The Family Who Doesn’t Understand


Several times on the never-ending book tour, people came up to me with multiple copies of my book for signing. “My family doesn’t understand me,” they said, “So I’m giving them your book.”

“Thanks,” I always said… although I worried a little about signing books for people who didn’t necessarily want them. I learned to invent a specific inscription for these copies:

“To Barbara: I’m not sure you’ll like this book, but your daughter isn’t crazy.”

“Barbara” could have been “Mom and Dad” or someone’s partner or brother or protective cousin, who loves their family member dearly, but sometimes loves them a little too much to let them have their own life. Sometimes the generational gap is reversed, and it is the kids who worry about their parents.

Guess what? I don’t think that reading my book, or anyone’s book, can change a perspective like that. That’s the bad news: it’s rarely that simple to change someone’s mind. To those on the outside, examples of successful non-conformists aren’t very persuasive, because they’ll always find reasons why someone else’s success can’t be replicated.

But thankfully, there’s also some good news. If you want to influence your family, you can lead the way through your own actions. They are not going to change their worldview by something you post on Facebook, but when they see you following through on your big dreams, they can’t help but notice.

The challenge you face, therefore, is to be courageous in the face of opposition from those who love you. This is no small challenge, since you would much rather fight dragons or vampires or something that is clearly evil. Your family isn’t evil and you probably can’t ignore them, but you also can’t ignore your dreams for very long without letting them die.

Some battles are better won by example than by persuasion. You can talk forever about the adventure you’d like to take, why you want to study a subject you’re interested in instead of one they think would lead to better career options, or whatever. And by following this well-trod path, you may make marginally incremental progress in the form of compromise.

Or you can put it in perspective for them: I’m doing this because it is important to me. I’m willing to give up other things to make it work.

More often than not, they’ll get used to it over time. You may always be thought of as the black sheep, the strange one, the outlier. But you’ll eventually earn your right to freedom, and maybe even some grudging respect.

Then they’ll say, oh, there goes _____ again. That’s just what she does. Or they’ll think, _____ has another crazy idea… but the last one worked out pretty well for him.

And once in a while, a funny thing happens: they’ll learn from the decisions you made, and how you stepped out and faced down your fears. (They may or may not realize that some of your fears had to do with them, but by then, it won’t matter.)

So for those of you in small towns, or in cultures where non-conformity is implicitly misunderstood, or for anyone else who feels pressured to be like those around them, it’s all up to you to lead by example. Who knows—maybe some of your family will end up changing with you. Wouldn’t that be something?


Image: SB

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  • Cate says:

    This is exactly why I’m bringing my husband to the World Domination Summit in June! Reading a book won’t help him think I’m any less crazy, but I’m hoping that spending a few days with the awesome WDS folks will help him understand why I do what I do. And I hope it will ignite the crazy that I know is in my husband… somewhere! 🙂

  • Deborah says:

    Thank you Chris – for nut-shelling what is perhaps the biggest obstacle for us Outliers, Indigo Children, or any human who hears a different beat.

    It took me decades to realize being a non-conformist wasn’t shameful, isn’t because I’m an attention-seeker – and that I’m not mentally, morally or culturally addled because I don’t go along to get along 😉

    For those who still struggle – it is an uphill journey, and until you find folks who truly Get you.. it may at times also be very lonely. But having spent almost 40 years trying it both ways: conforming in order to accept Conditional Love – and following my own path to find Self Love… I’ve discovered the path that allows me to be Me brings genuine alignment.

    Your words feel so comfortable, as do the nurturing words of others we instinctively align with while we learn how to escape the conformist riptide – and learn how to remain loving participants in the lives of those who wish we were more like them. My gratitude~Deborah

  • Drew says:

    Thanks Chris…

    After finally taking this advice and booking my first international trip semi-against my parents’ will, I’m so glad I did even though I haven’t left yet.

    The first conversation I had with my mom ended with her saying “Just know that I won’t get a single night’s sleep for two weeks. But sure, go ahead and do what you want!”

    But since then, she’s gone on to say “I don’t know if I’m nervous or jealous.”

    Step in the right direction 🙂

  • Bill says:

    I’ve found that some people will never get it, no matter what. And that’s OK. Just keep on pursuing your passion.

  • Caroline A. Doucette says:

    I remember about twenty years ago (I was about 30 years old then because my nephew is 33 years old now) I was having a grand old time doing one of my favorite things – puddle jumping. Yeah what adult does that. Anyhow my nephew is with one of his buddies and they see me. His buddy looks at him like I’m crazy. My nephew shrugs his shoulder and says “She’s and artist.” What an explanation, what and acceptance. I still puddle jump probably becuse of that.

  • andrea says:

    Oh! I’m been meaning to tell you what my dad said about your book signing. He said “Conforming has really worked for me, but I can see his point. It was a good presentation.”

