How to Avoid Repeating Your Parents' Career Mistakes

Stuck in an unsatisfying career? Face those skellies in the cupboard and regain control over your career – you might just be living out your parents’ career mistakes.

By: Alythea Ho

People often feel mortified when they realize they’ve started behaving like their parents. You know, stuff like nicking extra napkins from restaurants and the rest of those awful habits you swore never to do when you reached their age. It’s annoying but quite understandable -- our parents are our first teachers. We adopt many of their thinking patterns subconsciously, whether we want to or not.

So if you’re stuck in an unsatisfying job, have a think first over a potential source of your career values -- your parents. Did your father make a mess of his career and placed all his hopes of success on you? Or maybe your mother insisted you should always stay safe by avoiding challenging (but more rewarding) jobs?

It’s not easy unlearning unhelpful thought patterns once you've reached adulthood. But if you know you've been living under your parents' career shadow, try these suggestions for a start:

1) Take charge of your career instead of passively following your parents' footsteps

There’s nothing wrong with following your parents’ footsteps. Perhaps you’re a doctor because everyone in your family from your mother to your third cousin is involved in the medical profession. As long as you share your parents’ passion and skills for the job, it’s perfectly okay to pursue a career track similar to theirs.

What’s not okay is choosing a job simply because that’s what ‘my father and mother’ did. Maybe your parents did just that because their parents told them to!

So rather than floating passively in a job you don’t like or are not suited for, take time to discover your skills, values, and interests, and develop your career plans around them. A job that truly engages us and uses our best abilities is the one that’s most likely to take us far in our career.

2) Identify negative mindsets in your family

"It's impossible to get ahead at work.”
"If you don't become a big CEO/COO/CFO of a company, you're useless."

Ever heard negative statements like these at home? Or worse still, catch yourself echoing the same statements your parents once made? Negative thinking is especially difficult to work on because it feels normal to us – or so we think. Yet how we think habitually plays a key role in determining whether we live a happier, fulfilled life.

To break negativity, you don’t always need to know the ‘why‘. All you need to know is the ‘what‘. What typically runs through your mind when an exciting job opportunity comes your way? What’s your first response? From there you can start working towards building positive thoughts to replace the negative ones. It might also help to take some time off to evaluate your life before planning your next career move.

3) Stop living out your parents’ regrets and unfulfilled ambitions

Few parents would openly admit they are steering their children towards something they want, citing ‘love’ as a justification for their actions.

Maybe you feel haunted and trapped by your parents' expectations to succeed where they’ve failed. But your parents made their choices; it’s time you made yours. You may have talents, experiences, opportunities, and a personality different from theirs, so pursue a career path that’s best suited for you. Moreover, technological advances in the last three decades have significantly changed the way we work. What didn’t work out for them then may work out for you now.

In short, you are the only one responsible for your career. Step out and take charge if you’ve been living under the shadow of your parents’ regrets. Over time your parents may come to accept your decisions when they see how satisfied you are at your career.

If they don't, take a deep breath and try to go easy on them. Your parents aren’t perfect. Nor, for that matter, are you.


Are you living the career you want or the career your parents wanted? Share with us in the comment box below!

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