Being Indian-American: Straying from the ‘Big 4’

The Big 4: Doctor. Engineer. Dentist. Pharmacist.

If you’re Indian-American and reading this right now then there is a very good chance that you have either pursued, are pursuing, or have been encouraged by your parents/family to pursue the aforementioned career fields. Our culture has a deep value for these professions, not just because of their noble nature but largely due to their financial and social stability. I mean this makes sense, what parent doesn’t want a stable future for their children?

**And before I get into the heart of this  article, let me preface by saying that I believe pursuing medicine, engineering, dentistry, or pharmacy are all noble pursuits; props to those of you who are actively pursuing these fields.

While these are great careers to pursue, oftentimes our families have trouble comprehending that they aren’t the only careers worth pursuing.

Most of us have observed the following scenario:

A family immigrates from India to America in pursuit of better opportunities. Better opportunities for not only the adults but for their children. Children grow older and are encouraged to pursue careers in the same field as their parents or other family members because “it’s stable and proven to work.”

This is what confuses me: families move to the “land of opportunity” and instead of encouraging their children to explore and take advantage of these opportunities, they let tunnel vision take over and oftentimes push their children to pursue one of the 4 paths mentioned above.

Even if you weren’t necessarily pushed into one of those aforementioed fields, anything straying from those paths is a oftentimes a major struggle for us to convince our parents to let us pursue.

Film Degree? “So what job are you going to get?”

International Relations? “Good…so then you’re applying to Medical school?”

English? “But Pharmacy is such a stable career for a woman!

Now I’m not exactly the poster child of this cause; I studied engineering by choice, wasn’t pushed into it. But along the way I realized that this wasn’t the field for me. After graduating I’ve decided not to pursue a career in my studied field and would rather explore elsewhere, this hasn’t exactly been seamless…many family members and friends ask “But what about stability?”, “You’ll have time to pursue what you want later. Why stray from what you studied?”, or “You could be making more money.”

It takes a while, but I’ve come to terms with choosing to pursue what drives me sooner rather than later. No matter what spurs excitement within you, take the plunge and put your heart into it.

This sounds very naive and optimistic, I know; but our parents did it. Many of them moved to a different country with little or no money, some of them learned English along the way, all had to apply for citizenship and go through hoops just to enter/work/stay in this country, and they learned an entirely new system of government, commerce, and social etiquette in a foreign country. All of this while working and creating a better life for themselves, their children, and family members back in India.

If our parents could risk it all and pursue the unconventional route then we can too. We can stray from the fields that are considered “safe”, we can pursue our crazy goals and dreams, and we can dare to be whatever we want. While tradition and society don’t always align with our hybrid Indian-American upbringing, who says we aren’t allowed to try?

So go out there and make that “crazy” decision to forge a path in what you think is worthwhile. Remember, crazy doesn’t mean irrational, so still create a general plan for your “crazy” career trajectory and pick up some mentors along the way!

It comes down to having a plan and having an open channel of communication with your family. Because if you won’t fight for your dreams, who will?


Have a story that aligns with this or a personal experience you’d like to share? I’d love to hear it! Please share in the comments below.


Being Indian-American: Why the Tune of Dating Sounds So Different.

I grew up with movies like ‘Dil To Pagal Hai’. Like any 90’s Bollywood movie you see the following:

Boy meets girl, girl meets boy, they smile, they know with a glance that they’re into each other, a few conversations and a very awkward, long hug later the hero and heroine are professing their love to each other.

Now this is all well and good while you’re growing up, but then you get older and start watching American rom-coms. ‘When Harry Met Sally’, ‘Love Actually’, ‘Definitely, Maybe’. These classics showcase the key difference between finding love in India and finding love in America: dating.

In American love stories you find ‘the one’ after dating other people, you find them after making mistakes and experiencing heartbreak. In Indian love stories you hit the jackpot the first time around. Most first generation Indian-Americans have parents who experienced the Indian version of a love story, whether it was an arranged marriage or a cute love story, most of our parents haven’t exactly dated other people. Not only does our culture look down upon the concept of dating, but most Indians focus on the end goal and not the journey; commitment is an expectation in India and a privilege in America.

All through high school the common theme among Indian parents was, “Don’t focus on boys/girls. No boyfriend/girlfriend business, focus on your studies.” During college I had many friends who were scared to tell their parents about their respective relationships (I couldn’t muster up the courage to tell my parents about my own relationship until the ripe age of 21). What’s funny is that once we graduate college or grad school the situation turns around 180 degrees. The community that discouraged all relationships your entire life is now asking when you’re getting married….lol wut.

How can we be expected to seek a serious relationship when our entire lives we never exactly had support or guidance when it comes to the topic of dating? How do we incorporate the Indian movie ideal of romance in America? How are we supposed to know what kind of person is ‘worth it’ when our parents never really talked to us about it? Why is the swan song of dating for first generation Indians in American so.damn.confusing?

I’m not sure. But what I do know is that, while it isn’t exactly ‘fair’, we have to approach the topics ourselves. Talk to your parents about what it means to be in a relationship, convince them that you’re mature enough to do what they never had to do: dating in America as an Indian-American. I’ve met too many guys afraid of commitment, too many girls afraid to admit that they just want to date around, too many of us who have no idea what to do because we don’t share the same reality as our parents.

Dating is weird for everyone, so let’s try to make it a little less weird by creating an open dialogue.

Good luck and may the dating gods be with you.