High hopes: The reality of expectations and heralded careers


My life seemed to be set right from the start. Most of my family have careers in the medical field as nurses, and they wanted me to have one as well. Ever since second grade, my mom wanted me to apply and be accepted to Southwest Career and Technical Academy to major in Nursing. It seemed straightforward what I needed to do. I wanted to please my parents, so I followed what they wanted me to do.

I applied for two majors at Southwest: Nursing and Web Design. I had weekly arguments with my mom about what I should do with my future because of my second major choice. I knew that my brother – who had little to do with deciding his future – disliked his job. This was enough to rebel. Eventually, she gave up and allowed me to apply for it. I also applied for the International Baccalaureate programme at Spring Valley High School.

I based my middle school years around their idea of success.  Every time my grades dropped, my family would say that Southwest wouldn’t accept that. I was afraid of letting people down. I got waitlisted. I cried the whole day, lamenting over the fact that all of my dreams were crushed despite the fact I was accepted to Spring Valley. Surprisingly, my mom was not upset at me, and she apologized for making my sole aspiration to go to Southwest. At the time, I felt like a failure, a person without a future because I didn’t become what my parents wanted me to be.

While the nursing debacle has ended, I still have to hear my relatives tell me that I would do well as a lawyer. I remind them that I have a different dream than freshman year, and they seem disappointed that I want to have a nine-to-five job. I still feel like I let down my family when I refuse to be a lawyer. They tell me that they support my career choice, but they make me feel like they don’t whenever they ask if I’m certain about my choice.

My experience was centered around high school. It’s an important part of education, but not as influential as college. Some teenagers face this problem when they have to apply for college – where the stakes are notably higher. Most of the time, arguments about college and careers are worse. I had a friend who was kicked out of their home and nearly disowned for refusing to follow her parents’ orders to follow a specific path in the medical field. There are a few that are only pursuing their parents’ desires because they don’t have any other ideas of what they want their future to be.

It’s no secret that high school students are generally pressured to do things. Controlling parents pressure their children to engage in things that they are uninterested in. This can be because they want their children to have a better future, follow the footsteps of other successful families, or carry on a legacy. Most of the time, it’s highly esteemed professions such as being a doctor, lawyer, business management, engineering, etc.

All of these markets are oversaturated and highly competitive. While these jobs do carry prestige, they are not as glamorous as they are made out to be. Occupations requiring years of higher education force students into debt that they struggle to pay – even if they have a high-paying job. Their personal lives become non-existent due to the demands of their career. Most parents are not aware of this reality. They want their children to do what seems to be the most beneficial, but it does not mean that they are right.

People are compared to the success of their family members and are expected to meet or exceed it in a particular field. Social comparison may be able to raise performance and make people more competitive in a healthy way, it can also become problematic. Teens can lash out or inflict harm on others, or they can become self-destructive and cope with these feelings through self-harm or addiction. 

“Success” is a subjective term, and an individual’s idea of success can be different from their parents. Trying to fit the standard that their family deems as success transforms family life into a competition about who can be more successful than the other. Instead of a loving environment that fosters growth, it breeds envy and jealousy.

Pressuring teenagers to pursue a specific career path is damaging to their future. While they may be able to make a substantial amount of money by joining one of these fields, the lack of job satisfaction can destroy a person’s wellbeing if they never wanted to commit to their career. The job growth for some of the careers I mentioned have slowed down, but there are a number of rapidly growing fields that have become the focus of ambitious parents. Regardless of the career, teens forced into certain jobs are less engaged in their career and life. Parents need to understand that success is not guaranteed if their child has a specific career, and there are plenty of happy and successful people in other jobs.