How do I tell people I'm not going to work in an office?
June 29, 2008 11:47 AM   Subscribe

I am almost done with college. Since I've started, four separate times I've taken a semester off to study abroad, work overseas or do unorthodox things in the name of adventure. I've come to terms with myself and I know that this is I want out of life, and I know that when I graduate I'm not going to get a steady job with benefits or any of those other things that responsible people are supposed to do. How do I explain this to the people I care about in a way that makes them feel good about me?

In the years since I graduated high school I've gotten pretty good at politely blowing people off when they ask me when I'm just going to finish university and get a job. "lol i dunno" usually works fine.

That's not really an acceptable answer for people close to me, though. My parents are starting to ask what kind of job I'm going to get, how I'm going pay for health insurance, what my degree is good for, and the respective answers are "I don't know, maybe I won't, probably nothing." I care about my parents and my close friends too much to cry "Nobody understands me!!!" and ignore them, but at the same time I worry that's the case.

I'm convinced I'll make out well no matter what I do, but I'm concerned that everyone I know thinks I'm a bum and is worried about me. How do I answer the question "What are you doing with your life?"?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (38 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
The traditional answer is "I WANNA ROCK!"

But seriously, the kind of thing you're talking about sounds great and works out when you're 22. It's still pretty cool at 32. But it becomes progressively less endearing as you get older. You really do need to figure out how you're going to pay the bills, adventurer or no.

So as to how you answer the question "What are you doing with your life?"... well, you actually figure out what you're doing with your life. That doesn't mean you need to be a 9-5 office drone. There's nothing wrong with a non-traditional lifestyle. But you've gotta actually figure out how you're going to make that lifestyle work. Just sitting around figuring stuff will somehow work out... you're concerned that everyone will think you're a bum because you'll, well, be a bum.

Want to work overseas? Cool! Volunteer work? Self-employment? Good for ya. No plan whatsoever or prospects to have a plan in the future? bum-like.
posted by Justinian at 11:58 AM on June 29, 2008 [4 favorites]

Tell them that you have lots of options that you want to explore, that no matter what you do you promise that you will not be a financial burden on them, and that you will make them proud with whatever path you follow. Hold yourself to a high standard, and follow through with these promises, and eventually they will learn to stop asking questions.
Just don't give them any reasons to worry. Don't blow your money getting high in Amsterdam and have to call up your family to bail you out. Don't knock up some girl (or get pregnant if you are a female) in another country and call up your family in a panic. Just live responsibly and show them you are an adult. That's all they really want to hear.
Do try to do work where-ever you go that shows you are trying to find a path. Try to gain some actual skills along the way that you can use as evidence of the fact that you are not a bum.
If you actually are a bum, all this irrelevant, and you should just lie to your parents and make something up to make them feel better.
posted by greta simone at 12:09 PM on June 29, 2008

Frame your answer in terms of what you do want to do, not in terms of what you don't want to do. They're worried mostly because you seem to be drifting and doing nothing. If you have a plan, even if the plan is unorthodox, that will make a lot of people feel better. Plus, you really do need to know what you're going to do; it doesn't have to be a 9-to-5 job, or even a paying job; but it does need to be something.
posted by decathecting at 12:13 PM on June 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Brief anecdote: A good friend of mine took off for the wilds of Alaska upon completing her degree. All she wanted to do was hike and camp and commune with nature. Sadly, it did not last for very long. Not because she grew weary of the life she had chosen. While snow camping one November, she fell into a ravine and lost her life. Her family, although completely dumbstruck with grief, took solace in the fact that she died doing what she loved doing. She lived in a way so few of us are privileged to do. She chose the hard path; the path without 401K plans, health insurance and other benefits supplied through privileged first world employment. She took to roughing it, and loved every bloody minute of it. She died doing what she loved, and she was loved all the more for doing so.
I tend to be a pragmatist, and a little bit cowardly. I would never dream of pursuing a 'dream life' such as this, but it brings me great comfort and joy that there are those among us who are as bright and bold as this to pursue their lives as they are meant to be lived. Do what you have to do. Those who love you will eventually recognize it, and come to terms in their own way. Do not sell them short, do not lower your expectations for yourself and for them.
posted by msali at 12:15 PM on June 29, 2008 [4 favorites]

"What are you doing with your life?"

