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Choosing a Career

The Clash Between Our Children's Goals and Our Goals for Them

"Nineteen-year-old college student commits suicide because he received a C in Biology."

Although this was not an actual headline, it could have been. Over the years, we have seen suicides by students for similar reasons.

Parent' Expectations
Parents often have very high academic and career expectations for their children, which some children cannot live up to. Unfortunately, in some societies concern about disappointing one's parents is a tragedy the student cannot deal with, so he kills himself.

I remember an engineering student who lived next door to me when I was in college. He used to study all of the time, and it was rare to see him. Once I told him that he must love engineering to work so hard for it. He said that he didn't really want to be an engineer, but that's what his parents wanted him to be. He really wanted to be a photographer.

Children's Interests
This is not an uncommon situation. A child has a field of study that he is interested in, but the parent has a totally different goal for him. The child wants to be an artist; his parents want him to go to med-school and become a doctor. The child wants to be a political scientist; his parents want him to be an engineer. This clash seems to be especially prevalent in immigrant Muslim families.

In some cases, the parents mean well. They want their children to work in a profession in which they have a good chance of succeeding economically. They feel that the social sciences and arts in general do not offer as much potential for financial success as do engineering, medicine, business, and law. And they are right. However, many young people do not place the same priority on getting a high salary as their parents do. They might be more interested in a lower paying career that matches their interests or that provides spiritual, emotional, psychological, or social rewards, rather than monetary ones.

All Halal Occupations are Honorable in Islam
Unfortunately, many parents may want their children to work in a highly paid and prestigious field because of social snobbery or as a form of competition with their friends and relatives whose children may be studying or working in a prestigious field. In Living With Teenagers: A Guide for Muslim Parents, Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood writes:

"Sometimes parents are rather snobbish---they only tend to think in terms of the highly paid, skilled salaried jobs for their offspring. Whereas it is true that Islam encourages every person to seek the most knowledge that they can, and to aim as high as they can, any social snobbery is totally against the spirit of Islam, which gives dignity to every honorable employment, no matter how lowly.

Parents have therefore to watch out that they do not push him or her above their capabilities. The Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, taught that there is no room in Islam for snobbery. The man who works as a simple porter or road-sweeper has as much right to his dignity as the manager of a great business concern (particularly in this age when the manager is deeply immersed in banking and interest transactions which are forbidden). What counts is honesty, and the attitude to the work one is doing.

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