“It can feel really embarrassing to fail at ‘adulting’ when having a job is such a big part of that expectation.” – Alisha Miranda, Refinery29
The holidays can feel like a bombardment of career-related questions. “What are you doing with your life?”, “You’re still looking for a new job?” and our personal favorite, “Why did you drop out of law school to pursue the arts?”. It’s enough to make you want to skip out on family gatherings altogether. However, we know that working well means you’re on your own path, you’ll do what’s best for you, and success looks different on every person. So how do you make it through the holidays without throwing a drink in your cousin’s face and going the rest of the day without speaking to your family members?
Times are Changing
Most issues often stem from a lack of understanding – on both ends. Bridging the generation gap can be difficult, especially when we’re now living in a gig economy, student loans are astronomical, unemployment rates for ages 24-29 are still high, and work-life balance isn’t some far-off dream. Gone are the days of choosing one career and sticking with it from age 20 to retirement. Those born from 1960-1980 averaged two job changes before 32 years old, while present-day youth double that number. This can be difficult to comprehend for those who have been at the same career for years on end. They may not understand that your career change is only temporary or that you’re leaving a job because you don’t jive with the company culture – a buzzword that they may scoff at. However, it’s important that you too realize that as much as “they don’t get it”, you also “don’t get it”. They look at their view as the ultimate truth, just as much as you see your view as the only option. See where they’re coming from first, and tactfully approach the matter second.
Steer Conversation in Your Direction
You’ve now come to a place of understanding, and you’re ready to sit down at the table, roll up your sleeves, and get bombarded by your Uncle Dan with all the pressing questions. So they ask, “What are you doing for work?” Instead of immediately jumping into an elevator pitch and hopping on the defense when they don’t understand, Forbes suggests starting with questions to gauge their interest and current knowledge of your field. Try “How familiar are you with the [x, y, z] industry?” You can give them a little background knowledge after seeing where they stand and start the conversation in a positive way, all while debunking any preconceived notions they may have about what it is you do.
Make It Relatable
Use analogies. Tell anecdotes. Reference specific incidents where you excelled. If they can grasp onto some piece of it that relates to what they’re used to, they may have a better time understanding what it is you do. It also might put them more at ease, knowing that you are settled into a career you love or are working towards something you’re passionate about.
Assume the Best
Be careful not to mistake their confusion with disapproval. People express worry and concern in different ways. As your family members, and hopefully, people that want what’s best for you, they may come off as disappointed in your professional choices or disapproving of your chosen career. A simple question such as “How is that going to work out long term?” or “When will you get a real job?” can come off as an attack. Our immediate response becomes retreat or duke it out. Neither bodes well for the rest of the holiday. Award-winning journalist and author Celeste Headlee tells Refinery29 to come at these poorly worded questions with a genuine sense of curiosity. She suggests asking, “Why do you say that?” This can unearth the root of where some of their fears are coming from and give you the chance to put them at ease or allow you to be upfront about your vulnerabilities.
People project their fears, insecurities, and prejudices because it’s what they know. You do the same. Remember that it’s less about how they feel about you and more about how they feel about themselves – whether that being that they’ve failed as parents or in their own career or maybe that they’ve gone through the same struggles you’re currently going through and don’t want history to repeat itself.
You Owe Nobody an Explanation
Your professional choices are just that: yours. You don’t have to make anyone understand why you work obscure hours or have four different jobs or are in between careers. You’re never going to make everyone happy, and everyone will have differing ideas of where you should be in life. Don’t let that phase you. If at the end of the day, you are happy with yourself, happy with your choices, and chasing your passion, then own that and live your truth.