Realistically, some people around you will never be happy with you unless you are on a rock-solid career path, with benefits, a steadily rising salary, a nice, well-furnished suburban home that you commute to, two late-model vehicles, a big screen TV, etc.

Your only answer to those people will be, "that's not what I want to do with my life. I want to travel, experience things, and have fun." You can come up with a "plan" to try to give your drifting lifestyle "legitimacy," but trust me, people can see through that. There's more integrity and more honesty in just saying, "I enjoy living life from adventure to adventure, without a plan." Yes, some people will think you are immature, that you lack direction, etc., but if you have the balls to seek out these adventures why are you worried about what some boring, middle-class drones think of you?

No one is entitled to have their lifestyle choices admired or respected by the people around them. Lifestyle choices affect people's well-being, and if people who care about you sincerely think you are on the wrong path, they can't really be blamed for questioning you. Doing unconventional things always requires one to have the strength of character to pursue those things unapologetically.
posted by jayder at 12:22 PM on June 29, 2008 [5 favorites]

Find examples of people doing things that would allow you to live the kind of life you want and cite them as what you're wanting to go after.

Hint: This will work better if you then go after those things.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:23 PM on June 29, 2008

I know plenty of people that didn't settle down for a desk job after college. Two of them are in Korea teaching English to students (one has an art degree, the other in physics). Another is in Moldova with the Peace Corps.
Telling them "I don't know" really isn't helping. Just explain that you are going to do X, but you do need a plan.

Don't expect anyone to understand, a stable income with health insurance is their idea of paradise.
posted by idiotfactory at 12:29 PM on June 29, 2008

Who is funding this nontraditional lifestyle of yours?

From your description I infer that you are probably 24 years old. That you are still trying to explain this to your parents at this age makes me wonder if their actual question is not "how long are you going to be a bum" but rather, "how long are you going to bum off of us." Perhaps you need to reassure them, through actual demonstration of independence, that you are not going to be a (financial) burden on them. I also have a son who recently graduated from college who does not want to get a traditional job. However, he managed to save about 3 months (or more, if he's frugal) living expenses while in college, and pretty much the second he got home he has been finding gig- and daywork that meets his minimal day-to-day needs. He found a month to month lease and arranged the move on his own. His father and I have agreed to cover his cell phone and insurance for 6 months while he gets on his feet, but I don't think he really needed us to do that.

So here's how you explain this to your folks: "Mom, dad, I have found that I really like the adventurous lifestyle you have so generously helped me to explore while I finished college. I plan to continue doing this for a while, and have signed up (as a crewman on a freighter, with the Peace Corps, with AmeriCorps, with the circus). I'll be moving out in a month."

(anon, apologies if you have been funding this yourself. If that's the case, you just need to tell them "It's my life." I mean that with all respect to your parents. You are 24. I don't think you should be harsh, rude or dismissive, but you definitely need to be firm. It's *your* life.)
posted by nax at 12:31 PM on June 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

How have your education - room&board - previous adventures been financed up to this point? Will that continue (as in some kind of trust fund or whatever) or will that change (parental support ends, loans need to be repaid, no longer on parents' insurance policies)? As others have said, your question speaks to what you don't want to do, but it doesn't say what you do want to do. So if "nobody understands [you]" maybe it's because you haven't told them anything.
posted by headnsouth at 12:32 PM on June 29, 2008

"What are you doing with your life?"

You know, I hate this question so much, because it implies you have to a) have it all figured out at 22, and b) that you're only going to be doing one thing. It also implies that a job - this is the crux of the question, really, as people subconsciously need to start assigning you a place in their social hierarchy based on their perception of how much money you earn (!) - is the end-all-be-all of adult life, which, you know, it's not. It really, really is not. The other adults in your life, your peers, your professors, your friends may all believe this, especially if you've been "groomed" for something high-paid/advanced/whatever by your folks, who sent you to The Right Schools or something. But I can tell you that many, many of us who aren't zillionaires and aren't wedded to the office are still fulfilled, happy people who find joy in their life, and maybe some relative prosperity too.

