Parents, please don’t forget passion
JUNE 15 — As a teacher, I have had many meetings with parents and students. The topic of these meetings is often to inform me what their children “want” to do. Amazingly, all these students aspire to be, in no particular order, a doctor, engineer, lawyer, and, occasionally, a business person.
All stereotypical high-income, high-profile jobs. The student usually sits there without a say in the matter. The eyes say: “What I really want to be is a foreign correspondent, or a kindergarten teacher, or maybe even a professional illustrator.” However, it seems understood that, as one’s future is being negotiated, it is best to remain silent.
In every one of my Social Science classes, there are students with a head for matters beyond numbers. I discover a passion for history, a talent in graphic design, an interest in environmentalism, exceptional public-speaking skills, or the love of a musical instrument.
It is clear, however, that actually pursuing any of the above would not make some parents happy. Parental pressure to follow a certain career path is not limited to Asia. Back home, many children are expected to “follow in their parent’s footsteps.”
Nevertheless, just because it is an international phenomenon doesn’t make it right. Moreover, I am concerned about the narrow career paths prescribed by a clear majority of Malaysian parents.
I am concerned because success seems to be measured by job titles. Happiness that can only come as a result of pursuing one’s passion is set aside. Part of my job is witnessing budding dreams die, and I dream of seeing this change within my life.
My mother and father are both doctors. I am a teacher. By some standards I have witnessed here, I am a failure. Luckily, I don’t come from a family that thinks this way. With the support I received, I could have pursued any career path. Granted, I would make more money as a doctor. However, I don’t see myself as being a particularly good doctor, nor can I imagine that it would make me happy.
Also, when I was in school, I was encouraged to not just study. I complimented my academics with an intense schedule of student council duties, athletics and arts. Again, I was always supported by my family. My success was not strictly measured by marks, but also of pictures of me engaged in various activities with a smile on my face.
In university, it was my intention to get a degree in Drama. As I discovered myself through my studies and extra-curricular activities (including cheerleading), I ended up graduating with a degree in Environmental Studies and Psychology.
I still didn’t know what to do, but that was okay with my family. I worked and travelled before pursuing a degree in Education. I was accepted to a great teachers college — not because of my marks — but because of my experience ranging from playing American football to volunteering with the disabled.
It is well established, back home, that grades alone don’t create many pathways. Call it passion, desire, whatever, but the gateway to success should not be found on a transcript. I would like to see a similar sentiment here in Malaysia.
This paradigm shift in success and happiness needs to begin at home. I am not a parent, but I would like to think I would enjoy the journey of watching my children discover their passions — and not inform them of their desires.
I would be thrilled to see a true love for maths as I would for music. I would also tell them the truth about education: it is about expanding the mind and learning necessary critical-thinking skills; it is about creating well-rounded individuals.
A student who has high marks — but spent all of his/her school days cooped up in a book — will not be as employable as someone who has a balance of academic subjects and has exercised both sides of the brain.
Many students here in Malaysia also find it difficult to dedicate time for community involvement and extra-curricular activities. The priceless networking, social skill development, and confidence gained is consistently overlooked.
I think more parents need to encourage these interests by inquiring what extra-curricular activities their children plan to take and support them in their choices.
Again, Malaysia is full of youth with creative, artistic talent. Isn’t it wonderful to see someone excelling at something? For example, watching a child prodigy play the violin, seeing someone acting flawlessly on the stage, reading a writer who can make the mundane exciting, or a painter who makes the abstract tangible.
Sadly, Malaysia is full of artistic prodigies who are forced into professions dominated by maths and science. Imagine if the late director and people’s hero Yasmin Ahmad wasn’t able to take Politics and Psychology at university? How many like her are now, rather unhappily, designing the next mega mall? Perhaps that is not a fair question to ask, but at the least is something to ponder.
When I am in the doctor’s office, I want the physician to be passionate about treating me. I hope s/he was zealous about their related studies and feel medicine is their calling. After all, my life may depend on it.
I shudder to think family pressure led the way to the hospital. Is the doctor concentrating on my chart, or thinking about another life full of artistic possibilities? A vocation is something that is discovered, not prescribed.
For all those reading this article who want nothing but the best for their children, I too wish them the best. I just hope that somewhere along the line, if it hasn’t already been asked, every parent asks their children what they would like to do.
What are their dreams? Not everyone is going to like the answer. However, don’t forget that all children go through phases. Maybe an artist doesn’t seem like a promising career choice, but ask again next week. Maybe they’ll want to be a doctor during the week and an artist on the weekends.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.