You might disappoint your immigrant parents, and that’s okay!

British Filmmaker Simisola Akande says she still gets PTSD from when she told her Nigerian immigrant parents about going to film school instead of studying engineering.

“The look on my mum’s face was pure confusion, mixed with a dash of ‘are you serious?”

“Her voice was shaky when she asked, ‘That’s what you want to study?’ I could tell she wasn’t thrilled. And you could see the disappointment on her face.”

For many of us with immigrant parents, Her story rings through us.

Most second-generation immigrant children often have a similar narrative; our parents leave behind familiar lives, endure hardship, and make immense sacrifices to move to a new country—a journey fuelled with hope and a burning desire for a better life for their children.

They became superheroes to get us here. So, naturally, they have ideas about what ‘success’ looks like; success to them is stability, a fancy job title, and enough cash never to have to worry about bills again. Think doctor, lawyer, engineer – the holy trinity of immigrant parent dreams.

Many creative types with immigrant parents feel caught up between honouring their vision and chasing their passions. 

Simisola Admits that talking to your immigrant parents about your creative dreams can sometimes be challenging. However, she believes it’s worth the effort to fight for what you are passionate about. Rather than spending your life wondering, ‘What if?’.

She said: “The biggest motivator was the fear of internal disappointment. Living with the regret of not pursuing my true passion would have been far worse than facing disapproval from my parents.” 

“My parents were never keen on my love for film.  But my constant movie marathons, especially documentaries and endless questions about how they were made, were a clear giveaway. Thankfully, after some honest conversations, they let me chase my filmmaking dreams.

“Although they could’ve used a little more convincing at the time. Now that I’m grown, I will advise 17-year-olds me to do extensive research before talking to them! 

“So, if you are in that situation now, research your dream career as if you’re having a job interview! Search for Salary ranges, future job growth, and the education you’ll need – gather it all! Seriously, you could even put together a little presentation just for fun. It shows your parents you’re taking this seriously, which can be reassuring.

“If you are younger than 16, speak to your school counsellors. Chat with them about the career path you’re eyeing. They have tons of experience and resources at their fingertips.

“Another thing I would have done at that time would have been to self-reflect. I was too dumb to understand the importance of self-reflection at that time. But now that I am a bit older, I would have asked myself some tough questions. Questions like -Can I silence the voice fighting for passion forever? Can I find a way to incorporate my passions and find a career that ignites a new one? Is there a way to make a comfortable living while pursuing what excites me?

“Looking back, I recognise the immense privilege my success represents. While my parents had initial anxieties, their pride is now boundless. My mom can’t resist sharing my achievements – awards plastered across her Facebook, conversations peppered with mentions of my films. It’s a testament to their unwavering support, a journey we’ve embarked on together.”

While filmmaker Simisola bravely chased her creative fire, 26-year-old Ashia Azhar- opted for a more conventional path, following her parent’s advice.

 “As the eldest daughter in a South Asian family, there’s a lot on your shoulders,” Ashia Azhar says. “You’re practically a second parent to your siblings, and there’s this pressure to set a good example. My dad, who worked in a factory for years, always pushed me towards medicine for stability. Music was my passion. But honestly, as a teenager, I admired a luxurious life, and medicine felt like the only path to get there.”

“However, it’s essential to listen to that inner voice. Sometimes, the most fulfilling paths lie outside our comfort zones.

“I still love music, but it has become secondary for me. 

As children of immigrants, we understand our parents’ fears and recognise that we may not always choose careers with guaranteed financial security. We know it’s not their fault that they see success in narrower terms. However, the stereotypical belief that engineering, medicine, nursing, and accounting careers are the only well-regarded and financially secure options has evolved over the years.

Career advisor Chris Webb acknowledges this established narrative but emphasises that the reality is changing.

“Millennials are increasingly drawn to entrepreneurial and creative paths,” he says. “Where they can monetise their passions while achieving a healthy work-life balance – a concept that might be foreign to some immigrant parents.”

While STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields may still top ‘highest earning degrees’ charts, Webb argues, financial success doesn’t always equate to fulfilment. “The UK graduate job market is flexible,” he explains. “A huge proportion of employers are degree agnostic; this means most employers often value skills over specific degrees.”

His advice for creative students with immigrant parents? “Think beyond the stereotype,” he urges. “Focus on how your creative skills can solve real-world problems.”

Researchers show that creative sectors like IT, Publishing, Film, Advertising/Marketing, Performing Arts, Architecture, Fashion Design and Heritage generate a gross-value-added (GVA) amount of £126bn to the UK economy every year industries employ 2.4 million people in the UK in 2023 this shows that creatives are always needed. It’s essential for any graduates who might want to work in the creative industries to explore and experiment during their degree, be proactive, take initiative, seek out new challenges, and develop adaptability – a crucial asset in today’s job market.

Webb ends with the quote from Peter Hawkins, author of The Art of Building Windmills- “To be employed today is to be at risk; to be employable is to be secure”. 

“The quote captures the fact that we can never know exactly where our careers will take us”,  He explains. In a changing world, being curious, proactive and adaptable is critical, regardless of what subject you decide to study.

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