To All Those Whom I’ve Sought Approval From Before

My dad has two PhDs - yes, two. What the hell will he think when I tell him that I need to pause my PhD application? I felt my throat close with just the thought of it.  

When I taught at George Brown College I considered a career in academia. It made sense to apply into a PhD program. I contacted my references and received their endorsements. The rest was up to me. My CV was done and all I had to do was simply describe my research interests in 1000 words. I had six months to do this. Easy right? Not so much.

I wasn’t born into a very traditional Chinese family as many people would assume. My parent’s liberal parenting approaches were shaped by humble beginnings. They came to Canada searching for opportunities - one suitcase, a one-way plane ticket and $500 to make it work. So my strong tendencies as an ambitious self-starter are not driven by the stereotypical Chinese parents’ desires for their children - pushing them to be a doctor, engineer, lawyer or accountant.

My need to seek approval stems from being a perfectionist and the desire to develop myself. Also, constantly caring about what other people think of me and being a perfectionist may not be a good combination for a self-starter. Until the last few years, I leaned heavily on logical approaches to make decisions. Rarely did I make decisions based on how I felt. For the most part, my decisions are rationalized, analyzed, and synthesized. After seeing my mom brave cancer, I’ve listened to my gut more and been attuned to how my career decisions make me feel.

Education, growth and learning are a big deal in my family - on and off the streets. From a young age, my parents took me out a lot. I was exposed to different cultures, people, and environments. I grew up watching the 1960s Mission: Impossible and Batman TV series. I think they were secretly training me to be a spy - or hyper-observant. Our home was scattered with books and magazines and I could get lost in a bookstore for hours reading books and people.  

Growing up, my career interests included being a baker, an architect, a popcorn connoisseur, and geologist. I was introspective to a fault and was always seeking my parent’s approval about my career choices. And I was always frustrated by their answer, “whatever makes you happy”. I just wanted someone to tell me what to do! What does happiness mean anyway!?

There was never pressure from my dad to pursue formal education just because he did. He thought I was going to do something creative and artistic with my life. I’ve always compared myself to him and never thought I was good enough. However, because of what he’s accomplished, I think subconsciously I find myself chasing after similar goals.

Every time I sat down to write my research interests I found myself wanting to do something else. I procrastinated for weeks and I usually meet every goal that I set for myself in a timely manner. I couldn’t justify investing 7 years in a program when I didn’t know what my ‘why’ was? So I had to re-evaluate.  

Pursuing a career in academia was not a strong enough ‘why’ for me to pursue my PhD at this time since my career interests shifted. I needed to pivot, but my fears got in the way:

  • What will my dad think? He might be disappointed in me.

  • What will my references think? Considering they put in the time and effort.

  • Am I giving up too easily? I should be able to do this.

 Common mistakes when making career decisions include basing decisions on:

  • What you think you should be doing.

  • What others will think of you.

  • Societal pressures.

ACTION: What is preventing you from actually listening to your inner voice and making decisions that feel natural to you?

Originally published at Excelsior.