Disappoint Your Parents
There are many people who, as adults, look back and express regret that they didn’t follow their passion. There are several reasons why: a fear of failure, a lack of courage, the inability to gather the right tools or knowledge. Maybe it was doubt that they could ever support themselves in that field.
There are others, however, who cite one specific reason for not pursuing their dream: They didn’t want to disappoint their parents.
But what if you could disappoint your parents in a good way? In a way that would ultimately bring them joy and make them proud?
That’s exactly what happened with me.
Like many others, I grew up in a strict household. I was the son of a first sergeant in the Air Force, a career military man who preached discipline and authority. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t an unhappy childhood at all. I loved my dad, and to this day I appreciate all of the wonderful character strengths that he instilled in me.
But he never hid the fact that he wanted me to follow in his footsteps. His dream for me was a career in the armed forces, beginning with an education at The Air Force Academy.
When I was 14 years old my dad asked me to walk across the alley and talk to the man who lived in the house behind us. He was an Air Force Academy graduate, a young officer in the service who would – according to my dad’s plan – convince me of following the same path.
As a good son, I obeyed. I politely listened as the captain outlined his four-year experience at the Academy, and his exciting life as a pilot. It was, I must admit, pretty cool.
But it wasn’t my dream. In fact, at 14 I’m not sure I had any solid dreams of my future. I just didn’t feel the lure of the military. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a huge fan of the people who serve our country – they truly are heroes – and the Air Force provided a terrific life for my family. It just wasn’t my calling.
By 15 I was enamored with two things: writing and radio. I’d been crafting stories since the third grade, and reading everything I could get my hands on. Plus, I was fascinated by the people who talked on the radio. They were almost like gods to my teenage mind, and I fantasized about doing the same thing.
When I expressed these thoughts to my parents, my dad grew strangely quiet. Being a disc jockey or a writer didn’t mesh with his vision for my future. And yet, to his great credit, he never – never – bad-mouthed my desires. In fact, a few weeks before my 16th birthday, it was my dad who drove me for three hours to take my FCC licensing test. (A test that’s not required anymore, by the way.)
After passing the exam, my dad – the retired military man who had no interest whatsoever in music or broadcasting – drove me over to the studios of my all-time favorite radio station, KNUS-99, on Elm Street in Dallas. When he asked at the front desk if his son could have a quick tour, he initially was told no – they didn’t offer tours to folks off the street.
But my dad worked it, and somehow (I’ll never know how) he wrangled a tour. When they led us into the on-air studio and I watched one of my idols put on his headphones and do a quick rap (over the intro to Andrew Gold’s hit “Lonely Boy”), I was speechless. Numb. Mesmerized.
During the three-hour drive back home my dad must’ve been dying inside, knowing that his son’s passion had taken over. There would never be a military career for me after those three minutes in the studios of KNUS-99.
One month later I had a job in radio, working as a 16-year-old disc jockey on Saturday and Sunday nights from six to midnight on KFMN. Thirty-eight years later I’m still on the air.
And I’ve had (as of this writing) twelve books published. I’ve followed both of my dreams, successfully.
My dad? He ended up becoming one of my biggest supporters. He swallowed his disappointment and encouraged me to do my best at whatever career I chose. He never tired of introducing me to all of his friends as “my son, Dominic. He’s on the radio, you know.”
When I received my first gold record in the industry, a plaque from Columbia Records for helping to launch the first hit album for a band called The Hooters, I gave it to my dad. He proudly hung the gold record on the wall in his home, along with the letter that I included - a few words thanking him for his love and support.
To this day I still laugh at the image of the strict first-sergeant – with his military haircut and disdain for “hippies” – displaying an award from a long-haired rock band called The Hooters. There’s something beautiful in that.
It broke my heart when my dad passed away exactly one year before my first book was published.
Today I look back on all that’s happened in my career, all of the successes and priceless memories – hanging with some of the world’s biggest rock stars, reaching number one in the radio ratings, or scoring a number-one bestselling book – and think about how different my life would’ve been if I’d been terrified of disappointing my father.
Perhaps my life would’ve been just as full, just as rewarding – but in a different way. Perhaps I would’ve found happiness as an Air Force pilot, seen more of the world, met other people who were just as influential as (and probably more important than) silly rock stars. For sure my personal life – my relationships, my friends, my homes and possessions – would be entirely different.
Tim Ferriss recently interviewed Peter Diamandis, a remarkably successful businessman, a guy who has without a doubt changed the world. When asked what he would say if he could go back in time and speak to his younger self, Diamandis said something that caused me to sit down and write this piece: I would not have spent four years of my life in medical school trying to please my parents.
If you’re a student, wondering how you’re going to break the news to your parents that you don’t want to be a doctor, or an accountant, or whatever career path they strongly encourage you to follow, I’d offer the following advice:
Don’t crush their spirit. Don’t brush aside their dreams for you with sarcastic, disrespectful comments. Do your own walk across the alley and at least investigate what they’re proposing. Who knows, you might actually discover that you do have an interest in that particular field when you gather more information. At the very least, treat their convictions with respect. They want the best for you, and wouldn’t be strongly suggesting something if they didn’t love you and care about your future.
At the same time, don’t just randomly boast about other “dreams” if you’re not going to actively pursue them. If you want to be a video game designer, what are you doing to make that a reality? If you want to be a clothing designer, what steps are you taking to end up at Fashion Week?
I took my FCC licensing test at age fifteen, and within a month had talked my way into a job in broadcasting. What are you doing besides dreaming?
If you’re a parent, and you have a strong desire for your child to follow a certain career path, then – first of all – thank you. At least you’re a parent who is actively involved in preparing your child for their future. You’d be disgusted to learn how many parents don’t care at all.
But secondly, be prepared for disappointment. Relax your stubborn tendencies and, by all means, don’t take their decision personally. They’re not defying your wishes – they’re spreading their wings. As long as your child is working toward a successful future, let go of your own dreams for them and allow them to make their own come true.
Be willing to share your suggestions for how they could perhaps tweak those dreams in order to make them stronger. Offer your experience and wisdom without trying to do the job for them.
Drive them to their own version of KNUS-99 and help them get inside.
Parents (usually) mean well. But kids, no matter how genetically connected in a physical sense, are rarely wired like mom and dad. Evolution has intentionally programmed us that way, a trait that helps to guarantee the best chance of survival for the species.
Celebrate your child’s attempt to build their own future, even while you quietly mourn their lack of interest in your grand designs.
There are so many ways that kids can disappoint their parents. This is one way that can be spectacular.