Growing up, my parents never set the stereotypical Tamil expectations for me to become a doctor, lawyer or engineer. They just asked that I find a well respected and financially stable occupation to avoid the hardships they endured immigrating from Sri Lanka to Canada. So at age six, my mind was made up.
I was going to pursue a career in the NBA.
Given that my parents are Tamil, my hoop dreams took a backseat to – you guessed it – my studies. Any time I headed out to practice, I was bombarded with a series of questions including but not limited to:
- How are your studies?
- Have you finished your studies?
- Don’t you have any studies?
- Why aren’t you studying?
- Ready for Kumon classes?
The moment I said I would be the next Michael Jordan was the same moment my parents said I would instead be a “student athlete”. Apparently, I needed a Plan B if basketball didn’t pan out. So I Googled Plan B but it didn’t seem relevant. If my parents’ instructions weren’t clear enough, my dad’s favourite catchphrase “addi vila pothu” was quick to refresh my memory.
So I reluctantly studied. Being the lazy kid that I was, I unenthusiastically attended tuition classes, half-heartedly did homework, and avidly read books (played Game Boy) to expand my knowledge. High school rolled around and I was more prepared to be a Pokemon master than a student athlete. But I was still determined to be “Like Mike.”
In 10th grade, my teacher handed out a career test to help narrow down our ideal future professions. It was a futile exercise since I had already mapped out my life but I thought twice about telling her that. The dreaded parent-teacher interviews were approaching, and the thought of my Tamil parents hearing that their Tamil child wasn’t participating in class didn’t sit well with me.
My top three ideal future occupations, in order, ended up being:
1. Professional athlete (was there ever any doubt since you started reading this?)
After seeing this, my parents were finally convinced. They instantly let me drop out of school and pursue my basketball career full-time.
You know that isn’t true.
When I applied for university, I figured that becoming a teacher was the way to go. I genuinely thought that the opportunity to positively impact a child’s life – the same way many of my teachers had done for me – was a great gig. On top of that, getting a couple of weeks off each winter and three months off every summer sounded too sweet to pass up.
My dad, on the other hand, was pushing me towards greater financial stability. His strongest recommendation was that I become an accountant (even though he hadn’t seen my career test results). I wasn’t interested, but my dad was adamant about me obtaining at least a business degree. So I settled for marketing and figured I could always go to teacher’s college later.
So I entered university and shortly after switched majors. To say the least, my dad wasn’t thrilled. Any time a relative asked for a refresher on what type of business I was studying, I wanted to say "nunya" but instead explained the intricacies of my media major. It was always delightful hearing their voices fill with contempt and having their eyes pierce into my soul as they pressed for details and looked down upon me because all they heard was “creative arts.”
Fast forward a few years and I’ve graduated with a degree I was interested in pursuing. Most Tamil adults I’ve come across believe my major won’t provide me with a stable future (whether they say it to my face or behind my back). Ironically, the people judging most are ones who, like my parents, clawed their way to where they are today with a tenacious work ethic. You’d think they would value hard work over a piece of paper. But that rarely seems to be the case.
Regardless of your path or naysayers along the way, if you work towards a goal wholeheartedly, you will get to where you need to be. People may scorn you along the way but they will eventually congratulate you, or even better, remain bitter and refuse to acknowledge your feats (I prefer the latter). Either/or is a win-win.
I never will play in the NBA. But I’d like to think I’ve learned from my shortcomings. I may not be the next MJ, but I find solace in knowing I made a decision I can live with. I firmly believe that if you focus and stay level-headed, nothing can stop you.
If you want something, go for it without reservation. Chase your passion and tell your parents to ignore what your third cousin’s neighbour’s 3 year old nephew will think or say. Although it’s great to make others happy, life is too short to do so if the end result is you dwelling in miserable regret.
If you really think about it, every aunt and uncle (relative or not) who sticks their nose into your life most likely has no business doing so, even if they believe otherwise. Choosing a path just to appease their satisfaction and allowing yours to take a backseat doesn’t add up (I went to Kumon so I would know).
At the end of the day, you may have to answer to your parents and that’s understandable. But at the end of your career, you’ll have to answer to yourself.