When Choosing a Career, make sure you are basing your decision on your own strengths, interests, goals, aspirations, skills and personal tastes and be aware of the tendency to be influenced by your siblings and their choices. Many people choose a career path because they are familiar with the field as a result of having family members working in that field. We all know people who chose to go into their profession or trade by what I call “career default”. In the comedy film, My Cousin Vinny, Merisa Tomei (as Lisa) explains the history of mechanics in her family when the prosecutor asks her how she is so knowledgeable of cars:” My father was a mechanic. His father was a mechanic; my mother’s father was a mechanic. My three brothers are mechanics, four uncles on my father’s side are mechanics.”
While it’s true that one may become more knowledgeable about an area if it’s frequently discussed at home, there is no guarantee that having this exposure and being familiar with a profession makes it the right choice for your career. I could not find any studies that prove people are happier who have entered a field because they have family members in that area. In fact, there is more information available that may present the opposite view, identifying low self-esteem and regrets for entering a family business.
I have a close friend who went into Medicine strictly based on the fact that her father, brother and every other person their mother respected was a Doctor. My friend’s “career default” choice is not as unusual as one would think. She, like many others who fell into their careers, often questions whether her life would have been easier or more fulfilling had she chosen a different area such as business for a profession. Sadly, she’ll never know the answer to this question as she settled into her life as a Physician and now in midlife it’s too late to start over. The investment she’s made both in time and money to pursuing an M.D. and to her residency and to raising a family makes it extremely difficult to reinvent herself now and explore other options. Her skills and training are highly specialized and would not transfer easily to the business world.
In another situation, I observed the youngest child in a large family settle for entering the family business as that’s all that was talked about during his formative years and that was the obvious and best choice for his other siblings who were not academically inclined. It so happens that the older siblings opted to join the family business because they had no other great options. They were not particularly successful students and they had neither burning interests nor connections that would lead them to another industry. The youngest, son who was my client, had both the social acumen and the academic ability to open doors for himself in many areas. Unfortunately, he developed some bad habits in school and lowered his academic performance to match that of his siblings’ because he wasn’t encouraged to maximize his own potential and grow beyond his brothers and sisters.
Identify the problem and how you can fix it
Too often we settle for a career or pursue a field based on what was right for our siblings or our peers and not what’s right for ourselves because of either parental pressure or our own blocks that prevent us from seeing ourselves as individuals with both the opportunity, challenge and responsibility for finding our own unique calling. I suggest that if you find yourself in this trap of identifying too closely with your siblings and their strengths, skills or their limitations that you change your thinking now. Start thinking today about what makes you different from your siblings and how you can develop your strengths so you can find a suitable career and a path that meets your desires, interests, personal tastes and skills.
Many people identify with family members as we see ourselves most closely linked to them by name and by life experience. But, when it comes to choosing a career, each person in a family should recognize his own abilities and skills that may vary even if with identical twins. Whether you have a sibling who is a superstar or one who is learning disabled, never assume that you are limited or confined by your siblings’ choices as their reasons for choosing a given career don’t necessarily apply to you when charting the course for your future.
We all have choices but often we don’t consider them as we fall into the more predictable and comfortable path of being what I call a “career follower.” We look to our parents, siblings, aunts’ uncles and possibly our neighbors and end our career search there. I almost went to law school because both my brothers and my fathers were lawyers and that was the profession I was most familiar with. The default career path for me as a lawyer would have led me to a path that would have made it difficult to stay home and raise my two children and impossible for me to fulfill my life dream to help others catapult their life dreams.
One can learn from my situation that what at the time was a disappointment (not having scores that would get me into Harvard, Yale or Stanford) ended up being a huge blessing! If I had followed the path of my siblings and my father of going to law school, I would have unknowingly forgone the opportunity to develop my marketing and other entrepreneurial skills that I gained by pursuing an MBA and working as a computer sales rep, marketing consultant, legal recruiter, H.R. executive intern and strategic planner and finally as an author and career coach. All of the skills I gleaned over the years prepared me for the career I have today which ultimately is my calling! I didn’t know that these steps would have resulted in me choosing to become a career coach: In fact this field wasn’t even in demand earlier in my career. The lesson one can glean from my story is that you can’t always know what career will be most suitable for you at the beginning of your career path. Also, be true to yourself, seek out your own identity and don’t let others define you. Your true calling can’t be revealed if you follow someone else’s path without introspecting if that path is one that matches your skills, interests, gifts, values and personal goals.