Dear Kiki: I resent my parents’ expectations over my career. What do I do?

In this month’s column, a reader struggles with balancing their parents’ expectations over their careers, and pursuing their own passions.
Asian working professional

Dear Kiki,

Growing up, I always felt like I abandoned my interests in order to please my parents. The Asian expectation was to study well and get a good job in government or become a doctor/lawyer/engineer. In my case, I became an accountant.

I made the decision to abandon my original interests in writing/history/political science to make sure I had a “roof over my head.” My parents basically told me to sort that out first and then pursue my interests later.

Now I feel lost. It’s like I repressed that creative side of me for so long I can’t bring it back anymore. I find myself feeling resentful towards my parents. Whenever I bring this up, they ask me, “Aren’t you glad to be a professional?” I am a professional, but I feel unfulfilled and aimless.

I feel like I wasted my creative years pursuing a career I wasn’t passionate in. My parents would say that it was my choice, even though I felt like that didn’t reflect my true values.

How can I let go of my resentment and regret?

– Unfulfilled and Aimless

Dear Unfulfilled and Aimless,

My friend, those are two big and heavy emotions to be carrying. To have carried them throughout your childhood and into your adulthood could not have been easy. 

Our past experiences have such a profound impact on our lives, especially during the early years of identity formation. Resentment and regret can keep us trapped in a non-stop reel of past memories, leaving us paralyzed and unable to move forward. 

You are right. It’s time to let them go. 

As Asians, we are often taught from a young age to respect our elders and honour their wishes. It may have instilled a strong sense of discipline – which is touted as a key attribute of success – but it has trained us to put others’ needs before our own, even blindly and unnecessarily at times. 

This also means that you are a caring son/daughter who loves your family and would never hesitate to put them first. However, you are realizing now that the very people you care about and respect have had a hand in causing you the pain and emptiness that you are struggling with now. 

Suppressing our interests, hopes, and dreams is essentially denying who we are. 

In order to let go of these deep-seated emotions, you need to first acknowledge exactly what it is you are resentful and regretful about. Are you angry because your parents pressured you into something you didn’t want to do, and that took away your chance at a fulfilling career and happy life? Or is it hurtful that your parents don’t understand the devastating effect their behaviors have had on you? Instead, they are dismissing your feelings and telling you to be grateful. 

I’d also like to propose another important question: Who are you truly resentful of, your parents, or yourself? These are tough questions, so take your time. Go through them one by one. Say the answers out loud, to yourself or to a confidante. Or write them down in a journal or a letter. 

This process will hopefully guide you to slowly release the emotions that you have clung onto so tightly for decades. If it’s comfortable for you, try communicating your feelings to your parents. But don’t go in expecting a tearful apology or heartfelt validation. 

Perhaps upon further reflection, you may come to realize your own role in your present predicament. Perhaps you regret not pushing back harder when you didn’t want to study accounting. It doesn’t mean you should blame yourself and go curl up in a ball of self-pity. Rather, this is about you making peace and moving on. Taking responsibility will bring you a sense of empowerment and confidence, so you can start leading a purposeful and fulfilling life that aligns with your true values.

Reclaim your life and seek your emotional freedom. Identify parts of the situation you have control over. You can look for another job, start a side-hustle or learn a new hobby. More importantly, you can choose to hold onto the negative emotions, or release them.

You mentioned that you are having trouble finding your creativity, that “you can’t bring it back.” I assure you that it’s still there, buried deep beneath your resentment and regret. It just needs some nurture and care.  

Find ways to infuse creativity into your everyday, starting now. Switch up your routine. Jazz up your spreadsheets with colour. Pitch a new idea at work. Do some creative writing during your down-time. Set aside time for weekly paint night. Eventually, you will find that spark.

Being a professional doesn’t have to limit your aspirations. In fact, you don’t need to choose between your interests in accounting/ writing/ history/ political science. You can be an accountant AND a writer AND a history aficionado AND a political changemaker. This is your opportunity to create your own story. 

May your new-found emotional space serve as a fresh canvas. May every daring stroke and splash of colour bring you closer to that ultimate masterpiece that is yourself. That brush, my friend, lies in your hands.

Always here for you,


Featured images from Unsplash

Dear Kiki is Cold Tea Collective’s advice column and it is published in the last week of every month. To get advice from Kiki, submit your questions and comments here. You can also follow along for the latest column in our newsletter.

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