    My family was definitely not happy when I told them I was quitting my good solid job to be a creative goddess, but they are coming around. The more they see how excited I am about what I am doing, and the more the see all these good things happening for me, the more they can relax about it.

  • queen of string says:

    So, so true. Sadly, for me, my family couldn’t adapt to the change without continuing to be very destructive and detrimental, so we parted company. I believe they do see me as strange. Strange for working with people who use social services, strange for giving up a secure job to make a business, strange for selling it when it was really successful and super strange for moving countries, not working and trying to build an alternative source of income. Surrounding yourself with evolved individuals who are able to see beyond their own particular set of external “shoulds” and are open to alternative paths is essential to the wellbeing of those who choose their own internal “shoulds” and remain congruent, over ” the norm”.

  • Bradley says:

    Luckily for me, my wife is 100% onboard with my crazy ideas. My parents however are not. Even I have problems with believing in my own dreams a lot of the time.

  • Jane Rochelle says:

    I find that even the people who don’t completely understand what I’m doing are still intrigued by the process, and curious about the changes in me. Even if most family-members don’t jump right on the wagon (and why should they if it’s not their thing) I can see that my choices can influence the way they’re thinking, which is much more appropriate and comfortable than trying to convince them that they should consider living life differently. It’s a great journey. Thanks for your part! 🙂

  • Christy @ Ordinary Traveler says:

    I have always been the black sheep in my family for many reasons, but somehow it doesn’t bother me. I know I am choosing to live my life the way I want to and every member of my family has told me at one time or another that they are envious of the freedom my life gives me. I’m not saying they wish they could live their life kid free, but I know they would love to travel the world at the drop of a hat or not be stuck in a 9-5 job. As with most things in life, I don’t try to convert or change anybody’s mind.

  • Jane Rochelle says:

    …and by the way, my son (the one who just graduated from Virginia Tech) hasn’t read your book yet, though he’s had my copy since Christmas. He has been spending his time researching his dream of buying farmland in Iowa … he and my father leave tomorrow for a two-week road trip there … awesome time together! Here’s to keeping dreams alive and well!

  • Etsuko says:

    I felt like you are speaking to me when you said about “cultures where non-conformity is implicitly misunderstood”. I have to step back and be thankful that my parents never stopped me from doing what I’ve wanted to do though they might have thought I was being crazy when I was trying to spend summer doing internship in Zimbabwe, or leaving a great job to pursue my dream. I bet if more kids see us lead by example, they will know that they don’t have to give up their dreams just because that’s not what their parents want for them.

  • Heather says:

    LOVE this post.

    You know, I’ve found that many moms who start businesses face the same kind of reaction from family and friends.

    But I’ve also found that if you’re really open with those people about what you do, why you do it and how it makes you feel, it tends to soften even the hardest of heads and hearts. 🙂

  • Amelia says:

    i’m visiting my parents right now, and just got the “you’re turning 30 and you need to have a stable career and your life figured out completely” speech. this post comes at a great time.
    Thanks. 🙂

  • Kenneth Tabak says:

    I’ve learned one very important lesson in life. No matter what you do somebody is going to complain about it, so, you might as well do what you like. When you start caring what somebody thinks about you, you start living your life to please them…

  • Holli says:

    What truth, and confirmation for those of us choosing to stick to our guns so to speak – or those feeling immense pressure to please the family.

    I’ve been one to forge a new path (like doing a Home Birth despite Uncle D saying C-sections were the best way to go). And to my surprise, have influenced other family members to look for current research on various topics…Or buy books themselves on things I never would have expected. You never know how much your actions will move others or plant seeds of change. It might take months or years, but I truly believe our actions against the norm add to any momentum and eventually change.

    Your point is so true and crucial – others might never understand – and that’s okay.

  • Gwyn says:

    I have struggled with this over time but have learned to stop caring what others think of me. Many times I have heard those comments. Oh well she’s an artist, or there she goes again and while I always had some pride in that I still cared that they thought I was “off”. No more. My husband who does not always get me or agree with me but always supports me none the less has been my best teacher in many ways. Low and behold he has come around to much of my way of being including supporting a crazy idea I have around attending the World Domination Summit (which I am). You will be hearing from me about that 🙂

  • Anita says:

    I am very grateful to my parents – they are extremely religious conservatives and I know that they think some of the things that I do and think are way out there, yet they are also fairly supportive of me because at the other end of the spectrum, they are also very creative and socially unconventional. I think one of the most important concessions we have come to is “Let’s agree to disagree on that topic.”

  • Dyamond Robinson-Patlyek says:

    I started doing this without realizing what I was doing. I came to the decision that I will never fit in with my mothers mold of how I should be. I started to disregard her comments and did what I believed was best. Now she still thinks I’m odd and strange, but there is not such negativity laced within it anymore. She may never completely come around, but I’m pleased that I chose to follow my own “unconventional” path.

