3 Things Your Parents Taught You About Work That Aren’t True

As someone who heard my Dad say, over and over again, “It’s called work because it’s not play” in response to “How was your day?”, I want to marry this post. So many thanks to Heather for writing this all down and speaking the absolute truth.

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Be Brave, Say Yes by Jessica Swift

My parents taught me that no one loves their job and that I should never expect to. They taught me that only artists and musicians love what they do and that’s why they don’t mind being poor forever. They taught me that the best possible scenario was to choose a career that paid well and that I “didn’t mind” so that I could then have the cash to go do the things I loved ‘later on’. Sound familiar?

My parents taught me that I need to choose a respectable career and that if my job becomes hard or mundane, well that’s just part of the territory. And by ‘respectable’ the implication was that I choose a ‘white collar’ job in line with my family’s socioeconomic status. Nothing to do with natural skill set nor affinity (I was the arty child – horror of horrors!), but rather something that paid well, offered ‘security’, and would make our critical extended family members cluck with approval.

My parents taught me that entrepreneurship is risky and reckless – something reserved for the men-folk who had money to burn. Any female entrepreneur was most certainly a brazen, single, childless hussy who lived for getting rich quick. As a child of the 80’s, I always had visions of these women wearing large shoulder-pads and sporting bright red lipstick on their thin lips.

You know what’s interesting about these three things?

They’re only true if you believe them.

Here’s what I’ve discovered to be true after working both in the corporate world and running my own business helping entrepreneurs grow their values-based businesses:

Loads of people love their jobs. Increasingly so as more options open up to us in this digital age. I would even go so far as to say that I don’t have a job – I have Work and I have Play and I love them both equally. This is a much nicer thing to aspire to, no?

Screw choosing a respectable career and choose work that will afford you the opportunity for unlimited self respect. When you respect your work and yourself, you’re more likely to thrive in what you do, which most often leads to increased earning power. Heck, make your own work by your own rules and then knock everyone’s knickers off as your life becomes exponentially more awesome than the ‘respectable career’ people. (It worked for me!)

Entrepreneurship is only as risky (and reckless) as you design it to be. You have agency here people! You have a myriad of options for work and income design that never existed before. And while our parents may be wise and operating with the best of intentions, NONE of them are developing livelihoods in the world our generation is living in.

Now it’s your turn! If you feel so inclined, please share in the comments below a myth or two you’ve been taught that you could pitch in the trash right this instant?

me by water

Heather specializes in entrepreneurial activation and big-leap-taking. She leads an eclectic, adventurous, self-designed life, running her own location-independent business two blocks from the ocean in Peru. She’s addicted to the journey, and runs life-changing Adventure Reboot Retreats for a handful of courageous souls in Iceland & Peru each year. She’s particularly passionate about experiential learning, rule-breaking, and helping her clients flip the switch to chart lives + careers they really, truly, radically LOVE.

Twitter handle: @heatherlyone
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/heatherthorkelson
Website: www.heatherthorkelson.com



  1. says

    Thanks Nicole and Linda! And great point Nicole….crazy that the baby boomers largely went to the opposite end of the spectrum. I will say that I think it’s not just what our parents push us towards, it’s also what we get funnelled into via the school system. It takes a lot of fricken work to break free and carve your own path. (It’s not that scary, I promise. :)

    • says

      Hey Stacey, there are a couple of great posts about this very topic – one by Steve Pavlina and one by James Altucher. I can’t think of the titles off the top of my head but I’d be happy to find and send the links if you like!

  2. says

    Great post. My parents taught me the same things. But what I notice most is what they didn’t teach me — they didn’t tell me about the plethora and variety of jobs that exist. I never knew about graphic design, editor, stunt woman, event planner, etc. There are so many awesome jobs out there!

    • says

      Me neither Erin! My mom was a nurse and then a stewardess and then she married my dad who was a pilot. She always told me I could be whatever I wanted but the subtext was that it was “whatever I wanted” to choose from the list of Nurse, Secretary, Flight Attendant, whatever. Kind of ridiculous. Granted, they didn’t know any better. But it took me almost 3 decades so see what my real options truly were! I almost wish they’d make a high school course out of it….called Future Possibilities. :)

  3. Caitlin says

    This article makes me glad I have creative, entrepreneurial parents who believe in and enjoy what they do. They’ve had their own interior design partnership for about 20 years and have been nothing but supportive of me starting my own business as a freelance architectural historian. They’ve been my very best advisers and role models. I’m lucky to have them!

