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Can't convince your family you're doing the right thing?

Then have someone else do it.

After a talk I gave at USC in January, a college junior approached me with the following dilemma: He's from a tight-knit immigrant family that had to sacrifice a ton to put him through school. His major is biomedical engineering, and because of his family's limited knowledge of the white-collar professional world, they expect him to work strictly as a biomedical engineer and nothing else for his entire life. Problem is, few biomedical engineering majors actually take on first jobs under the title "biomedical engineer." Furthermore, he doesn't know what he really wants to do after college anyway.

Of course, I tell him No problem. Just find something you love and do it. Doesn't need to be biomedical engineering. You seem smart and mature. You'll be fine.

"But I'd never be able to convince my family to let me do that."

My gut reaction was, "You're an adult. You can do whatever you want, regardless of what your family says. They can't really make you go to law school or whatever unless you let them." But I understand the emotional need to have their blessing. So I told this kid to launch a propaganda campaign on his family. That's how they came to believe what they believe -- someone else brainwashed them. Why can't you reverse it? Deep down, they want you to be successful and satisfied, but they want whatever you do to match what they know and are comfortable with also.

For his family, my first prescription was a graduation speech by Guy Kawasaki. In it, he discusses his top 10 hindsights from his life and career. At one point, he recommends studying and doing what you love, and not just whatever seems the safest path to a nice car or house and says this about how parents are involved here...

You parents have a responsibility in this area. Don't force your kids to follow in your footsteps or to live your dreams. My father was a senator in Hawaii. His dream was to be a lawyer, but he only had a high school education. He wanted me to be a lawyer.

For him, I went to law school. For me, I quit after two weeks. I view this a terrific validation of my inherent intelligence. And when I quit, neither of my parents were angry. They loved me all just the same.

This student was nervous about trying to backwards brainwash his family, but he gave it a shot. At the end of his next casual reply to an aunt the next day, he slipped this in at the end.

Here's a nice read.

His aunt wrote back:

Dear, Kevin. Yes, it is interesting to read. I might buy his book to read. Did you see his book yet? It is good that you find some interesting stuff and share with us. Keep doing it. We need more input from you - young man! I will spend more time to read it. Love, Aunty Jenny

And Kevin wrote to me, "You were right!"

So if you're having trouble standing up to your parents by yourself. Get some help. Enlist the opinion of any expert or non-expert you can to give your parents (or friends) a new perspective. I don't know what would work best in your particular situation, but these two things have been working well for my friends lately.


Posted by Ian Ybarra on 27 March 2006