  • Shifra says:

    I really agree with you that you cannot change another person by preaching to them. The most important thing is to live what you preach and others will follow when it’s right for them…
    I have seen this in my own life with my own family… happiness spreads!

  • Liz says:

    I’ve found that the scariest part of launching out into my own business has been to ‘be courageous in the face of opposition from those who love me.’ These people don’t intend to hurt my feelings or scoff at my dreams, they just don’t understand the path I’m on. I’ve gone down the road of trying to convince others that I’ll succeed, that I’m not crazy–but I’ve learned that ultimately the only person who needs to believe that is me. I am the only person I ultimately have control and influence over and the rest of it I have to let go of in whatever way I can.

    Thanks for a great reminder, Chris!

  • Carrie Wilkerson says:

    love this… i’ve been a rebel mostly always – without the appearance of being one. Now I call it ‘defying labels’

    from our adoptions to our home choices to our defying labels by hubby leaving corporate VP job to work for me (What? he’s WASTING his MBA??) — my parents and inlaws and brothers and friends are learning that they may never understand me…but they will also never change me 😉

    My mom said when i was younger (about the adoption of my brothers and then my kids) — Carrie, it’s not your job to educate those who choose not to be educated — and that rings true about SO MANY TOPICS 🙂

    here’s to the beat of a different drummer…or no drum at all!


  • Seth M. Baker says:

    I’m pretty fortunate to have an understanding (if perpetually baffled) family. Their reaction to the stuff I’m into falls somewhere between ‘you’re crazy’ and ‘I wouldn’t do that but it’s cool that you are.’

  • viqueen says:

    Love your blog. I’ve always tried to live authentically, a non-conformist out of the womb. One wish… that my attitude had been different early on… embrace the rejection, and love them for it.

  • Fiona says:

    It’s hard coming to the realisation that you don’t need someone else’s permission to live the life you want to. Thing is, though, you never get to full participate until you give yourself permission.

  • Jeanette says:

    Giving up the need for approval is perhaps far more difficult than taking a path that differs from those of others. Especially if the approval and support we seek is from people we love.

    But, we have to do what we have to do to live our lives in the time we have.

    The article talks about people seeing your success and perhaps then coming to terms and accepting you. But sometimes those who strike out on their own won’t be “successful” even by their own standards. It’s not about the destination, it IS about the journey. There are no guarantees. For most of us, it isn’t even a choice. We KNOW, by experience, that we can’t be what others want us to be. It’s too painful. Even living without the support and love of those We love, we still must do what we must. Some people will never give us what we want or need, so it’s a waste of energy to keep seeking what others can’t give.

  • Benjamin says:

    Mother was always VERY supportive of every single thing I did, from school plays and class projects to college education in a very tough “creative” industry. My father is…. not. I’ve learned to deal with that, and to live fulfilling my own dreams, without the need for his approval. Thing is, with the engagement to my beautiful fiance, it appears that I have a whole new section of family that sees my world-views and dreams as childish and “unrealistic” (boy, do I love that word). Luckily, my fiance understands my passions, supports my dreams, and wouldn’t let me give-up if I wanted. I believe there will always be opposition to what you want to do with your life, and that’s okay, if that’s what they want to do with theirs…

    Thank you very much for the article. Well-timed, as always 🙂

  • Jeremy Long says:

    I consider myself lucky to have an incredibly supportive family! Even with the support, it isn’t easy and they don’t always understand, but I never operate out of fear… and they never offer their help out of doubt.

    Thanks for sharing Chris!

  • Sukhi Muker says:

    THis is a great post Chris.

    I’ve been a non-conformist since I was a child. In fact I’ve been on my own since I was 14. I believe that actions are our words. I did not speak to my parents for 5 years, but they eventually came around. Sure I’ve made more mistakes than I have had success in my life. Yet I chose to learn and grow from them.

    Eventually I believe all people will change based on our actions. They may not get to the place that we desire, so we just have to let go of the attachments and love’m up wherever they choose to be. 20 years later I’m very close to my family and have made up for those lost years. I would never change them for anything.

    Enjoyed this one! I’m not crazy either… : )

  • Austin L. Church says:

    Last Saturday night, I was talking with my parents about the sixteen-mile run that I was planning for the next morning. My wife and I were in Nashville for the weekend, and a couple of long runs during the week had tweaked something in my right foot and something in my left calf. My dad’s response to this was “We’re not long distance runners.” Thanks for the support.

    I decided to run despite feeling anxious about what my body may or may not have been telling me. I finished the sixteen miles in two hours and twenty minutes, my fastest run of that length by over thirty minutes.

    That night, my parents were accusing one another of being pessimists. I said, “You’re both pessimists going under the guise of realists.” My dad said, “No, I’m not!” to which I responded, “Yesterday, you told me that Churches aren’t long distance runners. And then I went out and ran sixteen miles. I guess that means we can be long distance runners if we want to.”

    Chris, you should have seen his face.

