My daughter earned her bachelor’s degree a couple of years ago. She works in a research position at a hospital, but she has decided that’s not enough. So she’s started taking post-bacc classes with the intent to go to medical school.
This is a text message exchange we had a few weeks ago:
Her: Enrolled in cellular biology!
Me: Yay, I guess!
Her: I’m gonna be a doctor BE ENCOURAGING
Three things here. One, she recognized my snarky sarcasm (to someone who doesn’t know me, my comment might not sound as bad as it actually was). Two, she called me out for my complete lack of support. And three, my daughter has ambitions of becoming A DOCTOR. Which is simultaneously thrilling and terrifying.
That last bit is significant. When she talks about medical school, it’s scary to me. It’s big, and challenging, and that makes it frightening. I don’t want her to fail. So what do I do? I discourage her. I pointed out the cost, and the time involved, and the required level of commitment. As if she was going to say, oh, gee, Mom, medical school is expensive? I didn’t think of that because it’s such a well-kept secret! Good thing you clued me in!
As I point it out now, it sounds completely obvious and freaking stupid. But we do this to our families and friends all the time. We’re afraid for them, so we try to hold them back to something safer. Don’t start your own business, it might lose money. Don’t move to a new place, you might not like it. Don’t reach too high, you might fall. And that’s it right there. We don’t want them to fall or to fail, so we attempt to steer them to something safe and easy. We sabotage the people we love most in an effort to protect them. It’s sort of horrible when you realize you’re doing it, or that someone else is doing it to you.
So what to do about it: Well, when you’re the one guilty of it, you can try to realize that your fear is the problem, not their ambition. Maybe they won’t fail. Maybe they will, but they’ll learn something else and still make some gain from it. If you believe your concern is based on genuine issues of not being prepared for the step they want to take, help them find the resources they need. (In the example above, if I thought she seriously didn’t know the cost, I could have tried looking at scholarship-related info and sent that to her.)
If someone is doing this to you, recognize their reaction as fear rather than true lack of faith. (And if it’s true lack of faith, that’s a different problem, and you probably need to quit trying to get support from this person.) Gather the resources you need to achieve your goal, and keep moving toward it.
And when all that falls apart and your family sucks at supporting you anyway, try to realize that this is just how families are.