I decided to become an English teacher overseas after college - not my original plan at all, really - because I loved being Somewhere Else, foreign politics, languages, and education; by next summer I will have spent about 80% of the last three years abroad. But I've built in some safety nets. The money/survival thing does take care of itself if you get a work visa and an actual "real job" after some training (which I recommend for stability's sake, at least at first) Indonesia I paid $5 every time I wanted to see a great doctor (this was about 1/200th of my monthly salary), and in Latvia I had health insurance provided by the school I worked for, plus the state-paid emergency health-care system to fall back on in emergencies. Next year in Poland I'll have a similar arrangement. Housing has been easy to find and low-cost; both of my European jobs had/will have totally free apartments thrown in. Transportation in all these places was/will be also very low cost; in Indonesia to the point of absurdity.

So: even though I only make less than $1000 a month, that doesn't mean that I'm barely making it; again, in Indonesia I was relatively rich and saved $500 a month!

Now, the actual job parts are, you know, like a job: I have a desk and a classroom and a teacher-y tote bag and textbooks. But my colleagues and my students are a motivation for me to go to work everyday: I wouldn't be doing it if I didn't love it, even if it is 40 hours or more a week.

My folks and the wider family are pretty excited about the fact that I'm not doing something mundane, and as they didn't have non-mundane options when they were growing up, they've been really supportive of my pursuits. I came home recently and at a family get-together, people I'd never met told me how cool it was that I was doing such awesome things...which means my parents and other family members had been talking me up, I guess.

In some ways, I think I fill an important niche: I'm the crazy cousin who goes off to countries no one can find on a map and comes home with a few more parasites than everyone else. This is really important for my age-peers in the family, who cite my experience living in Somewhere Really Different to cajole their parents into letting them go Somewhere Safer But Still New And Strange.

Here's how you can answer that question, by the way:

"You know, my experiences overseas and on exchange have really helped me narrow down my interests into Fields A and B, and I'm looking for opportunities in Countries Y and Z right now."
posted by mdonley at 12:38 PM on June 29, 2008 [8 favorites]

I notice your tags include "stick" "it" "to" "the" "man." I seriously doubt that the man cares what you do or whether you are happy. However, your loved ones and your friends do.

I agree with decathecting's advice above. Don't tell them who you are not or will not become, or what you will not do. Tell them who you are, where you want to go, what you want to become. Then do that. Go there. Be that. And they should be proud and happy for you.
posted by Robert Angelo at 1:06 PM on June 29, 2008

Just wanted to put in another word for the adults asking this admittedly obnoxious question (ie, "what are you doing with you life"). We are perfectly happy with any answer whatsoever, including "idunno" (unless you're our kid). We just don't know you well enough to think of something else to talk about-- you're our kid's friend, not ours.

It is one of the great joys of parenting to get to the end of the college tuition and inflict our self righteousness on ill-prepared youth. If you couldn't complain about this question, after all, what would you have to complain about. I have frankly been way more surprised by the kids who actually have an answer than by the ones that don't. Which inevitably come from the sellouts who have gotten jobs in investment banking. ugh. Give us some credit, here.

Plus, the more pie-in-the-sky or unplanned your life is, the smugger we can feel about our own spawn. So just answer the question as well as you can and don't worry about it. I hate to break it to you, but we just don't care all that much. We're only being polite.
posted by nax at 1:10 PM on June 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Imply elliptically that you have a job with an intelligence agency. That should keep them happy for a bit.
posted by zemblamatic at 1:24 PM on June 29, 2008

Go for it, it is your life to live as you see fit if you are not a burden to anybody.

My younger brother took his "retirement" in bits and pieces, starting while he was in college. He would work for a while, save money, then he would travel the world until the money was gone. Then back to work for a while. He trades books and paper goods at shows and on the internet, and never really used his degree in the biological sciences.

He married late in life, has a child who goes with him and his wife when the traveling bug hits (he does not feel obliged to provide a standardized education for his son). They travel cheaply, by hicking, cycling, buses, trains. They live the simple life between trips, and they are perfectly happy without buying into our conumeristic way of life.

I'm often envious of his lifestyle.
posted by francesca too at 1:26 PM on June 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

It probably won't help in answering other people's questions, but at least for your own entertainment you may want to watch the movie "Interstate 60" if you haven't already.
posted by forthright at 1:45 PM on June 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

You know a good job for people like this? Teaching high school. Two months to travel every year.

