Stop Living Someone Else's Dream

What had held me back for so long was this false belief that somehow my father’s love for me hinged on which profession I chose. Once I realized that wasn’t true, I felt free.

Whether it’s from our parents, our peers, or society in general, the weight of outside expectations can feel like a burden, especially when it comes to the career we choose. This problem is nothing new. Édouard Manet, considered by many to be the father of modern art, was the son of a respected French official who wanted him to study law. Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing, saw her dreams of becoming a nurse thwarted by parents who believed it was unbefitting for a woman of her day. Think of all the beauty and advancements that would be missing from our world had these visionaries not pursued their callings.

At first glance, pursuing a career because a loved one expects us to can seem admirable. After all, shouldn’t we sacrifice for those we love? I think the root of it is admirable. Of course if you love someone, you want to do whatever makes them happy. But ignoring your calling in life does nobody any good.

So what do you do if you’ve found yourself stuck between your dreams and someone else’s expectations?

Examine why you feel compelled to live someone else’s dream

Are you doing it because you need affirmation?

Does it arise from your own insecurity?

Often when we cave to others’ expectations, it comes from a weakness in our own resolution or an uncertainty of what we’d like to do. If this is the case, really dig deep to find out who you are and what values you hold. Once you know those things, making a decision becomes much easier.

From a young age, I wanted to be a writer. My desire to tell stories is what led me to attend journalism school, but for much of my college career, I was plagued by the belief that my parents would be more proud of me if I were to study engineering, like my father had. The pressure made me miserable. Finally, someone suggested I write out my feelings in a letter to my dad, but not give it to him unless I really wanted to.

It turns out, I never needed to. One night on the phone, I told my dad how unhappy I was because I thought he secretly wished I would study engineering. That was a tear-filled conversation because he told me that, as a parent, his greatest joy in life would be to see me pursue my own dreams. What had held me back for so long was this false belief that somehow my father’s love for me hinged on which profession I chose. Once I realized that wasn’t true, I felt free.

Understand that outside expectations may come from a good place

In many cases, such as when parents pressure their children to pursue a certain profession, it’s merely out of concern. Maybe they think securing a well-paying, well-respected job will mean their child will never have to struggle.

Other times it can arise out of selfishness. I attended a talk many years ago by a woman who had gone to law school and was on track to become an attorney, but then decided to pursue something else. Her distraught mother told her, “Now what am I going to brag to my friends about?”

Once you understand where your loved one is coming from, you’ll be better able to communicate with them. Always do it with kindness, and always remember they still love you, even if they may disagree. They may even have some solid advice to offer you.

Finding the courage to pursue your dreams

“If you go to your grave without painting your masterpiece, it will not get painted. No one else can paint it. Only you.” - Gordon Mackenzie

The next time you admire a painting in a museum or marvel at modern technology, consider that those were made possible because someone somewhere found the courage to pursue their dreams.

Maybe you won’t go on to literally paint a masterpiece, but you have something beautiful and unique to offer. Perhaps the best way to honor someone you love is not to attempt to live their dream, but to go forth and pursue yours.