Should a teenager follow their passion or their parents’ wishes for a career?

M.Sam asks: My father wants me to choose a medical career due to my good grades, but I feel that my career should be fashion designing. He won’t let me do so, as I have no proper plan, yet I believe that I will be happy and successful as a designer. Who is right, him or me? Should I talk to him?

Hi M.Sam –

The question you’re dealing with has plagued teenagers for centuries.  Of course, there was once a time when teens were completely expected to follow in their parents’ careers – a farmer’s son and daughter were both expected to spend their lives on farms.  But today humans live in a world full of choices, which make such decisions more difficult.

You, in particular, are facing a very common and special problem.  Your father wants you to have a stable, successful, lucrative career.  While you have an artistic passion, and want to pursue that.  Of course, some fashion designers make great livings, but many don’t at all.  So your father truly means the best for you – he wants you to live a comfortable life with a guaranteed income.  But it sounds like you want something else.

So there are a couple of ways to go about this.  One is to do both.  I know of one case, for example, a man in Australia whose parents demanded he become a doctor.  He did, though he was, like you, much more drawn to visual arts.  One of his first jobs as a doctor was working in an emergency room, where he saw lots of injuries from car accidents.  This inspired him to, now that he’d done what his parents wanted, make a movie with a lot of car crashes.  It’s a strange story, but it’s true: his name was George Miller, the movie was called “Mad Max,” and thirty years later he’s an Oscar-winner directing its third sequel!  And yes, he’s still a doctor!

Another version would be to keep working on design while you go through medical school.  You might have heard of Michael Crichton – he did just that, and then kept writing while he started working as a doctor.  Eventually, after a number of his books had become bestsellers (books you’d never have heard of, like “Jurassic Park!”), of course, he gave up his medical practice.  But the point I’m making is that you could devote yourself to both.

But then there’s the other argument – that medical school is a hugely expensive and difficult undertaking, just to have a “backup job!”  That if what you want to do is fashion design, then you should do just that, and not waste your time on all those science classes (although I’ll bet studying anatomy would be great for working in fashion, wouldn’t it?).

And I have to admit, no offense to Drs. Miller and Crichton, but I think you might be a lot happier if you did that.

So here’s my thought – what if you make your father a deal:  You devote yourself to fashion design for, let’s say two years.  You study it, you work with a designer, you give it everything you’ve got.  And at the end of those two years, you have some sort of test.  Maybe it’s whether or not you’ve sold anything.  Or perhaps it’s that you have a designer or teacher look at your work and give a determination of its worth.  And if they say that you’re good enough, you continue at it.

But – and here’s the scary part – if they say you’re not, you give it up.  Go to medical school.  You have to promise – otherwise your father won’t agree to it.

Look, if your dad just wants you to be successful, and you become the next Yves Saint-Laurent or Coco Chanel, I think he’s going to be very very happy!  Just as I’m sure Dr. Miller’s family was very pleased with the boxoffice receipts of “Happy Feet,” and Dr. Crichton’s was about the ratings of “E.R!”  But your father’s right, that medicine is a world where you can be a lot more sure of success.

And remember, if you go with my suggestion, even if you don’t make a career of Fashion Design, that doesn’t mean you can’t still do it.  Here’s the giant question – if you tried, and it didn’t work out, and you became a doctor, and in your spare time you designed your own clothes, and your family’s, and maybe the costumes for your kids’ school plays… could you live with that?

Now, though, there’s another point, which is too much for this answer here.  What I don’t know is if you like, or are interested in, medicine at all!  If you’re not, then I don’t think that’s the career for you, regardless of your success in fashion.  So you might also want to think about what else might please your family, besides medicine.  There are lots of other great careers.

And remember, while we all want to please our family as much as we can – in the end, this is your life we’re talking about.  So figure out how best to pursue your dream while being good to your family.  But in the end, do what’s best for you.  And the more experience you have – in the fashion world, in job-hunting, and just in life – the better sense of that you’ll have.

Good Luck my friend!  I hope to see M.Sam labels everywhere very soon!






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