Dear Mom: I’m Changing My Major

Your career is just that…yours! More often than I would like, I meet students and graduates choosing their career options based on what others want them to do. When I say “others” I most often mean parents or personal support systems. Now, I’m not saying family pressures aren’t something to take seriously. Family and friends are a huge part of your life, but sometimes what they think is “good for you” isn’t always the best fit.

Some families may help pay for college under the expectation you become a doctor, lawyer, or some high achieving business person – dealing with external financial pressures for college is a whole other conversation. If we can try and put the financials aside for a moment, what are some of the other reasons you may be feeling the familial pressure? Perhaps your parents are trying to live vicariously through you and steer you towards a career path that they wish they had taken. Reality check: is your mother the one who will be soliciting donations in that development job? Will your father be helping you close out that key account for the company? I didn’t think so. The reasons people are pushed into careers they aren’t passionate about are infinite, but the outcome is almost always the same: burnout and career dissatisfaction.

Personally, I’m not much of a quote guy, but a mentor of mine gifted me a mug for graduation with a quote on it that particularly speaks to me. It reads, “This is your world. Shape it or someone else will.” Authored by Gary Lew, I am reminded of these words daily when I’m getting my morning caffeine fix. So here are a few tips on how to show your support system that you want to shape your own career.

Do your research

If becoming an interior designer suits your interests more than a regulatory affairs specialist, be able to articulate some facts and concrete reasons why this is the career for you. Telling your parents you’ve chosen your new career path “because it’s what I want to be” won’t convince them. Talk to working professionals to learn about their day to day life. Informational interviews are one of the best ways to gather rich, meaningful insights into a career, not to mention build a lasting professional connection! Check out your alumni network or do a search on LinkedIn to target professionals you’d like to learn more about. Shadowing someone for a day or few hours is another way to get a firsthand look at what a career is really like. If numbers and hard data are what you need, explore the Occupational Outlook Handbook or O*NET. Both are fantastic resources to get information about employment trends, salary, and job outlook for careers and industries. With this wealth of information at your disposal, you will be more confident and prepared when the time comes to talk.

Timing is everything

So you have gathered some research and are ready to present your case. The next thing to consider is timing. This may seem obvious, but depending on your audience, you may not want to casually throw around a major life choice. Take a look at your schedule and who you want to talk to. When are the best times for you to have your family’s undivided attention? Could this conversation be accomplished during a holiday break, weekly phone call, or Sunday dinner? Consider the location and medium for this discussion.

Be prepared to compromise

Obviously everyone’s situation is different. As I mentioned earlier, financial dependence may be a large factor in a college major choice or pressure towards a career path. That is a sensitive subject, without a doubt. Each party has some level investment in your success, financial or not. I am in no way suggesting you should run away from your support system, whatever that may look like, and never look back. That would be unwise and rash in most cases. At the end of the day you know your situation better than anyone, and the best way to navigate it! Consider compromise and dialogue when discussing your career future with your support system.  Be objective and fall back on the facts when things aren’t going the way you planned. If you’re still in school, is there a minor or courses you could complete to gain experience that wouldn’t affect your major? Alternatively, explore informal ways you can further your career. Are you able to complete a part-time internship to gain industry experience outside of your coursework? Can you find a mentor in your desired industry that can guide you and connect you to other professionals? Think outside the box; there are many paths to your dream career and not all connect to a major.

In the end, just like many things in life, this conversation is a process! It is not something that will happen overnight. Be patient, stay calm and remain level headed throughout it. Remember while you certainly want to respect and be gracious of your support system, it’s ok to be a little selfish when you choose that dream career, even if it’s not the President of the United States like Grandma always wanted.

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