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Four reasons parents don’t support their kids’ dreams

Stanford junior (and gymnast!) Jason Shen sent me some very sharp observations of why his Chinese parents and the parents of other Stanford students aren’t crazy about your wild career dreams. My thoughts follow each of his points below.

JS 1: Parents don't get much of the reward, but absorb a lot of the risk. Paul Graham has talked about this. What happens when you move to LA to make it big in Hollywood. Your parents don't get to go to the parties, meet tons of new people, acting in small roles, etc. They do have to deal with the risk of a broke, run down, crying and worse, coked-out child coming home to mom and dad when things don't work out. That risk is a lot lower when someone becomes a doctor or biomedical engineer

IY: Right on. If when your parents ask you How’s work? and you give them the same dull answer you gave when they asked How’s school? (Fine.) then it will be impossible for them to see the reward of doing what you love. (And if all you’re saying is Fine you’re probably not doing what you love.) This is what cell phones and digital cameras and e-mail are for. Don’t just put your photos on facebook. Show the most clean fun ones to your parents. Call home once a week and act like you like it.

I have a friend who quit his high school teaching job in Kansas to move to Nashville to play music. He sends a documentary video of his new life to his parents about once a month. And they get so excited that I hear about it the next day from my mom who heard from my dad who works with Scott’s dad.

If we follow our hearts because we’re so in love with something we forget about the risk, the same can happen for your parents. Get them drunk on the dream so they forget about the worst-case scenario.

JS 2) Losing Face - Failure isn't just a problem of taking care of your child. Its also dealing with questions of "what is junior doing these days?" It's embarassing to have to say "oh, he's staying at home while he looks for a new job". Sure, this is shallow, but it is a real factor.
IY: Yup, it’s shallow, but it is a huge factor. Not just your parents but for yourself. I know people whose biggest fear about quitting their jobs is having to answer the question What do you do? And unless they stop caring so much about what shallow people think or they start getting really busy doing something they love so they have a real answer, they’ll stay stuck forever.

Now back to your parents. You have to be to your parents what Karl Rove is to Dub-ya. Feed them the lines, tell them what to say, explain why it’s good, show them how to sell it. Your parents are not dumb people (Where you think you got your smarts? IQ is genetic). They just don’t have the same information you have. Every winter my dad writes his annual state-of-the-family updates to send to friends and relatives, and every time he gets the names of my and my brothers’ summer programs and scholarships completely wrong. I used to get ticked, but then I realized he just hasn’t seen the names as many times as I have. The letterhead from Economics for Leaders Presented by the Foundation for Teaching Economics had dozens of impressions on my eyes and zero on his. All he heard was me saying I’m going to economics camp. So he took his best guess.

If you go to law school or medical school or you’re a teacher or a fireman, your parents will get it right because they’ve heard of that stuff before. But chances are your dream job isn’t that easy to explain. I, for one, don’t have an official title in my day job and I have several other projects that are important to me. But for now I just tell my parents to say Ian's a writer. and mention one notable thing I’ve worked on. If you’re not employed in the traditional sense, then that needs to change to She’s working on ______. And if the outsider tries to clarify So she still works for that insurance company? Your parents can say. No, she left to do this because this is a better opportunity for her. But only if you teach them.

JS 3) Not Wanting to See Your Child Hurt Kill the dream early, so they won't get hurt later on when they don't get it. Yes, a terrible strategy, but one that actually happens. Parents tell their kids not to run across the street because they can't bear to see their child get hit by a car. In the same way, they encourage kids to take the safe way in a career, in life.

IY: Get your parents to realize that you will hurt a million times more if you don’t go after your dream than if you just don’t quite reach it. (If you think this answer is too short, read it again.)

JS 4) Financial Concerns Many parents, especially of the Asian community, rely on their children as their retirement. This is not a good thing, but it happens. They would rather their child be in a stable, corporate, big company job with benefits and a nice salary then off trying to start their own business. Because an organization man can better care for them and help them with their living expenses and health care costs. Again, I don't support this, but it does happen.

IY: You have to educate your parents about personal finance as much as yourself. If you never talk about the money, they’ll never even think about possibilities other than you working for Bank of America. If you impress them with your financial knowledge and show them numbers for different scenarios, they’ll begin to gain confidence in you and at least be willing to compromise. My parents trust me about the money factor in my own career and life because I’m helping them learn about the money game, too.

I got them to read Rich Dad, Poor Dad, so they believe in the power of starting your own business. We play the Rich Dad boardgame Cashflow 101 and talk about assets and liabilities. And recently I helped them move money they had earning 2% interest in CDs at the local bank to an FDIC-insured savings account with ING Direct that pays over 4%. They got $25 for nothing, twice as much interest, and more access to their assets. And my stock rose in their eyes because I showed I know something about how personal finance works.

If you thought Jason Shen's prompts were right on the money like I did, you might also enjoy his
- post "So what are you going to do with your biology degree?"
- "Finding yourself in 7 days" project (scroll to the bottom and read up)

If you or your parents want the special referral link from ING Direct that gives you $25 for opening a high-interest savings account with just $250 or more, write to me or use the form at http://ianybarra.com/goodstuff.

Posted by Ian Ybarra on 28 October 2006