  • Susan says:

    My son and I just had this conversation on the way to school this morning. My parents were the type who wanted to keep up appearances and that ingrained in me the need to do the same. I even ended up marrying a man just like that. However, I’ve always been a creative type and have encouraged my children to follow their hearts. My son told me that he feels like there is no normal and that people’s quirks (his word) are what makes them great. As many teens are he is very into music and movies and told me he feels that is his “quirk” that makes him him. He will likely evolve as he matures but I am so very glad that he has such confidence in his “non-normality” at the vulnerable age of 15. The two of us are non-conforming together! Thanks for the inspiration – you hit the mark.

  • Janis & Jeff says:

    In our experience, pressure to be like those around you is less in small towns (at least in the one I grew up in) or low-population states (like Alaska were my husband grew up) than in big cities were we’ve lived. Large corporations can pressure conformism, but so can small ones, but not the best ones.

    Guess we are really lucky to have parents that encouraged us to follow our passions, and not be afraid “to be different from the crowd”.

  • christine counelis says:

    Yess. . Living whilst judged crazy? Wouldn’t have it any other way. i feel amazingly lucky to have a spouse and daughter who not only ‘get it’ but we cheer each other along the path. Thank you again for shedding light and spreading the word with such vision and clarity. One method that really soothes the expat is that one can always claim that one’s weirdness is due to one’s foreign birth and that in the homeland all this odd behavior is the norm. I just don’t share with too many that the homeland of all oddballs is ‘all in the mind’. And that is an excellent homeland to hail from.

  • Barry says:

    Whenever I encounter this sort of challenge with my family, I have an exercise that I have always found satisfying. I imagine myself at the end of my life and think, “If I didn’t do X at some point in my life because my family disapproves of it, would I regret it?” More often than not, I would. My family may not ever approve of the action itself, but they would love me enough that our relationship would ultimately be fine.

    Plus, as you note, pursuing your dreams makes things progressively easier with each step. Regardless of whether you succeed or fail, they will eventually realize that you’re going to do it anyway. Their choice becomes either to support you or not, help you succeed or not. If they truly love you, they will choose support, and join you in your success.

  • Kalli says:

    This is one of the hardest parts of travel for me. To know that I’ve invested a lot of time in choosing a destination, knowing that it’s safer than the country I’m from, and then get emails from my parents: “We’re worried about___ we saw on Fox ______” I really hate how the news helps to instill paranoia in people back home. I’m learning how to be better about understanding their fears even if I don’t agree with them.

  • Cheryl Karmia says:

    Wow, did THIS ever hit home for me! I have been the black sheep in my family ever since I started traveling alone 7 years ago. I went to Egypt this month and I couldn’t even tell my family where I was going in advance with the exception of my two worldly & well-informed sons. I would have been bombarded with calls warning me & begging me not to go somewhere that’s been (over-sensationalized) in the news and is still on the state department’s travel advisory list. I only said I was going to the Mediterranean area and filled them in upon my (safe) return.

    I never felt afraid before or during my time there. It was the trip of a lifetime! It was always my dream to go and I had an amazing time. Like you said, they thought I was crazy for going but they simply said, “there she goes again”. But they were inspired, too. My mother confided that she’d always wished she could go there and many others told me of their travel dreams, too. Thanks for another great entry & happy travels to all!

  • Iris M. Gross says:

    I wish more black people could see this post and others like it. I wish I would have seen it twenty years ago. Maybe I wouldn’t be so insecure right now.

  • David William says:

    My brother just told me yesterday that he thinks I could be a cult leader. Talk about your family not understanding you…

    I just told him that I wish I was eclectic enough to found a cult!

    Kidding, of course.

  • Chris B. says:

    “Then they’ll say, oh, there goes _____ again. That’s just what she does. Or they’ll think, _____ has another crazy idea… but the last one worked out pretty well for him. ”

    That pretty much sums it up. After about 5 years of pursuing my dreams and achieving them, the criticism has died down and family members just wait to see what I’m going to do next. I did have to grow a much thicker skin early on to weather all the naysayers.

    My antics are still a pretty popular topic of conversation, and family members still react with the usual skepticism, but they’ve finally learned to trust in the fact that I’m not an idiot and that I generally make things work out. And in a few cases, they have actually become eager to learn how to do things that I have done.

    I’m still the butt of a lot of jokes, but they know it works for me. And it’s funny how their tune changes when I’ve successfully accomplished another “unreasonable” dream.

    Thanks Chris, for the post.

  • Jen says:

    I needed to read this today. Thank you, for posting this. I literally almost shed tears (and I probably will read it again later and actually shed tears) this has been weighing so heavily on my heart, this past week especially. Who knows if they’ll ever understand; but I’m working on building the confidence to live my life as I feel is best for me regardless. But it is hard without family support. It helps to realize you are not alone, and to be reminded you can do it just the same.
    I can’t say thank you enough, text without the verbal tone does not do it justice.
    Deep breath. Here is to being the black sheep!

