Fields of Dreams: Leaping Onto Left Field


Passion for theatre, music, and liberal arts, and talents in cosmetology, fashion designing, or media have never been options as careers for African parents’ children.  In fact, African parents endlessly drill the exact opposite to their kids; influencing careers as doctors, pharmacists, nurses, or therapists as long as it falls under the umbrella of medicine.  Additionally, they sometimes influence that they become lawyers, accountants, and whatever else they view to be concrete money making careers.  Interestingly enough, they have already concluded for you your destiny as a doctor.   Expressing their goals for you begins not as a youngster in primary or secondary school; instead it begins before your parents even know you.  Whether it be in the first, second, or third trimester in their pregnancy, rest assured they confidently bragged to their friends, co workers, and family that the baby who lies in their womb will be the world’s future doctor.

This attitude is very typical of African parents- close-minded, and viewing few fields as acceptable because their own life experiences led them to believe the health/medical field is the guaranteed path to plenty money, thus spending much of their child’s life up until early adulthood forcing their wants upon them. However for some children, they eventually take left field; chasing their own dreams and not their parents, choosing a career other than one in the medical field.

I can remember an unpleasant moment, when my young cousin told his mother that he wants to be an artist. However, his mother seemed embarrassed by his expression despite her knowledge of his interest.    His mom was especially embarrassed because it was said in front of my Nigerian parents and other family members in our home.  She told him, “You can become an artist after getting your degree in medicine.”   I laughed. I told her it was okay that he wants to be an artist because his passion for it will take him far, but with her success as a pharmacist she wasn’t a believer.

Unfortunately, I can certainly relate to his experience as my own are very similar.  Finalizing my choice to major in Africana studies in college did not settle well with my parents.    They were angry that I did not follow through with Anesthesiology.  After all, it’s what they have been pressuring me to do even though I was never interested in it.  I simply was not gifted in the sciences nor was it something that came naturally.  As I matured and began thinking for myself, I became real with what my true passions were and therefore I declared it as my major in school.  Initially the support of my parents was non-existent. They constantly doubted how I would fair pursuing African studies in school, questioning what type of living I would make for myself and tried to change my mind, though it was already made up.  They are not completely supportive of my career choice and at times they even mention I should take courses in biology and anatomy incase I choose the health field all over again, though I assure them there is no possibility of that happening.

Nigerian examples like playwright and Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka, dancer Ade Obayomi, and recording artist Laura Izibor are all successful because of their determination.  They have proven that with focus and drive, Africans can make plenty of money pursuing careers in other fields, like in the arts and entertainment.  Much like them, African children with desires of being actors, musicians, and writers prove their determination as their parent’s witness.  Very often their doubt turns into joy, reaping the financial benefits of their successful children.

By: Ashley I. Okonkwo

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    • I totally agree. Doing what you love and your motivation to make do well for yourself, takes individuals very far. Thanks. And Sarah your feedback is absolutely true. The expectations to be Doctor, Nurse, etc are far too overwhelming. We grow to have a mind of our own and our choices should be supported and excepted.

  1. No matter what country in africa or maybe sometimes other foreign countries they'll always expect us to be something in the medical field. Its ok to expect the best but only for what's within our choice in careers. The expectations of being in the medical field will never fail no matter the generation. Its only a few that actually got through with what their parents want and probably do it because of the money but what about the passion for it. African parents need to sometimes realize its other careers outside of the medical field that make money and do need to realize its more of having a passion for what your career is and to me I see african parents do what they do to create a certain image for the people that look at us to even envy the next person which sometimes creates competition or some type of jealous where the next african parent would push there child to be higher or even on that same level as the envied medical field student.

  2. Ashley this a a great article

    I can relate to this article in a sense that my parents want me to pursue a career in the health/medical field. At the end of the day, the decision is in my hand in which I will continue to study Sociology, obtain a masters egree and still be passionate, motivated and successful in my career. one must learn to be open-minded to different things.