Alternatively, what hal_c_on said: have goals. A photography show, etc. If you're willing to take risks, do them in building something, not in avoiding something.

And then that's what you tell them: "I know that right now, I have more freedom than I'll have later, so I want to use this time to [establish myself as a nature photographer]." If you don't have a goal like that, it'd be best to figure one out eventually. It's also fair to say you want to see the world before you settle down, but if you never want to settle down, you'll need to find some thing to do while travelling.
posted by salvia at 1:46 PM on June 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

You know a good job for people like this? Teaching high school. Two months to travel every year.

I take it you aren't a teacher. In my experience, high school teachers are working their asses off during summer "break". I suppose it depends on the school.
posted by Justinian at 2:06 PM on June 29, 2008 [3 favorites]

It doesn't matter how much adventure you seek after college. Unless you have your post-graduate life planned out step-by-step, you are no different from every other college senior. Don't be self-conscious about saying 'I don't know' unless the question comes during a job interview. A safe, scoff-proof answer probably comes in the form 'I don't know, but my friends are just as uncertain as I.'
posted by spamguy at 2:10 PM on June 29, 2008

Nothing makes people more uncomfortable than making them question their own value system.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 2:29 PM on June 29, 2008

If you're looking for words to use to explain your position in a way that your family might listen to and hear you, I like hal-c-on's pretty well.

But the part I'm missing is: what are you going to do? How are you going to support yourself? The answer I'd be looking for, if I were a parent or loved one, is what exactly the plan is. You're going to have to come up with one. Or is someone supporting you? If you have some other means of taking care of yourself, then I guess it doesn't much matter. Keep your loved ones apprised of what you're doing, letting them know what you're learning and that you're safe, and they'll get used to it in time. But you know, I think what they want to know is whether you're going to be living on the streets, or what. That you're mature enough to actually take care of yourself.
posted by iguanapolitico at 2:38 PM on June 29, 2008

What do you love to do when you go off on these trips? Try turning it into a career.

Like mountain climbing, river rafting, snowshoeing?? Become a guide, take people on treks in Nepal or the Grand Canyon or Antarctica.

Enjoy museums and history? Maybe you can work with package tours of Europe.

Adventure tourism is becoming a big industry. Check into getting jobs in the field. The first job I see in the worldwide opportunities section pays $1000/month plus food and housing.

Teaching English in foreign countries is another possibility, as pointed out above. None of these requires a lifetime committment-- but if you DO want more training, how about getting a degree in nursing and going to work in the Third World? There are western hospitals in almost every country in the world. You can do good, get paid, and see the world.
posted by cereselle at 3:04 PM on June 29, 2008

If I had to venture a guess - you are being supported by somebody, probably in your family (since you allude to the fact that you don't have a job at all, etc.). So my thought is that your family is not overly concerned that you will be unconventional, but rather that you will continue to wander at their expense.

I have plenty of friends who travel the globe and do unconventional things. But they pay their own way and everyone around them is supportive. Here's some examples: one friend moved to Rome and ran "drunk bus" tours, then went to an Outward Bound camp in Texas as a counselor, then moved to the USVI as a bartender and later construction manager. Another friend moved to Alaska and worked in the jewelry industry, then moved to Africa and did AIDS work, then moved to Brussels and worked. Usually they move without a plan and scrape by until something comes along (I'm convinced I'll make out well no matter what I do). Both of them are living the sort of lifestyle you speak of, but each supports him/herself in doing so.

There's nothing wrong with not having some mapped out plan of a 9-5 job and 2.5 kids, but not having any sort of intention to graduate and support yourself does make you sound like a bum. Even if you say," I plan to move overseas and find work in X, Y or Z" (and make good on that), your family will probably lighten up.

p.s. Parents know that things can happen and it's pretty frightening when your broke kid says s/he's "probably never" going to have health insurance. Because they know who is paying the bill when you end up with a 10K hospital visit. Or maybe they want to make sure they will be done with paying your expenses so they can finally allocate that money to something else on their priority list. It's not just that they don't understand you, I think it might be that you don't understand them.
posted by ml98tu at 3:38 PM on June 29, 2008

Congratulations. You have made a brave, challenging and rewarding life choice.