  • heidi says:

    Great post. I gave your book (unsigned copy) for Christmas to my sister but sadly she returned it to me with no note (e.g. that she didn’t read the book). I then re-gifted your book to a friend who enjoyed receiving it. I think friends understand us better than family!

  • Joshua says:

    It’s great to see so many people on here that have had this sort of issue in their life journey.

    The reason for my being perceived as “strange” or that there is something “wrong” with me has to do unfortunately with money. I’ve read online that most times the difference from being called “eccentric” or mentally ill by society is how much money you have. Almost no one I have known would judge me at all if I had money in the bank and was financially stable, which unfortunately right now I’m not, and haven’t been in awhile. I also realize that sometimes the people that were the closest to you will always, even if it’s subconsciously, try to “pin” you down with their thoughts with that person or kid that you were when they did know you. Most people I have known or know don’t change or grow, ever. In order for me to begin to break free from the “chains” of other people’s thoughts and limitations to who I “was” or “am”, I had to disengage from them, and spend most days in solitude.

  • Monica says:

    Thank you Chris for writing this post – I always knew you had this view and I’m happy to see it here at your blog.

    I have long learned that family is often the biggest obstacle to overcome, if you allow them to be. I am in agreement with Queen of String to detach from family if that is what it takes to forge ahead with your own life. There were a number of years I was not in communication with my parents as I worked toward a life that worked for ME and sometimes even friends could not understand this, but I firmly believe that oftentimes it MUST BE DONE.

    To Amelia: I did not have a stable job when I turned 30, but I was quite happy with my life at that time (and I can tell you that as a SINGLE CHILDLESS LATINA this is an anomaly!) and I can see that you will be happy too as you move forward with YOUR LIFE…

    Chris, thank you for creating this space for all of us “Black Sheep” to come to for support and to graze when inspiration is needed as we all journey into Non-Conformity!

  • Brent Sears says:

    Stop trying to change people’s opinions and start leading. That’s it. I like the quote, “Your opinion of me is none of my business.”

  • Silverlight says:

    “Courage in the face of physical danger usually just lasts a few moments, a big burst of adrenaline and it’s passed. Courage in the face of social pressure lasts day after week after month after year. That there is REAL courage.” — Ælflæd of Duckford

  • Jenny Foss says:

    My mother actually introduces me to friends like this sometimes… “And this is Jennifer, our UNICORN.” (and you have to drag out the word like YOUUU-NEHH-CORRNNN) I suppose that’s better than a black sheep, no? 😉

    I think that, yes, after you live the unicorn life for long enough, and PROVE that your unconventionality actually makes you happy, makes sense and (oh, hey!) makes you MONEY? They eventually do realize that the unicorns are among the wisest of the bunch!

  • Mary Hood says:

    When I was a child, my brothers and I gave each other “Indian” names. Mine was “She Who Lives Differently”….Now that I’m in my sixties, I am so glad I chose that path, and over time I found that my path was often misunderstood by everyone except me…but it was the perfect one for me. Still excited about the upcoming years…plan to do a lot of traveling now that I have the time!

  • Roy says:

    I’m quite confident my family think I’m crazy. But I’m living my life for me, not for them.

  • romina puno says:

    i always thought that being the black sheep of the family is BAD. but now that im pursuing my dreams, and i’ve finally made my parents see that my craziness has its purpose– they’re with me all the way!


  • Ricky Ferdon says:

    Amen! I DO live in a small town where “everybody knows your name” (plus my family had a prominent business here from 1937 to the ’80’s and I served a term on City Council). But, family and friends have also gotten to know that I march to the beat of my own drummer – I’ve recently been running shirtless all over town – people can see my tattoos now that were always covered up! Gasp! But, yes, I have had resistance over the years – and acquiesced often, especially to my grandmother just to keep the peace. But I became a teen in 1968 and what was going on in the country plus normal teenage rebellion helped shape me pretty much into a non-conformist from then on. Sure, I had to “give” a lot as far as my work went, but I retired in Sept. ’09 and now don’t have to answer to anyone and am at last, after 40 years, my own person!

  • Miriam Moriarty says:

    I really like this line:

    ‘Some battles are better won by example than by persuasion’

    A good thought to remember when you don’t feel supported by those around you – just do it anyway and let the results speak for themselves!

  • Chea says:

    A lot of the shaming to make conformists starts when we’re kids. I was always called “crazy” and many worse things for being different, both by my family and at school, including from teachers.

    It’s important to recognize that when our children or others kids we come in contact with are a bit different that we need to be gentle and understanding, tolerant and careful with the kind of guidance we give them so as to build their self-esteem rather than destroy it, which is so easy to do…

    It took me many years to stop attracting “friends” who put me down (unconsciously perpetuating the family dynamic) and accept myself for who I am. Now I can proudly say that yes, I fly my freak flag high and honestly enjoy being completely me.

