I wasn’t the first person in my family to finish college, but I was the first to have the privilege to do it in four years. I didn’t think much of that distinction while I was pursuing my degree, but in retrospect, I realize how much being able to prioritize my education during that time afforded me a resume with internships that would help me pursue the career of my liking.
It’s why when I decided to forgo a traditional career for self-employment and entrepreneurship, I wrestled a lot with how my family would react to my decision. And if we’re being honest, I wrestled with whether they would feel disappointed that their top of class student had decided to go her own way.
The Sparknotes version is that while they never explicitly stated disappointment they did frequently drop questions about when I would finally get a normal job. At the beginning those questions made me feel defensive about the life I was building for myself because I wanted them to see what I saw when I looked at my life — fulfillment, happiness, excitement. Instead, they were honestly just really scared about the instability and unknowns that came with striking out on my own.
I felt a lot of pressure to perform well when I was in college because I knew so many of my family’s dreams rested on my shoulders and it wasn’t until I shifted my perspective that I stopped feeling that pressure. Their dreams weren’t on my shoulders, my dreams were — thanks to their sacrifices — being born on theirs. My own hands were the ones doing the hard work to make them happen.
Being the first in your family doesn’t mean you should feel obligated to chase your family’s dreams, it should encourage you to start listening to yourself more because you’re the first to have the time to figure out what dreaming for one feels like.
You owe your family your happiness, that’s it
I know this is hard to believe because of all the sacrifices that we see our families make for our education, but you need to make this your mantra. It’s the one reminder that will help you breathe when the anxiety and pressure build-up. All your family wants is for you to be happy, even on days when they don’t know how to say those words explicitly.
Just because you’re the first doesn’t mean you have to be perfect
You can’t do and solve for anyone, being the first in your family to achieve X level of success does not make you invincible, it just makes you determined. Choose to show your family, closest friends, or your journal, your mistakes just as much as you do your successes because it will get you into the habit of remembering that as long as you’re trying, you’re succeeding.
Financial responsibilities need boundaries too
We all want to be able to turn around one day and help our families in significant ways, but you can’t do it at the expense of yourself, your well-being, and your peace of mind. Practice setting boundaries with your family that make sense for you. Whether it involves setting boundaries on the kind of conversations that you’re okay being a part of or on the amount of money you’re okay contributing to family finances. Setting those boundaries doesn’t always feel good, but it also doesn’t mean you’re wrong to do so.
By Vivian Nunez