Family Expectations vs Personal Interests


How to identify our passion towards our life? And then after if we identify our passion, do we need to go forward in life to fulfill our passions or do we need to go with our family members wishes or to satisfy somebody else? There is always an inner conflict with this.... Please clarify for me how to achieve anything in our life as per our wishes. I mean to say that without having interests, if we do anything then we will not try to explore on that particular field or subject....

—Praneeth, INDIA


Dear Praneeth,

Yours is an especially poignant question in the context of Indian culture; less so in places like America where adult children quite casually follow their own “passion” and interests regardless of approval or support from their parents. (In some cases, of course, there are similar conflicts as yours, but in America it is no longer the norm.)

Yours is a complicated question because it involves harmony, dharma (duty), karma, inspiration (passion) and practical considerations such as earning of income and possibly the support of your family. Let’s start with some practical considerations and go from there:

  1. Is there anyone (wife, children, etc.) who are dependent upon you for financial support?
  2. If so, will pursuing your “passion” jeopardize this support?
  3. Does your passion require additional years of education? If so, who or how will you be supported during that period?
  4. Is your passion something you have experience in or demonstrated skill at or is it a completely new and untested idea?
  5. If you pursue this passion of yours, will YOU need financial support from others?
  6. Does this interest of yours revolve around or relate to your own spiritual goals and growth?
  7. Is this interest likely to foster greater ego involvement or is it likely to expand your consciousness in service and/or devotion?
  8. When did your awareness of this passion arise? Childhood? Recently?
  9. Are you unhappy with or perhaps afraid to fail in the pursuits that your family wishes you to do?
  10. What other reasons might make you not interested in doing what your family wishes you to do?
  11. Is there a family member, relative, family friend or spiritual advisor whose opinion and counsel you respect and would likely be impartial and focused on what’s best for you and others?

A piece of counsel my teacher Swami Kriyananda would sometimes offer is to “take a few steps in the direction you are interested in” in order to test how real is your ability, will power, and interest? Since I don’t know the details of your dilemma, it’s more difficult for me to be practical but here are some thoughts that may or may not apply:

  1. Who do you know that does the kind of thing you want to do?
  2. Can you go and talk with someone in the field of your interest?
  3. Can you research the requirements for entry into this field (education, training, apprenticeship)?
  4. Can you keep your current job or otherwise pursue what your family wants while, at the same time, taking courses in the field you would prefer, or learning from someone in the field, or practicing whatever it is part-time, or volunteering. [Here in America, it is common to keep one’s “day job” while taking courses at night in the new field one seeks to enter; or taking a part-time job at night in the new field; or apprenticing part-time in order to “get your feet wet before diving into the pool;” or opening one’s new business nights and weekends.]

Lastly, and speaking from a spiritual perspective, actions we take can either be “karma yoga” or just “karma.” Karma yoga is that which is expansive to the soul and works out past karma while action-fueled by desire or repelled by fear simply accrues more karma. It would be easier if the right course of action were the function of one’s talents or enthusiasm, but it’s not that simple. Usually, the right course of action in matters of employment or career are right in front of you! Dictated by the necessities of food, shelter, and other household and personal needs. The “grass is always greener” somewhere else other than what lies right in front of you.

That action which is expansive to the soul is that which does not emphasize the ego but which opens the heart. As perfected, “nishkam karma” (action taken without desire or without fear and without regard to attachment to the results) means to see God as the Doer of all action. This is a high bar, suitable for those of more advanced spiritual awakening. For most of us, a good measure is an increase or decrease of ego consciousness. If I am a talented musician but pursuing this career makes me more egotistical, then this is not nishkam karma. If, by contrast, my music takes me away from the little self and opens me up to be a channel for service and devotion, then this would be karma yoga.

And, to return to the beginning of this note, one has to consider the consequences to others. In conclusion, pray and meditate about your passion. It is traditionally common for parents to hold expectations of their children as to lifestyle, family and career choices. In the 21st century, however, these traditions are steadily giving way to an increase in freedom of choice. This general trend may or may not have any application to your life and your family. Perhaps by considering some of the questions and suggestions offered above, you will find clarity.

Peace and joy to you and your family!
Nayaswami Hriman
Seattle WA USA