    Who else can you really be but YOU?

  • Anthony StClair says:

    So true. I went through this when I told my family that not only was I leaving Virginia to go study abroad (and then work abroad) in Scotland, but that afterwards I was also moving to Oregon. It took them some getting used to. Ever since, though, they’ve supported all my decisions — I think they saw that while my choices weren’t necessarily theirs, they could tell that I was really putting my heart and soul into them, and working things out. Having their support and understanding has made things all the better.

    Your post reminds me of a story my dad told me a few years ago. He was catching up with a friend, who asked my dad how his 2 children were. When he told him his friend about me, the man said, “Terry… why Oregon?”

    Dad’s reply: “When we were young, we said we were gonna get the hell out of here. And look at us — we’re still here. Well, Anthony did it.”

    Living true, following dreams and thought and instinct — it pays off. And sooner or later, people come around.

  • Ricky Ferdon says:

    Sorry to post twice, but just came across this quote in an email: “Conventional people are roused to fury by departure from convention, largely because they regard such departure as a criticism of themselves.” ~Bertrand Russell

  • Mike Gusky says:

    Its interesting that you mention the reversal in the generation gap. Its not that I think my children are worried about me but they certainly dont understand me. Its as if they are actually from the 1950’s or something.

    I have had a strong entrepreneural spirit since way back in 4th grade selling tadpoles to classmates. 5 cents without legs and 10 cents with legs and the bull frog tadpoles were 25 cents. I racked up some significant coin for a 9 year old. But my parents were hard working conventional blue collar workers who expected to work for the same company all of their lives so that spirit wasn’t “nurtured”, if you will.

    Now its reversed. “Find your passion – Think up your craziest ideas – I will help you – Lets work on a project together” – These are the things I tell my children and they look at me like I am nuts. They just want to get through college (grudgingly), get a job and a paycheck. I am worried about them because that world doesnt exist anymore.

  • Alex Humphrey says:

    Thank you Chris.

    My family isn’t against me per say, but they do seriously question what I’m doing. The main question I get is, “How do you make money doing that?” It’s hard to explain without getting to deep so I just usually throw out something I’m working on and they just sort of nod their head while their eyes glaze over.

    Everyone trusts me and think I can do it, but I can tell they also worry that I will fail and never recover.

    Failure is good for the soul, though. Every success sits atop a mountain of failures. Hopefully my mountain top is close by

  • Kelly Bower says:

    This is exactly what I’ve been dealing with particularly for the past year or so. My family doesn’t understand my life style choice and trying to help them understand is inevitable. I’ve been wanting to somehow guide my parents to your views, therefore I’m forwarding this e-mail to them. I think it will help them see my, and many others’, point of view. Thank you for sharing and for writing about how so many of us feel.

  • Jared Seah says:

    When I decided to end my “real” job in Athens, Greece this Dec 2011 to start focusing on “play”; I was very worried how to break this news to my family.

    I guess HOW we present the news to our family is important too.

    I returned to Singapore last Chinese New Year and talked to each family member individually. Then flew to Guangzhou, China to share with my brother there too.

    If I honour and respect them, they will in turn respect my decision.

  • Eli says:

    Lead by example is a brilliant concept and to me it applies to everything,even the conversations with people who “don’t understand”. William Isaac has defined, what’s called dialogue tools (Listening,Respecting,Suspending,Voicing).Sounds easy,because we are too often busy with “voicing” to even notice the lack of the other three. When I started practicing them-especially suspending! I’ve found out that it does take a lot of practicing) I’ve witnessed the miracle of flow in conversation and understanding.If we want understanding, support or just to be listened that’s what we need to be in a conversation as well as in life.And that’s all we can do really. Will the other side remain open enough to accept if not understand or still say that-you’re too young, you’ll see, you don’t have the experience…it doesn’t matter. They can equally say that you don’t understand them! Sharing differences for me is a beautiful opportunity, if shared in a way that allows both sides to learn & grow.

  • Prime says:

    As they say, show don’t tell. Your family will naturally be apprehensive if you’re choosing the less-traveled path. They care for you and they don’t want you to be unhappy or fail. But if you can show that you’re happy and you have succeeded in the path you chose then they’ll willingly support you. You might not be able to convert them but they will at least be more understanding.

  • Miguel says:

    Spoken with warmth and affection Chris. This hits it right home!
    I’m pursuing Finance as my college course but my dad wants me to take Accounting because it’s the basis of everything. What he doesn’t understand is I don’t want to take it because it’s what he “suggests” I should do.
    Well, you’re right, I’m going to “lead by example” and do it. Thanks Chris! Keep it up.

