The Most Misleading “Advice” From Our Parents

After college, our parents expect us to land a job and then earn money — decent money:

“Graduate college. Land a great job so you can buy a car and own a house and have a great family. And then, save for retirement.”

I get it. They want us safe and have a better life. Thank you very much.

And I wouldn’t be happier. That’s the life pattern they learned and lived for years. It did work. It bought us food to eat and a house to live. I wouldn’t be here writing or playing music had they not followed that life pattern. I love them.

Maybe not all parents did that. But most of my friends said their parents think that way. Nobody dared to deviate. Because, hey, we don’t know everything. They know much better.

This is no longer the case though.

A college degree can be helpful, but doesn’t guarantee a fulfilling life. Owning a car or applying for a house loan can be helpful too, but not for everyone. Those things are requirements no more. Here’s why:

College degree:

The new economy — the Idea Economy, the Connection Economy — glorifies skills, mastery, discipline, focus, values, creativity, grit, and the ability to build meaningful relationships (I’m talking about a generation when anyone can start a business using a laptop and Internet). If you don’t have the traits vital for the new economy, then your degree is useless.

Rather than spending money on college, buy the tools you need to master a certain skill or become great at what you do, then build a career around it. You save money and you save time.

(NOTE: There are some professions where a college degree is a requirement such as lawyers and doctors. If that’s your dream, then go to college).

Cars and houses:

If you live in a city and you can’t afford a car, that’s okay. Use the public transit instead. Same with house: Rent.

I have nothing against owning cars and houses (I may have one in the future). My point is, if you apply for a loan to acquire these things, you’ll end up using all your time for earning more money. You’ll lose focus on what really matters in your life.

Don’t work just to pay your debts. It will never make you fulfilled. My rule of thumb is that if I can’t afford it with my current money, I don’t apply for a loan to get it (unless it’s a life or death situation). If it’s a need, then I save money and buy. I love being debt-free.

(NOTE: The right decision depends on your situation. Don’t follow me if you find it impractical).

But we want assurance and security and safety…

Yes. We all want it. But most of the time, “sure” is just an illusion. A home loan isn’t sure. Entrepreneurship is not. A corporate job is not. A creative career is not. There’s only one thing I know which feels certain, secure, and safe: Not doing anything. (Though, sometimes, not doing anything puts us in trouble. Beware.)

What Are We Supposed to Do?

The world is changing. What worked 30, 20, or 10 years ago may not work today. And what works today doesn’t guarantee efficiency in the future.

If you spend majority of your waking hours chasing a “sure path” you end up running in circles. Because it’s not gonna happen. Or in case it happens, it’s short-term. Everything will change. And if we don’t embrace change, we atrophy.

The famous Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, “The only thing that is constant is change.”

Don’t cling to stability; embrace change — I know it’s damn hard. There may be downsides, but in my experience, it’s far more rewarding adapting and evolving rather than sticking to a one sure path.

Start with paying attention to the present. What are the things you can do right now to better your life? What are the things you can change right now to become the person you want to be?

When you start focusing on what you can do in the present and then you do the right thing, sooner or later, your life will begin to improve. Things will fall in the right place. You have the energy. You have more time. And most importantly, you’ll be much fulfilled than ever.

How do I know? I’ve been doing it for 3 years now.

Should We Follow Our Parents’ Traditional Advice?

I’ve met some people who followed their parents’ career advice even though they’re not happy with it. They’re full of regrets. I don’t know what to say. I want to help.

I’ve also met some people who didn’t follow their parents’. Some of them have miserable lives (maybe their parents were right). But most of them are happy doing what they love. They can sleep with fulfillment, excited to do the things they love the next day. And who doesn’t want that?

The takeaway: You can always consider your parents’ advice in life or career. But pay attention to what you really love. If they want you to do things not aligned with your values, passions, or dreams, you have a choice not to follow them. Pursue your crazy ideas and your wild dreams. Give them a chance.

“But what if I fail?”

Then try again. Do it better.

Failures are teachers.

(Update Aug 2019: This is from the point of view of a person raised by a middle-class family in the Philippines. If you’re living in a first world country or whatever country, then some of these might not work for you.)