Q. I am having a hard time being motivated and excelling academically at my college. My parents have huge expectations for me but I do not know if I want the same thing as them. Through high school and the start of college I wanted the same thing but the more I am in college, the more afraid I have become of not knowing what I really am passionate about vs not letting my parents down.
As the oldest child in my family, there is a lot of expectation to be the 2nd generation child of immigrant parents to go to the best school, succeed, and then get into medical school. However it seems that the longer I am at this school, the worse my grades get, the more I am afraid to tell my parents that it turns out I am not excelling in the direction that I thought I wanted my life to take. I do not like to whine or be indecisive and anxious (even though now that I think about it, what I am telling you thus far may come across as a selfish complaint). I tried to talk about it with my close friends, but as fellow classmates themselves, they couldn’t really help me.
I feel very depressed and stressed out that while everyone around me is active in living their lives, I am stuck and digging a bigger hole for myself. I guess I just want to know how I can figure out what I am passionate about, how to stand up to my parents and to find the courage to really live my life. Not knowing the direction my life is taking is really stressful.
A. I think you are asking some very good questions about what direction you want your life to go in. You are feeling stressed because as you said, you thought that you wanted to be a doctor and now, as you grow and learn more about yourself you are rethinking your original goal. Even more stressful for you now are the expectations that you feel your parents have placed upon you to achieve a particular goal. This is a fairly common situation.
While this state of affairs is making you feel uncomfortable and worried, asking these questions regarding your future is essential and psychologically healthy. Pondering this aspect of your life is necessary if you want to find out what you are truly passionate about and what job is most suitable for you.
It would be extremely unhealthy for you to ignore these thoughts and feelings and to decide to be a doctor anyway because that is what your parents want and expect. Yes, it would be easier to do what your parents want but it would be very detrimental for you.
What interests your parents is not necessarily what interests you. What career path they chose may not necessarily suit you. What political party your parents belong to may not necessarily reflect your political interests, and so forth. You are not an extension of your parents. You have your own thoughts, feelings, interests, and emotions. You are your own person. Unfortunately, not all parents understand this. Some parents essentially force their thoughts and opinions onto their children. Too many parents think of their children as “projects” and become angry or feel rejected if their child does not follow the parents’ predetermined plan. The unfortunate effect of this type of parenting may be that the child never becomes who they were truly meant to be.
What is most important for you, and this would be true for anyone facing a similar situation, is that you follow the path that is right for you, not the path that is right for your parents.
With regard to finding a vocation that suits you, you should explore many possible career options. They are many ways to do this. For instance, take many different types of classes. Try music class, art class, history, or whatever else you think may interest you. Try joining school clubs, start a new hobby or try joining an athletic team. You could interview people who work in the professions you find interesting. Also, you may want to check to see if your school has a career counseling center (most do) where you can take occupational tests or talk to people who are trained to help students explore their career interests.
I want to also mention that at 20 years old, it is extremely difficult to know what you want to do with the rest of your life. Try not to feel anxious about this. Few people truly know, even if they say they do. Frankly, sometimes it’s more worrisome to hear young individuals proclaim they know exactly what they want to do with the rest of their lives. It is unrealistic to think that you should know. It is okay not to know and it’s normal. Try to reframe the way you think about the idea of not knowing. You are thinking critically and exploring and this is good.
In addition, it is better to know now that you do not want to be a doctor than realizing this fact after you have spent 10-12 years in medical school and burdened yourself and your family with a large student loan debt ($139,517 was the average medical student loan debt accrued in 2007, according to the American Medical Association).
With regard to talking to your parents, you should be honest with them. They may not like the fact that you do not want to be a doctor. But dealing with their disappointment may be far better than denying yourself a chance to find out what you are truly passionate about. If you ignore or bury your true feelings regarding this situation, you risk living with regret and or misery.
In summation, realize that this is your life, not your parents’ life. It’s normal, healthy and critically important that you ask these types of questions regarding your future, even if your parents or society tell you otherwise. It may not be easy to find out what you are truly passionate about but make no mistake you will regret having not tried. I hope this helps. Thanks for writing.
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 20 Feb 2008
Randle, K. (2008). My Parents Want Me to be a Doctor, But I Don’t. Help.. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 20, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2008/02/20/my-parents-want-me-to-be-a-doctor-but-i-dont-help/