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Yesterday I was listening to Oprah interview Paulo Coelho on her Super Soul Conversations podcast.
If you haven’t heard of him, Paulo Coelho is the author of the mega-bestselling allegorical novel The Alchemist, which was published 31 years ago and still hits the New York Times bestseller list regularly. (If you haven’t read it, you really should. It’s one of those rare books that contain within it almost everything you’ll ever need to know about life. Kristen and I did a book club episode about it last year!)
Anyway, what struck me about Oprah and Paulo’s conversation was what happened to him when he was 17.
He said that his parents really wanted him to be an engineer, like his father. His parents had experienced a lot of instability in Brazil, so they wanted something safe, secure, and socially esteemed for their son.
But Paulo always wanted to be a writer, and he was adamant about it.
His parents were so distraught by his insistence on being a writer that they genuinely believed something was wrong with him … and so they committed him to a mental institution three times.
He spent his years between the ages of 17 and 20 being committed to institutions and then escaping every time before they finally gave up!
(Of course, the ultimate irony is that he ended up becoming a world-renowned author and making ten times more money than anyone in his family.)
Fifty years later, we read a story like that and think his parents were the crazy ones. There’s nothing wrong with someone just because he wants to be a writer, for god’s sake!
But this isn’t a thing of the past. In fact, his story echoes something one of my clients shared with me a few hours ago.
SOME STUPID HOBBY
My client, Sasha, has an entrepreneurial spirit.
She’s spent the past 5 years in a very sprawling, rigid corporate environment, and she’s done well. She’s made good money, and she’s climbed the ladder, but that doesn’t change the fact that she feels like she’s suffocating.
Right now, her plan is to give the corporate job one more year while she goes back to school in the evenings and builds her business on the side.
When Sasha first told her mom about her plans, her mom responded better than she predicted.
But then Sasha made the decision to move out of her one-bedroom apartment and find a roommate so that she could save money on rent and build her “quitting fund” … and all hell broke loose.
Sasha told me, “I realized that the only reason my mom was tentatively supportive at first was because she didn’t believe me. When she saw I was serious, all of her real thoughts came bubbling to the surface.”
Her mom said things like:
- “You make good money and have good benefits. Why isn’t that enough?”
- “You don’t have to work 14 hours a day, like me. Why can’t you be happy with that?”
- “You don’t have a crazy boss. I do. You don’t know how lucky you have it.”
- “You sound like one of those would-be actresses who moves to LA to try to ‘make it,’ even though there’s a one-in-a-million chance you ever will.”
- “Your business idea is just a trend. It will fade, and then where will you be?”
Sasha was understandably pretty heartbroken by her mom’s response. It hurts when one of the closest people in your life has no desire to encourage your dreams, doesn’t believe in you, and refuses to show any support.
She told me, “My whole life, my parents told me that I could do anything I set my mind to. The worst part about this is realizing that they didn’t really mean it. The secret caveat was, ‘You can do anything, so long as it fits with what we think is right.’”
To Sasha, it felt like a betrayal. This person who was supposed to love her more than anyone in the world would choose for Sasha to keep doing something that feels like soul-death rather than pursue something that makes her feel alive.
WHERE DO I GO FROM HERE?
Ideally, we’d all be blessed with parents and loved ones who, even if they don’t completely understand your dreams, can still accept you and cheer you on.
But that’s sadly not true for everyone. So Sasha’s next question was understandable:
“How do I move on from this? How do I not let this affect me, when her naysaying is all I hear when I sit down to work on my business?”
Here’s what I shared with her:
First, understand that this comes from a good place. However misguided, most parents just want to protect their kids and keep them safe. For some parents, it’s hard to let their children take risks because it feels threatening to the child’s very survival. So to do their duty as a parent, they’ve got to naysay your dreams so that you don’t get hurt or end up starving and homeless.
Second, know that it’s not really about you. It feels deeply personal when a loved one insinuates that there’s next-to-no chance you’ll be successful. It sounds like they’re saying, “You are not good enough to succeed.” But that’s usually not the case.
What people say, even if you are the subject of conversation, is way more reflective of their belief system. In Sasha’s case, it’s not really that her mom thinks she’s not smart or talented enough; it’s that her mom just doesn’t believe entrepreneurship is viable, period. Sasha’s actions are triggering deep, old (and inaccurate) beliefs her mom has about what it means to live a stable, secure life. And that fear is getting projected all over Sasha. But it’s not really about Sasha, as a person.