  • Miguel says:

    I wanted to add to my comment.
    It’s true. Our families do love us and all but if we just sit by and live by their decisions, we are never going to be happy. They’ll be satisfied but we’ll we be happy as well? We have to get out and do our thing. Like my mom. She took music as a course but she later regretted it because my grandma forced her to do it. Now she’s pursuing cooking as her passion. My dad ain’t too happy about that. But she keeps at it. I support her. She encourages me to follow my dreams while my dad encourages to do his suggestions. So i’m definitely going to my thing and live my life!

  • Jordan says:

    I totally connect with this. I currently have this problem.

    I think “you can lead the way with your own actions” is key—in fact, in my experience, it’s the only way that works! Talking is great, but what they actually see in your life is what will really change their mind.

  • Wyman says:

    What kind of a group am I mixed up with here? A bunch of happy non-conforist having fun. See you in June. The old man, Wyman (72) No not 1972.

  • Audrey says:

    We’re traveling through Bangladesh right now and each time I think about my own challenges with family and friends wondering if we’re crazy I think about what it must be like to grow up in this culture and country. I’ve been approached by young women just dying to talk to someone “different” and my advice to them is that if you do what makes you happy and fulfilled (i.e., marrying for love or studying or working) then your family will notice your happiness and support you. But, their challenges to do this are so much greater than mine – I admire what they’ve gone through so far to get to where they are now, but know more difficult roads lie ahead. Puts my own challenges in perspective.

  • Laur Weinstock says:

    I realized early on [late teens] that I was “different.” Married with 2 children, we adopted, at my urging a babe with Down syndrome. Unexpectedly divorced when babe was 11 or so led to my NEXT life. More challenging in every possible way, including living within my non-conformist body/brain that said; this anger will pass, this challenge to your future will be resolved, why not continue life as you wish? That babe at 23, and I went to Ireland for 2 weeks with nothing more than a rental car and hostel memberships. Always, always remember this is the only life we have- at least in this form !!

  • Kirsten says:

    This could hardly be any more relevant to my life. THANK YOU for writing it.

  • Elisa says:

    I think a lot of it is like that “bubble boy” movie (that was horrible and yet somehow kind of good) in the early 2000’s. Parents and family often think that by teaching younger people to live a status quo and conformed life, they will be *safe*. Protected from being hurt, protected from risk, protected from the big scary world that is filled with so much badness.

    They don’t want you to not succeed, they don’t want to hold you back, they don’t want you to “conform” – they want you to live a happy and filled life and this is the only way they know how.

    But you are right – reading a book grudgingly is certainly not going to teach them that there are other options. Instead teaching by your example is often the best way to change people’s minds.

  • Ellen Berg says:

    It took me a long time to become comfortable with who I am, but now I am thankful for the journey because I am liberated from all the stuff that weighs down so many of my peers.

    I also found that once I became comfortable with myself and the way I wanted to live my life, my family and friends did as well. No more eyerolling, nitpicking, or snarky comments like, “And this is Ellen, our hippy daughter.” Or maybe it’s just that I don’t notice it anymore because I don’t care. I’m happy with my life, and that’s all that matters.

  • Ara says:

    I’ve always been the odd one in my family. I feel I’m under pressure. I’m not quite sure if this pressure comes from my family or it is self-imposed, but I feel frustrated, unsatisfied, to the point where I can’t sleep (even less, rest). Things got a little bitter when I told my parents I want to quit my job.

    I think I started following this blog just in time. I’ve been encouraged to trace my own path and follow it. That’s what I’ve been working on. Hopefully, my family will be at ease with me when they see me happy.

  • Panda says:

    This reminds me of the 4 obstacles to pursuing a dream that Paulo Coelho wrote The Alchemist around.

    The second obstacle is about the thoughts of friends and family. Like in this post and in the commenter’s, friends and family may not understand one’s dream. If they love you (and they most probably do), they’ll let you go once they realize how important it is to you.

    [The other obstacles are: 1) believing you can and overcoming fear of failure 3) enduring the dream’s trials 4) not giving up when you’re about to reach it because you feel guilt that others haven’t fulfilled their dreams]

  • Rainbowskies says:

    …… So timely I found this…. I too have come to the conclusion that its about surrounding yourself with evolved people… People who are “child like” not childish… People who don’t care if you don’t fit in… A spiritual family is what I think I would call it… Its about been grateful to your biological parents… They made you…. Gave you experiences that made you you… and then moving away and moving on… Thanks for the inspiration…

  • Mary Phillips says:

    Well said, right on target, and worth re-reading. The comments are insightful and uplifting, too.

  • vina lustado says:

    hi chris,

    this post really touched me when i first read it several months ago, and i think very important for people to hear. i needed to read it again recently. please put it back in your top 10 articles so others know it’s here.

    by the way, it’s lovely to read your latest post.

  • Bastiaan says:

    Inspiration can be a powerful force!

    After reading about the amazing time I am having here, my parents are skipping the usual resort and tailored trips (with everything carefully pre-planned) to join me for a few weeks in South America on what will be their first ever backpacking trip!

