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Your relationship with your parents have a lot to do with your career success

June 16th, 2009 · 10 Comments

I was not a happy child when I grew up. I was the only child in the family. I was super obedient. I had always done well in school. My parents would tell their friends that I never caused them any trouble.

But, deep inside, I wasn’t a very happy boy. I was keenly aware of it, but I was too afraid to question. I didn’t like how my parents were treating me:

  • My parents would always pick the clothes for me. I remembered once my mother picked this ugly grayish exercise outfit for me. When I showed up at my physical education class, all of my classmates were laughing at me. I knew when we bought the clothes at the store, it wouldn’t be popular among my peers. But, my mother always decided for me.
  • My mother would open mails addressed to me without my permission. I remembered I hated it when I was in high school.
  • When my parents made a sacrifice or did me a favor, they would always say to me: "we’ve done so much for you. When we got older, you must return the favor". There always seemed to be something attached to whatever they did to me. I was so disgusted about the guilt trips that I refused to ask for their help.
  • My mother would go to school to talk to my teachers without giving me any advance notice. When I got home, she would say that "I just talked to your teacher today. I’d like to have a serious conversation with you". Usually I’d be really confused, surprised and scared — It wasn’t like I did something wrong. I wasn’t sure why my mother went to talk to my teacher, and I wasn’t sure why "she wanted to have a serious conversation."
  • Until my teenage years, my family lived a comfortable middle-class life in another country. But, my dad had always had the ambition to immigrate to the United States to fulfill his American Dream. For the first few years in the United States, life was very tough. I would hear my Dad complaining to his friends: "we came here for our kid. If it’s for us, we would have stayed". I knew it wasn’t true because I had overheard conversations between my parents — my father really wanted to get to the United States. It’d be good for my education, but it wasn’t the primary reason for them to come to the States.

As you can see, I carried a lot of pressure, guilt, and stress while I was growing up.

I was also taught that my parents were right, always right — I wasn’t supposed to question what they did. I was constantly struggling with this internal conflict — my gut was telling me that something was not right, but I couldn’t question my parents. It was hard.

Going to college at Berkeley was a huge step for me since I finally got the chance to live by myself. It was incredibly liberating.

  • I only went home to see parents every few weeks. I hated to go home, and now I had a legitimate excuse — "I’m busy with school work". ๐Ÿ™‚
  • I was fiercely independent. I’m proud to say that I worked all three summers during my college years, and I paid every single penny of my college expenses myself (tuition, housing, living expenses, etc.) I didn’t want to feel guilty again.
  • I lived on my own and kept everything away from my parents. My parents would not longer see my mails. In fact, they knew very little about me when I was in college — I didn’t like the scrutiny from them, so I kept everything away from them. They didn’t know who my friends were. They didn’t know what I did for extracurricular activities. They only knew I was doing well in school, and I was healthy and alive. ๐Ÿ™‚
  • I also found an intellectual home at Berkeley. In addition to take Computer Science classes, I took many social science and humanity classes such as sociology, ethnic studies, architecture, etc. These "soft disciplines" really helped me to develop my own critical thinking skills. I learn to reflect, introspect, and think critically.

When I was graduating, I thought I was ready to dominate the world. ๐Ÿ™‚ I got three great job offers, but I didn’t know which offer I wanted to take.

All of them looked good. More importantly, I didn’t know what I wanted. I suddenly realized that throughout my life, I was not given the opportunity to make a lot of choices. My parents were very strict, and they would always make the decision for me.

It was a painful realization. I was flipping a coin in my room to decide which job offer I should take. In the end, fortunately, I made the right choice to pick a great employer.

This was a wake-up call. I started training myself to know what I want and make decisions.

  • When I ate out with friends, I made sure that I read the menu, figured out what I really wanted, and then ordered. In the past, I might have randomly picked one or order what others have ordered.
  • When I went shopping for clothes, I would always ask myself "what do I want", and then picked the one accordingly
  • At work, I would always make a recommendation. I didn’t give "maybe this, maybe that" answers.
  • etc.

I’m much better at making decisions today. I’m also much better at knowing what I want. It’s actually not that hard to figure it out because deep in my heart, I know what I want. It’s just that I wasn’t given the opportunity to do so in the past.