  4. says

    My parents were born in the 1920s and 1930s. They told me I’d have to muddle through jobs I didn’t like, housing I didn’t like, and life that wasn’t enjoyable until I was 40 or so, maybe married to someone respectable, and I could settle down comfortably. I called bullshit, but they had the house and bank account to back their philosophy up. As an artist and entrepreneur I did whatever I wanted to make a buck and I loved most of it. I had terrible relationships because they didn’t bother to tell me to find someone who would make my heart sing. I guess they missed out on that themselves. I finally figured it out when I turned 40, and now I’ve got two businesses and a happy relationship. Score!

  5. Kim says

    I also heard from my parents in the 80s that I could, be the superstar mom, perfect wife, pretty woman, and high-powered professional… whether I wanted it or not. We could bring home the bacon AND fry it up in the pan, oh and they clean the pan, of course. Now, I ask why I should have to do a three instead of doing one really, really well. HA!

  6. Kay says

    The problem with that hopeful attitude is that there are as many people who fail as succeed; and the forces that make nations stronger and the lives of nations better, aren’t always aligned with what brings peace to the hearts of some individuals.

    • Kay says

      What makes it possible for some people to live their dreams happily, is a society that is already doing well and where there is enough abundance that you don’t need to be very productive to live a decent life – because you can entertain people who have done work, in return for income they find disposable.

      Thus lessons:
      1) For people to be happy living their dreams, you need to first build a healthy society.
      2) Something should perhaps be done, to save those who will be destroyed following unviable dreams.

      • says

        I hear you Kay, but I’m a firm believer that if we encouraged people to build livelihoods based on their strengths, we would have a lot more people who felt happier in their careers, instead of people who did what they thought they needed to do and ended up unhappy (which spills into every part of life). There are natural politicians out there who aren’t in politics, there are people like my taxi driver who used to work a corporate job for a toilet company because it was “secure” and his parents/wife pushed him into it. But he wanted more free time to spend with his daughter and LOVES driving/talking to people so he went against everyone and became a taxi driver. He makes more money than in his old job and gets to spend loads of time with his daughter. It’s examples like that that I wish to inspire with. Move towards what gives you energy and there will always be people who fill the societal roles that don’t appeal to others.

  7. DL says

    Interesting article, and so true…to some extent. I’m the last of the baby boomers. I’ve never felt part of that age group, partly because of I’m younger than the traditional 60s boomer and because, in terms of attitude, I’m more like a millennial (I love my job as a self-employed graphic designer/copywriter).

    Your lessons are true at this time in your life, however, I wonder if they’ll be the same 10-20 years from now? When/if you marry, have kids, maybe have a mortgage, etc, your responsibilities will change. You won’t quite have the same flexibility to take chances and act solely on your own ideas. Kids, particularly, are expensive and get sick, which means you’ll have to earn enough and have health insurance. They get involved with school, which will limit your mobility. And they dare to have their own opinions, which means your ideas may not match theirs.

    I’m not pointing this out to be argumentative or dispute your lessons. Rather, it’s an explanation as to how the boomers–those “hippy, free-love baby boomers,” as said above–could become the way they are. They’ve had 50-60 years of learning along the way. I guess we have to give them a bit of a break. Who knows how we’ll be at that age? (Oh, that’s right, I AM that age:-)

    • says

      Hi DL, thanks for your thoughtful response. I am married and I am a homeowner of a very expensive home (hence – responsibility) and I don’t have a kid but I have a dog with lots of health issues so that adds up quite a bit. Not to mention, we travel a LOT so we have to pay for boarding him. I completely understand what made my parents the way they are and I don’t mean to blame them for being bad parents. They were and continue to be doing the best they can with the tools that they have. My overarching point is that the world my generation lives in is vastly different and we have opportunities that allow us to make our living in a completely different way. I used to work for a pharmaceutical company making lods of cash with all the benefits and my mother couldn’t be happier. Now I’m an online entrepreneur that lives in South America with my growing family and my mom, no matter how many times I explain it to her, has no idea how I make my living. But I have various streams of income that just weren’t possible even ten years ago. So this is where I draw my conclusions from and I DO wholeheartedly believe that in 20 years when I’m in my mid-50’s I will be just as excited about possibility and creating interesting livelihoods as I am now. I am building my livelihood so that I can model what’s possible for my children. And I encourage people (NOT everyone) who feel the same calling to do the same. The working world will never be what it once was, and I for one am very excited about what’s to come.

  8. says

    I *love* this, thank you!!! I agree!

    There seems to be this myth that a “full day” equals exhaustion, and that is “okay” and acceptable.

    I disagree. As a single mom and a business owner, at the end of my full day, I feel enlivened,fulfilled, and grateful. And, ready to embrace the next day!


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