  • Maren says:

    Chris your blog is the most valuable blog that i’ve ever read.

    I too got the “you’re turning 30 and you need to have a stable career and your life figured out completely” speech, lol. I’m from a small country and my parents are driving hard for me to be NORMAL. It’s stressful but since coming into this blog my mind finally has some relief. Finally someone agrees with me and i’m not crazy for wanting to live life following my bliss. I’m leaving home and maybe the country within 30days.

    I won’t conform.

  • Jen says:

    Great article… got me thinking.

    Just as we have trouble letting go of the need for parental/peer validation, or acceptance of our ‘non-conformist’ lives, so too do parentals/peers have trouble accepting that we are not aiming to be carbon copies of them. Goes both ways really – rather than just from our own view of being misunderstood.

    And yes, familiar with the resulting desire to try and fix’ our parentals/peers… but isn’t this what they are trying to do to us? Hmm…

  • Sherry says:

    My parents were not good guides. They were intelligent, productive, and socially responsible and conscious. And so how were they unable to be there for me? They were inherently not good risk takers and abhorred anything that involved no guarantee of success or work being worth it. To be blunt, they, including my sister, are full of fear.

    While they did not steer me in any direction, (because I believe now they were afraid to be wrong), once I set out on my own non-conformist direction, knowing it was true for me, it scared the hell out of them, and they issued grave warnings of my irresponsibility and proclaimed I should not find myself on their “doorstep in 30 years looking for a handout.” They continued to love me & be interested in me, outside of the very pink elephant in the room they refuse to acknowledge. I have spent 20 yrs growing my own self-approval. It was not easy for me. In fact, I am searching for a way to finally achieve that. I continue to pursue my non-conforming, no-guarantee-of-success endeavor – but am realizing that I am still hiding, feeling sad and ashamed that I am NOT “normal.” I need to resist this backsliding, find my joy & look for help now.

  • Stephen says:

    The problem with persuading by example is always going to be managing to set an example in the first place. It’s getting through that first time that’s hardest.

  • Coco Marie says:

    I was really happy to read this today. I am thinking about making a change and trying to explain it to my family is difficult. I am not following the typical path and although they are supportive, I know they wish I was at home with a stable career. That just isn’t me though and it is comforting to know there is a whole bunch of us out there with the same problem 🙂

  • Maria says:

    My family has been pretty much hostile to my plan to study for a master’s in psychology. I’ve received the standard questions: “How are you going to retire?” “What are you going to do for money?” “How do you know if you can get a job?” “Why don’t you apply for LAPD, get your sister a bonus for you enlisting and a guaranteed pension?” and outright threats: “I won’t support you financially or emotionally if you go,” my Dad told me.

    The moral of my story is that you need to find friends who support you. I met a woman at a church I started going to who got her MBA at 46 with no support from her family at all.

  • Claudia says:

    The comments are almost as inspiring and comforting as the article, I had no idea there were sooo many people like me around! Good luck to all of you, guys, with all of my heart!

  • Heidi says:

    The great thing about this post is all the comments supporting it. It helps us all know that we aren’t crazy. Luckily for me it took so long to achieve my goal (many years of talking about it) that my mom (an over obssesive grandma) didn’t say a word when I took her grandchildren out of the country. I think she figured I would finally shut up about it and get it over with. Little does she know that it’s just the beginning;)

  • Denny says:

    That’s exactly what I needed to read right now! I am so glad I stumbled upon your post, as it’s a great reminder that there is no point in trying to change anyone. One just needs to stand up for what they believe in, pursue the calling of their inner voice, and learn to live independently from other people’s opinions (even the ones of their parents, relatives, and friends).

  • Siddhesh says:

    Reading this post gave me some confidence that am not the only one trying to stand up to my belief. Following your parents is natural, but sometimes the generation gap does tend to make itself visible. It is during these times that articles such as this one helps me to keep working on what I want to! Thank you.

  • Renee Maxfield says:

    Thanks for the dose of courage. I’m a teenager, in a small town, living with my in-laws, with nowhere to go if I lose this home.

    But I don’t want to be suffocated. So I’m going to take the risk. Maybe they’ll see my example and it will be accepted instead of condescended.

  • Busayo Yusuff says:

    I’ve got less than 48hours to the end of my NYSC program (a graduate program in my country). It scares me silly to think my folk will not understand why I shan’t be ‘conforming’ to the ‘get a job’ idea. I’m so going to be committed to doing what I love and impacting the world with it. If I’m ever going to get them to understand, it’s got to take examples. Lots and lots of examples. Guess this is where I really have to prove ‘loving the grind’ isn’t easy, especially when you’ve got lots of people to explain to. Thanks for the ‘message’ Chris. Timely indeed!

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  • Monika says:

    Good read. Funny, I have read your books and even met you at a book signing a few months ago. Today, I just googled something about how to make your family understand your choices and sure enough, this post by you comes up. 🙂

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