How do I answer the question "What are you doing with your life?"?

First of all, answer it for yourself. Write a plan. Your life development and enjoyment is your career choice, so write a career plan for the next ten years. List all the things you'd like to do. Be as bold, courageous and imaginative as you wish.

Spend some time doing this as it will help you sort out your drives and whims, and help actualise the life you want. In the short term you can answer your close ones' questions with "I want to have an adventurous life, and I'm currently working out the plans for that. I'll tell you more soon."

After you have created the list, look for some common themes that could give you ideas of where the 'money' is going to come from. Ideally you'll tap into your inner entrepreneur but even if not, consider getting a 'ticket' in some trade field - cooking, carpentry, rigging, etc. A trade ticket is literally a ticket to an adventurous life. Then you can tell your close ones: I'm going to learn XYZ over the next year because I can make good money doing that in a lot of places, and then maybe island hopping around the South Pacific and South East Asia for a couple of years, but I'll also be looking out for jobs saving the orang-utan in Sri Lanka and I might look into how easy it is to start a cafe in Thailand... etc

Your close ones are (no doubt) concerned about the money side of things because they love you and don't want you to be stressed by poverty or lack of opportunities through lack of income. An independently earned sustainable living is required for a happy, healthy life. That's why I recommend concentrating on both the adventurous aspects and the funding aspects concurrently. An adventurous life is not a free ride. It is harder than a conventional one because you are relying on your wits most of the time, and don't have the security of the regular and familiar to fall back on. That, of course, is also the fun part. Best o' luck.
posted by Kerasia at 3:58 PM on June 29, 2008

I take it you aren't a teacher. In my experience, high school teachers are working their asses off during summer "break". I suppose it depends on the school.

I suppose it does. You're right that I'm not a teacher, but my officemate's husband is a teacher and spends at least one full month rock climbing in Bishop every summer, plus several other holidays (eg, winter break). I'm not saying teachers have it easy -- he works hard to get his work out of the way so he can go. Also, he's been doing this for about ten years now, so maybe that helps.
posted by salvia at 4:07 PM on June 29, 2008

"I'm going to pursue work that includes travel."

That said, if you don't want to burden your parents with your medical expenses, you should definitely research how much a basic major-medical policy would be.
posted by xo at 4:33 PM on June 29, 2008

Whatever you do, your decision is going to be a lot easier on them so long as you're paying back your student loans on your own and they're not supporting you financially in any way. So I would make sure of that first.
posted by Nattie at 5:22 PM on June 29, 2008

Some really useful advice up above, especially from Justinian, jayder, Kerasia and ml98tu. The health insurance thing may seem completely irrelevant now, but if something goes wrong and you're faced with a treatment bill of tens of thousands, you're going to be screwed. No matter how young and healthy and fit you are, stuff can go wrong at any time, whether disease or accident. Human bodies are fragile and unpredictable, and other people's actions equally unpredictable. If you're not going to get insurance, you need to be squirrelling away a sum every month so that you can avoid being a burden to your family if something happens to you. I would hope that your family and close friends would be happy for you to do anything that makes you happy and fulfilled, provided that they don't have to either worry about you or subsidise your lifestyle.
posted by andraste at 5:39 PM on June 29, 2008

Have to say that the tag of "sticking it to the man" is a bit silly ...

Your parents will be quite supportive with whatever you decide to do as long as you're happy, financially healthy and yeah, have health insurance in some form. You're suggesting that there is no way this can happen with your education -- I would suggest you're quite likely very wrong and not looking hard enough at your options. It's not fun, but you can't say "I dunno" or it's diplomatic variants to your parents for an extended length of time.

I'm sure your parents are wonderful people who don't mind supporting you financially and in other aspects -- but the point of their questioning is really to see if you are actively figuring steps towards becoming an independant adult.

It's really easier and less scarier than it all sounds. You have lots of company -- typically all grads in their 20s goes through this point in their life. Good luck!
posted by the_ancient_mariner at 6:01 PM on June 29, 2008

They are asking you this so you won't be stuck at my age with regrets. And so they won't be stuck while they should be saving for retirement by instead having to bail you out if you get ill. And parents just aren't wired to let their offspring suffer.