About ten years ago, when I was browsing books in the Border’s bookstore on University Ave in Palo Alto, CA, I saw a book called If You Had Controlling Parents: How to Make Peace with Your Past and Take Your Place in the World. I was so excited about the book that I stayed in the bookstore for a long time and finished reading the book!

I cried. I just felt that someone actually understood all of my problems in the past. It’s okay to feel that way I had felt. In fact, when I did the exercise in the book, I got a pretty high score, which meant I had "highly controlling parents".

Why am I telling you this very personal story? I thought long and hard before I wrote this blog post. I didn’t particular enjoy talking about my personal life in the public. But, I have come across so many people who have problems with their parents that I’m compelled to share this story with you.

What I learned is that your relationship with your parents will have a lot to do with your career success. You cannot run away from the problems with your parents. You somehow have to reach peace with yourself, and address the problems. Otherwise, the problems with your parents will come back you to haunt you some point during your career.

Over the years, I have talked to people who are in their 40s, 50s, or even 60s who still have problems with their parents although in some cases their parents have passed away. Although problems with parents might be caused by external circumstances, the are internal to each individual — i.e. they’re all in people’s minds. If you don’t take proactive steps to address the problems, they will still be there even after your parents are dead.

How sad is it to let your problems with your parents to ruin your life and career?! If you have problems with you parents, be proactive and take actions now.

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Tags: Learning and Growing

10 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jeremy Day // Jun 16, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    Hi,

    Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. I have always had problems making decisions. Although my parents are partly the cause I can not come close to blaming them entirely.

    My personality has a lot to do with it too. But ones always needs to remember to never under-estimate the power our past and upbringing have on us. There really is something to it. This is a good helpful article.

    Cheers,
    Jeremy

  • 2 Pete // Jun 16, 2009 at 10:22 pm

    Are you Asian-American? Many people can relate to your story.

  • 3 GeekMBA360 // Jun 17, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    You're right — I knew many Asian Americans who could related to this story. But, you'd be surprised by how common a problem this is across racial, ethic and cultural lines. After all, we're all humans. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • 4 Freeman Ding // Jun 19, 2009 at 1:41 am

    Thanks a lot for this thought-provoking post. I fully agree that it is better to be proactive and take actions for any problem with parents. Or could I say like this way: actually I believe a large part of human's personality has root relation with the one's family background such as parents' background, how they educate the child etc., and the career success has much with one's personality (or so-called leadership characteristics in business schools :-), so in this sense I also think the relationship with the parents really have a lot to do with the career success.

    Fortunately I was born with very open-minded parents. They are very strict for the fundamental human value systems such as honesty, integrity, loyalty etc., but they are quite lenient in every life detail. They never do scrutiny, they always respect my own decisions, listen to me and discuss with me like my good friends. Actually even today I still think my parents are the two best friends of mine. I guess the education I received from my parents is really the reason for my critical thinking pattern and good people skills. I think I am lucky, and always feel gratitude to them.

  • 5 Owen // Jun 20, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    I appreciate this post. I can relate and I love your attitude. Acknowledge sources of problems but also acknowledge whose hands the solution is in now. Bon courage!

  • 6 Bing // Jun 22, 2009 at 4:08 am

    It takes courage to face one's own past and try to learn something from it. I too have had a tense relationship with my parents. It took me years to unwind the anger. Nevertheless, growing up with controlling parents profoundly distorted my view of the world.

    In a way, being controlling conveys a message of dominance. There are many elements in intra-family relationship. Power relation is certainly part of mix. However, in some families, this element is so projected that it overshadows other elements. You often heard parents say to their children, “I tell you to do this-or-that is for your own good.” In other words, they count “dominance” as “caring” or “love” too.

    When a child growing up knowing nothing but power-dominance in family relationship, and because the family is the most intimate social space to a child, he/she will grow up thinking power-dominance as THE inter-personal relationship. Although different child may develop different behavioral reactions to this mentality, ultimately they all react along the same line: some become super competitive (as to dominate others), others become super “nice” (as to accommodate others). In fact, they are the two sides of the same coin.

    Peter Peterson confessed in his memoir that he developed a super-competitive personality largely because he was brought up by a Greek mother that “made Jewish mothers look criminally negligent”. After his first marriage broke up, he underwent intensive psychotherapy to overcome his past.

