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Afraid of Disappointing Your Parents? Here's How to Move On

06/30/2015 11:31 am ET | Updated Jun 30, 2016
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Has this ever happened to you? You are at a fork in the road. One path leads to your dream life and a fulfilling career and the other path is what is tried and true and what is expected by your parents. The pull of both is equally strong and for this reason, but you're afraid to move forward for fear of disappointing your parents.

I see it all the time with my clients. Whether you're 21 or 40, this is especially true for people who want to change career paths altogether because they know their skills and passions lie elsewhere. But the prestige of the current job is so great and so highly esteemed by the parents that they are afraid of letting them down if they pursue what they truly want. A client of mine went so far as to say that she's afraid that she'll be a "waste of her parents' investment in her college education" if she chose to go a different path filled with travel, adventure, and a different skill set. Another client confided that she feels like it's "irresponsible to live the life that I want." The choice to live for yourself in the face of pending disappointment from your parents is frustrating, scary, and full of doubt all at the same time. Perhaps you can relate.

I have learned this first-hand myself and had recently gotten a refresher course in being a disappointment to my mom for picking the career path that I did. The following is a sample of a recent conversation:

Me: I'm really happy and my business is doing well!

Mom: Oh, you're happy and doing well with what you're doing now? Why don't you continue in science where you got your degree?

Sigh.

The good news is, you can still be a disappointment to your parents and be OK with it while achieving what you want. Here are some tips so that you can be comfortable with shining in your own light and not be cast in the shadow of your parents expectations.

Choose to disappoint your parents

A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook the following advice from one of the principals at her firm:

"As you grow older, you learn to realize one of the most important things you need to decide is who you choose to disappoint in life."

In choosing to disappoint your parents, you choose to fulfill yourself. By making disappointment a choice, you free yourself.

If you think about it, disappointment happens when somebody who expects one thing doesn't get it. So, the best way to not disappoint is to do what that person expects. But of course, as you have your own life and goals, you don't want to do this! Therefore, in choosing your own fulfillment over that of others', know that you are also choosing to disappoint someone in the process.

When you disappoint someone in favor of your own life vision, I see that as an achievement. In fact, you can wear it loud and proud and put it on your resume because speaking up for yourself is a major victory. I realized that I've been rocking out at disappointing my mom for the past few years because I choose to! And, I'm very good at it, if I may say so myself!

"But my parents should support my choices in life!"

Maybe you have a tiny angry voice in your head that objects to the idea that you have to choose to disappoint because it believes that your parents should be OK with all your choices. While it would be nice to have support from the people who raised us, it's not realistic to expect this from those who are emotionally unavailable. Particularly with parents who have had a more traditional worldview growing up, the fact is they're just not as willing to accept careers or lifestyles that are beyond what they know. So while it may feel personal, it's merely a reflection of their understanding of life and not necessarily a rejection of yours. However, as much as they may disapprove of your new career direction, what are some other things they have supported in your life? List them down. Focusing on what they have given you, rather than what they don't want for you, can help take the sting off of the fact that they don't approve of your life choices.

Validate yourself!

I get it -- it's frustrating to not hear the very words that you want to hear. Sometimes I ask myself, "Why can't my parents just be happy for me?!" If this is the case, write down what you would have liked your parents to say to you. Write it like you mean it, as if you were saying it to yourself. Then read it out loud and feel as if you were giving yourself the support that you wanted. Really feel it. This exercise may seem weird to you and so you may think that it's not worth doing, but it's helped me, my friends, and my clients, so don't knock it 'til you've tried it! Go ahead, do it right now.

Here's a template to get you started. Or feel free to let it go!

Dear [Your name],

I'm so glad to hear that you are [Insert your life choice]! You must have worked so hard to do this and I'm really proud of you. It's so different from what I know, but I hope that it's as rewarding as you want it to be! I care about you and want you to be happy. Even though I'm not too familiar with [your life choice] I hope that you are successful in your efforts and if you ever need my opinion, I'm just a phone call away.

Sincerely,
Mom

In making disappointment a choice, setting realistic expectations, and validating yourself, you'll find that you're closer to authentically living your own life with a lot less fear, guilt, and worry.

Catherine Chen, Ph.D., is a Health Coach who believes that you are important, no matter what you achieve. She works with high-octane women to move past the guilt, frustration, and overwhelm and have more time for sleep and life. If you liked this article and want personalized advice, sign-up for a 30-minute trial session with her today!