Parents won’t be much help with your career in global health, says Alanna—a point which I think can extend to international careers in general.
My parents love me like I am still 9. They can’t offer career advice.
Hilarious, and right on. I’ve often wondered why my dad, who stumbled from being a poli sci major to working as a car salesman with a mustache to finally finding his career in marketing and sales, couldn’t better appreciate that my own wanderings and stumblings were a natural part of growing up and discovering who I am, in a professional sense. I took the exact same roundabout process of discovery that he had 40 years before. But I guess why he couldn’t recognize this was for the same reason he told me to make sure I “had a resume” and “wore a suit” to a post-college job interview and for the same reason Alanna says her parents can’t help her with her career: because he still sees me, in some loving way, as just a kid.
For Alanna, global health as a specific niche international career is so unique that anyone (and especially parents) who are unfamiliar with its intricacies will have a tough time relating any kind of useful career advice. But from a broader international careers perspective, parents often have a tough time with their kids’ global aspirations not just because they don’t understand the details of the industry, but also because they have a completely different mindset and frame of reference.
Take my family, for instance: very typical, American Midwest, with no tradition of international travel or foreign affairs engagement. Thus, an interest in international work illicited the question of: “Why the heck do you want to get involved in things so far away when there’s plenty of perfectly good opportunities right here in the U-S-and-A?” I’ve heard from many young international job seekers who find themselves frustrated and even dismayed at their families’ unwillingness to accept and support their desire to travel and work abroad (many even canceled plans to do post-graduate fellowships or volunteer programs abroad because of family pressure). I can relate: when I announced to my family I was off to northeast China for a year, they were none too happy.
I can report, though, that usually, eventually, they come around. But that doesn’t make it any easier when starting your career, to go against the wishes of your family to do what you know you want to do. Yet that might be what you have to do. If I took my parents’ advice not to go to China, I’d be a real estate procurement broker at a national grocery store chain, which sounds not unlike a trip to hell (no offense to real estate procurement brokers, of course).
This is not to say that parents aren’t (or can’t eventually be) supportive of our international careers (mine are now, very wholeheartedly). It’s also not to say that a parent’s differing professional perspective might not be valuable at times. My dad’s business acumen has been incredibly helpful in certain situations throughout my career, such as during salary negotiations for a new position and difficult management situations. But when it comes down to it, even if parents still think we’re 9, we need to be confident in our knowledge that we’re not.