No, that’s not the time it takes to beat Skyrim on Xbox, nor is it a movie sequel in which James Franco loses another limb.
According to Gillian Watters, director of programs at KEYS Job Centre in Kingston, Ontario, 70,000 hours is about how long you’ll spend at your workplace over a lifetime. OK, you’d rather play Xbox for 70,000 hours, but that’s not the way it works. Time to really get down to it and consider your career options.
Envisioning your dream job probably isn’t hard. If you don’t already have a passion, you likely have at least an idea of the direction your career could take. And if you need ideas, no doubt your parents have an opinion they want to share with you. Maybe a very forceful opinion. Maybe an opinion that completely cancels out your opinion. Maybe this opinion is holding your tuition, food, rent, and bills at gunpoint, too.
Suddenly, that decision about your future workplace isn’t so easy. Yet it’s one that thousands of students face with every application season. Do you follow your dreams, or do you follow the dreams of the people who’ve been your role models your entire life?
“No one should make their career decisions to please anyone but themselves,” says Watters. “We should accept advice from those who know us best, but all the important life decisions have to be ours to make. A career path has to be related to our passions, our values, and our interests or else we’ll end up miserable for most of those 70,000 hours.”
That’s a hard point to argue. “Following your dreams” doesn’t sound like such a simple idea when you realize it means taking responsibility for yourself and understanding that those 70,000 hours are going to suck if they’re tailored to fit someone else’s goals.
The only way to live without regret is to tackle things head on. So we’ve put together this list of ways people can begin their own career path. Read them to learn how to win your parents’ approval — and how to live without it.
1) Degrees Are Paper Thin
What does it really take to be a doctor, lawyer, or corporate accountant in Canada? Unless you are one, you probably don’t have a clue. But this doesn’t stop naive parents and unqualified know-it-alls from insisting that you really ought to try it out.
This sort of blind enthusiasm is a symptom of an outdated yet widely believed myth that taking a specialized post-secondary program will automatically land you a job in that field.
“One of the groups I work with a lot are new Canadians in the accounting program,” says Catherine Stace, a career advisor at McGill University in Montreal. “I ask them why they’re in accounting, and they say they were told that it’s the best place to get a job. But the reality is that accounting firms won’t hire them if they don’t have the skills they’re looking for.”
With so many applicants all holding the same degree, employers are going to hire the keeners who hold the top marks, show the most ambition, and communicate the best—the kind of people who’d probably be taking the program regardless of job opportunities available after graduation.
2) Plan Your Attack.
Before you sit down with your parents and explain that, yes, you really do intend to study artisanal basket weaving, do your homework. Research the competing schools that offer programs in your area of interest. Compare tuition, housing costs, and travel expenses. Talk to people who have graduated from these programs. Draft a schedule outlining important dates, like application deadlines. Draw up a budget. Make it look pretty. Make it look like you’ve been obsessing over this for months.
It’s a lot of work up front, but it pays off when your parents notice how dedicated you are. Once they see how logical and organized your approach is to just selecting your desired path, they’ll have less enthusiasm for shooting you down. You’re proving that you’ve given your choice some serious thought, and subtly asking your parents to do the same.
3) Ask for forgiveness, not permission.
Let’s say your PowerPoint and Excel wizardry fails to persuade your nay-saying parents. Do you make pouty faces all the way to the orthodontists’ college? No! This is your future on the line! You slap your acceptance letter from the Floral Arrangement Department at Backwater College on the table, look your parents in the eyes, and utter, “This is where I want to go.”
Apply to the program you want with or without your parents’ knowledge. You don’t have to commit if you are accepted. Part of being an adult is being confident enough in yourself to make your own decisions. You don’t have to check in with mom and dad before every step you take.
That also means you shouldn’t hide it from them either. In fact, you want them to see that you’re taking charge of your life, and that they can either help you get where you’re determined to go, or they can be just one more obstacle to overcome on the way there.
4) No Slacking.
So you’ve done the research, got accepted into your dream program, and even convinced your parents to help pay your bills while you hone your African nose flute skills. Nicely done! But guess what? You better jam that flute so far up your nose that you could snorkel while you backstroke. What exactly does that mean? It means you have absolutely no excuse to slack.
Post-secondary life demands a degree of self-regulation that many high school students have a hard time adjusting to. The urge to skip class is difficult to resist when no one’s making sure you show up. Remember that while this might be the program of your dreams, it doesn’t mean you can sleep through it. You’re the one that fought hard to get where you are, so you owe it to yourself—and to the people you want to prove wrong—to squeeze out every last drop of education you can.
5) Use It!
So you’ve done the research, got accepted into your dream program, and even convinced your parents to … withdraw all financial support?
Parents who use this tactic think they’re just giving you some tough-love. They fail to realize that this jerk maneuver forces you into one of two options:
A) Cave in to their demands and forever resent them, or
B) Turn your outrage into the fuel you need to make your dream happen.
“I find the harder I work, the more satisfaction I get out of the outcome,” says Emily Balfour, a first-year Sheridan College Media Arts student. When Balfour dropped out of criminology at Carleton University to take the even more expensive diploma program at Sheridan, her parents withdrew their financial support and only agreed to give her a fraction of it back if she maintains an 80 percent or higher grade average. “I knew this was coming, and I use it as a great motivator.”
Cue training montage.
6) Get help!
Sometimes, the problem isn’t with your argument. “I knew I couldn’t handle it,” says J, a former political science student at Western University in London, who took the program at his parents’ insistence. “I talked to my mother, and she told me to cut the crap. She was always comparing me to her friends’ sons who were graduating and becoming some big shot doctor or dentist, and asking me why can’t I be like them. I was so depressed I wanted to kill myself. My mom even caught me cutting myself once.”
J eventually dropped out and is now in a program he enjoys, but the time, money, and emotional health he gave up trying to please his parents are going to be hard to recover. Seek outside help from career counselors, teachers, or anyone you trust before a toxic relationship with your parents takes a similar toll on you.
When you consider the 70,000 hours you’ll be investing, the decision to go after your dream job is really a decision to go after your dream life. The hard part isn’t figuring out whether you should listen to your parents or listen to your gut. It’s digging up the courage to make that choice with enough confidence that, even if you don’t convince your parents that you’re doing the right thing, you’ve still convinced yourself.