How my reluctant teenage rebellion saved my college dreams
All I ever want to do is please my parents; they worked so hard to come to America and seek opportunities to make my life easier than theirs. And they remind me of this every waking second.
“You have it way easier than we did, Naveen. You should be grateful that you have parents that are guiding you towards success.” And with that, the guilt washes over. I lower my eyes in shame, because I already know that I’m going to let them down.
When you’re younger, living up to your parent’s expectations is easier because you’re farther from the decisions that will define your life (this sounds so Divergent, but when it comes time for career/college decisions, it gets pretty intense). Since the time I could form a sentence, my parents decided that I would enter the medical field, become a doctor, and bring prosperity to the family name. At first it was easy to go along with the plan: My worldview was narrow, my book collection was limited to pre-teen fantasy, and the “real world” looked more like Disney Channel than CNN. The idea of rebellion was an intangible concept at that point in my life. My thoughts were force-fed and my actions were always instructed.
The journey of becoming a teenager gradually broke down my sheltered walls and opened my eyes to new opportunities. When you discover your passion, the original plan begins to crumble. For me, it was the satisfaction I felt while watching others read my written work that drew me toward new horizons. To watch them laugh at my SNL-ready jokes, try to conceal their sadness during the emotional tear-jerkers, and smile when I tied the story together at the end, it was all priceless. My pre-teen fantasy tastes turned to young adult fiction and best-selling thrillers; the exaggerations of Disney Channel were slowly coming to light, and rebellion was boiling under the surface.
From then on, I operated under the radar: Smiling and nodding while my family talked about med school during dinner, but furiously searching for programs in journalism and communications within the confines of my bedroom. Sometimes it felt wonderful; picturing this new life I would live and feeling freedom come closer and closer every second. But other times, I felt like I was just counting down the days until all hell would break loose and I would adorn a scarlet B on my chest for “betrayal.” Every college search felt illegal, and telling bald-faced lies to my parents began to eat at me. How could I do this to them? Could I really crush all the hopes they had in their daughter? But what about considering my hopes? Sadly, Nathanial Hawthorne hadn’t written any novels to clue me in on this one.
I’ve carried guilt on my shoulders for years. I can’t even recall the number of times I’ve laid flat on my floor, fighting with myself while a not-very-motivational Morrissey crooned in the background. When I became a junior this year, I knew I had to start getting serious. Between the SAT, scholarship applications, and keeping my grades intact, there was no room for wavering thoughts on the future. My parents and I needed to reach an understanding.
I tried leaving clues to lead my parents to my true passion but it seemed that they weren’t picking up on any of them. All of my “deviant” ideas were shut down. I remember sitting in bed with my mom, trying to butter her up to the idea of me taking a different career path.
“You know, there are a lot of state colleges with great journalism programs, and I think NBC even offers an internship for students during the summer.”
“So… they really prepare you for toughing it out after college, maybe I could end up at the New Yorker.”
“What are the chances? You aren’t going to waste all the time we spent preparing you for college to end up broke and homeless. Listen to me; I’ve been in this world longer than you have.”
“No, you’re right. I was just curious because we were talking about it today in newspaper.”
“Well, stop being curious and focus on what really matters.”
I wanted to be mad; her words hurt like hell, but I knew that she just wanted to see me be successful. But if she was just looking out for me, why did it feel so terrible? I was back to my starting point, fighting between my parent’s happiness and my own.
At the start of the second semester, I got a letter in the mail about meeting with my counselors to discuss college plans and to make sure I’m on track for graduation. It was a meeting that I was dreading for the whole year, because I knew that careers could be discussed and that parents would have to be present.
Sitting in my counselor’s office, I nervously glanced over at my dad every few seconds as he passively sat back and let me conduct the meeting. I signed various forms and chose my classes for next year, all without any protest. I could feel the end of the meeting nearing and I thought that I’d be able to make it out of this one alive.
“So, Naveen, what are you looking to study in college? It’s good for us to know so we can confirm if the schedule you’ve chosen will benefit you for your further studies.” So close. My shoulders started to tense and I stole a glance at my dad before going for it, I mean it’s not like he can yell at me in front of my counselor…right?
“I’m thinking about taking the communications route, probably with a public relations specialization. And I’m going to pair it with an engineering major to make me a more competitive candidate in a post-graduate career.”
“Sounds good, you grades show that you excel at your math and English classes so I’d say that’s a good pick.” My counselor nodded in approval and jotted down my answer. I turned towards my dad as he arched his brow in confusion. I returned the gesture with a weak smile. Surprise.
I thought about it for the rest of the school day, waiting until the last bell rang to make me go home to an inevitable lecture.
I walked through the front door sheepishly, trying to be invisible as I tried sneaking up to my room.
“Naveen? Can you come in my office for a second?” His voice was monotone and flat. I entered his office as he sat behind a shield of laptops, pounding on the keys. I stood in silence as he finished what he was doing before turning towards me.
I nodded slowly and lowered my eyes wishing desperately to disappear.
“Is that what you really want to do?”
“Yeah… I know it’s not what you and mom want for me, but—“
“What mom and I want matters, but if that’s going to make you miserable, then it doesn’t have to be a factor.” I looked up to meet his eyes. Wait, what?
“Look, we want the best for you; we want to see you do great things. Of course, we aren’t going to encourage you to do something that won’t benefit you, but we have to let you do something that you enjoy.” I could feel a smile tugging at my lips, but I kept my composure.
“You’ve found something you enjoy and have practical plans, so I don’t see why we shouldn’t support you.” At this point, I was already making my way around the desk to hug him.
“Thanks, Daddy. I thought you were going to be super angry.”
“No, I’m always going to have your back, ladybird.”
Forging a path different from parents’ wishes does not make you the new Disney villain. The only person that you’re stuck with for the rest of your life is you. Everyone always says that life is too short to waste, so why spend your time being force-fed other people’s fantasies? Your parents know you better than you think they do, and they’ll cherish your happiness over the path they thought was right for you.
When you find what makes you happy, chase after it, because if you immerse yourself in a dream and you believe in it, no one is going to stop you — they’ll follow your lead as you do things your way.
Naveen Inim is a teenage optimist who spends too much time listening to early 2000s pop punk while devouring green tea ice cream. Her interests include watching mystery thrillers, eating Japanese cuisine and fangirl culture. You can see her talk about the world on her blog, or send her recipes/advice on Twitter.