It’s All About Perception

In certain people’s minds, there seems to be shame associated with leaving a profession that is “well-regarded” for one that isn’t—i.e., a creative one.  And there also seems to be a notion that a person would only make such a change because he/she wasn’t successful in his/her “prestigious” profession.  For instance, a senior lawyer and I were talking about a lawyer who became a journalist.  Without knowing anything about this lawyer-turned-journalist, the senior attorney said, “Oh, he couldn’t make it as a lawyer.”  And someone I know asked me, “Won’t people laugh at a lawyer becoming a chocolatier?”  These are just a couple of examples of comments I’ve heard.

There’s apparently a belief held by some that being a lawyer, a doctor, an accountant, etc., is more prestigious than being a chocolatier, a baker, a musician, etc., regardless of where your heart may lie.  I suppose the thought is:  who would leave behind a six-figure salary and the “prestige” of being employed by an international corporation or law firm, unless that person couldn’t succeed in that profession?

Where does this preconceived view of what is prestigious—and what isn’t—come from?  That certain professions are so well-respected that no sane person would leave them?  That transitioning from lawyer or doctor to pastry chef, painter, or journalist is a “step down”?  Is it prestigious to work in a “well-regarded” profession even if that profession doesn’t make your heart sing?  Leaving a “well-regarded” profession for one that isn’t “well-regarded” is not about leaving because you failed—it’s about leaving because you didn’t want it . . . didn’t dream about it . . . didn’t love it.

There is also the South Asian familial pressure some experience to pursue only certain careers, such as in medicine, engineering, finance, and more recently, law—professions where it is presumed that there is job safety, prestige, and good pay.  Perhaps this familial pressure stems from the fact that when some South Asians left their home countries, the only sure way to make a “good, stable living” to provide for your children was to enter these accepted professions.

I write this to start a discussion about why certain people consider particular professions to carry more prestige than others.  Why a lawyer or doctor is well-regarded but a baker, to some, isn’t?  Who cares about being in a “prestigious” profession and having the admiration of others if you don’t love your profession, if it doesn’t feed your soul?

If you are a mediocre lawyer or internist, you are assumed to be a success.  But if you are a pastry chef, in order to be considered a success, you have to be one of the world’s best pastry chefs.  If you are able to make a living off of what you love but aren’t world-renowned, does that mean you aren’t a success?

Many people I talk to—be it, lawyers, doctors, or otherwise—wish they could leave their current professions, perhaps for a creative one.  Some feel trapped by financial obligations; some believe they wouldn’t be able to provide for their families; others believe it’s too late; and others just don’t believe they can make it work.

My idea of doing something well-regarded has nothing to do with a profession, but rather with whether you are doing what you love.  You get the utmost respect and admiration from me if you are pursuing what you enjoy, even if you are doing it only as a hobby at the moment.

I welcome your comments.

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