    I don't know what a child can do other than to unwind, to unlearn in adulthood. The responsibility really lies with the parents. They should realize when they teach their children, they are not only teaching them something about this world. But more importantly, they are teaching them how to relate to others in this world.

  • 7 Vanessa // Jun 30, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    Great thought-provoking article… In fact, I'm currently in one of your situations right now. I'm Aussie, and currently in university. Over here we aren't sent off to study in uni if it's nearby. Generation Y here are still rather parental dependant. It's not like home is such a terribly place either; food's at the table when I want it, clothes are washed and dried when I need them to be, family members are outgoing and bubbly people, but still it does not feel right.

    That is why I have been staying back at uni, or sleeping at friends' houses (and studying til late for exams) simply to stay away from the household distractions. I have a very important career path ahead of me which I must nurture. I have been proactive and have told my parents my goals, ambitions and what I want to happen in the next 5 years. (This has got them off my back a bit.) This does not mean I do not like to spend quality time with them however.

    When I first started going out late and coming home late, I would cop the guilt. I'm young, Asian and female too – doesn't really help lol. I study hard, do chores, play sports and like to keep fit, earn my own buck and do volunteer work. I only come home when I want to now, as I'm trying to balance the life between family, friends, uni and future career. (Even friends find it hard to understand why I'm studying or working so hard – most simply want to 'party').

    Being less-dependant of my parents and siblings have made me become less-stubborn, childish and 'airy-fairy' in many ways.

    I'm now much more decisive, hard-headed and irrestistable may I say? Ha ha

    I could go on forever but I should really stop here…

    (oh, and I've yet to continue to be proactive, take actions, and find that balance!)

  • 8 Vanessa // Jun 30, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    Great thought-provoking article… In fact, I'm currently in one of your situations right now. I'm Aussie, and currently in university. Over here we aren't sent off to study in uni if it's nearby. Generation Y here are still rather parental dependant. It's not like home is such a terribly place either; food's at the table when I want it, clothes are washed and dried when I need them to be, family members are outgoing and bubbly people, but still it does not feel right.

    That is why I have been staying back at uni, or sleeping at friends' houses (and studying til late for exams) simply to stay away from the household distractions. I have a very important career path ahead of me which I must nurture. I have been proactive and have told my parents my goals, ambitions and what I want to happen in the next 5 years. (This has got them off my back a bit.) This does not mean I do not like to spend quality time with them however.

    When I first started going out late and coming home late, I would cop the guilt. I'm young, Asian and female too – doesn't really help lol. I study hard, do chores, play sports and like to keep fit, earn my own buck and do volunteer work. I only come home when I want to now, as I'm trying to balance the life between family, friends, uni and future career. (Even friends find it hard to understand why I'm studying or working so hard – most simply want to 'party').

    Being less-dependant of my parents and siblings have made me become less-stubborn, childish and 'airy-fairy' in many ways.

    I'm now much more decisive, hard-headed and irrestistable may I say? Ha ha

    I could go on forever but I should really stop here…

    (oh, and I've yet to continue to be proactive, take actions, and find that balance!)

  • 9 GeekMBA360 // Jul 1, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    Thanks for the comments!

    You had great awareness of some of the issues you have with your parents, and you have taken a lot of actions to address these issues. Kudos to you!

    Also, I think it's good that you study hard — it'll pay off down the road. That's a good thing that you should be proud of. Don't get distracted by your “slacker/partying” classmates. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I'd also challenge you to continue to build/enhance your relationship with your parents — no parents is perfect. I'm learning that every single day as we have two young children. ๐Ÿ™‚ I think it's important for both parents and kids to continue to improve and build a healthier relationship as they grow older.

  • 10 GeekMBA360 // Jul 1, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    Thanks for the comments!

    You had great awareness of some of the issues you have with your parents, and you have taken a lot of actions to address these issues. Kudos to you!

    Also, I think it's good that you study hard — it'll pay off down the road. That's a good thing that you should be proud of. Don't get distracted by your “slacker/partying” classmates. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I'd also challenge you to continue to build/enhance your relationship with your parents — no parents is perfect. I'm learning that every single day as we have two young children. ๐Ÿ™‚ I think it's important for both parents and kids to continue to improve and build a healthier relationship as they grow older.

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