Third, drown out the naysaying voice. If the loudest voice rattling around in your mind is also the most critical and doubtful, it’s naturally going to be hard to make any progress. So in Sasha’s case, I told her to turn up the volume on supportive, encouraging voices. She needs to lean on her boyfriend and friends, all of whom are very encouraging and uplifting.
But even more importantly, she needs to find a person (or group) who’s actually going through the same thing as her. Her friends and boyfriend are great, but they can’t totally relate with her experience. So part of her homework became posting in certain online groups and finding people to meet up with IRL who she can bond with over their shared entrepreneurial experience.
When you’re all alone in your experience, you don’t realize that it’s not unique to you. When you bond with other people, you realize that your fears and doubts are universal, which makes them a lot easier to overcome.
BUT IT’S OK TO BE SAD
The last thing I told Sasha was that it’s OK to grieve.
Maybe one day she’ll be off-the-charts successful and get to prove her mom wrong. But it’s more likely that even when Sasha is successful, her mom’s beliefs won’t change. For some people, there’s not enough evidence in the world to make them relinquish their position.
It’s OK to be sad about the prospect of someone never really supporting you. But it’s also OK to forgive them for it. Sometimes the most gracious thing you can do is live your life, allow someone to misunderstand you, and love each other anyway.
What about you? Who in your life hasn’t understood or supported your dreams? Share with me, in the comments below!
Rachel (& Kristen)
IF YOU LIKED THIS YOU SHOULD ALSO LISTEN TO…
Blog: Are you tired of pretending to be someone you’re not? (April, 2018)
Side Chat: Overcoming impostor syndrome (July, 2018)
How to find your tribe and grow a network with Carolyn Birsky (April, 2018)
Bonus Book Club! The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (August, 2018)
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Submit your question for a future episode of Dear Krachel
I go through the same thing with everyone in my life, from my childhood best friend to my parents to my aunt. They all are beyond freaked out that I keep turning down the stable income choices they made, and I figure that they just have never felt the same kind of calling towards creating and entrepreneurship that I have, so they used their gifts in the most seemingly realistic way they could to get stable jobs.
It has hurt, because the truth is, my Mom is an incredible pianist, but she spent most of her life making $12,000 a year as a church organist because that was the only job she’d ever seen a musician doing in her small Oklahoma town, and because she didn’t believe in herself. Plus, she wanted some stability.
She has NEVER believed in me, no matter what I’ve done. She actually complained once about me believing I could do things before evidence validated that I could. I have, three times in life, proven that I could achieve big ambitions by working hard to do so, but she STILL never believes I can or should do anything beyond what she did, which is try to find some stable job related to my gifts and degree, regardless if it sucks.
My father, on the other hand, is a very good writer. But he, likewise, didn’t believe in himself, wanted stability, bought into the American dream of wife, kids, and mortgage, so he found the one job he saw writers around him doing – newspaper reporting and editing.
It all blew up in his face, because he never got promoted, and he was barely making $30k by the time he was 36.
Because of these choices, my parents were so freaked out about money when I was a child that they COMPLAINED when my brother and I were hungry and wanted food. They served spaghetti nearly every night. They freaked out on road trips to visit my grandparents when my brother and I needed to stop to go to the bathroom because they were so terrified of having to pay a $30 price for a motel.
By the time I was 15, thankfully, my mother got ordained as a minister and gained a $30k salary, so we moved to the better side of town and I was able to get things like a computer and an iPod, but I spent most of my childhood envying friends who had more than I did and who got to go to Disneyland instead of small town Oklahoma on vacation.
Yet, despite the obvious downfalls of their choices, they expect me to make the same ones. I walked away from their future when I was 24, when I got a $25k/ yr job offer to do a desk job for a film festival. I wouldn’t have made $30k at the job until age 34, according to the raise scale.
Yet when I quit to take my chances in entrepreneurship, despite the fact that I had just created a project for the company that makes $60k a year for them even to this day, they were actually DEPRESSED that I didn’t stay at the stable job.
I ultimately had to realize that they just have a limited model of reality filled with the wrong impressions, and there’s nothing I can do about it. I just have to believe in my vision and my ability to learn how to actualize it.
Following words_worth_billions on Instagram has been helpful for me, and I’d recommend it to anyone trying entrepreneurship. The quotes really encapsulate the struggles an entrepreneur will face, and help soothe the growing pains of building a successful business.
