So I stumbled on to the blog of Ian Ybarra, who edited and marketed an awesome networking book I’ve read called Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. I read his blog post called “Why Would Parents Do Anything Else?“:
“I get so angry when people tell me stuff like “It’s always been my dream to go to art school and paint, but my parents think it’s silly because I’ve already got a bachelor’s degree in engineering. So I really should get a master’s in engineering.”
Why do parents recommend to their own children such boring stuff they think is safe?”
I really liked Ian’s gung ho attitude about doing what you love, but he seemed genuinely confused about why parents wouldn’t support their kids. So I sent him an email:
I’ve read some stuff in your blog. I like it. I got linked by the entry on 10 questions. I totally agree with most of your ideas about entrepreneurship and taking big risks. But it seems you are a litle confused by why parents wouldn’t just support their kids’ wild dreams. So, having ex-traditionally Chinese parents, and observing a lot of people at Stanford with parents like this, I’d like to offer some insights.
1) Parents don’t get much of the reward, but absorb a lot of the risk.
Paul Graham has talked about this. What happens when you move to LA to make it big in Hollywood. Your parents don’t get to go to the parties, meet tons of new people, acting in small roles, etc. They do have to deal with the risk of a broke, run down, crying and worse, coked-out child coming home to mom and dad when things don’t work out. That risk is a lot lower when someone becomes a doctor or biomedical engineer
2) Losing Face
Failure isn’t just a problem of taking care of your child. Its also dealing with questions of “what is junior doing these days?” It’s embarassing to have to say “oh, he’s staying at home while he looks for a new job”. Sure, this is shallow, but it is a real factor.