So you’ve finished uni, graduation is done and you have enjoyed summer. Now your African/Asian parents have asked when you plan to get a proper job.
“A proper job”
Oh how we loathe these words.
Doctor, Lawyer or Engineer: these are your options. If you’re lucky, you may have been handed the new and improved extended version, the latest addition being: Accountant. These are what we call the proper jobs.
I don’t plan to address ignorance with more ignorance. I’m aware that there are many liberal African/Asian parents who are more ‘developed’ in their views. For whom a psychologist, teacher or journalist are careers that they would very gladly support their children to pursue. But let’s not fool ourselves into believing this is the majority.
Not long ago I was in the company of an African parent who held this not-so-ancient outlook on life. The words “He should go and get a proper job” led me to write this. We were discussing a friend of mine who was making progress in their music career. Unlike this African parent, I thought this was something worth being proud of.
As someone who feels as though I have lived my entire life trapped in a confusing web with no clear desire or direction, I struggled to understand how so many could hold such negative views. How someone could see the passion that their own child had for something (something I longed for) and choose not to support it. It’s likely that I have been cushioned, sheltered from the harsh realities of the real world; maybe my stubborn nature is so strong that I would have done what I wanted with or without my parents’ support. But whatever the reason for my lack of awareness on an issue that affects so many, as always, I did some digging.
Why don’t African/Asian parents support non-conventional/traditional careers?
My initial approach was very direct: I asked, but I didn’t receive the answers I was looking for. Job security and financial stability were the most common responses. There’s no arguing that they are valid reasons, but they didn’t answer my question. It isn’t difficult for me to understand why such professions are preferred, but instead why others are not. We’re not very different to our parents or grandparents when it comes to what we want in life. In fact, the fundamental desires tend to be the same across the entire human race. Of course, our parents want the best for us: a stable job, a good income and a comfortable life. Happiness doesn’t make an appearance on this list despite self-actualisation and esteem being the top two needs on Maslow’s hierarchy.
In my search for answers I chose to reach out to some of the oldest people I know, the closest connection I had to the origins of this mindset and through this, an interesting theory was shared. With the colonisation of a lot of African and Asian countries by the western world, many of our forefathers found themselves striving for the government jobs that the white man was offering. Go to school, study abroad, come back and work for the government and you’ll have a nice house and brand new car lined up for you. This notion has been around long before your parents started using it on you. To be a doctor or lawyer of native descent gave you status, it made you the ‘big man’ in the village, someone the family could be proud of- it became a proper job.
That Awkward Generation…
But in today’s world, the larger majority of us are no longer waiting for the white man to give us jobs- we’re creating our own. We’re doing this through creative forms that make us happy, forms that enhance our natural talents, skills and abilities in forms that even lead us to monetary success.
To some of our parents, however, this simply isn’t enough. “My son is a dancer” doesn’t compare to Aunty Bola’s first son the doctor. Matters are made worse if you are academically gifted. The view in simple terms is this: if you have the brains to be a cardiopulmonary technologist, why would you want to be a comedian? It’s harsh, I know.
Our generation is in a difficult position. Many of us are first-generation British- or wherever it is you find yourself in the Western World. Our parents have struggled to be where they are today and duly want what is best for their children. To them, ‘best’ is a way to describe the opportunities they migrated for. So, whether or not they achieved it, this is the path that has been chosen for us.
Do what you want!
Even with further research, I didn’t find the answer to my question. Instead, I found stories of med-school dropouts and came to one simple conclusion: do what works for you now since you’re going to do it later anyway! I’m a strong advocate for making the most of every opportunity and that may include practising as a lawyer when you’d much rather be a fashion designer just to please your mother. But it’s foolish to know what you want and to go after something else!
Ultimately your parents want what is best for you. You spend the greatest proportion of your life working so a happy career should be high on your priority list! It could be that what makes you happy cannot pay the bills, this is what hobbies are for. But I can assure you that there is something out there that you can work towards and conquer in the professional world and it may not necessarily fall under doctor, lawyer or engineer.
Someone once said that ‘African parents don’t support your dreams until you start making money’, unfortunately, I agree (conditionally). If you’re set on pleasing your parents, do this by first pleasing yourself.
Your passion is what will make you successful, not how much your mum brags about you with her church friends.
Your job is not to live out your parent’s dreams. It’s to break the boundaries your culture has set and make them proud in the process.
All the best,
The next post in this two-part series will be focussed on job satisfaction. But in the meantime, here’s a success story that I shared a while ago on Facebook, from someone who made pleasing himself his number one priority rather than pleasing his African mum.