Obviously this resonated with me, hence the epic response. Thanks for sharing this.
An epic response, but a good one! I think it’s clear that you’re embodying the fact that two things can be true at once: You can both love your parents and be understanding of where they came from and why they believe what they do, and also be annoyed/sad/frustrated that they refuse to support you because of those beliefs. I think that’s the most human response you can have!
Hopefully your success will be a win-win–you’ll get to reap all of the rewards of your achievements, and you’ll also get to demonstrate to your family that life can turn out differently for you than they ever expected. Of course, like I said, there may never be enough evidence to persuade them that alternate realities exist! But at least you’re giving them a choice to believe something else; whether or not they choose to believe it is up to them.
I tend to see that people who grew up among a lot of scarcity (and the scarcity mindset that goes with it) tend to be the most abundant later in life. That’s not always true, of course, but contrast is such a good teacher that often the people who struggled a lot at the outset learned a lot more, and that gave them the fuel they needed to rocket forward. So maybe this is all turning out in your favor!
What about family members who don’t support you because they know you’re not using your “true” talents? All throughout high school and college I wanted to work in fashion merchandising, even though I loved to write fiction and was very good. My older brother would always ask me “but why aren’t you writing?”. It took me a long time to accept that he was seeing something in me that I wasn’t. I think something can also be said for people who know you might be trying to sell yourself something that you don’t truly want.
This is a great thought, Michelle! I think the difference between what you’re talking about and what I talk about in this blog (“what to do when no one supports your dreams”) is the word DREAMS. People who know us really well can often clue in to the fact that we’re not pursuing a path that lights us up or aligns with our dreams. And it’s really valuable to have those people in our lives who are willing to call it like they see it, and let us know that we’re falling short of our potential, or that we’ve shoved our dreams to the side and that they deserve attention! The intention behind their lack of support is a good one that comes from a place of love, whereas people refusing to support your *actual* dreams are usually coming from a place of fear. We’ve always got to examine the intention behind everything! That goes for people not supporting us, too. 🙂
This is such a great post and I’m going to print it off and share it with my two teenage kids. While I’m totally open minded and supportive of my kids pursuing their dreams and learning life lessons, my husband is not. How much money they will make and if it’s a “viable” career option are what drives his discussions with them, and he’s been very critical of their choices. Hopefully this will be another way to help them move beyond what he thinks and continue to pursue what they want, and how they want. There is no single cookie-cutter approach for everyone, and I’m so glad you’ve given me another way to help support this in my conversations with them! Thank you!!
Hey Karee! I’m so glad when teenagers get to hear this stuff. It’s something I wish I head heard at a younger age, and I can’t imagine how helpful it will be for your kids to hear this now, when they’ve still got an infinite number of choices ahead of them. I’m sorry that co-parenting around this issue is difficult for you. It’s really challenging to have a different belief system than your spouse. You’re doing a great job with your kids!
As a mom, this was a really eye-opening blog to read. I think back to when I experienced this when I was declaring my major. I’d decided to pursue theatre and my parents suggested that I should consider business instead. I was hurt, because theatre wasn’t just my passion, it was my life. My mom and dad had both had artistic passions that hadn’t come to fruition, and it took me a long time to realize that they were just looking out for me and projecting their own fears.
When it comes time for my kids to chase their dreams, hopefully I will remember this and instead of criticizing, I’ll ask them questions and help them troubleshoot areas where they might be uncertain instead. I would have loved it if my parents had done that for me; maybe I would have looked at my career opportunities differently and been more successful!
A thought just occurred to me too…I’m currently chasing my theatrical passion again, this time in the form of voice acting. I can’t begin to tell you how many times over the years I’ve criticized myself when wanting to follow that path. These are good points to remember when we examine the voice of our selves as we pursue our dreams! How can I encourage myself and support myself in my endeavor?
Thank you for the insightful and inspiring read!
It’s so powerful that you’re seeing this pattern, Kelly! I’m positive you’ll do a much better job of helping your kids than your parents were able to do with you (I’m sure they did what they thought was right, but now you know better and can do better). And you make a REALLY important point about that self-critical voice–is it really YOUR voice you’re hearing, or are those critical thoughts ones you inherited from your parents? It’s so critical to ask ourselves where that dialogue really comes from. You’re doing great work! 🙂