By Jessica Onah
Being from a Nigerian background I have experienced first-hand the feeling of disrepute from not following the traditional and accepted career path of becoming a Doctor or a Lawyer.
I was destined to be a doctor by my parents from when I was in my mother’s womb. My parents’ disappointment was evident when I decided to go into a media career. With a degree in Optometry and even four months in the job at a Boots Optician in central London, my parents were partly satisfied as I did not become an Ophthalmologist; nonetheless they still told all their friends I was an ‘Eye Doctor’.
I realised it was an ongoing generational cycle of African parents believing that the only adequate career for their child is as a Lawyer or Doctor. I do believe this is changing now as more parents are supporting their children who want to ‘rebel’ and become Fashion Designers, Presenters and Musicians.
However, it is still a big problem within African families.
Due to strict and restrictive upbringings, young people do not really have a voice when it comes to speaking out and confronting their parents on certain issues. To tell your parents you want to do the complete opposite of what they want you to do consequently means you are digging your own grave.
In an interview with Nigerian-born Award Winning Author of ‘Half Of A Yellow Sun’, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, she tells me that she thinks African parents not accepting the creative industry as an option for their children is changing.
“It’s not as bad as it was before, when if you said you wanted to do something creative people would look at you like you’re mad. People will often say only 1 out of 2000 people will make something of it so why don’t u just play safe and become a doctor, but I think it is changing”, she agrees.
Chimamanda studied Medicine and Pharmacy at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, for a year and a half and then decided to pursue her career in writing. I asked her if her initial choice was under parental influence or if she actually wanted to do the scientific degree, she said, “I didn’t want to do it but I felt I should, so It wasn’t so much parental pressure, nobody said to me you must.”
“I did very well in school and when you do very well in school it is almost like the air you breathe tells you that you have to go and study medicine and so I just did.”
“I never wanted to, the same way I never really wanted to be in what was called the science class. I wanted literature and history. After I took exams in school my teachers said I had the ‘best results in the history of the school and that without a doubt I was going to be a Doctor. So immediately I’m in the science class and taking all of these courses I just don’t care about.”
“The thing is you’re doing well but you’re not enjoying it. I was lucky that I had parents who when I said to them I don’t want to do this anymore, they were okay with it. Usually in Nigeria particularly, you get into medical school and you’re high on the merit list, so for you to wake up and say you want to stop, that does not happen,” She concluded.
I hear what she’s saying loud and clear.
In Nigeria where my parents were brought up, the hundreds of jobs in media that are present today were not heard of back in their day. It is therefore understandable that they do not acknowledge them as jobs to make a living off.
I can only speak for my parents when I say that they genuinely want the best for me and want to see me succeed in a stable career. The fact that they did not validate media as a career for their precious baby daughter did not make me remain silent and continue in a job I was not fully satisfied with but, instead I put together a case and presented it to them.
I was surprised by their acceptance of me going into media after my presentation and realised that with an educative update on current job opportunities in media and a little persuasion, they’re disinterest in working for media as a career quickly changed.
Now, with a Trainee Journalist and Luxury Fashion Wear Designer under their household, my parents are absolutely chuffed!