Throughout my life, my biggest adversaries were my parents.
They called me a loser, insulted my goals, attacked my actions, criticized my education, and brought me down for years.
It took years of hard work to overcome their criticism and live the life of my dreams, but I want to save you that time.
Here are the seven biggest lessons I learned that helped me get to where I am today—and how they can help you too.
1. Understand their motivations.
Why do our parents act the way they act?
Here’s a powerful analogy I learned from Stephen Covey’s, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:
Imagine you’re visiting Chicago for the first time and trying to get around.
And let’s say your parents give you a map — but it’s for Detroit.
They can force you to follow their map, but it’s not going to help you get to your destination any faster or easier.
And even if they scream and argue, the problem still the same: They’re using the wrong map.
My parents forced their map down my throat.
They believed the lessons they learned applied perfectly to me, never realizing that I wasn’t going to Detroit.
Because they thought they had the right map, they weren’t open to discussion and didn’t want to be proved wrong.
In my case, my parents were not risk-takers who stepped out of the “conventional” path. When they saw that I was doing so, they tried to hold me back, failing to understand I was not them.
What helped me overcome my parents’ resistance was to find the correct map and move forward confidently.
2. Separate fact from fiction.
Because of the massive influence of your parents, there’s a danger that you might internalize what they believe, even if it’s not true.
To protect your sanity and prevent your parents from distorting reality, always separate “fact” from “fiction.”
- It might be a fact you’re pursuing a risky career, but it’s fiction you’re a “loser” or “throwing away your life.”
- It might be a fact you didn’t get what you want, but it’s a fiction you’re “ruined” or “a failure.”
- It might be a fact your new career isn’t what you studied in college, but it’s a fiction you “wasted your education” or “will never succeed.”
Stick to what’s real and true.
Also consider positive facts about yourself like “I am resourceful, hard-working, a fast-learner, etc.”
3. “Don’t ask for permission, beg for forgiveness.”
This lesson comes from Tim Ferriss in The Four Hour Work Week.
If you’re thinking about a career choice that would anger your parents, don’t seek their permission first.
Instead, act first and then deal with the fallout.
If you wait for their approval, it will never come.
Worse, they might try to break your spirit and prevent you from trying, which will make it harder to start.
But if you’ve already started and committed, it’ll be a lot easier to bear their criticism.
Learn to make decisions without getting everyone’s approval.
Learn to be courageous.
Learn to be decisive.
4. Don’t bother arguing or debating.
Some people have reasonable parents who actually listen, care about their opinions, and are open to having rational discussions.
If that’s the case—and if you’ve been able to have rational conversations in the past—then maybe a discussion works.
My parents, however, are not like that.
And if yours aren’t either, I highly suggest you avoid all arguments.
Because you’ll never change their mind.
They’ll start a “discussion” with you, but it’s just a trap to bombard you with loaded questions and poke holes at your dreams.
You’ll never “win.”
You’ll never convince them.
(Why do you need to convince them anyway?)
Instead, use that time and invest it in education, personal development, and networking.
5. Stop seeking their approval.
At some point, I discovered a brutal truth:
Even if I did exactly what my parents wanted, they would still find a way to disapprove of me.
Because it’s not the achievement itself; it’s the pattern.
It’s their programming and how they approach life. They will always move the benchmark and I’ll always fall short.
I know (many) people whose parents never give any praise or encouragement.
But what’s really sad is these same people keep coming back to their parents with “good news,” hoping that their parents will finally give them the approval they’ve longed to hear.
But it never comes.
Escape this vicious cycle.
6. Create your “Rules of Engagement.”
If you live at home, it’s hard to escape these challenges.
Start by setting mental rules and boundaries on how you’ll handle career conversations when they arise so you’re never caught off guard.
- If they ask “how’s your job going,” give a vague platitude and change the subject. (Don’t take the bait.)
- If you’re talking on the phone, make up an excuse to get off the phone.
- Avoid career discussions at night before you go to bed (because it’s a good way to ruin a night of sleep).
- If you achieve something great, don’t tell them the specifics (which gives them fodder to criticize) and share the news with your good friends instead.
If this still doesn’t work, you might have to consider cutting the cord.
Fact: You cannot out-willpower your environment
You will waste so much energy managing your emotional and mental health that it’ll affect other areas of your life.
“No matter how much internal resolve you have, you will fail to change your life if you don’t change your environment.
This is where the willpower approach fails. The willpower approach doesn’t focus on changing the environment, but instead, on increasing personal efforts to overcome the current environment. What ends up happening? Eventually you succumb to your environment despite your greatest efforts to resist.
The environment is more powerful than your internal resolve. As a human-being, you always take on the form of the environments you continually place yourself.”
—Dr. Benjamin Hardy
Many people will give well-meaning advice like “spend more time with your parents” — even though they know nothing about your situation.
But if you have toxic parents, that could be destructive advice.
It shifts the burden onto you and it makes it seem as if it’s your fault that these hurtful situations arise; not the resentful, negative, and critical attitudes that your parents' harbor.
Not everyone’s parents are emotionally and mentally stable enough to handle a civil discussion.
Think of it this way:
If every time you pushed a button, you’d get hit with a baseball bat, how many times would you need to push it before you stopped?
Some, unfortunately, never learn.
If you’re serious about your goals, you have to make serious decisions.
What’s most important to you: Your life—and all that lies ahead—or trying to survive their constant disapproval of you?
7. Choose your own “family.”
Don’t try to succeed alone, especially if your family is a negative influence.
Find friends and mentors who help you achieve what you want and give you the correct map.
Find a support group who can help when you have difficult moments with your parents—someone who can listen without judging, give you a hug, and help you heal (and not just get drunk, vent, and commiserate together).
Create a new family that supports you, encourages you, and helps you think positively.
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
— Jim Rohn
If your parents are in those five, their negative impact will be overwhelming.
The biggest reason I’ve been able to live the life I’ve wanted is that I’ve made tough decisions when I’ve had to and committed to surrounding myself with people who push me forward and make success inevitable.
I hope these lessons support you on your journey.
If you want to upgrade your happiness, success, and social skills—and avoid sabotaging mistakes — get your 5 free life hacks here.