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When it Comes to Your Dreams, Sometimes the Best Advice is to Ignore Everything Your Parents Told You

Valerie and her rescue dog,
"Cokie Roberts"

By Valerie Young

This article originally appeared in Issue 188 of the Changing Course Newsletter.

Most of the time my parents did get it right. But everything I learned about achieving career bliss I learned by actually ignoring my well-meaning but cautious parents. That's because, if you aspire to find work that you truly love, some of what your parents taught you could actually work against you.

Here are three childhood lessons every adult career changer should ignore as well as some exercises to help you achieve your goal.

Old Advice: Grow up

New Advice: Don't

If you were still throwing tantrums at 12, be thankful your parents told you to "grow up." But, if you want to recapture the experience of getting deliriously lost in a favorite pastime, growing up isn't all it's cracked up to be. Lots of people, director Steven Spielberg among them, knew from a young age what they wanted to do when they grew up. Your own childhood may well contain clues to a new career direction.

Make a list of all the things you were really into as a kid. Did you love to build forts? Sing? Compete in science fairs? Draw? Do magic tricks? Learn about dinosaurs? Tell jokes? Watch scary movies? Play sports? Play dress-up? Play video games? Play school?

What do your answers tell you? How might you build on these childhood interests today?

Old Advice: Follow the straight and narrow road

New Advice: Wind your way to happiness

You probably got the message growing up to always follow the straight and narrow road. Good advice for staying on the right side of authority, bad advice for coming up with "outside the box" career options. That's because it is often the wide road with lots of detours that lead to the most interesting places. Say you wanted to turn your love of astronomy into your vocation, what career destination would you most likely wind up at, if, vocationally-speaking, you took the straight and narrow road? Astronomer. Right? A fine occupation, but it is just one of many options.

Here's where what Patrick Combs calls his "Super-Simple, Unique & Weird Job Idea Jogger" can help. Even though his book, Major In Success, is aimed at college students, his idea jogging exercise can help anyone looking to chart a new course.

To start, fill in the blanks in the following sentence: A great job would be [verb] in the [your interest] field. The astronomy-lover who also enjoys reading would write: A great job would be reading in the astronomy field. This might lead to such off-the-beaten-path careers as: Editor of an astronomy magazine, NASA researcher or author of books about the latest astronomy developments. Change the verb to drawing, says Combs, and see what ideas get jogged. You could: Illustrate astronomy books. Design observatories. Map star systems. Create science fiction paintings, murals, or coloring books.

Old Advice: Never talk to strangers

New Advice: Talk to lots and lots of strangers

"Never talk to strangers" is good advice if you're approached in a dark alley, bad advice if you need encouragement to quit your programming job to become a park ranger. In fact, if the choice is to seek out support from a group of total strangers or from your own family, go with the strangers. The reason, says career counselor Barbara Sher, is that "almost any stranger would respect your dreams more easily than our family does." To prove it, try this assignment from her book I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was.  

Tell a group of strangers the most offbeat dream you can think of – like raising Dalmatians in the Himalayas. Tell them, however, that you don't yet have any contacts in Tibet. Not only will they be interested, says Sher, "they'll even try to solve your problem."

Now, she says, try the same experiment with your family by announcing that you're going to quit your corporate job and sign on as crew on a clam boat off Rhode Island [or the reverse]. Observe whether they "drop their forks before or after they scramble to talk you out of your ‘folly'."

If you're ready for a big career change, maybe it's time you actually do get bigger than your career confining britches. It can be as simple as re-igniting your childhood passions, exploring a more creative career search path, and seeking out the right people to encourage your dreams.

Oh, on the wearing clean underwear thing in case you're ever in an accident – your mom was right.

If you'd like a little help developing your "opportunity muscles" join me for my monthly Teleclass, "Turning Interests into Income Opportunity Hour." Learn more at

There are 6 comments. Add yours.

  1. I always like Valerie’s articles, but I really LOVED this one. Unlearning the bad career advice we got growing up seems to be the first big challenge for everyone changing course. Thanks for the eloquent reminder!

  2. Shellie

    Valerie you are so right! I used to take it personally that my parents were ‘unsupportive’ of my musings and it took me three years to overcome my perceived roadblocks to starting a career/life overhaul. But I finally got to a point where I couldn’t do my old job ONE MORE DAY; so within 4 weeks I moved to another town 5 hours away to start culinary school and pursue my passion of food and wine pairing. I AM SO HAPPY I DID, it was the best move ever. I’m learning to define myself by BEING instead of DOING. With all the old life constraints removed, I get to create the life I WANT instead of living for other people’s expectations of what I should do. You and your advice have been hugely instrumental in that life change and I am grateful for your wisdom and continued great ideas. THANK YOU!!!

  3. My mom always said, “Get your head out of the clouds and put your feet back on the floor”–what a dream discourager!!! She always saw me as a school teacher or a nice secretary. I am glad to say that my head is firmly planted in the clouds, right where it is meant to be. Thank you, Valerie for keeping us encouraged.

    Charlotte Spears
    Cozy Home Designs

  4. Jennifer Manlowe

    HI Valerie!
    I’m so grateful for your brilliant tips (as always!) and have found them to be true for myself and my clients seeking more creative careers–like becoming successful writers, for instance. One of the “homework” assignments I give my students in week two of the LIFE DESIGN Eight-Week Program is to fill in 10 short answers to the following questions:
    What were mandates and mistakes warned against in your (1) Family of Origin (FOO), your (2) Culture of Origin (COO), and your (3) Traditions/Religion of Origin (TROO)?

    For instance, because my Family of Origin (FOO) name is Manlowe, I might explore 10 answers to each of the questions. The first one might go like this: “A Manlowe MUST ALWAYS_____!” and then 10 answers to this question like this: “A Manlowe MUST NEVER_____!”

    And my Culture of Origin (COO) is late 20th C. Italian/Irish third generation — want-to-be upper-middle class and white with lots of gender expectations that are quite different for men/boys and women/girls. So my 10 answers to each of to the questions might go like this: “To be a Successful Woman in America one must ALWAYS_____!” and then 10 answers to this question like this: “To be a Successful Woman in America must NEVER_____!

    Finally, Tradition or Religion of origin (TROO) questions might go like this: “I grew up learning that to be a good Catholic girl, one must NEVER_____!” and then 10 answers to this question like this: “I grew up learning that to be a good Catholic girl, one must NEVER_____!”

    The point of the exercise is not to dump the past but to see its present influence on our beliefs about ourselves and our futures. When we explore from where we’ve come and see which “colors” of the palette are dominating the scenery, we might want to think again and decide which ones we want to use for the “life painting” we’re creating now in our second half of life. Which is my favorite half so far! There’s so much more power–born of discernment and experience– and so many more tricks for blending new colors and textures on this side.

    Hey you out there in Ether Land, do you think the above exercise might help you or your clients? I’d love to learn what helps you.


  5. Jennifer Manlowe

    Oops, I forgot to add, if there are any women or men out there who want to explore the GOO (gender of origin) issues when creating a working identity, please checkout my book, CRACKING UP. You can learn more by following this link:

  6. Jule

    Great ideas! And actually, when it comes to clean underwear (just in case), mom was wrong. My friends in hospitals tell me that what’s most noticible when someone is face-up on a hospital gurney is their toes. So perhaps moms should have been advocating pedicures!


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