I originally intended to include this email in tomorrow’s reader mailbag, but my response to this woman went on for so long that I felt it deserved a post of its own.
Julie writes in:
I’m 26 years old, single, and I have an entry level graphic design job that I love. On the side, I do some freelance painting work for local grocery stores, painting their windows with various designs to attract customers. I love what I do even though it’s not going to make me rich for the foreseeable future.
My parents constantly put down what I’m doing and tell me to start “earning a living.” They point to my older brother who is a systems analyst who makes $80K a year working for [the state] and they ask why I can’t be more like him.
I’m so tired of all of this. Every time I see them I wind up feeling horrible about my career choices and kind of depressed and I think about quitting what I have and doing something else. I know I should go back to school and get a different degree that would qualify me for something better [...] so I’ve decided to do that.
Julie’s email was pretty long and even in the excerpt above, I edited it a bit to remove some familial details that really don’t need to be aired in a public forum.
Suffice it to say, Julie’s stuck in a challenging position. She’s sitting at a crossroads in her life and is about to make a very major decision, not because it makes her happy, but because it makes her parents happy.
My advice to Julie is simple: do what you love. This is your life to live, not your parents. You are the one that has to wake up each morning and face your day. You’re the one that has to deal with the balance of income and enjoyment of your work. You’re the one that has to navigate whatever career path you choose.
Whenever you are forced to choose between making yourself happy and making someone else happy with a major life decision, choose yourself. Don’t have a child if you don’t want to have one. Don’t choose a career path to make someone else happy. Don’t fill your life with something you don’t want, or you’re signing yourself up for a miserable life.
This isn’t to say that relationships don’t sometimes require compromise, but those compromises are usually done so that all members of the compromise end up ahead over the long run. I’m constantly compromising with my wife, but almost always I end up gaining (on the whole) more than I give, as does she.
Giving up your dreams to please someone else in an abstract way (meaning your choice doesn’t really affect their life) is not a compromise. It’s willingly giving up your dreams for almost nothing in return.
In this situation, if she makes the career switch, Julie is highly unlikely to wind up ahead – and, frankly, I’m not sure her parents really will, either. They might gain some benefits from having a child with more income, but they’re also certainly gaining some resentment and loss of trust from their daughter. That, on the whole, is a net loss in my eyes.
What about Julie? Won’t she earn more income? She might, in the short run, but you’re much more likely to excel in a career path that you love and are passionate about than in a career path that you have no passion for at all. I don’t care what the career paths are, I’ll bet on the person with passion and excitement every single time, because they’ll always go the extra mile to succeed. Julie is not only filling her days with design work, she’s doing it as a side gig, too, and she still wants to do more. That’s passion and excitement. That’s a person who’s going to keep improving their skills, keep making connections, and eventually start getting ahead.
Julie, don’t give up on the artistic work you’re doing. You’re in a career path you love and that you’re passionate about. That will carry you a long way and leave you happy in the end.