Dealing with your parents’ expectations

My parents had big plans for my future, but I found a way to make them proud while also taking control of my education.

Nov 23, 2017

Ever since I was little, I knew that attending post-secondary wouldn’t be a choice for me. My parents made it clear that they’d worked hard to give me opportunities they never had, and that I was expected to go to university.

When I was younger, I didn’t mind having my path laid out before me. But as I got older, I started to feel the mounting pressure of trying to please my family, and live up to their seemingly impossible standards—on top of trying to live my life in a way that made me happy, too.

I avoided thinking about my future

All throughout high school I tended to focus on the now—rarely thinking about my future. Instead, I focused on doing things that interested me, like traveling and getting involved with my community and my culture as an Aboriginal person.

By focusing on my interests, I discovered that I had a passion for exploring other cultures and sharing my own, and I was the happiest when I was able to do so.

Whenever I thought of post-secondary and career planning, I felt anxious. So I chose to avoid all thoughts of my future instead, which led to a vicious cycle: because I was so scared about my future, I tried not to think about it, and because I tried not to think about it, I became even more scared.

Applying to post-secondary

I was constantly worried about disappointing my parents and failing to live up to their expectations. When it came time to start applying for schools, my parents thought it would be best if I got an undergraduate degree in Education, and then transferred to law school. I respected their advice, and wanted to make them proud, so I went along with their plan even though I didn’t have any drive to do so.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to go into law, or that I’d be any good at it, and I knew I did not want to be a teacher for the rest of my life. However, I didn’t have an alternative plan. I eventually got accepted to the University of Alberta and, once there, I did the same thing I did in high school: I avoiding thinking about my future. Instead I focused on school, my new friends, and the present.

How I discovered my path

It’s not until my mom talked to me one night about the different career paths I could take as a lawyer that I became confident that I was in the right program. She told me about a friend of hers who worked as a human rights lawyer for the United Nations, and who was able to travel all over the world and make a difference in the lives of others. She also told me about other possibilities, like working for a reserve, or even working in the government to help First Nations people.

Suddenly, I felt inspired by the possibilities within the career path I had reluctantly chosen for myself. I realized that I could combine my passions with the career path my parents were pushing me towards. I had options. I’d made the right choice after all.

For the first time in years the pressure I felt was lifted off of my shoulders. I was no longer trying to fit into the path my parents had set for me—I felt inspired to take my post-secondary experience and make it my own.

How I’m owning my future

I’m now saving up money to travel, and have looked into several programs to study abroad before I finish my degree. I’m also planning on teaching English in Japan for a year or two before starting law school, because that’s what I want to do. Even though I won’t graduate when my parents want me to, I know that this plan will make me happy (and hey, at least I’ll be able to put my education degree to use!).

I ended up finding my own path within the path my parents had laid out for me. And who knows? I may discover new passions and different careers that excite me further down the road. Nothing is ever set in stone.

I can’t tell you what exactly to say or do to make the expectations you’re facing seem less daunting. Heck, I still struggle with them sometimes. But I can tell you this: you won’t be happy if you live your life for other people. You can love your parents, and listen to their ideas and hopes for your future, but ultimately it’s your life.

You only have one life. Make it a good one, and make it your own!


University of Alberta

I wasn't excited about my program, but I didn't feel I had much choice. Yet it's turned out to be the perfect program for me.

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