My parents, both of whom immigrated to the US almost 30 years ago from Pakistan, are both physicians, and all of my siblings are studying to become doctors. In fact, almost every adult I knew growing up in our local Pakistani, Muslim community was a physician of some kind.

One of my brothers struggled immensely to gain parental approval when he first decided to go into the humanities for his graduate studies, but he courageously pursued his passion regardless, a choice that time proved to be an extremely positive one. Eventually, he found his way back to medical school (of his own volition) when the time was right, a much more happy and confident man than before. Ultimately, my parents and siblings genuinely find medicine both fun and meaningful.

Even so, I’ve always known that medicine wasn’t for me.

I’ve always been attracted to being different things growing up, both in school and during my free time: a writer, an artist, a singer, a dancer, a teacher. To this day, I still have a burning desire to be all of these things, some professionally and others recreationally, but all of the above in order to develop myself into a complete and happy person.

My parents supported me, so I thought pursuing what I loved would be easy, but it was difficult in its own way.

I want anyone else who’s doing something new and different to know what’s possibly and probably in store for them.  It’s difficult to pursue a career that is unconventional by you parents’ standards, peers’ standards, and community’s standards, even if your parents aren’t forbidding you from doing it. Here are a few things to remember if you’re breaking away from the norm career-wise, even if you have permission to do so.

1. The people who disapprove might not always be your enemy.

This I learned from observing my brother’s initial struggles within our family. It’s easy to paint your parents or anyone else who disapproves of your career choice as the bad guy, but most of the people whom society (including your parents) admires and puts on a pedestal are the very people who broke the mold, stepped out of their comfort zone, and shattered the expectations everyone had for them.

Society really does value individuals who dream big and follow their heart, but only after they’ve succeeded.

I know it feels particularly painful when the people you love aren’t supportive of your dreams, but the most common reason for this is because they worry about the risks that come with those dreams. Most of our parents (especially the Desi immigrant ones) encourage professions like medicine not to crush your soul, but because they truly believe there is no other way to lead a financially successful or well-respected (in other words, what they define as happy) life.

Your parents aren’t always right and by no means must you do what they say, but they are usually coming from somewhere (often a different country and culture) that’s worth at least understanding. That being said, there’s a difference between something scaring your parents and something being wrong.

Coming to terms with this is key if you’re going to follow a new and different path; you won’t succeed if you’re guilty or confused.

And remember, your parents may not be happy with your decision now, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will never be. Do what you need to do and show them how great your choices are for you and everyone involved. Simply telling them doesn’t always cut it.

Some things have to be seen to be believed.

2. That being said, you should expect certain negative consequences and reactions.

This is more from personal experience. Sometimes, it’s family members not being particularly excited about your accomplishments, not because they don’t care, but because they don’t understand. Maybe you won’t be able to have detailed conversations about your goals with the people you love. You may not even be able to tell them about a great day at work because maybe you were excited about a particular Common Core teaching method and they just don’t know what that means.

It’s a bit like being fluent in a language that no one else is familiar with, but you have to find the people who either know the language (these are usually going to be coworkers) or who are willing to learn. For example, my dad went online and researched the entire history of the graduate school I’m attending in September; he had never heard of it before, but he made the effort to learn.

That’s what matters.

Other times, it’s more annoying than that. Get ready for people with virtually no background in your field to give you their unwarranted opinions. “Writing? So, like…what are you gonna do with that?” They never wait for an answer before they follow up with something like: “You/your parents kind of wasted money on that degree, don’t you think?” Maybe, but hey, at least they raised me to not be an inconsiderate jerk like you, so I’m not complaining.

If you’re a woman, people will somehow relate every career move you make to how it will affect your non-existent husband and kids.

“That’s so great that you want to be a teacher,” they always tell me. “You’ll get off work at the same time as your kids, and you’ll have all summer long to spend time with them!” Expect to experience and hear things like these, but just let them roll off your back. Remember, it’s all just noise.

3. Most people are haters because they’re jealous of how much you love what you do.

You’ll meet a lot of people who love to complain about how difficult their very prestigious jobs are because they think it makes them look cool. Students during my undergrad career would flock together to talk about how difficult their science or engineering majors were, and they would often use me as an example of someone who “had it so good” because my Writing major was “so easy” compared to theirs. These comments were always meant to place themselves up on a pedestal and place me below them.

But I didn’t take it as an insult. Loving what you do is cool. Finding meaning in what you do is cool. I’m starting to think that somewhere deep down people who are negative about your choices probably wish they had made different choices themselves. I would respond: “You don’t have to be pre-med, you know if you hate it so much.” Then, I would shrug and walk away. I had papers to write.

4. You are your own biggest potential enemy.

If you truly believe in what you’re doing, don’t think twice about it. At the end of the day, the only doubts that are going to derail you completely are your own. The only voice that can convince you to give up is your own. When you’re doing something new and different on your own, know that you are forging a path for others like you to follow.

Take that responsibility seriously, put on your blinders, and charge forward.

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  • Aafia Syed

    Aafia is pursuing a Master's in Early Childhood Special Education at Bank Street College of Education. She is vocal about her personal challenges with mental illness and believes in bringing an end to both cultural and religious taboos. Her goals for the future include seeing Hamilton on Broadway, overcoming her own crippling stage-fright, and contributing to the destruction of the patriarchy.