  3. Lol, Great article Ash, Your cousins story kind of reminds me of when my sister told my mom that she wanted to major in history or run track, but my mom told her that she should go to school to be a nurse…and my brother said he wanted to be an artist but my mom didnt contest to it, so i guess their realizing now or shes jus w8ing till that moment to tell him..I like it Ash, Keep it Up

  4. This is beautifully written. In some instances I can understand where Parents come from, but at the end of the day, it's not what you do, but how well you do it. I've seen broke doctors, and extremely rich play writers. It's about passion, and dedication.

    In today's world, it's those peeps that break away from the norm that have the better chance of striking gold. Everyone else is average, and normal. Normal is far from appealing.

    No offense to other majors that are in the "norm" group. I'm there too 🙂

  5. I would like to add that, besides the professions listed above being good sources of income, society has convinced us that they are a much safer route to follow, because at the end of the day everyone needs a doctor, pharmacist, etc. Plus, it is safe to say that most African parents are still living in the past and refuse to be open minded. Also, society is blinded with titles. According to them title determines your place in society, and it helps people have an idea of what your class in society is. I.E, Dr, Barrister, Chief, Senator, etc. I say all is vanity. Our parents should be more open minded, keep their ears to the ground and realize the various trends that are "present" and potentially will be "future" and let their kids take risks and follow their dreams…. Deuces

    • Society has convinced many adolescents into believing that the most practical route to money making are in the medical fields. I agree our parents should be open minded to "left field" career choices. Thank you all for your insight.

  6. One of the many things I love about being a Nigerian youth is the fact that I can relate to others in my age bracket or generation. I totally agree with this article. In a nutshell African parents want their children to follow a high paying profession, whether it be medicine, engineering, business or law. Just like you I also had a big squabble with my parents over finalizing my major, but unlike you I gave in and went along with what they decided for me. After reading this its has inspired me to pursue what I actually want to do, I guess I will be bring this topic up with them again. I'll let you know how it goes. Once again great article, keep up the good work Ashley.

  7. Hey Ash,

    I agree with the Analee that this article left me wanting more. You clearly introduced the prevailing view of success among African parents, provided evidence with your own personal experiences, but counterexamples of individuals who had been successful in the arts was a little brief.

    Regardless, the topic of this article is relevant to immigrant youth. Firstly, I think that these parents must simply realize that a career in medicine is not the fastest way to make money. If you want money, then urge your child to become a computer science major.

    Also, I will admit that defying these career desires of African parents is challenging. I believe that a compromise could be finding what interests you in a field that they recommend for you. For instance, mental health in the field of medicine or green civil engineering in the field of engineering.

    Lastly, I believe that it would be irresponsible for us youth to pursue careers solely to make money. Yes, money is important (you have to sustain yourself and family in the future); however, we must seek careers that will enable us to contribute to the environment that we live in. A professor of African Studies can help 1st generation Africans better understand the nuances of their culture, just as a doctor can cure people's illnesses.

  8. our parents or guardians came into this country with a single objective to grab hold of a lucreative and payable career to be able t take care of their family both here and most importantly back home,and this opportunity presented itself in the health sector…notably the nursing and medical aspects.this has proved lucreative enough because this field are always in need and conpensates enough to be able to take care of responsibilities that are expected and bestowed to our parents.Due to thisour parents feel this is the only way..we shoulnt get an career or education jus for the love and desire but for the financial also lucreative aspect,cause this was the only way they knew and in most cases the only choice they had

  9. Nice article, Ashley! I can totally relate to the subject matter. Now that I am a parent, however, I can also see another perspective. Just the other day, as my son was crawling around pulling books down, I exclaimed, "wow, my boy already loves reading, he's gonna be a doctor!" I immediately caught myself. I have to admit, I've often daydreamed about me being in a stadium as my son receives his medical degree. Though it seems that parents are being selfish, they only want the best for their children. Entering the medical field isn't always the best choice, however we will never stop needing nurses and doctors. To this end, we as parents want to see our children successful, thus we push professions on them that we feel will make them that way. It may not always be right, but we only want the best for them.

    Thanks for your thoughts, Ashley.


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