YOu can have a life of adventure but what you cannot do and should not do is be irresponsible with your life in the process. You do have to feed yourself, clothe yourself, and provide for yourself. How you do that is entirely up to you, but it would be nice of you to do it in such a way that your folks don't feel ripped off by the fact that they paid for you to get an education.

Meanwhile, Peace Corps, teaching English overseas, stuff like that, it's fantastic and you should do it if so inclined. But just as you are not the same person you were when you were 12, in ten or so years you will not be the same person you are now. Don't cut off the options for THAT person.
posted by konolia at 6:11 PM on June 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

but it would be nice of you to do it in such a way that your folks don't feel ripped off by the fact that they paid for you to get an education
posted by konolia at 9:11 PM on June 29

This is a really good point. Chances are, your parents paid a lot of money so that you could go to college, or invested time in making sure your pre-college grades were good or that you were able to participate in extracurricular activities, etc. They probably had to make sacrifices throughout your lifetime to do all of those things. If they are anything like my parents, they view that as an investment in you and your future. So to tell them that the degree is good for "probably nothing" is a pretty big slap in the face. I'd get impatient or upset too if I were in their shoes. You may want to think about your responses to them from that perspective. Maybe change the wording/tone a bit to how the overall degree will help, even if the specific knowledge content is not applicable right now.
posted by ml98tu at 7:32 PM on June 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Having read all of these answers, I think some contributors to this thread make very good points about the issues of financial independence and medical bills.

A lot of our parents (I means the parents of those of us who are in our twenties and thirties) did not afford themselves the luxury of tramping around the globe and living the kind of educated vagabond lifestyle that you are intending to pursue. They went to college, graduated, got married, had kids, and got a job. By living cautiously and conservatively, it is likely that they saved money, built a healthy retirement plan, or at the very least built up a nest egg in the form of equity in the family home.

They understand that, whatever attractions a more unorthodox path may have for you, it is hard for even the most cautious and unadventurous people to be prepared for emergencies (medical, financial, etc.) and so they are quite reasonably hoping that you will think carefully about how you will deal with these things. After all, it is not fair that after they (your parents) worked hard to be prepared for retirement, and worked hard at attaining financial stability, for you to be in your late twenties or thirties and have to turn to them to bail you out if you encounter some catastrophic situation that required them to dip into their hard-earned assets.

I know it is not fun to think of these things; it doesn't feel bad-ass and unconventional to be worrying about medical insurance; but to plan for unfortunate surprises is something you actually owe your family, unless they are mega-wealthy and have a lot more money than they will ever need. And even if you insist that you will never ask them for anything, they know (and you know) that if a crisis occurs, and you have no other way of getting out of it, they will bail you out.

Also consider that the fact that you consider an unorthodox path a possibility may be something that your parents' money made possible, by financing your education. If I toiled for decades to send my child to a good college, and while at college on my dime the child realized he/she could rip off the bonds of convention and tramp around the globe without a safety net, I might be a little peeved, too.

This is why I think there is a significant possibility of alienation and tension between the person following an unorthodox life and their families. You may not be able to make them happy about your choice, if their concern is actually about finances and emergencies.
posted by jayder at 7:47 PM on June 29, 2008 [4 favorites]

ways to ramble around, travel, and adventure while still being financially independent:

- travel writer
- travel guide
- peace corps or americorp
- teach in the U.S. (you get summers off; if you live frugally, you can spend 1/4 of every year traveling)
- teach English overseas (the benefits of above, plus the adventure of learning another country/language/culture by immersion.)
- find work that you can do for 3-6 months at a clip that allows you to save enough to take off and roam the world for another 6-9 months.
posted by Cranialtorque at 8:08 PM on June 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm 37. For the past 15 years I've had people on and off mention to me that I had a job, and I shouldn't live like such a bum. My response is always something along the lines of "I am bit of bum, I just happen to have a job"
posted by Calloused_Foot at 8:44 PM on June 29, 2008

Your parents will be quite supportive with whatever you decide to do as long as you're happy, financially healthy and yeah, have health insurance in some form.

It would be nice if this were universally true, but it isn't. They may be a minority, even, but there are some parents who, even when you present happiness, reasonable financial security, and health insurance, will still be convinced some of your choices are unreasonable. Anon's may be some of them.

