What to do when your family is pushing you to a profession you don’t want

Tuktuk asks:

I’ve been happy these days and mostly avoiding any negative thoughts, but then suddenly I had a thought that I am not going into the right profession. I am a medical student. I feel like I am not in the right profession because my parents and my family expect a lot out of me. They say there’s no pressure but indirectly I can feel the tension. My mother has said since I was young that she doesn’t compare me with other kids, but indirectly she used to, and I used to feel pressured all the time. I had to be on my best behavior because she was a teacher in my school, and now when I am in college they constantly remind me that I have to be a successful doctor. I get overwhelmed by everyone’s expectations these days and due to this thinking I haven’t been doing anything. My career choice was the only thing I never doubted, and felt that it was my own decision, but now I feel that even that was forced on me indirectly. I feel I have no uniqueness in me. I don’t feel useless but rather tired of everything that’s going on around me and just want to run away. I feel like when I’ll die no one will know me because I couldn’t leave a mark, and was rather like a piece of dirt which goes away when the surface is cleaned.

Hi Tuktuk –

            I have so much to say to this, but let me start with your last sentence.  I believe that you feel this, but I promise you the opposite is the truth.  Even if you stay on exactly the path you’re on right now, you are clearly the focus of your parents’ dreams, and would become someone who would care for, and maybe even save the lives of, hundreds or thousands of people.  I remember when I broke my toe by jumping on the fence to bark at our neighbors.  I was maybe a year old?  But I can tell you everything about that pet emergency hospital, each person who worked on me, and what the needles felt like going in, how kindly they wrapped up my foot (and how frantic Handsome was while waiting for me).  And that was a broken toe – I was maybe there an hour.  You might become a lot more involved in some people’s lives than those professionals were in mine!

            But that’s all about if you stay on the same path.  A path you’re beginning to doubt.

            Don’t get me wrong – I love doctors and believe there’s no more noble profession.  But I also absolutely LOVE that you’re going through this – wherever it leads.

            Here’s what’s going on, my friend.  Your brain is developing in a way it couldn’t when you were even just a year or two younger.  You’re starting to question everything in your life – and that’s the BEST THING YOU CAN DO!  You’re realizing that decisions you believed were your own were actually your parents’. 

            This doesn’t make them villains, at all.  What’s important here is that you’re doing something really important that we dogs can’t do, and about half of people can’t do.  It’s called Metacognition, and means the ability to think about your own thinking.  You are going through a profound reassessment of your whole life so far, that’s going to determine a great deal of your future. 

            I imagine you’ve heard the term “Midlife Crisis.”  This is something that happens to lots of humans around age 40 or so, when they suddenly question everything in their lives, such as their marriages and careers.  How fortunate that you’re doing that NOW! 

            And here’s what’s so important about this – whatever decision you make about your career WILL be yours now.  If you decide to become a professor of Philosophy (which would suit your deep-thinking brain), or a struggling pop singer, or, yes, a doctor – any of those choices will be yours, and you’ll know it!

            But now here’s the bad news.  I can’t help you with your decision.  Not because I don’t have opinions, but because it has to be your decision!  And maybe that’s something you can’t decide right now.  Maybe you need to take some time off of school (if so, this might be a great time to do it, while many of your classes are likely online); maybe you need to travel the world (if so, this is a lousy time to do it, with the border closings and all the fear); or maybe you can stick with your classes for another term while you try to figure things out.

            Have you ever heard of the movie director George Miller?  He was you!  He was the son of proud, hard-working Greek immigrants in Australia, who’d always dreamt that their bright son would become a doctor.  And so he did.  He studied hard, and got his degree, and in his first residency, he worked in an emergency room.  And every night, he’d see people come in with horrible injuries from auto accidents.  And bit by bit, he talked about what these brought to his mind with a friend of his who wanted to produce movies.  And eventually he quit his medical job and they made a violent low-budget film with a bunch of car action.  It was called Mad Max.  Three sequels, many other films and minseries, and Oscar nominations and wins later, he’s pretty happy with his decision.

            Another similar story is of a great cartoonist.  I don’t know if they print Pearls Before Swine where you are, but it’s Handsome’s favorite comic strip these days.  Its creator, Stephan Pastis (hmm… also of Greek heritage) did what he was supposed to do and became a lawyer.  And hated it.  And would sit around bored, doodling little funny images to keep himself amused.  And eventually… well you get the idea.

            And then there’s the other story.  Not of one person but of millions.  Who went into the profession that was chosen for them, experienced just the doubt you’re having, but then found a way to do those jobs that inspired them, gave their lives meaning, and connected directly to their hearts.

            What’s important to me is that you’re asking this question.  Whatever answer you find, your life will be beautifully improved by your having gone through this.

            And, while I’ve got nothing against dirt – I love to roll around in it and track it into our house – whatever you become will, I promise, not be seen as just a speck of it.  You will be amazing.



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