Savvy Minds: Ask Dr. V, Teachable Moments

Venus Nicolino holds a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. Her column addresses Love, Life and Relationships.

Dear Dr V,

In May I’ll be graduating from college at the end of the semester with a degree in English. I want to pursue a career in journalism, or some kind of writing. To be honest, I’m not sure. My parents, who are great people and paid my way through school, want me to become a teacher as they say it will be a “sure thing” as far as financial stability and security go.

I understand where they’re coming from, and appreciate their concern for me, but at this point in my life becoming a teacher is the last thing I want to do. I feel like I’d end up as one of those miserable, awful teachers who hates their job and consequently is not any good at it. My parents say they didn’t put me through school to see me wind up a failure.

I’m at a loss here. On the one hand, I feel like I owe it to them to be successful, yet at the same time I feel like if I take the path they want me to I’ll be a failure (as in I will have not followed by heart). What should I do?


Dear Jackie,

First off, congratulations on your upcoming graduation. I have no doubt that you have worked very hard in the pursuit of your degree. I’m also sure that your parents are proud, too. Proud not just of your academic achievement, but also (if your letter is any indication), proud of what an intelligent, self-aware and sensitive young woman their daughter has grown into.

Not that it makes your problem easier to resolve, but you should know many have walked where you now tread, and emerged successful on the other side. Though you have yet to finish school, I hope you realize that you will soon be moving into one of the most singular and potentially empowering places of your life. Once you have that diploma in hand, you will be standing at the threshold of true adulthood.

And the most wonderful part of it is that this is as close as you may ever get to having responsibility to nobody, save yourself. Of course, there are emotional and practical responsibilities to family and friends, but I’m talking about something outside of that.

This is the one moment in your life when you can pretty much do anything you want. There’s no current job holding you back, no husband or kids who you must consider in your decision-making. It’s just you. And this is a beautiful thing.

If you are serious about a career as a writer, I would start doing the homework for a job now. Of course this includes library and/or Internet research, seeking out people already successful in the field into which you wish to enter to try and pick their brains on how they did it (and hopefully establish some professional contacts to be waiting for you once you’re Out in the World).

And, I must add, make sure you’re writing as much as possible, every day if it’s feasible. It doesn’t have to be a project with any deliberate direction at first, just sit down at the keyboard or with a paper and pencil and start putting words down. I’m a firm believer in that if we demonstrate with action what it is we desire to do or be, the Universe will often come to our aid, providing inspiration, and sometimes even opportunity. And if nothing else, you will have the satisfaction of knowing every night when you go to bed that “Today I did everything I could to realize my dream.”

This being said, I also think if you are able to initiate and maintain this kind of disciplined regimen of creativity with yourself, it may just be what your parents need to see in order for them to not only accept the path you’ve chosen, but endorse and support it whole-heartedly.

I understand your frustration with your parents, but perhaps if you can step out of your own involvement in the situation and consider things from their viewpoint, you might feel more empathetic and have a better understanding for their feelings of trepidation. Even in the best of times, a career in any kind of creative art can be challenging, daunting and at times and out and out slog. Given the current economic turmoil we all face now, I think it’s perfectly understandable why they would want you to try and put in at a safer harbor, as it were.

From your letter I get the feeling you are someone with a strong drive to be independent and self-sufficient. If teaching, even as a temporary job just to make ends meet, is completely unacceptable to you, you may want to consider that you might not get your dream job right off the bat. In fact, I would count on not getting that dream job. Like just about everything that’s worthwhile in the world, you’re going to have to work for it, on many levels.

Ideally you’d want to find some kind of employment in or directly related to your chosen field, but you must also be ready to take anything that’s available. I also think once you can establish yourself as financially self sufficient, it will go a long way in helping your parents learn to view you as a fellow adult, rather than a child they must protect (although they will always feel like that to a certain degree).

Don’t worry yourself about not having time to write or getting lost in a job you hate. If you are as driven, determined and committed to this goal as you seem to be in your letter, you will find time to write (Stephen King wrote one of his first novels while working in a Laundromat). Even a lousy job in and of itself can be motivation to write … just think to yourself that you’re writing your way out of that place … literally.

As far as being a failure, there is but one determining factor as to whether or not you are a failure: The moment you give up on yourself and settle for less than you know you can achieve, you have failed. It’s that simple.

I hope you realize just how much you have going for you right now. It’s been said that luck is when preparedness meets opportunity. You owe it yourself to succeed. Make sure you being work on those all-important preparations so that when Destiny does ring the doorbell, you are packed and ready to go.

With Empathy,

Dr. V

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