They may not even be bad people. My parents are hardly ogres -- they love their kids and regularly demonstrate it. But on a number of occasions during my adult life, they've tried to steer me in ways have ranged from merely unhelpful to absolutely counterproductive.

For example, 1-2 years ago, they discouraged me from leaving a job that clearly held no future for me -- and I'm not just talking about the usual soul-suck and wanting to follow my bliss, it was becoming increasingly apparent to me there was no further real prospect of increasing financial rewards/security over time. I'm not sure what my parents reasons were for encouraging me to stay, but I suspect it was twofold: my parents have consistently advised me that the best way to success and security was professional work with a large company with a good reputation. The company I needed to leave was increasingly successful, and I suspect that gave it a glamour they assumed would rub off on my life, even though it was obvious to most workers near the front line that the business was more than happy to continually demand more while offering diminishing returns.

Now, in a sense, it turned out their worries about my plan to take a few months to kick up some adventure and search for new prospects were well-founded. I've certainly had some rough patches since then, and there was no guarantee I'd land on my feet. But I did, and for the moment at least (because bedrock security in this world is an illusion), I make a lot more money.

Even good parents not always good mentors. They often do have a valuable perspectives (if nothing else on what's likely to be important to someone their age, and everyone who lives that long will become that person someday). If you are particularly lucky, they might have some understanding of your soul and the options the world really offers you. But many are just human and limited in this regard.

I'm harping on this because I think it's easy to underestimate the effect wanting parental approval can have on a person, especially when they're young adults. For this reason, I'm not sure that I can overemphasize this to anon: you must be ready to place your own values above the concerns of your parents. You might even need to be ready to totally ignore them. Hopefully this isn't something you'll have to do often, hopefully it's something you can balance with being ready to thoroughly consider the merits of what they have to say. And hopefully, you can get the advice you're looking for here and find ways to explain to them what you're doing. But you have to be prepared for the fact that the angsty cliché "Nobody understands me!!!" is sometimes true. Sometimes, no other human being on this planet will understand the best choices for you. Not even your parents.
posted by weston at 9:17 PM on June 29, 2008 [5 favorites]

When asked about your degree, play up that the pursuit of your degree taught you about what you value---travel, change, adventure, etc. This leads into the other concerns: expain that right now, you're working out how you'll use this knowledge to pay the bills. And yes, then you'll need to start working that part out :-) If you seem committed to something passionately and follow through, those close to you will likely not be worried if your job is unconventional or doesn't bring in big dough.
posted by lacedback at 10:03 PM on June 29, 2008

The only way to answer this question is to answer it with what you plan to do. You must do something, and I think you realize this as well as anyone. What you must also realize is that what you do, you will do for yourself. The interest of others in this process that you are going through is not oppressive or judgmental; to the contrary, answering this question is the way you are going to integrate your life into the society you live in.

Proverbs 3 says, "Whatever you do, get wisdom." That's good advice; so is the advice about getting health insurance. Once you are sick it is too late.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:14 AM on June 30, 2008

Hello, me!

I have the same problem. A lot of my opportunities aren't exactly something I can guarantee months in advance. I've been working on being a KaosPilot for 8 months and am still not successful - there goes Plan A. (Well, really more Plan C, because the other two plans didn't work either!) Also, I'm still trying to figure out what my options ARE, and which are feasible and which aren't - so whenever my parents pressure me for a plan I'm often flummoxed.

If you have some idea of things you'd like to do, tell them that. Look it up - maybe there's stuff that's interesting already. But don't let the pressure get to you. Uni is such a big thing in itself and we all need a breather. Pressure ain't gonna help.

If you want to talk to someone who is in this exact position NOW, feel free to Mefi Mail :)
posted by divabat at 2:15 AM on June 30, 2008

This may or may not apply to you, but some practical advice that comes from painful experience: when you graduate and do all your wonderful things, live on your own. And if you can, move at least 40 minutes away from home.

I think parents are at most worried about whether you can be self-sufficient. When you're independent, those questions about what you're going to do just seem to fade. As long as you're not at home, people stop wondering, they stop asking, and they start to accept you as having your own way, your own routine.

For the mean time, just be honest and a little nice. A good "Hmm, I'm not sure, explore some options" does the trick.
posted by philosophistry at 3:08 AM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

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