago, and was the first in my family to go to college. Click here to learn more.


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