You may not have heard about the young girl from my neck of the woods who just graduated from high school and is heading to college in Arizona to study ichthyology. It’s been causing quite a stir because her father, a family medicine doc who runs a busy practice in town, is less than thrilled about her daughter’s chosen career path. The tension between father and daughter is palpable, and the rest of the family is caught in the middle, forced to take sides.
The father is resolute in his belief that his daughter is on a misguided path, and he refuses to squander his hard-earned money on what he deems a fruitless pursuit. The ensuing family drama is a riveting spectacle to behold. As someone who has witnessed the devastating effects of poverty firsthand, I can, in many ways, empathize with the doctor’s perspective on life.
According to the book The Class Ceiling: Why it Pays to be Privileged by Daniel Laurison and Sam Friedman, the odds are heavily stacked in favor of children following in their parents’ professional footsteps. For instance, children of doctors are a whopping 24 times more likely than their peers to become doctors, while children of lawyers are 17 times more likely to enter the legal profession. Similarly, offspring of film and television industry individuals are 12 times more likely to pursue a career in that field.
But what if the child you have been grooming to take over your practice suddenly decides that medicine is not their calling? Or worse yet, what if they opt for a non-traditional career path that you fear may not provide them with financial security?
To be clear, though, I love all types of fish, especially when served with a spicy chili sauce. But the thought of this young girl spending four long years studying these delectable aquatic creatures and, in the process, racking up huge debt in student loans, gives me pause.
I can’t help but wonder how this knowledge would serve any practical purpose in a scenario where we are forced to fend for ourselves in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. Okay, maybe I am being overly dramatic, but I believe one has to consider the unpredictability of life and the importance of practical skills when making career choices.
I would have to admit that this mindset is embarrassingly parochial, and I recognize that my perspective might be different if I were fortunate enough to inherit a mega fortune. However, that is far from my reality and the reality of most people I know. Of course, I totally understand the idea of giving one’s child a free hand to decide on what he or she wants to become. Nevertheless, let’s consider this issue more closely.
In the United States, for example, high school ends in twelfth grade, with an average age of 17 for its students. This age is four years shy of the legal drinking age of 21, and scientific research has shown that the prefrontal cortex, the rational part of the brain, may not reach maturity until age 25 or beyond. Despite this, choosing a career path remains one of the most significant decisions that individuals make in their lives, and society deems it appropriate to entrust this enormous responsibility to a demographic that is not even considered mature enough to consume alcohol.
It’s worth reflecting on this incongruity, so we could reexamine the assumptions underlying our current career decision-making approach. Perhaps it is time to acknowledge that we are asking too much of our young people and that we need to rethink our approach to supporting them in this critical process.
But I get it, parents have also, on their part, played some role not particularly helpful. Some parents have a tendency to push their children towards particular career paths for reasons they consider prestigious but are less than relevant, while totally ignoring their child’s interests and aptitudes. We have all encountered parents who narrow their children’s career options to fields like medicine, engineering, and law, without considering whether these are actually the best fit for the child. This approach is deeply flawed and can have far-reaching negative consequences for the child’s future.
Parents have a crucial role in shaping their children’s future, but imposing a narrow view of success could be doing more harm than good. When parents limit their children’s potential and undermine their natural passions and talents, they risk creating a sense of disconnection and disengagement. This misguided approach can force children down paths they’re not truly interested in or suited for, leading to missed opportunities and unfulfilled potential.
Moreover, it’s also important to remember that the world is rapidly changing, and the career landscape is constantly evolving. Fields that were once considered prestigious or stable may no longer be as secure or desirable, and new opportunities are emerging all the time. By restricting a child’s career options, parents could be closing doors that could lead to exciting and fulfilling paths.
That being said, as parents, most of us want the best for our children, and part of that involves envisioning their future success. We imagine them excelling in careers that utilize their unique talents and abilities, like becoming a brilliant lawyer or world-class engineer. However, our children’s passions and interests may not align with ours as they grow and mature, leading them down a different path, like pursuing a career in the exciting world of Nollywood or becoming a disc jockey. It can be a challenging dilemma for parents.
So where is the sweet spot in all of this? One approach to this dilemma is to help the child acquire both practical skills and knowledge that align with their passion and are in demand in the job market. This can be achieved by exploring internships, part-time jobs, or volunteering opportunities in their desired field, while simultaneously encouraging them to pursue formal education or training that complements their interests.
Another way to address this issue is by having a heart-to-heart conversation with the child about the reality of financial independence and the need for a stable income source. You could discuss the challenges of following one’s passion while also making ends meet and the importance of balancing these two aspects. This could also help the child gain a broader perspective and appreciate the value of finding a middle ground between pursuing their passion and practical considerations. Parents should certainly feel very comfortable giving their opinion.
However, not all passions can easily translate into a career. While pursuing one’s passion is important, it’s vital to approach it in a pragmatic manner that sets one up for success in the long run. Individuals can achieve their goals and lead a fulfilling life with the right balance of passion and practical considerations.
Osmund Agbo is a pulmonary physician.